Transit, travel

Alaska

This week last year I was in Alaska for the first time. I traveled by plane to Fairbanks, by train to Anchorage, then Whittier, by ferry to Cordova, plane again to Anchorage and then of course by plane back to Minnesota. Loving both trains and boats, it was the perfect trip for me.

In Fairbanks I Couchsurfed for the first time and couldn’t have found more gracious hosts. Though I arrived pretty late in the evening the lady of the house stayed up and chatted with me for a good two hours. We quickly became friends and I continue to look forward to her Facebook posts about all they see and do up there. If you’re not familiar with Couchsurfing, it’s pretty much just crashing at a stranger’s place. Of course you read all about them and weed out the creepies first. Being that I love meeting new people, I highly recommend it but realize it’s not for everyone.

Early the next morning I was up to catch the train to Anchorage. It took me far too long to discover that I could hang out in the open air vestibule as much as I wanted, but upon that discovery that’s pretty much what I did the rest of the day! I now understand what a thrill it must be to hop a train. So far removed from roads, seeing landscapes few others will see.

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Reflections on the train.

It was the clearest, bluest sky I have ever seen and Denali was out in full the entire day. Absolutely breathtaking. It was tough to find an open vestibule whenever it returned to view but I managed to get a few good shots.

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The ride to Anchorage was a little over 12 hours but it never once felt too long. If anything, it wasn’t long enough. Should you ever visit (and you should!! now! and take me with!), make sure to add the Alaska Railroad to your itinerary.

I stayed one night in Anchorage at a hostel, also my first time doing that. I was looking forward to meeting people there but never really got that part of the experience as I wasn’t there very long. The only thing remarkable about my stay was that my phone died. Luckily I had the Kindle Fire I purchased for the trip so that I was able to connect when I needed to.

The next morning I boarded another train for Whittier, where I needed to catch my ferry to Cordova the next day. Another beautiful ride. I had read a little about the town and it sounded interesting enough to stay the night in but as I was chatting with one of the employees on the train he mentioned a catchphrase of those not living in town is “There’s nothing shittier than Whittier.” With that, and his belief that I could possibly catch the ferry leaving in 5 minutes, I ran towards the ferry terminal. Quite the sight I’m sure with a 30lb pack on my back. No real surprise, I didn’t make it. I briefly sulked but soon picked myself up and explored the little town. Not much to explore but large enough that it took a considerable amount of time to find a shoe I lost while wandering. (from my pack, not my foot.)

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Marina in Whittier

I found lodging with a bar and spent a large portion of the rest of my day and night there, chatting with local fishermen. So many stories! I don’t think you’ll find a group of guys with better tales to tell. I wrote down many of the details somewhere, but as I was recalling my dead phone it reminded me that the Kindle I brought with me has since died and may have taken my notes with it.

The next day I hopped on the ferry to Cordova, another amazing ride. To be on the water surrounded by mountains is my dream come true. I lived it for 3 hours or so that day.

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Cordova is a pretty neat town, only accessible by boat or plane. I spent all 6 nights of my stay there in a boat, did some hiking, danced at Salmon Jam, experienced gillnetting (pulled the salmon from the net with my bare hands!) and was pretty much awestruck every day by the beauty around me.

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View from my “bed” one morning.

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Just a glacier. And one of my favorite pics of the trip.

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I was told this boat is kind of a big deal.

I hadn’t really planned my departure from Cordova but enjoyed it so much that I decided I’d fly back to Anchorage so I could spend as much time there as possible. Though I didn’t consider it so at the time being it caused me to miss my office summer party, the plane I was supposed to take out of there couldn’t land and I was gifted with an extra day in Alaska. And over 12 hours in the Anchorage airport. In case you should ever have to sleep there, it’s a little drafty. Be sure to pack a blanket! (recalling that part reminded me I did hand write my notes this trip. whew! now to find them. so happy my brain is still able to connect some of the dots.)

Though I had long wanted to leave Minnesota, it was Alaska that ultimately set the wheels in motion. I knew I couldn’t live away from the mountains any longer. Could I live in Alaska? Maybe some day. I still loved city life too much. The decision to move to Seattle was largely due to its proximity to Alaska (in addition to having mountains, lots of water and a huge city), thinking I could more easily travel there. I thought I’d get back there this year but have been pretty smitten by this wonderful new city I have to explore. Hopefully 2015 will afford me the time to enjoy both of them.

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travel

150 Years of Yosemite

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Yosemite Grant Act, protecting Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove. (Thanks Abe!) I’m definitely going to visit as there are a ton of events scheduled and I’ve been longing to get back ever since I last saw it in my rearview mirror. (4 years ago this August. way too long! the photo in my header was taken on that trip.)

Some day I’d like to work there or another of our western national parks. Until then, if anyone would like to join me for some camping and hiking, I’d love to have some company. I’m thinking June or August. Let me know! In the meantime, check out this beautiful site and learn all about Yosemite and other national park topics.

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road trip, travel, Uncategorized

Chimney Tops

The very best day of my outdoor life came the fall of 2009. I had been laid off of work for a few months and decided to head down to the smokies, one of my favorite road trips. I wrote pretty extensively of this trip in Facebook’s notes, so I’ll reshare what I wrote then.

–Sunny day! I decided to stay another night so I can enjoy the park in the sun.

Chatted with the man at the front desk a bit, he’s from Ohio but was stationed in the south in the 70’s. Moved back home in 77, got married, started a family. Tried to convince his wife to move down here for 31 years and finally did it last summer. They love it here. I do too. Though my waiter friend told me not a lot of people that work here in town actually live here. And it’s not quick drive anywhere around here so I’m not sure how I’d like it. It would be a great temporary move though. I just hope it doesn’t take me 31 years to end up where I want to be.
Had corncake pancakes at the Pancake Pantry and some chocolate milk. Soooo tasty.
Today may have been the best day of my life.
Seriously.
I decided to hike Chimney Tops. It was noted as strenuous but at only 4 miles round trip, I didn’t think it could be that bad. I was mistaken. I’m sure for my more seasoned hiker friends it would have been a breeze. I climbed about 1700 feet of the most steep, rocky and wet terrain I have ever seen. It was incredible. And I was incredibly sweaty.
Oh before I forget, I saw 2 more bear today on my way to the trailhead. Right where I saw them yesterday. However, a soccer mom was right up my trunk and I couldn’t stop quickly enough to get a picture. Thankfully she had enough room to pull off the road for a good view of them. <sarcasm> The bears were still there when I came down. Though I think they were in the trees cause I couldn’t see them from the road. I knew they were there though by all the dumb people in the road and the rangers directing traffic. They were still there nearly an hour later, kind of wanted to stop for the photo op but the crowd was insane.
So where was I? Oh yeah, super sweaty! I tried to hide every time someone passed me. :p. Fortunately that wasn’t too often, I guess that strenuous rating keeps lazy people away and the serious hikers are on the less advertised trails. So I reached the end which is this massive rock formation. The trail to the top of it is closed but you can climb up the rocks if you want. Um, scary. I have never done anything like that. This family I had passed had a son way up top already, I thought he was nuts. I started up a bit but paused. Then mom and young daughter of the family head up. I figure if I follow them it will be easier. They stop pretty early on. Daughter wants to go up to bro but mom says no way. She pleads. Mom keeps saying no and adds that she is annoying the rest of us with her whining. Nice. Son goes all the way to the top. Eventually he comes back down and mom is scared to watch. So am I so I decide I won’t go much further. However after the fam and two others left I decide I’d go up a little more to a more comfortable spot. So I sat for awhile, just soaking up the sun (my face is way burnt!) a man passes me and tells me to continue isn’t any harder than what I’ve already done. I consider going up but he disappears and I don’t want to fall off the mountain with no witnesses. 5 teens, 2 guys 3 girls, climb up the rocks like mountain goats (I told them this). The girls were in skirts! They disappeared over the top. Two guys come up and talk to me a bit. One of them asks if I’m afraid of heights. He thinks I’m frozen in fear on the rocks and afraid to move. I’m not afraid of heights at all, and while I was afraid to go up, down (from that point) didn’t scare me. They offered to help me up but I declined. I immediately regretted it. Eventually the mountain goat family came back down and they offered to go back up to help me. They were so nice. I knew I’d hate myself if I didn’t so one of the skirts went up and led the way. There was really only one rock that scared the crap out of me, it appeared almost vertical. Once I got past that I didn’t need too much of her help. She offered to stay to help me down but I figured the guys up there would help if need be. The kids were from Indiana, I really don’t know where they learned to climb like that. It may have been more like watching Spidermen than goats. I feel like I should explain that I probably would have climbed right up if I had a partner. I just kept picturing myself tumbling down the mountain with no one knowing I was even there.
So I got up top and the view was amazing. The guys seemed happy I made it. We talked a bit and they offered me water. I said no. They offered again, so I took one. Then one offered me a cookie. Said no. Offered again. Think I said no again. One more time. I said yes. They said apparently no means yes with me. They sure figured me out fast! :p I don’t know how long we were up there but it was quite awhile. And so much fun! They had me laughing the whole time. Eli and Daniel, from NC. I think they’d be my best buds if I lived near them.
At one point a guy comes up and has a butterfly on his hat. Eli told him and he replied that it had been following him the whole way up. Eli took a pic for him and it flew away only to land on me a short time later! Then on Daniel. Eli took it from Daniel so he could get a pic. They decided it must be thirsty so they put some water in a bottle cap and fed it. It was pretty neat. Did I mention that these two were also scared by “killer” squirrels or chipmunks on their way up? Now they’re feeding a butterfly. I was kind of questioning their manhood. :p
At one point I mentioned I was at Fridays last night and they asked if I was the loud one cheering and high fiving during the game. They had been sitting in a booth at the bar! If only I had met them last night, I could have had some more fun.
Eventually we decided to head down. I was glad to have them there, that steep spot was scary! I hiked back down the mountain with them. Lots more laughs, they were so much fun. I wish I could remember some of the things they said. I was giving them a pretty hard time but rightfully so, who is afraid of squirrels??
Oh, some couple told me I should go some place in Maine, I need to remember that. Lots of fun rocks to climb I guess.
We reached the trailhead and we were all planning on seeing the sunset from Clingman’s Dome (highest point in Smokies) but first Daniel wanted a funnel cake with ice cream. So we said a temporary goodbye and drove off. Me to my hotel to shower and change.
Headed to the dome, stopped to take some pics on the way and met a nice couple from Washington. They, like myself, hadn’t seen any Minnesota plates either. Minnesota, I beg of you. Visit the Smokies! I’ve been to higher mountain ranges but I don’t know that I’ve loved them as much.
I pulled into the parking lot and Eli and Daniel were just getting out of their car. Bad news, no funnel cake. They got in the shop but the woman said she was closed. Very sad.
It was so windy up there! And cold as a result! Daniel had to change out of his shorts and into the track pants that matched his jacket. I told him he looked like a grandma and we headed up the hill. It is paved but WAY steep. Boys needed to stop for a break. Made me feel less out of shape than I am! We got up to the observation tower, where on a clear day you can see 7 states or something. So windy and even more cold but we stuck it out till the sunset and it was so worth it. I hope at least a few of the 70+ pictures I took of it do it justice. Of course there were a lot more laughs and a few awkward moments. Like when a guy from our earlier hike showed up after telling them he was going somewhere else (they told him they were going there, creepy!), or when a kid asked his parents if America and the United States were the same and I couldn’t contain my laughter, or when Eli said my hair was reddish and I loudly said it wasn’t red when a redhead was standing right behind Daniel. (my hair is NOT red!!!!)
The sun went down and it was time to leave. Luckily for me the guys were prepared, they brought flashlights. And glow sticks. Yes. Glow sticks. They gave me one. We hosted a rave in the tower then went back down the hill. I was a little sad to say goodbye to them knowing I’d probably never see them again. We did exchange email addresses so we can share pics though, and I will find them if I’m in NC again.
I hadn’t even thought that another bonus to being in the mountains For sunset would be the stars. They were amazing. I sat and watched them for a bit before making the 30 mile mountain drive back to town. I saw 3 creatures, two were fox and I initially thought the third was but it may have been a coyote. I so love the wilderness!!
I debated whether I should go to bed or eat when I got back. Eating won. Went to Calhoun’s, a local joint and sister of the brewery from the other night. Initially I regretted it cause the menu didn’t impress me but I was too lazy to move. Told the bartender gal I wanted the fresh Calhoun chicken (per the menu). “Calhoun chicken?” she asked. Yes. “side?” Corn puddin’ (again per menu.) “Corn puddinG?” AGH! I was not going to sit there all night if she was going to keep this up. Luckily she was cut. And the corn puddinG was effing fantastic.
I talked to the other bartender a bit, sounded like he was kind of displaced by Katrina. He almost moved to Minneapolis too. (I’m starting to think the servers here are trained to tell that story.) He said everyone there is really nice. I argued that people here are nicer. He agreed but said they’re a lot less intelligent. So I guess we have something going for us up there!
Wow, Jason Bateman is hot.
I finished my meal and Adam sold me on their banana pudding. Homemade white chocolate macadamia nut cookie crust, layer of bananas, pudding, hand whipped cream and shavings of some exotic something or other. I didn’t need it but asked to take it to go. He went to the kitchen. They were out! Guess I’ll have to come back for it. That really bums me out. :p
I am very much dreading the ride home tomorrow. I imagine I’ll be sore from today and extremely tired. Oh, and I just never want to go home. Zombie pub crawl on Saturday though, gotta make it back for that!
Oh, lesson learned today: People are amazing.

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moving, Seattle, Transit, Uncategorized

You might not wanna go in there…

Some updates since I last posted…

I am truly happy to be here.

Every day there is something that makes me smile and I know I made the right decision. Don’t get me wrong, I have times when I miss hanging out with my sister, fam, friends and the crazy group of pals I worked with, but I know they’re just a quick flight away. And it’s fun compiling a long list of all the places I’ll take them when they come to visit. If you know of a must see place in Seattle, I’d love to add it to my list.

Today was day 5 of my new job. It’s not too bad being back at work and so far the office seems pretty cool. I have views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. There were so many days when I was contemplating my move that I’d stare out of my office tower at the flat lands surrounding it and feel so empty.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to get to work and not leave Murph locked up too long so I’ve experimented with different buses, driving to buses and Car2Go. The bus keeps me away far too long but I love being able to check out all the boats in Fisherman’s Terminal rather than giving them a fleeting glance. I’ll likely end up driving a lot when I replace the van. Yes, the sunroof still leaks. I have yet to completely surround it with duct tape.

There are plenty of good places to eat near the office and my coworkers love to get out. That was one thing I always enjoyed about being Downtown Minneapolis so I’m glad to have that again though I’m already making a point to bring my lunch now and then. Tough to do when all I want to do is try every single food place right now!

If you haven’t seen a Bubba Keg, you need to check them out. I’ve had one for years and found it the best way to get all the water you need. Mine is 52oz and I’ll often drink at least 2 of them a day. Where it becomes a problem for me now is that there are only 2 bathrooms for our office and the other offices in our area of the floor. Each is clearly marked for men or women but the men will use either if theirs is full. One lunch trip the guys were explaining that to me and how it is common courtesy to let a gal know she might not want to enter. I never want to be on the receiving end of that message but think I’d forever hate a coworker that didn’t warn me. So if you’d all hope for me to never be in the situation at all, I’d appreciate it. And a very sincere ‘you’re welcome’ to anyone who has read a previous post about bathroom related activities and was hoping I’d share more.

If you happened to read my post about the guy living in the park, he’s still there. He disappeared for a day or two so I assume he found his key but he is back and more comfortable than ever. Leaving empty food containers outside his car to prevent a stinky inside and his clothes out to dry on the roof. He’s had at least 3 parking tickets now but continues his stay.

At my favorite neighborhood bar they’ve started a $5 steak night! I’ve only been there the first night of it so far but it was great. And such a hit that they’re continuing it. Steak, potato, mushrooms & another veggie. You really can’t beat it! We went up there for St. Pat’s to have reubens. That and the weekend’s parade were the extent of my celebrating this year. I felt pretty lame but I’ve got lots of time for partying in my new home.

I think that’s about it for now. I’ll try to share some more about Costa Rica some time and Grand Cayman too, before I forget it all.

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moving

And finally, I must go.

After months (maybe years?) of quoting John Muir, I’m heading west.

I had planned to move once before, somewhere nearer my dear friends the Smokies, but lack of job opportunities kept me here. Since then I bought a house, got a great job working with a super group of people, got a dog and all the things that come with settling into mid-adult years. I thought having these would calm my wanderlust but if anything, they only brought it further to the forefront of my mind. I traveled more in 2013 than I ever have before and dreaded coming home every time.

So here I am now, quitting that job, leaving my house with my current tenants, packing my dog, dresses and bed into an old van and heading west.

I’m excited to explore the mountains of Washington, visit Oregon for the first time, return to the Canadian Rockies and Yosemite and live near the sea.

Though I have a tough time sticking to any project for too long, I hope to regularly use this blog to reflect on my journey and share some of my past journeys too.

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