September 27, 2011

Pumpkin, Leaves, Frost- I think fall is here

So Alaska seems to be about a month ahead in the fall and a month behind in the spring of the seasons I am accustomed to in the lower 48. Fall is fall though and it seems to be a spectacular season just about everywhere. I was starting to worry after the month plus of rain that I experienced in August. I wasn't sure it was ever going to stop. Turns out, fall is a very nice time of year here. The rain stopped, the colors changes, the leaves are falling, and the temperatures (and light) are dropping rapidly. There are really only Birch trees here for deciduous trees so yellow is the predominant fall color. Some of the lower lying mossy plants turn a vibrant red so it is great to get up into the mountains above the trees to see the beautiful red color as well. The leaves are nothing compared to those I experienced in New England, but were still a welcome change. I love fall and one of the things I love most is pumpkin! Fortunately, Costco had pumpkin for its fall special so Sadie and I stocked up and have been baking pumpkin everything. We started with my personal favorite, pumpkin pancakes! Pumpkins are apparently a rarity in AK as doorstep decorations because the pesky moose love them as much as I do so I will have to settle for the canned version. School, classroom observations, training, and planing for winter have all put a damper on my summer time adventures. But honestly, after a grizzly encounter, just about everything seems dull.....So I leave you with some images of fall here in AK:
The view of the mountains from the trails at APU
Look, there's fresh snow up there!!!!
Where's the trail?
Nothing like new shoes and lots of leaves for some nice cushioning while running!
Headed out for a rollerski after the first frost, it's only 32F out on September 26, brrrrrrrrr
The leaves make for some hairy rollerskiing, and this is after they swept the trail...
Sadie making her way up the hill on a beautiful, brisk, fall day. With it regularly being below freezing all morning, I think winter is not far away. I have been told we will be skiing up on Hatcher Pass in the next couple weeks! In the mean time we are just focusing on some hard fall training and making the best of the slippery, frozen, leaf covered rollerski paths. 'Till next time.

September 15, 2011


Wednesdays are our recovery days so we are encouraged to go on some adventures with our friends. Sadie and I, both recovery from knee injuries, have been building up our running strength and were looking forward to heading out on a Wednesday Adventure. We decided to go up a valley to Rabbit Lake. I had done half of this run before but didn't make it to the lake and Sadie had never been up there. The trail starts by heading uphill through some low lying bushes for a couple of miles and then opens up into a big alpine meadow. When we reached the meadow, it was blowing really hard. We were barely moving trying to push through the strength of the wind. Eventually, we made it to the lake, but because we were so cold we didn't spend a lot of time up there, just turned around and began our journey down valley. Glad that we could finally hear each other talk with the wind at our back, we were chatting up a storm. We came over a knoll and I stopped dead as I was starring right into the face of a big brown bear! He took one looked at us and turned to run behind a bush. This only made things worse as Sadie and I could no longer tell which direction he was travelling and if we were in danger. Sadie was utterly panicked and scrambled to get the safety of our can of bear spray. I was feeling rather confident after my pleasant encounter with Patrick so I calmly asked if Sadie had her phone so we could take a picture, but Sadie was having none of it. So we walked across the other side of the valley where we could see the bear. He seemed uninterested in us and started running up the other side of the valley. However, as we continued down the valley, he too continued down valley, on the opposite side. This made me nervous as I was unsure if bears had a stalking of herding method of killing their prey so we tried to pick up the pace a little and managed to put some distance on the bear. When we reached the bushes, we stopped to take one last look back and it appeared as if we had put enough distance between us that we were safe so we just ran as fast as we could back to the car. By the time we got back to the house, I realized that indeed that was no little black bear, that was a big grizzly bear and I suddenly became much more frightened. I will admit, I had horrible bear nightmares all night and have not been too psyched about running in the mountains since. I can now say I have seen a griz, face to face and would be content to leave it at that! I wish I had a picture for proof, but my story will have to do.

September 11, 2011

Fast and Female

Fast and Female is a really awesome organization started by Olympic Gold Medalist Chandra Crawford. After winning the gold, her life changed quite a bit and she felt she needed to do something to give back and to give more girls the opportunity to have this life changing experience. She started with just cross-country events in Canada but has since expanded to many different sports as well as into the United States. I have helped out with a couple of events and they have been really amazing things. Liz Stephen, a U.S. ski team member who lives in Park City a good chunk of the year has organized an event for October 8th. It will feature many many winter sports and will have Olympians from all of them. This event will also have a parent seminar that will have experts talking about sports psychology, injury prevention, and nutrition for developing female athletes. It is open to girls 9-19 and all abilities, even if you have never step foot on snow we will take you. Please, if you can help get the word out about the event, I would be very grateful. Here is the link to register! Please click the poster below to enlarge it. You can print it out, give it any girl you know!

September 10, 2011

Patrick's Wild Alaska- Part III

This is the last of the Adventures Patrick and I had on his visit to Alaska. After I finished up my classes for the week we packed up my new car and hit the road, looking to see more of Wild Alaska. I have been spoiled over the years having a garage full of top of the line camping equipment ready to throw in the trunk. Without that at my disposal up here, we had to get a bit creative and do a little more traditional car camping. Luckily, I bought a car just big enough for the two of us to sleep in the back, which is great in Alaska because 1. It rains A LOT here and 2. while bears do break into cars, it is far less likely than a bear getting into a tent. When we started driving, it was of course, raining in Anchorage. Hoping for the best, we headed south on the Kenai Peninsula to Seward (home of Mt. Marathon and 4th of July festivities). Our first stop was the Exit Glacier and Harding Icefiend in Kenai National Park. My friend and former teammate Eric Packer took me here over the 4th so if you are an avid reader, you have read about this place before. The National park is interesting because the Exit Glacier is about the only part of it that is accessible by road. It basically encompasses all of the Harding Icefield (500 square miles of ice) and its associated glaciers, which cover most of the southern part of the Kenai Peninsula. The sun actually came out for a bit during our hike up to the icefield so we were able to get some good views and pick up a little much needed vitamin D!
On the way up, looking over the Exit Glacier
A couple of marmots were getting fat for winter and completely unfazed by humans.
At the top! Looking over all 500 square miles of ice, about 3000ft deep! The cloud did arrive by the time we got to the top so the light for a picture was less than ideal.... On our way back down, we had some excitement! A group on their way up stopped to tell us that there was bear down there so we should keep our eyes open. Typical to hiking in Alaska, this group was not scared of a bear as they were all packing some heat. With the number of cars in the parking lot when we arrived, I didn't even consider bringing my bear bell or bear spray so I began to get a little worried as all I had was my own 2 feet, 2 feet that are much slower than Patrick's. We continued down the trail making noise and being loud. As we rounded a switchback, the bushes started to shake, we had found bear. The bushes are dense in Alaska and big enough that you can't see what direction the bear is going, what color it is, how big it is, if it looks angry, nothing. Which is what makes it so frightening. Scared, we started making more noise and backed up a switchback hoping the bear would show itself. A couple from the Netherlands caught us so we decided that a pack of 4 was better than 2 and surely I could out run them if it came down to that. We slowly walked back down, whooping and calling. The bushes started moving again so we paused and made some calls. Finally, this little black bear walks out of the bushes. He was a cute little guy, minding his own business, munching berries on the side of the trail. He could have cared less that we were trying to pass or scared of him, he was just standing in the trail munching away. Eventually, he continued on his way up the mountain, following the berry bushes and we were able to pass. Unsure if he was just a small bear or a cub with a protective mama nearby, we continued to chatter loudly as descended the mountain. Luckily, we made it down without any trouble. We stopped in at the visitors center and viewed some of their good documentation of the glacial retreat that is ocurring. they have signs along the entrance road marking the year the glacier once extended to that point. It is amazing and shocking the amount the glacier had shrunk. Being geography and Environmental studies majors, we were both pleased about the information they had available as I figure most people come to Alaska and think, "wow, its cold here and there is 500 square miles of ice, certainly global climate change is a joke."
Our Friend! Alaska is interesting because there are so few roads so camping is a little more urban than you would expect for a place as big and wild as Alaska. We camped on the beach in Seward below the infamous Mt. Marathon, but we were basically in someone's backyard.....During the night a bigger than big cruise ship pulled into port. When this happens, I think the population of the town about quadruples as hoards of tourists rush to all the attractions. We met some interesting people from North Carolina that when hearing about our areas of study in school asked us if we were doing that "Al Gore thing, that global warming stuff." They were also very critical of our life choices post-college and of Patrick's "long" hair. Must have been Palin followers, checking out her homeland.
I love sea animals and always have thanks to my frequent visits to Cape Cod so the two us set out to the Sea Life Center. This is an aquarium and research center that appeared to do quite a bit in the area. When my dad traveled for work when Charlie and I were little, he often brought us back a present from where ever he was. I got a book and stuffed animal puffin, Polly Puffin, that I loved and still remember quite well. As a result, I really wanted to see a Puffin in real life. In order to see them in their natural habitat you have to get away from the town via boat which was much too expensive for us so I had to settled for the Puffin exhibit they had at the center. They are really neat bird with distinct markings and can dive down into the water up to about 600 ft to catch fish. We could watch them doing this at the exhibit so that was really neat.
Polly Puffin
There was a hands on station in which you could check out sea anemones, star fish, and sea cucumbers.
The ever ironic world in which BP sponsors the global climate change exhibit. This is a frequent occurrence in Alaska. I think in all the museums we visited, an oil company sponsored an exhibit. Exxon is a common one, trying to make up for their big mistake in Valdez. The rain stopped so we took advantage and checked out a neat trail. The trail goes for about 8 miles along the edge of Resurrection Bay and most of the trail is along the beach, meaning you can only travel during low tide. We did not discover the trail until that day so we were unable to coordinate with the tide so we went a couple miles on the trail before it drops down to the ocean. We ended at a river emptying into the bay where hundreds of Silver Salmon were spawning. It was almost surreal to be watching them swim up stream, make a nest for their eggs, lay them, and die. There were lots of dead ones already on the bottom and the rest were loosing their color.
Oops, end of the trail here!
I was very excited to find a jelly on the coast. Next stop:
We drove all the way around the Icefield to the other side of the Peninsula where the town of Homer sits. On the way, we went through may small towns and passed hundred of inns, B&Bs, and charter boat offerings. It seems that just about everyone in these towns hopes to make a little money off the tourists by offering anything they can out of their home or a little shack on the side of the road. We stopped to camp in this small town, called Anchor Point, just outside of Homer along the coast of the Cook Inlet. The beach on this coast is a little more beach-like with real sand, waves, and smells of ocean. Once again however, bound by the lack of roads, we were almost camping in someone's yard... The next morning we continued on to Homer. Homer is known for Halibut fishing, but offers it all including salmon and crabs. Having never been there, I wasn't sure what to expect or what to do so we did a lot of wandering around contemplating how people live in these tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. We checked out the local museum learning about the rather recent first settlers, the fishing industries, and the bears. The port is located on a spit of sand that extends a ways into the bay. Along the "spit" is many ticky tacky tourist traps offering anything and everything having to do with fishing and seeing wildlife.
At the museum, of course Patrick found the machines!
Patrick tried the 30 sec test in which one is expected to get on the ultimate life saving dry suit that is carried on ships in case it sinks. He failed badly, good thing is living in a landlocked state!
Our personal favorite of the spit, an old fishing boat that has been turned into a house, well more of a shack, but you get the idea. We had to hurry back so Patrick could catch is late night flight back east, but were greeted at our door step by the momma and baby moose that have been living around here all summer.
Hope you enjoyed the lengthly and detailed account of our adventures. Alaska is a very different place! This will probably be the last of my big adventures until ski season starts, unless Alaska provides an unexpected adventure...

September 7, 2011

Patrick's Wild Alaska-Part II

After the epic week up on the glacier, we enjoyed a few days in Anchorage. School started for me while I was on the glacier so I had to catch up on schoolwork and attend a few days of class before we could embark on any further adventures. For those that didn't know already, I am taking classes at APU in the education department in hopes of getting my teaching certificate. This fall I am just taking two classes to keep my brain alive and running. As part of all the classes required for the certificate, we are required to spend a good number of hours in an elementary classroom both observing and teaching so my blog posts will undoubtedly feature stories from the classroom in the coming weeks. Back to Pat and Anchorage. On our one "off" day from training, it was actually sunny so we had to get out of the house. We did a little hike up Flattop mountain which is a real tourist destination and provides excellent views as well as people watching. Although it is only about a 45 minute hike, it gets you well above tree line and requires some rock scrambling so as you can imagine there are some "city folk" that get themselves into a tizzy on the trail and Patrick and I enjoyed a few laughs as well as some good views from the top.
On the way can see Mt. McKinley sticking up vaguely in the background. It's the one thats just a bit bigger than all the other ones.
The top-looking over into the Glen Alps valley
A not so flattering picture from the other side of the top, looking over the city of Anchorage Next, we checked out the sand dunes. We packed and picnic and walked out to play in the sand and enjoy the view over the Turnigan Arm, or Turnigan mudflats during low tide. Patrick also learned a valuable lesson, it's not a good idea to drink a large coffee, eat lunch, and then roll down the sand dunes. While he tried to blame it on Starbuck's coffee, I think we all know it was his bad decision making!
Costco is a big part of every Alaskan's life, they love it! So naturally, we had to make a trip there (us college and pseudo-college kids like it too). Vermont is not home to many stores such as Costco so they all marvel at the experience.
I also learned that Patrick loves airplanes so while on our way to get frozen yogurt at the airport (another strange Alaskan pastime) we got sidetracked by the Aviation Museum. For a small museum, they had an impressive collection of planes, mostly focusing on small planes flown to the bush of Alaska, but they also had exhibits on the role Alaska played during WWII, which is often overlooked or unknown about. This was our first of what turned out to be many museum trips and lots of learning!
This is a strange style of truck that is commonly seen around the airport and apparently is used to move around small float planes. Lake Hood is the lake next to the Ted Stevens International Airport where people can buy a shack, hangar, or just a dock for their planes. Owning a plane is not uncommon up here and almost all have the ability to have wheels or floats so many are just stored like a boat, tied up to the dock. It is very cool to see so we spent some time driving around the lake. The security is much less than what we are used to at airports and while we were so captivated watching all the planes, I found myself driving on the runway and not realizing until we were stopped by a gate preventing the planes from going onto the one seemed to care though!
Patrick wishing he was still a little boy!
A Huey helicopter used durning war. Boys love big machines! We also checked out Point Waranzof, the favorite for local high school kids to bring their dates......But I failed to take a picture there. We hit up the Sunday Market of local Alaskan goods as well. We tried the birch syrup, but being accustomed to maple and, ok I will say it, Vermont Maple Syrup, birch was rather gross. Not something I will be dressing my pancakes with here. So despite the sub-par weather and a few hours needed for school work, we were able to hit up all the classic Anchorage sights.

September 5, 2011

The Last Glacier Camp

I was so fortunate to have Patrick fly out to visit me for a couple weeks! On his first day, I dragged him out for a 3.5 hour rollerski around Anchorage in the rain. We saw a handful of moose and unlike Sadie and I, Patrick was not scared and would ski right past them tapping them on the bum with his pole while Sadie and I would take our skis off and take a scenic loop around the creature. It was a good Alaskan rollerski for sure.
For our first week, he joined the APU team as well as a few athletes from Sun Valley for our last glacier camp. I will be honest, I was starting to think Alaska was pretty sweet as my previous 2 glacier camps were full of sunshine and awesome skiing, but I was reminded that Alaska is crazy. We had some bad weather for this camp. We maybe saw the sun for half a day up there and the rest of the time it was blowing snow like crazy. It was full on winter up there. Now, I can't complain too much because I was still skiing in August which is really awesome and I was enjoying time with Patrick, but it did take an extra bit of motivation to get out the door everyday when you would wake up to wind and snow pounding against the building. I was able to reach my goal of training hours for the week, making it a decent week overall and I certainly gained some toughness out there. Here are a few pictures from the week, and yes, I did enhance them on my computer so it does look a little sunnier than it was, plus we only took pictures when the sun was trying to peek out.....
Fresh snow surrounding the building
August camp provided some new twists. As a result of very low snow and an earthquake that happened during girls camp, a bunch of new crevases opened up all over the glacier.......
so we were required to ride down to the trails and back up in the back of the Pisten Bully. This was great for the one working that the sun sorta peaked out for, but was really rough when it was blowing and raining or snowing.
Patrick and me soaking up every bit of Vitamin D we can
A beautiful sunset from up on the glacier!