a closer shot

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Blog

NEW BLOG!! Check out my new blog, since blogger.com is no longer working...


There you are! A new blog that will (hopefully) be updated more frequently, now that I have a working one. :) See on the other side!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Yurt, and Other Adventures

Here it is, folks, the moment you've all been waiting for. Just where am I moving all my stuff to??? This cute, rugged, little, brown yurt is my new home. And I love talking about it. No really, I am still wigging out about the whole thing. Really?? I live in a YURT???

Life seems to always be an adventure when you move to a small[er] village, into a yurt. One distinguishing feature about my new dwelling (besides it's roundness, one room-ness, and lack of solid walls-ness) is the fact that it has no running water. This means that, yes, I have to haul water (if I want any). Well, first things first, I had to move all my stuff in. Started out just an empty little spot, kind of brown, full of boxes, a wee drab...

And then it all exploded.

Pretty soon it will look less like a college dorm room, I promise. If you can believe it, I still have more boxes coming. So much for simplifying my life... Where did all this stuff come from??

Anyway, so my first chore, before I even unpacked everything, was to get water. Erika very kindly went with me. It was quite the adventure slash learning experience. We started off pretty okay. Corinne let me use her Honda to make the trek. We bungy tied some buckets onto the back...

Went about 2 inches, and...

Plan B: Erika holds on to them for dear life. Except that we still lost some pieces on the way...

I had to run back this far to get the bucket lid. It's also a nice view of the area around the road. :)

We finally got to our little creek where I will be getting water for the next 9 months...

And began the process:

The way back to town was much smoother. No buckets spilled or fell off the Honda. Yay!

Since most of the staff is in Unalakleet this week for new and returning teacher inservices, administration meetings, SFA training, radda radda ra, Erika and I began our week of fun by taking a walk out to the river for a bit of fishing. Her and Kyle just got a new pole, which she doesn't actually know how to use. Well, now she does (sort of). Before we could even leave we had to get the fishing line onto the rotary thingy (I'm sure there's a name for it), which neither of us really knew how to do. Thank goodness for helpful people! So we got that going... and going... and oh, we have yet ANOTHER tangle... it was a process...

You can't see, really, but there is a lot of line there that just kept not working...

...wrapped all around the pole... how does this thing work again?

Alright, so we finally got it put together right. My general answer included scissors, which Erika didn't think always worked, but whatever, we just went fishing.

And what a beautiful day for it! Erika learned how to fish, which I think is funny. A year in the bush and just NOW you're learning? Good thing Kyle likes it. :)

Unfortunately it was not a day of catching fish, just casting and reeling. But we had a good time anyway! We filled little tupperwares with some blackberries. I don't really like them to eat alone, so I think I'll try putting them in cinnamon rolls or something.

Star was a very happy dog today. She is very happy to be out of the city and free to run around and do as she likes. No more fences, and only leashes in town. This also means that she won't always be sleeping in the house, smelly pup. But it was fun to see her so happy and at home again. She is getting back to her normal self after lots and lots of traveling, lots of new and strange things, places, and people. We are both settling in just fine.

So there's a little peek into life here so far. Never a dull moment, that's for sure! Hope all are well!!! Write often. :)

I'm in a Yurt!

It finally happened: I moved into the Yurt. Yeah! My life in the round, as they say, has officially begun. My first evening there was spent unpacking and, oddly enough, decorating, making it look (and feel) more like my own home - pictures, maps, Tibetan prayer flags, etc. I won’t lie, it looks pretty great in there. There were dead flies everywhere when I first got in, and I have a feeling that until fall is over I will be sweeping them up regularly. Jenna left me lots of goodies, mostly appliances, and although not all of my things have made it here yet, I am settling in just as well as anyone would in a new place. The biggest challenge so far has not been using the honey bucket (which has a box over it with a seat, making me cross my fingers every time I go that the bucket is aimed appropriately underneath me). No, I am having more trouble finding a place for everything. I feel like my tubs will play an important role in this. I’ve also realized that I perhaps have more blankets than I need. I might not think so in January. But I do want to get a heated blanket for those chilly nights.

From this picture I can give you a little tour... To my left (your right) is my "bedroom." Directly behind me is my "bathroom," and next to that you can see my "kitchen." To my right is my pantry. And in front of me is my "office" and "living room." But considering the entire thing is just one big 20-foot room, I like to consider the whole thing my living room. I guess since Star is living with me I could call it a "family room." Ha. :)

We’ll see how I feel in a few months, but I think life is better this way. It’s less slothful, less lazy, less dull. There is always something to do, and it has to be done. It’s a matter of survival (almost – we’ll just pretend as though it is). It reminds me of camping. Be organized, be prepared, be aware, and be healthy. Okay, that last one was a stretch, and I’m not sure it’s actually quoted on the list of Expedition Behavior, but I think it fits. Take care of yourself, be safe, and that’s the best you can give to anyone else. In my case, it’s the best I can give to my dog and my yurt. I feel pretty good right now about how things are going. I am taking it slow, learning things every day. Alright, it’s only been two days, but I’ve already hauled water and learned that it will take more than one trip to get enough water for a week, to fill up that big bin of Jenna’s (now mine). I made bread in the little toaster oven last night, and it turned out pretty well. I’ve certainly used the honey bucket a few times. Pretty soon I’ll master the propane stove – I have to use it first. I’m getting to know my space. And I have a few more boxes yet to come in, so we’ll see how it all goes down. I’m sure I’ll have some bad days, some sad days, some days when I wonder what the heck I was thinking, but this is my choice. And it was a good one. I really am in my own little space, the rural part of rural Koyuk, Alaska.

Anyway, I will be spending this week settling in, fishing, hiking out, picking berries, and of course, beginning the process of setting up my classroom. Next week work starts, and the week following kids will come. Oh my goodness!! Hopefully my brain will wake up from summer slumber by then.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Rest of Fairbanks + The Tattoo Process

I blogged about the Denali Highway bike trip - which I think is pretty exciting - but I failed to mention the rest of the 2 weeks that I spent north of Anchorage. Most of the time I was in Fairbanks living in my tent in Carrie and Leif's backyard.

It was a nice spot with a beautiful view of the hills. They live in a cute little cabin in the woods, "little" being the key word, and the main reason I lived in a tent instead of in the house. Truthfully, I didn't mind at all. It gave everyone their own space. :) Anyway, every morning I was given a wake-up call, even if I didn't necessarily want one, by their cool dog, Munnin. He was, as Leif put it, enamored with me, and would tenaciously hope for me to wake up to play with him and his super cool red ball, laying patiently next to my tent. And he was always excited to see me. I honestly almost took him home with me.

The first weekend that I was in Fairbanks, however, was spent at Kim's new cabin. She built it last summer and invited people out to see it this year. Frankly, it's gorgeous. And the view is spectacular. It's actually kind of hard to take your eyes off of the mountains over the trees.

Carrie, Leif, and I drove out there on Saturday morning and met Stacey, who was already there, and Kim. We were lucky, too, because we didn't just get to visit and hang out and eat good food. We also got to help Kim work on the cabin.

If you look at the posts on her deck carefully, you will notice that the one on your left is burled. This is kind of - okay, not kind of, it IS - the theme of the cabin. The ultimate goal is to have all the posts be burled trees. She is pretty much always burl hunting. Before we got there her and Stacey had scoped out a couple of pretty nice enormous trees. And by enormous I do actually mean enormous.

But we are a tough group, and one pithy tree would not keep us from doing what we set out to do. Maybe a giant burl, but not a tree. The first tree was actually so big that Kim was able to cut it into two significant pieces that will serve as two different posts. The first half was a nice size - I'm guessing maybe 350-400 pounds? The good news is that the burls are beautiful. The not as good news is that the truck could not drive in as far as the tree was, which meant we did actually have to figure a way to get the tree to the truck.

We started out just simply hauling it. I'm not sure if "simple" is an appropriate adjective... Anyway, the small jabs into our sides and the awkwardness of the size made it frustratingly difficult to continue in this method. Carrie's bright idea: flip it end over end. So we did. We picked up one end, and then pushed it over long ways, so it did somersaults all the way to as far as the truck could come. Don't think that this was easy, my friends. It was not. But it worked, and it worked better (in my opinion) than hauling the tree like you see above. In any case, it got there. We all felt very successful. :)

What about the second half? You may ask. But the burl on the other part was actually so big we decided unanimously that we would not be able to carry it from where it was to the truck. Partly this was due to the fact that we had just hauled the other half. Mostly, seriously, the burl itself weighed so much there was no way we would have gotten that thing out of there, at least without seriously injuring one or more of us. But fear not; Kim will get it.

She also wants smaller burl trees for posts on her railing for the loft in the cabin. So we continued to burl hunt. Personally, this was my favorite part, mostly because I got to learn how to use the chainsaw. :)

Yeah, eat it, tree. Because after we got a few trees like this with some lovely burls, we peeled them. And peeled and peeled and peeled. It's mostly a satisfying job, if your tree is actually wet. My biggest burl was pretty dry and sappy, so it took me a long while to get it finished. But it was pleased. I even initialed it, so in 50 years one might be able to distinguished the carved "KK" in one of the railing posts and say, "I wonder if her middle name starts with a 'K.'"

Back to Fairbanks, most of my time was spent resting. Resting is an all-encompassing term that includes doing all of those things more than I generally have time for, such as, but not limited to: sleeping, sitting and doing nothing, reading, biking, wandering aimlessly, and sleeping (did I say that already?). It sounds like I might have been bored, but truthfully, not one moment that I was sitting and doing nothing, well, other than thinking, did I actually feel "bored" or like I really wanted something to do. No, I was perfectly content to have nothing to do.

I did spend time with Carrie, of course, which was great. It occurred to us that we don't actually know when we will see each other again. This is strange. As accustomed as I am to goodbyes, I was somewhat used to seeing Carrie at least once a month or more. Living in the bush creates different sorts of friendships, I have learned, so I don't necessarily feel like I'm losing a friend - I know we'll still be friends - but, how to say it, living in the village together, she's not down the street anymore, and the holiday of the weekend will provide a different family of people to be with. Not bad, just different.

I realize that I wasn't entirely exhaustive with my time in Anchorage, either. I am back in Anchorage now, but before I left for Fairbanks I did spend a lot of time with my dog.

She is living in a kennel for the summer, but everyone loves her everywhere she goes, so I'm not too worried. I took her today to spend some time with her (she was very happy and cuddly to see me) and also to take her back to the vet to complete her vaccinations. She's a very happy and healthy dog!

I also hiked up Flat Top... lovely view.

Although I didn't go all the way to the top because I had the dog with me. At the end of the hike up there is literally rock climbing. Since Star can't be trusted off the leash, and since I can't very well climb up a mountain with just one hand, we stopped just a short ways from the top for a rest and a look around. Don't think I'm done with that mountain, however. I will go back, and I will get to the top. :)

Also, the tattoo process, I thought, was pretty interesting.

Step 1: Find an artist

(Except that we found mine by chance and not by phone book)

Step 2: Prepare mentally

(I was so ready.)

Step 3: Outline the pterodactyl

Step 4: Break the enamel on my skin in order to place a permanent mark of ink, causing bleeding from what felt like a cat scratching the same spot repeatedly, OR like ripping duct tape off of my skin really fast so it tears out the hairs over and over and over

Step 5: Suffer

("It's worth it. It's worth it. It's worth it. Whose idea WAS this?!?!?!?!?" There may have been some questioning as to what the HECK I was thinking, perhaps some cursing of particular individuals who encouraged the whole thing. I really just wanted a little one, a trinity, something simple. And it somehow evolved into a prehistoric creature which was obviously not the fittest, since it did not survive, evolution.)

Step 6: Enjoy the artwork

(In truth, I do love my tattoo, and since that day I have grown quite attached to it. Good thing, since it will be with me for a while.)

Step 7: Enjoy the company


I think this pretty much covers all the interesting things up until now. Cheers!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

That Denali Highway Bike Trip I've Been Talking About

Well, we made it! Carrie and I are now among the few and the proud people who have successfully biked all 135 miles of the Denali Highway. And we did it without a single fall. I know, right? Can you believe it?!? This isn't to say we didn't have setbacks, of course, but at least we weren't terribly bloody at the end of it.

Sunday June 7th marked the beginning of our adventure. We set out from Fairbanks on a 15 passenger van that shuttled us from Fairbanks to Cantwell. It was probably the longest 5 hours of my life... 8:45 we got on the bus, made a couple more stops in Fairbanks (including the airport to get a bag someone had left or lost and someone's house to pick up a buddy of the driver's to accompany him on the ride), then headed very slowly south on the highway, listening to your favorite music and mine, hard rock scream-o sounds. Carrie said the one positive thing about the horrible station on the radio was that at least she wouldn't know any of the songs so they wouldn't get stuck in her head. Funny, true, but I'm not sure it was worth the aural agony.

After a lunch break in tourist-city Denali, we finally reached the gas station at Cantwell where we loaded up the bikes and set out on our highway. How cool we are. :)

The first few miles of the road were paved, but not too long into our ride we hit the gravel road, which would be our pathway for the following 100 miles or so. There were some pleasant and not so pleasant places on the road. Some parts were gravelly...

Some parts were more packed down and smooth (save for a few bumps in the road)...

(That's me in the road up there.) And some parts were pretty aweful. I don't know what genius decided that fixing the road included putting pieces of inch to inch and half size rocks all over it, but s/he was definitely, definitely wrong. All it does is cause skidding, in case you were curious, particularly when going downhill, and all I could imagine in some places was me tumbling down the rocky slope in front of me. So although I was a pretty strong biker and going a fair speed, I am a total woos going down hills. I have no need-for-speed bones in my body, at least not that kind, so I pretty much rode my brakes the whole way as Carrie flew down ahead of me.

But our adventures were not bound to the biking part. Between the hills and the pedaling were hours of camping adventures. Carrie hauled the trailor with our camp gear (tent, her clothes and bag, basic camp needs) and I carried two back paniers with all the food and some smaller camp needs, and my clothes bag. We started our trip from Cantwell on Sunday afternoon around 1:45pm. From there we biked 31 miles to Brushkana campgrounds which sits near a small river. Not wanting to pay to camp, we biked about 3/4 of a mile ahead and camped at a nice spot off the side of the road.

After setting up camp we headed down to the river to take advantage of the view and, of course, to "ice" Carrie's knee. She figured some really creative ways to get just her knee into the very cold water. I was pretty impressed. And if you're wondering why people do yoga, think of moments just as this, and you might reconsider joining a local class. :)

I'm just glad she didn't fall in. It would have made for a chilly night... Anyway, we went back up to camp and started the dinner process. We picked a nice spot far away from our tent, picked our yummy packaged meal for the night - Beef and Hash - and set up the stove.

Unfortunately, as Carrie was showing me how to use it (since I've never used one before), she realized that it was actually leaking. Initial frustrations aside, we began gathering wood to build a small fire to heat our water instead. Surprisingly, it didn't take very much wood to make a big enough fire just for boiling water (although, by the end, we pretty much settled for "hot" water, not wanting to wait that long to eat). We considered going down to the campgrounds to see if anyone had a spare of the part that was broken on the stove, but then decided that we were pretty cool for going fuel-less and starting a fire, like we are real survivors, and we could go without the stove for the remainder of the trip. So we did. We built a fire every morning for breakfast and every night for dinner. (Okay, no fire on Wednesday morning - but having a granola bar instead of oatmeal, I could definitely tell a difference.)

So starting and maintaining a fire became a team effort, and although we are both capable of it, it was kind of fun to watch each other. I have to admit, Carrie is still better at the whole thing than I am, but she was impressed with my "direct blow" skills to get the fire going again when it got temporarily doused.

She took advantage of the moment to make fun of my funny lip face while recognizing it's effectiveness. Just saying. I don't remember who taught me these mad skills, but it sure worked. Plus, it was nice to have a fire for a little while to keep the bugs away. Though we still have our fair share of mosquito bites everywhere...

After solving that first big issue, things began settling into place. It was good for me to have this time of camping before NOLS, a practice and reminder that, when camping, there is pretty much always something to do (make and break down camp, set up for dinner because in the time it takes to make it you'll be hungry even if you aren't now, take off and hang wet clothes and put on dry ones, make sure nothing can get blown away, etc.) and always something to think about (do we have bear spray handy, how far away is our food, do I have everything in the tent that I want for the night, when was the last time I drank water, and so forth). But I don't mind it - keeping my mind busy, as it really hasn't been while on vacation - and besides, I'm pretty sure the idea of a room with a view can't be beat when camping out in Alaska wilderness. You don't fool around with AK, because it doesn't fool around with you, but it sure is lovely! I really noticed a difference in just the sounds of being out there, how quiet it was, between when it was just us on the road and when cars went by, between camping in our own spot at Clearwater and camping at an official campground at Tangle Lakes with other people around us.

Monday morning we woke up and prepared for our long day. By the end of the day we had to complete 50 miles to get to our next spot. It is amazing the perspective of what 10 miles is. Before the trip, that seemed like a really long way. Now, 10 miles is a fraction. We did 20 miles on Monday morning and stopped for lunch at this really nice spot by a river I can't remember the name of. Right as we were pulling in, my gears started acting funny, but we thought we'd deal with it after we ate. So we did, we ate and sat and rested for a little while. As we were finishing, we saw two men on a raft coming our way. They were actually getting out right where we were, so we chatted with them a little. Then the one helped us as we tried to fix the issue with my bike. Unfortunatly, I don't know what happened, but it's all messed up, so I had to deal with what I had for the following day and a half. It turned out not so bad, and everything was fine. After lunch we headed out for the next 30 miles. This was probably the hardest stretch, as it seemed like every turn produced a new daunting hill.

The views of the mountains that we saw the whole way, however, made every mile worth the effort. This mountain below, whatever it's called, was my favorite. This was a really pretty stretch, mostly flat, really pleasant packed down road, and it ended with an amazing downhill bridge that led us to our lunch stop. Nice. :)

Along the way we stopped randomly for pictures. Many of them are at the top of a significant hill. There was one hill that was about 6 miles long - seriously, completely uphill, no breaks, just up. It took us a while... At the base of it is a bridge, at which we stopped for pictures, water, and anything else we could think of to put off biking up that thing.

But an hour and a half later, we got to this.

Some other top-of-the-hill shots include:


Tuesday was a 33 mile ride, and we camped at a place called Clearwater. There are toilets and a river - that's it. This was a nice spot, I thought. We saw lots of moose droppings, but no moose.

Actually, we did see moose and other wildlife along the way. Carrie saw more than I did - we learned on this trip that I am not very observant... We would break, and she would ask me, "Did you see that lone caribou?" or "Did you see the mile marker?" or "Did you see that big enormous sign telling us where we are?" Pretty much every time I would have to admit that, uh, no, I did not see that. I did see a couple moose, an eagle, and a ptarmigan (at least I think that's what it was), and some squirrels, and lots of mosquitos. No bears (thank goodness). Carrie saw porcupine. I missed that one - made me kind of sad.

Tuesday night we camped at Tangle Lakes, which is about 21 miles out of Paxson, all on paved road. This is a more popular campground with official campground spots and more people. We weren't alone that night - there were lots of people camping in other spots around us. It was a pretty spot, however, and it would be fun to go back there at some point to play on the water, do some hiking, and so forth.

It's called Tangle Lakes because the lakes are basically tangles of water wrapped through the hills and patches of land. It's kind of cool to look at, and it'd be a fun place to really explore and boat around in. Andrea, a friend of Carrie's, met us there that evening and camped overnight with us. The next morning she met us in Paxson to drive us back to Fairbanks.

Wednesday morning we completed the last 21 miles of paved road, which felt very nice on our poor seats. There were still some good hills, and the first 7 miles we were basically going right into a nice (sarcastic) headwind, which meant even on the downhills we were working. We got to one hill in the wind and I was so tired I thought I was going to fall over and cry. But I gave myself a little pep talk and made it up just fine. It was interesting - there was a group there, some kind of tourist thing I guess, that was biking the highway as well. I just saw them, but one of them biked with Carrie for a few minutes up the hill (which, really, who talks to someone WHILE they're biking up a hill??). We were glad we did not run into the group later on in our ride.

We made it to Paxson a little before noon where we met Andrea, packed the car, and headed up to Fairbanks. We made a stop in Delta, though, for a yummy buffalo burger and a milkshake - and deserving we were of that. It was basically the best milkshake I've ever had.

All in all, it was a great, refreshing trip. Thanks, Carrie, for making it so awesome! I am planning on continuing to bike this week and next so that hopefully I can maintain what fitness I have gained from all this for my NOLS course which starts in just 2 weeks. I'm getting excited! From June 25 to July 25 I will be out in the wilderness somewhere kayaking, backpacking, camping, and completely out of touch with the world. I can't wait.

Here are a few more pictures from the trip: