Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I had my head down and I exhaled through the fleece liner at the top of my parka. By digging my chin into my chest I could get most of my face underneath the top of my jacket, leaving only my nose to contend with the -18 degree, windless air. I trudged forward through the snow towards Nancy Lake, staying warm by pulling the sled that contained the collapsible shanty, fishing poles, heater, beer, and other equipment. The lake was about 30 yards ahead and the trail was straight and flat. The rising sun was peaking over the trees in the noontime Alaska when I heard R shout my name.

“Chris! Chris!”

I stopped and quickly turned around, dropping the rope.

“Get over there,” he declared quickly as he pointed to my right.

I quickly trudged through some snow and turned around, not being too worried because R was standing still. Looking back in the direction I was heading, I was about to miss a large Moose cow by a few yards to my left. We both watched her for a minute as she studied us, steaming out white breath, before deciding to drift slowly leftward. We simply shrugged and smiled before starting again for the lake. I find that I am getting fairly unsurprised at finding Moose anywhere at anytime.

I wore three pairs of socks with my GoreTex hiking boots, and my toes were starting to feel the pain of -18. R had comfortable bunny boots like any respectable Alaska – I’ll need to get those very soon. The blinding sun broke over the trees and we both knew it would rise no higher in the sky this time of the year. The day was clear, windless, and Denali was out – a perfect day for ice fishing, even with the bitter cold. After selecting the place to shovel and set up the shanty we set to using the augur on the 2 feet of ice. Pulling a sled and drilling a hole in the ice easily makes one sweat in well below zero temps.

We settled into the shanty, turned the Mr. Heater on, started jigging with our Prince William Sound caught shrimp, and proceeded to catch 6 beautiful Rainbow Trout. The canvas wall on my side of the shanty faced the sun so I received a little extra heat, though by the time the heat buddy got going and our hot dogs started boiling we were happily fishing in sweatshirts with gloveless hands. Life is easy and simple and wonderful during these times trapped in a small canvas shanty alone on a frozen Alaska lake, drinking Rainier beer, toasting hot dog buns on a Mr. Heater, and listening to buzzing snowmachines on some far away section of the lake.

By the time 4pm rolled around the daylight was gone, the frost had returned to my side of the shanty, and we were back in our jackets, noting with sadness the progressively slushier beer. We packed it in, glimpsed at the setting sun and full rising moon, and smiled at a perfect Alaskan day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New experiences

While cleaning up after dinner last night around 7pm I heard a creak on my wooden porch followed by a single thump on the door. My neighbor Deb usually is good for a quick flurry of raps with her knuckle, so I doubted it was her. However, I have not met many of my other neighbors yet so perhaps it was one of them. Or, maybe some kid did it on a dare. Lots of options.

Also, my Chicago brain told me it's probably something devious. No worries on that front because the door is dead bolted, thanks to my Chicago training. If I'm indoors, the doors should be dead bolted. Old habits die hard. Thankfully so in this case...

So I shrugged and walked over to the peep hole and peered through more interested than worried. On the other side of the peephole, staring directly at me -- our eyeballs 6 inches apart -- was a huge Moose. Wow! She sniffed at the door a bit, then proceeded to lick the snow and salt from my doorstep.

I immediately kicked into a "how do I get a picture" gear. The moose never strayed beyond 5 feet of my doorstep for at least 10 minutes, just chewing and licking away. I decided that if she moved far enough away I'd crack the door and snap a picture. However, there is a great deal to be said for leaving her alone. I see moose all the time and have plenty of decent photo opportunities. I stewed a bit on it.

She finally started drifted leftwards and I started to strongly consider digging out my camera. I'm glad I was torn about the issue and wasted time pondering it, because the calf then came out of the right of my vision, following its mother. Surprising the cow and finding myself between her and her calf would have been a poor situation to be in.

The cow Moose was huge and the calf was fairly big as well. I just settled in and peered through the small windows at the top of my door, happily being a voyeurist on my little piece of Alaska. They drifted on about 20 minutes later and picked a few trees clean of their remaining leaves.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I have always been driven by and attracted to ritual. I guess I always knew that to be the case, though you never fully confront it until you turn your life upside down, move to a new place, and then realize that after a few months new rituals have been constructed and embraced. I suspect most people are this way in varying degrees.

These days I feel off if I'm not painting models (read: skeletons and vampires these days) during the 8pm hour and listening to When Radio Was on 590 am. I'm a bit of a radio addict (almost always not music) and listening to old radio shows while painting away under my skylight is just the perfect ritual to unwind with every night. Work, the gym, and dinner are all done. Maybe some laundry is clunking away and maybe I'll watch a little tv before bed, but the core of painting and unwinding at 8pm needs to happen.

Looking back at my high school and college days and summers I am immediately reminded that each night involved skating Walgreens on Archer, may it rest in peace. Every night, seemingly always "every" in memories (we never missed a night in that warm, foggy past), we took over the parking lot with tiny wheels, huge pants, pressure flips, ollie impossibles, and every other trend from early 90's skateboarding. Plan B boards skitted everywhere and noseslides where thrown down by everyone. Pete nailed the bigger, technical tricks, while the rest of us tore up the curbs and hips within our own skill levels. Everyone could stick noseslides forever on that long, filthy black curb. I can still see the black top rushing by my feet as I started runs towards the hip.

It's all torn up and a new Jewel these days, though I know video and photos exist in boxes somewhere in my storage space as testament to it's primitive days. Painting models and listening 1940's radio brought me immediately to the sad, warm, and joyful memories of a Chicago skate spot gone the way of dodo, though it remains forever in my mind's eye as a necessary ritual of my late teens and early 20's. We never got kicked out, we could skate anytime of the day, and Walgreens happily sold us all the Iced Tea we could drink. With the exception of a burly ledge or a staircase, it was a perfect skate spot. When people ask me about skating in Chicago and all of the great spots I must have haunted downtown, I shrug and just say I skated the Greenz on Archer and Austin.

Rituals change and give way to new commitments and circumstances. A few years later Scott and I skate Sportmart on 95th and Cicero every Monday night for a few years. 9-11pm was the basic schedule.

I look back a bit misty eyed and my parking lot haunting youth, though I wouldn't have it any other way. Warhammer models point me directly to pressure flips, 360 flips, and the glory of skate videos on youtube.

Here is Blind Skateboard's "Tim and Henry's Pack of Lies" -- a great signpost of that time. I watched it dozens of times and heard the music in my ears as I put together my runs back then. It has chukka boots and EMB and everything!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Saturday was either an interesting odyssey or a fool's errand. Take your pick.
A coworker invited us out for a day of late season rainbow trout fishing. The temps were expected to be in the 20's at best, though you never know. We were headed down to the Kenai River on the (correctly name) Kenai peninsula. It's about a 2 hour drive from Anchorage. You drive south and then up through the Turnagain pass before you find yourself descending into the world famous Kenai fishing grounds. Being on the other side of the mountains means the weather could easily be completely different from Anchorage. It was supposed to be clear so we loaded up the truck and picked up the boat at J's folks' house. Due to a few weeks of freezing and thawing there was now about 100+ lbs of ice in the bottom of the drift boat. We chipped at it a bit but only had a little luck.

After deciding on letting the road bumps buckle the ice a bit for an easier chipping at the river, we set off late in the morning down the Turnagain arm. J had been out 2 weekends earlier and had taken the mountain pass around 6am, finding black ice that sent the his truck and trailer sliding across the road sideways in the Alaskan pre dawn. The road was empty and they recovered well, but it was a heart stopper for the fishermen that day. J wanted a few hours of daylight to beat down on the pass so we had a running chance at some safe travels.

As we zipped down the arm past Indian, AK and then Girdwood, AK we soon were driving into some flurries. They appeared to be just trickling over the Chugach mountains to the east. We turned south and headed for the Turnagain pass. The light snow swirled across the road and did not appear to accumulate as we barreled through it at 60 mph. The sun made all the difference and after safely navigating the pass we ended up at Skilak Lake with a temperature of almost 30. Not bad.

There were definite fractures through the plate of ice lining the bottom of the boat so we began chipping in earnest. We had better results than before but it was still slow going. We decided to chip out the net and the anchor rope and simply leave the rest.

After about 30 minutes of chipping and loading we stood together, swallowed the sandwiches along with a few handfuls of chips, and set off for the river. Skilak Lake is very large and a beautiful glacier fed blue green color. The lake was fairly calm. We needed to cross it and sneak into the river itself where we would get on those rainbows. Off we went with J at the tiller. I've been in some nasty waves with a fully loaded canoe so I know fairly well what the tolerance is for a canoe. For a drift boat -- I have no idea. I trust my captain. He completes this lake to river crossing at least 4 -5 times every month. We were soon in 3 foot rolling waves and they were starting to splash into the boat. J cut it hard to the starboard and we broke a few big ones. He quickly announced that he didn't feel comfortable, especially with 100 lbs of ice weighing down the center of the boat. No arguments were had from any of us. There were not many fisherman out that day so the chances of getting help if something terrible happened were not imminent. Also, once you're floating in the glacier fed, even if you have a life jacket, you only have 10- 15 minutes before hypothermia will take over. You're done. So we trusted J and headed back in, having experienced Skilak Lake for 10 minutes.

You can't really blame anything or anyone for that kind of outcome. It stinks, but it's the chance you take fishing in extreme wilderness under cold temperatures. If we had any tinge of stupidity bobbing around in our minds, that was soon shuttled out in favor of laughter. The group that put in their drift boat moments before us was also unloading their aborted trip at shore. They were loaded up for an overnight camping trip on the river. After being in the water 5 minutes they were now rapidly unloading their boat. We asked if they saw us and the waves and decided to bag it. "No, we forgot to the put the plug in the boat. Do you have a spare?" No, and we held our smirks. These are the types of people that die in the Alaskan wilderness every year to mere shrugs from Alaskans and horror from out of staters. We are the ones that don't fall in the lake and don't make the papers.

After a chuckle or two and a recognition of the building whitecaps on the lake, we happily packed it in and drove away. We tried to fish from the shore a few miles up the road at Dot's fishing camp, but 'ol Dot wouldn't let us walk across his property to wet a line, even if we paid him the $5 to park. Thanks, jerk. We cruised back north dejected, but comfortable in our decision to respect Alaska. I'm local now and I can fish this lake in May. The fish will happily wait.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Walking through the store yesterday I saw a woman shopping and pushing her cart with her 2 toddlers. I glanced at her hair first and thought, "That looks like a way grown out chelsea." Then I glanced down at her Skrewdriver sweatshirt. Didn't expect that. Good plan, lady.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It was a pretty big shock to see that Dennis Savard was fired as the Blackhawk’s head coach only 4 games into the season, but by replacing him with Quenneville it is hard to see the maneuver as anything but an upgrade. I was used to watching coach Quenneville across the Hawk bench while tapping on Blues shoulders to send them in for shifts where they would most likely score against my Hawks. Times change and the Hawks seem to be a younger, stronger team then the Blues. But that’s all on paper so far, but I faith that the hawks will sneak into the playoffs this year.

A decent photo update, finally.

Winter is here. We do hover in the mid 30’s during the day, but it’s into the 20’s every night. The small amount of snow we have left may just melt before we say goodbye to these lovely mid day 30’s temps for good. Regardless, in a few weeks the snow will start accumulating and I’ll be playing hockey before I know it.

This Saturday I’ll be fly fishing for rainbow trout on the Kenai River. The temps will probably be in the teens, but the trout get nice and plump after feasting on salmon eggs this time of the year -- so you bundle up and hope for that enormous, once in a lifetime rainbow. Unlike salmon fishing, there is no way we’ll be taking a fish home. The trout are catch and release only so a beautiful picture will have to be enough (if we are so lucky). It’s a world class stretch of river and this is the way it will stay that way. I’m digging the Alaskan approach to the cold – ignore it and just do what you want to do. It’s infectious.

My Vampire Counts army is coming along nicely, and should be glued and ready for the November 1st Warhammer tournament. I’m not too accustomed to fielding 3500 point armies so I don’t expect to get very far, but any play is good. Having just finished painting some crypt ghouls, I’m feeling in fine form and can’t to play weekly and continue to paint nightly.

I did finish Dennis Lehane’s “The Given Day” and felt a very flat emotion upon the final page. I love his prose and this book is no exception, though the great characters and situations just don’t pay off in the end. I understand Sam Raimi has purchased the rights to it, so perhaps the movie will come across stronger. The previous 2 Lehane adaptations were so strong (Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone) that maybe buying this property was a knee jerk reaction rather than a response to the work itself. For a 700 page book, I found it all consuming and a very fast read, which makes it even stranger to end up feeling flat at the end.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It snowed and rained a fair amount of Sunday, but it was above 32 degrees so all that water was more charming than annoying. However, it was below 32 over night so driving to work at 6:45 meant driving on icy roads. There were quite a few ditch divers and a few stuck on median by UAA. Fall is just about over.

Tuesday morning I awoke to 2 slushy inches of snow, which was infinitely safer than glare ice. No 4wd this day.

It had all melted by noon and we are again in the high 30's, though that will change soon. It'll begin stacking steadily by Halloween...


I have a fair amount of things to blog about but I have been awaiting development on 3 rolls of film. After stopping by Walmart yesterday to drop them off I was confronted by a chicken scratch sign: "No make CD now." Ok, I'll happily not give you my film and just run by Sam's Club on the weekend.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I wasn’t sure about racing last night – it had been raining for about 2 days straight, there is a race planned for Saturday, and weeknights are tight to begin with – but after staying a little bit later at work and nailing a critical code fix, I decided to clear my head and open up my legs and lungs at Russian Jack Springs. The trail was as slick as could be and many more people ate it than had on last Saturday, though I dodged that bullet – this time. A test lap proved extremely helpful and I was intent on hammering down my form and commitment to atone for Saturday’s ride. On Saturday I was still hacking a bit from my cold of a week earlier, though I had felt completely recovered – you never really know until you try to run it in the red for an extended period. Maybe I had some jitters on Saturday as well. Who knows, but tonight I pushed it all into the past and dug in for an hour with the only goal being to know personally that I kept myself on the rivet the entire hour, numbers and standings be damned. It helped a great deal that 2 sections of the loop were on the paved path – however short these sections may have been, they yielded priceless moments of recovery. I sense that my results are better than last time, but I know I pushed much harder over the entire race and felt the cross bug burrow deeper under my skin. Crashing early, I slept the sleep of the dead and satisfied.

Some new flickr updates. Lots of pictures from the source. And a story in the paper.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pain Cave

Between the rain and moving into my new place over the last 3 weeks I have not been on my bike much at all. I’ve been on the treadmill at the gym around 30 minutes a day so my cardio is fine, though it just doesn’t substitute for time in the saddle. It is fitness, and it all counts in the end. It will snow soon and there is no room for any scheming and angling to find the perfect convergence of schedule, fitness, and weather. Cross season is underway and that is what my Trek is for, so off to the race on Saturday I went. If I suck wind, so be it. If I eat it, so be it. I know I will have a great time. I accomplished all 3.

This stage was at a rectangular shaped park in downtown Anchorage. The entire length of the park is a slow to gradual hill across the short side of the rectangle, and the course ran across the incline several times. Think about it for a moment – you are constantly riding sideways along a hill, endless leaning and offsetting your weight in wet grass to find a way to maintain a straight, balanced bike. Very challenging and slippery, though over the course of the race some safe ruts emerged that I threw my confidence into them. Even on the sideways descents you had to lock into an offset posture to compensate for the hill. Also, whereas in Wisconsin there were a variety of classes to fit into, here in AK there is men’s open, which is 50 minutes and a lap. I’m not sure if this is a function of a different set of regulations or because of the smaller field. I suspect the latter. No problem at all for me. You get to ride longer, everybody rides together, and you naturally settle into your classifications over time. I like being able to always find somebody to work with and never feel like I’m all alone in a segment. It also keeps it from being an all day event. I love the Madison cross scene, but we just don’t have the bodies up here for that large of an event. Apples and oranges – I love them both.

This also had the burliest run ups I’ve experienced. You ran up a sheer wall of dirt on one occasion. Each step dug into the topsoil making an indentation, only to immediately fill in moments later – a very hearty and resilient burm. The staircase run up was epic, and after examining the park layout it made perfect sense to use it. At a glance it seems silly, but cross is nothing if not creative and painful. “You know that 25-30 step staircase over there, carry your bike up that each lap.” It reminded me of the stairmaster, and that is always heart warming.

They erroneously placed me in the Masters category and I think I did more laps then they recorded, but I’m right where I expected to be – exhausted and smiling. More pictures are here, and some in my camera awaiting development. Winter is coming, but not without a fight.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


The cable will get set up in a few days, but the vinyl is spinning and the painting area is set up. Music, books, painting, and cross racing twice a week now. No complaints. Take the tour.

Friday, September 05, 2008

“The world today is such a wicked thing”

Much progress has been made and the place is looking much, much better. I’m fighting the tail end of a cold, so I’ll be taking a pass on the first cross race tomorrow. I might pedal over though to check out how they race up here. I get the impression there is a staggered start of all classes so you find everyone racing together with the divisions worked out later. That makes sense considering the smaller pool of racers while also adding to the mix and fun on the course. At least you can always find somebody to work with or a wheel to catch. I’m looking forward to that on the 13th.

Kitchen and dining room set up? Check.

Stereo pumping out beautiful analog music? Check. Hearing side 2 of the self titled Black Sabbath LP crackling out of my speakers while watching the vinyl spin around was amazing (I believe that side of the LP has no songs – the side is a song).

Now I just need to get the painting area ready and my essentials are all checked off. Time for the digital camera to get to work.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I closed on my townhouse Thursday at 4pm and it almost went flawlessly, though in the end there is nothing to complain about seriously. The seller is currently in the Virgin Islands and lives out of state, so overnight Fedexing of the documents became an issue. It appeared likely that I would still close on time though due to the weekend the documents would not arrive in time to be recorded on Friday, so I wouldn’t get keys till Tuesday. At 3:30 pm my agent worked her magic and all was worked out. The seller’s documents would be in Alaska on Friday morning and I would be able to get in there that night. Perfect.

I’m still not completely moved in, but all of my stuff from storage and most of my stuff from Becky’s apartment is there, albeit some of it is still in dense piles. We decided wisely to take a break from moving on Monday and get some wild blueberries on the mountain side. You could literally pick all day long if you have the stamina. We have enough for a pie and maybe a little more.

As of last night my kitchen is almost completely set up and I may actually begin crashing there tonight. I’m still in a bit of a haze about it all, fighting a mild cold, and cross season starts Saturday. Once this all gets sorted out there will be many pictures. Honest.

Oh, and the fireweed is at the top.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I don’t know what is exactly about fishing in the ocean on a charter, but it really leaves you exhausted. I woke up clear and awake at 2:45 am and we pulled out of the driveway at 3:30 on the dot. Even with going to bed at 10:30 that is still a brutal start to the day. I had eaten a full dinner the night before and planned on eating a decent breakfast. I have never has full blown sea sickness before and didn’t want to start now. At the very least, having a stomach somewhat full of decent food is probably wise. Too much or too little seems like taunting the monster. We crept through Anchorage in darkness, watching random people wander around the Mountain View neighborhood as they tend to do. I believe we passed Bird Creek around 4:30 as a few glimpses of dawn started to peak over the Turnagain arm while there were probably half a dozen fishermen standing in the creek hoping for a Silver salmon yet undoubtedly catching a plethora of Pinks. I’m leery of bears there on a bright and sunny day with 50+ anglers about. Brave men, indeed, though if the fish are running and this is the time in your schedule you have to fish, then have at ‘em. In the past few weeks a strong and pervasive attitude has infecting everyone up here – winter is coming soon so get out there and pedal, fish, and hike now! Sleep is not an option. There will be plenty of that in a few months.

I believe I began dozing when we poked into the Kenai Peninsula, only to be awakened by the exclamation of ‘Bear!’ as we made it just beyond Moose Pass, AK. I shrugged off the fog and watched a 2 year old Black Bear scooting along the side of the rode in the near dawn light as we slowed and gazed. After a few moments he shot into the forest and we resumed our 65mph push towards Seward, AK.

I bought my ticket for the Seward Silver Derby for $10 at 6:30 am before lugging our gear down to the Grubstake to meet our captain. We were told that the captain Marv is “not an early riser”, so we thought nothing of watching the other boats zip out of the harbor while we walked up and down the docks, ogling other fishing vessels quietly docked for the day as 7:15 slowly passed. Two guys, a father and son from California, walked up the dock to the boat, completing the 6 that would be going out that day with ‘ol Marv. Marv walked up at 7:30 with a bag of dead herring and a thermos of coffee. He made a few jokes, advised our smallest fisherman to put on a life vest, and quickly started digging into his engine. He poured a little oil in, closed the engine, and gave us a quick speech before heading out for fuel. Why he can’t top off the boat the night before I do not know. I also do not know why we couldn’t have left around 6:30-6:45 like everybody else in Seward. Obviously, if we catch a lot of fish nobody will care anything about these complaints. I know a great deal needs to be done before taking a group out for a day, but it is nice as the client to see all of that hidden. Get there early, get your handshake and smile, and find yourself quickly booming off for Halibut. Then again, if the guy has been in business for a while and operates this way, he must be doing something right. I guessed that something was bringing back a lot of fish so I shrugged and happily accepted the terms.

I found one of the few seats in the cabin and settled in as the diesel motor opened wide into Resurrection Bay. As 30 minutes passed and we approached the opening of the bay I studied the interactive map Marv had operating on his console and asked him how far we were heading. Marv pointed at a bay far south along the coast and from meager calculations I said, "another one and a half hours?" "Yep. Had some big Halibut there yesterday."

I have never felt fully blown seasickness before, but I've heard horror stories from many. I came pretty close in 8 foot waves on Lake Superior while headed for Isle Royale a few years ago, but I never went over the line. I take that as a good sign. It seems like the key is to avoid the smell of the burning diesel more than anything else. At the very least, that is one of the major factors one can control. It all seems like a crapshoot in the end though. We hit some big waves as we crept along the National Park and I preemptively put my head down. Aside from getting sick, I hate traveling hours with a diesel motor screaming. It's just boring for me. I like it for the 30 minutes we're leaving the harbor and the 30 minutes at the end when we can see the destination. I didn't feel sick but I was tired and bored so this was the plan of attack. By the time 2 hours had passed my stomach was a little uneasy, but I wasn't getting worse and I really wanted to catch fish so I decided to just muscle through it all.

As we worked for Halibut and I kept answering the "You look a little grey?" question with "I'm just a little tired" I started to get frustrated. I've caught Halibut before (it's easy) and everybody was catching them in front of me at the time, so why was I unable to get one on? I could feel them swallowing and chewing the bait all the way down there at 200 feet, but I could not get them to take the whole circle hook down. Eventually I reeled in a Skate that we promptly let go before landing a Halibut of my own. We were only 1 fish away from our limit so I was quickly handed a pole with a set hook on it and I reeled in the 25lb fish from the bottom of the ocean. Bam!, the captain locked everything up and we peeled out for the Silver Salmon grounds. We had taken about 2.5 hours to limit out on Halibut (2 a person -- 8 total for our group) and needed to really put the pedal down to get on those silvers. Marv looked at my grey face. "You'll feel better soon." The water was clear, I put my head down, Marv opened up the 'ol Grubstake, and I promptly dozed off.

When I awoke 30 minutes later I felt great, the water was calm, and I took the spring in my step to those silvers. After about an hour I limited out with 3 good sized fish (maybe 14-15lbs?), bringing our total up to 7. Not bad. Silvers fight like crazy and make my heart soar. Marv helped us get our limit and may have even cured my flaky stomach. Pictures are still in my camera, but they will be coming soon.

We ended up with 8 Halibut, 7 Silvers, and 2 Pink Salmon. I believe after they were cleaned we loaded up 100 lbs of meat into the coolers -- plenty for a long winter. I stumbled into the building in Anchorage around 11:15, crawled into the shower, and fell asleep at 12:30. 22 hours straight and loving it. I'll sleep more in December. The fish are out there now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

This has literally been the coldest summer on record here in Anchorage. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s been in the 40’s with occasional snowstorms on random days – it’s been in the high 50’s to the low 60’s most days. Attach that to most days being cloudy and a fair amount drizzle and you have a bit of a dud summer. Now, it being my first entire summer up here – I don’t know any better. It’s Alaska, I’m finally local, and I’m sort of running on perpetual adrenaline as long as there is fishing, cycling, and hiking to enjoy. There are occasionally glorious days, like this past Sunday.

We were off for fishing in Bird Creek at 8:30 am, but along the way we decided to drive 20 minutes past it and hit Ingram Creek instead. It has just as many Pink Salmon right now, though not as many people. If there were more reports of Silvers showing up at Bird Creek we wouldn’t have entertained the switch, but it was really more of a question of where we wanted to catch Pinks. Along the drive down Turnagain Arm we pulled over for a minute to watch a pod of about 9 Beluga Whales. If you glance past the white bumps cycling in and out of the water you’d easily miss it. Even in all of the wildlife Alaska allows to be readily seen, this was a bit of a lucky coup I understand -- a good start to the day.

We geared up at Ingram around 9:15 and began the 5 minute walk to the creek. As we approached the creek, making noise all along in the thick woods, we were struck with a strong scent of something rotten. We quickly winced before agreeing that it must be rotten fish on the bank, which is either a sign of some random dead fish or carcasses of fish the bears have left after feasting – either way it meant there are fish in the creek so we were happy. As we starting to wind through the dense forest towards the creek, slightly off the main trail, we came headlong into the source of the stench – a rotten yearling black bear. It looked dead almost a month. We examined it a bit and decided the skull was a bit too small and maggot infested to take for bleaching and display. Maybe it was clipped on the Seward Highway before wandering in the woods to die? Maybe it surprised some fisherman that were packing? We shrugged it off as it is Alaska and all and headed down to the river, though I snapped a picture on my phone while we passed. You are practically elbow to elbow on Bird Creek and fully live the combat fishing paradigm, but here on Ingram we were entirely alone. Glancing at the narrow braids of water we could immediately see enormous schools of fish. The clouds yielded to a blue sky and 65 degree sunlight and we proceeded to settle in to catching an obnoxious amount of fish. In 3 hours I caught about 35 Pink Salmon while also squeezing in a break and a hike down towards the ocean. My record was 6 fish caught on 6 casts in a row. Too bad Pinks taste bad, though they are plenty big and have a lot of fight. Even though we motored home towards Anchorage with nothing in the cooler, it was quite honestly a postcard/commercial day for Alaska.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My bid on a townhouse was accepted last night so I now enter a 3 week sprint to close on it. All should go smoothly, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

On the Coastal Trail last night I found a $20 bill and then a little later had to wait 10 minutes while a large bull moose just stood in the center of the trail eating leaves, before eventually meandered into the brush. It reminded of the Northern Exposure episode where Chris keeps finding gifts from a Caribou in the forest.

So, a very lucky day it seems.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cross season is in about a month and I hope to take part. There looks to be about 6 races across a few weeks, which means weeknight races. Winter comes quick here so you have to get it in. Cross is so fun and the environment surrounding it is infectious so I suspect a compact season will only increase the intensity. So I’ve been more diligent in my daily riding, hoping to get my fitness a bit higher and my legs a little stronger.

My main route takes me from midtown Anchorage down the creekside path towards the ocean, where I turn left and head to the end of the Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park. 11 miles each way and no cars. Perfect to put your head down and set a strong pace, though you do need to be careful when snaking through the Frisbee golf course. It is far too easy to crash into the groups drifting across the path as they move towards the next hole. And then you have a few scrapes and walk away smelling like Patchouli from the collision.

I saw a few moose on the trail when I first started using the trail in mid May, but this past week has been en explosion of wildlife. I have always been told that the moose are always around, it’s just that when the trees get really full and green you cannot see them if they are even a few feet behind the tree line.

On Friday I came pedaling around a corner to see a large cow and calf lying in the grass, maybe 10 feet from the path. Beautiful to stumble into, and even better when added to the cow and 2 calves I saw on the way back. 5 moose isn’t bad. I guess it has the charm of seeing deer in Wisconsin, yet without the skittish response. Moose just sit there and chew on leaves, only really getting annoyed if you come too close or near their calf. Simple and very easy to enjoy and observe from a close distance without pressuring the animal. Saturday I saw 2 more moose and Sunday gave me 4 (2 calves). One on Saturday was a large male with full velvet. It’s hard to top seeing moose up close on your bike ride, but I did on Sunday. While tucked in on a downhill in Kincaid Park I passed 4 riders climbing the hill. They chatted with each other and pedaled smoothly. Just as I zipped by the last of them I saw a large black bear emerge from the brush on my left (which would have been to their immediate right) and hustle immediately further into the brush on the left, away from me. I went by at about 20 mph and he never considered me as he scooted away, but it did make my heart jump a bit. Very cool.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Went back the well last night (Bird Creek) and got a bigger salmon than Sunday. Both are now safely in the freezer. Ahh, Alaska.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The pictures are still in my camera (yes, film) but I did get a nice silver salmon on Sunday at Bird Creek. It was not as big as it could have been, but it was big enough for a great fight and was happily my first Alaskan salmon caught while standing in the middle of a stream in waders. I also caught 4 Pink Salmon (Humpbacks) but let those go – mushy, bland tasting flesh once then hit the freshwater I understand. “I kept these wild salmon over those wild salmon because they taste better” – purely an uptown problem to have. The one Silver is safely frozen and will soon be joined by many more, not to mention some Halibut in a few weeks.

It took about 3 hours to get all of my fish, which is not bad at all. It’s even nicer when you consider the short 25 minute drive from Anchorage gets you a beautiful view of the Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains, and maybe even a bear or 2. They are fairly common on Bird Creek when the salmon run but thankfully I didn’t see any this time (or sadly?), though I had my pepper spray nonetheless. I’m not that bad at filleting salmon, though I’m still too slow and perhaps a bit wasteful. More practice should solve that problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I feel my language and vernacular expanding and shifting the more I am here.”They’re seeing Silvers in the Kenai.” “The Eklutna Tailrace had some rollovers last night, but they are looking pretty blush.” In Chicago (and Madison for that matter) I never knew what a minus tide was. I guess I had an idea – it’s when the tide is out – but I never knew what it really meant, how to read a tide table, and how to plan my day around it. On July 4th there was a -5 tide, which is about as great as it gets for razor clamming at Clam Gulch (I know, stunning name. It’s right up there next to Forest Park in St Louis – beautiful park for sure along with a great art museum). The -5 tide was at 11:30 am, which is the apex of the tide if you will, so we planned on getting there around 10. We left Chugiak around 6:45 and zoomed down to Kenai. It was about 60 degrees out and fairly clear. You never know what it will be like when you actually get down to the coast on the peninsula, but in this case it stayed beautiful. The beach was filled with people for as far as the eye could see in each direction, pock marked sand everywhere between them. We had 2 buckets, a small shovel, and a clam tube. Becky’s brother told us to just look for a small dimple and then dig there. Easy. After about 10 minutes of digging at supposed dimples we still were coming up empty. People around us seemed to be tossing something into their buckets every few minutes, so they were having luck. It was starting to sink in that our trip may be a total waste. Once 11:30 comes the clock starts ticking and soon there is very little beach left to dig. Hmmm. I see what looks like a very pronounced dimple, arrogantly force the tube over it, and push down very hard. I placed my index finger over the air hole and slowly draw up the tube of sand, shaking it out onto the beach to find a beautiful razor clam. Such a relief. Soon we were getting a clam every 5-10 minutes, now that our eyes had focused in on what exactly a correct dimple looks like. Pulling up a full tube of sand is no easy task. The suction alone is a beast to wrestle. The muscles involved and the posture make it literally a deadlift – dig your heels in, look up, and pull. It felt about as difficult as a 250lb deadlift at its worst moment, which is just before it starts to break loose from its deepest point. Great workout. We ended up with about 30 razor clams by 1pm and the tide had almost fully come in. Maybe enough for clam chowder? We transferred them into a fresh bucket of saltwater (they’ll sit there for the night as they belch out all of their sand), hiked up in the new 60 degree drizzle to the truck, headed into Soldotna to use the bathroom at the Fred Meyer, and then finally ate our sandwiches in the truck marveling at how amazingly delicious leftover, cold fajita wraps can be when you are dirty, tired, and starving. A perfect 4th. By the time we returned to Chugiak it was sunny and clear and one of the warmest days of the year – 70 degrees. I’d like to go clamming again, but I’ll try next time to be there 3+ hours before the maximum minus tide. Maybe I can get 100+ clams. I ended up cleaning them the next morning and having about 1 cup of meat, which I sautéed in olive oil, and then threw in some pasta with alfredo a few days later. Delicious and extremely fresh.

Housesitting in Chugiak is now done. I liked the space, but I am very happy to be back to a much shorter commute and the lack of full time responsibility for 2 dogs. I love dogs but being the full time herder can wear a little thin, especially with 2 high energy animals. Give me 2 English Setters any day.

I’m legit now. There are Alaska plates on my truck.

Saturday the 19th was a truly beautiful day – mid 60’s and sunny. We accomplished something that was on the list for a long time – dinner at the Double Musky. We tried to go last November, but they were closed for a few weeks – their vacation I understand. I have always heard rumblings that it’s the greatest place to eat in the state, I should expect to wait a while, and I should expect to pay plenty. The middle one is a variable that was only 30 minutes for us, but the others were certainly true. It was an astounding meal – easily one of the top 5 of my meager little life – and it was a little pricey, though completely worth it. Since Becky went for the Filet Mignon I decided to steer towards seafood, which brought me to Shrimp Ettoufee. It was probably the best filet I’ve ever tasted and the shrimp was perfect. The gumbo was tremendous and all I could think about was trying to make it myself. I’m guessing we’ll be back about twice a year, but only for special occasions. It would be the perfect place for visitors to have an evening. All the more appetizers to share.

Playing HeroQuest with 2 people is fun, but not as fun as playing Warhammer Quest with 2 people. Warhammer Quest is a much better system when it comes to randomly generating the scenario, but that game is buried in my storage space for the time being. HeroQuest is a very easy and smooth system, but one that really needs a game master. Digging on the internet I was able to find some solo rules and we gave them a try a few weeks ago. This one was the best. You lose some of the building storyline that a GM will give you, but you still do pretty well. I haven’t tried it literally playing solo, but rather with 2 people that don’t want to switch off being the GM. I could see this being a very easy game for people to get an appetite for Warhammer Quest. No complaints, but I’ll probably not be hunting down game packs on ebay anytime soon.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I am a bit sad that My Winnipeg won’t be coming to Anchorage anytime soon, if at all, which is a more probable case. I’m not sure I completely understand and appreciate Guy Maddin’s films yet (or if I will ever), but I get a great deal from them, am never bored, am always excited to find something new in a subsequent viewing, and eager to digest the new stuff whenever he releases it. He never wastes my time and keeps my mind engaged. Isn’t that high praise?

My initial exposure was at a Saturday matinee at the Music Box in Chicago. I saw The Heart of the World first and was completely blown away. For a sub 10 minute film it offers more to digest and appreciate than most good full length releases. After that short they started the feature, which was appropriately Archangel. It was a bit hard follow, though the sense of the famous Maddin love triangle and the complete submersion in pre WW2 film making was easy to accept. I have not watched that movie a second time, but I strongly remember the theme of memory, how to trust it, when not to, and the way it all meshes into one continuous experience in our minds. I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if another viewing garnered a completely different reaction, but the sense of distrusting memory sticks in my mind right now.

A few years later Holly got me into a screening of The Saddest Music in the World at Facets where wonderfully Guy himself was present to take some questions and give some thoughts. That movie had the omnipresent Maddin love triangle, though its plot was easy to follow. Given his œuvre one would expect a weird cat visually, or at least a personality similar to a stoned Crispin Glover -- Not the case at all. He seemed like an everyday middle aged Canadian, albeit one with a tremendous knowledge of depression era films. I remember him being presented with the giddy and pregnant question of: “What new movies do you seek out?” He kind of shrugged and said something to the effect of “all the new stuff, the blockbusters, whatever. I love movies and being entertained.” I suspect he broke some hipster hearts on that one. Maybe going to the big budget movies is a pallet cleanser for him, maybe he wants to answer a question like that in a general way to keep his contemporary inspirations close to his vest, or maybe he just doesn’t worry too much about modern film beyond what he’s doing himself. Who knows, but he seemed like a regular guy that happens to be an amazing artist.

Living in Wisconsin forced me to miss the Brand Upon the Brain performances. As great as Bear Tooth is, they probably won’t be getting My Winnipeg, but it will be on dvd someday soon and there is a rumor that Anchorage now has a Netflix hub (2 day turnaround on most discs they say!).

Something about the trailer makes me think about the southside…

Friday, June 27, 2008

Big photo dump today. It’s from 2 rolls of film, yes film, that I started on the drive up here and finished last weekend on a casual ride on the coastal trail here in Anchorage. I usually spend a few dollars when developing film to get the cd for easier flickr posting, but when I got the pictures back from Walmart there was no cd and only something scrawled across the envelop: “We CD machine not work today.” Ok, so I had to scan them in and some are a bit crooked. That explains why it looks like a crackhead did it.

This weekend will be Arctic Thunder and hopefully the Matanuska Glacier, if the weather cooperates both days. I’ll be ready to go with a new roll of film that is planned to see development before the end of summer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Like most people (hopefully), I’m constantly trying to shed bad habits and look at life changes as for opportunities for rebirth, etc. It is so hard to break so many habits, but leaving a city for a fresh opportunity is a decent amount of momentum to steer in that direction.

I had pretty good luck when I moved to Madison in dropping a great deal of my takeout food habits. Chicago is such a great town to eat in and having lived in the same neighborhood for 29 years, it was so easy to grab a burrito, some sliders, a pile of sesame chicken, or a Big Baby from Jacky’s on my walk home from the Pulaski Orange Line or my more often pedal southwest down Archer Ave. Living there so many years made it an easy afterthought to just grab a bag of grease. Moving to Madison was a chance to not make friends with any grease pits and be forced to cook at home all the more often. If I don’t know where to stop on the way home from work, then I just have to eat at home (though I did succumb to a Teddy Wedger a handful of times – “Hey, it’s summer and I’m riding a lot, I can handle one.”).

One can always do better when it comes to eating properly, so I’m trying to get even better habits here in Alaska. There is no $1 menu at McDonalds here to buzz through, but rather a $1.50 menu to pick through. I’m a cheap bastard when it comes to many things, so this is good motivation to cruise on by and just head for home. I try and look at takeout and other greasy food and their prices and visualize what the cost could equate to. If I eat at home for a while I could easily afford a new wheelset, another wool cap from Lyle, bar tape, more Vampire Counts, or some metal vinyl.

I figure it’s part of an endless march away from bad habits towards better conversations, more a better books read, more and better movies viewed, more miles pedaled, more weight lifted, more models painted well, fewer hours wasted in front of mediocre television, better food, etc, etc, etc. Stay on the path and live long and strong.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I don’t miss most of the things I expected I would when I moved. I knew I would miss people and I certainly have, but thanks to friends like Lora dipping their toes into the blogging world it will be a little easier to keep in touch. I anticipated missing some of the Madison food, but that hasn’t happened (though I do miss the Wisconsin prices). Real Chili already closed long before my move. I’m on an endless Halibut and Salmon diet when dining out – no complaints.

Leaving Madison I figured that the lost cycling opportunities would be high on my list, but they have turned out to be relatively low now that I’ve settled into the trails and back roads of Anchorage and Chugiak. There are plenty of trails to whiz down and birches and spruces to speed by, smelling the fresh air along the way.

I am amazed at how much I miss my gym though. I always knew I was extremely lucky to have a great gym in Madison. It did have some drawbacks, but they were really blatant signs of just how great a gym Ford’s is. You sometimes had to wait a bit for the dead lift platform or one of the squat racks, which while that may have been inconvenient for 5 – 10 minutes, it fostered a priceless environment of proper training, focus, and competition. The proper exercises and muscle groups were always at the top of most people’s training routine – lots of squatting and dealifting with minimal attention to” beach muscles”. I found myself constantly throwing a few more plates on the bar when lifting there just to avoid any sense of complacency. Ford’s was also one of the friendliest groups around. If you looked over at the people endlessly squatting you were apt to ask why you weren’t squatting today, and when you were going to squat next. You were sucked into a friendly vortex of competition and encouragement in the exact exercises that too often drift into the ditch in other gyms. I’m now a 5 day a week guy at the World Gym here in Anchorage. It has a lot to love about it – open 24 hours, sauna/steam room, and no waiting for the squat rack or dead lift platform. You do have to wait at times for the preacher bench or to bench press. There are even a few guys that I see everyday to the point where I have correctly deduced their workout routine: Day 1 is chest, Day 2 is biceps and triceps, repeat. There may be some abdominal work thrown in, but there is certainly nothing beyond that slipping in. There are many people there like that, but also more than a few that work their legs and back as part of a wise routine. All gyms have both types of members, but Ford’s seemed to swing towards the better side of that ratio. The real answer is that I can do all the exercises I want here so it’s up to me (as it always has been). I will miss some of the chit chat at Ford’s: “Throw a 45 on it for you?” (I was planning on adding a 25) “Yeah, let’s do it.” I had the same environment when I skated with much better skaters. I was happy landing 360 flips on flat, but Pete did them faster, over hips, and then switch. Before you know it you’re pushing harder than before. Strength training is ultimately a solitary pursuit, which is probably why I love it so much. You have to embrace the constant, linear nature of the pursuit. Benching 225 is still 225 lbs, whether in Madison or Alaska. Just remember to add some more weight on for the sake of the cheeseheads that couldn’t be here.

Life is pretty good. Housesitting brought forth the following amazing comment: “Eat anything you want from the freezers and fridges. Just don’t eat the crab legs.” “All of the halibut and wild salmon?” “Yep, we have too much anyway right now.” A steady diet of wild Alaskan seafood on the grill is hard to complain about. The Chris from Madison that bought farm raised salmon as a treat now seems like an alien. I even have my own crab legs to eat ($8/lb). I suppose I’ll get tired of salmon someday and long for Northern Wisconsin walleye, but that day isn’t here, and I’d love to try and get to that day. Sounds like a good problem to have.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I feel settled in, yet I’m 3 times removed from having a permanent place. Let me explain. The majority of my life is sitting in a storage facility in South Anchorage, right off Dimond. A small subset of that is at Becky’s tidy apartment – clothing, 2 bikes, a pile of books, scrabble, and hero quest. For the past 2 weeks and the next 4 I’ll be house sitting in Chugiak, AK. It’s a longer drive to work everyday, but the house is nice and big and there are many great cycling opportunities nearby. But, now a subset of my stuff at Becky’s is now out there. My stuff is in 3 places, none of which is anywhere near close to being a permanent home. Oddly, it doesn’t bug me. I have bikes, clothing, and books. Perfect.

I didn’t get a King Salmon on the Kenai last Sunday but “we” (our boat) did – just over 20 lbs. It’s always nice not to get skunked and even better to be on such a beautiful river spending the day, but I really want to catch one of my own. Maybe next weekend.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I guess I’m settled in Alaska now. It feels like I was in Madison a year ago, and word from Chicago and Wisconsin about 90 degree days seems beyond belief. I’ve heard that people in Alaska get a touch of “island fever” at times and I can see how that might be true. Since I am living in 50-60 degree days with 19+ hours of sunlight while surrounded by mountains, green birches, the smell of spruce, and plenty of bike trails (cross and road) – why do I care what is going in the lower 48, outside of the lives of friends and family? So it appears I have a sense of an island, though in a thoroughly positive and embracing way. I suspect that will change over time, particularly in the middle of winter. But for now all is new, happy, and perfect.

Most of my life is stacked indefinitely in a storage facility. When I say most of my life I mean stereo, vinyl, cd’s, warhammer models, dvd player, kitchen stuff, and all of my gaming stuff. Given the weather and beautiful surroundings I don’t miss the miniatures and music yet, though that will change when the weather trainwrecks in the fall. I have my clothing, bikes, lots of books, and a fishing license. Becky’s kitchen and dressers handle me just fine. I have everything I need. How come I still feel like I’m in college though? Even in Madison my little apt had such a small amount of stuff in it. Being at UIC for all those years makes old habits die hard.

The plan is to start the house hunting process in a few weeks. I hope it goes smoothly and quickly, but as long as I start down that path I’m sure it will work out. It seems to be a downhill run once you crack that door open.

Indy 4 was a B-, though I suspect it will get better over time. It delivered though.

No luck fishing the Little Susitna Memorial day weekend. It looks like Sunday we’ll be trying for King Salmon on the Kenai River. I really want to catch one of those beasts. So much tasty meat and so much fight.

My repaired Orbea arrived this morning from Madison! As I’m house sitting in Chugiak for the next 5 weeks I’ll be tearing it up along the Glenn Highway towards Eagle River and Anchorage.

Friday, May 30, 2008

I spoke briefly with Becky that Wednesday night in Fort Nelson, BC. She worried that we wouldn’t make it to Anchorage by a decent time Friday afternoon, and therefore nullify our plans for food and beer at Humpy’s at 5pm. She had slept in Fort Nelson and drove the next day to Whitehorse(590 miles), which was a full day. Hmmm. We wanted to hit Tok, AK (970 miles) – a very lofty goal. Pulling a trailer over 2 lane mountain passes gave us an average speed of 45 mph. We decided to drive through the night until we had to sleep, find a turn off, and then close our eyes. We were gaining lots of daylight everyday so that was a benefit. Also, once we crossed into Alaska we gained an hour. The table was set.

Up at 5 am, we quickly destroyed as much as possible of the waffle continental breakfast and were driving at 6am. We were told that Whitehorse would take 10 - 12 hours by the guy at the gas station. We planned on 12 considering our stop at the Liard hot springs.

At various gas stations and rest stops we had been seeing a Tacoma with a blue tarp in the bed and Alabama plates. It would be ahead of us and then behind us, all the way through Alberta and British Columbia. Keeping track of this truck pulled us eagerly through the roads and towns along the way. We first saw them outside of their truck as they grab the obligatory photo in front of the Dawson Creek Alcan sign. 2 guys and 1 girl – maybe a year or 3 past college graduation. Every town would have us looking for “’Bama” and their blue tarp. As we pulled into the hot springs parking lot we joked about seeing them. Pow, there is the Tacoma! We chatted them up in the spring itself. They had plans for Tok as well, knowing that they were probably going to sleep in their truck somewhere. Turns out they left Alabama Sunday morning – the same day we left Indiana. We felt a little lazy about that, but then again they had no trailer. We wished them luck and pledged to see them in Tok, as they surely would arrive first.

The Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park is so worth the time to stop and chat with whomever happens to be there soaking away. We talked with a guy heading up to work on a Halibut charter in Seward, AK and a Texan heading back to his summer place in Wasilla, AK after having bought a truck in Texas to drive up. He was sleeping in it as well, though not shooting for Tok (he’s smart). Getting back in the car after a 30 minute soak was very tough and we soon found our journey getting groggy. After some coffee at the next fillup we were back on the attack. The Sirens had not won, yet. We had only tasted the Lotus, avoiding become full fledged Lotus Eaters.

We eventually made it to Whitehorse at the 12 hour mark and began scanning the strip for gas. “There they are!” Alabama was gassing up and we knew we had to gas up there as well. We chewed the rag again, exchanging hopes for Tok and the sweet release of eventually seeing Anchorage in our front windows. A car was filling next to us with Ontario plates and many bumper stickers, the main one being “Use less, conserve more.” She was chatting with a friend while pumping her gas, during which she neglected to see that she overfilled her tank and had about 2 gallons on the cement before she noticed it. She ran in, talked to the kid behind the counter, and it was quickly accessed that the amount spilled was not a huge red flag. Greg joked with the attendant after she left about her bumper sticker, concluding with, “And she’s from Ontario. What do you expect?” Neither of us knows what this means, but we do know they are an uppity province at times, it seemed funny, and whatever – we’re from Chicago so eat it. Chuckles finished, the road called.

The Yukon is truly where the wildlife comes out at dusk – black bear, brown bear, sheep, buffalo, wolves, moose, fox, etc. The wolf was truly the surprise of the bunch. We watched an animal cross up ahead from a small horse farm in the right to the brush on the left. I though it was a caribou with its head bent over when we first spotted it, but as we grew closer it was obviously a wolf. After slowing down and staring off the left, we met him eye to eye as he stood 20 yards away – much bigger and stronger than I would have expected. So cool.

I also cannot explain how unique and frustrating the permafrost is. The way it thaws and freezes over the years plays havoc with the road in ways you would need to see to believe. The 2 lane ribbon stretches out into the Yukon dusk and it endlessly and subtly bobs up and down, forcing the trailer and hitch to bump the entire way. I’m told that over time it may bend your truck frame, explaining why some trucks in Alaska and the Yukon have permanently bent frames that appear crooked as they drive towards you. My truck made it just fine and still moves in the direction you point it.

I was riding shotgun all day, devouring the Milepost and guiding Greg, whom was content to do all of the driving. Around midnight we found ourselves fighting sleep. Heading straight into the perpetual sun down didn’t help either, having long passed the beauty of the enormous and frozen Kluane Lake. According to the Milepost Beaver Creek, YT had a few hotels and was only 30 miles from Alaska, so that was the goal. If we could get a room, great. If not, we could park there and close our eyes. I’m sure there were rooms available, but at 12:30 am in the Yukon you cannot expect to find anything open. At all of the gas stations along the way we would ask for advice on where the next gas station was and how far it was to Tok, Whitehorse, etc. We knew what the book said but also wanted to know what actual people on the road said. Also, there was probably a genuine need to connect with other human beings outside of our truck. The common theme was to not expect fuel or services beyond 8 or 9 pm. Keep in mind that almost no gas pumps in the Yukon or northern BC take credit cards – you flip up the handle, pump away, and then head inside to settle up. So driving late into the night is limited more by fuel than sleep. So, no services are open in Beaver Creek as we expected. We found a gas station with a large parking lot, parked in the gravel on the side of its lot with the truck pointing up a slight incline (Greg knows how to park properly to sleep in a car – Chicago’s finest), and promptly leaned back, glancing at the clock to see it turn to 1 am.

At 4 am I awoke to a chilly 35 degree temperature and the same dusk we went to sleep in. An arctic fox still in white dashed across the road towards us. Greg stirred, felt chilly, and started the truck. We both left the idling truck to stretch, see our breath, and take a leak only to see one of the happiest sites in a long while. The Alabama Tundra was parked in the other side of the lot! How we passed them is beyond me, but they must have been dozing as well and looking for a pull off. I’d like to think they chose this sport after seeing our rig. We flirted with the idea of a note or something on their truck, but quickly decided against accidentally startling them and giving them a heart attack. Off we went, beaming and laughing about ‘Bama.

The truck kept us warm and around 4:45 am we saw the border. I had always heard that at this point in the trip you want to kiss the American soil, and I can assure you it is true. It took about 2 minutes to hand over the passports, answer a few questions, and have our passports returned. “Welcome to America” Yes sir! And thanks for the time change as well. 3:45 am now.

About 10 miles in is a chance at gas but it turns out the pumps were off, even though they did take credit cards. We didn’t have enough gas to hit Tok but that was no problem. We had been carrying 15 gallons of fuel over 3 gas cans so we simply poured 5 gallons in. Perfect.

Tok at 7 am gave us the perfect time to call Becky in Anchorage, already midway through her morning ritual. Yep, we’ll be in Anchorage around noon. After gas in Glenallen, AK we bombed for Anchorage. The weather was now in the 50’s, coffee was in our bellies, and our moods soared as Wasilla and Anchorage loomed.

What followed was a blur of meeting Becky for the storage keys, realizing that we smelt like ass after finding ourselves in the company of clean people, filling the storage unit, returning the trailer, showering/scraping off the road and filth, and finally having a few beers at 3pm while we calmly awaited Becky’s return from work. By 5 we were at Humpy’s eating Halibut, burgers, and pasta. After plenty of socializing with Becky’s friends and family we tramped around downtown a bit before passing out around midnight.

No major mechanical problems befell my 2003 Ranger. I did gain a slight pock mark in my windshield from some gravel on the Alaska Highway. No crack yet, but that will probably happen. Everybody up here has a cracked windshield though. I was told by numerous people that this makes me an Alaskan now. Everything made it safely and here I sit working at my new job.

Victory indeed!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

After paying way too much for dinner and the smoking room, we awoke at 5 am determined to leave Calgary, Edmonton and the rest of urban Alberta behind. Give us the wilderness and open road we yearned. Due to Greg’s Hilton card we triggered a free breakfast with our stay, so we lined up for that the minute it opened at 6 am. The Hilton Garden Inn does not have a continental breakfast, but rather a full buffet. Classy, and once again we planned on eating back some of our room rate, which is not classy. We sat down and were given small, laminated menus along with a felt pen. The items on the menu had underscores next to them. “Just write down the amount of each item you’d like and I’ll get it for you.” We read the instructions, which were fairly clear: ‘if you’d like 4 pancakes or pieces of French toast, mark 4. If you’d just like a full serving mark 1. If you’d like the ingredient in your omelet just check it.’ After a few moments we gave him our pre school worksheets and he questioned, “You marked 3 for French Toast. 1 means 4 slices from 2 pieces of toast.” No animosity came from us as we had accepted that Canada so far had rubbed us a little diagonally. Maybe it was us, though I now feel it was Alberta “Oh, 1 order then.” The instructions aside, the breakfast was delicious and we found ourselves outside of the city limits around 7am.

I had heard that passing directly through Edmonton was a recipe for disaster – poor signage, etc. I kind of wanted to get a picture with Wayne, but we opted for a crafty bypass that was in the Milepost. Everything went well and soon we were northwest of Edmonton without even a glimpse of its downtown. This day was going much better than the previous one and Canada looked prettier every minute.

Fort Nelson, BC was the goal that night and we reached it around 8:30 pm.

We did not stop for gas here, foolishly filling up 10 miles earlier.
I immediately regretted that fillup as we rumbled by the Sasquath Crossing.

As I walked in to pay at another place I met Greg walking out, having used the bathroom. “Cover your mouth because the guy in there has tuberculosis.” Sure enough, he endlessly coughed and spit phlegm before he paused to cough on my swiped Visa. His coughing went away when he lit up a smoke as I signed the slip.

As we got closer to BC the scenery got much denser and beautiful and our eyes went on moose alert. We saw a few munching on leaves near the tree line, but that was boring in hindsight. Across the 4 lane highway we saw a southbound pick-up truck emblazoned with official looking decals. It seemed like a county truck. Behind it was about 6 feet of rope tied to the hitch on one end while the other side was tied around the neck of a dead moose. The truck looked like it was moving about 45 mph. We can only theorize as to what was really going on. Maybe the animal was roadkill and getting gamey and the county had to dispose of it. Rather than lift the thing up and handle it he decided to just handle the head before dragging it down a back road? If so, why not just roll it into the ditch? I’m sure I’ll never know just I am also sure I’ll never forget it.

We stopped for the terrific, obligatory picture at the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC (still in my camera). Greg kept unknowingly adding a Chicago possessive “s” to the name, asking often “how many miles to Dawson’s Creek.” He may also have been thinking of the show. We’ll never know where Pacey and Chicago met in his brain on this account.

When we checked in to the Super 8 in Ft. Nelson we were told they had a government employee rate, but that it was only for Canadian government employees. “Oh, I’m Chicago police.” She thought that was pretty cool and put in the government rate anyway. We then chatted a bit about how her sister is training for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and how she had to go down to Vancouver, and what a far drive it is, etc. She was very friendly and we quickly were formulating a new opinion about Canada. She kept hiking up her pants constantly throughout the entire 10 minute conversation. We didn’t know what to do with that. Mark it down as a little memory from the trip. Fort Nelson courting rituals? There would be a continental breakfast the next day with a build your own waffle area. We had yet another chance to eat back our hotel $.

Canada is great, but Alberta is a dud.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

We awoke at 6am in Montana and devoured the Hampton Inn’s hot breakfast. The Mitchell Hampton had the eggs and English muffin concoction and the Billings location simply went for waffles – good, large waffles though. They went down easily and bananas were once again stowed away in the cab.

We rolled out at 7am right out on to the frontage road along 90 with the plan of getting on 87 and heading for Lewistown, eventually Great Falls. You could sense some rush hour traffic on the roads, though nothing to worry about. I believe we made it about 2 blocks before traffic ground to a halt. An accident? No. Arrest? No. Road damage/ truck cargo spillage? No. Police activity? It sure looked like it. We glimpsed lights flashing ahead, coming across the highway overpass. Some police cars were parked and a few crawled along the side of the oncoming lanes. Soon a group of people appeared in matching sweatshirts, walking somewhat briskly towards us, surrounded by the police cars. This is 7 am, on a weekday, on a main artery. We’re all clogged and frustrated and trying to divine just what is going on. Soon a plastic, lit torch is revealed through the doddering fleet of black sweatshirts and police escorts. As they grew closer it becomes obvious it’s for the Special Olympics (side story: My late aunt in Northern Wisconsin many years ago received a cold call asking for Special Olympics donations. Her knee jerk response: “No. I don’t care who the hell wins any of those games. Why should I give?”). This produced much swearing from our vehicle. Can’t they do that at another time or another part of the city or down some parallel street that isn’t the main drag? That would be best for everybody. Oh, and the overpass incline tired some people so they were resting on the curbs while the escort paused. Seriously, a different road at a different time. So after our 30 minutes of Chicago traffic memories relived we caught 87 and promptly smiled and beamed as the Montana you always read about rolled out in front of us. It was still a little brown and not as mountainous as western Montana, but the hills, valleys, and scattered pines made it beautiful.

Arriving in the town of Lewistown randomly gave me 4 Sprint bars so off we went calling our parents and giving updates trailed with “ … but I don’t know how long the signal will last.” I gave Becky an update on our progress and she questioned why we weren’t farther along. “The Special Olympics,” I replied plainly and let linger before explaining further.

It is a long, plain drive from Great Falls to the border. That sentence explained all you need to know.

God Bless the Canadians. They have given us Corner Gas and All Buttoned Up. However, they have not given us adequate signage, at least not in Sweet Grass, MT. Approaching the customs stalls we found the far left lane open with a sign stating “autos” and the far right lane open with a sign stating “trucks.” The middle 5 lanes were closed and had icons showing mobile homes, recreational trailers, etc. We had a Ranger with a trailer. What would your lane guess be? The state of Wisconsin made me buy truck plates. A trailer and truck does not make a car. Ergo, truck lane. There were commercial and mobile homes in it as well, so we felt we had made the right choice. Right when you get to the booth you see a smaller sign, visible only when you are that close, that explains “this lane only for commercial trucks.” We pull up to the booth for our sarcasm: “I hope you’re hauling commercial.” The Chicago attitude begins to kick in to match him: “No. You don’t have that on a sign back there. So where do we go?” After a few moments of silence as we attempt to calm down we are told to go to the commercial lot on the right, take this ticket, and go inside. Great. 45 minutes and 3 different officials later we are all squared away and told to look over towards the counter in the center of the room. We are pointed towards a small box with 2 Canadian flags sticking out of it. We see it. “Go press that button. It will give you a pass to get your vehicle out of the commercial lanes.” Nobody is manning this machine, nobody is watching it, and it is most certainly in the public area. That would have saved us 45 minutes if we knew we needed to come inside to push a button in order to drive my trailer full of whatever legally into their country. All in all it could have been longer and we were on our way so no real complaints.

About 30 miles into Alberta we heard a little “ping” and discovered that we then had no turn signals. We pulled over and went straight for the fuse box, finding the popped 15 amp fuse right in the hazard flashers slot. Of course, we had no spares. After digging through the book and deciding that the 20a one in the radio slot would do just fine we were off on our way. We ended up in Lethbridge, AB at the Canadian Tire store stocking up on 15a and 20a fuses along with a plastic fuse puller (I might not always be able to dig out my needle nose pliers). More time wasted.

The plan of sleeping in a hotel beyond Edmonton was gone thanks to the torch, improper signage, and the fuses. Calgary loomed on the horizon and according to the Hampton Inn book we snagged in Billings, 2 locations awaited.

We made it to the Hampton Inn around 8pm and only wanted to eat and sleep and put this day in the past. They’re full, but the place next door is not. Ok, but they only have suites available. “Why is it so full here in Calgary on a Tuesday night? The Flames aren’t in the playoffs anymore.” “Well, it’s always full here during the week.” Huh? Why? We ended up at the Hilton Garden Inn with the final available room, a smoking room. Off we went to Chili’s with plans of getting up at 5 to get quickly beyond Calgary and Edmonton. The scenery was calling us.

So far, Canada, not so good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I believe we woke up in Mitchell, SD around 6 and attacked the hot continental breakfast by 7. Attacked is the precise description. It’s pretty much a standard continental breakfast with a single hot item – scrambled eggs and cheese on a English muffin. It’s the sort of concoction a bachelor would create. Not the tastiest thing (or the freshest) but we put down several. Being middle class means always finding a way to stretch a free breakfast into a full stomach well into the afternoon. It’s also what makes you figure on eating back some of your room rate, therefore “winning” as my father and I joke about. For example in a related way, if an event is charging for parking and you end up parking close by for free to the given event, you have “won.” Life it seems is an endless string of wins (“we ate back at least $20 at breakfast”) and losses (“they screwed me on parking yesterday. I had to pay”) out of which the south side polack gets ahead. It’s silly when I write it down, but it certainly makes sense in my mind.

We hit the road at 7:30 and made it off the main road towards Mt. Rushmore around noon. Mt. Rushmore is about 35 miles outside of Rapid City and involves some pretty steep roads. Very steep indeed. The descent into Keystone, SD found us on a 9%+ grade going through single lane construction. I believe Greg gained some grey hairs from that gauntlet. 10 minutes later when we parked at the monument the brakes smelled distinctly strong in the air. I dared Greg a $1 to touch the rotor but he turned me down. I got close with my finger but the heat from 2 inches away was warning enough.

The monument itself is awe inspiring. Just attempting to grasp how one goes about even creating and sculpting such a thing is plenty to chew on for me. Hearing all of the foreign languages and different American accents in the air was also fascinating and beyond what I expected. I always assumed Rapid City, SD was a little off the beaten path for a foreign family’s American odyssey. I guess not. Cool.

On we drive praying for Great Falls, MT, but as the afternoon waned we ended up settling for an 8pm Billings, MT hotel. I’m told that downtown Billings is a cool town, but peripheral Billings certainly is not. We drove by the refineries and stopped at yet another Hampton Inn (the breakfast now had a perpetual target on its back so to speak). After some Outback hamburgers and a blooming onion we dragged our bloated guts back to the room. We were a little behind our schedule and had also found that our stomachs were shrinking due to the long days of coffee, granola bars, and water. We sadly left some of the blooming onion on the table. But, our plans now had us getting up at 5am to hit the breakfast at 6am in time for a 630 am pull out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm going to attempt to break these entries into daily postings for each day the trip, but I have a feeling that might be too much to chew. We shall see.

May 2nd was a Friday in Madison whereupon a wonderful night of metal occurred courtesy of Jason, Lora, Eric, and a plethora of Madison's bike community. Jason provided the venue and turntables, Lora the delicious food, and Eric the black, doom, and thrash vinyl. After a viewing of Heavy Metal Parking Lot and Fubar, the records were spun and a good time was had by all. Chatting about Lost, metal, bikes, roller derby, bikes, and "3" was a blast and it made it very hard to leave Madison. I think I made it home around 1:30 am, promptly mopped my apartment, threw some stuff out, and then made it to bed around 3 am (thankfully the truck had been packed before the metal began). I feared sleeping in way past the 7:30 am wake up time, but I was so nervous and eager to hit the road that it was oddly not a problem. I pulled out of Madison around 8:30 and made it to the southside of Chicago around noon, droning and driving to Eric's terrific doom laced compilation cdr's. The afternoon descended into a blur of a 63rd street Torta with steak for the road, picking up 5' x 8' trailer in Crown Point, IN, loading my life into it within a short, single hour, and finally showering before a delicious lasagna dinner from chef Mom. It was delicious without a doubt, even more so given that we knew it would be our last decent meal for a week, minimum.

The plan was to make it to Rapid City, SD by Sunday night, though this was based primarily on Tater's 75+ mph estimates that he usually maintains in his trailerless Yukon. 2000lbs attached to my Ranger will probably not get over 75mph easily, at least not without filleting my miles per gallon averages. We decided to keep it at 65mph for the trip which yielded 15mpg on flat roads and 12-13mpg on mountainous terrain. I did discover a great tidbit in the fact that the IRS will allow you to deduct your move (minus food) for a new job. Yep, the gas, trailer, hotels, and first month of storage space is all tax deductible as long as I am moving for a new job, which I am. Great news to have. We ended up leaving Indiana around 7:30 am on Sunday, stopped for lunch in Minnesota just past La Crosse, WI, and grabbed a hotel in Mitchell, SD. Driving that trailer is so easy. I'll admit it was a bit of a question mark for me and gave me a little bit of concern, but aside from backing it into tight spots and getting it up to 65mph, you never know you're pulling it.

At the end of the first night we found ourselves a few hours behind schedule, but with a reasonable room that included a hot continental breakfast we considered ourselves right on track. Not having to stop for breakfast was perfect. We were already packing our own lunches and snacks so getting a freebie breakfast (with bananas smuggled into the truck) made the day that much faster and economical. We knew we would be grabbing a sit down dinner after we found a hotel so we let that dinner be a goal and guiding light for our day.

Tired and with a belly full of Ruby Tuesday I blogged a single line about Mitchell, SD before crashing out and heading for a 6am wake up. Glancing at the map is very daunting. Great Falls, Edmonton, Fort Nelson, Whitehorse, Tok, and Anchorage are still so far away.