Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Not a Petting Zoo

I heard a story from a friend today that made me laugh and shake my head in understanding. This friend was out running the trails in Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska, and came upon a couple (tourists from out of town) who were standing on the trail petting a moose calf who was happily chomping away on the branches of a birch tree. My friend stopped in complete shock and said, "WHAT are you doing? That's a wild animal!" They looked at him, perplexed, and said, "But, this is a park." After his new spell of shock from their comment passed, he said, "It's a park, but not a PETTING ZOO!" They just didn't seem to get it. This is Alaska. There may be wild animals everywhere, and sightings are not uncommon, but they are still wild!

This weekend, a group of us went on a hike up Turnagain Arm Trail. The trail starts just after Potter's Marsh at mile 115 on the Seward Highway. Along the trail, we saw moose and bear scat (Yes, Virginia... bear doo poop in the woods), and moose and bear prints. We were being cautious, alert of our surroundings, but what happened at the end of our hike made us wonder just how much we are truly aware of, when it comes to wild animals who are the masters of camouflage and hiding.

We were enjoying the hike. The trail is truly beautiful. There are views of the inlet, small springs flowing downward from the higher mountain elevations that flow over the path or under wood plank "bridges," and a waterfall just above McHugh parking area. We took a detour to McHugh parking area to use the restrooms, and on our way back to the trail we saw a makeshift sign warning us of a bear sighting 3 hours previous to our arrival at the lot. A bear had been seen stalking a moose cow with a calf. We hadn't seen any moose, or any bear, since we started the hike. We figured, if we took it cautiously, we'd be ok to take the path back to the lot where we'd left our vehicles. The bear had other plans.

Our group got separated. Two faster hikers went on ahead, and three lagged behind. When two of us in the lagging group found a geocache box, the group was split even more, with one of the three going on ahead, and the geocrazy two staying behind. We knew we'd catch up to the lone hiker on the trail. We certainly did. We found her, coming our direction down the trail, towards the McHugh lot from where we'd just come. She'd gotten a call on her cell from the two faster hikers in our group. They had heard the bear killing the moose calf in the bushes approximately 50-100 feet off of the trail. They told her we should probably consider turning around and returning to the McHugh lot where they would pick us up. We didn't turn around but continued on, thinking if we were loud enough we'd scare the bear. DUMB move in bear country! We came upon the bear further down the trail, now in the middle of the hiking trail with its fresh kill (it had drug the calf down to the trail from where it had killed it). The bear saw us before we saw it. As soon as we saw it though, all of our courage left and we immediately began backing away (with the bear watching us the entire time from over the moose calf).

We came upon a group of tourists from Memphis near the trail end near McHugh. They asked us why we were returning. We told them that we'd come upon a bear eating a fresh kill on the trail. They had the audacity to ask WHY we turned around, if we took PICTURES, and if there was a location where they could OBSERVE SAFELY????? We told them that we turned around because we weren't about to wait around to see what the bear had planned for dessert, that NO we didn't take pictures because we weren't about to ask the bear to pose, and NO there was no "safe place to observe." We told them that this is Alaska, and wild animals are not like the bears you see at the zoo, or the animal reserve. True to form (not to insult tourists, but insulting stupid folk in general), they insisted on going up the trail to see if they could see the bear. We could only shake our heads in amazement, and talk about their stupidity, as they walked away. We learned our lesson though, unlike the tourists from Memphis. Bears don't scare easily, and when they are eating a fresh kill they don't scare at all.
No, Alaska is not a giant petting zoo.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Let's Go Fly a Kite

The weather cleared yesterday just before I got off work. In Alaska, we take advantage of every moment of sunlight we get during the warmer months. Within minutes, groups of people were hitting the Delaney Park Strip to play softball, walk, and fly kites.

When I first saw the kites on the walk from my workplace to my car, I thought they were parachutes. I was wondering why they weren't moving, or falling. Then, (ok so I have to admit to having a moment of confusion) I realized that the huge, colorful objects in the sky were kites, not parachutes!

I remember the last time I flew a kite. It was the spring of 1999. I was dating an avid fisherman. We were fishing, and happened to have a few kites in the truck that we'd purchased for Kaylee and my nieces. It was a windy day, and the fish weren't biting much at all. During a lull, he hooked the kite center bar up to the poles with the fishing line and threw the kite into the air. It took off like a rocket, and soared into the sky. It soared up fast, and emptied the reel of fishing line. It was the most memorable part of the day, seeing this burly fisherman, his eyes twinkling, laughing, with his "catch" jumping and pulling in the sky. When it was time to leave, he reeled in the kite and we headed home.

Seeing the kites yesterday reminded me that no matter how old, or young, one is the simple pleasures like flying a kite on a warm day never get dull. I could have sat in the park all afternoon watching the kites dip and angle their way through the sky. Their bright colorful display was a welcome site after 6 months of winter and the gray sky spring days we've been having lately. Just as I headed for my car, the clouds started rolling in again. For the 30 minutes I watched the kites though, I had been 10 years old again, with no place to be and no responsibilities.

I've got to get a kite!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trains, Planes, Tour Buses and Hanging Baskets, Oh My!

I thought that Virginia Beach was inundated with tourists. The tourism there is nothing compared to Anchorage. Tourist season has officially begun here. Every year, over a million tourists come through Anchorage. Some come through here because they have a day or two to blow between excursions elsewhere in Alaska. Some come for conventions. Some come to begin tours of Denali or the Kenai Peninsula, or train tours to Seward or Fairbanks.

I was told that I'd know when tourism season had "officially" begun when the city hung the hanging flower baskets. Day before yesterday, I was asking when they'd be hung. Yesterday morning, I came in to work and low and behold, the hanging basket fairies had done the city's bidding in the wee hours of the morning. They'd magically covered the city with over 450 baskets of yellow and blue/purple flowers. Just as I'd been told, the tour buses magically appeared, full of neck-craning tourists. Walking to my car from work yesterday, I saw four tour buses parked in front of the Captain Cook hotel. This morning on my way into work at 7:30 am, I saw two tour buses parked in front of the Egan Convention Center. Over the weekend, on the drive down to my hike of Gull Rock Trail, I saw the train to Seward running below the level of the road. Welcome tourist season!

I only moved back here in August of last year. I was born here, but left when I was very young. So, I'm still a Cheechako (newcomer, greenhorn, tenderfoot). From what I've heard, the downtown area is going to get packed with people and remain that way until the end of August. The restaurants will be full. The sidewalks will be full. I'll have to be more aware of people jaywalking across streets downtown where I work. The Seward Highway will be congested because of all the people pulling over to get the "perfect shot" of the Dahl Sheep on the mountain sides. I heard so much Russian being spoken on the streets on my walk to my car last night I almost thought I was in Moscow for a moment!

I do have to admit that I'm excited though. Even with all the irritation and congestion that tourism brings, seeing people so happy and excited to visit here makes my heart swell with pride. I live in a place that people dream their whole lives of just visiting for a week. I have the awesome opportunity to live here every day, every week, every season. I know about the hiking trails and side street coffee shops that only "locals" know about. I get to experience planting my own hanging flower baskets at 11:30 at night, feeling the breeze as it makes its way through the trees. I get to smell the fresh mountain air, see moose trot through the neighborhood in the midnight sun when the rest of the lower 48 is sleeping. I get to spend nights after work biking, hiking, walking the trails, kayaking and enjoying Alaska. I don't have to take pictures to remember the beauty when I go back home because I get to enjoy the beauty on a daily basis.

Seeing the expressions of awe and amazement on the faces of the tourists, watching them snap pictures of things that I walk by daily and take for granted, seeing them smiling and relaxed, answering thier questions on the street like "where do the locals get a good cup of coffee?", "where is the best place to get lunch?", "where is the Coastal trail?" all leave me seeing this wonderful city of mine through new eyes. It's like seeing things through the eyes of my child when she was small and everything was still so new to her.

So, yes, I'll wave at the tour buses. I'll tilt my head back and watch the small planes fly overhead, knowing they are possibly filled with enthusiastic tourists who are about to enjoy the experience of a lifetime in MY state. I'll take pictures of and enjoy all the hanging flower baskets I see. After all, I'm still a tourist in my own back yard, as long as I continue to see things that excite me and thrill me about the place I live. Welcome tourists! Welcome to Alaska. Welcome to the land where God goes on vacation from Heaven.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gull Rock Trail Hike

A group of five of us hiked Gull Rock Trail yesterday. It was amazingly beautiful. I'm still enraptured daily by the beauty that surrounds me here. I don't understand how some people can live in Alaska their whole lives and never go anywhere or do anything. I can't imagine living here and NOT getting outdoors. There's so much to do here: biking, hiking, walking trails, sightseeing, backpacking, camping, fishing... the list goes on and on, and somehow doesn't include television and video games! AMAZING!
The hike was a little over 10 miles round trip. Not a lot of elevation, but with as little hiking as I've done this spring so far, it was still a bit strenuous for me. There were sections that were muddy with tar looking mud. Of course, the dog decided she needed to lay down in every mud puddle. Here's a great blurb about the trail:

There were sections of the trail that were still patched with thick sheets of ice. We had to cross several streams across ice bridges. I wish I could put all the pictures here and walk through each step of the hike (there are some pictures on my gallery page). But, the hike took almost 4 1/2 hours round trip, a little too much to write a step-by-step account. All the aches I'm feeling right now were worth it. It was an amazing experience. The weather was wonderful, low to mid 70s (yes, we even hit 70 in Alaska), slight breeze, blue skies with an occassional cloud. It was the perfect day, and one I'd relive over and over, if I wasn't looking forward so much to every single day I experience here!

This weekend, we are doing 2 hikes. We are doing a night hike of Southfork on Saturday, and a day hike on Sunday of Turnagain Arm. I'm excited. One thing the hike of Gull Rock has convinced me of is that I REALLY need to walk more and get in better shape. We are planning to do the 24 mile hike of Crow Pass from Girdwood to Eagle River in mid June. That will be a two day trip, with a camp over at the half way mark. I don't want to be lagging so far behind that I become bear bait!

So many trails, so much time to do them all! I LOVE living here!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bicycle or Torture Device?

Alex and I took the kids to the Bicycle Shop about a week and a half ago to pick out a new bike for me, and one for Kaylee. I got to ride a few around in the lot. The ride around the lot was the longest bike ride I've taken since I was about 12! The ride was not a long enough ride to feel what sitting on the seat would feel like after an hour long ride, but long enough for me to realize I know nothing about bikes, gears, shifting, tires, types or accessories. Alex wasn't about to let me get a Walmart special though. I left nearly $1400 dollars lighter for both bikes.

I had the idea that I could ride from Eagle River to Anchorage on the weekdays to get to work, then ride home after. It's about a 30-35 mile round trip ride. The trail is nice, it goes along the Glen. There wouldn't be a lot of road riding, if I added a few miles to my trip by taking the trails. Then, I rode my new bike. All my dreams disappeared in a wave of pain that started in my calves, rose to my hiney, and ended in my chest (as I gasped for air). I hadn't ridden a bike for over a year, and the last time I did it was on the elevationless, flat paths of Virginia Beach. WHAT was I thinking? It was equivalent to buying a 16 ounce steak at a restaurant, complete with salad, soup, veges, bread and a baked potato because you are hungry and really think you can eat it. My eyes and aspirations FAR outweigh my ability and my endurance.

I've yet to figure out the gears, and every time we begin to ascend a hill on the paths in our neighborhood I feel a sense of dread as the bike begins to wobble and I have to jump off quickly to avoid falling to the ground. We took the kids and bikes to the trails in Anchorage last weekend. I did the same acrobatic act every time I started up a hill on the trails there too. I felt pathetic! Alex and Kaylee biked all the way from West Chester Lagoon to Eagle River. Nicholas and I headed home (no way were WE going to bike that far) and consoled ourselves and our lack of endurance with Cold Stone ice cream.

I am eventually going to ride to work though. I probably won't make it home on the bike, and I'll end up taking the friendly public transportation (bus) service home, but I will eventually get the endurance to make the round trip. We will probably ride the path on Saturday and see if I can make it. I know it sure will be a beautiful ride in. Maybe that will be the balm that eases the pain in my tooshy from sitting on that hard bike seat. I really think that ancient dungeon masters created those bike seats. For something that cost me so much, it should feel like riding on a cloud.