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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Texas Bound

Half and hour from our deadline to hit the road, we pulled out of the gravel driveway of our rental. Sayonara, little house -Hasta la vista, Anchorage! Our goal was to leave our old residence in the dust by noon and we finished by 11:30. Just a few errands left -returning the cable box, signing out of Ft. Richardson, having one last breakfast at our favorite diner- and we’re on our way to our first checkpoint: Tok, Alaska.

The past few nights have been pretty sleepless. I’ve been so anxious for this move, to finally finish and to begin this grand roadtrip south. Plus Wilder has been putting on nightly dance recitals that have even wowed Brian (who felt him kick up his heels in rapid motion last night.) My head has whirled with what needs packed, things to remember, and last minute stuff to do with such force I haven’t been able to quiet my mind, despite an array of relaxation and focusing exercises. On top of that, I’ve been RAVENOUSLY hungry. NowI need
a bowl of cereal before bed, a snack in the middle of the night, then wake up super early with a rumbling belly. So between a restless mind, a dancing fetus, and a growling tummy I haven’t gotten much sleep. But I look forward to a very boring night tonight -at least my mind should stop whirling, even if the other pregnancy factors are still there.

Saying goodbye to Alaska has been a process. Taking our weekly hikes have been very therapeutic in embracing the memories, creating more and having no regrets about leaving my longtime home. Stocked with new pictures and many, many old and treasured memories from growing up, we drive through town for the last time, a contented smile on my face as we move forward in a new chapter of our lives.

Writing as we go, we've just had a wonderful breakfast at Flo's, and Brian is now officially checked out of Ft. Richardson. Today will take us passed our former family cabin on Ida Lake where Dad's ashes are scattered. I've often thought how difficult it will be making this final goodbye, but today is so charged with newness, plus knowing how fond of roadtrips my dad was, saying goodbye will be a little easier than I anticipated. I am excited to drive by places he often spoke of -Lake Louise, Kluane Lake, Sheep Mountain- and spy all the little bodies of water he would have wanted to stop and fish in.

Brian and I are excited to make this time together count. We'll be seeing so much country and have a healthy heaping of time on our hands, it will be fun to see what new things we discover about each other -as we inevitably will being stuck in the car for 2+ weeks straight together. We will be posting often with updates of our travels, so stay tuned in 'til next time!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

6th Hike of Summer: Eagle River

This week we headed to the town of Eagle River, a 40 minute drive from home to hike, well, Eagle River. We started at the State Park nature center -a cute log cabin I now regret not snapping a photo of- and headed south. The trail actually connects to one we previously hiked, Crow Pass, and is part of the historic Iditarod Trail. It was fun seeing the back end of what we could have gotten to if we had continued our previous hike which began in Girdwood. The views were quite different...
Leave it to Savannah to find ANY body of water along the way. This was a relatively still pond with what appeared to be a naturally made (or beaver made) dam which our furry white friend managed to run across, over and around as she manuevered the surprisingly deep pond water. Now she smells funny.
The trail took us through all sorts of vegetation. Here near the beginning of our trek we meandered through a birch forest where the sunlight danced between the leafy canopy.
Later on the well groomed path became littered with stones and boulders. I half expected gnomes to pop out from behind the rocks and strike up a cheery song. I felt like I was in a hidden section of Disney's Fantasyland.
A rather scary staircase made of logs took us down to view the rapids. The river itself didn't seem such a grand site, but coupled with the towering mountain peaks the image was complete.

The only peak I remembered from our hiking guide (due to it's unique name and the photo in the book) was Polar Bear Peak. Because of the Alaska Zoo's late and famous polar bear, Binky, that I grew up visiting often (you'll remember he attacked a moronic tourist who hopped the fence to get a better photo and Binky kept a tennis shoe as a trophy) I kept wanting to call it Binky Peak. The big, white splotch of snow made this one easy to identify.
Ah, our halway point: Echo Bend. We never did check to see if our voices would resound off the rock walls, I suppose because there was another family trying to enjoy the stunning scenery as well and our dogs were obnoxious enough. This indeed made a grand finish to our hike in.
We had to balance across a felled spruce to reach the large pebble island and Smoke almost got swept downstream trying to cross in a particularly deep and swift patch. His 20 lbs. doesn't do much for him, but thankfully his quick and nimble legs helped him bound to shore.
Just a little note between friends, I started a tradition a few hikes back of always having a sweet beverage along with my water. I don't know if it's me or if hiking does this to most people, but I need a swig of something sweet every now and then. This week's beverage of choice was iced tea.
I regret not knowing the name of this peak since it was, hands down, the most spectacular. But we did get plenty of pictures of it!
The hike wouldn't be complete without a self portrait!
The river was so full of glacial silt you couldn't see even a few inches into it. The silt comes from the glacier grinding up rock deep underneath it. The meltoff carries the super fine silt down stream and makes the water incredibly cloudy. It's not recommened using water from high-silt streams unless you have time to let what you've collected settle first and siphon off the top. But I bet it rivals baking powder in whitening your teeth! That or sand paper...
The clouds which dotted the sky made for rather dramatic lighting.
On the way back I got to hide in the tree with the dogs. I somehow remember this fun little spot from years and years ago. Yes, I felt like a kid again.
Taking a short break on the viewing deck while I snapped the shot below.
We ended our hike the only right way with a trip to Cold Stone. Hey, I read that the third trimester requires a lot of calcium for baby's developing bones and I'm not one to shirk my motherly duties! I mean, if it's good for the baby...okay, fine, I'll eat ice cream. But seriously, we had a wonderful time -as always- and enjoyed this rather mild walk in the woods. It had enough of a little climb towards 2.5 miles which made us work a bit and feel like we had indeed conquered when we reached Echo Bend at mile 3. I recommend this hike to anyone -especially those who have small children or don't feel particularly athletic. Please do NOT forget to wear a heck of a lot of bug dope, though. A swarm of mosquitoes will carry you off and you'll never see your family again.
Until next week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Baby Invasion vs Familyhood: Coming to terms with what it truly means to start a family

Becoming a mother easily took over my identity. The amazing transformation of our lives which happened so easily, the weighty position of becoming responsible for the healthy and happy upbringing of a new little person, the drastic changes my everyday life would take on after giving birth -all of these things lead to "Mother" as the overriding descriptor of who I was going to be in a matter of months.

Rightly so, I needed to adjust my life perspective to encompass things which would effect our new little one. Life would never be the same and in a very real way that scared me. When my family began adopting in the early 90's it quickly created a grand total of 10 kids, including Crystal and I. I suppose the severe changes in lifestyle as we added to our family has had a subconscious effect as Brian and I begin our own. With so many people in the house and my need for quiet I spent a great deal of time holed up in my room to avoid the chaos and noise. Family in moderation hasn't exactly been normal to me. Visiting Crystal and her clan, I knew I could never handle five kids, particularly in such close ages, though she thrives on the energy and loves all the little bodies. I believe I was afraid that having one child would equal the organized chaos as seen in my family and my sister's, and quite honestly that doesn't jive with my capabilities.

Crystal gave me "On Becoming Babywise," an excellent book that I just started yesterday. The first advice it gives is that you must have a healthy marriage to raise a healthy child. Sounds basic enough, but it was revolutionary to me. Instead of the center of my existence being our baby, life should go on pretty much as normal -Brian and I enjoying life together as a couple, pursing our dreams, nurturing other friend and family relationships- just adding baby to the mix. That's not to say Wilder is a charm in my bracelet of collected likes and interests, it's creating a healthy family environment that Wilder can be added to as a team member instead of becoming the little king of our universe. I tell you, this was an incredibly freeing concept for me.

Over the past 24 hours my heart has become lighter. I was sure -and afraid- that in becoming a mother I would cease to be anything else. I was thrilled at the idea of beginning a family and sharing the world with our baby, but very uneasy where the rest of life would be directed. Thanks to a few pages of sage advice, echoed in agreement by Brian, I feel that the world has only gotten bigger, not smaller, now that I am a mother.

As I walked Smoke and Savannah this morning in the early sunshine, the cloudless sky above and behind the stunning silhouette of the mountain range, I felt new joy and freedom in my realization that life wouldn't end in a few months but only begin to be richer and fuller. I feel stronger, more confident, and even more excited to get going and have this baby!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Following the Little Su

The drive up to Palmer always reminds me of being shrunken down and placed in a miniature display. The mountains look like the three bears should be walking along on their hind legs, dressed in shirts and hats, passing Heidi on her way to tend her grandfather's goats, waving hello to the seven dwarfs, and so on. The trees seem so tiny and the hills so soft and gentle -until you see Pioneer Peak and the other craggy mountains with their sheer cliff faces. Then the storybook/train-miniature look ends.

This week's hike was traveling along the Little Susitna (Lil' Su) River near Hatcher's Pass. It took us in the opposite direction of our previous hikes and we enjoyed the northern voyage. Once again, new terrain and exquisite views awaited us.

We passed farm upon little farm traveling down Fishhook Road just outside of Palmer. Horses, cows, bales of hay all dotting the rolling valley made me feel like we were in middle America but the surrounding mountains gave a strong taste of Switzerland. Okay, so put the two together and you've got Alaska.

As Fishhook curved it's way around we found ourselves driving alongside the absolutely stunning Lil' Su. The large, Micha boulders were smoothed down from centuries of rushing glacial water and each looked precisely placed, as if a landscape artist had strategically set each one. The crisp, turquoise water churned milky white as it poured over the rocks. The sight made me so thirsty I finished half my water bottle in three minutes.

We found the trail head and used all of Brian's nickles and dimes to pay the $5 park fee since we forgot to bring cash. The view from the parking lot was so magnificent I could hardly wait to see what the hike brought! Not far into the trail we came across a group of (what we deduced to be) college age parks & trails maintenance volunteers taking a break from their work.
Savannah, the dog that had a bath the night before, found lots of stagnant pools of muck along the way and drenched herself, belly down, in smelly water and proceeded to greet every young worker. She nearly stepped on the head of one exhausted fellow resting alongside the trail.
Not long after we found two beaver dams in a small pond. Engulfed by the mountains, the quaint scene was once again straight from Storybook Land.

Savannah had a blast running around (and through) the pond while Smoke pranced around the outskirts.

The wildflowers were brilliant and this valley's theme was blue. I checked out an Alaska Wildflower Guide from the library and looked up several of my favorite blossoms. Among them were Monkshood, Wild Geranium and Western Columbine. The Geranium were so plentiful it was tempting to scoop up an armful and decorate the kitchen table with them, but since I knew they'd wilt in the car AND that it was illegal... I simply and thoroughly enjoyed the fields of flowers as we hiked along.

Continuing down the path we passed a cute scene of three generations: grandmother, mother and infant. They had stopped to take pictures of mother and baby and I was about to say, "Oh, I want to be just like you in a few months!" when their two big dogs started hunting Smoke and Savannah chased merrily behind them. Brian literally had to pick Smoke up, who was 100 yards down the trail in the wrong direction, and catch back up with Savannah and I once I had separated her from her rowdy new friends.

Not long after, we passed an elderly couple who fawned over the dogs and seemed in a positively euphoric mood. How refreshing and inspiring to see a man and woman so happy spending time together out in nature being so active -and so forward in years. I wondered how far they had hiked in and, again, nearly said, "Oh, I want to be just like you...(if I live that long.)" Well, their picture of good health and activity is a great reminder that if you take care of yourself, God willing, you'll be able to enjoy life and all it's blessings much longer and more fully.

Our most dramatic encounter happened to be with a small bit of wildlife. I heard a high pitched chirping which became louder as we continued. It sounded an awful lot like a cricket. Though Anchorage and the surrounding area isn't a popular place for those fellas to hang out (in my experience) I had heard them around before, but not as loud as this.
A few feet ahead we nearly ran over the producer of all the racket. A little -and very determined- bird stood firmly on the path. It chirped steadily at us, proclaiming we had to pay the toll to pass (I think) but since I didn't have any bird seed and was significantly larger than it was, we took it's picture and passed. On our return it was still there and nearly scared Smoke right out of his skin. The dogs didn't even notice the poor little thing and when Smoke came upon it the bird's little tussling of feathers and noise made our brave little dog (ahem) jump two feet straight into the air.

The tall brush, dwarfish cottonwood, willow and alder hugged the path making it difficult to walk through. If we had brought pruning shears with us we'd have cleared the trail to a manageable level, but would have been there forever. We found a lovely bend in the river with stunning views of daunting peaks in the distant and declared it our halfway point.
Brian dubbed this tremendous chunk of scary rocks Mordor after the Lord of the Rings. It truly was a magnificent and awesome site. Click on the photo to see it close up (if you haven't already discovered that neat trick.)

Of course Brian had to find a rock to stand on in the middle of the river. It's just tradition with him. Smoke nervously followed after and joined him as Kings of the Boulder. Savannah couldn't be bothered for group pictures, there were too many spots to splash around.

Intriguing conversation dominated our return down the trail. Though neither of us can remember what we talked about I know it was interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed it! We passed the young park volunteers once again as they packed up their gear, preparing to call it a day. Knowing the end was near we paused to drink in the scenery (and not worry about our footing on the occasionally mucky trail.) I moved in for a romantic moment with Brian, we kissed, and as I opened my eyes (after the symphony began to play in my head) I saw the volunteers marching towards us with embarrassed looks. Oh, well. We booked it back down the trail, my cheeks a tad pinker than usual. We finished our fifth weekly hike with an early dinner at Palmer's Colony Kitchen and Noisy Goose Cafe (that's all one place for those of you not familiar with the restaurant.) It was another of my dad's favorite spots to stop for a bite whenever heading north. The walls are covered with sarcastic and funny saying painted on little signs and stuffed ducks and geese are mounted on the wall or dangle from the ceiling. Oddly enough, goose is not on the menu.

On a note of recommendation, I suggest taking this hike a little earlier in the season BEFORE the cottonwood seeds. The air was filled with "snow" as the seeds were tossed by the constant breeze. They find their way tangled in your eyelashes (even with sunglasses on), up your nose and definitely in your throat. Between battling off the encroaching shrubs along the path, the swarms of various sized insects and the flying cottonwood seeds, the hike did slightly resemble Frodo's journey to the treacherous mountains at Mordor. Thankfully our foes were tamer and only sought to annoy as opposed to destroy.

Of course we had a lovely time overall. Blessed with fine weather and excellent new sights, I am so glad we headed north for a new adventure. Join us next week as we hope to bring along Erica for our upcoming journey!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Road Test: Driving and Hiking in Seward

This week's Alaskan Adventure took us to Seward to hike Caines Head trail and see the sights on the beautiful drive down. It was a much lighter excursion than last week, a mere 3 miles round trip but the terrain and sights were varied. So far every hike has exposed us to different terrain -rocky mountain sides, dense forest trails, creekside walks, tundra-esque valleys, and now northern rain forest and shale beaches.
I played dj on the drive up. We started with choice selections of Johnny Cash to commence our journey. Next was a touch of Neil Diamond, one of my all-time favorites. Since it was a day after my birthday and Brian saw the trip as one of my presents (I've been begging to drive to Seward and hike) I felt no restraints on passenger etiquette and sang my heart out along with all my favorite tunes. Thankfully Brian didn't complain or put a plastic bag over my head. After Neil we grooved to Jim Croce, and I flipped through two of my birthday presents: A HUGE Rand McNally road atlas and "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" -the U.S. and Canada version. We plan to map out our road trip south and hit as many of those sites as we can, within reason. I was in heaven!
We drove into Seward and went straight to the trailhead. Okay, we sort of went straight there. I got a little lost and gave Brian bad directions, but we only had to turn around twice! And as I always say, the nice thing about driving is you can always turn around.

Our hike in was easy, quiet and solitary, only passing a few hikers on their way back out. Those of you who've hiked the trail before know that about 1.3 miles in there is a bridge over a small river with a stunning view as it spills into the ocean just a stone's throw away. Savannah and Smoke found a yellow lab to play with and it's owner to bother. We were sure Savannah decided she found a better family because she crossed over the river and played with the lab for near half and hour and it took Brian ages to get her to cross back to us and leave the poor man and his dog alone. In retrospect it was pretty funny, though I feel bad we interrupted his solitude.
Along the beach I was delighted to find a patch of wild iris. They were stunning in their natural environment! How sublime to be surrounded by sea, mountains, rain forest -all of this pristine beauty- AND gorgeous wildflowers that I normally pay $12 bucks for a small bunch at the store (which of course wilt in a few days.) Instead we've captured some of our favorite views which will never fade, wilt or erode and we can treasure them forever.
We walked along the shale beach for a ways. A group of kayakers paddled back into the harbor after a tour of the coast. Several otters played on their backs and splashed about. Savannah got schooled by a large spaniel that bounded around it's three human companions sitting on a pile of driftwood enjoying the sea air. Smoke kept getting himself lost in the tall, hardy grass growing along the beach. I kept staring at the ground in hopes of finding some treasures from the sea (with no such luck.)
We walked inland to pick up the trail back and passed a small animal carcass half submerged in the little creek that fed into the sea. It looked to be the size of a cat and was well decomposed. We didn't stay long to inspect it, hoping the dogs would ignore it and thankfully they did.
Back on the trail we walked through a forest who's spruce branches were covered in thick tufts of moss. We appeared to have been transported to the Moon of Endor (okay, where are my Star Wars fans?) It was a beautifully spacious and strange piece of woods -the oddest we've ever been in. As we recrossed the bridge and made our way up the trail we came upon a large group of young kids and chaperons. This time it was Smoke's turn to abandon us and pick a more favorable crew and once again Brian had to follow him, leash him and run back up the hill to catch up with us. But you can't blame Smoke, he found people his size! We'll soon give him a little guy to play with.
One very hungry pregnant woman and her hubby finally made it back to the car and the new mission was finding a place for fish and chips. We drove around and finally decided upon a dive in the "downtown" area right next to the candy shop that was at the top of my list of places to visit in Seward. It was your typical greasy spoon joint, complete with "regulars" at the horseshoe counter by the kitchen. The faux brick and decorative copper molds were a bit much, though. It looked more like a set than a functional kitchen area, but in a hokey way it had some charm. The food, on the other hand, was truly disappointing. We managed to choke down some inferior pieces of fried halibut, chicken and french fries, washed down with tiny diner mugs of coffee. I won't slander the name, but if you want fish and chips stay down by the marina.
Unfortunately I was too full to contemplate getting any delicious ice cream or freshly made chocolates at the candy store next door, so we just took a gander at the sweets. Okay, fine, I contemplated dessert and Brian even asked if I wanted some, but after eating a pint of grease I didn't have much of an appetite. We poked around in a few touristy stores along the block and viewed some of the vendor booths set up in the side streets. Every 4th of July Seward hosts the Mount Marathon race and hundreds of people drive in, hence vendors making the most of all the hubbub. The race takes runners up Mount Marathon -several thousand feet up-, hitting the peak, then basically sliding back down on the lose shale rock. It's insane. Even Brian had the sense to see it was crazy, and that's saying a lot.
We drove to a viewing point of Exit Glacier on our way out of town in order to catch one more spectacular view. The vast expanse of glacial silt and rock ground up by the glacier was astounding. Once again, glorious views and a great big chunk of ice thousands of years old. Simply amazing.
Summit Lake Lodge -a MUST to stop at. My dad used to stop here every time we drove up this way -he absolutely loved it. The woodsy cabin toasty warm inside with the grand rock fireplace and friendly wait staff -plus the food was delicious and only got better over the years. The lodge sits on the edge of a lovely mountain lake and affords an absolutely picturesque view so you can enjoy your coffee and pie (as I did) while gazing wistfully at the serene beauty.
We had a marvelous time be-bopping down the road listening to our classic rock and country, making plans for the future, drinking in the delicious views with the dogs passed out in the back seat. I am so glad we got to go to make this trip before we left. It was one of my dad's favorite spots to take us as kids, often stopping at any (and I mean ANY) body of water to do a bit of fishing, and of course a meal at Summit Lake Lodge. As the last Cameron in Alaska I feel like I'm leaving a lot of special, if not sacred, places behind. Being able to visit them one last time before we move continues to bring me much needed closure and peace. I am also very glad I can share these memories and special places with Brian and am so thankful to have a partner who is so supportive and understanding. We are already planning pieces of a family trip we want to take when Wilder's old enough to enjoy traveling up to Alaska so he can experience what I've grown up with and loved so much. All in all we had another wonderful Alaskan Adventure. Where will it be next week? Tune in to see...


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