Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ketchikan - Last Day in AK & ferry livin

To my surprise, the ferry docked at Ketchikan for 6 hrs, so I had one more chance to run on AK land. The windy, cloudy, rain welcomed us. My photographer friend is staying here for a few days but toured me around after conducting some business. At first I was solo and had a few swigs of beer in the park w/ a resident who is from Eugene, OR. He so did not want me to leave, but I had some more adventuring to be had.

I learned that the cruise ships own the fancy jewelry stores in town that they recommend to passengers, but don’t say they own them. It’s driven local businesses out. Some small islands have sold out as the locals say like Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, while few held out – Haines. Another reason cruises are not ecotourism, the money earned/exchanged from tourists are hardly kept in the local areas.

This was the least place I liked in AK. Not due to weather as I have seen more rain/clouds than sun this whole summer. It is a blue-collar town, which is kinda neat and I don’t mind houses falling apart. But it’s not as walkable as Juneau or Sitka and had a gloomy doomy feeling in the air. Just giving my opinion here for future reference.

On the ferry the next day, I chatted with Grey Eagle, the watchman, meaning ferry security. He lives in Ketchikan and was explaining to me his job. I learned there’s a first aid room on board, so I mentioned the chest pain I have had for the past 2 days, just as an fyi. He advised me to talk to the crew. All checked out w/ blood pressure, oxygen level is great but pulse is a little high. They think I pulled/strained a muscle since the pain doubles when I turn my head, try to get up from laying down, etc. They gave me a complimentary room to be on the safe side to avoid med-evac!

Click here for more pix.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cemeteries, Rapture Center, Nighttime fog walk, Mosquito Trail

My first night, I met a couple through Larissa who gets their own meet by hunting/fishing after their day jobs. They make use of the whole animal, eating the meat, boiling the skulls and using the fur for décor. Kinda felt ucky but I think it is good for us meat eaters to go through the entire process to better understand and appreciate the final product that we eat. And at least they make use of all the parts.

Next day, I visited the Russian bishop house, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. Also visited the infamous Alaska Raptor Center. My last night in AK, felt compelled to walk around in the fog after a nice King Salmon dinner at home.

Definitely recognized some pros and cons to living in small town. Pros: you can really make your mark, be known, respected, trusted, and have a real voice in a community. You count as a person and can make a difference quicker. Con: everyone knows you, so not much privacy and freedom to be your true self. 
On the other hand, it can be free and liberating in a small town. We make the town and rules and have the space vs. being crammed in a city and trapped in red tape. 

click here for more pix. 

Welcoming in Sitka & National Historical Park

On my 4.5 hr ferry ride to Sitka, I befriended a native artist, Jamie.  Travelling w/ his son to sell his wood artwork. He’s from Angoon, pop 400 on Admiralty “bear” island. Jamie gave me a shark tooth necklace and his friend gave me a ride to town. I learned that natives hunt seals and are allowed to hunt whales. 

I felt right at home as soon as I got off the ferry. I ran into the 2 CA girls from the wwoofing farm on Shelter Island. I couchsurfed w/ Larissa, a photo/art teacher from Sitka. Many flowers to smell while strolling through town and welcomed by all.

Spent the whole next day at Sitka National Historical Park. Not many visitors, allowing me to really connect w/ nature. I would luv to work here, such an inviting place w/ great spiritual airflow; felt so comfy.

I met a well-known AK photographer at his book signing who recognized me from the ferry from Juneau. We got to chatting and went for a hike to photograph some waterfalls. He is staying w/ a friend who is friends w/ my host Larissa. He also knows two non-AK people I know from totally different networks. Small world for sure! We also are taking the same ferry out of Sitka.

 Click here for more pix.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More Juneau Hiking & Brewery

Tobias and I ventured by bus to hike near Mendenhall glacier but the record-breaking floods had something else in store for us.

After failed hiking attempts we went to Alaska Brewery. Normally u get 6 free samples, we scored about 10. I had a nice chat w/ a Bed & Breakfast owner in AK and HI, originally from NJ. He gave me his card as he lives on the Big Island. I swear I have made more HI connections in AK than in HI.
 We then met up w/ my friend, Kwaika from Seattle, He happens to be in Juneau w/ his friends. I met Kawika last December in a Hawaii airport. I’ll be seeing more of him when I chill in Seattle early August.
Very late night w/ about 2 hrs of sleep. Somehow the next day without a nap I managed to hike on my last full day here. I walked an hr or so to Perseverance trail.  Later met up w/ local couchsurfers briefly and retired home.

Had to wake up before 7am to catch a ferry to Sitka! Juneau was a great city and so cool to have met some old friends, while making new ones. I never want to leave a place I visit in AK and it will be difficult to figure out which place I’d like to stay next summer!

Click here for more pix. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Juneau - Mt Roberts Peak & Flume Hike

In Juneau, Richard and his family welcomed me in. Richard went to college w/ Casey, whom I hosted in PDX last Fall. And I will be couchsurfing w/ Casey in Cali I later in August!

On Tues meet up w/ friend Holly as she works for one of the cruise ships, we did a quick stop at Mendenhall Glacier. Many cruises stop in town for a few hours. I  met Holly last yr in PDX at the ecotourism conference and she left PDX last winter.  Yeah, lots of crazy connections going on here. In a few hours, I met so many people who lived in PDX at some point. Including Richard, while I was in PDX too.

The 2nd day, I lucked out with a gorgeous, sunny day, so I hiked on Mount Roberts at 3,819 ft. Amazing mt views and made new friends on the way. 

Later that night, new Swedish friend Tobias and I had a nice barley wine to go while walking the Flume trail. Juneau has tons of hiking and is a walkable town. My calves are killing me as I have not majorly hiked in a few weeks.

Click here for more pix.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What’s after Alaska

My heart aches when thinking of going back to civilized cities; AK has a hold on me like no other place. Every day I grow in AK. I have grown within the past 2 months than the past 2 years. But I will trek on and explore this great, beautiful country! Taking a ferry from Juneau this Sat to Bellingham, WA w/ 3-nights stop in Sitka. It takes 3 nights on the ferry to get to WA from AK. First will head to Vancouver to visit friends on 7/29.  Then Seattle for a week as I have friends and hope to camp/hike Mt. Rainier & Olympic NP. Next is a 2-week road trip w/ good friend Chris to Yosemite, Redwoods, & San Fran. Then to PDX for 2 weeks!

Using air miles to go to SC to volunteer again at the TIES ecotourism conference. Before SC, I will visit Savannah, GA as I hear great things about it, particularly the beaches and have a college friend out there. GA & SC will be a first time for me. From there I will head to NY and visit a friend, in VT.  Sadly I have never been to VT.  From there, I am not sure but working on some plans.

On a side note, I discovered that in my lifetime I have been to 38 states. After GA, SC, VT, it will be 41! Never planned on visiting all of the States before, but kinda cool that I have been to so many. Left on the list, who knows if I will ever make it there, are: Minnesota, MI, ND, OK (drove thru OK on this trip but didn’t even stop), OH, KS, MO, NE & Iowa.

No photo album. 

Last wwoof posting

Last posting on wwoofing in AK and perhaps for the year, as I have no plans to wwoof anywhere else.
Our first sunny day, about a week on this island, we went kayaking. Headed towards Admiralty Island, home to the highest density of brown bears in North America. An estimated 1,600 brown bears inhabit the island, outnumbering Admiralty's human residents nearly three to one. “Great”, I thought to meself. Augustin really wanted to go and since he is not familiar w/ kayaking, I went with him. Like most young guys or even just youngish travelers visiting AK, they want to see a bear and visit the bus from the notable book and film “Into the Wild”. I grow tired of hearing these requests; there’s so much more AK has to offer.

Anyway, the funny thing is we did not see any bears. I think when someone wants or expects too much of something, they loose sight of it. I try to not have any expectations so then I am always content, and usually pleasantly surprised. I think one will see/get what they want when least expected and not seeking it.
I will miss picking my own salad every day, honey in a honey jar, making my hot tub hot and soaking in it, hearing the whales, home made wine, and wearing rubber boots as a necessary not a fashion statement.

This last wwoofing place was hard work and it took time to adjust to the lifestyle. It also let my creativity pour out with my writing, which has been dead for a few years. The payoffs are rewarding and was a great way to spend my final days in wonderful Alaska. I was re-encouraged that we do not need much to live and it is possible for me to be here and live differently. As Rick B. says, "you create your own reality"! Thank you for sharing your magical island with me.

 Click here for more pix.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shelter Island Wwoofing Projects

Our first day of work was to clean the hot tub, a weekly chore. While cleaning, we saw a pod of whales, at least 7 of them. I have never seen so many at once; breathtaking. Some nights when soaking, I can hear the whales bursting for air, but can’t see them as it is getting dark by 10pm now. When I do see one, I am stunned by their enormity and beauty. Seeing and hearing them is a daily, amazing occurrence!

I cleared my first trail ever to set up an outhouse by my wwoofer cabin. Had to trim bushes, branches and skunk lettuce (plant); all which was either composted or turned in to chips for the trail. Next day I got to start digging a hole. This has been the most backbreaking work with so many roots to battle.

We also rebuilt a trail and staircase with huge stones. So much time to do such a small section and lots of trial and error as this was new for us. Everyday when I close my eyes I see nature; images of what I have been working on that day, from soil to rocks to rhubarb to strawberries. Yes, one day I spent about 3 hrs picking strawberries, gets uncomfy trying to reach the many ones in the middle patch. Don’t get me wrong the pictures taken are cool and the scenery is worthwhile. All of us work hard and all jobs require a different hardship.

Wwoofing is for those who seeking to learn something new, embrace hard work (physical and manual labor). Must be adaptable, get along w/ others, not have much need for privacy, have an open mind, patience and be flexible. And don’t mind getting their hands, body, clothes dirty and wet. Don’t expect a daily shower at most places or being able to do laundry either.

I am learning so much and have so many thoughts it is hard to digest and don’t have clean hands or pen/paper accessible while working, I am certain I missed some stories here. 

Click here for more pix.

Green Living PART 2: Tanks, Recycling, Another Wwoofing Site

There’s a 1,000 gallon septic tank underground, which needs to be emptied once a year. They add yeast to it to eat the yucky stuff, which also lessens the smell. All of this is hard work for them, but they enjoy their lifestyle. They live here full time and go to town once a week for mail and supply, but imagine in winter times when it is 30 below!

We don’t flush the toilet if it is yellow (yes we have a toilet!) and burn the pee-pee tissues. We do flush w/ paper if it is brown. Each flush takes 3 gallons of water. You really conserve when you have to work hard for these resources. 

When you have less, you use less.  That’s an easy statement, but when truly thinking about it, it has more depth to it. We should live (or are at least experience) this way to consume less and appreciate what we have. All of our ancestors did). 

Augustin was brave to shower by the waterfall on a cloudy, cool day after a hard days work. I semi did it on a sunny day :) We do not run the hot tub every night; that would be a lot of wood, creating more work.

There is another wwoofer farm 15 min walk. Talk about rustic but fun living. See album w/ captions. The owner, another Rick, is super rad.And we had a great nite w/ music and beach fire.

Click here for more interesting pix!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Green Living Part 1 - Juneau Wwoofing

We bath right next to an outdoor hot tub w/ 3 walls before soaking in natural water, heated by wood. I have soaked nude outside before on this trip, but being alone (not in a spa) w/ an ocean view, I feel more connected with nature and the wild life.

There is solar & wind energy and plumbing in the main house. This is a huge, at least $10K, investment that is done gradually, but they believe it pays off in the long run and feel great about not having monthly bills to pay. We also collect rainwater in huge tanks.

We use a wood burning stove ($5k) to heat up the house nicely and cooks our meals. We can dispose burnable trash in another compartment where the wood burns. I love this thing so much, but takes at least  45 mins  to heat it up before using to cook. It's a love/hate thing for me sometimes w/ it.

There are many microclimates on Shelter Island; some plants grow better in some areas than others. There’s a garden by the sea and a few mins away up the hill is another garden area. Rick & Karen test what works best where. Some of their neighbors can also grow certain things that they cannot; location, location, location. 

They invested in a rain gauge reader that is wireless to a device in the house. It reports how much rain has fallen in that area, the direction of the wind, and sea knots.

Yes, I enjoy the simple life, but never realized what it took to live simply and sustainably. Life looks and sounds grand here, but it takes tons of effort too. My back has never ached so much before. We work in the rain or heat and with bugs and dirt. Took them 20 years to get this all together, built the house, hot tub, cabins while slowly saving up to get the solar and wind instruments in places. It all takes lots of ongoing maintenance as well. But they reached their goals and living how they wish.

Click here for more pix. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Understanding of Alaska

Below are my thoughts and people's words about AK that I have collected since May 11th. It's a lot, sorry!

Alaska travelers are all free spirited, so many backpackers without a plan or car. People here help each other out as well as travelers. Can still work for trade or barter like back in the day. People seem to have a handful of useful skills. Feel like back in the lower 48s society, school and work encourages us to learn and focus on one skill. We’ve developed such specialized skills that we don’t know how to do simple tasks anymore. We now pay others to do them for us. In AK, people live more simply, enjoy nature and are content. It’s a contagious feeling and I see why so many travelers end up staying here. But I can’t imagine living here in winter, definitely harder lifestyle. 

I’d love to visit one winter, though, to see the northern lights. It is a year round activity, but needs to be a clear night and dark. They say it moves and you can even hear it; sounds amazing to me. I can imagine winter here being so beautifully silent with magnificent  white mts hugging you close.

I mentioned briefly there’s a connection between AK & HI, both were the last states to join the US. Both had different cultures living there while they were acquired, so it is a touchy subject for the true locals. It rains on and off so there are rainbows to be seen. Beauty surrounds them everywhere u go. It’s slower going, smaller towns where people know each other and people are still friendly to locals and travelers. I’ve been thinking about moving to the big island since I visited it last Dec and can see myself spending summer in AK. They both are touristy spots and would be great locations to work in the ecotourism field.
AK is a state for the young, Rick B. informed me; you work hard and getting around for the elderly is not so easy. Not to mention the weather, I thought to meself.

No such thing as a weekend for most workers here. Summer is too busy of a work season to go anywhere or even take a break.

Every place I have visited in AK has a trade off: plumbing check, electricity negative; internet yes, cell phone no, bugs for sure, but no rain. It’s a fun game that changes; it is good to have a mix of these treasures.

Don’t need drugs or alcohol to feel good inside when summering in AK.

Can’t get bored here; there’s always something to do needed to live here and lots to explore and appreciate.

Easy to get lost when hiking through the dense woods with concerns of bears. When strolling by the shore, concerns with high tide and not getting stuck or taken by the sea.

Every day my love for AK grows. I believe she is tempting me to stay longer than planned, which tends to happen to many.  I’ve discovered a new self, which I’d like to keep.

Just for fun:

-If you are a guy in AK, you grow a beard not to keep u warm, but easier to manage w/ lack of water. Also gotta like fishin or huntin (and either way you are wearing camouflage). 

- Guys visiting AK have a desire to carve wood, making spoons and walking sticks.

-  “Dang” is common expression here.

No photo album in this post.

Fishing, Crabbing then Canning

We caught 9 pink salmon in 2 hours with a lure, never had seen so many fish caught so quickly. It’s a little tricky bringing them in and they put up a fight. I ain't that into fishing but wanted to try to catch one. I tried to kill my catch but did not have enough force for the blow; poor thing.  I opted out of cleaning the guts out though. My tummy ain't strong enough for that.

The next day we via boat we set down some crab traps, lets see how we do! Riding on a skiff with lightweight reminds me of surfing. It glides us over the smooth waves while fresh air greets our faces.

The day after that, I got to can 7 of the salmon; very slimy process :( Cutting the collar bone, fins, and filleting the tail. Making 16 jars then go into a pressure cooker, which I have never used before. In for 90 mins about 15 pounds of pressure, then shut it off.  Cool it down before opening it up and checking to ensure the lids are sealed. Food can last forever this way.

Click here for more pix.  Warning some of the pix are graphic and gross.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Juneau Wwoofing Intro

Augustin, 19 yr old French guy/wwoofer and Rick picked me up from the ferry on 6/29. We got into the skiff, put our bags in bins and wrapped one w/ tarp to protect from the sea water, needed rubber boots and off to a pretty, quiet, off the grid island we went. Deja vu as it was so similar to my first AK experience, which was wwoofing near Homer.
Augustin speaks English but not perfectly, we have to explain what beans, dears, beavers, sugar etc. are. Not only does he have a language challenge, but also has a huge culture shock by living so remotely for the first time.

They ran a small fishing boat biz and lodge, which ended two years ago when the laws changed making it hard for them to compete w/ big businesses. Juneau is the capitol of AK and there is a lot of fish politics here. They attended college courses (w/o getting a degree) to run their business and build their home efficiently, i.e. Renewable Energy, Accounting, Construction, etc. That was so interesting to me as most of us go to college to get a job.
Before dinner we say a pagan grace to give thanks to nature. We hold hands and say something we are thankful for; it is optional to participate. So far so good except my back is killing me. More soon; lots to catch up on here, which takes time to capture :)

Click here for pix.

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Time Real Hitch Hiking & Ferry Living

I did not sleep well in the cabin at Millers Landing after the kayak trip. Mike, Mia (dog), and I shared a very bouncy bed. Mike mentioned he may go fishing the next day. I needed to be in Whittier by 10pm to catch a midnight ferry to Juneau, so I was a bit worried. It’s about a 3 hr drive. I thought there were buses but they do not run regularly and won’t take one person. A cab is $250. I saw this as an opportunity to do my first proper hitch hike. I always wanted to and in AK it is common. 

I made my sign and Mike took me to the gas station just out of town. I felt like a true hobo w/ my bags and sign. Mike waited till I got picked up and wanted me to text him updates. After about 20 mins a couple picked me up. They were going the other way but advised me to be further away from town, on the highway. So they drove me 10 mins to Bear Lake.  Now I felt strange and there were a lot less cars.

In 10 mins, 23 yr old Greg from southern CA, who just finished the Coast Guard in AK that day picked me up.

At the junction there was an area w/ sketchy motor homes and not many cars coming through. I was picked up in 5 mins by two older guys from Anchorage. They were preparing their boats for their weekend trip. They said they never pick up hitchhikers. Fred was from Portland and Mark from WI. I think it was a good experience for them b/c I broke a lot of the hitch hiking stereotypes. I did not smell, I looked clean, and I am well educated and had a career. They did not believe my age; most people don’t these days, including me.
I started early at 4pm to be on the safe side and got there at 7, so I had time to kill. I went with them to check their nice boats . Then they dropped me off the terminal.

Slept well in the solarium on lounge chairs with a few others rather than paying an extra $250 for a tiny, tiny cabin. Two people set up their tents on deck and a smart couple has an inflatable bed in the solarium.  Ferry has free showers, which is a luxury in AK.
It’s been a cloudy, so did see too much. Saw some mts, killer whales and dolphins from afar. The ferry was my time to catch up on blogging and some fall planning. I befriended a 19 yr old French guy, who just finished traveling the world in 10 months with a small backpack. My hero. Click here for pix.

Close Bear Encounter

Mike and I shared one bear spray. Just when I finished peeing, I looked back and saw a black bear about 30 yards away. He saw me but took no interest. I freaked out and quickly walked towards the woods and camp, looked backed, and then ran to Mike when I did not see the bear. I kept looking back to ensure he was not following me while trying not to fall. I thought to myself, what if he is right behind me, what the hell do I do?

The bear came towards us and we held our hands up high and walked back and up to the left on top of a hill. I could not believe this was really happening. Bear slowly came towards us but then continued onward and swam across the bay entry. I could not believe how quiet he was and that I did not hear him being so close to me.

Looking back at this, I am reminded of the horror movies and the women running through the woods. I did not think I was going to die, I think. Hard to remember as it happened so fast. I could not really think then, I just remember freaking out and feeling helpless. I told Mike we had to pee together. He laughed and of course we did not.

I slept with my pocketknife in hand and exchanged family contact info with Mike that night. It’s nerve wrecking camping in bear country cause you can’t see a thing in the tent and you wonder how many, if any, passes by while you sleep. I look around with every noise I heard. I thought I heard scratching once by the tent so I grabbed the spray.

Before we turned in, we had to make sure we had no food and chap stick in our pockets and make sure there’s no food stains on our clothes. Also peeing in bear country as a chick is not easy. Have to look for a good spot, sometimes I circle around and feel like a dog in doing so. Always look out for bears, make sure you don’t pee yourself, and protect your bum from mosquitoes. I brought a very limited supply of tissue and Mike forgot that entirely.

Did not have my camera on me during that time. The last bear pix located above in this post was taken in Girdwood town. No photo album on this post.