Making the Rounds

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As nice and quiet the apartment is that I am in, the kitchen has a lot to leave you wanting. Coming from a large (though always messy) kitchen with loads of counter space, not having room for a full cutting board sucks. So, I have been finding myself trying out a number of the local restaurants for dinner; thinking its good as well just to get a sense of the area and to get out and see the town.

There is a catch to this though, it turns out that tourists visit Alaska too.

It turns out that tourists like to eat too.

I know, go figure!

I don’t like going to a place by myself then waiting for a seat; that seems to happen a lot here. There are a lot of restaurants around Anchorage, the trick is finding a good one that everyone hasn’t heard about too.  It seems if anyone has heard of a place, you can expect
I began typing this up at a Anchorage Local favorite – Peanut Farm. Rumor has it that Sunday morning breakfast during football season is the best (if you can find a seat). Pizza isn’t bad, but the beer is great.

Speaking of pizza, everyone … Everyone … Raves about Moose Tooth. I have been there once, and it’s good – but it is always filled. In fact, every time I stop there, the waiting area outside is filled.

Pizza is the Thing it seems. I’ve had it at five different places (and only been in town for 19 days). I guess it’s not surprising that the beer is great here too.  A comment I see over and over again in Yelp is “What is it with Alaskans and their Pizza?”  But its hard to find bad pizza that’s for sure.

Seafood is good, obviously.  Finding halibut everywhere.  My boss one lunch took us to a restaurant in the museum downtown, that had an incredible halibut burger.

Another big name is Humpy’s which made a name for itself when Man v. Food did a contest there — King Crab, Reindeer Sausage, and massive amounts of other stuff.  I like the fish tacos.

There is McGinnleys, an Irish pub Downtown, that I seem to show up at an awful lot.  I hear that their Irish regular dishes (Bangers, Shepard Pie, etc) are pretty good, but I keep floating back to their sandwiches.  Of course … Irish beer goes good with anything.

My dining highlight still remains Hot Stixx, a small Asian fusion place on the south side stuck into a strip mall.  On the outside, it looks like a Chinese take-out.  Inside is very contemporary.  Everything on the menu looked great, and just picking something ‘safe’ I went with the Pistachio Encrusted Halibut on Sushi Rice with homemade Kimchi – and should have worn a helmet because it Blew My Mind.

Just getting started on seeing the town, and will see what else is to come.

Call for Help in the Woods

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Confession time, I love that y’all are reading this blog, but sometimes I need to write this blog for my own doing.  Fair warning, this is not your normal happy goofy bloggy blog, bit more depressing.

A short drive from my apartment is a park with a combination golf course and disc golf course piled right on top of each other.  Tonight, I stopped off to get some geocaches and a walk in.  It had been raining on and off all day the paved path was noticeably slick.  I was easily less than a quarter mile where I parked when I crossed a little wooden bridge over a creek (there are a lot of those in Anchorage parks) and climbed a rise.

When I got to the top of it, I heard a bit of skid; and turned to see what it could be.  There on the ground was a guy who had noticeably fallen off his bike just over the bridge.  He had seen a bump and hit the brakes a little too hard, the rear tire sliding right out from underneath him.  He had on your typical “serious” bike rider outfit including a nice helmet and he was sitting up just a bit.

At first I thought it wasn’t much but I called back to him “Are you okay?”

His response in very clear and very controlled words; but there was the one word you don’t want to hear out here “I broke my arm, I am going to need help.”  It was a cry for help, it was a plead for help, but out here, the guy was going to need help.

I dialed 911 as I got down to him, and I walked through our location and the extent of his injuries.  He was fairly comfortable, wasn’t cold, and wasn’t in much pain at the time.  I gave the paramedics my best description of our location, and they were on their way.  By this time a runner came up who clearly knew more what to do than I did in this situation (turns out because she broke two wrists in a similar accident).  A friend of hers out on the path as well came along and between the three of us we kept the fella calm and immobile while getting ourselves to the nearest roads (one where I parked, the other just 0.1 mile from the accident) to flag down and eventually get the paramedics to the guy’s side.  The paramedics were well trained in dealing with something away from normal city streets (I have a lot of respect for those guys here with dealing with the city’s problems, but that is a blog for a different time), and once they found us they were in full force.  The guy likely had a severe fracture just above his wrist but no other injuries.  As they were cutting his clothing away he started showing signs of shock, but with 6 paramedics there by then he was in good hands and they released me from the scene.  The whole thing, from the accident to the paramedics arriving to things getting under control to me leaving took less than 30 minutes.

It was a sobering event though, but I am kinda bothered why it was as sobering.  I was in those woods by myself stomping about.  This guy was no different, and luckily I was just up the hill because it was more than a few minutes before someone else clearly with a cell phone came along.  But it hasn’t been out of the question that I would go hiking somewhere where I don’t see anyone … I prefer it even, its just more peaceful.  It’s a risk I take, and I know its a risk and … well … I can accept that risk.

I guess what bothered me was that I hadn’t been the most social guy since I have gotten up here.  Sure I go hiking and have hung out a bar a few times, but I really have done an awful lot of meeting people.  There I was, helping a guy, and if I didn’t overhear his name when he gave it to a medic I wouldn’t know it.  I know he doesn’t know mine.  Maybe that gives things a more of a “unknown good Samaritan” look on things; but that is just something I tell myself to not make this about me.  Truth is, I should have gotten his number so I can check up on him, or gotten the number of the other runners so we all can check up on him.  Worst of all, when the medic asked for numbers from the guy that he would want them to call so they can meet him at the hospital, he rattled off three or four … then I thought to myself, even if something happened to me out there, what number would I give.

Well, it comes down to this, blog world, If I have said it once I have said it a million times: “It’s not what you do wrong, its what you do to fix it.”  Time to stop letting myself clam up or hem & haw or wait for someone to say hi to me.  Time to start being more social and meet people.  Time to make sure that if I needed to call for help, someone would answer.

Murder House

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As much as I like my one-bedroom over-priced vacation rental furnished apartment with spotty internet no signal on the television and the occasional homeless wandering along outside the window; a key step towards my long term Alaskan plans is finding a place to call my own.  Part of my relocation package I got to move here is contingent on me closing on a house sometime in the next 11 months – and it’s too sweet of a relocation package to want even think about renting for any period of time.  So I am not wasting time at all and am on full search for a home.

I can tell you that finding a place to live here is not that bad – except for two things from my previous home buying experience making it difficult to swallow something up here:

1)      The prices for homes in Anchorage are at least three times higher than they are in Wichita.  My house in Wichita will sell for right around $80k, and a house in that sort of location, that sort of condition, and that size up here would go for well over $250k ($350k if I had a garage … or one you could put a car in & not fear that it will crash down on top of it).

2)      I never was completely happy with what seemed like too quick of a decision I made the last time.  I should have looked around more, I should have felt out the location, and I should have looked behind the drywall in the basement.

As I go on a house hunting search here, I find my desires are changing day by day.  When I came up here for an interview, I looked at homes and set a price limit well below what I am setting now.  The stuff I was looking at originally was … well … meth labs … no honestly!  When I got here two weeks ago, my price was higher, but now I was looking at small apartments who think their cool so they call themselves condos.  A house in my price range were more like shacks with the occasional mowed lawn (emphasis on ‘occasional’).

Enter a decent realtor.  I am using a brother / sister firm call The Harrington Group; who have fed me listings since the day BP made me an offer.  They’ve let me make my own decisions, but over a couple months I can tell in their tone of voice to me when they think I need to wake up and smell the meth lab.  For example:  I walked in with a listing this past weekend and said “this looked perfect, right in my price range, nice lot, great location” and Lief Harrington says politely “it’s been on the market for a while” – but while I thought that was a good thing (cause I can ask a lower price), he made it sound like a bad thing.  Well, he took me out there, we walked in the door, saw the dog that has been staying there (& peeing there) … and days later I still smelt like that dog.

What is nice is that Anchorage is a great blend of big and small cities.  It has a lot of things to do (hockey teams, malls, movie theatres, enough coffee shops that people from Seattle feel at least comfortable here); but it’s physically not that big of a city.  There  is, at the most, three miles of interstate type roads here … but you can get anywhere within 15 minutes from anywhere else, and most of the time you can get anywhere in 10 minutes … though rumor has it, that’s not so true during the winter.  Regardless, the locations I would like to live in range from “that’s okay” to “oh, that would be good there”.

I bet this search will continue for a few more weeks at least.  I have some hopefuls.  I checked out a house on Cache Street the other day (yeah … I can smell the geocaching addiction comparisons already); saw a great townhouse duplex in a hilly area right in a nice part of town, and am running back and forth from near the airport to near downtown to near the mountains.  The other day, a co-worker brought a house to my attention.  It was right in a good price range for me and the tax assessment suggests I can bring it down to where I want to spend.  It’s huge – 3 bed, 2.5 bath 1800 sqft – with a monster size garage.  The part of town is good enough, not great, but good enough for the investment.  There are only two minor catches … one, there is a financing limitation on it which would make the fees greater and more painful (and will likely be the bigger problem than the second to me) … and second, there was a murder / suicide there last November.  While it’s officially a condo, and its more of a townhouse set-up … we have dubbed it “The Murder House”.  You can see me moving into already, can’t ya?

Crows Have it Boring

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Today is International Geocaching Day and to celebrate Geocache Alaska held an event at Slikok Creek State Park in Soldotna.  From my apartment, I looked at my GPS device, and it told me I was only 65.7 miles away as the crow flies.  Except for a slight diversion of about 10 miles, I basically drove straight there and straight back … for a total of 320 miles.

Soldotna is on Kenai Peninsula, just a few miles away from Kenai itself.  The route is simple.  Take staying on AK-1 the whole way, you take Seward Highway towards Seward, but turn on Sterling Highway … then big bang boom.  I vacationed in Alaska in 2006, driving 1300 miles over 7 days in a beat-up camper-truck.  What I remember the most about that trip was not only how incredible the landscape was, but how often it kept changing with incredible views at each turn.  While that trip didn’t take me to the Kenai, reminded me so much of that same route.

Seward, out of Anchorage, heads east and follows the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  Mountains raise out from the edges of the sea to rocky peaks growing higher the further go along the arm.  The road winds madly with very little room between the water and the hillside.  There is only room for the two lane highway and the railroad along this path.  The further up the inlet you go, the more you start to notice the snow.  High up in the hills, snow.  You pass Alyeska Ski Slopes, green with the summer sun on it for the long days of winter; and after that those peaks are clearly snow covered.  At the furthest point in on the Turnagain just past the town of Gridwood, the ground flattens at the stretch of land that connects Kenai to the Mainland.  In the center of that is Portage Lake — filled with runoff of glaciers, and a bit of iceberg too (that was my little diversion).  This whole stretch, you’ve gone only 40 miles.

Around the corner of Turnagain, you run along the coast once more, just for a couple miles really, until the great wall of green grass blocks you from any further movement back to the west.  So now, you head south.  The road is not at all straight for the next long leg.  It was placed in the easiest possible route through the mountains.  Compared to the way I-70 runs through the Rockies, it’s as straight as a Kansas county road, but does wind, sometimes heading east, sometimes north, sometimes sideways.  Along the way, the mountains climb thousands of feet in a long slope.  They are only half covered with trees, making me think I could just as easy bushwhack through the lower areas then have freewheeling meadows to make the short climb to the top … but I only needed to take a spot at the tall evergreens at the treeline to know my scale is way off and those small pebbles near the summits are boulders that would kill me.  Sometimes you would see a mountain lake along the road, and there would be a cabin or two, but otherwise it is you, the highway, and the mountains.  You are not even 100 miles away from Anchorage.

When you make the western cut onto Sterling Highway, you start to follow the Kenai River.  For you romantics of Alaskan River adventures, this is your Disneyland.  The hills aren’t as high, but they are close.  The river can be between 50 ft and 300ft across.  It sometimes runs like rapids, with rafts busting through bank to bank.  At some points, the roads are filled with cars, and you see nothing in the water fishermen in waders.  At some points, there are cabins, outfitters, and resorts lining the roads.  There isn’t many signs of normal day to day life in this stretch, no Wal-Marts or Microbrews.  There is only the chance to let the river run through you.  Still, you are not even 120 miles away from Anchorage.

Finally, the hills wash away.  There are great flats of bogs and swamps where the mountains end and the glacial remains run to the sea.  For the last 30 miles to Soldotna, there are vast flatlads of cedar trees and small lakes dotting the landscape.  As hilly as this whole trip is, is as flat as this last stretch is.  The road straightens, the space opens, and you are surrounded by trees and trees alone.  Soldotna is a nice sized town, finally giving you your Wal-Marts and Microbrews.  There are the rivers too, filled with fishermen.  There is the seafood restaurants, you are close enough to the coast to now to get the full gambit of inland and ocean fisheries.  Kenai is only 10 miles away, with its fishing ports and tourism.  Soldotna feels like Anchorage, like any other small town.

Because I hiked, geocached, and took my time, it took hours and hours to get to Soldotna.  I drove straight back and made it in just over 2-1/2 hours.  150 miles, there were four clearly distinct topographies, each outstanding in its own way.  I have pictures and will try to upload them, but because of rain and fog they weren’t doing it justice.  Truth is, pictures haven’t done much justice of anything I see up here.  But maybe that’s why I am glad I am not a crow .. I got to see these views at each turn and made it worth every mile.

Hi-Ho Marty the Moose

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Conversation with Ed Warren the lower 48 after I found out my car would get up here sometime next week:

Ed: “so what are you driving now”

Me: “They put a saddle on a moose for me … I have a rental car, been in it for a couple weeks.”

Ed: “does it have blocks on the pedals?”

Me: “Nah, I just have to strap walrus pelts to my feet for extra length”

Ed: “figured”

Ed reminded me (as well as Chadd Creed last week) that I may have not be clear on some of the logistical problems I faced getting up here.  Since the time I interviewed with BP, I dreamed of doing the massive drive from Kansas to Alaska thru Canada.  I even bought me one of those “Big Bubba” coffee mugs so I can make one of the longer stretches wide awake.  But when the offer came down, I literally had days to get from Wichita to Anchorage, so a flight had to happen.

The relocation package, though, assumed that was going to happen anyway.  Part of the deal was shipping up my car.

When I say ship … I literally mean … ship … like a boat.

Last month, my car was picked up (in the parking lot at Cessna, to be exact) by a towing company onto a flatbed.  They made me clear out all personal belongs and tracked each and every ding, scratch, and chip.  The car was then moved to a transition station, where it was put on another truck and taken to Tacoma, Washington.  There it … well … it sat.  Sat for almost a month to be honest.  It was waiting for a spot on a boat, which seemed to be a tougher problem than they described to me originally.  Then this past Thursday, it got onto a boat.  The boat docks on Sunday, and after a few days to clear whatever it takes to clear a car, they will deliver it to me.  So within a week of when you read this (or if you are Alan Crumrine and don’t read the blog until days later … a week after you read this), I will have my car.

And I am ready for it.  There is still an edge to this transition that feels like a vacation.  Rental cars, rental apartments, restaurants, hiking, mountains, moose.  Take away the hours a day I spend staring at spread sheets and training courses, I would swear that I am just biding my time until I go home.

Well, got to run.  If I don’t get hopping onto Marty the Moose, I will never get to the grocery store and back again before Monday (dang thing makes up its own mind which way he wants to go to get there).

Unicorn

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I am going off Alaska today (hey, it’s my blog I can do what I want).  This week marks the 75th birthday of my Unicorn.  I can’t let it pass without mentioning.

Jeremy Phillips planted the concept in my head a long time ago.  The unicorn is much like the fairy-book tale.   The unicorn is something that is a myth, unobtainable but equally elusive.  The unicorn is something that is greatly desired and just when you stop thinking it will be yours you we it out of the corner of your eye: however, if you are true to the unicorn, approach it the right way, you can capture it

My unicorn is a 2105 mile long dirt path that will take going off the grid for 6 months to walk – I neither have the money, time, expertise, or body to do it, but it is still there at the corner of my eye.

My unicorn is the Appalachian Trail.

From the first time I saw it, I was intrigued.  Here was this thing that people walked … And walked … And walked. And after the stopped walking, they still had a long way to walk from there on.   The trail starts on Springer Mountain in Northern Georgia, then follows the Appalachians from mountain peak to mountain peak until it reaches Mt Katahdin in north central Maine.  I remember being drawn to the Appalachians in 1989 when we visited Gatlingburg, TN when I marched drum corp with the Colts.  I remember hearing about the trail the first time in 1998 when I toured the Shenandoah.  But it wasn’t until 2006, when hiking started to consume me, when the idea of doing the trail, being a thru hiker, doing all of it started feeding in my head.  I’ve done practice hikes to pace the length I would expect in a day to day plan.  I’ve bought gear that would be needed on that trail.  I have read, mapped, and followed the trail from afar.

To do it though, I will need to free myself of any obligation for around 6 months.  In otherwords, would have to be off work for a long time – but still have all the bills paid like I was there.  Also, I would have to work out logistics of it all, getting gear at different times of the trail and different locations.  Thru hikers start in Georgia in the spring, and finish in Maine in the early fall (or in rare cases, start in summer in Maine and end in the Georgian winter).  Preparation for it all would be key.  I could do it in sections, it’s fairly frequent (and acceptable for the hikers) to do so – taking years to complete it all; but that’s removing to some point why I want to do it at all.  These are the limitations that just words like “you can do it” won’t overcome.  But that’s what makes it a unicorn, doesn’t it.

But I believe in Unicorns.  Unicorns are real to me because I have captured them in the past.  You could say Alaska is a unicorn, but I didn’t feel it the same way my other have been.  The first real unicorn, the one I am most proud of, happened when I was in high school.  I spotted it the first time on a late August night on my TV watching PBS.  I spotted it again somewhere outside of Kansas City in 1989.  It kept appearing to me for the next two summers to come.  I had it in my grasp the Thanksgiving weekend of 1991 when I drove across country to New Jersey (then almost lost it when I wrecked my car on Staten Island).  But I still remember that day, when I stopped in a bathroom in Teterboro in 1992 to check a few safety pins, straighten, a cummerbund, a make sure I looked good in uniform when it hit me — I had become a member of the Cadets of Bergen County.  I could go on about that experince until I am blue (or maroon and gold) in the face, but that was the first Unicorn I ever saw, and it is the one that I caught.

So, Happy Birthday AT.  Keep on lying there, just out of my sight, dancing and playing where someday you can be caught.  But don’t be surprised if I go on the hunt and try to catch you one more time.

First Flattop Fail

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There are many things I want to be that I know I won’t ever be.  There are things I will try to achieve and never achieve.  But if there is something I want to be and want to achieve, its to be a good hiker.  I read the magazines, buy gear, and try to train best I can to be a hiker; but today proved to me that I am not there yet.

On the southeast side of Anchorage is a mountain well known for it’s ease of climb — Flattop.  It’s said to be the most submitted mountain in North America, but whether or that’s true it is definitely the most submitted in Alaska.  It had been on my radar since wheels down a week ago, and today I planned a trip up.

It was on its way to becoming a beautiful day, topping out in the low 70s, sunny without a cloud away from the summits, and dry.  I slept in a bit, had a late big breakfast, and set out to the trailhead by 11am.  Back in Kansas, if you found a trailhead to a hiking trail, you would be lucky to find more than a couple of parking spots – and rarely another car there.  At Flattop, there was at least 100 parking spots, and I was lucky to grab one of the few remaining.  I didn’t do big research into the climb, but knew that I could easily cover a 5 mile out-and-back in a couple hours, even with the climb.  I threw some layered clothes in a laptop backpack and headed up.

This is what I learned today:

1) Research your trails before you head out on a hike.

2) If you are going to summit a mountain on a Sunday, don’t drink so much beer on a Saturday.

3) Pants are good, but not when its hot.

4) There is a reason why Day Packs are different than laptop bags.

5) You are not ready for Flattop.

I ended up only climbing to a lower peak, leaving the real the real Flattop for another day.  What I wasn’t ready for was altitude.  Anchorage for the most part is on the Pacific Ocean at the Cook Inlet.  My apartment is at 116ft above sea level (and I lived the last 11 years at about 1200ft above sea level).  The parking lot at the trailhead was already at 2187ft.  In about a quarter mile, I was already at 2374ft.  My legs were burning a half mile later at 2534ft.  The nice old Asian lady on the way down said I was “Almost There” at 2688ft.  I topped out where “there” must have been at 3035ft.  I hiked a mile and a half, and gained nearly a thousand feet.  Flattop summits at 3500ft, but it was not going to be easy that last 500.

So here is your reference point.  I climbed this.

I wanted to climb this.

But the day wasn’t a loss overall.

I saw my first moose.  Just chewing grass along the side of the road.

And I met up with Sean & Melissa Morse – Sean is cousins with my old drum corp beer swigging buddy Mary Glerum (beer swigging meaning – on a bus after winning DCEast).  Met them at McGinley’s an Irish pub – where I spent the last three nights.  So, I am finally meeting locals you could say … other than the furry kind.

Anyway, have fun everyone.