Monday, May 7, 2012

Alaska Adventure: Wrap this sucker up!

So I'm not really great to blollow through- similiar to follow through, but blog specific.  Who really even remembers where our tale left off?  Its lost information that we may never know (don't. scroll. down.)  

So for sanity's sake lets make this quick.

There were dogs.  Lots of dogs.
There were mushers.  Lost of mushers, but still more dogs.
The was snow.
There were mountains.
There were planes.
There were vets.
There were volunteers.
There was ice.  Thick ice.
There was fur, food and fun. 

And you should all go someday.

We got to see all the teams as they came into the checkpoint, talk to mushers and ever pet some of the dogs.

Its amazing. I love it. All of it.

Now the moment I just know you have all been waiting for... a 20 minute montage of our family vacation. 20 minutes might sound like a long time for all you people with "lives" and "responsibilities" but its pretty funny if i may say so.  And you have been waiting 6 weeks for this.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Alaska- Crash and (thankfully not) Burn

We are now at Sunday morning of the trip.  When I woke up and walked from our cabin to the main lodge to use the restroom, I just threw on a sweatshirt and my boots over my pjs and trudged through the snow.  When I got inside the owner's son informed me it was -8 degrees. BAH! It was so bright and sunny outside that I would have never guessed it could have been so cold!

After we feasted on breakfast (including moose "bacon" mmm...) we geared up and hit the trail heading to Rainy Pass Lodge.  This morning would begin the crashing phase of the trip.

After being on the trail for maybe a half hour I decided to liven it up a bit with a crash time.  Now... let me be very clear... I did not HIT the tree...the tree merely stopped my machine in its tracks (hah get it?).

Let me paint you a picture... we were riding down the trail which was cut through the woods.  The snow this year was pretty heavy so there was a snow bank on either side of the trail about 2 feet high.  I'm directly behind our guide, my dad behind me and the two other guides behind him.... got it?  We're chugging along about 20 mph and my front right ski catches the right bank. This causes me to over correct my machine launching my machine and I over the left snow bank when I casually slide off the left side of the snow mobile into the fresh powder and Priscilla ( my snow machine) to continue a few feet in its trajectory until it ever so gently tapped (crashed into, smashed, impaled...) a tree. Its physics.  Newton wins this round. But what a kind tree for help keep my machine so close to me.  Now, my dad was far enough behind me to not see the smash 'n crash happen, he just pulled up ( along with the 2 guides behind him) to see me standing up shaking the oh so cold powder out of my helmet.  At this point I back away from the machine and let the guides do their thing to relieve Priscilla from her snowy parking spot.  They dug and pulled and lifted and did all sorts of great Alaskan manly things of which I have no business in partaking.  At least not until I start body building.  Next year I say.... gotta have goals !  Meanwhile Andy, the guide who was in front and had long since disappeared, returned and jumped right in to the manly work. 

What was I doing the whole time you ask?

Documenting of course.  You're welcome.

 After about 10 minutes Priscilla was back on the trail ready to go.  Only minor damage was done... a few scratches... and the side cracked a little so the front left panel was held on by a bungee cord the rest of the trip (only 210 miles or so) ! Oops.

Riding was beautiful and smooth most of the day.  We stopped at the check point before we got to Rainy Pass called Finger Lakes.  We pulled up to see a bright red helicopter that was flying people into the lodge to watch the race.  We just stopped for a few seconds to rest and breath.  The mushers were set to arrive there the next day so the volunteers were busy setting up the hay, feed bags, check in etc.  While we were posted up the head trail judge for the checkpoint came up to ask us how the trail was... conditions, markers and such.  So we filled him in since he had flown in and we, the adventurous souls we are, forged the wilderness and came in on the Iditarod trail.  This is the equivalent of the head referee asking you how the grass is at the Super Bowl.  Ain't no thing.

Volunteers setting up the checkpoint. The blue bags are hay for the mushers to let their dogs rest on.

We also met this guy who came up to us in the full Russian Wolf coat.  He was all "Mannnn you guys are so coool! This is so legittttt. I'm from south PA and this. is. the. way. to. do . ittttt.  I flew in here on the helicopter...but this. is. legit!!!!!  You guys need a sat phone? i got one! Gotta share the technology! " He was pretty great.  And I think his alter ego was a surfer from California in the 90's.  Oh and a "sat" phone is a "satellite" phone in case you're not up on the "out of cell tower range lingo"... I wasn't.   

We continued down the trail until I decided there hadn't been enough adventure and decided to mix it up a bit.  We were going to an icy area and "no fear" Andy is just cruising along at an uncatchable pace!  I was trying as best I could to stay behind him and on Priscilla AND on the trail but something had to give !  This time my left ski caught a tree stump that was about 3 inches in diameter and 3 feet high.  This caused my machine to completely turn sideways across the trail since my ski just kind of hooked the stump.  Again with the physics.  I did however stay on the machine this time.  I would totally rock a mechanical bull.

  I didn't video it this time because I felt bad. I mostly just sat in the snow and tried to disappear from their sight.  The guides had to take shovels out and dig and then repack the snow and all sorts of stuff.   We were only about 8 miles from Rainy Pass Lodge where we were headed.   Bennett was set to fly in on a small plane since he was arriving late.  While we were on the trail a small silver and red plane flew over us and I said "ITS BENNETT!! WAVE!!" so we did.  Turns out it actually was Bennett, but he didn't see us because he was sleeping.  Classic.

Once again the magic was worked and we were off!!  The trail started getting rough and steeper and eventually the trail was cut into a cliff and would go up hill then you would have to trust that there was trail on the other side because you couldn't see the trail in front of you.  Oh and if you fell sideways you would tumble down a cliff to your snowy grave.  NO PRESSURE.

Let's just say the Iditarod trail heard lots of Hail Marys !  When we reached the bottom of the hill cliff death trail we rested and took off our helmets.  Andy told us that area was the "Steps." Great.  The Steps are probably the most infamous area of the trail where mushers crash, lose dogs, get pulled behind the sleds... awesome.  I was thankful he hadn't told me before hand because I'm better just going without knowing the impeding danger... I was also thankful that it was supposed to be the hardest part and was OVER !

The rest of the ride to Rainy Pass Lodge was smooth.  It was a site for exhausted eyes to see the cabins and the smoke coming from the chimneys!  And then Bennett appeared !!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Alaska- And We're Off

Saturday morning I woke up (quite literally) in a burst of excitement.  I could already hear the dogs barking on the snow laden streets below.  It had snowed all night long and there was fresh powder covering everything in sight.  We got dressed and bounced downstairs to catch breakfast before the Ceremonial Start at 10:00 a.m. Apparently everyone else in the hotel had the same idea because there was a line at the only restaurant in the hotel that served breakfast.  While waiting in line we called another diner close by to check on the wait time... it was an hour and a half, so we decided to stay put.  The line moved quickly and I was soon enough eating my steak and eggs. 

While we ate, I freshened up on my musher knowledge reading the Anchorage Daily News filled with mini profiles of each of the 66 contestants.  The ceremonial start of the race takes place on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage, each of the mushers riding just eleven miles through and then out of town.  Its like a snow covered dog parade/ race.  And I LOVE IT.  You can walk around the streets and see the teams getting ready to go, take pictures, and say hi ! 

Lance Mackey, 4 times Iditarod champ!!

Sledding down the street!

We stayed to watch most of the ceremonial start then headed back to the hotel to get our car and head towards Willow, AK- home of the official start of the race to take place at 2:00 p.m. Sunday.   Driving through Alaska is like driving through .... I dunno... HEAVEN.  Its so beautiful.  I love mountains, I love trees, I love snow and I love mountains and trees covered in snow.  CHECK!

We met our guides at Eagle Quest Lodge in Willow and packed up our sleds.  We had repacked our clothes and other necessities into duffel bags that could be packed in dry bags to be pulled on a trailer attached to one of the guides snow machines.  After a couple hours of packing up the sleds and dressing ourselves in (many) layers of clothes it was snow machine time !! We hopped on our sleds and took off down the trail along the side of the road.  The trail quickly turned into the trees and we were officially off !! It took a few minutes to get used to riding a snow machine again but not long after we had taken off I felt once again at home on my snow beast.  We rode about thirty miles before stopping for dinner at a "restaurant" off the trail called "Luces."  This part of the trail was over a frozen river so there are lodges along it, mostly aimed at fisherman in the warmer months. 

We pulled up and popped inside.  Dad I and ordered cheeseburgers and our guide ordered Chili.  While we waited I went used the facilities, aka and outhouse aka, the nicest outhouse in Alaska.  Its heated, well lit and well taken care off.  Fully stocked with toilet paper and wood shavings to drop down the hole when you've taken care of business to help calm the stanky.  There was even hand sanitizer.  Its basically the Ritz Carlton of backcountry outhouses. 

Our guide, Andy, got his chili and dad and I still waited for our burgers.  After about an hour of waiting we realized they had definitely forgotten our order.   Since Andy was done eating, Dad was exxhhaausted (it was now circa de 8 p.m.) and we still had two hours of riding left ... we decided to peace out ! We each ate a granola bar and we back on the trail.

Riding at night seems really scary at first but then you get used to it.  Snow machines have headlights just like cars and work pretty well.  Its basically a big game of follow the leader.  And believe me, when it's 10 degrees outside and you're in the middle of a frozen river in Alaska... in the dark- you're going to follow the leader !

We pulled off the trail around 10 and followed the "road" up to Northwoods Lodge, our home for the evening.  We were met outside when we pulled up by the owner's son who showed us to our cabin.  It was so clean and spacious.  The bunk beds were clearly calling out to me.  There were outhouses not far from the cabin, or I could go into the lodge for toilets with running water.  After we dropped our things in the cabin we headed over to the lodge.  We met the owners and walked around.  There was a beautiful gameroom upstairs with a pool table, poker table and incredible built in bar.  The bathroom though is what took my breath away.  Marble countertops, a flushable toilet and most of all a hot shower .  Truly a sight for sore eyes. (note: i had been away from "civilization" for approximately 6 hours at this point.  How quickly we miss our toilets ).  It didn't take much time until I was upstairs in the hot shower scrubbing my stinky self !

Then it was time for sleep!! Big day ahead- 90 miles !!

Northwoods Lodge by morning !

Monday, March 12, 2012

Alaska- In the Beginning

I just got back from a 12 day trip to Alaska with my Dad and brother at 5:30 this morning.  I of course slept in until 2:00 p.m.  I feel refreshed.  You?

We went up to follow the Iditarod for the second year in a row.  If you don't know what the Iditarod is I refer you here , here and here.  You should really take a look. Join me in the obsession.

First off, there are several phenomenons that happen to me when I step onto the ground in Alaska.  The first is that I become a HUGE dog lover.  There must be something in the air because as soon as we land all I want is to cuddle with a beautiful Alaskan Husky.  Not only are all the dogs I've seen in Alaska wonderfully trained, but I think I feel safer from an impending dog attack under the protection of my seventeen layers of armor clothes.

The second phenomenon to happen is that I join in the northern spirit and begin to agree that twenty degrees isn't cold... and is actually a bit warm...if you will.

The third is pure, unadulterated joy.  I feel giddy and elated.  My heart wells up in my chest and I actually feel overcome with excitement and anticipation.

Dad and I arrived in Anchorage on Thursday March 1 after twelve hours of travel. We were greeted in the terminal by some beautiful sculptures, all in the spirit of all things Alaska.  Our favorite was the pair of fishing waders.

 We got our car from Enterprise and headed to The Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage.  The hotel is themed off the famed explorer, Captain Cook, complete with beautiful wall paintings and subtle nautical touches throughout.

After getting settled into our room Dad and I walked a few blocks to Sullivan's Steak House for dinner.  Our waitress works as a rafting and kayaking guide in the summers and has a huge interest in all things outdoors.  Dad naturally had a million things to talk about with her. They have read all the same books and been to the same places and just chatted all night long.  She thought we were locals (whoop!) We actually just got a card in the mail from her saying she enjoyed meeting us!  How's that for service?

Friday morning Dad woke up nearly two hours earlier then me even though  I woke up before 8!  I met him downstairs and ate breakfast while he sipped coffee, having eaten hours before. After breakfast we layered up and headed out on the town.  We walked around downtown for a few hours.  There was hardly anyone out and about.  I liked it.  We went to a couple furriers before finding a beaver hat for dad.  

I think it suits him.

Every year in Anchorage in the last few weeks of February and the very beginning of March there is "Fur Rendezvous" aka "Fur Rondy."  There are all sorts of events that go on all month leading up to the start of the Iditarod including a carnival and "Running with the Reindeer" We walked down to the carnival fora few minutes.  I couldn't get over seeing the rides sitting on a bright bed of snow.  Something in me told me it couldn't be safe.  That's probably because I'm used to sweating like a mad woman at the rodeo carnival which happens at the same time of year.

The last thing I wanted to do in the freezing weather was get on a ferris wheel and be whipped around in the wind.  It was, afterall, my first day in the cold.  I take a few days to warm up.  Punny.

We ate lunch and then jumped in the car to run a few errands around town.  We stopped by a Fred Meyer to pick up some snacks for the trail.  I had never been in a Fred Meyer before and I can only describe it as a Wal-Mart on acid.  Its like Wal-Mart meets Time Square on New Years after drinking a few 5 Hour Energys... and on acid. It has everything you would ever need... plus more.... but in a completely nonsensical manner.  At least I couldn't figure it out.  Also I saw a girl walk in with a jean skirt and no leggings... in 11 degrees.  That's a woman. Or a crazy person.

We piddled around a little more then headed back to the hotel to eat dinner at Fletcher's, a bar and restaurant in on the first floor.  It was delicious and they still have some of the best creme brulee to grace my lips.

Also here are the bar taps... if you can guess what the handles are made out of you get a dollar  (virtual) high five.


 Hold on to your seats... there's so much more to come !


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Now That's a Cool Feeling

Thanks Google Ads...

That just happened.

Let in the love

I have a homeless friend who sits on the median at the first intersection on my way home from work.  There are two turn lanes so I'm not always right next to him and he's not always there.  The first time I gave him a hope bag, he cried.  So did I.

Its been a few months since I've said hi to him, to yesterday when I pulled up to the stop light I rolled down my window.  I was on the phone waiting to leave a voice-mail and he looked hesitant to walk over to my car.  He is slightly disabled and has a hard time moving around.   I put my phone down and pulled some cash out of my wallet and handed it to him.  He's told me it was his birthday and pointed to a sign lying on the ground that read "Happy Birthday Terryell."  I smiled and wished him a happy birthday.  Then he told me that earlier in the day he had walked to La Madeline, which is the closest restaurant to his corner and asked for a cup of water.  The manager refused him.  I understand that there has to be some sort of protocol when in the restaurant business regarding homeless people.  I guess.  I don't know.  But then Terryell told me that he used to go there regularly and buy food.  He told me he would never go there and spend money again. 

My heart broke yesterday.  I know it sounds terrible, but I don't guess I had ever given thought to the homeless having birthdays.  Or being refused a service that we take for granted. 

The light turned green and I drove away.  A car in the lane next to me pulled up and gave me a very stern, almost angry look.  I don't know what he was trying to communicate.  But I don't think it was encouraging. 

Happy Birthday Terryell!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Holidays: Fat Tuesday Edition!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Enjoy the day and go get ASHED tomorrow !