Two Theories

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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

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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

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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.

Fish On!

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We celebrated Independence Day doing something I would rate among the top three things I’ve done here since moving to Alaska; and that would be the continuous slaughter of an unsuspecting fishy or ten. The four guys in our group set out on a chartered salmon fishing expedition from Seward, AK. Salmon charters are a typical feature of many places on the Kenai peninsula as well as some places around Anchorage or further east. Alaskan Salmon, like those around the world, is a strange fish that spends its winters swimming in the ocean before making a run up freshwater rivers and streams to mate and spawn. While there are people who fly fish and drift boat on the rivers, this charter was a drop-line fishing cruise along the coastal waters south of Seward catching them as they find some dinner before heading to the spawning grounds.

We fished for about four hours out near a small island just off some of the Fjords down on the sea. The herring bated hook and heavy weight would drop (not cast) off our poles where we would send it down to anywhere between 50 & 90 feet below the surface, only to real it in slowly until the bait would be dropped again. Salmon aren’t as much fighters as they are just much bigger than a pan fish. The process was always exciting. Once you have the hook set and you are sure its on, you would yell “Fish On!!” The crew came to your side and coached you to bring it up. Sometimes you had to chase the fish around the boat, going over or under the other people still with lines in the water. Finally, once the fish was netted and pulled up, the crew would take the fish on deck, pull the hook, and “stopped the fish from any further suffering” (which is Alaskan for “smashing it in the head with a baseball bat”). The crew did all the messy work for us. Baiting the hook, fixing tangles, practicing their baseball swing, then even filleting the fish before we were in port. Our crew did quite well, the four of us having enough fish that to buy it commercially would be about the same price as the cruise. Personally, I got two silver salmon, a rock fish, and one that got away (because their is no proof of the fish I can say like a true fisherman that it was the biggest salmon ever caught in Alaska).

To be honest, that the fishing part was the most underwhelming of the entire adventure. I grew up on the Mississippi, casting my bobber and night crawler out about twenty feet to let it sit and real in slowly; and that was as nearly as interesting of a fishing experience (except it seems like I never caught anything back then). Sport fishermen, or people who love the fishing experience, may not like this. While there is no guarantee you will catch anything, it’s just one step below sitting at a carnival fish tank game and expect a prize to come up every time you cast it. Except for the crew, you couldn’t call anyone on that boat professionals, but we all seemed to catch something. Even the two high school girls who sat inside for most of the fishing, were more concerned with where to plug in their phones, brought their toy yorkie dog, and actually tried a number of poses with their fish to make sure their hair looks good. The moment someone gets a strike though, the blood rushes and you can’t help to yell out those words “Fish On!!” in joy.

If fishing on that cruise is underwhelming, then the rest of the experience is underrated. Seward is surrounded by the Kenai Fjords National Park, which by the name you can guess is more about the seacoast rock formations than the inland forests. The sea is the best place to see the park. While there are better cruises to see the fjords and glaciers, we ran along out of Resurrection Bay, past some glacial fed inlets, and between rocky islands covered in lush greenery. Seagulls immediately took an interest in our boat, at first for the herring bait being cut on the deck, and followed us as the salmon were cleaned up behind us. While I was inside warming up for most of the return trip, bald eagles were said to swirl in the flock following the boat as well. That was about the only wildlife I missed though. On the run out, a pod of porpoises danced about a hundred feet off our port side, at one point seemingly turning to catch up with us. Jellyfish coasted by the boat as we drifted along the water. But that all was shadowed when about 200 feet off my side of the boat a whale crested the water, and started to blast from his blow hole. He swam in that area for quite some time, once turning away from the boat and showing the whole of his tale my way. Looking back, I don’t think I ever saw a live whale, in captivity or otherwise. I forgot about the pole for a while, just watching that great beast swim, until a chorus of “Fish On” came around me, and I remembered what we came on here for.

Sometimes I think I was once a fisherman in some life past. Not that I like the pole and the battle with the beast, moreso there is something that charges me up about riding along on the water. To bathe in the wet air, smelling the salt and sea. I don’t have the legs, not that I got sea-sick, but it was a fight sometimes to keep standing on the 3 to 5 foot waves; but that’s probably something that doesn’t get passed down. What I do know is coming off a boat, I sleep better, I breathe better, and I feel happier. Maybe it’s the scenery, maybe the wildlife seen nowhere else, but maybe its something else I can’t put a finger on. At the end of the day, you check off a hike to Echo Bend check off the Fur Rondy Bonspeil, and this trip becomes best experience number 3 of my time here.

Now, who’s hungry for some fish?

Morning After

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It’s 11am on Saturday, July 6th, and the mini-vacation recovery begins.  After “roughing it” since Wednesday night, the joints and body start their rebuilding to make me feel less like I am 50 and more like I am 41 (or maybe even 38).  Well, I have to watch myself when I say recovery, because my version of “roughing it” wasn’t even “roughing it compared to the rest of my part let alone many other Alaskans.

On Wednesday, the pup and I hopped into a Class 1 35 foot RV borrowed from a co-worker (accurately described by that co-work as “Holy Moly it’s Old”), and headed out for Seward to meet up with the Glerums & Morses in Seward, AK for a few days of camping and sightseeing.  Some of us broke camp last night and made the 130 mile run back to Anchorage in the RV, the rest coming home today.  The plan was to spend another day in Seward, but the weather broke our spirits somewhat — surprisingly, those who stuck it out were in tents, and us that slept on soft warm beds wimped out (I broke camp because the dog was miserable – but to be fair it didn’t take me much to go along with the dog).

This is one of those trips that will turn into a number of blog posts complete with details that will help y’all to get the full feel of what took place, and I am committed to give you that over the next few days.  So consider this the summary, and teaser, of posts to come.

Seward on the 4th seemed to be the right choice for the holiday.  THE Fourth of July Event in Alaska took place there, the “Mount Marathon Race”.  It isn’t a Marathon, that’s actually the name of the mountain, but it is a foot race that only has a 5km (3.1 mile) distance; simple enough if you don’t look at the course elevation.  The race starts in downtown Seward (elevation 0 ft), ends in downtown Seward (elevation 0 ft), and has a half-way point at the top of Marathon Mountain (3,022 feet).  It’s a monster of a race, and routinely a source of injuries (Olympic skiers usually place high, but took the year off this year to not threaten their Olympic hopes).  Last year, there was a runner who disappeared near the top and has yet to be found assumed to have fatally fell.  As interesting as that race was, we didn’t spend much time watching it.

We went salmon fishing out at sea.

We went to Exit Glacier.

We watched fireworks at midnight.

We cooked out, we camped out, we ran dogs around the ocean front.

And we got RAIN!!!  Lots and Lots of Rain.

So, I’ll will kick y’all a post on the Salmon Fishing – which is in the top 3 experinces I’ve had since moving to Alaskan, and a bit about the glacier, and of course I will be sure to go off about driving that RV.

But that is in days to come, right now, we have to clean up the RV, take pain killers, dry out, and figure out what to do with all this left over beer.

… little note, nor long remember …

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**Please note that this post is: Off Topic, Non-Alaskan, Long, and most of all My Opinions/Interpretations — it is also one that I am very proud to share**

July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg; the pivotal and symbolic turning point of the American Civil War.  On these days, the Confederacy of America’s Army of Northern Virginia pushed forward as deep into the United States as they ever had during the five year war; but in the end were defeated by the Army of the Potomac at a small Pennsylvanian college town.  Historians could argue about the significance of this battle to the over all war, made hazy by the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4th, 1863 (the same day the Southerners withdrew from Gettysburg); but Gettysburg is considered to be one of the greatest battles, ever, in the history of the world.

The battle keeps a place in my heart for more reasons that I could ever keep in a blog.  It was a bucket list destination before I knew what a bucket list was.  I visited Gettysburg eight times since 1997 (that is a vacation there nearly every other year), most recently last summer at this same time.  I’ve taken nearly every tour available, some of the recorded tours I can recite from memory (“IF … there’s that word again … IF”).  I stayed at half the hotels in town, hiked the mountains around there, took a ghost hunting class, geocached, sipped high end bourbon, and even convinced myself into a business plan to retire there someday.  While I keep coming back, the madness of setting to move to Alaska made me miss the opportunity to get a good place to stay there near enough to make visiting this week’s anniversary worth doing.

Part of what intrigues me about he battle is many of the compelling stories.  On the first day, how the Union troops retreated through town and close combat along the streets lead to many of the houses to still show bullet holes and artillery shells in its sides.   Little Round Top, the battle made famous by the movie Gettysburg, was won by a Maine division who, while outnumbered and nearly out of ammunition but representing the end of the Union line, went on the offensive and swept down the hill to push a charging Alabaman division back.  Spangler’s Spring, the only clean water near the eastern front, became a place of truce where northern and southern solders met to have a cool drink of water. “Picket’s Charge” on the 3rd day of battle, is final chapter of the confrontation, when over 12,000 Southern men walked across nearly a mile of open farmland to attack the Northern Defenses – it’s there where I visit the most.

On the high ground of Cemetery hill, just off of the Baltimore Pike, there is a monument (well, there are thousands of monuments, but this one is special).  It is a bronze statue of a book containing Confederate Armies, propped up on cannon balls over a granite base.   The monument was funded by each of the northern states that fought during the battle, and is a memorial to those who they fought against.  It is called the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, and it stands on the location where the furthest Southern soldier made it through the Northern lines during “Picket’s Charge”.  While it physically represents the furthest breach, if the fight in that area was won by the South, they would have broken the Union Army in two, and while the Union was bringing itself back together conceivably the Army of Northern Virginia would have been able to march the remaining 60 miles to Washington with little resistance – and could possibly end the war.  That high water mark represents the closest the South came to ending the war.  It represents the closest the Confederacy of surviving possibly to this day.  Second only to foot prints in the sand where an American stepped onto the Moon, I can’t conceive a physical location where a country in our known world can point to a spot and say “that there, that is our greatest moment”.

My return to Gettysburg so often seems to include time on Picket’s Charge.  I find time to walk the battlefield, alone and in solitude.  I do so to try to realize what it must have been like, picturing the view a solider would have seen, and coming the close to realizing the fear they must have felt.  There is a strength that comes with walking that field though, one that reminds me that the problems I face day in and day out, they just aren’t that critical.  What I have to fear is minimal compared to how they likely felt.

The most remembered story of Gettysburg is that told by Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address.  I find it ironic that the most remember portion of that speech is the least applicable — “Four Score & Seven Years” is just dating the speech.  Ironically, Lincoln predicted that in his address, and did so to remind us of what really is important.  He said:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
At a time when the battle raged on, he asked for people to continue to fight the fight the soldiers of that field already had.  He also pushed that we dedicate ourselves to “these honored dead”, and be devoted to causes much like they gave “the last full measure of devotion”.  Somewhere within those thoughts lie where my love for this battlefield comes from.  It reminds me of those who gave their last full measure for something they believed in, and while I will never be strong or brave enough to go to war I can find strength in those who are.  How I can’t believe that the world will remember what I say, but I need to make what I did here something to never forget.

Bunny Count: June 2013

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Happy Bunny Count for the Month Day … let’s get to it:

Bunnies: 0
Moose: 6 (that’s a record)
Moose Babies: 2
Moose Holding up Traffic on 76th St on the way to work: 1
Horses on a Trail: 4
Llamas on a Trail: 2
Angry Beavers: 2
Mosquitoes: 1,435,857 (not counting those ones that were on my back)

Miles “walked” in June: 57.53
Total Miles in 2013: 230.48
Miles to go to Valdez: 74.52
Average Miles Per day to Make Valdez by Labor Day: 1.16

Average Daily High Temperature: 70°F (21°C)
Days With High Temperature above Normal: 22
Days With Low Temperature below Normal: 0
Days With Recordable Rain:  1
Total Rainfall: 0.16 in (0.41 cm)

Length of “Twilight” (time it gets dark) on June 1st: 0 hr 0 min
Length of “Twilight” (time it gets dark) on July 1st: 0 hr 0 min
Percentage of how much this lack of dark is killing me: 100%

Successful Returns to Echo Bend: 1
Successful Solstice Nights Hanging in Anchorage: 1
Failed Attempts to Go Camping: 2
Nights with Guests in the Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium (Guest Bedroom): 3
Nights where that Guest was Brad Barnes: 0
Closet Doors hung in the Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium: 2
Closet Doors hung in the Brad Barnes Throwdown Emporium Upside-down: 2
Dinners on the Deck Involving (not) too much Salmon and Mead: 1

Times I was killed by Moose, Angry Beavers, Twilight, Camping, Guests, and Mead: 0