Sunday, June 15, 2008

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.
John Muir
John Muir certainly is right. Alaska is full, chalk full, of wild and scenic places. It is a mecca for all outdoor sports and recreation. I became enthralled with the idea of living and working in Alaska because of its mountains and wildlife. However, I am finding increasingly more interesting things to do here outside of backpacking and glacier viewing.
It has been a late spring and a late summer. Consequently, the snow is still covering the upper (and sometimes lower) portions of the trails. More than once, I have been turned around by gobs and gobs of snow. And my healthy fear of the massive brown bears has stymied my drive to hike and backpack alone in these mountains. Therefore, I decided to have a weekend in the city of Anchorage.
Katie, Carolyn and I bought tickets to the Marshall Tucker Band for Thursday night and trundled to Anchorage after work. The concert was a blast and it turns out that I know more Marshall Tucker Songs than I originally thought. The crowd was full of bikers and baby boomer revelers and some young hicks. I am fairly certain that the entire band was toasted upon arrival and the tight pants of the lead guitarist and the long scraggly hair on all of them made the concert even more entertaining. At one point, all of the band members except Marshall Tucker himself, took off for a smoke or something. The venue was fairly low key and so Katie and I were able to get right up close to the stage and even stand next to Marshall Tucker while he was taking a break. We wrapped up the evening at a bar that could have been the Union Club if it had a live band and a dance floor.
Katie and I stayed the night with an old roommate of hers in Anchorage. We borrowed bikes and took the town by storm the next day. We went into the little touristy knickknack shops and the salvation army and the native arts stores and tried to do a tour about John Cooke but found we couldn't pay attention. We perused the parks and sat and people watched and smelled the salty air. After awhile we found Glacier Brewhouse and partook of their beer sampler tray. We tried ten beers in all including a plum lambic and raspberry wheat beer as well as an imperial blond ale and an imperial IPA. There beer was good but not great. The atmosphere was excellent and the bar tender made our day. He had spent a lot of time hiking in our neck of the woods and we discussed different trails.
Then we took a massively long bike ride out to the strip mall area and visited REI, where I deposited a lot of money in what I like to think of as a fine investment, a pair of fire boots. It sounds like the trail crew depends and expects to go on fires every year. I have grown out of my old fire boots so I figured I better replace them. I hope that we go on a fire now, because I have some pretty kick-ass boots. I opted out of the conventional whites or hawthornes because the arches are too high and got some La Sportivas that look silly as hell but are just as comfortable.
We also trekked to Value Village and the Salvation Army as well as an excellent Italian restaurant with a salad bar. The price shock has been a bit crippling when it comes to me buying produce so I haven't had a healthy dose of veggies since I got up here. The salad bar was great and just what I needed. We adventured home on our bikes at around 9:00 pm and made it home just before the rain started pelting down. We had hoped that her friend would be around to drive to Costco or a grocery store but she wasn't so we hoped on our bikes again with our backpacks and took off for a grocery store in the pouring rain. I bought 25 cans of veggies and spaghetti sauce, a huge thing of peanut butter, 10lbs of apples and 5lbs of carrots as well as 2 quarts of yogurt and some couscous. My pack was heavy. I shall not be buying 25 cans at once again. The uphill on the way home was interesting, to say the least...
Katie and I stayed up late listening to music on youtube including North To Alaska, which is a song I had never heard before.
Saturday morning Katie's friend's family took us fishing in Whittier. You have to take a train tunnel in your car to get there and traffic can only go one direction at a time and if a train is coming all the traffic has to wait for the train to pass through. Whittier is where all the Princess Cruises stop off and everyone in the community lives in one giant apartment complex. The scenery around the bay is breathtaking and multiple glaciers spill into the ocean in the area. There is also the world's second largest seagull rookery.
We set to the sea and laid shrimp pots in a secret place and then went to another secret place and fished for chum and king salmon. We got skunked on the fish but we kayaked and chatted and watched the eagles and listened to music and sat silently and contemplated the wonder of the land around us. Katie and I felt ecstatic to be so lucky as to be in Alaska fishing and kayaking and boating on the ocean. Kayaking was the most liberating thing after move of my own volition at a high speed and little effort to move without the graciousness of a car ride and the power of my own muscles. It was wonderful. I am becoming really serious about finding a bike and a kayak to use on the Kenai lake now. We had a lot of shrimp in the shrimp pots and I got way out of my comfort zone when I ripped their little heads and legs off. Their bodies still jerk after they have been decapitated. It was a horrible experience at first but then I realized that I was harvesting food and that these shrimp would be wholesome food in the end. I got a chance to drive the boat and grounded the lines on a sudden increase of ocean depth. Oops.
We had a successful hitch hike back to our home thanks to a spunky FWP intern from Texas. And we had a wholesome dinner of shrimp and pasta after oogling our sprouting garden. The broccoli, peas and radishes and beets are all sprouting now! I ended up joining some other folks at a show in Cooper Landing. The crowd was overwhelming but the music was good, some mix of samba and African drumming jam band. It made me very nostalgic for the samba dances in Missoula but the crown was different and I danced on edge and hung close to fire, enjoying myself but missing the energy that connects us all. There is something strangely hollow about the people who have been here for years. I find an affinity to my fellow first years but feel isolated and distant from the others. There is something that I can't put my finger on that makes the energy of Cooper Landing a Moose Pass less accessible. I shall cogitate on it more and in the mean time find joy in my fellow dorm mates who find delight in the smallest of things and wonder in the very act of being in Alaska.
Next weekend is the Solstice and a great festival at Moose Pass. I can't wait because I think the music will be great and the attitude will be positive. I may even enter a pie in the contest.

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