The fireweed hourglass reported that it’s time for the Alaska Convergence. You are probably asking: “What is a convergence?” and “what is the fireweed hourglass?” Well just a few months ago I would have been asking the same questions. Let’s start with the convergence…..
You might remember back in March I attended a rally with the Escapees RV club, well Xscapers are a subgroup of members in the Escapees. Generally younger (of working age) the Xscapers is a support network geared toward a new generation of RVers many of whom have not yet retired and who have already, or are aspiring to, hit the road pursuing a full-time or part-time nomadic lifestyle. So as a young retiree and full time nomad I eagerly embraced this group.One of the fun activities of this subgroup are the informal “convergences” where Xscapers can camp near each other and have a relaxed pace of educational seminars and activities.
Gary and Stacey (Pau Hanna Travels) organized an Alaska Convergence this year that fit in perfectly with my travel plans.
The convergence was set for the first week in August – a time when it seems that the traveling RV population is beginning to head south and Alaskan’s are starting to prepare for the long winter months. Summer never seems to last long enough and that has been especially true here in Alaska. Marking summer’s passage in this beautiful state is one of Alaska’s most ubiquitous flowers, the fireweed.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” – Luther Burbank
The tall, reedy stalks waving their magenta petals in the breeze are common throughout much of the state. Epilobium angustifolium (common name Fireweed) grows up to 8 feet tall and seems to inspire Alaskans (and Alaska visitors) with a huge range of emotions—elation, industriousness, melancholy, dread.
Fireweed is beautiful but the flower has a secret that all Alaskan’s know….
….each fireweed is a living, blooming chronometer of the Alaska summer, along with the long summer daylight brilliantly marking the season’s progress. When the plant reaches a height of a foot or two, the first blossoms emerge several inches below the tip. As summer progresses, the petals climb continuously higher. When they reach the tip, summer is all but over. So not only was it time to meet up with friends old (from earlier this summer) and new but it was also time to think about saying goodbye to summer.
But let’s forget about endings and talk about fun times with friends.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” – William Butler Yeats
Gary & Stacey put together a great gathering at Summit Lake on the Kenai Peninsula.
The lake provided opportunity for breaking out the stand up paddleboard and enjoying the beautiful scenery.
“A man of wisdom delights in water.” – Confucius
From Summit Lake it was an easy drive to Portage where we started our first excursion by boarding the Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train heading to the Spencer Whistlestop.
Spencer Glacier, located in the Chugach National Forest, and just 60 miles from Anchorage, is only accessible by train. We enjoyed a beautiful train ride down Turnagain Arm and the Placer River Valley and into remote areas of Alaska that are not accessible by car. Disembarking at the Spencer Glacier Whistlestop, we met up with our rafting guide and got ready to float Spencer Lake and the Placer River.
Spencer Lake is at the toe of Spencer Glacier. A glacier formed lake it is still being fed by melted glacier water and the calving glacier deposits frequent and sometimes huge icebergs that have broken off the Spencer Glacier. As we paddled around the lake there were bergs of all shapes and sizes, dotting the water and creating a surreal landscape. With even the opportunity for an up close and personal interaction where they were close enough to touch!
As we floated between the bergs Gary calmly asked our guide if he could please paddle over and get his wallet – yes, his wallet! It had apparently (unknown to him at the time) fallen out of his back pocket and into the water and he had just happened to glance over in that direction and see it floating in the lake. Luck was certainly with him on this day as our guide fished it out of the water and handed the water soaked wallet back to its grateful owner.
“The river is constantly turning and bending and you never know where it’s going to go and where you’ll wind up. Following the bend in the river and staying on your own path means that you are on the right track. Don’t let anyone deter you from that.” – Eartha Kitt
After communing with the icebergs we headed the raft toward the outflow of the Placer River and enjoyed a leisurely float down river. The weather could not have been better for this outdoor adventure. At the end of the float we pulled the raft up on shore and waited to board the train for our trip back to Portage.
During the summer pools within the stairstep falls on the Russian River swarm with thousands of green-headed, red-bodied sockeye salmon. It was just a 2.5 mile hike into the falls area where we watched the salmon attempt to leap the falls to reach their ancestral spawning grounds upstream. Rumor had it that when the fish are there so were the bears but other member of our group had taken this hike on two separate occasions and saw no bears. We watched the fish jumping with Gary and I attempting to catch that perfect photo for some time before deciding to take the side trail up to the fishing access. While eating lunch along the river some folks just downstream suddenly shouted “bears”, and yes, a mother black bear and her yearling cub were coming down the other side of the river just above where we were.
“When you are where wild bears live you learn to pay attention to the rhythm of the land and yourself. Bears not only make the habitat rich, they enrich us just by being.” ― Linda Jo Hunter
There is so much to do and see on the Kenai Peninsula, but most drive right past the Hope turnoff without knowing what they’re missing. This quick detour lets you explore the history of Alaska’s first gold-rush town. Currently home to fewer than 200 residents, Hope was once packed with 3,000-all drawn by gold fever. In 1889, a few years before the Klondike gold rush began to lure people north, a miner discovered nuggets in nearby Resurrection Creek. Soon prospectors found gold in nearby Six Mile Creek, and the rush to Turnagain Arm began. According to local lore, this growing community of tents and cabins chose to name their town after the youngest rusher to step off the next boat-17-year-old Percy Hope. Whether or not the story is true, or the name simply refers to the hope to find gold the town is certainly worth a stop. While we were there the salmon were running the river and families were enjoying a weekend day outing. It was great fun to watch parents and kids catching fish after fish. Even the pink Barbie doll pole was reeling them in!
The same day we took our “truck hike” to Hope we also detoured over to drive through the train tunnel and visit Whittier (you might remember that my sister and I visited Whittier a few weeks before and I wrote about the tunnel).
Whittier, Alaska, is a sleepy town on the west side of Prince William Sound, tucked between picturesque mountains.The views were just unreal as this time the sun was out and reflecting off the water and show covered peaks. Being a fishing town also means great seafood and we enjoyed a late lunch at one of the local restaurants on the waterfront before heading back to camp.
In reminiscing about the convergence I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great social get-togethers each evening.
From impromptu pot lucks to ice cream sundaes and smore’s nights around a campfire one of the best parts of the event was getting to know other wonderful travelers.
“It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.” – Maria Sharapova
Convergences are not just field trips and fellowship but there was also opportunity for education. I was very excited to hear from Broc about how to take night photography. So Monday afternoon it was time for: “Broctography – Some of the stuff I know”. I was so inspired by the talk and some of his awesome photos that after leaving the convergence I headed for the Camera shop in Anchorage to pick up a good wide angle lens for night shoots.
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
As I drove away from the Summit Lake campground I saw the fireweed, reaching the tops of its bloom and signaling the wrap-up of the summer and my awesome trip to Alaska.
This certainly will not be my last convergence as it is a great way to meet up with other travelers and share our love for the road. Thanks Escapees and Xscapers for providing such a great opportunity.