Friday, July 30, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Kenai: The End of the Alaska RV Tour

We left Homer on Wednesday, July 28th and made the short 87 mile drive north to Kenai. As we went along, we passed communities with names such as Ninilchik, Kalifornsky, and Kasilof. The histories and cultures of these communities are tightly interwoven between native people and Russian traders and fishermen.

The Kenai Peninsula is very pretty. We drove past inlets and rivers where people were fishing, and saw rustic campgrounds and fancy lodges. This area is a hugely popular summer destination for many people of varying means and backgrounds, but the one unmistakable common core is Fishing. Some folks set up dilapidated RV trailers wherever they can and live in them while they fish. Others rent cabins, stay in high-end lodges, or occupy RV parks in fancier motor homes and RV trailers. Whatever their accommodations or resources, they are all there for the Salmon!

We arrived at the Beluga Lookout RV Park around noon. This park is located along a ridge top in Old Town Kenai, and has a great view of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet.

We got there just at the tail-end of the dip netting season, when Alaskan residents are allowed to use home made nets to literally scoop up salmon for their own consumption - they are not allowed to sell or trade the fish. The head of household is permitted to keep 25 salmon, and each family member can keep 10.  For many economically depressed families, the resulting cache of fish will help them survive the coming winter; a family of four can easily pack away 200 pounds of Salmon meat. This is subsistence fishing in its truest form.

After lunch, Spike took us on a walking tour to the Holy Assumption Orthodox Church which was built in 1896. This church building is actually the second church on the site, replacing a Russian Orthodox church that had been built in 1849. Spike asked the priest to tell us the history of the church and talk to us a little about the Russian Orthodox Church in general. I was very interested in what the Priest had to say because I have often wondered what it is that defines religious orthodoxy.

As we learned, the Russian Orthodox Church considers itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ and his Apostles (specifically the Apostle Andrew) almost 2,000 years ago. That is, they claim direct lineage to the beliefs and practices of the very first Christians. We also learned that the Russian Orthodox Church falls under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow, in communion with the other Eastern Orthodox Churches.  It is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and, among Christian churches, the Russian Orthodox Church is second only to the Roman Catholic Church in number of followers, now exceeding 135 million worldwide members and still growing.

There are deep and enduring links between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kenai Peninsula that date back to 1841, when the Russian Orthodox church served as a vital method of assimilating the natives to the Russian culture. The church also provided religious and educational services, and served as an administrative and judicial center for the region. 

The church building that stands there now is over 100 years old and is showing its age, but restoration efforts are underway to protect and preserve this National Historic Landmark which is the oldest standing Orthodox church in Alaska. Even during restoration, the Holy Assumption Orthodox Church continues to serve a congregation and play an important role in the Kenai society.

After visiting the church, we walked a little further to the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church Cemetery, which dates back to around 1860. Spike was explaining that the growing season is so short there, that the cemetery care keepers don’t bother to mow the grass. Just as we were talking about this, Paula Scott spotted a moose staring at us from the edge of the woods. She was staring intently at our group, apparently wondering what the deal was with all the yellow vests. I whipped my camera up and got this photo… pretty cool, eh?

After our visit to the Church and cemetery, we rode with Spike in the van to the local Safeway grocery store. Our group was having a King Crab feast that night and we needed to pick up some Alaska King Crab legs. While Lynda was shopping, I walked about a 1/4 mile to a nearby Radio Shack and bought another DVD player. That’s right, our DVD player had gone bad the night before - I think 11,000 miles of road vibration proved too much for it. Anyway, I found another player that was pretty inexpensive and we’ll see how long it lasts!

Our group assembled in the pavilion at the RV park Wednesday evening for dinner.  Spike, Roger, and Teresa provided potato salad, coleslaw, rolls, and deserts. All we had to do was bring our own King Crab legs.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough space at the tables to eat, at least not for me - I need a lot of elbow room to work on those crab legs! So Lynda and I went back to the Trek to eat and then returned to the pavilion for desert.  The food was good... I really like crab legs!

The next day, Thursday, was our last day as a group. We spent most the day doing little chores and chatting with folks, and Lynda polished up the poem she wrote for the group. She asked me to read it on her behalf later that day, at our "last supper". I turned in the quiz that Spike handed out to each rig during our first orientation briefing. This was 20+ questions about Alaska and the Yukon, intended to make us pay attention during the tour. It was not an  easy quiz but we had fun researching the answers. Spike and I also found some time for him to review how to maintain his web site, which I had rebuilt back in January.

And so later that day, the yellow jackets gathered once more for our last potluck dinner. It was five weeks to the day we first assembled in Hazelton

Spike grilled the Halibut that Roger and Teresa caught in Homer and we also enjoyed the various side dishes and deserts everyone brought. Fran's brother joined us also, and it was nice to meet him.

Then Spike read some poetry, passed around some articles of interest such as a big gold nugget, old coins, trading beads, part of a sea otter pelt, and other items that tied in with things we had done or talked about.

Spike picked folks out of the group, gave them scripts and had them perform some impromptu skits. It was all great fun!
He also announced the quiz winners: we got third place, Merrill and Jim Dick got second, and Sophie and Roxie won.

Those kids did a great job finding out all the answers!

And Spike also read to us a very entertaining note that Merrill had left for him, with tips and tricks for walking their little cocker spaniel, Edie. I cannot even begin to recount how funny that note was...we were all in stitches of laughter! Edie is a little "challenged" as far as socialization goes - she makes Sydney look people friendly and relaxed - and Merrill's note was explaining how to soothe her, and how to sing to Edie so she would poop. I really need to see if I can get a copy of that note!

And then a few folks from the group stepped up to read poems they had written to entertain our group, and I read Lynda's Flight of the Bumblebees... Through the Yukon and Alaska. I'm pleased to say I did it justice and the group really enjoyed the poem!

Click here to see photos of our stay in Kenai, including our "last supper".

And that was the end of our RV Caravan Tour of Alaska.  Lynda and I left the RV park this morning around 9 AM - it felt odd to be leaving on our own.  More than once today I've reached for the radio to share something with the others.

But, more adventures lay ahead of us and so we're not too sad. Stay tuned!

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