Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Turkeys and Trails

Leadville, formerly known as Cloud City, has been treating me right. For someone living a "normal" life for the first time ever, things are quite better than normal, I'd say.
After torturing myself for the last few years about taking the business graduate entrance exam, the GMAT, it was time to bite the bullet, pay the $250 fee, and drive my freshly studied-up brain to Denver for 4 hours of computer adaptive madness. What does one do before the most important test of your life? Oh, roast a bird. The "old country" comes out when I get stressed and I cooked an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner a few hours before I left in a blinding snowstorm for the lowland of Denver.
After the initial culture shock and freak-out which simulated going to the capitol city after living in my Peace Corps village, I spent a day at fellow RPCV Lizzy's studying and dreading the exam. Upon arriving at the nondescript testing center (which I spent a full hour seeking out the night before) I sat next to a girl taking it for the second time who confessed to breaking out in hives her first time due to nerves. "Lovely, well... good luck" I smiled while inching across the room and hexing her with my third eye. No bad vibes needed! A relatively painless 4 hours later, I walked out confused but satisfied with my results. Who knows what they actually mean to the admissions committee at Colorado State but advice to the young, if you are even remotely considering grad school, take the test as soon as you can after college. Those formulas just don't get any fresher with time.

Since my last post showed us all biking in t-shirts, I thought it appropriate to represent Leadville in its true form, a winter wonderland. Since starting my gig as a backcountry diva, snowmobiling and schlepping wild game with the best of 'em, I've had the opportunity to get out cross-country skiing more than I thought I would. I really think this is going to be my sport. It's as hard or as easy as you want it to be, you can carry camera gear without too much worry of crushing it, and the prep is minimal.

In addition to being an outdoor sports mecca, Leadville is also a historical vault. I took myself to the National Mining museum a few weeks ago, located just a couple blocks away. Wow, did you know the same stuff that makes shaving cream white also makes Oreo cream white? One more thing to scratch off my lists of appropriate treats. My self-timer camera and I had a great time perusing the exhibits and enjoying the building all to ourselves. It's been really fun getting to know the community and its resources! Bittersweet to know I'll be packing up again in 5 months.

The latest news, I won a local photo contest and they gave me cash! Curiously, they emailed me the news the day before I took the GMAT and it covered the test fee exactly. Stoked and surprised! The photo was published in Rocky Mountain Reflections, put out every semester by Colorado Mountain College. Here's the link but fair warning, it's a huge PDF.
I treated myself to a real DSLR, the Sony a33. Oh. My. Gawd. Talk about in over my head. This thing does EVERYTHING! And I don't even know what everything is. It has translucent mirror technology which allows it to shoot still and HD video at the same time and that's really just the beginning. I've been experimenting with filters and lenses but at the end of the day, it's hard to take a poor image up here. Every angle is a postcard or calendar shot waiting to happen. I've been updating photos on facebook but below is an example of the panoramic feature. A nice, fire-y sunset I took while standing in my socks in the front yard.

Happy Holidays, time to head into the light once again.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lovin' the high

After spending a few weeks above 10,000 feet, I've been enlightened...probably due to oxygen deprivation. There literally is. no. air. In addition, nights have dropped to 8 degreesF and walking to the library entails more layers than a river trip down the Kenai in Alaska. That said, Leadville is an amazing town; it oozes history and activities abound!
Mountain vernacular is sheer hilarity in itself . "Puking Pow", "Rip the gnar" and "Whoa dude, steezy shades." are phrases I have either heard or created in my head because they actually could exist. The learning curve is huge and though I've surpassed the pants drooping, long tee wearing, lingo-slinging phase I've heard is rampant on the slopes, I'd like to keep up with the times.

This should be fairly easy as my paid gig for the winter is pretty sweet and the location really couldn't be more awe-inspiring. That's right folks, I have realized my dream of working in a Yurt. Yes, one of those round houses right out of Mongolia (minus the Yak skin walls) will be my destination to serve people delectable delicacies. Said clients will either ski, snow-shoe or, should disabilities reign, be snow-machined the mile to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, part of the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, located at the base of Ski Cooper, Leadville's closest mountain (natural snow). I'm pretty excited and can't wait to utilize their 25K of trails and my pass to the area mountains!

Interestingly enough, my first encounter with "shredding" wasn't on skis or a snowboard but my mountain bike. 50-yards from my house is the trailhead to the Mineral Belt Trail. A 12-mile, winding, climbing paved path that goes through some of the oldest mining claims in the area. This is where I run into the lack of oxygen problem. My roommates, Rocky, and I did it at a leisurely pace and the views were made only more spectacular by my tunnel vision. Around mile-8 we hit a gulch and trekked a fair bit through snow. Next purchase? Studded bike tires. A great time for sure and can't wait until enough snow flies to turn it into a x-country path....though I'll have to work up to the whole twelves miles on foot. Nothing screams fun like an uncontrolled downhill on wily nordic skis.

As of late, it's been exploring the town and gearing up for work in the snow. Brooke and Mike blew in from Kansas (having come from Alaska to DC and eventually back up to the good ol'
AK) for a night. Great times! Always fun to see Alaskan friends out of Alaska, makes me believe I really do live and work up there.
This was the last day of sock-less weather before some snow and colder temps hit. All in all it's been a fabulous two weeks and am really looking forward to a winter with great friends, food, and rippin' some gnar!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thelma and Louise RIDE

The last time mom and I hit the interstates in a massive way, I was 15 and we were crammed in a little 5-speed Toyota Tacoma. This time – 11 years later, I could drive and it was a little 5-speed Subaru. Amongst the clutter, 2 pairs of X-country skis and poles went INSIDE the car, as I didn’t want to invest in those locking roof things. I’m pretty over the expense of a car but that’s a totally different post (I’m writing this while sitting at my fourth mechanic.) Mom was a great sport about getting crammed in with the rest of my junk show and after a slight panic attack that everything I had did NOT fit on my back, we pulled out of the driveway Thursday afternoon.

After an emergency stop in Cleveland to get smokies (such good little Hungarians!), we were westward bound. Couldn’t help but feel the need to settle in for the winter and I may have left flaming skid marks on I-80. This is a big country. Amazing there is no currency or language change throughout the thousands of miles we drove! Slept for a few hours at a rest stop and powered through until Friday night. As much as I detest what Wal-Mart stands for, we were able to feed ourselves for 5 days on $40. Apples, bagels, sardines, and peanut butter...oh and some goose liver for a treat. We also camped rather than hotel-ed it. No bed bugs and smells way better. And there is NO better feeling than changing one's underpants beneath a full moon!

Mom took most of the pics but the ones I did take were of the prairie and us. Lots and lots of prairie. The big sky factor totally caught me off-guard. Amber waves of grain and

everything else we learned about our country in those elementary school song rituals. One of many highlights of this trip was mom conceding that I was right in retrospect about map proximity. I kept saying we should shoot through South Dakota to see Mt Rushmore and the badlands. After seeing nothing but feedlots and chicken processing plants through Nebraska, we were dying to see something with a wow factor before I loaded her on a plane. "Gee Rachael, you know, South Dakota really isn't that far away." Pedal to the metal, NORTH!

After having spent a night in the car, we were ready to be horizontal. Chadron State Park was the perfect second night stop. Free hot showers and super helpful office folk. NW Nebraska was actually beautiful. Dollar cones at McDonalds and hot water for our Starbucks VIE coffee. Life was rich.

This is where we hatched our genius plan to tear through as much of Wind Cave Park and Rushmore before turning and burning to Denver...then promptly passed out at 7:30pm.

It was a lovely drive north, punctuated by gale force winds and intermittent spells of soupy fog. However, upon arrival at Wind Cave, we immediately saw bison, and mule deer, and prairie dogs. OH MY! Bison are HUGE and so much better adapted to the western way of living than cattle. They're native after all! A quick tour of the visitor's center, and it was off to Rushmore. Really, it was only an hour north so well worth it. Elevation was starting to wear on mom and I could almost see her head expanding as we reached 5,000 feet. By-passing the Crazy Horse Monument (total tourist trap!), we began the steady gain upwards. The drive was amazing. The rock formations and aspen groves within the pines were breathtaking. No wonder it inspired the task of Rushmore!

Some poor guy couldn't take a picture to save his life but you get the idea here. We hiked all around the base, mellow but significantly less oxygen. After sucking our lungs back into our bodies and taking one last snap of this truly glorious feat, it was time for coffee. Little break to write postcards and people-watch then on to Jewel Cave where we didn't get into the underground tour (just fine for those claustrophobic folks) but did get to watch the chipmunks enjoy our bagel crumbs.

Camping that night at Two Moons in Wyoming's Glendo State Park was probably one of the most hilarious/nerve-racking nights I've passed in my tent. Getting off the freeway in darkness, lit only be the full moon...and the 10 bars lining Main Street, we followed signs to the park, further into the darkness. We made jokes through gritted teeth when we pulled up to Whisky Gulch CG and narrowly avoided getting stuck in a mud pit AND hitting a roadside cow. Finally pulled into a site at Two Moons, abandoned for the season (with locked bathrooms) and listened to the cows moo, screech owls banter, and trains chug along all night. There was literally not a soul for miles so any snapping of branches was slightly disconcerting.

Awoke to near frost, broke camp and pushed on to the Sierra Trading Post outlet. Holy gear store! Drooled for a spell then made it to Fort Collins for lunch with Tara and to introduce mom to the Colorado State Univ. campus. Lovely day and fabulous lunch :) Later, arrived at Lizzy's to crash for the night and up early to send mom on her way. Whirlwind as per usual but I'd say we wet our pants laughing at least once a day. My full album is on facebook and more to come from the mom, who after this trip, I've dubbed mama-razzi. Can't wait to take another interstate by force but am so happy to be one huge step closer to stopping the transition for a few months.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Seasonal Lifestyle

Before departing for the season, 4 other ladies and I decided it was high time for a girls' weekend! I've heard nothing but praises about the town of Homer. Clear skies, beautiful ocean views, and great camping and local shopping on the spit.
Realizing it was the end of the season, we braced ourselves for minimal crowds and sales. Turns out we missed most of the shops by a day. This may be because we spent the previous day at the Ring of Fire Meadery taste-testing and then perusing a used book store for hours. We grabbed some dinner at the wildly overpriced and equally cheesy Crabbie's...they played the Indiana Jones soundtrack folks. On a budget after dinner and still recovering from a "staff meeting" the night before, we looked for a spot to hole up for the night. It was cold, windy, and not so "leisure sport friendly". Camping is usually the go-to move for visitors but the fog was so dense, it was literally like driving in soup. Too bad hotels are outrageous, even in the off season. Braving the elements, we set up our tents and passed out by 9pm, a little soggy but listening to the ocean waves crash nonetheless.
Morning brought the sound of cars zooming up the road so we packed up, shook the sand out of our tents and went in search of caffeine. Everything on the spit was boarded up except a great gas-station type store that sold AK pins for $2! They shut the water down so people vacate, except for the Land's End hotel. Again, the gas-station store to the rescue, and a cup was only 80-cents!!!!! Best deal in years! Downed the coffee and decided bloody mary's could make this ladies' adventures perfect. Just so happens the Salty Dog Saloon was right in front of us. After forgetting about daylight for a bit, we ate sandwiches on our tailgate and headed to Seaside Farms. How adorable! I highly recommend going to, at the very least, the website. It is a for SURE stop next year. Farmers Market for some jalapeno jam and headed home. Love my ladies and was so happy I got one last weekend with these great girls!
This panoramic is of Nicole checking out some glaciers across the bay. Almost surreal.

Since beginning my winter transition, it's been nothing but packing, unpacking, and winter job searching. This six month cycle is really just never ending displacement. I still find it curious how I can sleep in my sister's twin bed, put my laundry in and out of my backpack but find the most peace of mind back in Painesville. Maybe it's the yellow lab who is at my side "helping" with everything.

Leaving for Leadville, CO in a few days. Making the drive across country with all my belongings, mom, and a plug in water boiler so we don't even have to stop for coffee. Look out Nebraska, we're blowin' through! No idea what I'll be doing this winter but it will probably involve skis, wine, and good friends. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Double Dipper!

Ahh Fall. Brings on childhood memories of canning tomatoes, entering drawings and cakes in the fair, and of course, actually going to the fair. It was August in Ohio but up here in the big AK, they wait to exploit all of growing season.

For twelve days, most of the state pours into Palmer to see 100 pound cabbages, 1100 pound pumpkins, pet baby pigs, and practice the American past-time: eating. Fellow road warrior Ashley and I set out to do just that. It was the last day and I'd never been. Bring on Americana!

Our mission: eat one of everything...or as close to it as possible. My pictures are all on facebook and we sampled with the best of 'em. My fav? A cheesecake "burrito" wrapped in filo dough. Ashley went for the jalapeno poppers. It was fair food to the extreme. Foodie regrets are not getting a turkey leg early enough (they sold out!) and not getting myself a Denali cream puff. Brought one home for Rocky and the filling was a mixture of whipped cream and custard, fluffy yet satisfying. As I felt type II diabetes setting in, we headed to the Lumberjack show to digest and hopefully get an eyeful of what "real men" do in the woods.

Turns out, Timber Tina was more manly than anyone I saw there. Tina was running the mic that day but she had been log rolling and lumber-jilling since she was 7. Her voice is apparently famous in the logging world as she commentated for ESPN in the Jack games for 15 years. Talk about making your hobby work for you.

People started showing up in force. It was Labor day and near 4pm the crowds started thickening. On the verge of camping overnight and getting our Fair Hair done (google it, trust me), we decided to call it quits. We came, ate, saw the big veggies, and conquered.

Shock and Awe:
*Three HUGE men wearing shirts that said "I'm not fat, I'm American"
PLEASE don't ever leave the country.
*Wide woman in front of us ordering a double dip of butter on an ear of corn.
Ma'am, it's butter, it just slides right off. But whatever shucks your corn.
*Getting personally escorted to the ribs place by our new friend "Kool-Aid" the security guard
People drag you to their brother's stand to buy crap in India. Not the USA.

Peas in a pod and pigs in a pen. The 4-H clubs were out in force! We kept trying to buy raffle tickets to win a half cow or whole pig but alas, they had sold out. Nothing says Alaska like a freezer full of meat headed into winter. These guys were so cute, made hilarious by the rabid 4-H kids jumping in and out grabbing the piggie's legs to show how easy they were to manage. Hey kid, that mammal has about 150 lbs on you and eats anything. Some of them should have just stuck with goats... or plants.

Had my fill of the fair and so glad I did. Have been aggressively hiking ever since to ward off bacon butt. Happy fall to everyone!

Friday, August 20, 2010

9-days of WILD Adventure

Great guests and a little sunshine can really make or break a trip. I had the privilege of guiding 14 people across this state. It was my last trip of the season and I could not have asked for anything better!

Here's the trip description. Not too long and not too short, it is the perfect Alaskan sampler. Some trip/life highlights were:

*Seeing a pod of orcas
*Spotting a wolf RIGHT next to our bus
*Denali showing herself for a glorious morning drive out of Kantishna.
*Flight-seeing around the mountain
I am yet again, humbled by the beauty of this incredible land. What an opportunity to be able to share it with some genuinely great people who, I think, completely appreciated what they saw.

In other news, things are swimming right along here. It's mid-August!!!! Everyone at camp is going through the seasonal freak-out of "What do I do THIS winter?" I feel much more at ease this time around and am still avidly searching for opportunities in Colorado. If anything, this will amount to an epic road trip across the U.S. and more great photo ops :) Mom is potting away and getting ready for her debut at the Art Craft Exposition in Chicago in a week or so. She's under Sandy Miller in "Emerging Artists" If anyone's in the area, swing by! It's a pretty big to-do.

My little sister left her teens yesterday and officially turned 20. Obviously, next year is the big year in her mind but hey, another year and she's only got a few more tattoos. Looks like it's going to be a fun year at Kent.

So, the trees are turning, we've had our first sunshine in the last 33 days of rain, and I saw a brown bear on the river today. Sounds like a great night for a beer by the Kenai.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A very Squirrel-y Birthday

So August eh? I realize it's been almost a month since my last post and the curious thing is, I'm at my computer almost daily. Work has been blazing along and incredibly, I feel like September is right around the corner. We're in full swing here and it seems like people can't get down the river fast enough or catch enough fish, it's always something. This job is truly amazing and I love how dynamic each day can be. From logistics to meeting and greeting to rafting to hiking to guiding people to Denali, it's always different. However, if you eat delicious chocolate for three meals a day, even that will get old.
In an effort to save our sanity and spice things up a bit, I executed my master plan. This has been in the works since May and through a ton of schedule juggling and much kindness from our friends and coworkers, I was able to kidnap Rocky and sweep him away to Denali National Park for a few days! My birthday was the 18th
and his was the 21st so it coincided perfectly. He opened the personalized itinerary I'd created using other trips as a guide and he unwrapped it in front of all the people who made it happen at our usual morning meeting. Sock and awe! Pretty sure I was way more excited than anyone, simply because I'd actually kept it a secret! That was that, we packed bags, a cooler, the car and we were off; northbound and guest-free!

We left Monday afternoon on a tear for Talkeetna, one of my favorite little towns. After getting hooked up with an AMAZING room at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, we enjoyed a hearty meal of halibut and burgers at the West Rib Pub. On to the Fairview Inn for bevys and saw that a senior citizens band (in red sequin vests :) complete with full bass and keyboard was jamming! Standing room only urged us into a two drink limit. We walked our dinner off down at the Talkeetna River convergence and formulated our Denali attack plan. Called it an early night and fully exploited the running hot water and cable tv. I haven't seen the news in months!
Up the next morning to see the town. There's a little historical museum, the Roadhouse for breakfast, and a myriad of shops to check out. The tv series Northern Exposure was based off this little gem and so it does look like a Hollywood set but in fact, it's mostly authentic.

After popping into Cubby's, the spankin' new grocery store, (Rocky was stoked they had the elusive canned crab chowder) it was north to Denali! He's worked in the state for 7 years and never made it this far up so I had my fingers crossed for mountain views. In typical Murphy's Law fashion, IT wasn't just invisible, so was the REST of the mountain range. It's like they weren't even there! I slipped into guide mode and tried to point out other neat little facts and promised wildlife in the park but it was a pretty big bummer.
Once at the park, we caught an afternoon bus about 30 miles in to Igloo Creek campground, filtered water, cooked our dinner and popped open some celebratory beers. We made it! I just couldn't shake the feeling I needed to be doing a constant head count or luggage tagging...
The next morning we hiked near Mt. Cathedral and rode the bus into Eielson Visitor's center. Bear, caribou, and ground squirrels abounded and I even saw my first fox! It was a lot to cram into a day but in true "sleep when you're dead fashion" we tried to do and see as much as we could. I think it was a great sampler for next time, should we make it back up there.
The next morning we hopped the camper bus out and dead headed down to Cooper Landing. What a long drive! Stopped for lunch in the world famous Wasilla, no luck seeing a Palin but our trip was pleasantly punctuated by the two Germans we'd picked up at the Park exit. Amusing to hear their questions on American road construction equipment.
So glad this trip happened, whirlwind but oh-so-worth it! How many people get to travel to Denali Park on their birthday? Remember when I said this job is fabulous?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

hali-BUTT and mountains

WOW, this has been a CRAZY month and this will certainly be a stream of consciousness post. 3 weeks ago I had the opportunity to go halibut fishing in Resurrection Bay with a guest and one other staff member. This guest pays for staff to go every year and I was lucky enough to have the right time off. Rough seas and a blustery day took me right back to the Dutch Harbor fishing boat days! Able to keep my lunch down, I commiserated with the other folks on board who weren't faring as well. Sea-sickness is the worst feeling ever and you just can't get away from it, as one "scream puke-er" on board could attest to. A favorite image from that day would be partner in crime, Emerald, who pulled up her very own 40-pounder while burping ginger ale all the way. In true Texan style, a "So sorry y'all" made her the cutest sick person I've ever seen. At the end of this wicked day, my line snagged and a 45-minute fight later I had a ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE POUND halibut on deck. It took two gaff hooks and a shot gun to do her in but wow, my family has halibut for quite some time. Anybody seen the market price for the tasty white fish lately? Something to take into consideration when halibut hunting is the age of the fish. Anything over approximately 100-pounds is probably a female as they cross-over with age. This fish may have been over 75-years old and a breeder. I dutifully thanked it with much respect for giving its life, and don't feel the need to harvest any more this year. Posed here with Captain Nik from the Cracker Jack, the man who made it happen.
Every week, Alaska Wildland Adventures gives their employees two days off to enjoy our great backyard. The week after my epic hali-butt adventure, Rocky, myself, and two friends, Jaime and Brent hiked the 8-mile round-trip trail up to the Harding ice field. Here's Brent looking out into the vastness. This place is the size of Rhode Island and a natural reality my mind just can not grasp. A small set of footprints trailed across it, alluding to a group of hikers who had set out across it. We came to find out it was an Outward-bound group, KIDS, who were braving the pristine wilds. The upper half of the trail was snow and after the extremely hard slog up, we were able to put on our rainpants and slide the majority of the way down! It was a lovely few days in Seward and I hold fast to my previous statement that I would move there in a heartbeat should employment present itself.

After coming off a great weekend, I prepared to leave for a few days and set off for Fairbanks to lead a Columbia Alumni trip for 8-days. In short, we went from Fairbanks to Denali to Anchorage, to the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.

It was an amazing, very dynamic group and the weather agreed with us the entire time. Here are a couple canoe-ers basking in the magnitude of Denali. Animals were out, the mountain showed herself, and the bears were very active at the glacier lodge; we even had the chance to see some humpback whale action on the boat ride out. I don't quite posses the words to describe how I feel when I hear them breath or see them fluke. It's almost ghostly knowing their huge bodies are moving so gracefully in that underwater world we only get a glimpse of. Our luck throughout the trip was a colossal gift from Alaska and I think everyone really appreciated it. Out at the Fjords lodge, one guest glassed the far shore from her cabin porch across the lagoon for bear and upon lowering her binoculars realized a black bear was looking right up at her from about 3-feet away. It was a great reminder that even with all the amenities our lodge provides, we were still very much in the wild.

I returned from that trip on Sunday and on Monday got up to start my first solo overnight backpack. More to come on that but it was an amazing experience and a perfect finale to
a very intense few weeks of work. Nothing like communing with marmots and following lynx tracks to reset my balance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Time Warp of Summer

Where did May go? Incredulous to the fact that I've been here just over a month already, I decided a recap was much needed. Staff have been pouring in like salmon and the tourists as well. The traffic coming into the Kenai on weekends has grown by hundreds of percents and getting more dangerous to walk to work everyday! It's like someone unleashed the flood gates. The wildlife has woken up as well. The beginning of May was highlighted with a few moose but now they've started dropping their calves and there are cute little moose-lings everywhere! The lupins and roses are finally lifting their winter petticoats and flashing their colors. I love how summer in Alaska comes on with such intensity. The river has swollen to almost peak season flow due to the hottest April on record. Talk about rollin' on the river!

The end of the month saw the safari team heading up north for some trip training. This is when our guides learn how to be "guidely", work trip logistics and brush-up on some natural history interpretation. It was a blast and the phrase "We get paid for this?" just kept coming out of our mouths. We took off for Anchorage, taking time to see some glaciers and our year round office in Girdwood (though originally called Glacier City :). After that we tackled Talkeetna and were able to go flight-seeing and land on the Ruth glacier. WILD! It was a gorgeous day and Denali was in her glory. We then spent a lovely lovely dinner with a local family who hunts all sorts of wild game.

After dancing the night away at the Fairview it was another early morning to break camp down and get ourselves even further up north to a place I will never tire of. Denali National Park is one of those haunting places that never quite leaves that murky place in the back of your mind. You know, where we keep dreams like owning a mobile bread bakery and never paying rent?

With six million acres of park and preserve, it is literally endless and even better, trail-less. Just get off the bus and start walking. Really hoping to get up there for some personal time this summer.

The weather kept smiling down on us and right at the end of Savage campground, 15 miles into the park, a huge, full rainbow made a show for about thirty minutes. S'mores and good company made the last evening of training a great wind-down. Had I not frozen my legs off sleeping on my coaster-sized therma-rest, I would have passed the night splendidly as well. I see a purchase in my future. It may have been the warmest April yet but the nights still require coats and campfires.
On a twilight walk-around, we were blessed with a priceless view of Denali. It's so big it creates its own weather systems so clear viewing is rare. It truly was a perfect moment.
Things are picking up around Cooper Landing. The salmon escapement has been dismally low this year so fishing on the lower part of the river for kings has been closed until July 1st. Should make for a pretty interesting June.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Just in time for sunshine!

The view flying into Anchorage was stunning. A perfectly clear day above the clouds and the sun was baking through the double panned airplane windows. After a rainy and down-to-the-wire arrival at the Seattle airport (note: pack BEFORE one goes out for a last night on the town), some good weather and burgers were in order. A fellow guide picked myself, Rocky, and another employee, who happened to be on the same flight, up and then we were four. Groceries and requisite beverages purchased, we all headed down to Cooper Landing where I'll be spending the next four and a half months managing some of the safari trip logistics as well as taking a few groups out myself.
Felt great to see the river and mountains again. Right before hitting Cooper Landing, there is a turn in the road and it breaks open to an absolutely breath taking view of Kenai Lake. It startled me last year and once again this time. Nothing like some awe-inspiring Alaskan landscape to complete an evening.

It's been dipping to freezing at night though the days have been full of sunshine so before all the hoop-la begins, the smaller opening staff resides in on-site cabins to lessen the hassle. Cuts down on the chance of pre-season pneumonia, just hate that.

I took myself for a walk along the Kenai...which also runs along the Sterling Hwy so, serene it was not. The mountains (Mt. Cecil pictured here) are still fairly well covered with snow and the ski fanatics make it a point to cover every last inch before melting and pouring itself downhill. Phrases like "It was totally corn today" baffle me as I'm from Ohio and when we say things such as "Knee high by the fourth of July", we mean the real thing people. Still not sure what that guy was really trying to tell me. I did gather that it's a good thing. Ran into a mama moose about 50 yards away on the meander home and had the Alaska reality check. "This ain't no mid-west girlie" Big wildlife up here...great from a distance.

In other news, I am the proud OWNER of a 1999 Subaru Impreza wagon. Great deal and came from a good home. This will facilitate plans of getting to Colorado when I finish up here in the fall. Of course, this also means a visit home in October to, at the very least, thank my parents for dealing with the details and my sister for keeping her hands off it.
Off to enjoy the playground I live in. Hope everyone can do the same!

Friday, April 30, 2010

We made it, now - ONWARD!

We did it. Made it from Salmon, ID (these mountains) to Ephrata, WA to regroup and go for another week in the Olympic National Park.

The red bandit is STILL kicking. After some attention on a roadside pull-off (I was on cougar watch) we spent another hour or so in the nearby Wal-Mart parking lot...after getting pulled over for a newly "out" headlight. (Thank you Sheriff in a nondescript Idaho town who sits outside the Sparkle Inn.) The saving grace was that nothing had been too extreme, save a coolant hose replacement and some flushes. Once again, I've learned more about cars from this one than in the last 25 years of my life.
After a few days in Ephrata and yet another trip to the grocery store for easy cook everything, we packed and psyched ourselves up to camp in a rainforest...I forgot the coffee press and sporks. Lesson learned immediately. There were some very wet and creative mornings.

We started at Heart O' the Hills campground, nearby the main Olympic National Park visitor's center. The lighting within the greenery was stunning and just became more enchanting as the trip progressed. After a visit to the incredibly helpful visitor's center, we decided to hotfoot it to the west coast near Rialto Beach and hopefully catch a nice pocket of weather.
I had never seen tide pools and a few miles down a a rain storm (so much for nice weather), had us tip-toe-ing around muscles, sea stars, and anemones. The rain was picking up and we were starving so we slogged back to the car and back to Mora Campground for some hot clam chowder and a little afternoon reading snuggled up in our warm, dry sleeping bags.
Fast-forward through the night. Good morning ravens and slugs! On the floor of my fabulous Sierra Designs tent, of which I have sang many praises, was a pool of water which required a snorkel. My coaster sized thermarest was on the verge of floating and Rocky was already hacking up a lung from some crazy, western rainforest cold. Coffee anyone? Treated ourselves to energy drinks in the Quilleyute (sp?) reservation and enjoyed the brief bout of sunshine...when we should have been drying out the tent. I took some pictures instead and it was off to the Hoh Rainforest, further towards the interior.

It was a soggy, soggy day and spirits were...not low...but altered. (see the "new American Gothic" on left) After an uplifting hike through the Hall of Mosses and a very informative chat with the ranger about how it had snowed the previous night AND checking the status of the tent (it still had standing water in it), we bit the bullet and drove the 20 miles back out to Forks to find a cheap, DRY room. I'd have fought a little harder were we not headed to Alaska this summer to live in tents.
Anyone familiar with Forks? Yes you Twilight fans, THE Forks, Washington. Hilarity ensued as we watched crazed women stake out the sheriff station with telephoto lenses and drive past the endless "Twilight Fans" signs and stores. Baffled as I was, it sounds like commerce has returned since the timber industry there went bunk. So, cheers to silver linings.
We continued on dry and chipper the next day to do the Sol Duc falls mini-hike. Gorgeous area and the forest fairies were out for certain! Met up with David, an Alaska friend and his partners-in-crime (Titus the mastiff and Aloe the lab mutt) for one last night of camping. Great friends make great times even better and we finished with a big breakfast and hugs.
Bags are packed, boxes are shipped, ducks are SO in a row; we are Alaska bound! Flying out tomorrow and I for one, am anxiously awaiting the reunion with friends and the mighty Kenai river.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

drying out at lower elevation

After a LATE departure from Leadville, high-fiving all the way for actually leaving, we made it to the Canyonlands turn off a half hour before dark. It wasn't that long of a drive but after an emergency Wal-Mart/Qdoba excursion for sporks and burritos, we rolled in a little late. I'd called a few days earlier for directions but the reservations were already full and our only hope was to snag a first come/first serve tent site. I was even getting too dark to drive the 22 miles into the park as they gates would close so we popped our tent in a roadsite RV "resort"... falling aleep to the hum of 18-wheelers and shutting out the glow of the Shell gas sign were easy enough, it was those rascally dirt bike children who were the real challenge. Up early for oatmeal and coffee (just bought a GSI 30 oz. press and LOVE it!) and hot-tailed it into Dead Horse Point National Park. Apparently livestock is welcome in National Parks and the ranchers have an agreement to let their stock graze. With eyes peeled, we greeted the ladies and their freshly dropped youngin's. Felt a little Calcutta-esque.

We DID snag a first come site and after a quick tour of the visitor's center, which had a lovely display of the natural flora and fauna, grabbed our water bottles and a few oranges and hit the 5-mile loop that follows the canyon ridge. Dead Horse Point is aptly named due to its morbid history of some overzealous cowboys who got a little too greedy and left a large number of corralled wild horses to die of thirst in view of the Colorado. Not a feel-good kind of story but in line with the bandit theme which haunts much of the southwest.

The hike was fantastic with views around every shrub and rock pile. Resting on the edge of the plateau, gazing down at the river reminded Rocky of his last winter, rafting the Grand Canyon and humbled me with the sheer magnitude of the drop. I always find it breathtaking to sit above where the birds fly.

We munched on a lovely dinner of tuna mac and cheese (Annie's not Kraft!) and wondered where our age group was. We were surrounded by land yachts with names like Conqueror and Extreme Komfort. Might as well have been at the "resort" down the road; but there was no din of trucks and people were nice, so no complaints. Just wish we knew where the other cool 20-something's were. Deducing they were probably fat tire-ing it up on the sticky sand stone of Moab, we bucked up and went for a sunset hike. Lovely park and there is plenty more to see. What a radical difference from our visit to Arches National Park last December on the drive out. No snow and a beastly 80 degrees this time around. For two people who've spent the winter braving the frigid elements, the heat and sunburn were like rediscovering an old friend. My nose is peeling and skin is cracked from the arid climate but it feels great. Rocky keeps disregarding the chapstick, mumbling something like "the body must acclimate"... pass the lotion, I say! Lots more to do and can't wait to get back for more of the desert I know so little about. The multitude of song birds and mammal tracks in the deep red sand can keep one occupied for hours!

On to Salmon, Idaho for friends, hot springs, and hopefully some great detours along the way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leadville, Co - the TWO mile high city

The last time I was at elevation like this I was in Nepal, and Annie and I were dragging ourselves to the base of Annapurna, with a purpose. 7 days in Leadville though, was no joke. Rocky and I weren’t looking to scale any mountains, or even do much hiking. We needed to get our gear in order and say goodbye to friends before taking off on a 3-week road trip out west. That’s why it was most shocking that moving from the kitchen to the sofa took a serious toll on my breathing. After spending 3 months with minimal cardio at sea I knew it would be rough going to exert, but walking downstairs? The town’s official elevation is around 10,200 feet, flying by Denver as the “mile-high” city.

The roommates of the house were so welcoming and cooking dinner for everyone was so much fun! …Though I didn’t really do much as once Rocky puts that apron on, it’s his show. Home made French onion soup, toasted Reubens, roasted herb potatoes, meat and cheese trays, steak dinners, and road trip snacks such as salami bread and chocolate chip/walnut cookies (I finally took over the stove!) are all examples of why visiting friends for extended periods of time can be harmful to one’s health. In an effort to get out of the house, namely the kitchen, a few of us took off to “the big city” to see Alice in Wonderland. It was Tim Burton to the max I felt, and the tea party scene was my absolute favorite.

Colorado is the ski mecca and coming from Ohio, I wasn’t sure where to jump in. The lifts alone are intimidating, sometimes requiring a few transfers to make it to the top. Roomie Justin had the perfect solution. Sunsation! Copper Mountain holds a multi-weekend free music fest every year and we happened to hit the opening weekend. The music was great, beer was expensive, and people jovial. It was the pivotal moment in deciding to begin my Colorado residency. Since touring CSU, I’ve gotten such a great vibe from the state that it’s time to leave Ohio. Formally speaking. A visit to the DMV and a few calls to CSU admissions have led me to believe it’s going to be a smooth process.

Sunday saw us dog sledding with Sally, the seasonal dog sled guide. They were hauling tail and I loved riding the sled! Apparently they can’t run above 45 degrees so we were lucky to be able to get out that morning.

We took off for Dead Horse Point state park in Utah after one last night out on the town and many rounds of beers and hugs for Rocky as he had quite a winter up there. Looking forward to some sunshine and sandals!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome to Denver!

Steaming into Seattle last Thursday night, I reflected on the last three months. Why does it seem like it flew as soon as we stopped working? The last couple weeks were certainly a huge drain as it seemed like one thing after another kept us from finishing. More fish quota, sick crew, rough weather, really just the usual things that crop up and it always could have been worse. No major break downs (for the boat) and sure the pay could have been better but no complaining from me. We shipped most of our product abroad this season, a subtle blow from the globalization fairy. This means the United States is eating fish from other less regulated fisheries and we're sending ours out for less money. I'll probably end up clearing between 11 and 12 thousand dollars for the 2 and a half months we actually worked. Don't even try to break that down hourly, it never works out in our favor.
The picture of the sawed-off cargo container is where I'd traipse out to make my phone calls home. Only slightly protected and really, two of the 5 phones actually worked. With everyone switching to cell phones, even in the nether regions of the planet, the pay phone is a dying breed. I find this unfortunate as the smell of urine and cacophony of languages that haunt the place adds volumes to the experience...

I spent a weekend in Seattle with cousins Todd, Heather, and little Nora. We baked vegan cupcakes (so delicious!), ate with friends, and played tea party. Had a blast and was uber-grateful when Todd was able to drop me at the airport for a 6am flight to Denver.

Rocky met me in baggage claim with a cup of hot coffee and a huge smile. It had been a long winter. We ate and popped some champagne then it was off to Peace Corps Lizzy's for a lasagna dinner and more PC friends! Lovely evening followed by and even better day as we bolted up to Fort Collins for a marathon 24-hours to check out Colorado State and spend some time with PC Tara.

The sustainable MBA program captured my interest:The degree
and after a 40-minute meeting with the program advisor, I was ready to sign over my rights as an Ohio citizen to transplant myself in the mountains. This summer in Alaska will be a blast but I'm hoping next winter brings me back here.

The next 3 weeks will be spent coaxing the little red Subaru bandit over to Utah, up through Idaho, across Washington to the Olympic peninsula for some camping, and flying up to Anchorage to begin our summer gigs. Finally feel like I'm moving forward again!