Goodbye Alaska

I knew this day would come eventually. It’s been pretty much written into our story since before we even got to Alaska. Eve as the years ticked by here the inevitable goodbyes always seemed so far away.

The day after New Years the movers came and packed up our host. The took most of our belongings to port and shipped them back to the lower 48. Three days ago we packed up the Jeep, hugged our friends goodbye, and set our sights on a place far, far away.

We managed to knock out the trip in less than 72 hours – a feat I would not again recommend – but I also wouldn’t recommend driving in -35 degree temps either.

A few snaps from our last few days in the house and our travels through Canada.
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I’m going to miss you Alaska… but damn it feels good to be home.

Portage Pass

While the tiny town of Whittier, Alaska is only 60ish miles from downtown Anchorage, it requires a paid pass through the longest highway tunnel in North America. The 2.5 mile tunnel is a one way tunnel and shares its time with the Alaska Railroad, meaning traffic only flows one way at a time and is occasionally paused for the train to use the space as well.

I’ve not spent much time in this town, only having really explored it once a few years ago, Brian & I set out with Kratos to complete a short hike through Portage Pass that we’d been hearing so much about.Portage Pass - 1Portage Pass - 2Portage Pass - 3Portage Pass - 4Portage Pass - 6Portage Pass - 8Portage Pass - 9Portage Pass - 10Portage Pass - 11Portage Pass - 12Portage Pass - 13Portage Pass - 14Portage Pass - 15Portage Pass - 16Portage Pass - 17Portage Pass - 18Portage Pass - 19
After having trekked (and down and up and down again) this short trail, I can’t believe we haven’t spent more time on it’s dirt pathway to heaven. Hopefully we can make a trip up here again after the snow has fallen for another unique view, although I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the lake completely freezes over and we can walk straight up to Portage Glacier before we depart Alaska.

Final Farewell

It’s been a revolving door of friends and family the past few years but now that Heather & Chris are safely on a plane headed back to the lower 48 I can [with great sadness] say I’ve said my final farewell to my Alaskan visitors.

Even though I’ve tried to remember, I can’t honestly tell you the last time I saw my cousin Heather. One of us was probably in high school – although with us being 4 years apart I’m not sure which one of us that was.

The weather seemed to hold out for the most part (a rarity this time of year in Alaska and something that seemed to be even more rare this summer in particular) and I think it’s safe to say they had a pretty good trip and got to experience a good chunk of Alaska. They slept in a different bed almost every night, traveled several hundred miles and still managed to squeeze in some quality time with Brian & I, not to mention an impromptu camping trip. We’ll be stopping in to visit ya’ll in PA soon enough! xoxo.

Dip Netting

According to my calculations I’ve been a transient in Alaska for exactly 3 years and 25 days. It’s always been a known fact that my time here was (most likely) going to be cut off at some point or another, so I’ve tried my best to experience Alaska to the best of my ability. Despite all my adventures here it was this weekend that I firmly believe I became a tried and true Alaskan after dip netting the Copper River. (Don’t worry Montana, you’ll always have this girls heart) To fish this river one usually employs a boat to avoid having to navigate the steep cliffs and raging current, but wanting a true Alaskan experience, we chose a different route.

Brian’s Army buddy Scott flew in to town to visit his brother who was stationed at JBER just two days before. Brian is not known to be the most outright adventurous person, there is one person – other than myself – who can talk him into crazy adventures, it’s Scott. So when I learned that Scott was coming into town I knew to expect an adventure and got excited for his arrival.

The four of us took off for the little town of Chitina (pronounced Chit·na by Alaskans) where we parked our vehicles, loaded up our gear onto our backs and took off down an old mining trail for our destination. About 5 rough and tumble miles down river Scott took us down an even gnarlier path through the tree to the cliffs directly above the river. Here we set up shop for the night and got to fishing.
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The boys made quick work of it and by morning we were already packing up and heading back down the trail; except this time we have about 70 lbs of fresh salmon fillets to add to the weight on our backs.

We had strategically taken two vehicles so that the boys could return to Anchorage and I could set out to explore one of the few unexplored (to me) , drive-able sections of Alaska. I made a quick trek into Wrangell – St. Elias National Park as well as explored the town of Valdez. Dipnetting - 14Dipnetting - 15Dipnetting - 16Dipnetting - 18Dipnetting - 19IMG_9788

Ketchican Bird Fest

Every year hundreds of thousands of birds from all over North & South America migrate to Alaska for various reasons during the late spring and summer months. Their migration is almost like clockwork and every years birders from all over the country gather in Homer, Alaska for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. Having no previous plans that weekend I took off for Homer as soon as I was out of work on Friday night. In true Homer fashion, it rained most of the weekend, but it was impossible to not have a great time. Birding is not a particular hobby of mine, but I love watching just about any animal interacting in and with their natural habitat.
ShoreBirdFestival-1ShoreBirdFestival-3ShoreBirdFestival-4ShoreBirdFestival-5ShoreBirdFestival-6ShoreBirdFestival-7ShoreBirdFestival-8ShoreBirdFestival-9ShoreBirdFestival-13ShoreBirdFestival-15ShoreBirdFestival-16ShoreBirdFestival-18ShoreBirdFestival-19ShoreBirdFestival-20On my drive home on Sunday afternoon I stopped in the village of Ninilchik as well as Kenai city to visit their Russian Orthodox churches. While I have no religious affiliation with that particular church, I find their architecture stunningly beautiful and always drawn to it. ShoreBirdFestival-21ShoreBirdFestival-22ShoreBirdFestival-23ShoreBirdFestivalDriveHome-1

Springtime at Potters Marsh

In 1917 construction of a railroad embankment unintentionally created a 564 acre marshland. That man made accident has since become home to a plethora of creatures that call Potters Marsh home, even if only for a short while each year.

100 years after it’s accidental creation creation I find myself sitting along the edge of this wetland, camera in hand, observing the wonders of nature so you too can observe with me for a while too.

Thirteen moose wander about the opening, gorging themselves on the plant-life at the bottom of the shallow waters.  In the water in the foreground a pair of Tundra swans float about, napping intermittently. They have made their way to these waters for years and will continue to do so for the rest of their natural lives. PottersMarshMooseMadness-1PottersMarshMooseMadness-2PottersMarshMooseMadness-3PottersMarshMooseMadness-4
A car gunning down the highway to my back thunders down the road and scares off all the moose closest to me. They flee into the cover of nearby treesPottersMarshMooseMadness-5PottersMarshMooseMadness-6PottersMarshMooseMadness-7PottersMarshMooseMadness-8PottersMarshMooseMadness-9PottersMarshMooseMadness-10PottersMarshMooseMadness-11PottersMarshMooseMadness-12PottersMarshMooseMadness-13PottersMarshMooseMadness-14
When I pull my head back from the camera again, a pair of mallards drift by just a few feet in front of me. They waddle up onto a chunk of ice and make themselves at home there until a bald eagle swoops into the scene nearby. PottersMarshMooseMadness-15PottersMarshMooseMadness-16PottersMarshMooseMadness-17PottersMarshMooseMadness-18PottersMarshMooseMadness-19EgerFlyin-1
There is so much to watch in one little place, but as the sun sets this time of year it signals bedtime for me, so off I retreat to my home across town.

Facebook Friends Forever

Thinning of the herd. Filtering your friends list. The purge. Whatever you call it, most people are guilty of it. We haven’t talked to someone in a while so we periodically sift through our friends list and filter out those who are no longer present in our everyday lives.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice, it is one that I refuse to be a part of. There are plenty of people on my Facebook friends list that I haven’t talked to [in real life] in years. For me, Facebook – and other forms of social media – serve as an easy way to re-connect with someone when out of the blue I’ve had a thought or dream about them, or they come across my news feed with a big life event, or when I’m traveling to their area and want to meet up or even just need advice on what to do there. Over the years there have been plenty of occasions I’ve been happy to have not weeded out those simply because they’re not currently in my everyday life.

At one point or another some set of circumstances led me to either send or accept a friend request and that’s enough for me to keep them there.

Earlier this year is a great example of why I am more than happy to keep people around on my friends list even if I haven’t actually seen them in years. A girl whom I attended DelVal with contacted me about coming to Alaska. She had spent a summer up here working at the SeaLife Center in Seward and wanted to return for spring break (she’s now a school teacher in NY). After a few weeks of messaging back and forth it was agreed upon that she was going to stay with Brian & I during her visit back and she booked her ticket to Alaska.  In my opinion, that takes some balls, but those are exactly the kind of people I like to have in my life.

We spent a week gallivanting around south central Alaska in an attempt to do as much as possible while she was here. Considering  she was only here for a few days & I never took any time off work, I think we did pretty well for ourselves. Thankfully, Sam likes taking photos as much as I do so we spent a lot of her trip taking pictures. Here are a few of my favorites:
BaseEager-1BaseEager-2BaseEager-3BaseEager-4BaseEager-5BaseEager-6CameraBagFlatTopSunset-1FlatTopSunset-2FlatTopSunset-3FlatTopSunset-4FlatTopSunset-6FlatTopSunset-7GlacialMoulinItsHardBeingAPuppyMirroredMatanuskaGlacierWithSam-1SamBsTripToAlaska-1SamBsTripToAlaska-2SamBsTripToAlaska-3SamBsTripToAlaska-4SamBsTripToAlaska-5SamBsTripToAlaska-6SamBsTripToAlaska-7SamBsTripToAlaska-8SamBsTripToAlaska-9SamBsTripToAlaska-10SamBsTripToAlaska-11SamBsTripToAlaska-12SamBsTripToAlaska-13SamBsTripToAlaska-14SamBsTripToAlaska-15SamBsTripToAlaska-16SamBsTripToAlaska-17SamBsTripToAlaska-18SamBsTripToAlaska-19SamBsTripToAlaska-20SamBsTripToAlaska-21SamBsTripToAlaska-22SamBsTripToAlaska-23SamBsTripToAlaska-24SamBsTripToAlaska-25SamBsTripToAlaska-26SamBsTripToAlaska-27SamBsTripToAlaska-28SamBsTripToAlaska-29SamBsTripToAlaska-30SamBsTripToAlaska-31SamBsTripToAlaska-32SamBsTripToAlaska-33SamBsTripToAlaska-34SamBsTripToAlaska-35SamBsTripToAlaska-36SamBsTripToAlaska-37 Thanks again for coming to visit Sam! It was great getting to reconnect with you and it’s always a treat to share my home with like minded individuals. I hope we can do this again in the future!

First Day of Spring

Happy first day of spring ya’ll! In Alaska’s defense, this photo was technically taken yesterday which was also the last day of winter. Our caravan of adventure seekers was turned away from our original destination by whiteout conditions &
gross amounts of fresh snow near (but not near enough) the trailhead.

Iditarod XLV

I’ll try and keep this short and let my photos do the talking for me…

My dreams of Iditarod officially became reality when I stepped off the chartered Ravn Air plane onto the snow covered tarmac in Galena, Alaska. The air was brisk, but nothing extreme by Alaska standards. After a short layover I found myself boarding a small three-seater plane bound for the village of Huslia. As soon as my feet hit the ground I was whisked away by one of the locals on the back of a snow machine. Having never had a chance to get my face mask out of my bag I zipped my jacked up as far over my face as I could and ducked behind my driver for the trip in to town. I was dropped off at what I came to know as the Ball Field – a large open area in the middle of town that would soon become the our dog yard and main hub of outdoor activity. Thankfully I was working with many seasoned veterans who promptly went to work coordinating with the proper local channels to gain access to the appropriate buildings and find out where all of our gear that had previously been sent up was stored. We set to work setting up what we could right away before finally retreating to a family style dinner in the warmth of the Elders Center. Here I was officially introduced to those whom I would be intimately working with throughout the duration of my time in Huslia. While we were all there to work various jobs our reasons for being there were similar.

The next day began a whirlwind adventure that included earning my keep in various forms, meeting many new faces, trying new foods (including beaver tail, moose tongue, and bear claws), and learning lots of new skills on the fly, but lacked any substantial amounts of sleep. After the first musher arrive my usual sleep cycle lasted about 4 hours and until my last day there, I was able to successfully thrive off so few hours of sleep thanks in part to the adrenaline of the adventure at hand. I hope you enjoy the photos. Some of them are captioned, some of them are not, and many of them were never captured to begin with.

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Follow this link to read an article written up by an Iditarod Insider about Huslia. Make sure to play the video at the bottom too for an aerial shot!

Iditarod Dreams

It was nearly ten years ago that a (now ex-)boyfriend copied down the number of an employer seeking help from the job board in the University Center. He was photography student looking for his next project and knew I was new to Missoula and in search of work to help cover the newly acquired exorbitant costs of out of state tuition. I had lost nearly all my scholarships when I transferred to the University of Montana from Delaware Valley College (now Delaware Valley University). Soon I was the one calling up the number and setting up a time to interview with a mushing kennel on the outskirts of Seeley Lake, MT.
IMG_8406It was at Barnum Kennels that a spark for all things mushing began. I spent the next several years working next to Kirk and his team of dogs – Alaskan huskies with a desire to mush as strong as they were. It was there that I stepped onto the back of a dogsled for the first time in my life – a subzero temperature night in the middle of the Sawtooth Range that I will never forget. When Kirk picked up his kennel and moved to Idaho, the embers of the mushing world that were implanted deep in my soul were left to smolder for a while.
Lucky for me, it wasn’t long before Twila Baker, owner of Quinault Kennels, and her stunning team of Alaskan Malamutes stumbled into my life at a near perfect moment. It was on the back of a sled being pulled by what is possibly the most photogenic dog sled team that ever existed that I knew the Iditarod was within my reach. I didn’t know how, or when, but some day the Last Great Race would be a reality for me.
399185_595215047911_92894778_nNow, if you think my idea of this dream was to run in the race as a musher, you’re gravely mistaken. The idea of standing on the back of a sled for days on end with little sleep and in potentially negative sixty-something degree temps, well you don’t know me. I don’t sit still for long periods of time unless I’m road tripping, I happen to LOVE sleep (my bed and I really have a good thing going), AND if you think I’d ever consider winter camping you had better think again. I am one of those people who is constantly cold. Don’t believe me? Just ask my husband about our nightly ritual in bed where I put my frigid feet on his back to warm them up. No, the cold and I are anything but friendly.

However, when my husband’s job took us to live in Anchorage, Alaska there was no time like the present to get out on the Iditarod trail. For my birthday our first year up here I treated myself to an Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) membership. As soon as registration was open my name was in their records to be a volunteer and in 2015 I volunteered in multiple positions. In 2016, my background working with mushers and my willingness to operate in multiple positions for the ITC allowed me to be selected to go out on the trail. Unfortunately, this was right when Brian was returning from a 9 month deployment and we had long before planned a trip outside of Alaska for his welcome home. I had to turn down something I had dreamed of for so long.

Two-ish weeks before the 45th Iditarod was scheduled to start my email pinged to alert me I had a new message. It was from one of the volunteers in head of the communications department asking if I wanted to head out on the trail. Unable to keep my excitement in I immediately leapt up from my desk and barged into my boss’ office to declare I’d be some time off in the near future. Now I sit in a small airplane hanger in Galena, Alaska – propped up against a backpack that is filled to it’s limit – waiting to board an even smaller plan to my checkpoint. I can’t help but think about the mixture of thrill and fear I once felt stepping onto the back of that dog sled. It’s easy to remember that feeling as it’s the exact mixture of emotions buzzing inside me right now.