I Don’t Remember That Being There

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Today … you get a little story from my past.

When I moved to Anchorage in August, getting off the plane was actually my 3rd visit to Alaska.  The 2nd was a super secret 24hour interview layover.  The 1st was a 10-day vacation of a lifetime in August of 2006.  I flew into Anchorage, rented an RV, and drove 1300 miles going to Denali, Fairbanks, Valdez, then back to Anchorage.  Well … it wasn’t actually an RV, it was heavy pick-up truck with a camper strapped to the back.

As much as that truck was designed to haul heavy loads, the camper was heavy heavy for that truck.  It was all within design limits, but it made for a rough ride and what turned into a real panic on the first day.  I picked up that camper the morning of the first day and planned to grab some supplies and ride around town a bit before hitting the road to Denali National Park for the night.  As I was leaving Anchorage, I looked down at the gas gauge seeing that a quarter tank was already burned.  I had driven maybe 2o miles by then, and I knew well enough that rental cars don’t always get topped off so I didn’t sweat it so much.  But at the edge of Anchorage and the whole of the vacation ahead of me, I wanted to makes some miles before I stopped again.  I stopped at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla, which was another 45 miles along the road (about 65 to 70 all together).  The tank was down to about half by now, and I was scratching my head a bit.  I decided at that point I would stop at the next gas station to “top off”.

I drove another 120+ miles before I found the next gas station.

About 60 miles outside of Wasilla I realized that I was definitely not in the lower 48, where there is a gas station every 10 miles or 10 feet – I remember lowering my speed to a level where I thought it was the most fuel efficient.    This truck had two tanks, burned through one tank shortly after I started slowing down.  About 20 miles later I flipped the switch on the second tank and could watch the needle move down.  I did the math and figured out that I couldn’t turn back, either I was going to find gas or I wasn’t.  Just short of 40 gallons of gas in that truck would get me just over 200 miles.  Luckily, I came across a station at some place that seemed to be nothing but run down tourist shops closed for decades.  The road from Anchorage to Denali was 244 miles, and I would have never made it without a stop.  To this day, I ran through my head how could I have missed any gas station between Wasilla and Denali.  I thought I could make the 15 mile detour to Talkeetna (about 50 miles outside of Wasilla, and 120 out of Anchorage) could have been my oasis, but I didn’t take that thinking I could just press on.

Today, I threw the pup in the back of the car to see how he would like a longer drive, expecting to turn around on a moment’s notice if he seemed to not enjoy it.  I actually made it to Talkeetna and back – 240 miles all together.  Remembering that story from 2006, I topped off on gas in Wasilla – but my car now, a much smaller Toyota RAV4, can get 300 miles of open road for its 12 gallon tank without causing alarm.

Thing is, I counted seven gas stations between Wasilla and Talkeetna Junction.  Including three pretty big stations, and a massive car/truck stop right at the Talkeetna Junction.  Granted, it looked new, most of them did, but I couldn’t help thinking “Where were you 7 years ago when I needed you?”

Things definitely seemed to be developed since then along that stretch, though the real open wilderness didn’t really start until just after I turned around.  There were many shops and restaurants not to mention plenty of cabins, houses, and signs of life.  Heck, I had cell coverage (4G Internet Signal) every time I checked.  That doesn’t change the fact that the land out that way is rugged.  Bears are probably lurking just over the ridge, watching moose hang out in glacial lakes.  But I thought I would less likely see a moose grazing in a lake, and more likely seeing it yell at it’s youngin to put down the IPad and enjoy nature.

Take away from this trip though, I want to spend a weekend in Talkeetna now … any of you locals reading this have thoughts?

100% Alaskan

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I am no longer a Kansan Homeowner.  The sale of the house on Crestway Street in Wichita closed by lunchtime, finalizing the long long long long …. Long Long … LONG LONG LONG … long … … long …. long time since I started trying to sell it. 

From a more holistic standpoint, this was the last step in my transition from being 100% Kansas resident, from being part Kansas & part Alaskan resident, to now a full 100% Alaskan.  At least legally, 100% Alaskan (I think I  still have to eat whale blubber or catch a salmon using only my claws to be a recognized completely as Alaskan, I don’t know … they are sending me that memo I guess).

There are some final utility bills coming & I have to finalize the relocation package I got when I moved up here, but all documentation, all legal obligation, everything is wrapped up. 

It was a pretty sizeable pain to get that house sold.  In the end, I got a third less the price that I thought it would go for, and actually sold it at a loss compared to when I bought it back in 2001.  That’s not including the big money I put into fixing it up over the years, and the wheel barrels full of cash I had to throw at it the last 10 months to get a buyer & to pass inspections.

What really made this happen, though was some great help from great people.  During the run up to my move, friends like Deanna Brown & Jeremy Phillips pitched in to help with my to-do list the size of Florida.  After that, my realtor, Pam Peterson (Coldwell Banker – Yes I recommend her), jumped in and made the rest of it happen – way out weighing any kind of commission she got on the deal. 

I don’t know how I am going to celebrate this, but you know I will.  I was planning to use the proceeds to pay off my car, but with what I really am getting for it I probably can use the proceeds for a down payment on a tank of gas.  Regardless, the page turned today can now mark a new chapter.  The last “X goes to square” in the great transition.

Now, time to wrestle me a bear.

Misery Doesn’t Loves Company, It Loves Attention

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Let the record show on April 23rd, Anchorage is getting snow.

Contrary to the response I seem to get every time I post weather that makes me angry on Facebook — I am not telling you that it is snowing in Anchorage on April 23rd just so you tell me the weather report wherever you are, even if it is worse than it is here. I’m also not telling you this because I want to be reminded I made the conscious choice to move further north than most of y’all will ever vacation to.

I am telling you it’s snowing here, because it chaps my hide that it’s snowing here and it’s nearly May. You get it? I want to complain, there’s nothing I can do about the weather except for complaining, so give me that much. LET ME COMPLAIN!!!

You see, the cabin fever has me beat down. This past weekend we had the best warmness that we have had the whole season. The sun was out, the snow was melting, the trails and the paths were clearing, and things were starting to look like the salad days were coming. Of course, I spent nearly all of it holed up. The pup had his “boy parts” surgury on Thursday and I had to keep the area clean & dry while making sure he doesn’t sniff and nibble at it. So while Auggie was on lockdown, so was I sorta.

On Sunday, I finally broke loose and took a drive, sans pooch. I drove along Turnagain Arm down to Girdwood and drove around the little Alyeska Resort village filled up for the Slush Cup (don’t ask, something about icewater, skiing, and idiots). I drove down to Portage, where a long tunnel could get me to Whittier but because of it’s offseason use I could get stuck there. Turnagain Arm was still clearly under the leathersoled foot of winter, with chunks of ice high up on the low tide beaches like rubble left from demolished buildings, snow washing over the mountains on either side, well headed warnings of fresh avalanches some still dug out around the train routes. But then again, Turnagain arm was filled with vehicals parked for people to start jumping on it’s outdoorsyness. Trailheads were full. Water access points were brimming. Motorcycles rode, bicycles cycled, and the last of the skiers skied. Sunday was a glimpse that started the spark of what is to come, and that I better start getting ready for a very very active summer.

Instead, we get smacked over the face by a good inch or two of snow.

So yes, I moved to Alaska expecting this stuff. Yes I know we aren’t the only one getting the white madness.

But throw me this one bone. Give me this one tantrum, and I’ll go back to dog pictures and stories of bear attacks like you all love so much.

What Ails Me

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 I’m tired from a short run to the slope, and not getting a good night sleep for the last few days – but something hung in my head which was mostly copy & paste from a wikiquote site, so I thought I would blog about it.

Some of you know this (some of you probably heard me say it a hunderd times, but …). One of my favorite movies is The Fisher King, with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.  The movie crazy and sweet, with some classic lines & speeches (including the one that contains coffee, spice racks, and a phallic reference to Florida).  One thing I really like is it all ties in many symbolic ways to the story, the title comes from.  At one point Percy, the Robin Williams character, tells the ancient fable of “The Fisher King”, saying:

“It begins with the king as a boy, having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. Now while he is spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, symbol of God’s divine grace. And a voice said to the boy, “You shall be keeper of the grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment not like a boy, but invincible, like God, so he reached into the fire to take the grail, and the grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper. Until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple minded, he didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat”. So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink, he realized his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the holy grail, that which he sought all of his life. And he turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How can you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” And the fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

What makes the story so interesting to me is the way it seems to symbolize the rest of the movie, but always changing what it symbolizes.  Sometimes the King is symbolized Percy the homeless man, sometimes Jack the DJ, sometimes the Jack or Percy’s Girlfriends.  At times each of them are the fool too.  Heck, the holy grail is symbolized from everything from a goodnight kiss to a yachting trophy.

It’s been a couple days since I have seen my pup, who’s on lockdown since I left for the slope.  He goes under the knife tomorrow to remove his two little bits of dignity.  While I lamented last week on Facebook that it was going to be a rough week for him, it’s really becoming a rough week for me.  I’m learning that there are days that I need a bit of cheering up, a bit of companionship, and I’ve relied on him for that.  While I may go off looking for it at any number of places, I thought today how much the little guy can do it without much trying.  It is like he looks at me and says “What ails you friend?”  As if the water he brings to me when I am sick is his falling over on the bed begging for a belly scratch, or plopping his head on my lap.  And being a dog, he is simple minded, but by being a dog he finds ways to heal me.

As Ends Curling Season, So Ends the Magic

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Today marked the end of the Anchorage Curling Club’s 2012-2013 season with the last day of the Spring Bonspiel, a 3-day mixed team tournament.  I’ve blogged before about my curling experiences (see: Bucket List: How I Hurried, Hurried Hard & Magic Curls T-Line Weight as Lead at the Speil).  There’s two reasons the club shuts down for the season, one of which is the club’s ice system is 41 years old (if you doing the math, that means it was put in the year I was born) and during the summer the system just can’t keep the ice in playing shape – so they let it thaw and replace it in he fall.  The Spring Spiel also allows the players, me included, to have one last get together with your teammates and fellow players for some drinks, food, and competition level play – and then say good bye to them for a time when (from what I hear) is a period that it’s rare you actually talk to anyone else at the club.

There’s two sides of my feelings for the end of the season.  The bittersweet side is that I found something to do during Alaskan winters that is not only fun, social, and a good workout – but is also something that I can be good at.  Make no bones, I am still a rookie, the first time I touched a curling rock was in January and I didn’t do massive practice sessions – but by the waning league nights I was making a high rate of shots.  More surprising, I was spending a bulk of my time as “skip” – which is basically the captain of the team, the one that is calling the shots for the others to make, and the one with the last rocks for your team that would make or break an end.  I was skipping so much, that in the last two months, I played on average two games a week, and only played something other than skip 3 times, once was when we played a non-standard game where there was no skip.

I’ve met some great friends in the short time I’ve been playing too.  It was actually a funny group of people leaving me with surprisingly good connections for stuff I like — like the parents of a past (and hopefully future) Olympian, a few folk that work at the Alaskan Railroad, and a family who owns a brewery (not just a micro-brew, they run the Denali Brewing Company).  There’s folks that we are committed to getting together over the summer — mostly on my deck I guess (on our first get together, I am expecting to put out a sign to tell people the “Struggle Bus Stops at the Bear Den”).  We make plans for next season too, trying to figure out what nights we will play and what teams we can put together.

The other side for my feelings for the end of the season is a bit of relief too.  As fun as it’s been, and as good as I’ve played, I can tell I need a bit of a break.  Most things we do when we start off, we can jump out to a big start but start to get frustrated as we move from being a “beginner” to “the next level” – and I hit that like a brick wall this weekend.  I struggled, and the team I was on struggled – we hadn’t played as a team before this weekend but we didn’t win any of our three games.  While one one team was eventually the spiel’s winner, another team took send in one of the tiers, the third was a junior team (of 13 year old boys) who won their first game against adults ever against us.  With less margin of error in our game this weekend, I found I had some issues with my game in technique that led to big issues in my head with my play.  I will need to work on my game next season, but rather let this one be more of a concept of the first year than the way it ended — the last shot of the year, what I leave it with, died before it got into play, hosing our chance to win the only game of the weekend.

But also, it ties into the other reason they shut down the club for the summer, and why people tend not to see each other.  It’s because it’s the Alaskan summer.  There is too much to see, too much to do, too much to experience in Alaska when it’s warm and when the sun is out for 20 hours a day — more things than worth sitting inside a 40°F building built in the 1960s sweeping ice.   I enjoyed this little hobby, and look to enjoy it a lot more next year in my first full season — but for not, it’s time to enjoy a few other things too.

Glimpse of What’s to Come

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We are getting 14-1/2 hours of sunlight a day right now.  That’s a lot, isn’t it.  Sure it’s nothing compared to what June/July will be, but compared to the five hours we got in December, this is massive.  The books say the sun came up today at 6:50am and will set at 9:13pm, but the daylight comes early and leaves late.  To emphasize that, while fighting off a nasty cold I picked up over the weekend, Monday became the first time this year that I woke up and fell asleep when it was light out.

The real bonus of this daylight is that it’s making me aware more and more how much I love my house – this is also the genesis of my frustration on my post earlier this week about snow covering the deck furniture.  On first blush, the location may not be too welcoming – especially if you look at it like a realtor.  It’s just four houses from a highway (so it can get loud), its burried amongst other houses with just regular hight fences (so it’s not exactly private), and it’s trees are more on the edges of the property (not filling up the spaces).  To be honest, I thought about those things too as I started living here, but that was when it was dark nearly the whole time I was in the house. 

This morning, as I was stepping out of the shower, I spotted through my south facing window a glimpse of a mountain that way.  There above the trees and houses was the Kenai Peninsula in a location you can’t even drive to get to.  The sun hadn’t shown itself to the Anchorage bowl yet, but it splashed itself across the snow covered summits.  At that hour, the red of the sunrise and the angle it deflects onto created accents at each of the normally nondescript ridges.  What is typically a wash of white was shadows and brightness of red, orange, and greys.  It looked into the window like a natual peeper checking out what goes on inside this house; but in a way it was like the opposite — calling me to look out at it, to watch it come to life.  Right out my own bedroom window.

Now the sun is up in the evenings, it shines towards the east lighting up the snow covered Chugach Mountians.  That’s not something I know from heading to a high point and looking out over the foothills … I see it every evening when I walk out to the back deck.  Sure there are some houses and trees betwen here and there, but its there in view and dominant on my horizon … just out my back door.  The clouds rolling in off the inlet, they cross over the my southern and eastern sky, fresh and clear.  Maybe my opinion of it will change as the trees fill up and the neighbors break in that hot tub across the way, but I can see now that this is going to be something special.

Now if the darn snow would stop falling.

I Was Promised One More

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To be honest, I was ready to use more curse words in this post than I have in the history of the Bear Feed.  The last we left off I was chatting that Spring was right around the corner.  What was stupid of me was that I didn’t look at the forecast for later that day … and the next … and the next … and then later this week.

From Friday Night through Saturday Night, we got 7 inches of snow.  That’s the third most snow we had in a 24 hour period this season — behind a nice one to kick off the season in November, and the one we had a week-and-a-half ago.   Let me repeat this so it gets through … on April 6th we had 7 inches more snow fall.  Not in January, not in March … April!

You optimists out there maybe saying “well sure, but snow in April … that will melt quick”.  Well let me counter that with …

We are starting a new storm today which will run through Wendsday.  Total accumluation over 48 hours is expected to be around 18 inches.  18 INCHES!!!!  That would be the biggest storm of the year for us.

In April!

All of it sitting nicely on top of my brand new deck furniture that I didn’t get to enjoy.  It threw some new virus that is kicking my brain to pieces.  And what was a confused dog from all the lawn furniture, is now an overly confused dog with piles of snow all over.

I was promised a couple of weeks ago that we were only going to have two more snows … well, today starts the third, and I am about ready to kick someone’s butt for this one.