After our long day yesterday, most of us were ready to settle for an easy day today. We made it out of bed just in time to get some breakfast before the hotel buffet closed and then didn't go out until time for lunch. A few of our fellow travelers went out to see the Alaska pipeline.
Our lunch at Soapy Smith's Old Tyme Restaurant was interesting with "entertainment" by the owner and the servers. Because of the long wait for our food and our appointment for our next tour, our time for exploring downtown Fairbanks was limited.
Our next tour "Alaskan Tails of the Trail" took us to the home of Mary Shields,a beautiful cabin tucked into a boreal forest of birch trees and old spruce in Goldstream Valley outside Fairbanks. Mary was the first woman to finish the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, 1,049 miles from Anchorage to Nome in 28 days in 1974 enduring blizzards, subzero temperatures and gale force winds.
The Iditarod trail through wild Alaska,began as a mail and supply route to the interior mining camps and west coast communities, although portions were used by the Inupiac and Athabascan people for hundreds of years. In 1925 it became a life-saving highway when Nome was struck by a diphtheria epidemic and serum was delivered by dog mushers from Anchorage. Today, the Iditarod, held in March of each year, is considered Alaska's largest sporting event and is called the "Last Great Race".
Mary has also raced in the Yukon Quest, 1000 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, and the Hope Race, Alaska to Siberia.
Outside, in Mary's beautiful garden, she told us tales about her early life in Alaska, how she survived her first winter alone in an isolated cabin away from civilization. She had been studying Thoreau and wanted to follow his Walden experiment of living deliberately and experiencing only the essential facts of life. She has lived in Alaska for 47 years and has had dog teams for 43 of those years. She told us about raising, training and racing sled dogs.
After the time in the garden, we were given time to admire, pet and play with her dogs.
Alaskan Huskies are not pure bred. They are defined by their purpose - that of being a highly efficient sled dog.
Finally we were invited into the lovely cabin built by Mary and her husband for refreshments and more wonderful stories.
We ended our evening back in Fairbanks with dinner at the Cookie Jar Restaurant. We were joined by Manny, a native Athabascan, who shared some of his life story with us, including his time working on the Alaska pipeline.