Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hiking Solo & Salty Dawg - Homer, AK

Finally I did my first hike in AK. And my first time hiking solo, which I have been wanting to do for the past few yrs. And not to worry no bears were around :)

Been dying for a hike as it's been about 2.5 weeks since me last. Don't get me wrong, I get to walk around on Little Kayak Island, but the weather has been chilly and I've been tired from working to do a full on trail. 

I woke up to the sunshine; such a great feeling. I even had an odd dream related to it last night. I was given bear mace just in case and most of the time I even had cell reception, believe it or not.

Got a little lost here and there as there are tons of loops and trails. It's spring so still too early to see the wild flowers, so the hike was not majorly scenic. But found huge, hard mushrooms on a tree and what I though was a homestead, but could be wrong.

Overall good day. Then we headed to the famous Salty Dawg Saloon est. 1957, with an interesting history and where all the boat peeps hang out by the docks. Click here for more pix.

Kayaking Adventures

One would think operating your own kayaking business is a sweet job, but man there is so much work that goes unseen. From loading the kayaks down, setting up the gear, cleaning and putting everything away to preparing lunches, cleaning the trails and hauling water and food from the boat every week. Then there’s the full day kayaking excursions itself, which doing it every day can get tiring.

Rick does a great job describing the sea life, plants and the nature that surrounds us and some AK history as well. He's just made to be a guide. But don’t forget there’s also the booking, scheduling and inside business stuff to deal with also. They have two small log cabins that people can rent to stay overnight, which is not booked w/ every tour, but just maintaining the grounds, chopping wood, editing/printing brochures, sending photos, and fixing equipment, one can never be bored.  They work so hard mentally and physically, but they really love nature, love interacting with new people and sharing this place and info with them.

In two weeks, I have been on three kayak trips. We have two trips this weekend. Due to weather, winds, and tide timing, we explore different sections of the bay and coves. We also see different wildlife each time. Dorle had to work at the radio station on my 3rd trip, so I was in charge of lunch, which is a yummy salmon soup and the sea veggies and plants we collect that day.

It’s awesome to do something new every day and be in the fresh air, even though it’s still cool and cloudy. My first trip, it was a little drizzly and very cold. It sucks that as I get older, my hands and toes go white and numb with pain even with 2 pairs of gloves/wool socks and heat pads. But as Rick says, "it's the price we pay to live in paradise."

Click here for more awesome pix.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Boating & Bird Life

We caught five 10-pound Pollock fishes within 2hrs, 120 ft deep. And no, I am not gaining a weight, just wearing tons of layers and a huge life jacket/rain coat hybrid. It's mid 50s here but on the water u get splashed by the waves while moving and the wind can pick up.  It is still cloudy and rainy here, just like PDX. Actually lots of people have OR/PDX connections; it keeps coming up in conversations.

Got to visit my first oyster farm. We got the freshest and yummiest oysters and mussels. So much work and steps go into it that we just do not realize. They have wwoofers there too, too bad it's a bit of a boat ride away from where I am at .
Also saw several eagles flying when we feed them left over fish. Hearing the sound from their wings as they swooped down was just so cool. Also seen a blue jay and humming bird by the house, man are those guys zippy. More pix, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Alaskan Way

A few things that Rick has said, that I thought were cool: Live in the moment to be in the moment. Don’t have high expectations and welcome what nature brings you. “Always getting ready” native saying for the next season.

Lots of things are big here: tomatoes, berries, and fish. They just grow rapidly with all the daylight. People have their own planes to get around and land on lakes to fish. Prices seem expensive to us Mainland people, but there is oil money to be had; some people get paid well to live here. Residents get $1,500 from the oil companies.

Dorle has been teaching me how to make homemade bread. She also makes ”better butter” (half of soft butter and ¼ olive oil and ¼ canola oil); so darn tasty. We collect sea lettuce, then air dry it before dehydrating them in an oven for a few hours. Crush it up and it’s great for soups and even on popcorn. It sounds easy, but you got to find the good pieces on slippery, pointed rocks and stand in the 50 deg water to rinse with salt water.

It’s been neat hearing how Dorle traveled all over the states 30 yrs ago and ended up in AK b/c South America was in turmoil at the time. Her and Rick have been friends for over a decade but after their divorces (six years apart), they ended up getting married three years ago. It’s been refreshing hanging out with such a loving couple. They kid around a lot and laugh things off.

The first few days I was so tired, though sleeping about 7 hrs a night. Just need a night eye mask; no pills. Even after I drank Green Tea, I took a quick nap. Maybe my mind and body has been over stimulated and I was just excited to be here. I’ve been in Alaska for a week now and I felt at ease by day 3. It’s just so tranquil here. The water is calm and quiet, at this time and the air is fresh and crisp. You don’t need a lot to get by here; you live simpler sans TV, electronics and all that other modern distractions) and you get to appreciate nature. Take time with your family, chill time. People also reuse and trade with each other a lot to save money, which also conserves waste. When you work hard for things like carrying in your own water, propane, cutting wood, you become more aware of what it takes to get it and automatically conserve your consumption. Definitely something we are missing in these modern times, a folly in our society that has evolved too far away from nature.

Homer is a small, friendly town, where everyone knows everyone and it’s easy to run into friends. Something I slightly experienced in PDX, but never experienced it as this small scale as an adult. There’s a lot of small business owners and they barter with each other. People keep telling me how they ended up here unintentionally and Rick & Dorle tell everyone how they adopted me. It's all just so cute. No photo album for this posting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From Red Rock/Dry Desert to Snow Cap Mountains Surrounded by Wat

When I saw all the snow-peaked mt from the airplane, I could not believe I was here, in Alaska. Just so amazing. Since last Wed, I have been working and staying with Rick, a native Alaskan kayak guide and his charming German wife, Dorle. They have a small cabin near the main town of Homer. My first job was to split wood for the wood burning stove that heats up the main cabin on the island where Seaside Adventures does their kayak tours. 
On my second night near Homer, I saw a moose from their house. There are two bathrooms: one is a compost toilet for #2 and a small kid-like potty for pee b/c they are too far away from the town and don’t have a septic tank. I am their first wwoofer this season. Apparently, people move to Homer for the lifestyle, scenery, and artist community. I thought to myself, wow, it’s like Portland.  They have a huge week-long bird festival too. Some people end up visiting Alaska by accident and some fall in love with the wilderness and make it their home, like Dorle.

Friday morning, we headed to Little Kayak Island, as they call it, where I will mostly be for the next three-four weeks. On the way here, we saw 60 otters and an Eagle, close up. We hauled a lot of supplies and equipment, as their busy season will begin soon. I admire them for their hard work at ages 59 and 57. But they love this island and the wildlife.

The island is only a few hundred yards wide. It takes 40 mins by boat. They order a water taxi when their guest comes for a kayak tour. There is no road or water system and there are only a handful of neighbors. They have a sauna that is used in lieu of a shower. They collect rainwater and have outhouses. Apparently, pee makes outhouses smell bad, so peeing in the woods is best.c

I really lucked out with this group. They really know and love AK. They are already booking up for the summer. They could expand biz, but they want to keep it small and intimate. By day 3, I’ve already taken 120 pix and will have lengthy blogs as there are just so many exciting news to report. I can see why you need to spend more than just a few days here. Internet is painfully slow on the island, so will only post when in Homer. Click here for more pix.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in one of my fav states: CO – Colorado National Monument

 We left our wwoofing crew at the vineyard around noon on a nice sunny 90 deg day. On our way to Colorado National Monument we ran into a cattle parade – check out the pix. We got to the park at 6pm on a Sat.; campsites were full. We drove around trying to find people to ask if we could share their site, but the one we asked already said yes to another guy. We saw a spot that looked vacated, though it had another night on the ticket. We figured if they come back, we will ask to share and if not ask some others. No one came back so we saved $20; next day paid for that night.

We had our best weather for sure on this trip, but now the bugs were coming at me. We left the rainfly off the tent and it was cool to see the stars from it.  
There are only one-way trails here. We did the Monument Canyon trail 3.5 miles one way w/ 850 ft elevation gain in the sunny heat. What a temperature change!!  The hike was kinda boring and the canyon is not so diverse. Keep in mind we have explored 8 National Parks and one other National Monument within 2 months. So like any other long term traveling, it takes more to excite you. Not to worry, Alaska will be such a huge scenery change I should perk up. But I will miss finally getting to wear some summer clothes. Can’t have it all, can we?

Mon, headed to Denver to stay with our fav couchsurfing couple, Annie and Ian. Shipped some winter gear to NY and summer gear to Seattle to condense my crap into 2 bags for Alaska today at 8am. Got me some bug spray and a mosquito head net; I’m ready for the wilderness!  Click here for  more pix.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wwoofing Finale: Wine Lesson, Beer Pong & Giant Cookie

Danny gave us a quick tour of the vineyards and man-built cave where he bottles his wine for friends and family. The rest of the grapes are sold. It takes 10 pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine. He manually runs a metal device that de-stems the grapes and crushes them to juice. The vines grow 30 feet tall within a year. He found hybrid vineyards from 50 yrs ago buried underground, that were planted by a priest for soil testing, which he is trying to rescue.

A tractor from 1917 has been converted to pump water irrigation. Danny said, “it just wont die” as he will need a new and bigger one down the road. Once up until 1000 AD 10 thousand people lived in these canyons. Now there are only a handful of families. Danny has vivid plans to expand and make all the wine here; projects are endless and I admire his young, strong, visionary spirit.  We learned that UT has some crazy water rights, where he needed a lawyer to help get approval to be allowed to well from his own water. It’s a dry county thing.

We played beer bong for hours. Danny is pretty good and I was on his winning team 5x in a row. Carissa also made 3 batches of chocolate chip cookies; one was a giant delicious cookie pizza! I am so gaining weight here.
 We had the day off as Danny went off roading. Joey took us to Recapture Lake and we just chilled in the sun. When the wind blew, I felt like the Earth was breathing deeply. We basked on flat rock towards the sun like turtles I have seen in Hawaii. My feet felt like sandpaper, so I gave it a natural mud scrub by the lake. 
I’ve been exposed to a variety and new music that I would never have otherwise discovered; it is a cool travel benefit, just like trying new food dishes.  Heard 2 hours straight of music by “Girl Talk”. I also just realized that in the past 11 weeks of traveling, I have watched 3 movies (1 was new-Paul) and a handful of 30 Rock and Office via Hulu. Can’t complain though, I am likin real life. I feel that TV supports laziness, isolation, confinement, and inactivity.

Friday, we finished putting up all the dry wall and Greg finished his electrical work. The spot b/w by thumb and index finger is so dry and sore from drilling. Our last night we made a fire and had BBQ for dinner. Oh and I got talked into a silly game of tequila shot w/ hot sauce race then slap the person; the drink was worse than the slap. I will miss seeing the stars as I will have 21 hours of daylight for the next 3 months.

Overall wwoofing was a great experience
From the little farm work I did, you quickly see how much hard work goes into it and really appreciate food. It will be interesting to try it out again in a few days in AK. Click here for more pix.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer time in Alaska in in 5 Days

I have decided to catch a plane on 5/11 to Homer, AK. I will be wwoofing off the grid on a remote island for about 3 weeks at  A friendly, older couple runs a small ecolodge and kayak business.

Then I will travel a bit through AK, hopefully hitting some state and national parks. Only 10% of the state is travelled by road, so it gets tricky and $$ to catch planes, ferries, and buses. I plan to wwoof again in July roughly for a month at, on another remote island, near Juneau.

Most likely will travel my way down (via train, bus, or plane) to Vancouver, Seattle, hopefully hit Mt Rainier and Olympic NP in WA then PDX in late Aug. And hopefully check out Yosemite and Redwoods with some friends.

That's my update for now at least :) Greg still plans to drive up there and be in Alaska in mid June for a month, so we might meet up again. Nothing major happened between us, but traveling on the road for 2 months is stressful and frustrating. This will be a nice break for both of us to do our own thing. I am excited to be in AK for longer and working at some cool places. The not so fun part is trying to fit everything in a backpack. I won’t have any camping gear besides me sleeping bag. I should have Internet access but most likely phone won’t work much.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wwoofing Part 3- Shootin, Construction, and Massive Camping

Danny (24 yr old Farmer from Cali) is building an 800 sq ft solar cabin to house additional wwoofers.  He gets many wwoofing requests and there’s a lot to do here. Only the frames were up from last Fall. After Joey (21 yr old from Austin, TX) and Greg (35 yrs old Canadian) did the electrical work, we all worked together to put up the insulation and dry wall. A very new, dusty, and unexpected experience for me; but now I know the construction biz ain’t for me and that insulation is itchy. Also framing is mucho important; we had to work around some uneven walls. But I must admit I feel like a bad ass when sawing dry wall. The work is not has hard on your body, at first, as farming; but after a few days by lower back is aching.

We work hard and play hard here. Danny brought out his shotguns, rifle, and hand pistol for us. I’ve never tried shooting skeet before. I hit two, which was pretty exciting. After a few rounds of the shotgun, I needed a break as it is a powerful weapon and hard on your chest/shoulder area. The rifle gun was easier to handle and so fast and loud. Hand pistols are a piece of cake :)

We cook our meals together and being a group of 8, you can imagine how much time it takes to get things started and the clean up process. We tend to eat dinner by 9. One night Joey started making Enchiladas while Lee (21 yrs old from SC) started making chips for nachos. YUM YUM!
Our first weekend together, Renee (25 yr old from MA), had friends from the east coast living in Salt Lake City, going camping and mountain biking in Moab, UT. We met the crew of 15 in a canyon with free camping spot. It was the windiest camping night so far on this trip. Red, small dirt tornadoes seen forming right before our eyes and in less than a New York minute, it was all over our faces.
The next day, I realize it was pointless setting up the vented summer tent. We were covered in dirt and a pain to wrap up. But the group was cool; we warmed our bums by the fire under the open dark, glittering night till 4am. I tell ya these 20 something year olds are trying to kill me. We have had a few late nights (or rather early mornings) dancing in the living room, playing beer pong, and just chillin on the floor talkin.  I use to go the bed by 11! Click here for more pix.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Part 2: Wwoofing week 1: Farming & Drinkin with New Friends

Day 1: We start the day at 9am, which is surprisingly late, but it is still cool out there.  It’s so darn cold inside the house that I wear as much clothes as I did when I camped in March.  During the day, we dig holes, a feet deep, to plant new shrubs. I smelled wild sage; it was a lovely companion as I put my hands in the hard dirt. The intent is that the shrubs will keep the sinkholes from getting bigger and stop the erosion caused by from the canyon wind. I was startled when I heard a loud terrible sound.  A poor animal was in pain. It was a donkey; my first one for sure, but at least he was not in pain. The canyon land just amplified the sounds.  

We (five wwoofers) planted 300 plants consisting of Arizona Cypress, Utah Juniper, Big Tooth Maple, Box Elder, Cottonwood, and something-something Berry. There’s 150 acres of land; 21 of which is for vine grapes holding 20,000 vines (a mix of red and white as this is the largest vineyard in UT and he needs to diversity his portfolio). Unfortunately for me, they already planted the vines and in the Fall is when you pick them, so I did not get to learn much about the vineyard industry. We pruned the pear and apple trees and prepped them up for mulching. HAd to duck for the bees and keep a close eyes on our feet and hands for fire ants. There seem to be everywhere and quick and sneaky little buggers.

There is so much hard back and hand breaking work to do on a farm; my hands got sore within hours and every day I felt a new body sore. But I suppose there’s an adjustment period. And, I am just a city girl learning the ropes and always dreamed of working outside (careful what you wish for).

Day 2: While planting, a bad storm was passing through town and we got some gusty winds and very quick snow running right through us. It was so strange to see it coming for us and had nowhere to shelter.  That motivated us to work much faster. Thankfully, it flew by us quickly.

We all live in the same beautiful large ranch style house.  I have never lived with more so many people before. I felt like I was on Real World, but less drama! It's strange as sometimes time feels to be warped and I am accustomed to my solo time. We are also a tad isolated from town and spend our days and nights together here. Dinners are like 3 hrs later than normal for me, but darn yummy and variety. Danny, made us Petron tequila with orange liqueur margaritas. Renee made 3 delicious pizzas from scratch. Worth the long hungry wait! Our pantry also seems to have an endless supply of PBR, which is a common, hum light beer. I've never had so many in my life, but we get it from CO so it's way stronger than the beer options in UT.

We use solar power with a back up generator.  I now realize how much energy a dryer takes when we used up all the energy to dry one load. I felt so guilty but was not informed of this issue. We hung dry our clothes one day and the wind took some down to the dirt and lost Joey's underwear in the process. We have fresh well water and they need to haul everything in and out. And we haul out the recycling and garbage to town.

Click here for more pix.