Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Quick Trip to Fairbanks

College visits are on our minds for our daughter and there are few in-state options available, with Sitka, Anchorage and Fairbanks the largest campuses. Working through those options, Sitka is too small, Anchorage too urban and Fairbanks too cold, but Aurora decided that University of Alaska Fairbanks is an option worth pursing as she would likely get a good financial package. Her internship ended on Friday. Saturday morning we headed up the road, taking our summer live-in intern home to Anchorage on the way. But it plays out a little more eventfully than that.

View out the window of Alyeska Resort of the Blueberry Festival

Apparently the Blueberry Festival was going on in Girdwood and Alisa's family was there, so we stopped in at the Alyeska Resort to check it out. The number of people there was insane. Parking lots were full nearly a mile away from the resort. I was impressed. There was the usual carnival-type food, craft booths and a live band. Chair 7 was going, ferrying berry-pickers up the mountain a bit. Hundreds of berry-pickers. Imagine having enough blueberries for hundreds or even thousands of folks to pick and pick and pick! The slopes were covered with clusters of people with buckets, creating a festive atmosphere and, I'm sure, scaring away any bear interested in those berries.

After walking through the booths, I found a cozy corner by the outdoor fireplace where I could listen to the band and watch the crowds go by. While I am a passionate berry-picker, I discovered I am also a solitary berry picker. I would rather pick with a few of my close friends than what felt like half the city of Anchorage! But I can also see why folks might enjoy that, and in the right circumstances, I might as well. But I was a mom with a mission, so shortly after we arrived we gave up our parking spot and headed up the road.

We got a taste of city living for an evening, then headed out to Fairbanks the next morning, uncertain how long it would take us. My guess was 6 hours, and with stops, we were right on:  it took us 6 1/2 hours to reach Fairbanks with minimal traffic up the Parks Highway.

We got to see the burned area from the Willow-area fire that raged earlier this summer, which folks who drove through it said was eerie as the fires were right along the highway. I could only imagine.

Burnt trees highlighted by fireweed along the Parks Highway near Willow

We stayed at the Riverside Cabins along the Chena River, which was basically hotel rooms in cabins, but that were nice enough and fairly new. It was right on a bike path, so that was a plus.

Riverside Cabins in Fairbanks

The campus visit was interesting. My impression was that the campus is old but well kept up. The philosophy is to keep costs and tuition low for students, so instead of the snazzy new recreation centers that nearly every other campus we visited featured, it had a well-equipped though older rec building. The science building we went through was nice (loved the showers for folks who are working on research!), which makes sense as UAF is known for its science programs, and especially its robust research program. My daughter added it to her list of colleges to apply to, and we considered our trip to be worthwhile.

Termination dust sprinkled the tops of peaks north of Talkeetna
Campus tour over, we headed back to Anchorage, and with good luck with traffic and few stops, made it in six hours with only one head-on collision averted by my driving onto the shoulder of the road. The worst was to come. A night in Anchorage led to a day of running errands and shopping which is par for the course when we are in "the big city." I suspected that heading out of town at 3 p.m. was a bad idea and was right. Traffic was heavy and road construction on the Kenai Peninsula was extensive. Folks driving slow were not inclined to pull over so long lines of cars piled up, growing along with my blood pressure. We made it home in 5 1/2 hours, which is an hour more than usual but less than the 7 hours that I've been hearing reported by folks who have made the journey in the past month. With such a short window for road construction, it all has to be done at once.

Over a thousand miles in 4 days, all for a campus visit. Check. It may be a great investment if my daughter decides to go to college at UAF!

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