Today has been set aside as a take it easy, no pressure day, time to kick back a little after the excitement of the last few days and take a breath ahead what will be our longest drive of the trip tomorrow.
Unfortunately the rain shows little sign of abating so outdoor playtime is curtailed but this doesn’t get in the way of our first port of call, North Pole’s famous Santa Claus House.
It’s as cheesy and commercial as you’d imagine – outside there’s a 42 foot tall statue of the man himself, the building looks like it made of gingerbread, and inside it’s a mini mall of all things Christmassy – but it makes no claims to the contrary. This is the Santa Claus House: if you’re going to visit, take it for what it is and enjoy it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, go do something else instead.
We enter expecting to take a quick look around for 20 minutes before leaving, maybe picking up a small gift or two. We end up spending an hour or more inspecting trinkets, ornaments and baubles before attempting – without tremendous success – to persuade one another that, however cute that tree decoration might be, it’s unlikely to survive the rest of our journey. Carole even goes as far as to have a photo taken sitting on Santa’s knee, something I’m relieved to look back upon and say is the point at which I draw the line.
The whole experience proves highly addictive; you end up like a kid in a candy store, encountering ever more imaginative ways in which the festive season can be tied to unnecessary but – at that moment – desirable consumer goods. So when I tell the lady who bags up our purchases that I imagine this to be the retail equivalent of crack cocaine, I mean it in a positive way, a compliment to their retail skills, but her expression suggests that maybe I could have expressed it better.
Our second destination of the morning is The Knotty Shop, located about 15 miles south on the Richardson Highway
This is a store dedicated to all things wood, leather and feather and, if you like this kind of thing (we do), you’ll love it. There are carved animals, ornaments made out of antlers, knives, the obligatory dream catchers, native arts, ceramics, and jewelry … in other words a range of typical Alaskan gifts. Some are probably the same as you’d find in cheaper stores but in the main they’re interesting handmade crafts.
There’s also an impressive collection of taxidermy. Most if not all are trophies bagged by members of the family that run the place who, if they’re not overly busy at the time, will be more than happy to tell the tale behind each specimen. And if dead animals aren’t your thing, The Knotty Shop is also famed for its ice cream.
And then it’s back to Moose Walk, our cabin by the river for an afternoon of catching up, tidying bags, preparing dinner, watching a little TV and gazing outside wishing the rain would stop so we could at least enjoy tonight’s first beer outside. The downpour does actually break for an hour in the middle of the afternoon, enough time for me to jump into one of the canoes that come with the cabin and paddle a way upstream before allowing myself to drift back down again on the slow moving current. And as I pull the canoe out of the river, back comes the rain.
The weather could certainly have been kinder to us but this most northerly stopping point on our trip is pretty much perfect: good food, good wine, amazing scenery and the most wonderful location, all enhanced by the welcome and helpfulness of our host Terri (who lives in the house next door).