Four Down Two Across: Homer, Alaska

Saturday morning, at the Ocean Shores motel in Homer, I was sitting at the desk peering out the big window at the water. I saw splashing in the distance. I asked Robert, “Is that a whale?”

Indeed it was. In fact, it was one of four whales, swimming up the sound, their backs visible in the water. Over the next hour or so we saw probably 20 whales altogether. A beautiful start for the day.

After breakfast at McDonald’s, we drove to Soldotna, a town of 5,000 about 90 minutes north, to play with the Soldotna Table Tennis Club. During the academic year the club plays at a school, then breaks for the summer. Since school was now closed, and we still wanted to play, special arrangements were made at the Soldotna Elks Club, which has two tables in a gym in the basement. Most of the club members were away, but six of us (including two teens) showed up, playing from noon to 2:30. We had a good time and a great workout.

Back on the road, Robert and I stopped for lunch again at Suzie’s Cafe in Sterling. Robert had his favorite, a chickenburger, while I tried the hot open turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. This is the very definition of “comfort food.”A little after 6 pm we arrived in Eagle River, just north of Anchorage, at the home of Boyd and Shirley Bennett. Boyd, 84, is many-time table tennis champion of Alaska, the first table tennis champion of the Arctic International Games, the coach of many younger Alaskan players, and the first inductee (in 2005) into the Alaska Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Now with a couple of titanium rods in his back, Boyd doesn’t play anymore, but he’s still enthusiastic about the game. Boyd and Shirley built a wing on their house to hold two table tennis tables. The lighting, flooring, and overall conditions are professional. An Eagle River Table Tennis Club used to play here. After dinner Robert and I played a best-of-seven match, with Boyd and Shirley watching from the side. Robert spotted me 8 points per 11-point game. I ended up winning 4 games to 2, but as the score suggests, it wasn’t easy. Conversation about table tennis and lots more ran late into the evening.

Regarding yesterday’s puzzle, my answer was HORSESHOER.

Here’s a new challenge: Take the word EAGLE. Change one letter in it and rearrange the result to make a new word. Then change one letter in that and rearrange the result to make another word. And so on. How many steps does it take to change EAGLE into RIVER? Only common, uncapitalized words are allowed.

Follow Will and Robert’s Trip across Alaska through next week at “Four Down Two Across.”