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