The Conclusion of the Matter

* Here is the conclusion to thrilling saga of our vacation hunting trip! If you’d like to start at the beginning, please click here. *

In the morning, The Bull climbed the ridge again to confirm that the herd of caribou had, indeed, moved on.  There was no point in staying there any longer, so we loaded the kids up in their jammies and got an early start headed west.  We ate snacks for breakfast and looked for animals for a few hours.

Soon, The Bull saw a cow caribou with a calf.  He decided to get a closer look; if the calf was male, he’d be legal.  I got a picture as he was heading out.

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I spent a little time picking up purple rocks.  Real, honest-to-goodness purple rocks!  Not maroon or red.

Anyway, The Bull he got closer to the caribou sooner than he expected and scared them off.  So we rolled on down the road a ways.  I took a couple of “kids in jammies” shots.

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The littlest, munching on her cheez-and-crackers.

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The oldest, trying to touch his chin with his tongue.

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The middle one, a.k.a. “the green kangaroo,” making a scary face.  (I am totally grossed out by the dirt in them fingernails!!  UGH!)

Finally, late morning-ish, we stopped for breakfast.  I didn’t feeling well so I laid down in the truck while The Bull scrambled up eggs and potatoes.  I decided to look out over the valley, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I saw a caribou while we’re sitting here?”

Sure enough!  Can you see it?

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No?  OK, lemme zoom in a little. . .

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I took over breakfast duties while The Bull chased down what ended up being a cow caribou off on a solitary morning stroll.  Before long, we had full bellies and were on the road again.

We continued on slowly for the next four or six hours, but we didn’t see anything more exciting.  We stopped again at the Brushkana campground for a late lunch, but we didn’t stay long.

However, a few miles down the road we saw this.

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And yes, of course, it’s a cow.  But this time it’s a moose!  Another motorist came up fast  and zoomed around us, which scared her from where she had been (right beside the road) to where you see her now (trying to hide in the trees.)

See?  It’s hard to see them critters in the trees!

We also got a rare sight of this beauty as we got close to Cantwell.

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That is Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America (20,320 feet above sea level!)  I’ve lived and traveled in Alaska for 16 years, and I think I’ve only seen the entire mountain two or three times.  Usually it’s covered with clouds.  This is one big mountain and she makes her own weather.

By the time we got to Cantwell, we had decided that we’d not be camping another night, so we drove quickly back to our friends’ house, showers, and civilization.

And flush toilets, and did I mention showers?  Yeah, civilization is nice!  :)

The Aftermath

It was SOOOO good to sleep in our own beds when we returned home!  The hardest part of trips, for me, is the unpacking.  It just takes so long!  Unloading everything from the truck and trailer, and cleaning it all up, and putting everything away. . . it just seems to take forever.

The clean up on this trip was substantial.  I stopped counting after 20 loads of laundry, not including the sleeping bags which needed to go to the laundromat.  Like I said, everything was coated in dust!  Everything we had taken with us needed to be washed.  That’s every piece of clothing, every blanket, every coat, everything!

The food was put away fairly quickly, but I still have to open up the tub with the kids’ games (etc.) and sort through it all and put everything away (and we’ve been back two weeks!)  I’m still not looking forward to that task, which is probably why it’s been left for so long!

Although we returned from our hunting trip without meat, we did take lots of neat pictures of most of us (“somehow” I  managed to avoid being photographed all week!)  We also came back with lots of wonderful memories.  And really, that’s a grand way to spend a week’s vacation, don’t you think?  The kids had a blast.  I’m sure if we asked, they’d be ready to go again next week.

It might take me a bit longer to be ready to go!

* Thanks for joining us on our adventure! I hope you have enjoyed this mini-series.  If you happen to get to hunt the Denali Highway, I wish you well! *

Denali Highway 1, Moose Family 0

* The story of our family’s hunting trip!  Because you know the old saying. . . “The family that hunts together, has fun together.”  Or something like that.  Anyway if you’d like to start at the beginning of our trip, please click here. *

That night was not as cold for us.  The temperature outside was just as cold, but we pulled out the reserved sleeping bags and they gave us a little better protection from the cold.  I also set up the kids’ mattresses on extra sleeping bags, to protect them better from the cold floor of the trailer.

The Bull got up early and prepared for an early morning hunt.  I woke while he was getting ready, but I never could get back to sleep.  The children, thankfully, slept for quite a while still.  When they did wake they were happy and well rested.

While we waited for The Bull to return, I cooked up some breakfast for myself and the kids (eggs, bacon, and sliced potatoes) and we watched the “camp robber” birds (I think they are called “grey jays” try to sneak our breakfast, while we sat there!  After we’d all eaten and cleaned up, we started on a short hike up the hill.  We’d almost gotten to the top of the very short hill when we saw The Bull returning, so we turned around to hear about his morning.

He was fairly disappointed, in that he’d only seen tracks from one caribou.  He also saw a cow moose, but the trees were too thick to see much.  He guessed that the bull that the other hunter saw had moved on.  While he ate some breakfast and made coffee, the kids and I hiked up the hill to see what we could see.  “Wouldn’t it be funny,” I thought, “if we see something we can hunt right here, while The Bull just hiked several miles and saw nothing?”  This is what we saw!

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Absolutely gorgeous area!  We hiked over the tundra to the yellowish grassy area, and as we were en route we saw this . . .

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It’s a hoof print from a caribou or a moose (I couldn’t tell which) in the grass.  We also saw caribou or moose droppings.   Something had been there before us!  OK, probably days before us, but it was still a bit exciting to think of the possibility of happening on a legal caribou or moose so close to where we were camping, and me without a firearm and with three small children!

And then we found the four-wheeler trail.  Apparently this location isn’t as quiet as I had thought!  :)

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Don’t ask me what he is doing.  I have no idea about that boy sometimes!

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Calf #2, on the way back to the campsite.  He seemed to enjoy the short hike.

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Calf #1, doing some serious exploring.  The clear spot near the top left hand corner?  That is the parking lot where we’d camped.  We weren’t far at all.

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The cutest little hiker I saw that morning!  It was very easy hiking, I didn’t need to carry her much at all.  And when I did, it was mainly to try to keep up with the boys.

We broke camp and headed back down the road, a little slower this time on account of the bumps and our bellies (mine and Calf #2′s.)  I kept a close eye on the snacks, in an attempt to alleviate some of the difficulties of the previous day.  Also took lots of pictures.  This was a fairly cloudy day, but the clouds were quite pretty.  I had never really seen them look like this, all silver and black and round-ish.

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As it got to be mid-day, we decided to stop for lunch after we crossed the Susitna River.  This, by the way, is the bridge.  It’s not really wide enough for two vehicles to pass at the same time!  (Actually, I think all the bridges on the Denali Highway are like that.)  So you wait until the oncoming traffic has crossed the bridge before you go out.

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And more beautiful clouds, their light reflected in the Susitna River.

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If you’re interested, this is what the bridge looks like from the side.

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The Bull decided to pull off for lunch on the side of the road, but there was no pull out and we knew that the kids would need a little more space; so he pulled off on a rare side road.

As I got out and started making lunch, he got out and looked at the trailer and yelled.  It turned out that one of the trailer tires had gone flat!  Thankfully, we had a spare.  There were also some men working on a huge dump truck just farther up the little road that we’d pulled onto and they stopped to see if they could help by re-inflating the tire.

As it turned out, they couldn’t and The Bull just had to change the tire.  But it was great that they did stop to ask.  Out there in the middle of nowhere, if you realize you forgot your jack or that you can’t get the tire off, you could be waiting for a long time for someone to stop by and help.  The boys, who have always been thrilled with construction equipment,  were totally dwarfed by the dump truck!

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So I cooked up some hot dogs for lunch and The Bull changed the tire and the boys played in the woods and the little girl played in the trailer.  Then it was on the road again!  One of the boys had a little fun with sitting behind Daddy.  I want to call this photo, “Sometimes I feel like somebody’s watching me!”

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(If you were wondering, those are binoculars in the back of The Bull’s seat.)

At one point, we saw some folks parked on the side of the road looking at something.  Shortly after that, somebody in our truck saw these two.

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But we didn’t pursue them, on the offhand chance that the other hunters had been watching them.

After several hours and a few stops, we got back to the ridge where The Bull had seen the herd on the previous day. The Bull got ready to hike back and see if any bulls had joined the herd.  It was late afternoon and it was starting to get cool, so the kids and I spent some time in the trailer.   I tried to rest  (ha ha!) while the kids had a snack and made a mess in the trailer.

About one hour after The Bull had left, we heard a small POP!  And then another POP!  I was sure that it was The Bull bagging a bull caribou!  I grabbed the map and tried to figure out if it would be quicker to get home by going back to Paxson or by going forward to Cantwell.  I could almost feel the steam of the hot shower on my face. . . the end of our trip was so close!

Forty minutes after the POPs, The Bull came back down the ridge.  He had, indeed, seen a bull caribou and that had been him shooting at it!  But the animal was in the middle of a grassy area and there was no way that The Bull would be able to get closer to it without scaring the critter away, so he tried a long shot.  It was too long of a shot.  He didn’t shoot the caribou and the herd had all run off.

That was a very dejected night in camp.  Although it was fairly early, we decided to call it a night and camp right there.  The kids weren’t too interested in soup, so The Bull and I finished it off and we all got ready for bed.

While the kids were settling in for the night, The Bull and I braved the tiny biting flies and went outside to talk and plan the next day, our final hunting day.  We also made our own little stack of rocks, similar to ones we’d seen from one end of the road to the other.

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I don’t know if these little rock piles have a special significance to the people who are leaving them.  Maybe it’s just a way of saying “I was here!”

We decided to get an early start on the next morning and drive slowly west back to Cantwell, hoping we’d see something worth shooting, and call it a trip at that point.  It was disappointing, as he was so close to the bull and yet too far away.  And yet, there was a hope that our last day would bring success.

* Tomorrow . . . the conclusion of our adventures! *

Tuesday: Covering Ground

* Yet another edition in the thrilling saga of our hunting trip! If you’d like to start at the beginning, please click here. *

Despite our mattresses, blankets, sleeping bags, and propane heaters, Monday was a very cold night. I think it must have been close to freezing, maybe even a little below!  When we emerged from the trailer, the sky was clear and the bushes were all frosted.  It was quite pretty, but very cold!   It was a relief when the sun started to rise high in the sky and warm the ground and the air; by that time, we were down the road a ways with warm oatmeal and hot coffee in our bellies.

We saw lots of beautiful fall colors, everywhere.  I loved the contrast between the yellow of the  grass and the red of the bushes, with the brown of the mountains behind it all.

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The distant snow-covered mountains and glaciers were another gorgeous sight.

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About 20 miles in (a little over an hour later), we stopped at the Maclaren River Lodge briefly.  If you are ever in the area, stop in; they were nice people who let a dusty, pregnant hunter use their bathroom.  Quite a big deal, as I’m sure that running the well  and maintaining the septic system are expensive out there.

We drove all morning, stopping periodically to pull out the binoculars to investigate the hundreds of “rock-caribou” and “bush-moose” that we saw.

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The children entertained themselves fairly well, actually.  Occasionally I had to break up a disagreement or stop one from picking on another.  This was one of the sweeter moments of the day.

This duet was shared by Calf #3 and Calf #2 (except you can’t see him on the video.)

Mid-morning, The Bull decided to hike up a short ridge to see what was on the other side.  Sure enough, there were about a dozen caribou!

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So the kids and I settled in.  We ate lunch and the boys ran up and down the ridge while The Bull hiked over to check out the herd.  I asked Calf #1 to keep an eye on his daddy with binoculars; he could see the bright orange of his backpack for a long time.  The problem was, it didn’t appear that he was moving!  After an hour, I finally thought to ask if he could see The Bull or just his backpack.  I had started to wonder if he’d sprained an ankle or something . . . would I need to hike over the ridge into the valley to rescue him?  Maybe I could drive back to the lodge to get help?

Turns out I didn’t need to do anything.  When The Bull returned (about a half hour later) he said that he’d just left his pack there to hike a little bit lighter.   And the herd?  All were cows and calves.  He couldn’t tell if the calves were male or female and didn’t feel like pursuing it with the hope of adult males farther down the road, so he called this hunt off.  He grabbed a sandwich and we headed farther down the dusty road.

We kept a close eye out the windows for animals; when we thought we saw something, we stopped to look closer.  Nothing looked promising, though.  At one point a cow caribou crossed the road in front of us, wandering over towards a side road where several hunters were camped.  The Bull stopped as soon as he safely could and grabbed the binoculars, but couldn’t see any other animals.

The rest of that day was a blur.  The tundra gave way to a forested area.  There could have been a caribou 20 feet off the road, but the trees were thick enough that we’d have never known.  The Bull picked up the speed slightly as we drove through the dense trees.

Calf #3 took a nap.  I love the cute sounds she makes when she is falling asleep.

In the afternoon, we crossed over the Susitna River.  Judging by the boat trailers parked on the road before the bridge, this was a good day for fishing.

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We finally stopped sometime mid-afternoon for a snack of noodles at the Brushkana Campground.  By that time I had a headache from watching for animals out the window for so long.  Calf #2 was complaining of a belly ache from the bumpy road.  I was quite discouraged, as we’d seen nothing legal to hunt and the road was filled with other hunters who were presumably after the same animals that we were seeking.  Calf #3 had slept parts of the day, but she was beginning to be cranky.  In fact, the kids and I were all tired and cranky and hungry.  It was a good time and place to take a break and figure out a plan.

After our brief rest, we were refreshed enough to continue on the road.  We decided to slowly continue on to Cantwell and see what we could find.  We saw lots of trees, plenty of mountains, and numerous birds, but no more large mammals.

In Cantwell, we stopped for fuel, bought more mantles for the propane light (to replace the one that had broken due to the bumpy road!), and grabbed a bite to eat at a little restaurant (“We’re out of cole slaw, we’re down to the last few cans of soda, and there’s no soap in the bathroom. . . sorry, it was a busy weekend!” the man who was running the place said.)  We decided to head back to the the Brushkana campground for the night, planning to get a morning start headed east for more road-hunting.

While we were setting up camp, heating some soup, and shaking the dust out of our sleeping bags, a hunter who was camping nearby came over to chat with The Bull.  The man said that the other hunters there at the campground were only looking for moose.  (In this area, a special permit is required to hunt for caribou.  The Bull had put his name into this drawing and had been selected.  This is why we were looking for caribou or moose, while others were only hunting for moose.)

The man also said that a large bull caribou had wandered through the campground just two days before! Because he and the other hunters didn’t have the caribou permit, all they could do was watch him walk on by.

When we first planned our trip, we had hoped to find something legal to hunt either Monday or Tuesday.  But with these bits of news, there was still a hope that tomorrow could be “the day”!  So The Bull decided to get up early the next morning for a hike to see what he could see.

* And what did The Bull see?  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow! *

One Bottle of Benadryl, Five Baby Wipes, and Lots of Hand Sanitizer

* Yes, we did take three children moose hunting!  No, we aren’t crazy!  If you’d like to read about the preparations and packing for out trip, please click here. *

After a weekend of catching up with some good friends and finishing up Aunt Mel’s deck, we left for our vacation!  Our plan for the hunt was to find something edible and legal. . . a bull (male) moose, or a bull (male) caribou, or a bear (male or female.)

Monday (Labor Day) we drove through some gorgeous scenery.  First we passed by a river, then a glacier.  We stopped for lunch on the side of the road a ways out of town and Calf #1 got stung by a bee!  The Bull gave him some benadryl (had we been at home, I would have made a paste with meat tenderizer to draw out the poison. . . but we weren’t at home so we had to make do with what we had!)  I hoped that would give us some peace and quiet, but he only slept for about a half hour.  :)

We drove through lots of mountains.  I LOVE the mountains!  And it’s the time of year that the mountains are getting snowy.

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(Although, honestly, some are snowy year round.)  This is Mount Sanford.  She has quite a history that I did not even know about until tonight when I sat down to get this post ready!  (Click over to read all about it if you’re curious.)

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The fall colors are starting to turn, also.  It’s that time of year, too!

We drove, literally, for hours!  We had to stop every now and then (there were small children and a pregnant woman in the truck!  Oh, and did I mention that we had left our big tub of baby wipes at our friends’ house?  We only had the small tub. . . containing FIVE wipes!  Thankfully we had two bottles of hand sanitizer!) but we managed to get to the Denali Highway by late afternoon.

The Bull’s plan was to drive somewhat slowly down the road, from Paxson to Cantwell, 135 miles (217 km.)  Most of it is unpaved and gravel (about 111 miles, or 178.5 km), and quite dusty and bumpy; it was the only road into Denali National Park from 1957 to 1971.

And yes, it was much better when we did drive slowly!  Calf #2 must be having sympathy pregnancy symptoms for me, as he complained of belly aches when the road got too bumpy.  We had brought three pairs of binoculars, so we were all able to look out at the tundra and see if anything was moving.

Sure enough, before very long at all, The Bull hurriedly pulled the truck and trailer off to the side of the road (there are pull outs along the whole road, every mile or so; all the better for hunters to stop and stalk their prey.)  He looked over towards a distant lake with his binoculars and saw two cow (female) moose.  He was about to get us loaded up to move on down the road when he saw a large bull moose standing in the middle of the lake!  After watching it for a few minutes, he wasn’t able to tell if it was large enough to be legal.  For this area, a bull moose must have four brow tines on at least one side of its antlers.  (Or a “spike,” one prong, or a “fork”, two prongs.  These are antlers that are growing deformed and won’t mature to brow tines.)

So the kids and I hung out while he stalked the moose!  The boys ran up and down a little hill and the little girl and I stayed in the truck and kept warm.  I passed around snacks for all.  I was tired and starting to get a wee bit cranky.  :) We could see The Bull for a while through the binoculars.

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Can you see him?  He’s that little orange speck in the middle of the picture.

He returned two hours later, having hiked quite a ways towards the moose; he’d still been unable to get close enough to the moose to accurately see its antlers.  Plus, shooting a moose that is standing in a lake is not generally advisable.  If it dies right there in the lake, you’re going swimming to recover the meat.  ;)  And leaving it there in the lake is not an option!  This is called “wanton waste” and it’ll get you in big trouble in Alaska.

So we loaded up and wandered down the road a little farther to the Trail Lakes campground, where we stopped for the night.  It was really cold that night, but the moon was beautiful at dusk!

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The Bull cooked up some of our soup and we had a quick, late supper.  This was where I discovered that we were in for a dusty trip, as everything in the trailer and the back of the truck was coated in dust.  The trailer was enclosed, true, but it was not airtight.  If I hadn’t been so cold and tired, I think I would have broken down and cried and begged to go back to civilization.  Well, that and the long drive down a dusty road!  Instead, we brushed the dirt off best as we could, shook the sleeping bags outside, and went to bed.

* Tomorrow I’ll talk about our first full day of hunting.  See ya then!*

WW: A River And A Glacier

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The River.

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The Glacier.

We passed both as we headed out for our little vacation.

* More about that tomorrow.  :) *

Visit 5 minutes for moms for other wordless posts.

The Trip: Preparation!

Yup, we’re back!  Did ya miss me?  I sure missed being at home and all the comforts of home . . . a daily shower, naps, my computer, and my online buddies!!!

I’m writing about our trip in great detail in the hopes that it will help someone.  Maybe someone needs to prepare for a hunting trip in Alaska.  Maybe I’ll need to look back next year and see what we did and how we packed and what we ate.  Maybe I just need a reminder, next time The Bull says “let’s go hunting,” of how difficult and uncomfortable a trip it really was!  ;)

Food

One of my biggest concerns, of course, was the FOOD, since I am truly hungry, literally every two hours.  (Mind you, I can only eat a few bites at a time, but I can’t really skip meals or snacks these days!)

I decided to pack things that were easy to prepare using mainly hot water; I tried to find nutritious foods, but the need for quick preparation limited us severely.  I packed our foods in separate garbage bags, each one labeled:

  • Breakfast: Instant oatmeal (one large box, one regular sized box), raw potatoes.
  • Lunch:  Cup o’noodles.
  • Snacks:  (This was one of my most important meals, since I eat so many times a day!  Plus, eating on the road is one way to keep the kids occupied.  More on that later.)  Pop*Tarts and the real Gummy Bears from Germany (both are long-standing Moose family hunting traditions), Nutri Grain bars, trail mix, chips, cookies, licorice, bananas, and cheese/cracker packs.  No, not very nutritious.  But hey, it’s a vacation right?
  • Dinner:  Cans of ready-to-eat soup (I normally buy the condensed soup, but we were bringing a limited amount of water), crackers, and Mountain Home freeze-dried camping meals (which we never even opened!  We forgot about them!  I guess we’ll just save ‘em for next year’s camping. . . not like they’ll go bad or anything! ;) )

We also brought a cooler, which held eggs and bacon (breakfast), bread and lunch meat and cheese and PB&J (lunch), salami (snacks), hot dogs and buns (dinner.)

In another tub, I had a frying pan and spatula, ketchup and mayo packets, paper towels, kleenex, toilet paper, coffee, coffee pot, a pan for boiling water, hot cocoa mix, styrofoam cups, plastic cups, plastic utensils, paper bowls and plates, a small cutting board, a good sharp knife, dish soap, and a dish cloth.  Whew!

We also had a propane stove and lots of propane bottles.  And lots of waterproof matches!

Keeping the kids occupied

For the road, we had some kid-friendly and snacks (as non-messy as possible!)  I also loaded up my mp3 player with some neat stories (some courtesy of Homeschool Radio Shows) and songs.

The weather was predicted to be wet, drizzly, cold, and dreary.  I figured we’d have to spend lots of time in the trailer.  So I brought along books, kids’ card games and other games, toys, a tape player and tapes (and extra batteries!), washable markers and coloring books, a couple of school books, and a school activity project.  I put all these in a tub to keep them out of the kids’ reach until needed.

As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous (for September in Alaska, anyway, with highs around 60 degrees!) and we didn’t need the things in that tub!  I did get a couple of the games out one day, but mostly the kids ran around outside and played in the dirt.  We were all really dirty by the time we got back to civilization!  (And I hadn’t packed enough clothes, oops!  Since I knew the kids would be getting into the dirt anyway, they got to wear the same clothes for a few days in a row.  No point in putting on clean clothes to go play in the dirt!)

The Camping

We had borrowed a little trailer that is usually used for hauling snowmachines (what folks in other places call “snowmobiles.”)  While it was enclosed, it was not airtight and not heated. But it would keep us safe from animals and out of the (expected) rain and dreary weather.  Plus, we wouldn’t need to pitch a tent every time we stopped.

We brought along two twin sized bed mattresses for The Bull and me and good camp pads for the children.  We also had lots of pillows, blankets, and sleeping bags, more than we thought we’d need.

We also had a couple of propane heaters.  Well, one was actually a propane light; the other was a catalytic heater.  We only had the light when we’d done our “test run” of camping prior to the trip; it kept the trailer bright enough to see overnight without flashlights and put off a little heat.  So The Bull got the heater for backup.

Now, we had plenty of propane bottles for the light and the propane stove but we should have picked up a few extra propane bottles for the heater!  As it turned out, we didn’t run out of propane.  But it was close.  Another good thing to have had was extra mantles for the light.  :)

* Sorry, folks, but I’ll continue with the trip tomorrow!  Otherwise this post would get really super duper long.*

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