Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rum Doodle

For charity, the skipper of the AnnaKate invited me to sail with her crew for her first race. She shared the helm with the boat's former owner, Judy, who calmly walked me through the steps and skills I needed to be a savvy crew member. With little wind, it was not much of a race, but the comraderie among the ladies in this female-only race lifted my spirits as much as being out on the water again. What is a Rum Doodle? "A bumbling group of British mountaineers mounts an assault on Rum Doodle, a slightly higher neighbor of Everest, in Bowman's parody novel. First published in 1956, The Ascent of Rum Doodle quickly became a mountaineering classic. As an outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a peak in the Himalayas, many thought it was inspired by the 1953 conquest of Everest. But Bowman had drawn on the flavour and tone of earlier adventures, of Bill Tilman and his 1937 account of the Nandi Devi expedition. The book’s central and unforgettable character, Binder, is one of the finest creations in comic literature."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weekend Adventures

After filleting and vacuuming sealing, I cleaned the kitchen at 0130. Seven hours later, after some sleep, I cleaned the house in anticipation of my weekend guests. Kim, a colleague, and her SO, Andy, joined me for a fun weekend of outdoor activities. They rose early and boarded the train in Anchorage and embarked on a four hour ride through glaciers to get to Seward. Upon pick up at the train station, I took them to Le Barn Appetit, a Creperie owned by Ivan and Janet. Ivan, the flirty Frenchmen, treated us to his 16 inch crepes, stuffed with caribou, cheese, and spinach. His outlook on life and his stories had us in stitches as we finished a strawberry and nutella crepe as dessert.

We made a quick change into kayaking gear and drove to Miller’s Landing at Lowell Point. Kim and I shared a tandem kayak; and Andy captained his own single person kayak. Our float plan took us to Caines Head with a couple of stops to hike waterfalls and sunsoaking at Derby Cove. We went against the start of incoming tide as we headed south. Upon our return north, I had hoped that the combination of a wind from the south and the tide would expedite our transit. Unfortunately, we hit some cross currents as a result of an incoming storm churning outside of the bay and the wake of multiple charters and sightseeing vessels returned to the harbor in the late afternoon. Our tandem rode atop some of the larger waves, eliciting squeals of “yeeeehawwww” from Kim and me.
The next day, the sunshine turned to rain. But: have raingear, will hike. We set off for Mt. Marathon- but not the runner’s trail (I ain’t that crazy, dear readers). We sought the trailhead for the “Jeep Trail” that takes us to Schaeffer Falls and then up to the bowl (behind the mountain where it abuts the range). Seeing a “wide” Jeep trail, I did not change from my water-resistant pants to my actual rainpants. In hindsight, I was an idiot for not doing so. I tried out my carhart rainjacket as a warm hiking jacket; and it did, indeed, keep me warm. Half way up the first leg, I stripped off my jacket, took off my shirt, and then clad in only my sportsbra, I placed the carhart over my shoulders, allowing the hood to hang off me like a cape. There was no mirror; but my guests assured me I looked like a fool. But, hey, it’s Alaska, and after seeing what people wear to run this mountain, anyone who sees me on this trail can deal with my faux cape.

We broke out of treeline and into lush meadows of flowers and waist high skunk cabbage and alders. The trail narrowed to a small foot path for the remainder; this is where I became soaked from the waist down. After scampering over some mudladen corners, we rounded the northfacing slope of the mountain. In the bottom of the bowl, the wind caught us. We pulled back on our layers, zipped up, and met the rain in the face. The wildflowers landscape changed to berry brush; each of us noted where to come berry picking next month- cranberries, blueberries, and possibly some nagoon berries (if I identified the plant leaves correctly).

As we hiked up into the bowl, we met a snowpack. Tok was the happiest puppy in the world. His whole demeanor changed as he bolted from the trail and into the pack, rolling around and licking the frozen white precipitation. As we turned to head back, he literally hopped through the berry meadow, renewed from his roll in the snow.

So, within the span of three days I caught three sockeye dipnetting on the Kenai, soaked in the sunshine from a kayak bound for Caines Head, and then met a snowpack in the north bowl of Mt. Marathon.

Just your typical weekend in Alaska.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dipnetting 101

Having dipnetted for a grand total of 2.5 hours on the Kenai, this tough little expert has some top ten guidelines for this adventure:

10. Go with a local. A new friend set me up with his family to join them for the day.
9. Get a loaner net from a friend. These nets can cost up to $125!
8. Start just after low tide. This ensures you prime realestate along the mouth of the river.
7. Have a beater. Make sure that the local family you go out with has an enthusiastic young boy (under the age of ten) who likes to wield the bludger to shock the sockeye up the backside of his skull.
6. Have on chest high waders. Need I say more?
5. Be prepared to see children playing and swimming in the water next to an Aleut filleting fish and casting the innards into the water. Also, did I mention how cold that water is?
4. Use the bathroom before you get there! The portapotties rival a state fair on a hot day- even from afar.
3. Don’t look back! Once you feel a sockeye in the net, twist the net to the ground, and start hauling it to shore. Don’t look back at your net; you’re apt to lose your balance and fall in the water (author’s observation, not experience – thank goodness)
2. Watch for ships. There is a hate-hate relationship with the fishermen and the dipnetters. Boats do not observe a wake zone as they enter the channel and stir up mud, discard fish guts, and undertow as they make a mockery of those standing in chest high water, holding heavy, five foot wide dip nets, an a feigned attempt to remain stable.
1. Enjoy the view. While waiting for a sockeye to slip into the net, take a moment to soak in the nearby volcanoes, the Cook Inlet, your fellow dipnetters, and the range along the Kenai Peninsula.

I stood there in yard of my Kenai host, clad in long underwear, darn tough Vermont socks, my new chest waders, sportsbra, my long sleeve UPF fishing shirt, UPF neck kerchief, my wide brimmed hat; and my polarized sunglasses. I was HOT; but I knew the breeze at the river’s mouth would cool me. As stood in the chest high water, holding this long apparatus, the cold water sucked around me. I was thankful for the insulating layers.

Per my permit, I could have caught 35 (!) fish that day. I was limited on time. I left Tok at home (not wanting to burden my Kenai hostess with a dog; and, it was too hot to leave him in the car). A four hour round trip drive left me with only a few hours to fish and then cart my catch back to the house to clean and load into the cooler. I score 3 fish, which was 2 shy of my goal of 5; but I had a blast and learned a lot. Furthermore, I did not get wet (my number 1 goal).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fourth of July- Seward Style

As I prepped for Brad’s homecoming, I stopped at my new favorite salon for a haircut. While there, a local came in and starting lamenting about the weekend’s traffic. Her forecast was that this year was going to be another big year for the Seward 4th of July Celebration.

Complete with USCG Helicopter flyover, a parade opens our town’s festival. The day’s events center around the multiple races up and down Mt. Marathon. Crazy people, er, I mean, runners, enter their name for the honor (desperately trying to hold back here) of putting their body through ultimate terror as they launch up the mountain and then, literally, SLIDE back down on the shale that makes up the mountain’s face. Younger generations are given a showcase in the morning, followed by the women; and then the men in the afternoon.

Well, back to the lady at the salon. When I asked her how many people she expected to be in town, without batting an eyelash, she said, “Oh, we swell to about 30,000 for the 4th.” We’re a town of 2500. Our teeny tiny footprint couldn’t even hold 20,000- much less 30,000. I smiled inwardly and estimated that 10,000 was a high year for Sewardites to endure Marathoners.

Brad and I headed into town just before the men’s race. We found a parking spot easily enough and then made our way through the vendors, passed the USAF band from Elmendorf, and the flag-waving fire department. As colorful dots of runners’ jerseys emerged from the treeline on Mt. Marathon, we watched in awe at how quickly the men raced up the face. Expecting the streets to be packed, we found ourselves comfortable in the crowd capacity- both determining that it was not, as so accurately forecasted, 30,000; and that in comparison to 4th of July on the National Mall- this was nothin’. We liked the Classic Americana around us.

We found friends at the shoot, where the runners re-entered pavement and made their way to the finish line. Some of the runners’ backsides made us pause as we sipped coffee. One man ran by with pieces of slate stuck in his back, blood oozing down. I can only imagine what his shower felt like thereafter. And then came the parade of what people thought was best to wear to either comfortably brace the blow of sliding down slate. We saw raingear, nylon pants, rubber knee pads, and items that may have been tested via a Columbia gear head (yes, some were that bizarre).

After the races, our house hosted some locals and some friends from Anchorage. Cornhole games ensued in the rain; and we made delicious smores at the bonfire near the creek. Our last guest departed at 0130 – bound to camp riverside in hopes of fishing the next day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tree Removal

Our property is surrounded by trees- trees that need maintenance. Our first venture in helping out our arbors was over Memorial Day weekend, when, with the help of a house guest, we cleared nasty alders from the side of our yard, giving the good ones some space to (pardon the pun) branch out. We have many Sitka Spruces in the front and back yards, two of which concerned us. Enter our friends from the Rock Gym: Josh and Paul. Both are tree guys (although, Josh prefers the title of 'Urban Lumberjack') who work for a company during the week and do their own side business on the weekends.
The guys joined me last weekend and took down two trees. The first was a large, 90 foot spruce in the front yard. It pained me to see it go, but it had a spiral crack in the base and a good north wind in the middle of winter would have left it in the middle of my driveway for a long while (inevitably in six feet of snow with Brad underway- 'cause that is when it always happens, right?). Josh set up the chipper, and Paul hooked a chainsaw to his hip and climbed and de-branched the tree. Josh gathered the falling branches as I sat on the porch in awe of how quickly he de-frocked the tree. Then the first cut, about 45 feet up. The top portion of the tree made an echoe-ing boom when it finally hit the ground. You could count almost three seconds for it to fall- which is a long time to stand in the middle of your front porch, mouth hanging open with the words, "Holy S..." desperately trying to escape your lips.
Paul climbed down, took the saw to the trunk and had it neatly stacked on the side of the yard, as Josh began the burn pile of the brush that would not go into the chipper. Once cleared, the second cut was at the base of the tree, and, to be honest, I cannot describe how loud that boom was. It shook the house, and- I am sure- peeved all of our neighbors that Saturday afternoon.

So, how to does one remove a 90 foot spruce from the front yard? Why, find a neighbor with a wood stove, of course! Throughout the action, our neighbor, Myla walked by with her two kids, Olin and Alta, and the dog for their daily walk. We struck up a quick conversation where she made no mistake in heading directly for the tag line, "So, whatcha gonna do with the wood?" "I don't know. I don't have a wood stove, and I would like to exit from my driveway this evening." "Well, we'll take it. Let me go get Tom and the Rhino." Tom rolls in and hooks chains to the logs, and hauls the smaller ones with the diesel-powered rhino (insert Tim the Tool Man grunt here) and the larger ones with his Dodge (insert Tim the Tool Man grunt here, again). All the while, Alta played in the front yard, and Olin road the Rhino with dad. Just your typical Alaskan family.
Myla caught onto the fact that Josh and Paul were spending the night so as to head to a job in Soldotna the next day. She ran over to her coup and selected 18 fresh eggs to feed the fellas breakfast the next morning. Some of them were still warm!
Alas, the business deal ended with a handshake and a promise to deliver fish in exchange for teh four cords of wood they just towed out of our yard.
The second tree was in the backyard and fell neatly into the devil's club. A fellow coastie traded us some fish for the two cords of wood he got out of those logs. Now my freezer has both halibut and fresh king salmon. Yummmm. Good trade.
The big spruce in the front yard was over 360 years old-
hence my heartache at seeing her fall.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Salmon in Ketchikan

This morning I received an email with a picture- no specifications such as weight, where it was caught, or any of those particulars I would want to share with you all. Alas, here's what will be in our freezer tomorrow evening. Happy Fourth!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Earthquake up here

It was subtle, but Tok and I defintely felt it. The plate is moving, folks.

White spots among the wild flowers

A baby goat is called a kid; and around here, those kids are superb rock climbers. Along Turnagain Arm, I pulled over with some other cars to catch this family in action.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lost Lake Trail

Over Memorial Day weekend, Brad, myself, two friends from Anchorage, their dog, and Tok embarked on the snow laden trail that was Lost Lake. We trudged along, the dogs, Marika, and I gingerly walking atop the snow pack with poor Jon and Brad post holing the whole way. We did not complete the 17 miles trail, and instead stopped for a brief break after two hours of hiking without snowshoes.

In all it was a good time; but, Marika insisted that the trail was a blast in the summer. For matters of edification: Memorial Day in Alaska is not summer. Fast forward three weeks, and the constant rain followed by increasingly longer days bring us to solstice. After surviving five days of rain and overcast, I woke up to bluebird sky on Sunday morning. I readied Tok, brewed coffee and made oatmeal with packing my camelback. I was one of the first cars in the parking lot at the trailhead for Lost Lake and was delighted to have the trail to myself for the majority of the hike.

I entered a different world once I started climbing. The trail narrowed thanks to overgrown ferns and blooming salmonberry bushes. Flowers lined the intermittent mud puddles and the waterfalls were picturesque. As we departed the tree line, the mayflies clustered in large groups, making Tok sneeze as he rushed through them with my impersonation of the “Alaskan wave” as I did the same. For about a quarter mile any voyeur could see my arms flailing in a mock wave to brush those pesky flies away from me.

Being atop the tree line doused me in sunshine, breeze, and views of the Bay with eagles soaring overhead. That sheer delight, that euphoric state of breathing in fresh air is not only better than any drug out there but worth suffering through days of rain. I came off that trail happier than I had felt in days. And now a plethora of pictures:


the beginning of the trailthe trail out of the treeline
First glimpses of the mountain range as you move toward the treeline

You cross multiple waterfalls on this trail
A very happy puppy found snow
Beware: Cheesin' eco-geek

And a happy puppy

Friday, June 18, 2010

Greenery after the rains

Wild strawberries are everywhere on our acre.
Do you see the bunny trail under the Devil's Club (aptly named plant, I promise)

Some baby ferns at the back of the property.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Evening at On the Bay

The drive to Lowell's Point is an adventure, and reminded me of Kodiak so much that my heart stopped. After the bridge into the unincorporated town of Lowell Point, the road turns to gravel, and the recent rain left potholes worthy of Kodiak. As I bumped along, with Bearfoot singing on my stereo, I curved around waterfalls and million dollar views of the Bay.

Our cutter's ombudsman is the owner of a wonderful B&B called Cottage On the Bay. She invited me for dinner to meet and chat about all things Mustang. I think we spoke of the boat for a grand total of three minutes during my three hour visit.

I learned that today was her birthday and that her hubs was out of town, too. Armed with a bottle of J. Lohr and my new favorite Giada recipe, I drove to Lowell Point to spend some time getting to know my right arm for the next two months.

With the Celtics/Lakers match in the background, this former Bostonian gave me the scoop on all things Seward and invited me to the Saturday night potluck at Miller's Landing-- where, she promised to introduce me to the stars of the eco-documentary, Paddle to Seattle. They are "Lowell Pointers," she quipped with pride.

After the Lakers won, we turned out attention from the tube to the peaceful scene of sea otters playing in the bay. I snapped a few pictures; but the rain and the distance was against me, so forgive the grainy-ness.

As she bid me adieu, Sue said to me, "It's gonna be a fun two years with you!" With how much I laughed and loved spending time with her this evening, I echoed the sentiment and returned home, snapping a few more photos along the way.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Birthday Celebration

To celebrate my birthday, local Rotarians joined me at the Resurrection Roadhouse for drinks and apps. We started with some wine, lots of gossip, and introductions among those locals who crowded the bar during "locals night" where the chef features special apps and double wine and beer points for those of us enrolled in the wine/beer club (clearing of throat, yes, I am a member).
After the wine came a special present from our incoming Rotarian president, Deb. She is in CA with a sick father, with whom I share a birthday. A few years apart, her 92 year old father and I exchanged text messages today to celebrate our special day (seriously, how cute is that?). She went a step further and had champagne ordered at the restaurant to celebrate my birthday with the gals. I've known the woman for a grand total of six weeks, and she is already buying me champagne! And yes, for those who know of my collection, the bottle already atop the cabinets in the kitchen.
After opening cards, I grabbed what I thought was a wine bag. Upon picking it up did I realize it was far too light to be a wine bottle! That's when Kristi started to giggle. She had come to our home on 27 May when Brad and I hosted a fete for his change of command and birthday. When she arrived, we had popped out for moment, and while absent, she cased the joint. Apparently, she checked the cooler to see if the ice was cold and looked into the back door to see our slammin' spread on the dining table. When we pulled into the driveway, she was about to get into her vehicle and depart. A few hours later, when cleaning up the back yard of its bocci and cornhole games did I realize that one of the flamingo tent stakes was missing. "Perhaps Kristi or Amy took it?" quipped Brad. "Never!" I replied, "No Rotarian would steal!"
Alas, I was wrong.

Gifted to me was our missing flamingo tent stake, whom I blew up and posted on our table for the remainder of the evening. Five years later, and our totem remains a present figure at each of our celebrations!
Amy and the thief, ahem, Kristi
Linda Rae and Sharon
A sampling of the Rotarian Ladies

Then came the food. Chef Eric rolled out the good stuff for us foodies:
Flatbread with poached egg and bacon

Prawns with truffle oil

Pulled pork with a spicy black beans

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy

For two years, I searched for waders that fit me. I love being an eco-geek, nature lovin' female; but GAWD, it is hard to find gear that fits. Having a female CEO keeps my arse in REI because they actually stock women's apparel; but, admittedly, and REI habit can be a wee bit expensive. And REI does not really carry fishing cache. Hunting and fishing gear is best left to outfitters like Cabelas and such. Alas, Cabelas idea of stocking women's gear is $200 waders and camo lingerie with hot pink lining (seriously? Who buys that ____?).

In Kodiak, I "got by" with my $4.00 salvation army-found hip waders. Fishing along the road network in Kodiak was easy. Here in Seward, you wade into the tide to snag reds. If you don't judge the tide correctly, you end up wet.

Enter my renewed search for waders: determined not to spend over $100 for ones in my size, I searched ebay and found an XS with size six boot that had been a display model in a sporting goods store. $40 and then $25 S&H (gotta love Alaska) got them to my yesterday!
With Brad in Ketchikan for the summer (boat is in dry dock), he is fishing for King salmon to bring home. A small but hearty competition has started between us, and I hope to "out catch" him. Although highly unlikely because, physically, I cannot wrestle a large king to shore (the better part of valour is at least admitting it, right?); I do hope to snag some reds and perhaps talk myself onto a halibut excursion sometime soon. At least I'll be outfitted to keep dry, as long as I stay upright!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Birthdays Boat Wife Style

He is gone a lot. I knew this when we got together ten years ago. I knew what I was getting into. Does it make it easier to bear the celebratory milestones alone? No. Hell no. It's tough to be a boat wife; but, as the old adage states, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." And our extended periods apart does make the reunion more cherished and special.

"How do you do it?" I am often asked. Honestly, there are good days and bad. Like when I can make a batch of cookies and have them all to myself...for dinner-- that's pretty awesome. Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, like when I have to celebrate a birthday without him-- that's not so awesome.

Yes, this year Brad and I celebrated our fifth year wedding anniversary in person-- for the first time in our five year marriage. We also celebrated his birthday together, too. But, alas, the streak had to end somewhere- my birthday. My darling husband is in Ketchikan, where his boat is in dry dock through the middle of September. Yay. So the idea of breakfast in bed, followed by fishing, followed by hike, followed by dinner out, etc, etc, is not going to happen on June 16, 2010.

So, here I sit, in a new town, without any "real" friends around to party into my third century on this planet. Despite that, I piped up at my Tuesday Rotary meeting and put a "happy buck" into the scholarship jar and announced my impending birthday. In a group of 30, two other Rotarians followed suit and put a buck in the jar for their birthday-- on the same date. How great is it that in a town of 2500, and in a club of 30 people, three of us have the same birthday?

Alas, this boat wife has invitations for both lunch and dinner tomorrow. It may not be with my beloved; but, at least I get to celebrate. I look forward to celebrating with him, belatedly as it may be, when I see him in a few weeks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Maiden Voyage

Upon receiving orders to Seward, I bought a used kayak. I wanted one that was light enough for me to load solo and easy to handle in the water. A fellow coastie on Kodiak sold me his Rascal, a paddle, lifejacket, and spray skirt; and, I took her out for the first time on Sunday. The afternoon turned warm as I finished lunch and loaded the Rascal into the bed of Brad's truck. I journeyed north to Kenai Lake, where a small campground has a boat ramp to offload into the turquoise waters of the Kenai River. Silt from the nearby glaciers turn the water this magical color but it remains cloudy lake itself and then clears up later down stream. I nosed the kayak into the water, adjusted my skirt and set off with a goal of getting to one side of the lake and back with no incident. I succeeded.

The rascal moves solidly, is easy to maneuver among the tight spaces near the shore, and is wide enough to balance my shifting my hips and getting comfortable in the pocket. It's a bit slow, due to design, so I will likely rent or borrow a larger kayak for actual sea kayaking or longer day trips.

Not many salmon inhabit the lake itself, and fishing for them is prohibited. Trout limits are one per person, but due to the cloudy water, I did not spy any. Instead, I chased some gulls and loons occupying nooks around the water's edge and enjoyed the sunshine- while it lasted. Through the pass, the wind picked up and gave me 12-18 inch waves across the lake, making my transit back to the ramp a test. I was out for about 2 hours before heading in under rainclouds.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Behemoth Mulcher

Brad and I worked to clear a bunch of debris from the yard. Much of the property's arbors needed pruning and the spring melt left behind lots of litter. With the help of a great house guest who wanted to do yard work (seriously, she did!), we gathered the branches and fed them to the mulcher.
At Resurrection Rentals, they only have one size of mulcher available for rent: behemoth. Even Brad went "whoa" when he saw what he was getting for his money. Alas, it was a wee bit much for what we needed to do; but he still had fun playing with heavy machinery. Clad in protective head gear with ear muffs, he safely operated the noisy and destructive vortex for about two hours.
Although the machine sprayed the mulch into a specific area in the yard, it was certainly not accurate. Despite the hardwork for us and our houseguest, we enjoyed warm 60+ degree temperatures and direct sunlight in a cloudless sky. The yard is taking shape but needs lots of work. More to come!