We ventured off the main Parks Highway to check out Talkeetna, Alaska, population 1,064, plus a busload or two of tourists. If you were charmed by the 1990's television show Northern Exposure, Talkeetna would be right up your alley. In fact, the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska was supposedly based on Talkeetna, although the show was actually filmed in Washington State. The resemblance between the two was unmistakeable.
Frank insisted on having lunch at the historic Talkeetna Roadhouse, built in 1914. Frank later explained that he wanted to eat there because it was the only restaurant listed in the AAA Guide. We saw several other eateries on the main street, so either the guide was out of date or the other places were not worth mentioning. Not wanting to risk it, we stuck with the AAA Guide recommendation.
The Roadhouse was originally a stopping place for miners working in the Alaskan gold mines, but of late has become a respite for mountain climbers taking on various nearby peaks, cruise ship denizens who take the Alaska Railway train to see a bit of the interior country, and tourist families like ours. The Roadhouse had a fairly limited menu written on a chalkboard, with a "sit anywhere you find a seat" policy. It was homey, with a fireplace and sofa in one room that would be a welcome sight on a snowy day.
Most of the other diners were tourists like us, with a heavy sprinkling of wiry, scruffy dudes with long hair who looked like they hadn't seen a bar of soap in weeks. They were the mountain climbers, brought together by their desire to carry heavy packs up treacherous peaks, why? Because they're there, dude. They clung together and seemed to speak their own language. They reminded me of the surfer subculture in Hawai'i, always searching for the right set of conditions to conquer nature. The walls of the restaurant are dotted with memorabilia from notable climbs, like the four fellows who traveled from Death Valley (elevation -282 below sea level) to the top of Denali (elevation 20,230 above sea level).
After our stop at the Roadhouse, Frank wanted to see if we could take a look at the Susitna River. We drove off the main street into a residential neighborhood. The houses were small, mostly rustic log cabin structures. Several of them seemed to be undergoing renovations, and a few had rusty cars parked in the yard. Next to a tiny log cabin, we saw a tv satellite dish that was taller than the house. Clearly, these people had the right priorities. It reminded me of the mountain hollers of Eastern Kentucky, where my dad grew up.
I enjoyed our short visit to Talkeetna. Wasilla seened like it could have been a town just about anywhere in America, but Talkeetna seemed uniquely Alaskan.