Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To 10 things caught on a fishing line (so far)

Boy, fishing here sure is different than fishing in Alaska! Robin and I went out fishing for the first real fishing expedition yesterday. What a day! We caught way more variety than just halibut ... and caught way more sunshine and warmth, too!

See the pictures.
  1. Red grouper
  2. Striped grunt
  3. Mangrove snapper
  4. Mutton snapper
  5. Yellowtail snapper
  6. Spanish sardine
  7. Seagull (stupid bird!)
  8. Barracuda
  9. Ray
  10. Blue runner

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A study in contrasts

Christmas in the Keys vs. Christmas in Southeast

This holiday season is certainly different than last year's! Although I spent both on a windy island accessible by only boat or plane, that's about where the similarity ends. It sure doesn't seem like Christmas when it's sunny and 75+ degrees.

This year we celebrated with a holiday potluck, attended by all seven people who live here plus two volunteers who visited from Loggerhead (more on that later). We had Loggerhead key lime pie, which was very, very good. (I've been enjoying the leftovers!) We also had special German sausage and sauerkraut, prepared by the Loggerhead volunteer, who carted it all the way from a special butcher in Boston.

Now, everyone has left and the only people on the island are me, Robin and one other Park Service employee -- law enforcement, of course!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Excitement at the fort

You wouldn't think much would happen at a remote island 70 miles offshore. Let me assure you, there is a surprising amount of activity. For Robin, running the fort is a lot like running things at Glacier Bay. Water, power, sanitation. My work however, is, well, not work at all ... unless you consider snorkeling, taking pictures and catching sharks work.

See some pictures now of the construction project, the first lemon shark I caught, Robin working and more -- or keep reading this exciting blog entry.

There is a big reconstruction/preservation project going on here. The brick keeps falling off the fort and they keep putting them back on. More than 16 million bricks were used to build this place so that's a lot of work. They barge in bricks, offload and the masons go to work. Of course, offloading can have some glitches -- like the forklift drivers getting stuck in the sand -- which caused some delay. (That entertained me for about 45 minutes one day!)

Much of the maintenance has been sorely neglected and kept barely running. Fortunately, Robin, the man who can fix anything and works like crazy, is here. He has plenty to do. For example, he makes fresh water by using the reverse osmosis machine, which pulls salt water in from the moat and filters out the salt. Pretty cool! The moat water has to be less than 500 ppm of salt to do this, which again, isn't every day. Needless to say, water is at a premium and conservation is strictly encouraged.

He keeps the diesel generators, the power suppliers, running. He maintains the santec/sanitation. He fixes boats. He does it all!

Other exciting events have been the US Customs and Border Patrol paying a visit, the medivac helicopter doing a test run and going fishing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 10 tips for surviving (and enjoying) Key West

  1. Jail: To avoid jail, do not urinate in public, fight (in public) or speed in a school zone. Anything else, have at it!
  2. Jail: To avoid jail, do not get caught killing the local, weirdly aggressive chickens. They are protected in Key West (similar to cows in India). I need further proof that this is true and plan to research the city ordinance. (Chickens, cats and rats all run rampant in the area.)
  3. Restaurants: Do not eat at Chico's Mexican Restaurant, a.k.a. "Cheapos". Avoid Wendy's. McDonald's is great (if you like McDonald's). You can spend $16 for lunch for two at Wendy's or spend $4.58 for the same stuff at McDonald's. The Commodore is an awesome, albeit spendy, place to eat but at least the food is good. Half Shell Raw Bar is also really good.
  4. Bars: The Green Parrot is a local hangout with lots of music and lots of crowds! If you're into bull riding (first floor) or clothing optional places (third floor), visit The Bull, one of the last open air bars in town. Aqua is one of the places that puts on a great drag queen show (and boy do they know how to single out Robin -- I laughed soooo hard I almost pee'd my shorts)!
  5. Shopping: Sunday is a horrible time to run errands or shop. Either everyone is hungover and driving/walking/biking/scooting stupid or the stores are not open or no one is paying attention to anything. KMart is even scarier than almost any other WalMart I've ever been in (and the prices on everything are always wrong). Don't expect to find any beach sandals anywhere, either.
  6. Traffic: Arghhh! Unbelievably awful. Again, reminds me of a street scene in India, only there aren't any elephants (so far). Scary, drunk, hungover, high, disoriented, confused drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, you name it! Worse than downtown Chicago during Taste of Chicago. Not easy to navigate through this mess with a crew cab Toyota Tundra.
  7. Weather: Humid. Holy cow ... I mean Holy Chicken! It was so humid and the store A/C was so cold my glasses steamed up when I went from inside to outside! Windy. Whew -- hasn't let up at all and seems to constantly be howling through.
  8. Neighborhood: When the Park Service says you'll be living in a "gated community", what they really mean is revamped military housing surrounded by a chain link fence with a gate at one end preventing traffic from driving through the complex. As usual, there is one person in the neighborhood who has gone all-out for the Christmas holiday. The lawn decorations are even accompanied by Christmas music ... oh joy!
  9. Library: The internet queen who lords over everything internet/computer related takes his job waaaay too seriously. OMG, he needs help. But, as it's about the only game in town to access the internet, maybe I'll bring him some cookies.
  10. Sunset: Yeah, yeah, Mallory Square and all the entertainers, people watching, etc. is something to see once but if you go down to the Truman Annex where the Coast Guard Museum boat is, you don't have crowds, hassle and you can still enjoy a beautiful sun set with just as good as (or better) view. Another fun thing is see sunset from the rooftop of the town's highest hotel (you can see it ... I don't know the name of it ... find Starbucks on Duval and go in through there). And, bring your own drink instead of spending way too much money on a way too small drink.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Freakin' fighters

Of all the uninhabited keys around here, it is curious to me why the U.S. military would choose to perform F15 fighter training maneuvers right over this inhabited one frequented by visitors from all over!

They are unbelievably loud, even drowning out the air hammers from the fort restoration project ( a project sure to be longer lasting and more costly than Boston's Big Dig).

It even shakes the fort's walls! Not an easy thing as some of them are 17' thick at the base.

On the good side, if there's an incursion by Cuba, at least the military knows how to get here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fabulous fort fotos

Here are a few photos (that took a very long time to upload with my contraption) of our move to Garden Key/Fort Jefferson/Dry Tortugas.

View slideshow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ferry to the fort

Length of M/V Fort Jefferson: 110 feet
Date of travel: 12/2/08
Height of seas: 8-12 ft. (sustained)
Strength of wind: 25 knots
Length of journey: 5 hours (painful)
Number of people on board: 11
Number of people who got seasick: 5
Number of times yours truly chummed the fish: 4 (repeatedly; violently)

Cost of being on solid, unmoving land: Priceless

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tortugas squirrels

Rats on Garden Key, where I live in the Dry Tortugas, are commonly referred to as "Tortugas squirrels". They are considered an invasive species and are direct descendants of the European rats that carried the Black Plague during the Middle Ages.

I am looking forward to volunteering in the "e-ratication" project and using some of my skills gained in Alaska.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The eagle has landed

After a 60-mile flight, 1,200 miles on the ferry, 4,200 driving miles and another 70-mile ferry ride, I am now blogging via satellite from Dry Tortugas! (Although the computer is sitting right in front of the kitchen door because that seems to be the only place the wireless is making it through the fort walls.) The Skype connection is working, although there is a definite lagtime.

Once I dig out from the pile of totes and boxes, I'll work on getting some great roadtrip photos and photos of what it's like 70 miles offshore.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dry Tortugas here we come

Tuesday is the day we will be on the Fort Jefferson boat on our way to Fort Jefferson (Dry Tortugas National Park). Let's hope it isn't too windy or the 3-hr+ ride will be really, really rough.

We safely arrived in Key West and have been moving more boxes around our apartment there, the storage unit and the back of the truck for delivery to the island.

I really, really hope our Skype phone number and internet satellite connection will be working out there.

The weather has been mighty windy with a cold front that moved in ... now it's a mere 75 degrees or so. Much warmer than any summer day in Gustavus.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Top 10 reasons to avoid the Rodeway Inn in Miami

  1. It is in the runway of Miami International Airport.
  2. If there isn't a plane flying overhead and rattling the building, the police and ambulance sirens will knock you out of bed.
  3. If you are somehow able to sleep through the planes and sirens, the traffic outside will keep you awake.
  4. They will tell you they are working on the wireless internet and it will be up and running soon but that is what they have been saying for at least a week. (I think they don't have it but want to advertise they have it.)
  5. Your entire body will be really, really sore from the uncomfortable beds.
  6. The dripping faucet you hear isn't really a dripping faucet ... it's the ceiling leaking from a drip in the room above you.
  7. The parking lot is not easy to get in and out of with a Toyota Tundra towing an 8-ft-long UHaul trailer.
  8. They are pretty stingy with handing out extra towels, although not as stingy as the EconoLodge in Macon, GA where I practically had to give them my driver's license in exchange for two threadbare towels.
  9. The rooms don't have a clock or a coffee pot or any other extra "amenities."
  10. If you want to use the phone in the room to make a call, you have to get the front desk to "open a line" for you. That does not work for the length of your stay. You have to do it again every morning.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Top 10 animals met along the way

  1. Tango and Cleo, MJ's painted box turtles
  2. Bart, the bird dog that doesn't do pheasants
  3. Spike, the psychotic doberman
  4. Bonji, a split personality Bichon Frisé
  5. Bear, another Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde dog
  6. Oliver, the elusive cat
  7. Miley, the Shih Tzu puppy who peed 3 times in 20 minutes (due to excitement, of course, in seeing me and Robin)
  8. Jackson, the lopey, friendly black lab/huskie mix 8-week old who couldn't always stay awake
  9. Spot, Chance, Kool, Archie, Kat and Scooter, the painted horsies
  10. Mango and Rambo, the world's fattest chihuahuas (really, they are obese and pushing 20 pounds!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Top 10 things I've learned on the road trip at 3,000 miles

  1. Gas prices have been much less (thankfully) than expected. Lowest price seen to-date: $1.69.
  2. Chattanooga traffic is horrendous due to a very poorly planned construction project. It somehow took more than 2 hours to make it through this small town.
  3. Someone only seems to tolerate classic rock or country. I resigned my post as road trip music director even earlier than I expected ... while we were still west of Rockies.
  4. Free high speed internet is abundant, including at Toyota dealers (I've spent several hours there already), Denny's restaurants, Shell gas stations, rest areas and a slew of other places.
  5. My brother-in-law makes awesome homemade wine. We are now traveling with a full supply of liquor to bring to the isolated island.
  6. The EconoLodge in Macon, Georgia is a place you want to avoid at all costs. Pay the $10 more for a room anywhere else.
  7. Artificially inseminating thoroughbred paint horses involves tools such as a straw and a humping station (mock-mare).
  8. Touring my home town with my mom as tour guide is a must-do and sure to make you laugh ... a lot! (But don't ask anyone for directions to David's shop because they will all tell you they can drive there but not direct you there.)
  9. Food is everywhere and really cheap ... it's no wonder most of America is fat. Ice cream cones were a mere 79 cents and a pint was $1.69.
  10. If you are driving over 4200 miles across the country with several thousand pounds pulling a loaded trailer, make sure you schedule time for oil changes and alignments.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


That's what a 71-mile helicopter ride will cost ya in the St. Louis area.

We stopped to see my brother Jim (the base jumper mentioned a couple months ago), and that's what the helicopter bill was. His insurance reportedly is only paying $5,000.

Updating the blog has been difficult due to lack of internet access and time. After leaving Utah, we traveled to spend a few days in Colorado and held a ceremony for Tasha (my doggie), we headed to see my family in Iowa. We stopped briefly in Ames for dinner with my nephew, great-niece and sister, driving through snow flurries to arrive at my mom's late late at night. Robin met an onslaught of relatives. One of them advised Robin: "They all seem normal at first but watch out! They're not."

We safely made it through 5 states all in one day: Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. We stayed at a horse ranch in Kentucky and witnessed a nasty dog attack (long story but the dog is going to be OK after a trip to the vet). Robin got an 8-point buck and now we have 100 lbs of meat with us to help feed us once we arrive at Dry Tortugas.

Now, we're in Macon, GA for the night and head to Titusville to meet his mom tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pay-as-you-go is a no-go

During our stop in Brigham City, UT, we stopped at the local AT&T store to get a pay-as-you-go phone. We discussed our route with the salesperson and were assured the phone would work for the entire way. (You can foresee where this is going.)

Well, the phone worked in Brigham City but not for long after that. We took I-80 across Wyoming, having 5 full bars of reception the entire way. But, the message "Service unavailable" kept displaying. We could see oceans of cell phone towers (like the one my brother jumped off of), but still no service.

Finally, we stopped at a pay phone to call AT&T. Much to our dismay, we were told that they did not have pay-as-you-go service contracts set up with any of the cell phone towers in Wyoming. In fact, she told us we wouldn't have service in Wyoming at all, that Denver would be spotty coverage, Nebraska would have no coverage, and Iowa probably wouldn't have much either.

This is a big thumbs-down for the AT&T pay-as-you-go plans.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Settled in Seattle

We made it off the ferry today and are spending our time on car stuff in the Seattle area.

We picked up a UHaul trailer and moved more dirt around (load/unload truck, load trailer, load truck some more). Then, we got our truck topper installed and are now at a dealership getting an oil change and some other stuff done.

For those keeping track, the mileage logged in Alaska the past 16 months was around 3500 miles! We can't believe gas is only $2.39 here -- a real bargain compared to the $4.69 we were paying in Gustavus.

Once we're done here, it's driving to Ellensburg, WA (or something like that) and trying to adjust to lights, traffic, McDonald's, general culture shock and driving for more than 9 miles in one stretch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

High winds, high seas and high-speed internet

Wow, what a rough night in lower Chatham Strait last night. Seas were 15+ ft. The 408-ft Malaspina was creaking, groaning, pitching, yawing, ugh. My stomach gets queasy all over again just thinking about it. It was hard to believe we were on the Inside Passage!

The Malaspina now has internet access. Despite the 40+ knot wind, horizontal rain and extreme weather conditions, we were able to get online from our cabin! (If we'd been at our house in Gustavus, that surely would not have happened.) Had I been able to read, type or stay focused on anything but remaining not sick and wondering why there are no survival suits on board, I could have blogged.

The ferry stopped for a few hours yesterday in Sitka. We met up with a bunch of our friends for lunch at our favorite sushi place (Little Tokyo). It was great to see everyone, and my friend Karen P. from Thorne Bay was there, too, on one of her many whirlwind trips.

Today, we're on our way to Ketchikan, stopping for a few hours and meeting up with one of my SEAtrails board members for lunch.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

From one wilderness to the next

Our truck finally made it out on the barge from Gustavus to Juneau. It took 3 tries because the barge kept turning back due to rough seas and high winds.

We were treated to some great wildlife sightings, including a bear running down the road and a moose swimming the river. (We also have seen an eagle and a moose consorting with geese on the golf course.)

Loading the truck was only slightly stressful, but due to Robin's watchful eye, things went smoothly.

It's hard to leave such an awesomely beautiful and wild place. We truly enjoyed our time there, and found creative ways to cope with not having TV and internet.

See some pictures of our final days in Gustavus, including a baby porcupine nursing, a python, a toucan and more.

Monday, October 20, 2008


my sweet, sweet husky dog, has died after almost 16 happy, fun-filled years.

I was so looking forward to seeing her next week.

I am heartsick and overwhelmed with grief.

To get a small sense of her great spirit, watch her sing happy birthday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weather report

Weather reports are pretty easy around here. In fact, I can say with all honesty that ~I~ could be a weather forecaster here and be accurate 90% (or more) of the time. Here's a recent sampling:

Wednesday: Rain likely. Highs around 42. Lows around 41.

Thursday: Rain. Highs around 43. Lows around 42.

Friday: Rain likely...heavy at times. Highs around 43. Lows around 42.

Saturday through Sunday: Rain. Highs around 46. Lows around 45.

Monday and Tuesday: Rain likely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Post office postings

In almost all of Southeast Alaska, there is no home mail delivery, which makes the post office the center of activity. To get mail, you have to go to the post office to pick it up. The same is true in Gustavus. Because there are virtually no services in Gustavus, this also makes the post office even more the hub of activity. As such, this becomes the catch-all place for postings of events, notices, for sale and lost and found items.

For example, here are some recent postings and things at the post office:

  • Stolen: Crime is running rampant. Someone stole the money and the money jar (it's a clear glass jar) from the golf course clubhouse. The golf course works on the honor system. It's $2 for 9 holes of golf, plus $3 or $5 for club rental, depending on whether or not you want the deluxe set, which is not bent and dented. (If you see someone with a bunch of quarters and dollar bills, this could be the culprit!) Someone also stole a statue from in front of the art gallery. Information is also wanted for anyone who knows anything about whoever painted Gus, the bear statue, as a panda bear during the Olympics.
  • Poultry: There are postings for ducks for sale (excellent slug control according to the posting) and 3 extra roosters (but not meat roosters, whatever that means). I don't know why anyone would want poultry with all the bears, wolves, coyotes and other predators looking for food around here.
  • Lost and found: Items including a mixing bowl, a metal spoon, a jacket and several sets of car keys are on the counter, awaiting owner pick up.
  • Helpful notes: If you need to borrow a chimney brush, you can check one out from the fire department. If you need a surveyor for your house/property, several Gustavians are getting together to schedule one and share trip costs to get him here. There is also a calendar of when the clinic doctor is in town.
  • Community involvement: If you want to join the cemetary committee (folks interested in getting a cemetary built here because there isn't one) participate in bunko night or find out about banned book week at the library, you'll find all the details.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It ain't all fun and games...

living in Alaska (although I'm sure my blog sounds like it is).

Although I've been officially "unemployed" for almost a month now, I have had an exhausting schedule. (Well, maybe not exhausting but I have been busy.) It takes a lot of time to gather stuff to pack, re-pack, try to ship and have the box over the weight limit so I have to tear through the tape and take stuff out, re-pack the box, pack some more, re-pack, try to ship and have the box over the weight limit so I have to tear through the tape and take stuff out, etc.

In fact, for the past couple of weeks, I've been talking about how I felt like Cool Hand Luke when he had to dig the dirt out of Boss' ditch, then move the dirt out of Boss' yard, then dig the dirt back out of Boss' ditch, etc. (Paul Newman -- you rocked and I loved your movies!)

Anyway, we shipped 40 or so boxes, each weighing 50-69.75 pounds. Meanwhile, Robin has been working at his normal speed (ultra-high gear) and his normal hours (plus another 5 or 10 each week). One of the recent projects he's been working on was the chip seal project, where they were laying down tar/chips/road stuff to make the road surface better and last longer.

One of the challenges with this is that the road temperature was supposed to be a minimum of 60 degrees, not an easy thing to have in this summer of 55 degrees. (They have a really neat temperature gun tool thingy for this and I want one!) The road surface was also supposed to be relatively dry. Again, never an easy thing in a rain forest.

It was really cool to see the barge come in with all the chips on it and see them offload the equipment.

Take a look at the pictures from the project.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Twists and turns

As usual, life in Alaska continues its unpredictableness. We changed our plans a bit and we're not moving to Biscayne after all. We're going someplace even better -- and even more remote (in many ways) than Gustavus!

Instead, we are headed to Dry Tortugas National Park, a tiny island 70 miles west of Key West. We get to live in a fort built in the 1800s. Part of the time, we will live in an apartment in Key West, where I can participate in the area's love/hate relationship with chickens (I would be on the "hate" side of that fence).

This is, however, contingent upon Robin's background check clearing. After 27 years with the park service and recently getting his security clearance from the Coast Guard, TSA and FBI, the park service has deemed that is not sufficient and that ~they~ need to do a background check on him. (My fingerprints from March never did clear -- I think they lost them.)

Anyway, lots of snorkeling, fishing and kayaking is still in our future ... only it will be on an island that is a 2 hour ride from the mainland instead of 15 minutes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Top 10 tips for picking a good bucket

We plan to move only things that fit in our truck (plus the 30-odd boxes we've shipped). Obviously, we have had to scale down, thus our business at Robin's Retail and recent garage sale. We did a test-run on what we're packing in the truck. Robin insists on bringing some of his "favorite" buckets. So far, we have room for two.

Here is what I have learned about what makes a good bucket:
  1. Doesn't have any holes
  2. Can hold at least 150 pounds
  3. Has a locking lid
  4. Has a sturdy handle
  5. Has a watertight seal
  6. Can be used as a seat
  7. Doesn't stink and you can disinfect it
  8. Is raven-proof (Robin has a habit of leaving buckets with good bait or fish in them unattended)
  9. Are at least 15" tall
  10. Previously held chemicals known to be toxic to humans (chlorine, de-chlor and other fun chemicals Robin uses at work)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bizarre events in Southeast Alaska

Even though there are no stores and nowhere to go and not much to do here in remote Alaska, there is never a dull moment. Each day is an adventure. In typical Alaskan style, you never know what each day will hold, no matter how much planning you do. For example,
  • Ranger Rick: One day a couple of rangers stopped by looking for a few fillet knives and a work table. (Where else but Robin's Retail would they go?) Anyway, of course we had plenty of knives and plenty of work space. The rangers confiscated 9 halibut off some fishermen who were fishing in the park without a license. (They donated the meet to a local church.)
  • The Killing Fields: The annual moose hunt was Monday, all 6 hours of it. Yes, the moose season in Gustavus is literally 6 hours long, lasting from 6 a.m. to noon. Robin went out for a few hours of it but got tired of all the traffic. Hunters were tromping all over the place so he went home early. (I chose to sleep in.)
  • Graffitied Gustavus: One day driving to "town", we noticed that the local brown bear statue was no longer a brown bear. Someone had painted it into a panda bear! (It looked fantastic.) I wanted to get a picture before anyone repainted it. Robin wanted to wait till we were headed home, insisting it would be fine to wait. Of course, by the time we headed home about an hour later, the owner had already put a tarp over the graffitied statue, hiding it from view. It was repainted by the next day and was the talk of the town.
  • Fun fundraising: If a school wants to raise money, what else is there to do besides have a car wash on a Saturday morning? Well, same with the Gustavus school ... never mind that it is almost always raining, no one washes their car and it was ~really~ pouring that morning.
  • Armoral and aluminum: Putting Armoral on an aluminum skiff really is never a good idea, as one Sitka resident could attest -- if he was still alive. Unfortunately, one of our acquaintance's fondness for shining up his skiff was what led to his demise. (Another one of our acquaintances was the Coast Guard pilot taking part in the search.) Read the story.

UPS in a remote area

I ordered something recently that uses UPS as their delivery method. Normally, neither FedEx or UPS deliver in most areas of Alaska. Instead, they both send it to the Post Office and the Post Office forwards it on. This makes for some longer delivery times and some interesting delivery stories.

When the rain calmed down and I was finally able to check the status of my delivery, here is what the UPS site said:

"Your package has experienced an exception.

Your shipment is currently within the UPS network; however, an unforeseen event has occurred which could result in a change to the Scheduled Delivery Date.


Friday, September 12, 2008

The latest family crisis...

Is my brother, the skydiver. An experienced skydiver, he decided to take up base jumping a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, it's tough to find a legal place to base jump, one being the bridge near Evel Knievel's jumping place near Twin Falls, ID (see my post on The road to hell runs through Idaho from my great road trip last summer).

If you can't find a legal place to practice your sport, you go to illegal places, such as a cell phone tower outside of St. Louis, MO (near my brother's home). Unfortunately, cell phone towers have power running through them, perhaps not the safest place to base jump (if there is such a thing as a safe base jumping place).

I'm sure you can tell where this is going.

Let me just say that my brother is one lucky SOB.

While base jumping off said cell phone tower, his chute deployed wrong and the wind sent him back into the tower's power lines. He was electrocuted, knocked unconcious and left hanging in the lines. Fortunately, he was basejumping with a buddy, who happened to have his cell phone on him (and obviously excellent cell phone reception), who called 911.

The resuce team, fire trucks, ambulance and helicopter arrived, taking at least 45 minutes to extricate my brother and transport him to the hospital. (Meanwhile, his buddy was arrested.)

Now, my brother is in the burn unit, having undergone surgery yesterday, awaiting skin grafts and recovering from his first of many surgeries. But, he's conscious, talking, heavily medicated and in a lot of pain.

In his drugged state, he did say that he is giving up basejumping (but not skydiving).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Robin's Retail

Robin's Retail was the place to be, with all sorts of stuff flying off the shelves.

We had a garage sale and what a crowd! But, where else in Gustavus can you buy such products as coffee makers (we had 3), battery-operated lanterns (we had at least 6), foot/pedicure spas (2) and many, many, many more multiples of all sorts of essential items no one should live without. (When I say "we", I mean pack-rat Robin!)

The great deals drew shoppers from up to 9 miles away, with literally wall-to-wall people. We had three $1 tables set up -- what a hit. At one point, there was even a traffic jam and people had to walk from two driveways away!

Fortunately, the weather cooperated and it was a (relatively) warm, (relatively) sunny day. By the end of it, shelves were bare and so were the tables.

See pictures of this big Gustavus event.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The next chapter

OK -- nobody can tell Robin's mom about this because we are gonna surprise her in person !!!

We are moving to Florida! Biscayne National Park, to be exact. We plan to live on Adams Key, a tiny island near Elliot Key about a 15-20 minute boat ride from the mainland.

Reportedly, everything on Adams Key was completely destroyed in 1992 by hurricane Andrew. In the 1800s, it also served as a base for the pirate "Black Caesar".

We'll have plenty of snorkeling, fishing in warm water, kayaking and lots, lots more fun stuff to do.

We booked our ferry and are on the southbound Malaspina, the same ferry where we met, on October 14.

IMPORTANT: Remember, nobody can tell Robin's mom about this!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

End of an era

I have officially completed my VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) term. What a great experience it has been! I could not have asked for a better year, nor predicted what paths this odyssey would lead me down this year.

My project was SEAtrails, Southeast Alaska Trail System. I worked with 9 board members and one awesome previous board member (Davey -- you are the best!) spread throughout Southeast. What a great group of people ... each one contributes something unique. I am impressed how much each does for their community and what a big impact something each one has on the place where they live and work.

I also worked with a very diverse range of people throughout the Forest Service, Alaska Marine Highway, National Park Service and all the local community contacts. I can't even begin to convey how much I learned about the region, life in Alaska and life in general from everyone.

Now, I am (sadly) handing over the reins to the new VISTA volunteer, Jesse, who could only be so lucky to have as great of an adventure as I had.

As for me ... stay tuned for when I outline the next chapter of Karen's Great Adventure -- you won't even believe this one!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Slowest internet in the nation

I knew it! My suspicians have been confirmed. Alaska internet speeds really ~do~ rank the slowest in the nation according to research from the Communications Workers of America.

If they drilled down a little more, they might discover that Gustavus internet speeds are almost the slowest (speeded up only marginally by the Kirkland water bottle that serves as a "protective" barrier against the rain drops). The slowest would have to go to Thorne Bay, where internet service is often nonexistent due to no phone service whatsoever (phone service often goes out for days at a time -- especially long distance).

Alaska internet download speeds rank far below any other area, a mere 0.8 megabytes per second, compared to a 6.8 megabytes per second download speed for those lucky schmucks in Rhode Island.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vegetarians beware

If you partake in eating a Hostess SnoBall (like I did recently -- yum!), they contain beef fat and pork rinds. Yikes!

If you haven't had one of these, they are a "distinctive marshmallow, coconut and chocolate cake combination" introduced in 1947. (They mostly taste like they were made then, too, but you're not eating it for nutritional purposes.)

What's disturbing is that Hostess devotes an entire web site section to SnoBall recipes ... like SnoBall Ornaments made with liquorice and gum drops. Eew.

Some have even used Hostess products for wedding cakes. (I'll have to run that by Robin.)

Read all about the SnoBall history, recipes, and their 60th anniversary.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

$5.36 a gallon

Is what I paid for gas today. Yikes! But the price is worth it because where else can you see all the great things I see every day?

Take a look at fishing pictures when friends Hal and Lindy were in town.

Take a look at whales, scenery, boating and bears in the back yard pictures.

Top 10 great things I've seen recently

  1. Little Bear, our new neighbor, hanging out in the 'hood and almost coming into the kitchen (I shut the door!). Plus, I saw a mama bear and three cubs and Other Bear, a big old bear rubbing his back on a tree!
  2. Whales breeching all over the place at Point Adolphus, a premiere whale watching spot. (Fortunately, our friend Hal's camera was going every millisecond. This was a good thing because my camera broke -- literally -- and Robin's camera had battery issues.)
  3. The Coast Guard helicopter doing what they do around here ... which is medivacking patients from cruise ships. This, however, has been happening way too much -- almost every week. (For a mere $75, you can buy a policy from Guardian Air to cover just such a catastrophe.)
  4. A boat who's captain didn't anchor in the right place so it was grounded during low tide.
  5. Big fish ... and lots of them. (Too bad Hal didn't really catch any...but Lindy made up for that!) We had quite a haul one day, bringing back 8 whoppers!
  6. A crazed porcupine being chased up the hill by our friend Tom. It ran back down towards us while we were sitting in the truck, checked for traffic and kept right on running across the road. (Tom looked a little crazed, too.)
  7. Unbelievably gorgeous sunshine on the mountains and water.
  8. A mama moose and two, yes two baby moose.
  9. Porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, moose and eagles while fishing.
  10. My awesome fiancee's smiling face every day! (We recently celebrated our 1 year anniversary.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Another police chase after bootleggers

Only this one is a "long-distance boat chase" (25-miles) with the two drivers switching drivers when one of them "either passed out or slumped out from behind the wheel."

Reportedly, the two guys being chased repeatedly tried to ram the troopers' boat.

They were charged with driving under the influence, eluding, third-degree assault, importing alcohol (because they had five bottles of vodka in their possession, which is illegal in the area of Alaska they were in) and reckless operation of watercraft. Plus, one of them was charged with harassment and disorderly conduct for spitting at the trooper and taunting him.

Read the story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lawn mowers, beware

Don't think you can drink alchohol and tootle around on your lawn mower -- at least in North Pole, AK. Here's the full story....

NORTH POLE — A North Pole man is accused of driving a riding lawn mower over several yards while intoxicated and then trying to elude police.

Wyatt Lewis, 20, has been charged with driving under the influence and failure to stop at the direction of a peace officer.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday morning, Alaska State Troopers were called to Garnett Drive in North Pole about an intoxicated man driving a red Craftsman riding mower over several people’s lawns.

When troopers spotted Lewis, they put on their emergency lights and sirens, but he allegedly led them on a brief pursuit for approximately 200 feet at speed of about 5 mph. As Lewis turned into a backyard on the street, the trooper exited his vehicle and finally got Lewis to stop, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.

Lewis admitted to drinking a few beers and said he did not hear the patrol car’s sirens, according to the complaint. A chemical test found his breath-alcohol content to be 0.184, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 to operate a motor vehicle.

While it is not very common for someone on a riding lawnmower to be charged with driving under the influence, it’s not outside the statute.

“Basically, the law says you’re not authorized to operate any motorized vehicle after drinking,” Trooper Charles Inderrieden said, noting it usually only extends beyond motorists to pilots and boaters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jökulhlaup time

Glaciers are a big thing around Southeast Alaska, and there are several of them in danger of cutting off lakes and creating a dam. Once the water is blocked off, there is a danger of flooding. This phenomenon is called "Jökulhlaup". This occurs pretty regularly at the Tulsequah Glacier near Juneau and the Salmon Glacier near Hyder. It is close to happening right now at the Tweedsmuir Glacier, which is surging towards the Alsek River near Yakutat and Dry Bay.

We are also in a large tsunami zone, with one of the largest tsunamis ever recorded occuring in Lituya Bay in Glacier Bay National Park.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekend wildlife

I was out picking blueberries in front of my house and heard this loud, reverberating sound. Robin and I looked at each other, eyes wide, and both said, "Whale." We looked out at the water and sure enough, there was a whale swimming around in Bartlett Cove. Absolutely amazing.

Now that I've successfully harassed and chased down Porky for his picture, I've since been on the lookout to get a good photo of a bear. Yesterday, one of our friends called to alert me that a bear had his paws up on his office window and was snorting and spraying bear snot all over it. I hopped in the truck and went down to see for myself. By the time I got there, the bear was up in the blueberry bushes, chowing down. I got a few photos (but it's raining and windy so that upload has to wait), but am still on the prowl for a more up-close and personal shot.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Alaska anniversary

It has been one whole year that I have been in Alaska. What a year it has been!

I can't believe all that has happened (getting here, getting engaged, getting on ferries, boats and float planes), all that I have seen (bears, rain forests, whales, eagles), all that I have done (hiking, touring, fishing, boating) and all the places I have had the great opportunity to visit (Yakutat, Anchorage, Seward, Gustavus, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Skagway, Coffman Cove, Craig, Naukati, Thorne Bay, Whale Pass).

I extended my official SEAtrails commitment until Aug. 31. After that, I will be playing for a month or so and not working (although my work has been phenomenal).

What could be better?!?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Top 10 Thorne Bay trip highlights

  1. Touring the countryside and marking a trail with Robin, Karen P. and Jim (KP's husband, Forest Service geologist and record-breaking huntin' fool) on 4-wheelers during our quest for an unmapped cave
  2. Seeing what must be one of the only places in America where you write down how many gallons of gas you pumped and your name and leave it in an ice cream bucket
  3. Watching fireworks with Robin in Craig over the 4th of July while KP worried and fretted in the background about fireworks injuries and EMS calls
  4. Having my ass fall asleep (and hearing about KP's and Robin's asses falling asleep) from sitting 4 abreast in the cab of a pickup for hours on end while driving all over the place on gravel logging roads (El Capitan, Whale Pass, Thorne Bay, etc.) and trying to scare KP with our "reckless" driving
  5. Eating soft-serve ice cream (something I haven't had in a year!)
  6. Staying at a backcountry lodge owned by KP's and Jim's friends
  7. Stocking shelves and seeing how to run a liquor/video store in the middle of nowhere
  8. Watching Jim call in a deer to within 5 feet of him using a simple blade of grass
  9. Seeing the boys fly fish at Trumpeter Lake
  10. Seeing things uniquely Alaskan, like a teeny, tiny Sitka black tail deer fawn, a bear beside the road, salmon jumping upstream, signs about how to use your firearm in a residential area, hanging roadside effigies and more

Take a look at pictures of Thorne Bay and Prince of Wales Island.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Even more photos

Here are a slew of photos from when my sister Pat (daughter #2) and sister Betty (daughter #6) visited in June. (This was also the first meeting between Robin and any members of my family. We're still engaged so they didn't scare him off!)

We took a trip up Glacier Bay and saw all sorts of wildlife and awesome scenery.

Check out these pictures of Glacier Bay, hanging around my house and Sitka.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Photo show

Fortunately, it hasn't been windy and thanks to a tarp over the satellite thingy, I have been able to upload photos despite the rain.

Gustavus doesn't really offer a lot of social activities, but there are things to do. So far, I haven't made it to the monthly bunko game, but I have done a lot of fishing, seen a lot of wildlife and taken a lot of pictures.

Take a look at some wildlife around Gustavus.

For those of you who have been asking about where I live, Google satellite has it down to where you can see my house, too. The house overlooks Bartlett Cove and is great (except for the recent crack though the entire living room ceiling from when some young workers were putting insulation in the attic and stepped on the drywall instead of the rafters).

See pictures of the inside of our house.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The girls in Gustavus

My sisters were here in June and really enjoyed their time here in Gustavus. They thought the town tour would only take an hour or less, but in reality, they never ended up seeing the whole place.

For instance, they didn't get a chance to golf on the 9-hole course or tour the petroleum museum inside the one-and-only gas station in town, complete with working 1930-something pumps. They didn't get to partake in mushing the huskies at the husky ranch (on a wheeled sled) or dine at the pizza place at the "mall".

But, they did do a neat hike through the rain forest, tour Glacier Bay, get an up-close and personal look at a rural health clinic and see some incredible scenery and wildlife.

See the photos of the girls in Gustavus.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Top 10 things I learned while in Thorne Bay

  1. If you see a porcupine, beware! Prince of Wales Island has no porcupines and what you're looking at is a bear cub who's pissed off mother is not far away.
  2. As with almost every other place in Alaska I've been, there is a place named Sandy Beach and a bar named Pioneer Bar.
  3. Running a liquor store is not as glamourous as one would think ... it is ~a lot~ of work hauling, moving and throwing around cases of beer and wine.
  4. Camp meat is meat obtained that is not subject to hunting rules and regulations (although you won't find anyone admitting to such a practice around law enforcement...I hear fawn is really quite tender and really falls off the bone).
  5. There are virtually no road signs on the island and if there are, they are probably not correct. For example, in one 20-yard stretch of road, one sign posted mileage to Hollis as 90 miles, another as 74 miles and a third as 94 miles.
  6. You can still buy gasoline on the honor system. Simple write down who you are, the total gallons of fuel you pumped and leave the slip of paper in the 5-quart ice cream bucket.
  7. You can use firearms in a residential area, but a sign requests that you "use caution".
  8. If salmon fishing is out of season, nothing says you can't "hunt" them (which means shooting them while they jump out of the water on their way upstream).
  9. If done properly, you can emulate a bleating fawn by blowing through blades of grass and attract a deer (or bear) to within 10 feet of you.
  10. Driving sideways, getting too close to the shoulder, catching air or meeting an oncoming vehicle while driving down the road is a slam-dunk way to make Karen P. scream and cover her eyes.

News around Gustavus

We returned to Gustavus from our POW trip to news of a grounded cruise ship up Glacier Bay. Robin helped get the boom (a temporary floating barrier used to contain any leaks) ready that they deployed around the ship.

Read the full story: Cruise ship runs aground in Glacier Bay.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Traveling to Thorne Bay

Wow, I can't believe I've been here almost a year! This week's travel brings me back to Thorne Bay, originally a logging camp and site of one of my first travels in Alaska (you can see my old pictures from my "you know it's a small town when" posting).

Robin and I will be visiting my "official" supervisor, one of the Karen triumvirate associated with SEAtrails. She is amazing and someone I truly admire. A quintessential over-achiever, KP works at a regular job ... and she finds time to run two liquor stores, is part of the emergency medical team, is a board member for numerous organizations (including the Red Cross and SEAtrails) and is involved in a whole bunch of other things making things move and shake on Prince of Wales Island, the third largest island in the U.S.

On the docket so far: clearing a trail, fishing, eating hot dogs, four-wheelin', celebrating the 4th of July and whatever other adventures (always guaranteed with KP) that we'll have on POW.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dogs harassing moose

This just in from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

During the past couple of weeks we have received several phone calls from Gustavus residents about dogs harassing moose. Cow moose have just recently given birth to calves, and roaming dogs can not only stress and injure the adult moose, but can kill calf moose. So please do your part to assure that your dog(s) are not part of this problem.

It is important for dog owners to know what their dogs are up to, and if you know or suspect your dog is harassing moose, take actions to address the problem. It is illegal under Alaska Fish and Game regulation to allow a dog to harass wildlife.

If you observe a dog harrassing moose, please call Neil @ 465-4267 or Andy @ 945-3620.

Thank you for helping address this concern!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Top 10 things I learned during my Yakutat trip

Here are more scenic photos of our Yakutat trip, and here are some of the things I learned during this trip:

  1. Airport security will detain you if they find a 22-shell in your carry-on backpack. They will also take down your name, address and social security number. This is especially true if you are wearing overalls.
  2. Airport security will most likely not discover bear spray in a checked bag.
  3. The Travelodge in Juneau has an awesome Sunday brunch. Yum and double-yum!
  4. You can literally catch a fish a minute if you're on the right spot.
  5. It takes a minimum of 3 good swats to kill a Yakutat mosquito (and they might leave a bruise -- really).
  6. Bring bug spray -- and lots of it. Reapply frequently.
  7. Bring bear spray -- and keep it handy. Bears are everywhere. One recently went after a teenager on his walk home from school right in town.
  8. If you have a chance to go to a Yakutat wine tasting, go! The food is awesome, there's plenty of it and they don't want to haul around any wine so make sure you stay until the end for all the wine you can consume without passing out.
  9. Expect to pay $25/bag for sackcrete/quikcrete.
  10. About the only laundry detergent you can find is made for front-loading washers, which is somehow (??) different than regular laundry detergent (but it still works). I'm guessing someone ordered the wrong thing or that's what the barge brought in and they're stuck with it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Working in Yakutat

Robin and I both spent last week working in Yakutat.

As part of my job, I went to Yakutat to attend public meetings and a city council meeting to talk about SEAtrails and determine what trails Yakutat wants to list as part of the SEAtrails network. This, of course, meant going out on the area trails. (A really tough part of my job!)

See photos of our Yakutat work. (Be patient ... other photos of Yakutat scenery to come soon.)

If you go out on trails in bear country with the Forest Service, they require a certified rifleman to accompany you. (This is a good thing.) There was fresh bear scat (poop) all over the place and plenty of bear tracks. We went to about 5 trails, including Harlequin Lake, where you can see icebergs and the Yakutat Glacier. We also toured one of the public use Forest Service cabins and one of the airstrips. The airstrips are basically clearings in the trees (in the middle of nowhere) where anyone can land their plane, provided the strip is long enough for their plane, of course. And it's light out. And not too windy. And they're not worried about trees, flat tires, etc. because these strips aren't paved, lit or maintained.

For Robin's work, we did a bunch of projects, including enduring an incredible amount of mosquitos while digging a post hole for a radio antenna installation and painting a fuel tank. There were so many mosquitos it was impossible not to paint them into the tank, which is now a non-skid surface thanks to the thick mosquito coating!

We rode along with the Park Service on what's called a "transfer". That's when Park Service people are taken out to board a cruise ship for the day and talk about the area. We went out on a little boat, rode up alongside the huge cruise ship, the cruise ship dropped a rope ladder, and the Park Service people climbed up the ladder onto the huge cruise ship. It's really neat but pretty darn scary!

We were lucky because they had two transfers the day we went along. This meant we had to hang out on the water for a while until the other cruise ship came into the area. Robin fished for about 10 minutes and couldn't keep his line in the water because there were so many fish biting. He literally caught at least 8 fish in about 10-15 minutes. It was hysterical ... no one could believe how many fish he was catching. (I stayed clear of the harpoon!)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Office and house pictures

Here are a few pictures of my office and our house. I'm still in temporary office space but things are going well, with work being as, well, difficult, as ever. ;-)

Today, both Robin and I head to Yakutat for work. (Yakutat is Alaska's surfing capital.) I expect to have some awesome photos from this trip, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Emergency room

We took my sisters (Betty and Pat), both nurses, out fishing while they were visiting last week. One was armed with a video camera; one with a digital camera. Unfortunately, no one was armed with a first aid kit.

We caught a big fish. A really big fish: a 150-lb+ halibut. Robin and I wrestled it up to the surface while Betty and Pat documented the event. Once you get a fish up to the surface, you then have to harpoon it. (Yes, putting a spear-thingy through its body.) That's when the excitement began.

As I was harpooning the halibut, the fish bucked, kicking the blunt end of the harpoon back at me (better than the sharp end!). This resulted in a through-and-through gash from my outside upper lip to the inside of my mouth. Yes, it hurt. A lot. While Betty and Pat were tripping over themselves to get the best paparazzi-inspired shot, I was cursing at them to get me something to mop up the blood running down my face.

(See pictures of the fishing adventure and my injury.)

There was so much blood we didn't have to worry about additional cleaning of the wound. Both nurses and Robin (a first responder), said I needed stitches. We went back to shore and called the home of the local clinic staff person, a nurse practicioner. She met us at the clinic. I got four stitches!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bear season

Less than one month remains of bear season and the bears are around. One of Robin's friends shot a black bear and we now have bear brats, bear burger and bear roast. (It tastes a lot like beef!)

Reportedly, you can get trichinosis from eating bear so you must cook the meat thoroughly.

Here are some pictures of what I've been up to lately, including pictures of a porcupine, turkeys, a campfire cookout, a 10 p.m. sunset and more.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Halibut season

The fish are back! (And so are the whales!). We went out fishing last weekend and caught some pretty big halibut. I'm still sore from all the reeling.

Check out these pictures.

It's pretty awesome to be out there fishing looking at these views, listening to the whales spout and talk and seeing sea lions and sea otters.

The biggest fish we caught was probably around 80 pounds...but of course, the big one (estimated @ 150+ lb.) got away because the line broke. I'm gonna get him, though. I geared up and now have a bigger reel, stronger line and determination.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Serious about security

I don't know how you feel about national security but I can tell you, "they" are worried about me. I have had 4 background checks done on me this year, including having to ink up 6 sets of fingerprint cards.

Here are some of the questions our government asks on one of the security forms:

  1. How long have you known this person?
    Choices listed are: years, months or I don't know this person.
  2. On the average, I associate(d) with this person ....
    Choices listed are: daily, weekly, monthly, twice a year, once every year or 2, once in 3 or more years.
  3. Do you have any reason to question this person's honesty or trustworhiness?
    Choices listed are: no, yes, I do not know this person well enough to respond, and (my favorite) I wish to discuss the adverse information I have.
  4. Do you have any adverse information about this person's employment, residence or activites concerning:
    Choices are: violations of the law, financial integrity, abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, mental or emotional stability, (my favorite) general behavior or conduct, other matters, and I wish to discuss the adverse information I have.
  5. Additional information which you feel may have a bearing on this person's suitability for government employment or a security clearance. This space may be used for derogatory as well as positive information.

Being able to log on to a government computer in Gridless Gustavus: Priceless

Sunday, May 18, 2008

All in a day's work

My varied and interesting work continues.

This past week, I participated in MOCC training, a course to become certified in motorboat operation. It was truly one of the best classes I have ever taken. Not only did we practice donning gumby suits (survival suits), we got to swim around in the water in them! The goal was to get into one in under 2 minutes ... not an easy task, but one I was able to do.

(Sidenote: for fun, one of my friend's and her husband have contests for this sort of thing -- the one who goes fishing in his survival suit. She holds the household record of 45-seconds.)

See some of my "work" pictures, including Petersburg touring, float plane ride and skiff operation.

I drove a 16-ft skiff (motorboat) around all week and backed a trailer with a boat loaded on it in and around the parking lot. I learned how to tie all sorts of boating knots, how to dock a boat and how to dock a boat in reverse!

This coming week, I'll be taking my Vista leader on a tour of Gustavus, taking a kayak safety class, taking the skiff out for more "practice" and hopefully riding out to the cruise ships for what's known as a "transfer".

Social Saturday

Life in little Gustavus certainly is never dull and in typical Alaska style, things rarely go as expected or planned. For example, a 30-minute trip to "town" on a Saturday actually takes a few hours.

If you go to the post office during the week, it takes about 3 minutes total at the post office. On a Saturday, you need to allow at least 45 minutes at the post office: 15 minutes to chat with the two or three people you run into in the parking lot before you go in; 15 minutes to chat with the postmaster and people inside the post office; and another 15 minutes to chat with whoever pulled up in the parking lot in the half hour you've been trying to get out of there.

Then, you have to stop in at the Community Chest, the local thrift store, (it's across the street from the post office) and check out what's new. Of course, you run into other people there, which takes another 20 minutes.

Then, you have to stop at the store to pick up a couple of items and, well, you know the drill...not to mention who you might pass on the road and have to stop in the middle of the road to catch up. With summer and the whales approaching, you also need to allow time to head out to the city dock to see if you can spot any whales in Icy Strait.

This evening was the opening "local" dinner at the Gustavus Inn. They kick off the summer season by serving a reasonably priced dinner, which is a huge social event. It was packed! They were geared up, though, and had plenty of waiting space and a fire ring to hang out around. Of course, you saw most of the people you saw earlier in the day, plus the rest that you hadn't!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Yet another funny/odd email received

"The telephone in the SRD Archy spot, formally held by Jeremy Karchut, is missing. This position will be filled in the near future and we would like to have this phone returned. If you have it please return it. Thanks."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Little Norway

Last week I traveled for work to Petersburg, AK, also known as Alaska's Little Norway. You can do all sorts of cool stuff ... like seeing a tide water glacier, whale watching, deer watching, hiking, kayaking and tons more.

It wouldn't be traveling in Alaska if there wasn't some sort of story so here goes.

Because I'm an official Forest Service volunteer with a travel budget, I have to fly with USFS licensed/carded pilots. This means they sent a special plane over from Juneau to pick me up. (Which meant more $$ instead of flying over on one of the regularly scheduled commuter flights but hey, our tax dollars hard at work.) After that, I was allowed to fly on Alaska Airlines on their only daily southbound trip to Petersburg.

On the return trip, I was really wondering what was happening as I watched us fly over the Juneau airport. (It's not like you can land anywhere else anytime soon.) The 25-minute flight from Petersburg to Juneau actually lasted 55 minutes. After about 30 more minutes of flying in a holding pattern, we learned the pilot was "in training" and had overshot the runway. (Pretty sad that the flight time was shorter than the time we spent in the hold pattern.)

Instead of flying back to Gustavus, I got to fly in a float plane to Bartlett Cove, 10 miles from the Gustavus airport. This is the cove that I see out of my living room window. Also pretty cool. I could walk home from there, although Robin was there to pick me up because I had 3 boxes of groceries (including 5 dozen eggs).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hawaii photos

Finally, I was able to get a good satellite connection. I got carried away and couldn't pare down the photos much more so there are about 100 of them.

See photos from our trip to Hawaii.

We spent a day in Honolulu, visiting Pearl Harbor and Waikiki. On Robin's insistance, we tried out the public transit system. We took a bus from the airport to downtown and back. We didn't have exact change, $4, so we put in $5. Boy, did that set off one of the riders! He and Robin had a lengthy conversation about that extra $1 we paid!

On Maui we rented a car from a non-chain car rental company. They send someone to pick you up from the airport and take you to town. Well, Harvey was at least 300 pounds (maybe 350) and had hurt his ankle that day. He could barely walk to get some of the luggage. Robin, Mr. Patient, could barely stand waiting for him to get out of the van and walk over to us. But, Harvey was entertaining and gave Robin some good fishing tips.

We stayed at a great studio apartment in Kihei, the Pineapple Studio. (We would stay there again.) We went snorkeling (Robin snorkeled next to sea turtles several times), took a motorcycle ride up and around the north part of the island, took a snorkel trip out to Molokini Crater, did the drive to Hana, spent some time on the beach, tried fishing from shore and generally disregarded every warning sign we encountered. It was great!

Then we headed to the Big Island, Hawaii (where Robin discovered that Kona coffee just doesn't have the kick he needs). The volcano was sort of erupting and part of the park was closed. (Again, we generally disregarded every warning sign we encountered.) We saw lots of lava flowing into the ocean. One day we took a drive from sea level up to the 14,000 foot summit of Mauna Kea (where troublemaker Robin tried to get us kicked out by the observatory police). We went from 80 degrees or so to 20 degrees and winds of 40 mph -- brrrr!

All in all, it was fabulous. We might even return someday to get married!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Guinea pigs in Iowa

Perhaps the strangest story from my trip to Iowa the other week involved a suspect roadside guinea pig....

My mom and I were driving in the country around my hometown and I saw something beside the road. I asked, "What is that?" We couldn't quite tell what it was but as we got closer, my mom said, "I think it's a guinea pig."

I responded, "What would a guinea pig be doing by the side of the road? I guess those corn-fed guinea pigs get pretty big, don't they?" (The conversation went downhill from there and I could hardly drive I was laughing so hard.)

It turns out that it wasn't really a guinea pig at all ... it was a wild turkey.

[To my mom's credit, she had her wildlife mixed up. What she really meant was a guinea hen, which reportedly look like a small wild turkey. This, according to my sister, who then went on to talk about how Brazil has wild guinea pigs...at which point I could no longer discuss guinea pigs!]

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clothespin shortage

Another uniquely Alaskan occurrance is happening right now in Juneau.

An avalanche wiped out a slew of transmission lines and support towers to a dam that supplied 85% of the city's electricity. Electricity rates soared immediately, going from 11 cents KWH to 50 cents KWH. Residents went running to local stores to stock up on -- of all things -- clothespins.

Read more stories related to this bizarre event:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back in Alaska

I am back from my emergency trip to Iowa.

While I was gone, spring arrived and my background check cleared. Today is beautiful: 55 degrees, sunny, gorgeous and I now have Internet access at the office.

I even saw a porcupine waddling across a pile of snow that hasn't melted yet.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I'm heading to Iowa for a very sad thing. My brother and his wife had a baby boy, Ryan, on Monday morning. But he was too early and died on Tuesday.

Please send Baby Ryan's family your good thoughts.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Return from civilization

Wow, Hawaii was awesome. Sun, heat, whales, turtles, snorkeling, spewing lava, what could be better?!? I took so many pictures I ended up buying a new memory card for my camera. (Be patient ... there are lots of really cool photos coming as soon as I have a reliable satellite uplink to transfer all of them.)

This was Robin's first trip to Hawaii and he loved it. I almost drowned snorkeling because I was laughing so hard watching Robin, in his neoprene, floatable wetsuit top and noodle floatie, kicking for all he was worth to dive down under the water for a better look at something. He also made me laugh so hard on the plane that the flight attendant thought ~I~ was the one who had too many Mai Tais (and he was the drunk one!).

Quotable quotes from Robin:

  • "I know my fruit."
    (In reference to him picking out something called a pluot, which neither of us had ever seen or heard of before but he insisted he knew better than I how to pick 'em).
  • "I thought we'd be the only ones here."
    (In reference to his surprise that a popular scenic spot was as crowded as I said it would be).
  • "I'll be moving so I won't need any sunscreen."
    (In reference to me nagging him about putting on sunscreen before a hike, especially because he's had several spots cut out of his skin already!).
  • "I can find a tree somewhere."
    (In reference to me saying he better go to the bathroom now while we still had trees around, knowing we were headed into a barren lava field with no vegetation whatsoever. He didn't take advantage of the opportunity).
  • "Did we eat ice cream on the plane?"
    (In reference to me talking about the great coconut sundae we had on the plane, which he didn't remember because of all the Mai Tais on the plane and the mixed drinks in the Anchorage "Board Room").
  • "It's windy so I won't need sunscreen."
    (Another reference to me nagging him about putting on sunscreen.)
  • "They'll have a double-fish!"
    (McDonald's had these double-fish sandwiches everywhere we went. He really wanted one but kept putting off getting one. Finally, I said he better get one now because you never know ... well, he didn't get one and we ended up being in an area where all of the McDonald's had "discontinued" the double fish! Of course, none of the workers could figure out to just give him two.)
  • "We'll be shopping so I won't need sunscreen."
    (Yet another reference to me nagging him about putting on sunscreen. Creative, isn't he?)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Vacation time is here! We're headed to Hawaii tomorrow for a 12-day vacation where the weather is warm, being barefoot is comfortable and the sun is out. We flew over to Juneau today to make sure we weren't weathered out. Good thing, too, because a snowstorm started mid-way over.

On our flight over was one of the National Park crew on a special assignment to help evacuate Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (one of our destinations). We'll see if we actually make it to that park or not ... stay tuned for what will happen with those reservations, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gridless in Gustavus

Gustavus/Glacier Bay has its own infrastructure for water, power and sewer that runs entirely off the grid. Power comes from diesel generators. Water is collected from rainfall and streams (which is a good thing because there is a natural arsenic supply contaminating the groundwater). Sewage is treated and released or burned (don't ask!). All of this is meticulousy operated and maintained by the excellent staff (Robin and crews) in the Glacier Bay maintenance and utilities departments.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to keep these systems functioning properly. Make sure to read the captions for the blow-by-blow account of each aspect of the operation.

There are also some photos of a recent patrol trip (Robin is also a boat captain) up Glacier Bay. Another very unique aspect of Glacier Bay is that is one of the only protected areas where commercial fishing is allowed for those holding special permits. We were patrolling during the short (1-week long) tanner crab season. Hey, all in a day's work!

The barge has arrived

And my vehicle was on it and in good shape. Now, it's time to unload, unpack and inspect for any damage.

My only concern is that the flamingo (see the Traveling Trophy blog entry) made it through the journey OK.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tidal influences

The barge with my things missed its window of opportunity yesterday. Turns out it wasn't loaded in time to make it by high high tide and high tide wasn't high enough. (It sails up the Salmon River and needs all the water it can get!)

Rumor has it that it is sailing today and is actually on its way. It is due to arrive at high high tide tomorrow at 4:50 a.m.

The weather report is good with calm seas -- all excellent news for a vehicle parked on a flat piece of metal floating on Icy Strait, an oftentimes treacherous body of water.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Top 10 Things I learned during my move to Gustavus

  1. Moving to Gustavus requires multiple modes of transportation: ferries, planes, barges and automobiles. (See some photos of my journey.)
  2. If you get a flat tire in Juneau, don't call AAA. They'll refer you to a place in Ketchikan, 300 miles away and only reachable by boat or plane.
  3. Quiet bullets are a subculture phenomenon. (In fact, Robin and Molly had a lengthy discussion about the best way to kill a porcupine with them.)
  4. If you're on the fast ferry, hang on for a thrilling, roller coaster ride. Touted as a four-hour tour, this is entirely dependent on sea conditions. If you have sea swells, wind, crashing waves or all of the above (like I had), it's hard to project how long it will take. My journey actually took five hours (not bad).
  5. If you shop enough (we spent much of our time driving up and down the only highway in Juneau, repeatedly stopping at every possible store), you can find some deals: bananas were 7 cents/lb at WalMart (plus 30 cents/lb to fly them to Gustavus -- still a real value!) and eggs were $5.99/5 dozen at Super Bear (it was $11.99/5 dozen at one of the places). Robin also experienced Costco for the first time.
  6. The Juneau WalMart is eerily empty. This is the only WalMart in the known universe that is not jammed with carts, people, kids, RVs and the usual conglomeration of all things uniquely part of the WalMart experience. It feels like a scary movie because of the absence of people!
  7. The barge into Gustavus only arrives at high tide. Estimated arrival date of my jeep, filled with all my stuff, is 4 a.m. Tuesday.
  8. It is possible to fish in a survival suit if you don't have a boat.
  9. The Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles height chart range starts at 2'4" and goes to 6'6". Plus, having your dog with you in the office is OK, but dogs are not allowed in the car during the road test.
  10. Alaska Brewery makes several wheat-free beers ... and Robin's tried them all! (From what he recalls, his favorite is their ESB.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fast ferry, flat tire and fevered pitch

The fast ferry, despite a few roller-coaster type incidents (literally) was great. I saw several whales breeching (unbelievable) and several schools of porpoises (cool!) along the way. I even had cell phone coverage to call my mom!

I made it to Juneau and Robin was waiting at the ferry dock. We are staying with this couple and the husband somehow forgot to tell the wife our arrival date. Fortunately, there was still space at the inn.

After tons of shopping, shopping and more shopping (including Robin's first real Costco experience), the Jeep's tire gave out and was completely flat from all the stuff loaded in it. Actually, it wasn't the heavy load. There was a gigantic nail in the @#$#% tire.

After a ridiculous call to AAA for help (the AAA person in Florida offered up Ketchikan, hundreds of miles away and only accessible by boat or plane), we were able to locate a tire repair shop that was actually open on Sunday.

Tomorrow, we drop the Jeep off at the barge company for it's voyage to Gustavus and then Robin and I fly to my new home in Glacier Bay (provided it isn't too foggy, windy, snowy, etc., of course).

Friday, February 29, 2008

My odyssey continues

Today I will be on the F/V Fairweather, the fast ferry to Juneau. This $36 million vessel is part of the Alaska Marine Highway fleet. It makes the trip from Sitka to Juneau in about 4 hours, instead of the 8 to 10 hour travel time of other vessels. (If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend using the Alaska Marine Highway to see some spectacular spots of this phenomenal place.)

Once in Juneau, Robin and I will commence a weekend of frenzied shopping, socializing and eating at real restaurants (because we can).

Stay tuned for details on Phase II of the Alaskan Adventure....

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Confusing acronyms and the government

From a recent governmental e-mail. (I have no idea what any of this means.)

"Good morning! This message is to let you know that there has been a problem with entering CFC contribution forms into the NFC database. The staff at ASC was not aware that the CFC account for Juneau, Alaska was combined with the Anchorage, Alaska account in NFC's database.

The payroll staff at ASC has become aware of the situation and is correcting the errors. Unfortunately they cannot go back and make the contributions retroactive to PP.01...if you don't begin seeing your CFC deductions come out as of PP.05, please call the contact center and create a case. "

Friday, February 22, 2008

Latest local news headlines

While I don't read, see or hear a lot of news, the stories I do hear are always unique. Usually, at least one of the quotes in the article is hilarious.

  • In reference to Romeo, a lone black wolf frequenting Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier recreation area: "Since then the wolf, whom some refer to as Romeo, has been suspected in the disappearance of a beagle and a Pomeranian, and he was photographed carrying someone's pug last year. Whether he harmed the first two dogs is debated, and some said he was baited in the incident of the pug, who survived." Read the full article.
  • In reference to Maggie's socialization (the Anchorage elephant airlifted to California): "You do this slowly.... We don't want to overwhelm her or make her feel pressured." Read the full article.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fond farewell to the funkhouse

I will soon be moving out of the funkhouse (a.k.a. the bunkhouse, the duplex or the house of bunk). "Why do they call it the funkhouse?" you might ask. Well, for starters, there are the voices you hear when no one is around. Or the doors slamming upstairs or water running when there's no one there. Or any other sort of strange happenings observed by almost everyone who has stayed there. (Trevor, you and your wife would love it!) Never mind that it is also next door to the National Cemetary, the most popular suicide spot in town.

Other than the strange happenings, the bunkhouse has been the perfect residence during my stay in Sitka. Set up as seasonal housing for Forest Service personnel, it has been mine and mine alone since September (which means I actually received my phone messages since then). It's easy to walk to everything and has all the amenities (sans internet and long distance).

Although the Forest Service was supposed to supply kitchen utensils (like glasses) and shared household items (such as toilet paper and light bulbs), they never quite got around to doing so. I'd been asking for drinking glasses since my July arrival without success. Now, 8 months later and just in time for my departure, I hear someone has located some cups (there is a literal warehouse full of all sorts of kitchen stuff) and is planning to bring them by any month now, I'm sure. Our government in action!

As of March 3, I begin my move to live with Robin in Glacier Bay National Park, housing unit 9B. Despite being only 90 miles from Sitka, the move is much more involved than my original move to Alaska. I will load up my Jeep and put it and me on the ferry to Juneau. From there, I take the Jeep to a barge for its transport to Gustavus and then I go to the airport for a flight to Gustavus.

Find out more about Glacier Bay National Park and the booming metropolis of Gustavus, home to one pizza shop, one liquor store, multiple moose and one interesting golf course!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine's Day Story

A man leaves his nice, comfy life and job in Florida and roadtrips across the country to a job in a remote Alaskan location. All his friends think he's crazy and can't understand why he is leaving such a good situation. He can't explain it, but knows he needs to return to Alaska.

A woman leaves her nice, comfy life in Colorado and roadtrips across the west to an unknown volunteer job in an unknown Alaska. All her friends think she's crazy, but they are happy she's headed to Alaska and not a Peace Corps stint in Azerbaijan. She knows she needs to go.

When the woman pulls up to the ferry terminal in Bellingham, WA (which is really in Fairhaven, by the way) to get her ticket, the man who left his nice, comfy life and job in Florida offers to take her picture for her. He takes her picture and starts talking about how he's headed to work at some place with a weird name (Gustavus). The two continue their conversation.

Serendipitously, they are on the same ferry. The conversation continues for three more days. Up through Ketchikan. Through Wrangell. Then Petersburg. The couple part in Sitka, where the woman goes off to her unknown adventure and the man continues his journey to the remote location. The woman promises to give the man her phone number, as soon as she can find out what it is (a premonition of what it's like to deal with the Forest Circus, perhaps).

The man and woman pick up the conversation over the telephone ... and the rest is history.

Here's to many, many more conversations!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Snail mail to Hoonah

Currently, it is taking at least 10 delivery days for mail to get to Hoonah, a town a mere 50 some air miles from Sitka, or around 130 sea miles. This is because flights in and out of Hoonah have been erratic due the nasty weather the last 2 - 3 weeks.

People are requesting that if you send hard copy mail to Hoonah and you expect any kind of timely response, they recommend sending a fax or email instead.

To get to Hoonah, you must either fly or drive because there are no roads in or out. Somehow, there seem to be a high number of registered sex offenders (10) living in Hoonah, population 860. The ratio of number of residents in Hoonah to the number of sex offenders is 75 to 1. But don't let that stop you ... I hear it's a pretty cool town. Find out more about Hoonah.

Google actually gives great directions for getting there from Sitka:
  • Head north on Lake St toward Sawmill Creek Blvd 164 ft 2. Slight left at Halibut Point Rd. Turn left 325 ft.
    5.3 mi 18 mins. (like if you're walking -- it's really like 8).
  • Take the Alaska Marine Hwy/Sitka-Angoon Fry ferry to Angoon
    79.2 mi 3 hours 59 mins.
  • Take the Alaska Marine Hwy/Angoon-Hoonah Fry ferry to Hoonah
    70.1 mi 3 hours 13 mins 6.
  • Continue straight 141 ft.
  • Turn right at Cannery Rd 0.1 mi
  • Continue on Front St
    0.6 mi 2 mins

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Today's muskeg message

On the radio today:

The Harbor Master would like everyone to check their boat to make sure that the heavy snow load is not sinking it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What Robin actually does

Robin works for the National Park Service and is Utilities Supervisor. Right now, he's doing a lot of snow removal (over 3.5 feet of snow the past few days!). See pictures of Robin working and Karen (sorta) working.

Sometimes, he's taking care of the water treatment plant, checking on generators, rehabbing/remodeling interiors of buildings, doing building or mechanical repairs, unloading a barge -- you just never know.

Typically, he has the usual, unpredictable, crazy Alaskan days, too. For example, instead of sitting down at the desk for a couple of hours to knock out a project plan or place a supply order as he planned, he ends up spending half the day evicting a family of marmots. (Really -- a family of marmots had moved in under one of the buildings. They were stinking up the place and causing damage so he had to hunt them down, clear them out and secure the perimeter.)

Other times, he could be going up bay to work on a fuel barge or floating cabin or driving a boat around. (You can see some of those pictures here.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

What I actually do

Many of you have inquired about what I actually do besides enjoy great scenery, play on the trail and go out in boats (all part of my on-the-job training to know the region and my customers).

I am working for SEAtrails, Southeast Alaska Trail System, a non-profit group devoted to the "planning, promotion, maintenance and construction of a region-wide, Southeast Alaska trail system." We create useful information (like trail maps), help get money for trail improvement projects (like installing a sturdy foot bridge over a stream) and provide information on communities and services so people can come and enjoy this great area. The goal is to create more jobs in the region, more $ for businesses in each community, improve transportation and improve the quality of life.

Some of what I've done so far include presenting to different groups about what SEAtrails does, writing a lot of stuff (brochures, articles, press releases, web content, presentations), coordinating meetings and all sorts of weird tasks too numerous to list. My focus for the next 6 months is to get money for SEAtrails by applying for grants, finding investors, working on a paid membership program, writing articles and other content and doing a myriad of other things necessary to keep a non-profit in business.

This is all part of my AmeriCorps VISTA assignment, a sort of "American Peace Corps" where you serve as a volunteer for one year on a project to help prevent or alleviate poverty.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

1 800 U Suck

That is the phone number for our internal IT department (really, it is!). They are the most non-helpful IT group I have ever encountered (scary, I know). (This is the group that took 8 weeks to get my email set up and 3 weeks to fix my phone extension problem.)

Here's one of the helpful messages I received when trying to do something with my computer.

"The background process that grants you administrative rights on your computer usually takes two or three minutes, however due to the nature of Active Directory replication, it may take as long as fifteen minutes if you happen to be particularly unlucky. "

If you're one of the "particularly unlucky" people, the next step is that you have to call 1 800 U Suck.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gorgeous Gustavus

Wow, now THIS is Alaska. Check out these incredible views from around Gustavus, headquarters of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Mountains, eagles, moose, water, sun, moon ... what more could you ask for?!?

I'm working from Robin's this week but with weather like this, it's been difficult. I work from the library part-time. This small community has a really great facility. They have a satellite Internet connection -- pretty cool!

One day I was working from Robin's and said that I was worried the power might go out. He gave me this really funny look. Then I realized that duh, the power isn't going out because it's all on generator power and he's the one who maintains the generators! (Side note: Electric clocks run faster on generator power. The electric clocks in Robin's house gain minutes every day so by the end of the month, they can be 30-45 minutes fast. It is really confusing sometimes but just one more quirky thing about living in Alaska.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another top 10 things Mom and Robin have in common

  1. Blue is one of their favorite colors.
  2. Both have a collection of plastic bags in a kitchen drawer.
  3. Both have never used an ATM card.
  4. Neither can handle their liquor.
  5. Both hate snakes.
  6. Both love Sleepytime tea.
  7. Both hate pills and have a difficult time swallowing them.
  8. Both hate needles.
  9. Both have a tea kettle with a wooden handle that spills water everywhere.
  10. Both like oatmeal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Traveling trophy

My family isn't very competitive ... except when it comes to croquet, card games and board games. Then you do whatever it takes to win (outwit, outlast, outcheat is a common motto)! The same holds true for the annual Christmas sock contest.

As with many things in my family that start as a joke, this event has evolved into Something Big. Competition is fierce. All for the coveted prize: a hideous flamingo statue. Modeled after the Stanley Cup tradition, the trophy spends the year in the winner's home. The winner has to add something new to the trophy before passing it on to the new winner.

See pictures of the contestants, the awarding of the trophy and a video clip from this year's contest.

Unfortunately, this year's winner was also last year's winner. What's unfortunate about that? Well, Mike, the winner for two years running, and being the generous guy that he is, decided that he didn't want to be selfish and have the trophy all to himself for yet another year.

Guess what I received in the mail the other day? Yes, that would be said trophy (shipment was insured). Now I have to haul it all over the 49th state ... and I have to "embellish" it and return it before this year's contest on Christmas Eve. Somehow, I don't feel like a winner here. Thanks a lot, Mike!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Search and rescue

Each season, the Forest Service dispatch department (at least in Alaska), sends out an e-mail covering sunrise, sunset and the time to be back at home base. The "be back at home base" indicates what time the aircraft or boat needs to be back at its base to allow time for Search and Rescue activities. For example, right now, the sun rises at 8:13 a.m. and sets at 3:53 p.m., which means you better be back by 2:53 p.m. or they're coming to look for ya!

They also are very particular about how often you check in when you're out and about. You must report in every 30 minutes. This is quite different than the Park Service, where you basically have to tell them when you're leaving and when you'll be back ... unless weather is bad and then it's a whole different ballgame.

Ah, life in Alaska....

Monday, January 14, 2008

3 minutes a day

That's the amount of daylight I'm gaining each day. I don't mind the weather, clouds or amount of daylight. There are lots of things that make up for any of those drawbacks, including:
  • I see "sun breaks" or holes of blue several times a week, which has been great.
  • I see eagles from my walk to and from work, and from my window at work.
  • I see something awesome every day. Last week, there was an intercom announcement to stop working and admire the fantastic sunset (and it ~was~ fantastic).
  • I might see the aurora borealis and check the aurora forecast frequently.
  • I saw whales just a few weeks ago while I was driving down the road.
  • I can't be late to work because there is no "late".

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Holidays in review

Between the ducks, housesitting and getting engaged, December was a whirlwind of activity. Add in the Polar Dip, a Winter Solstice party, hosting Christmas dinner, New Year's at the P-Bar and it's no wonder I failed to keep up on the blog.

But, I'm back and back to Internet connectivity so I can recap all the great events in sunny Sitka during December 2007. See photos of all these events.
  • Robin made it to Sitka after a long-haul, 20-some day trip to Florida. Unfortunately, his luggage returned before he did. This meant that I had to haul out to the airport (it's 5 minutes away!) and retrieve his 87-pound bag (literally!).

  • "What was in that 87-pound bag?" you might ask. Well, it was a pile of stuff for me! Including a, well, uh, a very sparkly Christmas sweater from Robin's mom. (It's the thought that counts, right?)

  • "What wasn't in that 87-pound bag?" you might also ask. Well, the engagement ring for one, along with the rest of the wedding ring set. (Yep, we really are engaged!)

  • Robin, Louie and I witnessed the annual Polar Dip. It was hysterical, to say the least. Where else but in Alaska would you find 100+ people eager to jump into water that you don't even jump into during summer?

  • Louie deserted me as my best friend and claimed a new best friend. Robin went to herd the ducks and left out a bunch of leftover ham on the counter. (Louie was sick for days.)

  • We left Louie and the ducks to go to the next housesitting assignment, complete with another unique mixture of pets.

    • Pepper, the dog, has short-term memory problems. Each time she looks out the window and sees the Jeep, she starts barking ... until she remembers it's mine. Then she stops. But starts again when she looks out the window and sees the Jeep. Then she stops. But starts again when.... Reportedly, Pepper doesn't really like men so we were really good friends ... until Robin bribed her with some turkey and bread.

    • Button, the cat, likes to sleep in this one room all day or on your lap if you let her.

    • Lightning, not a very speedy cat, is friendly but likes to pee on things.

  • We celebrated New Year's at -- where else -- the P-Bar, complete with hats and champagne.

Duck demise

If you were reading my blog in December, you know I was caring for and herding a flock of 9 ducks (plus holiday visitors). While in my care, no ducks were harmed in any way.

Yesterday, while hiking with the duck's owner, I learned that two of the ducks met their untimely demise just this week. It seems that eagles often prey on ducks and that's exactly what happened. (It caused quite a ruckus and I'm sure Louie was scared.)

In the meantime, the duck(s) have laid about 4 known eggs. I estimate that each egg costs a mere $1,625 when you factor in food, the duck house, time, care and maintenance costs. But, I hear the eggs are delicious!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Engaging source identified

SITKA, AK -- January 7, 2008

Phone companies, cell phone providers and ISPs across the nation determined that the widespread service outages on Christmas and the days that followed were caused by unprecedented network traffic, caused by a single source in Sitka, AK.

"Robin and I got engaged over Christmas," says Karen Smith, Sitka resident. "I told a few people but didn't expect the news to have such a big impact on the nation's communications network."

According to Smith's nephew, Jesse, rumors began to swirl about a love interest based on photos linked from blog entries portraying Smith and some guy referred to only by his first name intermingled with beautiful scenery. The speculation ran rampant.

"I'm glad this will put an end to the speculation," says Smith. "And no, I'm not pregnant. Just insanely in love."

The couple have decided to determine a date, location and all other details sometime in 2008.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sitka Sentinel

As I've mentioned before, the local paper is the Sitka Sentinel, published Monday through Friday. Reminiscent of the Smith Sentinel, you never know what you'll find in the paper. Other than the renown Police Blotter section, there are many, many interesting articles.

Some articles from recent editions:
  • Anchorage to launch Running of Reindeer: This story talks about an inaugural event on February 24 patterned after Spain's Running of the Bulls. The reindeers' owner has some concerns, however, stating, "I'm afraid the deer are just gonna stand there. It may be a very slow walk, with the animals sticking their noses in people's pockets, looking for something to eat." He also describes the threats they pose to the race runners, such as having only one set of teeth so a bite doesn't really hurt and having soft feet so a kick doesn't really hurt.
  • Restaurant wages food fight: This story talks about a couple of buffet frequenters who were billed roughly double the Chinese restaurant's regular buffet price. The eaters were allegedly told by a restaurant worker: "Y'all fat, and y'all eat too much." Their response? "I was stunned that somebody would say something like that. I ain't that fat, I only weigh 277.
Perhaps the best news is that the Sitka Sentinel is now available online. You can subscribe for a mere $5 a month to try it out or $50 a year (better than the home delivery rate of $82 a year). Plus, they accept payments using Paypal!