The Mountains Win Again

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For the most part, I haven’t really explored the landscape of Alaska since I moved here beyond what I can see from Anchorage.  I am sure someone (possibly me) someday will call this a travesty.  Truth is, I hadn’t the desire to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, if there is something that trips my trigger is landscapes.  You can point out any eagle, any moose, and bear you want – but when I stare out a window, the topography that get me.  So why haven’t I gone beyond Anchorage?  Well … let me give you a little tour.

First of all, grab yourself a map of Anchorage – like hit Google Maps, and look up city.  What you see is that Anchorage sits on a plot of land that looks like a triangle, with one edge moving north-south on the eastern side and heading to a point on the western side.  The point reaches towards the Cook Inlet, with the Mat-Su Valley to the north and the Turnagain Arm to the south.  You can’t really see the mouth of the Cook Inlet from Anchorage, but that’s alright.

It’s what I can see that amazes me.  Looking due west from Anchorage and some 100 miles away you can see the Aleutian Mountain range; at least the start of them.  They continue right on out the Aleutian islands to where its so far west, its east.  Reaching up to as much as 10,000 ft, these have always appeared to me as snow covered, and I bet its mostly glacial over there.  Rainy and grey days, they can be hard to see, but on a day like today they shine back at us brightly.  The only thing stopping us from seeing all of them is the “Sleeping Lady”,  or Mount Susitna – a glacial formation similar to the drumlins of Wisconsin, except this one is 4000 ft high and miles long.  It’s grass covered landscape hasn’t seen any of the higher elevation snows yet, so when looking west out from here, you have the strong contrast between the brown smooth Mount Susitna in the foreground and the white majestic views in the distance.

South of town, you can see the Kenai mountains in profile.  They run south-southwest with only the flat marshy land of Western Kenai peninsula between it and the Cook Inlet. The closest are just about 20 or 30 miles away as the crow flies, but a good hour’s drive to just get to the first set of them.   Because they are on a profile to Anchorage, I see them more as rolling hills running off into the distance.  They have their moments, like during yesterday’s snow they caught the early morning sun and stared back at me like a slap in the awesome.  They are there, and they are nice, but if mountain views had a competition up here, sadly they would be in last.

Winning the “Coolness” battle has to be the Alaskan range to the north.  They are the hardest to pick-up, because the day has to be pretty clear to see them.  The nearest of the mountains are 150 miles away and there are low lying hills blocking more of the smaller peaks form our view.  On a clear day you can see them, and see them well.  What makes them so cool you ask?  They’re the big ones.  They are the stars of the show.  The go from Canada to 2/3 the way across the state and include peaks like Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter.  If the Alaskan’s are the cool kids in school, shining above them all is the captain of the cheer squad.  Denali (aka Mt Denali, aka Mt. McKinley, aka … yeah THAT Mt. McKinley) is the tallest mountain in North America rising up 20,320 feet (that’s 6,194 meters for you Europeans and ‘real tall’ for you Southerners).  Denali is actually bigger than Mt Everest from base to tip – rising up 14,000ft from its surroundings.  The peak is cloud covered more times than not, and we need a pretty clear line of sight to see it – but when you sit in an 8th floor office like I do and the sun comes out, you can’t help to shake your head and marvel that there in front of you is Denali.

But like school, there are the cool kids – the ones you would love to hang out with but they & you keep your distance – and then there are those that are closer to you and mean more to you.

For me, that’s the Chugach Mountains.  Many of the peaks visible from town range between 7,000 to 9,000 feet; but they top out with Mount Marcus Baker at 13,176 feet.  They were grass & tree covered when I first arrived, but had dustings of snow on and off until recently when they got their “termination snow” (snow that signals the termination of summer).  After yesterday, they are very white and nicely snow covered.  They are the battle ground for weather systems in the area, as anything from the west rolls up their hillsides, and anything from the east spins and swirls off their peaks.  I enjoy watching the clouds off of them as much as peering up at those hills.  They have lakes, glaciers, rivers, valleys, peaks, and plateaus.  What makes them special to me is like any good friend would be special to me – they are the closest.  The Aleutians are a plane ride away, the Alaskans will take 3 hours to get near, the Kenais will be time.  Anchorage isn’t just close to the Chugach Mountains, but parts of town are on & in the Chugach Mountains.  If you read earlier blogs … Flattop is a Chugach Mountain, Echo Bend winds through the Chugach Mountains, Hillside is better called Chugachside.  On the worst of days in Anchorage, they are there; and on the best of days they are there in spades.  They are what I do on my days off, and they are what I missed when I was gone.

I catch myself so many times just staring out the windows at work.  Up on the 8th floor of the BP tower, we have the ability to see the full panorama of Anchorage.  Early on I felt odd about doing so, but long time Alaskans are stopping by just to stare out the winds themselves.  A day will come when I get out and enjoy all of Alaska – I still remember the adventure of 2006 when I came for a vacation and was floored by the scenery.  But for now, the view from home is well worth the view.

Ready or Not

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When I woke up this morning, something wasn’t right with me – I just couldn’t put a finger on it.  I had a bit of a headache, feeling more stuffy but not sinusy.  I had a headache since about 6pm the day before.  I thought it was from the work outing we had on Friday – either from the paintball shot I took off the head, or the drinks where I showed off the paint still in my hair from that shot.  I got home about 6:30 last night and went dead to the world shortly after.  I got up around 8:00p but couldn’t talk myself into doing anything but watching TV until I could crawl into bed.

I have had the shades drawn, something I don’t normally do, because of some window cleaning happening at the apartment this week.  I was tired, grumpy, stuffy, needed coffee, and most of all hungry. I  could hear that the roads were wet, and knew I needed my rain gear if I was going for a hike; so I slipped on my rain jacket and just thought to get me breakfast first and pack my day hike bag after.

I opened the door … and this is what I saw:

Let the record show, first snowfall of the year in Anchorage City was on September 29th.

This is the point when it all made sense.  The air was thick with moisture, and the cold just added to it – and in that first snowfall of the year where the snow is heavy and meaty, you can feet it in your body.  The temperature outside is about 36° (2°C), just warm enough to keep the snow intact before hitting the ground.  But it is sticking to roofs, grasses, cars.  When I got outside at 8am, it had already put a good inch or two down, and it continued (and spottily continues) throughout the morning.  What would stop it isn’t as much that its warming up out there, but the clouds are beginning to clear.

After that first few minutes of shock — and I am not kidding, I was in shock there for a bit — I strapped up the shoes and said “alright, its no longer ‘when the snow flies’, that ‘when’ is ‘now'”.  I took care of the immediate needs right away – Breakfast at the City Diner, including the Rainer (Pronounced “Rain – Er”) the most unique breakfast I have had in years — eggs benedict with thin sliced ham instead of Canadian bacon, French Toast instead of english muffins, and a side of … wait for it … cheesy grits.  But enough of that, time to get to work.

I stopped by the neighborhood I am moving to to meet a neighbor, who happens to be the guy replacing my roof.  We talked neighborhood, but mostly the right roof for this weather.  He is getting to work this week to beat anymore snow, but will have to hope this melts off.  I also got some leads on where to get studded tires too – cause guess what, I need to get them pretty quick now too.

I stopped by an outfitter to buy a new pair of waterproof casual shoes and a new pair of waterproof hiking shoes.  I have great shoes for both – but the snow will kill both of them.  I stopped by wal-mart to buy steel tipped work boots, heavy jacket, hat, gloves — mandatory gear just to get on the plane to the North Slope starting on Monday (though I am not on schedule to head there until late October).

As I went through the work this morning, I realized that I was doing things I intended to do for weeks.  I was waiting for the weather to turn, and just because we got a little fluff today – I took the shock of the day to get these things done.  All the things that Alaskans do to prepare, I had to do too, and and to get hopping on.  Finishing up though, I was once again reminded why we put up with this, why I wanted to be here.  I turned the corner towards the east and the sun was breaking over the Chugach Mountains, and this is what I saw:

I saw that, but didn’t take that picture right away.  I wanted a good shot, but couldn’t find a parking lot that had a clear view – until I made it to the end of a Denny’s.  But stepping out of the car, I saw a guy who’s truck had broken down right in the busy road.  He was pushing it by himself towards the same parking lot I was in but barely getting it going.  As I wondered if I could hide, take the picture, and get out of there as quickly as possible it hit me — Alaskan’s take care of people in trouble, I have seen it over and over again; I am doing things all morning to do things everyone else does here.  Ready or Not, I had to do what a good Alaskan would do.  The next ten minutes, he and I got that truck safely off the street, and with a wave and thanks I could now take this picture.

Heading out this afternoon towards the Mat-Su valley to see if I can get in a hike still.  Don’t know if I will find snow or cold, but I think I am going to be ready for it.

A Bit of Blog Buisness

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As an FYI — In the coming weeks, the Bear Feed will be moving to a different host.  I hadn’t been real happy about the current host, but been making due.  This week (and this is why things have been quiet from me), the blog was mistakenly shut down when the website through I was using it for spam; and they suspended my main account as well.  So I ended up having to backdoor a complaint for them to do something about it.  Last straw.

As part of my search for a new blog, I am looking for something that is as easy as possible for you readers.  I am happy to say I have 30+ subscribers from all over the place; and whether you like it or not … I want to keep you reading.  So when the time comes, I will give detail instructions (so good even my dad may be able to follow them) on making sure the blog keeps going.

Indian Summer Past

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I remember that “Indian Summer” of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Those days where it was warm enough to go without a jacket, but sometimes it was a bit wet and a bit chilly.  Sometimes you get those great days as late as October or November.  Even in Kansas, it was kinda warm in December.

Well, goodbye Indian Summer in Alaska – we are in full fledged Autumn.

The last few days are wet here, and a bit cold.  Gone are the days when the morning dew covered the windows of the car, and now its just wet wet – no dew required.

The days are of course shorter now.  We past the “12 hour” mark yesterday, the sun is now down more than it is up – and that means in 45 days the days are 6 hours shorter than when I first got here.

Leaves have turned colors.  So many aspens here that there is brilliant yellows everywhere.  With luck, I can sneak out of town and up the mat-su valley this weekend where some folks are telling me there are “must see” forests.

But what is definitely true is summer is over, heck Indian summer is over.  So while my focus will be getting one last great view of the autumn days – it will also be critical that I buy myself a good winter jacket and boots this weekend too.

Summer’s End

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Friday marked the end of summer, and with it ended one of the most remarkable summers of my life.  If you are reading this, you no doubt know that the absolute 360° I did going from Kansas to Alaska.  When the summer began, I was pretty sure that it was going to happen … well, at least 50% sure … but at that time it was part of a list of things the summer had in front of me.

My plans for the summer included a grand vacation out east.  While it got cut short, I was still able to spend time with my parents and spend time in my favorite place in the world, Gettysburg.  I hiked, I sweated, I rested before the great storm that was to come.

My summer was filled of transitions and massive changes.  I began the summer sleeping in a house in Kansas messy and filled with all my stuff.  It’s now completely transformed, clean as a whistle, and void of all my stuff.  Not only will I not live in that house anymore, I will not likely step foot in that house ever again.  Instead I have a new house I am just a few weeks away from closing on – and will be a dual homeowner soon for at least a short period of time.

What I think is the most transforming to me is the friends around me.  I spent a night with some old Drum Corp friends in a state park somewhere in Maryland, a night on Bourbon Street with judging friends, a weekend with family in Chicago.  But I also reached out to old friends I knew on-line but never met – including a good friend near Erie; and in one of the best nights of the summer a day with one of my best friends over the last five years.  That being said, it was very tough for me to say goodbye to a lot of great people back in Wichita.  Some people who have better friends than they had to be stood by my side as the madness of the last few weeks in Kansas came to a close.

But I thought about this post the other night, as I sat in a restaurant with a coworker I just met the day before and we got to know each other.  Here I was, striking a new friendship as part of this new team I am on.  Two guys who only share a corporate name on a paycheck; that at the beginning of the summer would never have known each other existed, but now we start a working team by a beer and a few great stories.

As I said, there was a lot I was expecting when the summer began.  When I looked ahead, I took a post that George Hopkins (director of the Cadets Drum Corp, and a guy I still look to as a mentor even passively) and paraphrased what I wanted to gain from it.  At the time I prayed for two things, that the summer would become as extraordinary that I hoped, and also that I appreciated how extraordinary it is.  This was one extraordinary summer.  While there were moments I didn’t always appreciate (or for that matter, like) what it became; I can bravely say that this amazing summer was all I could hope for and reached for that appreciation with every hour and every day.

And You Were Worried About Bears

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Somebody told me yesterday that the difference between Vegas and the French Quarter is that things don’t stay in New Orleans.  Sadly, some things did – namely my phone and a couple of already cancelled credit cards. 

While I was on my trip this week, I made note that I was going to be in New Orleans on Friday night.  Dick Turner, an old judging friend of mine, dropped me a line saying he and his wife were going to be there as well to judge a show on Saturday.  Few texts and a short walk to the French Quarter, and we met up.  Dinner at Dennis Seafood, music at a local bar, and next thing you know I am hanging with some great judges — Greg Mills, Lance Lovejoy, and Katie Buelow … yes, THE Katie Buelow.  It was fantastic to see them and catch up, making me wish I was on the Marching Band circuit this year.

After spoting my boss just before saying goodbye to the old gang, I turned to go find him again.  That led to a series of bad decisions.   One was making friends with some folk and have a few shots too. But knowing I fumbled in my pockets a couple times, some of the contents weren’t there in the morning.   Namely my phone and a couple cards.  I did get pickpocketed, thats for sure, otherwise they missed the other credit cards just sitting in my pocket this morning … and the cash in my wallet.  No, I likely did something far more stupid – dropped it.  I cancelled the cards, deactivated the phone, and was relieved to find nothing got posted or tampered with last night.

OF course I had time to do all this before I left the hotel – because I had a little extra time there.  I was woken this morning by the cleaning crew at 9:45a.  Which is bad because my flight was set to depart at 10:10.  I slept through an alarm and two wake up calls (yeah, I predicted this before I went out last night).  My first call was to the airline, and somehow they got me on a good three flights through DFW, Portland, then to the AK.  While I should get back to Anchorage tonight still (more like, 2am tomorrow – and I am posting this from the plane btw), I am in rough shape and been angry at myself for the whole of the day. 

The one thing that floats in my head is that there is some really good angel out there.  I remember a complete stranger getting me a cab and riding with me to get me to my hotel room safely.  I was pretty bad off by then, and I was stupidly vulernable.  But someone watched out for me, and it made me make some prayers of thanks.

Anteitam

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Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of war in American history.  Back in the ‘90s, I became fascinated by the history of the US Civil War; and while I am not as consumed by the history I felt this date couldn’t be passed without notice.

Fought in farms and hills near Sharpsburg, Maryland along Antietam Creek, the fight was marked as the first battle of the Civil War on Union soil.  The Confederacy gained ground during the summer of 1862, and General Robert E Lee turned the momentum into advancement across the Potomac River to gain a route to Washington D.C.  General George B McClellan pressed his Union troops to hope to make the turn President Abraham Lincoln pressed him for.  Events of the battle ebbed across several locations and were marred by moments of bad leadership (Lee’s battle plans fell into McClellan’s hands when one of Lee’s officers dropped them with a few cigars.  McClellan matched Lee’s blunder by assuming the plans were a trap.), moments of bravery (the famous ‘Burnsides Bridge’ was named for when Burnside’s Brigade charged over a stone bridge still standing over the river in ultimately breaking a line of Southern forces shooting down on them from the ridge above), and over whelming devastation in massive stalemates (the carnage of the Cornfield in the morning was unmatched in its brutality, until a few hours later when the Sunken Road became blood bath that was won and lost too many times to notice).

As horrible as that day was, history counts the outcome as a strategic Union win, meaning it was pretty close to a draw but the outcome favoured the northern army.  The Confederate advancement ended as they returned over the Potomac.  Arguably, this could be called a draw, because General McClellan didn’t press the retreat citing a lack of troops even though he still outnumbered the Confederates 2 to 1 (many who saw no action at the battle).  This would lead to McClellan losing his job in the months to come.  The results of the battle, however, reached further than any win/loss column.

Though not considered the turning point of the Civil War (definitely not in the top two, and arguably not even in the top 5), it was devastating in public opinion. 

Politically, it was thought that this lost discouraged England and France from investing in the Confederates, a move that could have turned the war.

Shortly after the battle, Alexander Gardner, a photographer from New York, arrived to take pictures of the battle.  No time in the history of the world had war been shown so realistically.  Photos include bloated carcasses of men and beast.  Body laid in mass piles where they fell in battle.  The ugliest includes the sunken road, which seems filled with dead men in both uniforms.  For many who never had seen anything like this, it made an immediate reaction and the innocent romance of war was lost, maybe forever. 

Yet, this victory, as small as it was, was enough for President Lincoln to release a simple letter.  Powerless when published, it effected only those whom as Confederate ‘citizens’ didn’t recognize the President’s commands.  Regardless, Antietam allowed Lincoln to Proclaim all slaves in rebel states Emancipated.  From that time on, America righted itself onto a new course.

If you ever have a chance to visit Antietam, it is an incredible and oddly beautiful place to visit.  It sits just a few hours outside of Washington DC near Fredericksburg, MD and close to Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg.  I highly recommend the visit.

Huddled In

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Been a quiet weekend for me for a number of reasons.

My impending trip leaving tonight (six hours to be exact) hovers over my plans — something I have to get used to is not leaving in the morning for a trip, and actually having a day to do things.  Though it doesn’t do much to mess with this weekend, just dictates my scheduling.

The weather hasn’t been too cooperative either.  Rain came again mid-week and brought with it 100mph winds last night – seems like less damage than a couple weeks ago, but still reports of power.  It did cancel a couple of geocaching events this morning, so instead I ducked out for a couple to keep an “find one every day” thing going.  (For those of you keeping count, or caring, Alaska past Texas for 6th for my total finds per state — have a good 30 or so to pass California; and Texas could make a comeback this week).

Really what has had me huddled in was two things:

First, I had my second workout yesterday morning with a trainer, who continues to kick my tail.  I’ve been sore in someplace since Wednesday (my first workout with him) and I finish this I probably will hit the gym to do a session by myself before I leave town.  I have no issues with being exhausted on a plane, it works in my favor when its a seven hour flight.

But honestly, it was a really late night at McGinley’s Pub on Friday night that probably made me pretty lazy.  I’ve been going there Friday nights, just for something to do, listen to some live music, and grab a bite to eat.  Friday was made a bit nicer right from the get go.  I arrived to find the place packed with no place to sit, and the big-ass bouncer struck up a conversation when I walked in, telling me what to expect for crowds as the tourists start to leave, and went as far as lumping me as a regular.  Halfway through the chat, the bartender waved and raised a glass filled with Smithwicks (something I’d been leaning too); I nodded my head and she left it there on the bar for me … hell, she poured it for me so I would have it without asking.  Needless to stay, I felt welcome enough to let them keep pouring – even with the morning at the gym nagging at me the whole night.

In a way, you could say I didn’t do much, and I really didn’t, that’s fine … its good to have a boring weekend every once in a while.

Traveling Bear Show

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This Sunday I embark on my first business trip for BP.  If you know about my previous work at Cessna, I tended to be on the road one to two weeks a month traveling to exotic locations like England, Los Angeles, and when I was bad … Cleveland.  I won’t be traveling as much with this job, but you can guess that travel is a little more difficult.  I get the first taste coming up quick.

I am heading to three days of meetings at the BP Americas headquarters in Houston.  Then I visit my first supplier, first on Thursday in Houston than the same company but different location in Hammond, Louisiana.

The trouble with flying to the lower 48 is that its a REALLY long way.  My Sunday Night flight leaves ANC (Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage, AK) at 8PM and arrives around 6AM in DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth).  So yes, I will be sleeping on the plane.  I have a quick leg later that morning to Houston and my meetings begin that afternoon.  Thursday night, after my supplier visit, I hop a plane to New Orleans (my first flight ever on Southwest Airlines, which I hear is like learning a new language … called “sucks”).  I have the meeting on Friday, then roll bay to New Orleans to catch a plane out Saturday morning.

As you can guess, I will be looking forward to that Friday night layover in the Big Easy.

I am looking forward to those meetings too.  My boss sits next to me, but I have a pretty heavy dotted line to a Global Supplier Quality Management group based in Houston — and this will be the first chance I get to meet my dotted line boss, and my dotted line co-workers.  BTW – heavy dotted line is used in contrast to the two or three (I am not really sure how many) other dotted lines I also have.  Luckily I only have the one boss, and because if I reported reported to each of the next dotted lines, I’d be one coffee cup away from having TPS reports without cover letters (bonus points for getting that reference).

To be honest, though, I am most looking forward to that supplier visit.  It’s what I am good at, its what I live for.  Nothing beats walking into a supplier and dealing with the issues that they are having.  You are nothing but a consultant, and you are nothing there but to make your company better and their company better.  I will never be confused with someone who loves to brag on themselves, but I tell you what … when it comes to working with suppliers, I was pretty damn good.  Finally, I get to get my first taste of an oil and gas supplier, and I do it with my boss by my side.

Plane doesn’t leave til Sunday though, so I have a rainy weekend to get my butt kicked at the gym and if time allows … drink.

A Good Winter Needed

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As I stood on the scale, I kept pushing the little metal thing further and further to the right … and it became pretty clear, I’ve had a pretty good summer.  I weighed 244.5 lbs.  Which while still a good 161.0 lbs less than I did in 2009, it’s 15 lbs more than I weighed when I left the the weight loss program in Wichita (a few weeks before I left Wichita all together).

I’ve known that I have been living the good life up here, lots of beer, eating out nearly every night.  Just as much as I knew I needed to get back on the horse.

As I looked at that scale, I kept telling the trainer next to me “Damn, its been a good summer”.  His response, “well, lets make it a good winter.”

I joined a program at Body Renew, a kinda newish gym here in town.  They put together a program for me that is three fold … cardio, resistance training, and nutrition.  I’m squawking a bit at the nutrition side (3 years of learning how to eat, I don’t need a fitness guy to tell me to eat right … if it was that easy … bah!)  but I could use the accountability right now.

What I really wanted, and what I seem to be getting, is the kick start into other strength training ideas.  My first session was Wednesday, and the dude kicked my ass.  Second session is Saturday, and I hope the dude kicks my ass again … cause I don’t care if the fall sucks, the winter is long, and the spring starts getting better … I want to have a great summer next year.