Shut Up About the Weather


On the way to work this morning, the radio talking head summed up life in Anchorage these last few days when he said:

“If you are one of those people sleeping in an air conditioned house who comes in and brags you only need 3 hours a sleep a night – well you can just Shut Up!”

All across town you can find bloodshot eyes and drooping energy.  We as a city are not getting much sleep, and the heat is to blame.  If this blog, this would be just another page in the “Misery Loves Attention” chapter.  Because you know what?  It sucks when its hot.

I’m not talking “Why did anyone move south of Nebraska” hot, I am talking Alaska hot.

Yesterday, highs were in the 70s lows were in the 60s; and the humidity stuck out just around the 50-70% mark at different times during he day.  Now, I get that 99% of you reading this are probably saying “Whoopdie Do, that sounds like a comfortable night out on the town.”

Well, y’all can Whoopdie Do yourself right on off there, because this is hot.

There’s a lot in play out of the ordinary for us that makes this a bit more oppressive than we like.  For one, Anchorage usually gets a nice wind, and lately we haven’t.  Usually if its not raining, the humidity is a nicely manageable dryness, lately it’s not.  So we get the humidity in the “hot for Alaska”, we live in houses without air condition with no wind moving through, and because the sun is out 18 hours a day it doesn’t let up very much.  If this keeps up a few more days, we will all be staring in a zombie movie soon.

That should break in the coming days.  Quite simply because, I have visitors coming.  One of the greatest geocachers in the world, Barondriver (yes, THE Barondriver) ticks off Alaska with a visit to our great state, so I’ll get to see him.  Of bigger news, my parents, my brother, and my wee nephew arrive Friday night to spend a week living the life.

Which that would be good new for you the reader, since I probably will have interesting things to talk about that aren’t related to the weather.




The Long Walk


Last week I posted about the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and some walks I took on it recently.  Since I learned of it, the trail beckoned me to do the whole thing.  During the week I asked myself, what was I waiting for?  In fact, for the summer, construction on the trail would shut down a major section for the rest of the season starting Tuesday.  So it really was, now or never.

So yesterday, I left the pup at home, parked the car downtown, and walked the whole of the trail.  As I mentioned last week, the trail includes a scale model of the solar system, so that was the measurable goal, start at Pluto, end at the Sun.  Today’s post is more of notes from the log I kept on the walk, peppered with comments and thoughts on the trip.

For starters, this is a “no turning back” way of hiking – to quit on this trail means I have to call a cab to get to my car.  I wasn’t going for time, just to finish.  The trail was advertised as 11 miles and 5-1/2 hours.  I expected it to be further in length but shorter in time.  In the log below, the First Number is the mileage covered to that point based on a phone app that I have (not necessarily the true mileage or mile marker on the trail) — but be warned, the phone died near the end, so things get squishy.

0 — Pluto — 10:30am — Start the Clock; Unloaded and strapped up ready to go.  Leaving Kincaid Park, which starts up by the ski chalet and descends to the coast.

0.73 — A Big Bull Moose is chewing away on grass just off the trail.  And I MEAN BIG

1.04 — First view from the coast, surprising that it took a mile to get here.

1.58 — Leaving Kincaid Park grounds now entering Airport Land.  Feeling alright early on, but feeling out of shape too.  When I walk during lunch at work, this is as far as I usually get.  I guess what’s different at this point is that I know I have to be settled in.  Whatever it takes, I am covering this distance, and at this point I still have 10 miles to go.

1.78 — So, up to this point, you can basically say the trail is in a forest. surprised to find an open area with a lake and hills.  This is still in Anchorage City limits, and its like we are in the wilderness out here.

1.88 — The wilderness interrupted … a Big Asian Cargo Jet buzzed me coming in for a landing.

2.57 — Crossed my first bridge on the trial.

2.64 — 1st Hour complete.  Knew I was going a bit slow to begin with, but was hoping to be closer to 3 mile by now.

3.13 — I don’t know what happened, but there is a 2 story tall dead tree pile about 200 ft off the trail.  Looks like a clean-up thing.

3.28 — Neptune.  From my other trips on the trail, this is the only planet I hadn’t visited.  I knew it would be a ways, but I’m surprised there was 3+ miles of this trail I hadn’t been on yet (that is a foreshadow by the way, wait to you hear how far I got to get to something I knew)

3.54 — Light traffic up to this point, nearly all bikers.  Ran off the trail for the first time … the guy was wearing a Chicago Bears hat, figures.

3.61 — Tourist stopped and asked if I saw  a moose, I told them about the bull at mile 0.75; though that is 3 miles and an hour ago.

4.15 — Bad sign of how far away from roads that I am, there is a Helicopter Cross on the trial, for an emergency landing spot if needed.

4.24 — End of one phase of the construction plan, they will be redoing the trail from Pluto to here starting Tuesday.  As it happens a dude was out spray painting the work that would be done next week.

4.71 — After almost 5 miles, I see the first thing, a railing and a bench, that looks like a spot that I had seen before.

5.03 — A Couple with a Garmin eTrax around their neck.  Geocachers surely.

5.27 — Crossed a road, literally the first such crossing since Pluto.  If you do this section, it clearly is a massive out-and-back.

5.42 — The Two Hour mark clicks over at a landmark.  2.78 miles in that hour, but more importantly I need to start thinking about a break.  This is close to a good one.  Point Woronzof Park, the furthest west park along the northern coast, and typically seen as the last rest stop when you head the opposite direction than what I am doing.   Still, it’s practically the theoretical half-way point.

5.5 — Theoretical half way, if 11 miles is the whole way.  Just 2 minutes past 2 hours on the trail.

5.65 — Pee break

5.73 — You know that plane that buzzed me at 1.88?  Just buzzed me again taking off.

5.93 — Stopped for a 10 minute lunch break.  Being a very healthy day, I had a healthy lunch — Cold Pizza and an Energy Drink.  Could have stood to sat for a while longer, but just past half way my phone is down to a 45% charge.  Starting to work on “plan b”.

6.07 — Uranus — Six Miles, and only 3 planets in.  That’s a bit mind blowing.

6.65 — Airport Park, a nice view of things here, but after just finishing a very long downhill I want to keep moving to keep from getting stiff.

6.99 — End of the “already done” phase of construction

7.12 — Passing the Slant Totem at Earthquake Park, which means I am going to be hitting the rolling hills of section of town worst hit by the Great Alaskan Earthquake.  Which also means I am starting to hit the wall.

7.84 – Down in the mud flats and ponds of Earthquake Park.  Good news is the terrain for here on out is relatively flat.  This trail would definitely be tougher going in the other direction.  That hard hill from Airport Park to Uranus would be a wall breaker, and Earthquake Park has a nasty one to warm them up.  That doesn’t count that last stretch in Kincaid, which would be uphill for the last mile.  Here on out, the only real hill I have waiting is going from Mars to Earth into Downtown.

7.72 – End of Hour 3.  Slow hour, but I did take a lunch in there.  There is a Richard Bachman (pen name for a young Steven King) book called “The Long Walk”, where teenaged boys are in a contest of who can walk the furthest.  If their pace ever dropped below 4 miles an hour, they were given a warning.  After three warning if they haven’t improved they are “given a ticket”, which means they are shot dead in the street.  The most disturbing thing to me about the story wasn’t the brutality or the psychological destruction of those kids — it’s the 4 miles per hour.  Let’s face it, my 5-1/2 foot body is mostly torso, it takes 30 steps to walk what a long legger marathon can do in one.  Here I am doing splits of about 20 minute miles & being happy — no way can I keep a 4 mile per hour minimum, ever.

7.89 – I smell fire, not sure where from.

8.21 – The trial really needs work here, almost hurts to walk over the grooves and rolls in the pavement.  Or maybe I am just complaining that my phone is down to 20%

8.31 – Split in the road, that I recognize but hangs in my head.  Long walks, there is a physiological burn to them.  Going this far is painful, I can feel it in my calves, my feet, my ankles.  Things are starting to cramp a bit in the legs.  None of it, though, is going to do any long term damage, and its not so much that makes the walk unbearable.  In a way, it is thought.  It hangs in my head like a demon that could emerge at any point.  A long walk isn’t about the exercise, it isn’t about a race, it’s about crossing a distance.  Stopping for a rest, taking time to stretch, even taking time to smell the roses — it all is a delay.  The goal is to make it to the end.  The only way … ONLY way … is to put one foot in front of the other.

8.61 — Saturn, and I realize that with all my wondering about how long this trail is, I am not even half way through the solar system.  Four planets down.  Five planets and a big ball of fire left.

9.19 — This far in and this is only the second bridge?  It’s the damn bridge too.

9.40 — Going thru a Tunnel

9.45 — Starting the Westchester Lagoon stretch, beginning with Bridge #3

9.69 — Salmon Counter to the Lagoon, and phone just hit 10%

9.76 — Jupiter.  For the coastal trail this also “Mile 0”, the trail mile markers that go out to Kincaid (and they say it’s just 9.5 miles); stop for a quick Clif Bar and to shake out the legs.

9.81 — Bridge #4

9.83 – Tunnel #2, and the end of Westchester Lagoon

9.91 — Sewage Pump Station, if you been out here you know what I mean

10.36 — End of Hour 4, going 2.64 miles in that time … as it turns out the same length as my first hour.

10.60 — Phone finally dies, and I go off of my pedometer here on out.  So close too, because downtown is clearly in view.  Last straight stretch before the end begins.

10.85 – The trail continues, but I won’t.  On plan, to be honest.  To finish the planets, I leave the trail (though the trail only goes another 1/2 mile).

10.90 — Mars, God of War.

11.07 — It is city streets from here on out, and there were these really weird trucks with German plates.  They looked like they could have sailed here.

11.09 — Earth, and tourists trying to figure out the thing.

11.13 — Venus, and the planets are clicking by

11.28 — Mercury, more tourists who are calling the thing “Mars”.  From here, the end is in view.  I just have one block to go, cross kitty corner, and that big ball of flame is mine.

11.40 — The Sun, and it’s Done.  I walked the whole thing.  Holy Crap, I WALKED the whole thing!  Now, where did I park my car?

11.75 — Stop the clock.  4 hours, forty minutes, and I covered nearly 12 miles.  My pedometer said that I took nearly 30,000 steps this day.  That’s … well … alot.

At the end of the day, it was a long hard walk.  Besides my ankles and knees looking for an excuse to move to a different body, I was feeling pretty good.  Now that a day has passed, I am sore and tired.  But its over.  Done and dusted.


Let’s Go To The Mall


This post is about the Dimond Shopping Center, a shopping mall in South Anchorage.  No seriously, it is.

I expect you, the loyal Bear Feed reader, to either be  saying right now:
“You aren’t seriously blogging about a mall are you?”  or
“I thought this blog was about Alaska!”

Either way, I hope you feel I sunk to some new low in writing this.  Well, I kinda have, but I’ll throw a reward to you at the end.

If you never been to Alaska, there are surely some perceptions you have about our great state; and from those I talk to in the lower 48 those perceptions are routinely accurate.  One that isn’t is that there are an awful lot of you that believe that Alaska is nothing but a series of tiny villages filled with bear pelts, crab pots, and eskimos.  That may be an exaggeration, but sometimes when I tell people i stopped by a Starbucks they are a bit surprised with have them.  There are many small towns, fishing villages, and rough frontier places that fill up your romantic ideas of Alaska like it should — Anchorage, however, is in many ways like cities around the country.  We have 300,000 people that want everything the rest of you want, it’s just a little further north.  Malls are one of those.  Yet, like so many other places, it still keeps it’s Alaskan uniqueness.

Anchorage has two of them, one downtown and one in South Anchorage called the Dimond Shopping Center.  Today, I dropped my car off to get detailed in prep for my parent’s visit next week, and since I had 4 hours to kill I walked over to the Dimond Center.  Built in 1977, it is Alaska’s largest mall; but on first blush, Dimond Center is not that impressive.  It has a Best Buy as an anchor store, but when you move through the rest of it you are bombarded by kiosks and shops that fell less like grand chains of stores and more of a nice shop someone started to sell trinkets they make on the weekends.  I spent most my time watching a movie today, in the same theatre I watched a movie when I killed time on a vacation in 2006.  Then I watched Ricky Bobby thinking this is no place to ever watch a big special effects thriller (of course, I watched a big special effects thriller today).

Yet there is somewhat nostalgic feel to the place.  I remember going to malls as a kid, and this has that same feel — complete with an arcade with crappy video games, and a coffee shop.  Seriously, when’s the last time you saw a coffee shop in a mall?  Half the mall is filled with youth clubs and military recruiting centers, which makes it feel like a real hangout place for kids.  Above all else, there is an ice rink in the mall … You can ice skate year round in a Mall in Alaska.  How cool is that?  Last fall I went as far as posting this line on my facebook:
“The only job I could find was working at a mall.  On the plus side, I drive a zamboni, so I have that going for me.”

The point of all this comes down to an honest truth about living in Anchorage.  I love living here, mostly because it is unlike anyplace I could live.  That doesn’t mean everything about living here is truly unique, it just means it is like nearly everywhere else in the world – occasionally interrupted by true magnificence.  To me, that makes it better here.  It’s so much easier to appreciate how great this place is when brilliance shines through the normality.

So you survived the “Mall” blog.  So here’s your present.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Robin Sparkles

Arctic Heat Wave


Picture if you will a bright sunny day, just a little bit of haze on the horizon, and temperatures topping out at 80°F (27°C) before cooling off to 63°F (17°C).  Most of you are probably picturing ideal conditions for summer – soaking up the rays, and maybe having to build a fire to keep warm.

Well … welcome to Alaska, where it’s something to complain about.  80’s is hot for us.  No seriously, it is.  We are a city where average temperatures this time of year is around where the low temperatures have been.  We are comfortable taking in a nice day where it doesn’t even break the 70’s.

Alright, I won’t say we’re complaining — its actually really really hard to complain about this.  Sometimes at least.  I mean, it’s tough sleeping weather mostly because you’re not prepared for it.  I don’t have air conditioning in the house, windows are wide open and the wind is pretty dead.  Only by 3 or 4 in the morning does things get cool enough to need a comforter, but by that time I’ve kicked it off quite good.  This also means we have to water our lawns to keep them green, which up here is as strange as not watering the lawns in Kansas.  So since its out of the comfort zone, it’s fodder for the complainers.

The ironic thing is people on the north slope are complaining worse — but this time for good reason.  Temperatures this week averaged above 60°F (16°C); and this means they had to slow down production due to excessive heat.  Seriously … excessive heat!  Much of oil production is about maintaining certain gas pressures in the lines.  For those of you who passed high school chemistry, you know that gas pressure have a direct proportionality with volume, temperature, and amount of stuff you have in all that.  Or in other words, the hotter it is the harder it is to compress all that stuff into the same volume.  Since volume is consistent and they can’t control the temperature, they just get less stuff out of the ground.   Sure you can plan your systems around that, but those machines were optimized based on what they would see the most — so they work best at -15°F (-26°C).  Now that it is 75°F degrees warmer, things aren’t working too good.  Think if your car was made to work best at 75°, how well would it work at 150°?

While the heat wave on the slope will break today or tomorrow (and back to the low 50’s / high 40’s that they are used to in the summer).  In Anchorage, we are looking to be on a long run.  The 10-day forecast is as consistent as a straight line, with no suggestion of rain in site.  So, I better get the sprinklers out.

Touching Uranus: The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail


If you’re reading the title of this post, and wondering if this means I had a physical or something … yes, on Friday actually … but that has nothing to do with this post (you dirty minded something something).  Having the physical sparked a bit of energy to get out and log some miles by foot.  For some reason, I was inspired to head out to the Coastal Trial.

In some of my other posts, I bragged about the trail system in Anchorage – with three trails being the brightest gems.  My local love, Campbell Creek, still is well  used by the pup and I.  Chester Creek is a little out of the way, but I spent a fair bit of time on it last fall.  The most used trail by locals, tourists, bikers, joggers, dog walkers, strollers, & every other non-motorized thing in Alaska is hands down the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  If the three gems are like the triple crown of horseracing – the Coastal Trail is the Kentucky Derby of the three.

You can tell the difference just in their names.  Campbell and Chester run next to creeks, thus their name.  So guess what the Coastal trial runs along.  Okay, to be fair, it is a specific coast.  Anchorage is a big triangle, the western point being where the Cook Inlet splits between the Turnagain Arm and Knik Arm. This paved trail run the coast of the Knik Arm starting practically downtown Anchorage, and ends at the tip of the triangle in Kincade Park.  Along the way, it runs along the mud flats through neighborhoods of Smuggler’s Cove & Turnagain.  Getting a well needed resurfacing & repaving this summer, tt travels through not just Kincade, but Earthquake Park (where the trail is the best to see the effects of the Great Alaskan Earthquake), and past Westchester Lagoon (a large pond (or small lake) used by boaters, swimmers, divers, skaters (during winter) and you name what else).  For a coastal trail, there are elevation changes, rolls, and turns making it a nice challenge to anyone on it.  It’s used for many of the big activities in town, most notable as the route for the Mayor’s Marathon, Anchorage’s annual Marathon held the weekend of the Summer Solstice.

But what makes the trail great is the views, and they are SPECTACULAR.  Y’all know I am a bit of a Mountain-view-aholic, and this feeds that hunger.  On a hazy day, like yesterday, you can still easily see Mt Susitna, aka the Sleeping Lady, a massive glacial hill a short distance across the waterway.  On any given day the rest of them really pop.  On the western part of the trail, you can see many of the Alaskan and Aleutian Mountains to the north and east.  Because the trail winds with the coast, there are some of the best views of downtown, framed by the Chugachs behind it.  On clear days, like this morning, Denali appears over the other side of the Knik in all it’s beauty.

The Coastal Trail also includes a scaled version of the Solar System.  You may have seen this in other places tied to science museums, and is a neat concept.  Basically, they marked locations on the trail to match how far planets would be to each other based on a known scale.  In Anchorage, the sun is a prominent statue downtown, with Mercury, Venus, and Earth being just a few blocks away.  Mars is about the start of the Trail.  Pluto IS the end of the trail, 11 miles away.  Educational yes, but there is an added benefit, you can gauge distance when you are out there.  Yesterday, still trying to get my legs under me and getting a late start due to a rainy morning, I did well to cross the gap between Saturn to Jupiter and back again – a nice 3.07 mile walk.  When I got out there this morning, I went looking for a real leg stretcher.  Starting about midway at Earthquake park, I backtracked to Saturn (the extent I went yesterday), then returned to where I started and kept onwards to the next planet before heading back to the car.  Because you all know your solar system, you know that the walk today meant “Touching Uranus”.  In all, that was a 6.21 mile hike today.

I thought some about doing the whole trail, either one way or round trip, that may be asking a lot for me let alone walking a dog who wants nothing more than to pull me today.  But if its anything as beautiful as today is, it could be worth every pull.


Orange Barrels A Plenty


Growing up in Wisconsin, we used to say there were two seasons: Winter & Road Construction

Let’s just say Wisconsin doesn’t have a monopoly on that joke.

Even if you never visited Alaska, you would probably assume two things — that we have roads, and the winters are long.  Well, roads need to be fixed every so often, and its hard to fix a road when there is a foot of snow on top of it.  Ever since the last bit of snow melted, Anchorage has been crushed by road projects all over town.  Some of it is simple pot hole filling, some of it is putting down a new surface, and some are massive with potential to change the landscape of the city.  For instance, I deal with a reconstruction project on the New Seward Highway (the closest thing to a freeway in the entire state, a two lane split highway connecting the Glenn Highway (the road north out of town) as well as downtown to the south side and the Seward Highway (there is an Old Seward four line city street still in town, so that’s why there is New and Old).  The project they work on currently expands a two mile section to three lanes, creates frontage roads to give better access to city streets, and improves an overpass to allow safe passage of a 7-mile long Campbell Creek Trail.  So no small feet.

The construction crews have crazy work ahead of them.  It’s hard to engineer for Alaskan roads, because between the surface and the bedrock, there is usually a portion of permafrost.  While this usually isn’t a problem to dig through, permafrost acts funny when you run pavement and cars over it, meaning sometimes they melt and sometimes not – so the ground isn’t consistent, which makes the roads worse.  There isn’t a lot of places in town to get or put fill either, so trucks run constantly between sites to remove from one place and give to another.

On top of it all, they move fast.  Where I get on the New Seward to head to work used to be an easy split off of a frontage road from a roundabout.  Every day, split changes – two weeks ago we took the frontage road to a 90° turn across the old lanes of traffic to our on-ramp.  Today we drove up a dirt and rock hill for a 1/4 mile until we saw pavement – the closest it seems I’ve gotten to needing 4 wheel drive since the winter.  Soon, that ramp will close for a couple of days, and when we return we will get the smooth ride … until we hit the torn up old pavement area and the half finished bridge.

I don’t complain too much about the construction though, not because I am used to it.  With all this summer labor needed, they take what they can get – which means college kids to hold the “stop” or “slow” signs — which actually means college girls trying to get a nice tan holding those signs.  Somedays, I feel with the orange outfits and the “labor” out there, they are an order of chicken wings from being a Hooters.

Seriously, Book Early


Since I was in School I used the old idiom:  “Life is like a round of golf; once you get out of one hole, you head to the next.”  Without doing my best to call my family a “hole”, my next big thing coming is an 8 day visit from my parents, my brother, and my nephew.  It is a trip of a lifetime for them, each visiting Alaska for the first time, and seeing the longest flight of their lifetime (up to this point at least) to get here and get back.

While I hadn’t hit anything of a routine yet, there is some things that are routine about their visit.  Setting up the cleaning lady to make it look like I keep a clean house, having sheets/blankets/pillows ready, planning when the best time to fill growlers of beer, the usual.  The big twist for this visit was some unexpected hoops.

If any of you plan a vacation to Alaska (even if you live in Alaska), figure out your plan and book early.

Let me make this clear.

Book Early!!

When the family made a commitment to come, we talked about the plan and itinerary. They visit the first week in August.   They were good to get their plane tickets well in advance (like in February), but then things went a little quiet in the plan.  There was some talk of what to do and where to stay.  I made the demand they stay at my house when in Anchorage (for my benefit to be honest, I would be driving around and the thought of adding 30 minutes every day to get to wherever their staying was annoying me).  They wanted to visit Denali, ride the train, stay at a cabin somewhere, then see what else they could do.  I banged out some thoughts, gave them some options.  Then things went quiet for a bit.

Last week, I asked what parts of the trip they booked … and they said “the plane fare”.

Let the scrambling begin.  

First goal for me was Denali, notorious for losing availability by mid-spring.  Going into my search, I was basically assuming we wouldn’t get to stay there at all, maybe a day trip, maybe loads of me driving them back and forth. I looked at approximately 20 different resorts, cabins, hotels in and around Denali for the week they would be up.  I found only one place that had the room for us for more than one day; a place at Mile 224 on the Parks Hwy (15 miles from the park) called “The Perch”, two small cabins supposedly complete with restaurant and saloon.  Near enough to what we wanted that it was a shock it was there.  No one I talked to has heard of it (which in Alaska isn’t a good sign) but we’ll see how it works out.

Second goal was to get them all down to Seward, where we could jump off to more fun.  I expected this to be easier, since most of the Seward tourists were cruise ship people, and they either have a boat to sleep on or are heading to another location.  This was a much bigger problem!  I counted 35 different options I reviewed.  I looked at vacation rentals, hotels, cabins, old rail cars, empty boats.  I checked Moose’s Pass (a town 50 miles from Seward) and even considered looking at Soldotna or Kenai (2 hours away).  In the end, I fell upon a website … and its a good one for y’all to know if you are considering vacationing in Alaska (specifically Seward):
Alaska Point of View Reservation Services:
It basically is a one woman operation who finds out who has what available for vacations, then sets up the reservations for them.  We got a place in downtown Seward (which is right on the docks where all the stuff happens), that is big enough for all of us … and I get to bring the dog.

Believe me, I am a guy who likes to wing it during vacations, but Alaska doesn’t work like that.  Because the tourist season is so short, what we have available for tourists is limited – and runs out quick.  It appears all of this is going to work out, but talk about panic to get to that point.

So … please please please please … if you are thinking about coming up ….

Book Early!!!

Two Theories


As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this weekend with seeing old friends at the Colts Drum Corps 50th Anniversary Reunion.  The details of that affair can be spared a bit to my exploding facebook page (way too many pictures reminding me how so many of us hasn’t changed … and that I really need to start eating healthy again).  As I sit in the airport and recover, a couple of items ran through my head.

I  have these “theories”.  They include, to name a few:
– The 50 Mile Radius
– The Pillow Theory
– The Ketchup Theory
– The “Everything Applies” Theory

They always start with a story, then it seems to apply to things everywhere else (which is kinda the “Everything Applies” Theory, but don’t get me distracted).  Today, I am living in two of those theories – and those both transend my past weekend to life up in Alaska and most things I have been.

First … “Coming Off the Mountain”
In 1999, I took an epic road trip out to the east coast for a 10 day ride around to different Civil War Battlefields.  At the time, I was pretty unhappy with my job and had looked forward to this break as much from work as it was for what I would do.  Just about the last thing I did was visit the Shenandoah National Park and drive the Skyline Drive, a 105 mile road running across the crest of the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia.  The road basically climbs up half way before you hit the park, and the other half in the park; but you go down the whole way the last 10 miles of the road.  As I drove down back then, I was slowly realizing that by the time I got off the mountain all roads would lead me back to work and my daily life.  The concept started to depress the heck out of me, but it was what it was.  Since then I noticed that there was always a point when at the end of a vacation that I have to “come off the mountain”, when the vacation is over and I get back to work.  Sometimes it is before the vacation is over, like that trip in 1999, sometimes it is days or weeks later.  I hope that this trip, this little mini-vacation, sticks with me.  I’m not ready to come off this mountain.  But that’s okay, it will happen and when that comes it will be good for me to remember it for what it is.

Second … “The Law of Anecdotal Value”
This isn’t mine to credit, because I first heard it from NPR Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Host Peter Siegel.  The Law basically comes down to this idea: Make decisions in your life that will some day end up to be a really cool story.  Arguably, if you read this blog you have to guess that the fact the blog exists is proof of that kind of a decision.  I didn’t move to Alaska assuming that it would be just a series of work day after work day after work day – but things were going to happen.  Of course, since y’all haven’t left me to read about quilting accomplishments, I am guessing I had a few cool stories.  This weekend, there were soooooooo many cool stories told.  From the worst parade days ever, to people left behind on free days, to good shows to bad shows, to mallow cups, the bad water in Streeter, Illinois, to old friends gone, and to new things we may have missed.  Sometimes what we face every day isn’t the things we want, and they may make us angry, upset, or hurt at the time — but someday, they WILL be a great story if we let time pass us by.

Back in Alaska tonight, and a mad rush to get everything in order for family to come up in early August.  That and we will see what happens from that point on.

Colts 50 Years


This is one of those Non-Alaskan posts, but by now you should know that I only do that if I have something to say.

This weekend, I am heading to the Lower 48 for the first time since last November, and it took a really good reason to choose Dubuque, Iowa as a destination.  I am attending the Colts Drum Corps 50th Anniversary Alumni Gathering running from Friday night through Sunday.  But before I explain what I am doing there, let me completely digress well beyond what is worth your time (i.e. babble on like I usually do).

Let me start by saying I may offend some folk with this post — my views and experiences were different than many of my friends in corps, and at foremost I wanted to be honest here.  I am not intending to be hurtful, and would be more than happy to chat about it (preferably over a beer or five … my treat even).

Most of you all know that a key part of any school music program is the marching band, best known for their halftime performances at football games.  Many of you know that some program send their marching bands to competitions.  The most advanced level of these band competitions is actually not called a “marching band” but a “drum corps” (originally  “drum and bugle corp” based on military style instruments that even I played a variation of through the 1990s).   If you want more information what the heck I am talking about, let me know and I will shoot you some video links to get a feel for it – if you don’t know what it is, its probably not what you would expect.

When I was in high school, I loved the marching band to the point I wanted to progress to performing in a drum corps.  We all did in our high school it seemed.  While some through out the big names in drum corp (Blue Devils, Phantom Regiment, Santa Clara Vanguard, Madison Scouts), I kept throwing out one that got me alot of flack … the Dubuque Colts.  While the other names were all the Elite groups, the Colts were … well .. not.  When asked why would I ever consider marching the Colts, my answer was simply “because I think I can pass the audition.”  While I was one of the top people in my band back home, it still was a struggle to make the corps and that first year was quite forgettable; but I did march 3 years with the Colts the summers of 1989 through 1991.

There is an age limit to marching corps (back then, you couldn’t be 22 and march) but I didn’t “age out” with the Colts – I did that with the Cadets of Bergen County 2 years later which was a big name elite corps (there will be a post on that later this year, I guarantee that).  While I don’t regret making that move, I didn’t regret a minute with the Colts either.  Best way to describe it is a more intense comparison between high school and college.  I graduated with some fun people in high school, people I stay in contact with today, but since that isn’t as much about forming your life as it is doing what it takes to move on high school isn’t as much about the place you relive as it is the “place you are from”.  College becomes this place where you choose to live and choose to become what you will be formed into.  The friends are closer, what you learn is more complicated, and you achieve more as a result.  College is more of who you are.  The difference is, drum corps did a lot more to make me who I am than school did.  I learned more, experienced more, and became more because I did it.  But if I was to describe that time in my life I would say, “I am FROM the Colts, but I AM a Cadet.”

Colts are my family, they are my foundation, and I am proud to be an alumni & proud of those kids that still continue to march for the old girl.  Colts have survived against the odds when corps twice their size couldn’t over come increasing costs and decreasing membership.  While their uniforms have changed, their style has changed, and the people have changed; they are still fundamentally the same group still based in the small river town in Iowa that supported them from the beginning (which the Cadets can’t even brag about).  This weekend, 50 years of Colts members come to Dubuque to celebrate a corps that deserves the celebration.  I will be seeing friends I haven’t seen since the ’90s and will be talking about the cornfield tours, the bus breakdowns, the field lining parties, the hours & hours of practice, the blood, the sweat, the tears (AND the “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” … great band, I first heard on tour .. and the Colts did a show on them in the late ’90s too .. it was awesome!).

Friday night, we watch “Music on the March” at Dubuque Senior High School (famous for that barbecue that floats down over the stands and hits the performer’s nose just as you hit the big chords).  It’s the competition hosted by and staring the 2013 edition of the Colts Drum Corps.  Afterwords we wander back to the hotel probably for a few nightcaps.  Saturday there is a tour boat going out on the Mississippi River (see also “booze cruise”).  Saturday night is an awards banquet and silent auction of old trophies.  The banquet includes a cash bar that also happens to be in the same hotel that I am staying in (stop me if you see a trend).  There is a picnic on Sunday, but I need to boogie down to the airport to make the long trip back.  Rumor is I am up for the “traveled the furthest” prize – though the girl who works in Abu Dahbi may make an appearance.

So that’s my non-Alaskan weekend to come.

Holy Moly, It’s Old


Prior to renting an RV (short for Recreational Vehicle in the states and “Caravan” for you Europeans), I would recommend you watch the Robin Williams movie from the Mid-2000s called aptly “RV”.  It follows a family taking their first vacation in an RV, in a much more family friendly fun result than any National Lampoon Vacation.  I recommend it if you are planning such a trip not because it is a worse case scenario, it’s because its a pretty darn near truth scenario.  I saw the film the first time on my first vacation to Alaska in 2006, which I rented an RV (for those of you who saw the film, you know exactly what I named that RV when I got there).

This weekend, I borrowed an RV from co-worker Jackie Wright, to help with the camping fun in Seward.  Now, I’m not one to complain … okay, I am one to complain, but  …  having access to something like an RV and all I had to do was keep the gas tanks filled was nice; that being said, it made for quite the adventure.  First of all, it was big, like real big.  The RV is considered a Class 1, being that it is thirty-five (35) feet long.  It is the size of a bus.  It had a stove, fridge, cupboards, and generator for all the comforts of home.  With the queen bed in the back, the full sized over the driver/passenger seat, the couch pull-out, and the table conversion, this is an RV that could sleep up to 8 people comfortably, and about 40 uncomfortably when on the road between DeKalb, Illinois and Ypsilanti, Michigan when the drum bus broke down somewhere around the Popeyes south of Chicago (I am having drum corps flashbacks this week, sorry).  With the drop down tarp on the outside, and windows around the whole of thing, it’s going to make you feel that you are in the woods without really being exposed to nature.

So here’s the punchline.  In what is the biggest understatement you can make about it Jackie described the RV as:
“Holy Moly, It’s Old”

I don’t know when the thing was built, but it brought back a lot of memories.  The steering wheel, the gear shifter, way the engine sounded & behaved, even the keys all reminded me of the white truck my dad let me drive through most of high school — and that thing was an early ’70s model.  Short of it being a manual transmission, and having loads more space behind me, it took me back to those old days of bouncing along on bad shocks & rough sounding exhaust.

Driving it, other than being a throwback to the 25 years ago, was an adventure.  My first impression was that it was so big, I felt less like I was in control, and more that it was just going where it thought it would go & I was just lucky to be going to the same place.  Parking it wasn’t so bad, except where do you park 35 feet of metal and fiberglass?  It struggled up hills, but did better than I thought.

My friend Mary rode with me down to Seward, our campsite being at Miller’s Landing, a stretch of land south of Seward.  To reach it, you have to drive the only road heading south of Seward – only road because on one side there is flat cliff going up, and the other was Ocean.  At one point, unsure of what we had gotten ourselves into I said to Mary “Hope you know that this is not a ‘turn around and go back’ road.”  Punch drunk from the 2 hour drive we couldn’t stop laughing as the ruts made the RV bounce our guts out.  Finally reaching the campsite, our friends said we could find them by just driving around until we saw them – where I replied “This Ain’t a ‘Drive Around Until We See You’ kind of vehicle.”

Complaining aside, the allure of an RV is way too easy to see.  In the days of rain in Seward, the old girl took good care of those of us not willing to sleep on a wet ground under a wet tent.  It was the pup’s lock away when he played too rough with the other dogs and chewed through his leash.  It was a warm bed on cold nights. Sure the fridge didn’t work, any movement would make beast shake, the smallest of cross wind made it feel like you were spinning the steering wheel of a boat, and everything would be more fun inside if we knew that we had to flip the switch to turn on the power. But I get how it is so much easier to pull up to your campsite, not need to pitch a tent, not need to sleep on a hundred rocks, and not need to spend any time outside in the rain.

I just may not be in a rush to get myself something that old.