Adventures in the Mountains

What do you do when you’re presented with 72 hours of free time, only a 30% chance of rain, and you live in remote Alaska? You pack your bags and head for the mountains! A few different friends had recently done a ridge-top hike in the nearby mountain range and camped at a cabin along the way, and I really wanted to check it out. But all of my friends were either fishing, working, or otherwise unavailable…so I went by myself.

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As I walked through town, backpack on my back and bear spray dangling from my hip, the Wells Fargo clock said 3pm. I noted the time as I left town and started winding my way up Ski Hill via Eyak Mountain Trail. My mind was on the fog up ahead, and I pondered my adventure which hadn’t really yet begun. I was a slightly worried about the visibility level – I was told the trail wasn’t well-marked and the piles of rocks which designated the route were tricky to find in the clouds were low. I had roughly estimated a 7pm arrival time at the Ridge Shelter – an hour up Ski Hill, an hour over and up to Crater Lake, and then two more hours across the ridge. Daylight wasn’t really a factor because the sun doesn’t set, so I wasn’t in a rush.

I rounded the last corner to the chairlift at the top of the hill, a slight breeze made me realize that my back was a little wet. Actually, it was quite wet. I took off of my backpack and discovered that my borrowed CamelBak bladder leaked if not kept upright…and I had it upside down. There was about a liter of water spilled inside of my backpack, about half of which was absorbed into the top edge of my sleeping bag. I contemplated turning around – I hadn’t really left yet. My desire for an adventure won. I stuffed the bottom two thirds my sleeping bag back in the stuff sack and draped the top end out of my pack, letting it flap in the breeze to dry out. Onward and upward. I munched on an apple and goldfish as I hopped across onto the Crater Lake connecting trail and looked at the fog looming ahead.

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I continued on to Crater Lake, one of my favorite spots around town. Far enough removed to feel remote, but close enough to walk to, it is a stunning, pristine paradise. I soaked in the beauty and refilled my now-upright CamelBak. To keep the bears away, I was talking and singing to myself – hoping that they’d hear a human voice and head the other way instead of hearing the crunch of my steps and coming closer to investigate. As I rounded the corner of Crater Lake talking about what song I should sing next, a startled hiker gave me a funny look as he hurried past me, eager to dodge a conversation with the crazy lady. I turned on my iPod.

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Crater Lake was the furthest I’d been before, and the trail sign marking the Alice Smith trail was new territory. I spotted my first pile of rocks and took off in that direction. The trail was faintly worn, and the rock piles were fairly easy to spot on the way up. As I took a break to enjoy the views from the top, I checked my phone and the map – it was 7pm, and my little GPS dot was still very close to the lake…nowhere near the spot where the shelter should be. Oh well, 8pm would be fine, too, I thought.

As it turned out, I made it to the shelter at 10pm. I ate my sausage and pasta even though I wasn’t hungry, warmed myself over my little camp stove, and emptied out the contents of my backpack to dry whatever wet items remained. The only other casualty of the spill was the paper cup holding my granola. The dried oats regressed to a mushy, oatmeal form and coated the inside of the backpack. I figured if this was my biggest issue, I was in good shape (and made a mental note to better waterproof my food next time) and went to sleep.

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This was the first view I had of the Ridge Shelter. The final cairn before the cabin is in the bottom right corner. Can you see the shelter?

The next morning brought less fog and better views. The camp stove earned its keep by providing hot coffee in the morning (which was the entire reason for bringing it). After some breakfast and a quick cleaning of mushy granola from basically everything I packed, I was back on the trail around 8am. There were a few remaining patches of snow covering the trail, and each one was stained with pink splatters. Some people have told me it is caused by a plant (though I didn’t see any) which dyes the melting snow. To me, though, it looked like old blood splatter from hungry carnivores prowling through the winter. It left me a little unnerved and I continued singing and talking to myself.

After a few more hours on top of the ridge in varying levels of fog, I came to the lake signaling it was time to begin my descent. There was some minor confusion regarding poorly named landmarks and a broken sign with questionable arrow directions, but I figured out where I needed to go and began my way down the side of the mountain. The trail was freshly weed-whacked and obvious – a delightful change from my recent times of searching for cairns every five minutes. It was heavily lined with salmon berry bushes, and I noted that if I were a bear, this is where I would hang out. I sang and sang. Favorites included: the Hamilton Soundtrack, Despacito, (neither of which should be a surprise) several Shania Twain hits, (a carryover from hiking in Nicaragua this winter with friends…though I’m not sure where we got it) Goodbye Earl (which I assume came into my head via Shania Twain) and the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Your guess is as good as mine as to where that last one came from…

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Before long, I was back in the forest heading for the Power Creek cabin. Last year some friends and I were supposed to spend my birthday at Power Creek, but a very heavy rainstorm coincided with a newly-built beaver dam to flood part of the trail and make it impassable. I was really excited to finally get to check it out. And it did not disappoint – the cabin was beautiful – complete with bunks, a table, a wood stove (and firewood!) and a loft. I settled in and started a fire and explored nearby. Sandbars and waterfalls were all around, and there was so much to see! After dinner, I curled up by the fire and did a little reading before heading up to the loft for bed. I noted that my throat was a little sore – apparently I overdid it just a tad on the singing and self-conversing throughout the day. It made me smile.

I slept until 8:30, and it was delightful. I enjoyed my coffee and breakfast on the porch before packing up and heading out just before 11. The singing continued. After being startled by a flock of geese on the trail and by a humming bird which dive-bombed my head just as I was stepping on a very precarious rock, I made it to the trailhead around 1. I walked another mile until I finally had cell service and sent a text to my friend Tim to come and pick me up. Unfortunately, Tim was grilling for the town 4th of July BBQ and didn’t expect me so early, so I had already walked six of the seven miles back to town before he apologetically showed up to get me just one mile out of town. What’s six more miles, right? It was the only part of my adventure where I saw a bear – the salmon have made it up into the lake and surrounding streams, meaning the bears are out and about. Wrapped up in my newly-found cell phone service, I startled a little black bear almost as much as he startled me as he tried to catch lunch. Luckily, in our mutual fear, we each went our separate ways without incident.

My first solo, mini-thru hike was officially deemed a success (aka I didn’t get lost or eaten). Doable but hovering just outside of my comfort zone, it checks all of the boxes for a good adventure. I can’t wait to plan the next one!

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A Week in Tulum

Tulum was everything I wanted it to be and more. In addition to having zero travel issues for the first time in a long time, Tulum had the pristine beaches with crystal clear water – like something straight out of a dream. The week that I spent here, the majority of my time was spent either laying on the beach or frolicking in the waves.

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I did explore a little bit – only when the beach was too windy. Connected to the public beach is Tulum National Park, which contains ancient Mayan ruins and stories of the once great empire. It was fun to explore and had pretty views…and tons of iguanas!

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One of the highlights of my time in Tulum was a day trip to Sian Ka’an Natural Reserve. Only about 8km outside of Tulum, Sian Ka’an is seeping with wildlife, and is home to the second-largest coral reef in the world. We saw alligators, sea turtles, iguanas, and manatees, in addition to the thousands and thousands of birds. Osprey, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, great blue heron, ibis, and so many others. I began to see why people get into birding – that was really cool! After checking out the birds in the lagoon, we had lunch and headed out to the Caribbean for some top-notch snorkeling. Fun fact of the day: coconut trees aren’t native to the Caribbean – they’re actually an invasive species! Who knew!?!

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The excursions were cool, but I mostly enjoyed hanging around town. My comfortable routine of eating breakfast at the hotel, taking 20 minutes to apply sunscreen to my own back (Do you know how hard this is?) and biking to the beach was the epitome of relaxation. When I got hungry, I would bike into town. My goal was to try a new place each day…but I ended up finding a little French bistro that I adored. The owners are delightful Belgian couple that kept me supplied in delicious food and the smoothest tequila I’ve ever tasted. The tequila comes from their friend’s basement across the street, though, so unfortunately there won’t be any coming home. You guys will just have to take my word for it.

After lunch I’d typically head back to the beach until I was hungry for dinner, when I’d bike back into town. I did manage to try a new dinner place every night – no repeats. The first night, I almost ended up in tears after dousing my taco with a salsa that was wayyyy hotter than expected. But I got it together just in time and only ended up with some hiccups. On the next night, I learned that Tulum loves happy hour – for the first (but not the last) time, I ordered a margarita only to find out that they were on special: two for one! Gotta love vacation!

It was on the bike rides home after dinner that I discovered the truly horrifying part of the city: how many spiders were lying, waiting, all around me. My headlamp was reflected off of each set of eyes, like a small piece of glitter lying in the grass. It looked like someone had just cracked open a piñata over top of the bike path – glitter everywhere. I stayed safely on my bike until reaching the hotel.

Spiders and all, I made it out and onto the airplane. Next up – Oaxaca. Bring on the skulls, parades, and festivities. And – Happy Halloween! 🙂

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Road Trip: Arizona and Utah

2,500 Miles, Four States, Four National Parks

Upon landing in Phoenix, our road trip was officially underway. After working together in Alaska for the summer, my friend Liz and I met back up in Arizona to do some exploring. Being the planner that I am, I prepared for the trip by doing lots of research and creating a color-coded Google Map marking the route. Being the non-planner that she is, Liz kicked back with a beer and arrived fashionably late. But we made a nice team. And when we finally arrived, we were both ready to camp under the stars and check out some of the lovely naturaleza housed in the Southwest, including several National Parks.

Day 1: Phoenix

Following the internet’s suggestion, we set up camp in Peralta Canyon for the night. It is about an hour outside of Phoenix and filled with cacti, tumbleweeds, and dust – meaning that our brand new rental car (which only had 7 miles on it when we picked it up) was promptly filthy and covered in a film of desert particles. Despite the stars and almost full moon, it was quite dark.

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But that just made waking up in the desert that much better.

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We decided to start our trip off with a bang – skydiving. It was a big item on both of our bucket lists and we were filled with nervous excitement as we made our way to the skydive center. On the drive over, we passed through the desert and watched other skydivers parachute to the ground up ahead. Once we got into the plane it happened so quickly – we geared up, got in hopped in, and glided above the shrub-covered mountains. Ten minutes later, the door opened, and out we went – it felt like we were floating. Once the parachute was open, I took off my goggles and my nose ring immediately fell off inside. Having no free hands, I popped it into my mouth while I steered the parachute and learned some cool tricks. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was over, or how amazingly fun it was. Mark my words…there will be more dives in my future.

Once the adrenaline died down, we went back downtown and spent a few hours at the Arizona State Fair soaking up the sunshine and the amazing people watching. Who knew so many things could come deep fried and wrapped in bacon? Or that the poop-emoji turned into a hat would be such a hit? Apparently the Arizona carnies did. When we hit the point of sensory overload…we packed it in and headed to Sedona for the night.

Day 2: Sedona to Page

We didn’t realize how soon the altitude would kick in – gone were the warm Phoenix nights, 100 F days, and the cacti. Instead, we were surrounded by brisk, fall weather, beautiful red rocks and coniferous trees. Sedona was where we started two recurring phrases of the trip: “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this cold!” and “Wow, I didn’t expect the altitude to be this high!” But it was gorgeous. After a little exploration, we hopped onto the scenic route up to Page, traveling along precarious cliffs with amazing views.

Page was the city which spurred the entire road trip – I signed up for a half marathon in Lake Powell National Park, part of the National Parks Anniversary series, which was taking place the following day. I was really looking forward to checking out the beautiful views and beating my time. After checking in for the race, we drove over to Horseshoe Bend to watch the sunset. It was really gorgeous, but unfortunately about 500 other people had the exact same idea. Even a bride and groom were taking wedding photos along the edge. After escaping the crowds and grabbing some dinner, we headed back to Lake Powell and camped out at Lone Rock on the beach.

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Day 3: Page to Monument Valley

This was it: D-Day. Liz was volunteering at the finish line while I ran, so we both got an early start. After a gorgeous sunrise and lots of waiting for the race to begin, it was finally time to run. I quickly discovered that I was not yet acclimated to the altitude…apparently living at sea level for the past six months hasn’t done me any favors. And I was extremely distracted by the gorgeous views along the way. After about five miles, I decided I would prefer to enjoy the scenery and take pictures along the way instead of hitting my time goal. My runner/photographer combo got me to the finish line in 2 hours and 30 minutes instead of my goal of 2:10…but I really enjoyed the course and the stunning views. Added bonus: I wasn’t even sore the next day.

Afterwards, we got out of town reallllly quickly – the tiny town of Page was over-saturated with the 2,200 runners and all of their respective families, so it wasn’t a hard decision to hop back on the road and head out to Monument Valley.

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Day 4: Monument Valley to Moab

We passed through Monument Valley just as the sun was setting – we even pulled off of the road to wait for the glare to subside…it was intense. Monument Valley is solidly inside Navajo Nation, meaning no off-the-path exploring. There wasn’t really much around, so after taking lots of rock pictures we decided to grab some groceries and beers and hang out at our campsite. An hour and 20 minutes later, we were back with groceries from the nearest store, and with the knowledge that Navajo Nation is dry. Good to know. The man running the campsite was just as disappointed as we were when we came back without booze – apparently he saw tourists and had plans for a party. So…maybe it was for the better  🙂

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The next morning, I witnessed the most amazing sunrise that I’ve ever seen – the clouds were simply stunning. Liz slept through sunrise because she had  been awake the entire night fearing a potential coyote encounter. She huddled in her sleeping bag with her knitting needles ready to attack. But…she managed to catch some shut eye before we headed out to visit Four Corners. We stopped to check out Mexican Hat along the way – it really does look like a guy in a sombrero. Pretty cool.

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Next stop: Four Corners. Who says you can’t be in more than one place at once? We took a brief tour of the site and hopped back into the car towards Moab, Utah. The past two days, we bounced back and forth across the Arizona and Utah border (it cut through Lake Powell and Monument Valley) so it was nice to be in only one time zone. Arizona doesn’t participate in daylight savings time, meaning that we were an hour different each time we crossed the boarder.

Moab is a cute little adventure-ready town which acts as a gateway to Arches National Park. After a some fun long-exposure photography and a little exploration, we found the perfect campsite. But our plan of camping in Arches was dashed by the wind – the 60 MPH gusts blew me right off of my inflatable sleeping mat and filled all of our possessions with sand. We eventually sought out refuge and slept in the car, which shook like an airplane going through turbulence for the entire night.

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Day 5: Moab to Page

We got up early and semi-rested to go hike up to Delicate Arch, which was listed as the best sunrise spot in the park. It is also the picturesque arch on the Utah license plate. We drowsily joined the parade of tourists with DSLR cameras and tripods climbing up the rocks. To our dismay, the wind was even worse on this side – when we got up to the top, we were almost knocked over. It felt as if we were sitting in a skydiving training center…which is not a good place to be when you’re sitting on top of a cliff. After each snapping a photo and tying our hoods tighter, we looked at each other and quickly decided that the sunrise wasn’t worth the miserable wind and quickly headed back down to the refuge of the lower altitude and canyon walls. Plenty of other arches to see in the park. We spent a little more time exploring and then took off to Bryce Canyon National Park.

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It was about a five hour drive, so we were quite excited when we came into Dixie National Forest and found some scenic points to stretch our legs. The Red Canyon inside the National Forest was one of the highlights of our trip; we spent a good chunk of time climbing the red hills and exploring the cliffs. The beautiful contrast between the rocks, the blue sky and the green trees was simply stunning.

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After some more exploration in Bryce Canyon National Park, we were back on the road.

Google Maps had told us that it was only a 20 minute drive to our next stop, which ended up being completely untrue. 2.5 hours later, we ended up back in Page to camp at our lovely Lone Rock beach in Lake Powell. It was wind-free and lovely, and we both got a good night’s sleep.

Day 6: Page to The Grand Canyon

After more Google Maps confusion, we ended up having to skip our visit to the Grand Staircase National Monument. I was sad, but I quickly got over it because today was finally the day we were headed to the Grand Canyon. We were planning to go to the South Rim, but a guy in Page gushed about how great the North Rim was and even printed us a map. We had seen signs for both the North and South Rim on our initial drive, so we figured we could hit both. We excitedly drove off through beautiful country in search of one of the World’s Seven Wonders.

Today’s lesson: Despite the fact that they’re both inside the Grand Canyon National Park, there’s no road between the North and South Rim…they’re about 5 hours apart. So after driving about 3 hours to get there, we backtracked our route about 2.5 hours to get back to the highway. Essentially, it was a 5 hour detour for a 20 minute walk, but it was uncrowded and beautiful so it was totally worth it.

In addition, we got up close and personal with a few herds of deer…and an extremely perturbed park ranger who was not pleased about our proximity to the animals. There were about six other cars in front of us which had pulled off of the road to take pictures. After a few screams and an angry march in our direction, we joined the rest of the fleeing tourists and escaped in our car before she could catch us…but not before we got a few nice pics of Bambi’s friends.

We couldn’t quite make it all the way to the South Rim that night…sleep was catching up. We stopped and camped for the night outside of Flagstaff. We ended up sleeping in the car again because we could hear coyotes howling and yipping nearby – we were too afraid to sleep outside. Because of the coyotes and the chilly 40 F weather, this was the only night we didn’t get a picture of our camping spot.

Day 7: The Grand Canyon to Phoenix

Finally, we were headed into the Grand Canyon South Rim. After overcoming some major traffic – we arrived at National Park number four. And Oh My God…it was gorgeous. I couldn’t believe that the Colorado River created that entire canyon – it is amazing to think about. Our initial plan of hiking down into the canyon for the night didn’t quite pan out. Instead we spent the day hiking around the park, even seeing some herds of deer and elk along the way which we photographed in peace. When we grew cold and tired, we headed down to our favorite camping spot in Peralta Canyon outside of Phoenix, ready for the lower altitude and warmer weather.

Day 8: Phoenix

Final day. After spending the morning at a cafe to organize our lives and prepare for the next stages of our respective trips, we headed out to Papago State Park  to hang out in rock holes among cacti and palm trees. And there was a picturesque lake I could dip my feet in while we hung out in the shade, because we finally found the heat – it was 100 F in the shade. Ahhh…exactly how I like it. I am certainly ready for Mexico – bring on the sunshine.

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All in all it was pretty amazing. And, I found so many more places that I either want to visit for the first time, or places that I want to revisit and better explore. Eight days isn’t a lot of time, but it was a fun and fantastic taste of what the Southwest has to offer. I cannot wait to return. But now…off to Mexico! The next post will be coming to you from Tulum.

Out the Road

Perspective is a tricky thing. It can make or break a situation. A good sense of perspective can help avoid arguments and provide compassion and empathy in difficult times. And gaining a sense of perspective is one of my favorite side-effects of traveling and living in other cultures. It’s easy to get caught up in the rote, minutia of day-to-day life. It’s easy to forget how lucky most of us are. If you’re reading this, it means you have access to a computer and internet. It means you have the time to find and read my quirky, little blog (which I obviously really appreciate!) and these two aspects, along with many other likely characteristics probably put you in a category better-off than many people around the world. This makes you lucky – it makes us lucky.

The other day, while picking salmon berries along the side of the road and watching eagles soar overhead in the sunshine, a friend said “We’re so lucky to live here,” which made me think about perspective. And, she is completely right. This town is so weird but oh so great.

Cordova is a very small town. It’s basically divided into 4 areas, geographically. You have “town,” which is about 2 city blocks and you have the harbor, where all of the boats are parked. There is one main road that goes through town. Leaving town and going west will take you to a hotel called Orca Lodge, where the road dead-ends after about 3 miles. Going anywhere in this direction is called going “out Orca.” Leaving town and going east, towards the main airport is called going “Out the Road.” The road passes Eyak lake, winds along the Copper River and passes the main airport, but mostly it is surrounded by wide-open expanses of land lined with snow-capped mountains. It dead-ends where the bridge which used to connect Cordova to the rest of the world was washed away years ago, about 30 miles out of town.

I love going Out the Road. There’s the Copper River  in all of its glory, there’s Sheridan Glacier (among others), There’s countless well-maintained hiking trails and endless wilderness to explore off the trail. There’s moose. There’s bears. There’s delicious berries. There’s fishing, kayaking, climbing, swimming, boating, and pretty much whatever else you feel like doing. It’s paradise. Running out the road is where I run to train for my half marathon. It’s where I ride my bike when I want to explore something new. It’s where people go to have a bonfire, celebrate holidays, picnic, and relax. And virtually all of the land around here is nationally protected, so it is acceptable to set up a little camp and hang out wherever you please. And, any time I get to say I “went Out the Road” I feel like a local using insider lingo. It makes me smile.

It’s easy to take Cordova for granted. It’s easy to feel stuck; without a road connecting you to the real world it can seem isolated. Mail takes forever to arrive, everything is expensive, and Grub Hub or Uber certainly don’t exist. Sometimes it feels a little like living abroad – for example, one half-mile stretch of road has been torn up and “under construction” for over a month because someone decided to repave the road without knowing that there is a national asphalt shortage. Really? A national asphalt shortage?? In the US? Ha. But it is totally worth it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in these details and forget what Cordova is – a paradise of naturaleza.

Living in this little bubble is unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve picked 15 quarts of Salmon berries within a 15 minute walk of my house. I have the ocean at my door, grassy meadows and snowy mountain peaks within walking distance. People wave when they pass on the street. People use the phone book to look up phone numbers (which, by the way, is 5″ by 7″ and about 50 pages long). Trump supporters are neighbors and best friends with  Clinton supporters. Different religions, races, and ethnicities coexist peacefully. I can get (almost) wherever I need to go without owning a car, but I am in the middle of nowhere. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty amazing. And I think I am pretty lucky to be here. I am trying to appreciate this, knowing that when I do have access to Uber and Grub Hub again, I will certainly not be able to ride my bike out to a glacier and pick wild berries. It’s just my perspective, but I think it’s pretty great 🙂

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The Copper River

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One of the many, many meadows Out the Road

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Liz, hanging out on the Copper River. We spent the afternoon watching the trout jump and laughing at the kayakers that flipped over (they were ok – only their egos were bruised)

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Intoxicating Alaska

It’s official. I love Alaska. Most days are rainy and don’t get over 40 degrees (4C) and I don’t even care. It’s just so pretty. The 37 minute flight from Anchorage to Cordova was easily the most scenic flight I’ve ever been on. It could have been a sight-seeing tour if the stewardesses would have stated a few facts as they served drinks. I spent most of the flight snapping pictures of the gorgeous mountain tops and the sparkling blue water as they slowly passed by my window…each landscape seeming better than the last. The burly fisherman who sat next to me on the flight was definitely judging me for being so touristy…but I just couldn’t stop. I was obviously from out of town – a contrast to the majority of the other passengers on the flight. I’m pretty sure most of them knew each other based on the greetings in the airport. Neighbors saying hi to old friends who had migrated south for the winter and were making their way back to town for the summer.

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I haven’t quite adjusted to my new scenery yet. The picturesque, snow-capped mountains which are always there, in the background, in every direction, give me the feeling of being on vacation. Even when I’m at work. Sometimes I look out the window to the looming peaks and for a split-second, I need to remind myself that they are real – not a backdrop or something fleeting, like a rainbow. It’s like living in a National Geographic photograph. I’m sure my friends will quickly tire of my Instagram photos consisting of one mountain after another…but oh well.

Yesterday was a sunny day, so I took advantage of the (almost) clear skies and soaked in some of the gorgeous views on some local mountains. There is one chairlift in town with some awesome ski trails, but there’s not enough snow anymore to ski this season. Oh well…it’s still great for hiking! Bald eagles and hawks flew above in close circles as we admired the views from on top of the mountain. The  wingspan and the sheer size of the birds was impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close in the wild. It was amazing.

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Know of some great hikes near Cordova? Let me know!

Five Alaskan Life Hacks You Probably Didn’t Know

Alaska is pretty disconnected from the rest of the lower 48 states. In fact, I see more similarities on a daily basis that resemble life in a different country than I see connecting it to my own. If it weren’t for the fact that I still have cell phone service, I might forget all together. The sheer size, the new culture and the contrast in climate make it completely different than anywhere else I’ve ever lived before.

There are also some completely different norms here, which only add to the feeling of living abroad. Here are five ways that Alaskans seem to have life figured out just a little better than their neighbors to the south (and elsewhere).

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Three Checked Bags Within the State

It’s a big state. And in most places (cough cough…Cordova) there is limited access to pretty much everything. Thank god for Amazon Prime…but that’s a different story. Most things here – if they’re available – are pretty expensive because they’re imported. It’s almost like living on an island. So in Cordova, for example, most people do all of their serious shopping (groceries, clothes, etc.) in Anchorage. To accommodate, Alaska Airlines gives all passengers traveling within the state 3 FREE checked bags on every flight. So a family of four going on vacation to Juno would get to take 12 bags with them. Or, a mother taking her son to Anchorage for his monthly orthodontist appointment can bring back 6 suitcases-worth of shopping.

And by suitcases…I mean Rubbermaid totes wrapped in duct tape. Sitting at the Anchorage airport for an extended period of time means that you see lots of people rearranging their groceries to stay under the 50 lb limit – heads of cabbage and bags of oranges are flying everywhere.

Fresh Air

Alright…so this is a little less of a life hack and a little more of me being extra-appreciative of the fresh air after spending the past 7 months in India. But Alaskans sure do know how to have some gorgeous cities with fresh air. And in the past week, I don’t think I’ve heard a horn honk…even once. I loved India, but this is just so nice. Okay, okay…I’m done.

Livin’ on Berries

When I found out that my house would be a cabin…I had visions in my head of a quaint, little cabin where I could finally have the space to make a little garden. Fresh tomatoes, basil, lettuce, you name it. I even arrived in the beginning of spring – perfect timing! As usual…nothing ever turns out quite as expected. The soil in these parts is terrible – nothing can really grow without a greenhouse and a person with an extra-green thumb. I have no greenhouse…and my thumb is basically black…so I guess there won’t be a garden.

What I will have is lots and lots of berries. Blueberries, kyani berries, salmonberries, nagoons, cranberries, and so many others whose names I’ve already forgotten. Wild berries everywhere. I love berries. And according to a study done by the US National Institute of Health in 2013, the berries here specifically have “extraordinarily high antioxidant levels” making Alaskans some of the healthiest people around. Now if I could just find some fresh goat cheese to pair them with…

Lots and Lots of Sunlight

Bring on the Vitamin D. Today, April 5th, the sun will set at 8:39pm and will rise tomorrow at 6:39am. Right now, Southern Alaska is gaining about 45 minutes of daylight per week. It won’t be very long until the Midnight Sun makes an appearance. There aren’t many other places around the world where someone can work all day and then climb a mountain, ride down the Copper River or hike up a glacier afterwards.

It’s a shame the soil is so poor in Cordova, because in other parts of Alaska vegetables are enormous due to all of the extra photosynthesizing going on.

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Working Half of the Year (or Less!)

Winter is pretty brutal in Alaska, (Or so I’m told – I’m not quite brave enough to fact-check this one myself.) so many business are only open half the year. Fishermen and hunters have a very limited season, some of them earning their annual wages in just a few days. As long as I don’t have to spend my winters off here in Cordova…this seems like a pretty sweet set-up – work six months in Alaska, and go migrate somewhere warmer once the temperature drops. Normally when I travel for work, I like to fly in a little earlier or fly out a little later, allowing myself to travel and explore. Arriving here before April, though, or leaving after October 1 just don’t sound that appealing to me, though. We’ll see.

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Know of other cool tips and tricks that are unique to Alaska? Let me know!

Greetings From Alaska

I’ve been primarily offline the past few weeks – I came back to the US in mid-March and spent a very nice two weeks at home enjoying some quality time with my favorite people, consisting mostly of endless Easter egg hunts, Legos and delicious food. Now, after what felt like a never-ending string of flights, I’ve finally landed in my home for the next six months: Alaska.

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Sunrise over the mountains surrounding Anchorage during the world’s longest layover

Though it took almost as long to fly to my little ocean-side Alaskan town as it did to get all the way to Bangalore, it was so much more pleasant. Even as I am writing this, sitting in Anchorage airport, the check-in assistants are singing songs to passengers and I’ve seen at least five frequent fliers come in and greet the attendants by name and get received with a big hug. It’s not in an obnoxious way, either…just sweet. Everyone is so friendly! I really loved India, but it was definitely time for me to take a break and try something new – and I think Alaska will be just the thing.

As usual…I’ve done my research and I’ve come up with my Alaskan bucket list to complete over the course of the next 6 months. Other than eating as much seafood as possible, soaking up fresh air and enjoying the wildlife…there are a few things I don’t want to miss out on.

Drunken Moose – This one might not be possible since I’m coming in the summer…I might have to settle for seeing a sober one instead. I listened to a podcast recently which described how moose end up eating rotting crab apples to make it through the winter in cities around Alaska. The fermenting fruit has an intoxicating effect, meaning cities sometimes have 1,400 lb drunken beasts roaming the streets. I think the winter has been fairly mild, however, and it’s already April. I’m betting that the foliage that is already available is much more appealing than fermenting apples…but I’ll still be on the lookout.

Glaciers – There are few other reasons to venture out to the freezing tundras…but seeing some stunning glaciers which aren’t likely to be around for much longer is definitely one of them. You will find me riding a dogsled pulled by some adorable huskies and kayaking through glacier rivers…among whatever other activities intrigue me as well.

Climb Denali – Denali, the tallest peak in North America, is obviously on the list…as long as my knees cooperate. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the US National Parks, so it seems only fitting to spend some time in Denali National Park and summit the 20,310 foot peak. Guess I better order those glucosamine chrondroitin supplements now!

Northern Lights – no Alaskan bucket list could be complete without seeing the Northern Lights! The strength of the lights depends on the year and the lights peak every 11 years. The last peak was in 2013…but there should still be plenty of solar storms and sunspots to fill the sky with colors and keep me entertained regardless!

Fly in a Float Plane – These are the small planes that fly low to the ground for amazing sight-seeing and can also land on water. They provide a totally different view of the wildlife and can land on the WATER! Sounds like something I need to do.

Know of other things I should try? Let me know!

 

 

Mysore Adventure

Last week marked the beginning of a 10 day Hindu festival in India called Dasara (or Navaratri, depending on where you live). There are a few different stories about how the festival came to be, but mostly it signifies the triumph of good over evil. I’m into that! The biggest celebrations happen in a city called Mysore, which is about 3-4 hours west of Bangalore.

I hadn’t yet been to Mysore, so I decided that Sunday would be a good day to make the trip and I convinced my roommate and some friends to come along. We planned to go by bus, but my roommate immediately said he would find us a car. Seemed good to me. (Note: This was a mistake. Lesson learned.) We set off around 8:30 – a little later than anticipated…but it was India time. After stopping to fill up the petrol, it seemed that the petrol tank was leaking…a lot. We pulled over and the guys who were driving went off in search of a mechanic. While they searched, we ate breakfast, and were quickly told that there wasn’t actually a leak. The man at the petrol pump had just overfilled the tank. So off we went. I thought a car would be faster than a bus, but nothing moves fast in India. We stopped for someone to talk on the phone (because obviously he couldn’t sit in the passenger seat and talk at the same time) then someone wanted to stop at a temple, then someone wanted a snack, then a drink, then they thought the car needed to cool down and take a break (ummm…). It was 11:30 and we were barely half way.

Trying to remember that we were operating on India time, I chatted with my friends, enjoyed the scenery and drank my coconut full of coconut water. After a few more stops, we were finally about 20km away from Mysore when the driver slowed down and the car started to make slight jerking motions. The driver insisted it was probably fine. Then the car died, because obviously it wasn’t fine. The driver and his friend went off once again in search of a mechanic, and my friends and I decided we should hop on one of the many buses passing by in the hopes we would actually get to Mysore. Thirty minutes later around 2:30, we were dropped off right in front of the Mysore Palace. Parts of the palace date back to the 14th century and it was home to many rulers, including Tipu Sultan. The palace is also the focal point of festivities for Dasara.

The palace is gorgeous and the architecture is amazing. You technically aren’t allowed to take pictures inside…but I managed to sneak a few. If the guards see you, they blow their whistle as loud as they can and come rushing over to make you delete them. The palace was quite crowded, and the guards were actually pretty comical. After the Gaudi house in Barcelona, the inside of the Mysore Palace might be my favorite architecture. Below are some of the photos I managed to get.

This is a large hall on the ground floor used for making speeches and presentations. Notice the intricate hand-carved columns.

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This is one of my top five favorite photos I’ve ever taken. I just love it. This is a courtyard in the center of the palace.

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We walked around, took some pictures, checked out the elephants getting ready for the parade that night, then we headed off to grab some food and meet back up with our drivers -it was already time to begin the journey back. The driver and his friend, however, said they were now tired of driving, wanted to go visit some waterfalls about an hour away and stay in Mysore for the night. So, they dropped us off at the bus station and back we went. Lesson learned – stick with the bus. No more friend of a friend drivers for me. Overall it was a success – it was adventure and the palace was beautiful. I guess I just need to go back to Mysore. And I am working on adjusting to Indian time…Sunday was one more test to get me there.

Here’s the trip in photos:

Enjoying some coconut water from a coconut – this is a popular roadside snack here called tender coconut

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Entrance to the palace grounds

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The architecture is gorgeous

 

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Pretty flowers
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Temple inside the palace grounds

 

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Bustling courtyard

 

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This palace has bling

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I love the flags – they say Happy Dasara in Kannada

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The tents and chairs in the background are being set up for the nightly Dasara performances

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So pretty

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This is the area from where kings would address the public – they would stand in the pulpit on the second floor. Now it is used for performances. The writing on the ground says susvagatha (welcome)
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This elephant is getting a bath in preparation for the procession that night

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Taking a post-bath drink! Notice his tusks have been removed to protect him from poachers.

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