Aug 31, 2009

denali highway

Posted by Mary |

My impromptu trip across the Denali Highway was, naturally, off to a late start. I had my weekly massage after work on Friday (health insurance pays for it, so I'm not going to cancel the appointment) and then I took a quick shower to rinse off the oil and started throwing stuff in the car. I had a full tank of gas and a game plan.

I headed out past North Pole and had the minor thrill of veering right in Delta Junction. By golly, I was driving on roads I'd never driven on before! In the largest state in the nation, there's very few actual state routes. Those that exist are known more by name than route number. I believe I was traveling on Alaska Route 4, but I just know it as the Richardson Highway. My goal was the one campground marked in the Gazetteer. It had been raining steadily since I left Fairbanks, and I wanted to set up camp and go to sleep. The campground turned out to be more of an RV sort of affair, at least as far as I could tell from the car, so I continued south toward Paxson.

It was closing in on 11:30, and I wanted to go to sleep. I finally just pulled off the road into a paved turnout and found a dirt trail leading off of it. It looked vaguely camp-able, so I set up the tent in a cold drizzle and hopped in. There were no niceties such as brushing my teeth. Instead I decided to play any old favorite game: How Will I Die? Round One: Bear Attack vs. Serial Killer

The next morning I was still alive, and it was still raining. I coaxed myself out of the tent and simply threw all of the bits and pieces into the trunk. As it turns out, I was only a few miles north of Paxson. Having never been there, I expected a typical Alaska highway town: 1-2 gas stations, a store, a restaurant. Nope, not Paxson. One building, which contained the gas station, store, restaurant and bar. It did sell Diet Dr. Pepper, so +1 for Paxson.

Paxson also had the dubious distinction of where I officially turned onto a new road. Technically I've driven the Richardson Highway before, even if I never drove that particular segment before. But in Paxson, all was shiny and new as I turned onto Alaska Route 8, aka the Denali Highway. It was all paved and lovely, at least for the first 30 miles. Then it reverted back to the potholed gravel I had grown accustomed to. It didn't matter much to me, as I was willing to drive slowly, and I had an iPod full of NPR podcasts.

Hunting in Alaska is a tricky subject. Some hunts, it seems, are already open, whereas others don't start for a while yet. So it's hard to say who was legally hunting. But as I came around a corner and spotted a black Honda Civic stopped in the road and a man standing in the road, pointing his rifle toward the hills, I was pretty sure I was seeing something, well, illegal. As if hunting from the road wasn't foolish enough, there was his vehicle choice. How, I ask, are you going to get a carcass home in a Honda Civic?

Around McClaren Summit, I decided to hop out of the car and enjoy some hiking. My friends had been of two minds about my solo trip: One group thought I should bring a gun, while the other thought I could adequately protect myself with a really big knife. I demurred on both accounts and opted to bring bear spray. It kept me safe on the Chilkoot Trail, so I figured it would keep me safe once again. About a mile into my hike, I came across a large pile of bear scat. At this point, I realized I had left the bear spray in the car. Nothing for it but to keep going, right?

The rain stopped while I was hiking, and I was rewarded with a merely cloudy view of the mountains on either side of me. After staging some photos with my new Gorillapod (love it!) I decided to head back to the car. The clouds shifted long enough for me to spot several men with guns wandering around on the hills. I was thankful I wasn't wearing my moose jacket, even though I'd heard everyone was wearing them this year.

After one cold, rainy night of camping, my mind started wandering in the car. Specifically, it started wandering south. I decided the most logical thing to do was to drive to Cantwell, call some friends and head down to their place in Chickaloon and enjoy the rest of my weekend in the Valley. Hey, I could even go shopping at Target! (Don't you judge me! The nearest Target is 300 miles away. It's a treat to go there.) I was pretty much set on this plan, until I decided to take a random dirt trail off the highway and found a nice flat area with a couple of fire rings set up. At this point, the sun was starting to peek through the clouds, and it seemed like the day might turn around. Plus, I really wanted to take a nap.

I yanked the still-soggy tent out of the trunk and let the sun and wind dry it, then set up camp near one of the fire rings. I went looking for firewood, and as I wandered back into the bushes, I kept coming across more and more bones. Not, like, a random bone here or there. More like a set of shoulder blades, a spine and ribcage, a leg with the hoof still attached. Perhaps this wasn't the best camping spot. But laziness prevailed, and I decided to take a nap rather than move on.

As the sun set later that night, I lit up my pitiful supply of wood and enjoyed breathing in smoke. After burning a few holes in my fleece, I went into the camp to try to accomplish my goal of the trip: figure out my game plan for upcoming travel. I can't say it was a huge success. I've decided to maybe go to Belize in Dec-Jan for a 2-week diving vacation. But I will definitely be joining Cara in Africa this summer to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. If I have to dump the Belize plans, so be it.

Before drifting off to sleep, I decided I was too narrow-minded in my think and played a game of How Will I Die? Round Two: Aliens and Zombies Could Get Me, Too. In the end, I decided I would most likely meet my maker at the hands of Nazi ghosts. Specifically, this guy:

Hey, nightmares are nightmares.
But the next morning I was still alive. It was freaking cold, and I laid in my sleeping bag for about an hour, whining about getting up. By the time I was rolling up my Thermarest, it had started sprinkling again, and I was able to get the tent bagged up before the skies opened.

The drive home was a continuing orgy of NPR, interspersed with the occasional song or two. I can now confirm the theory that a full tank of gas will get me from Fairbanks to Healy via the Denali Highway (with several miles to spare). After two nights of hip cramps from sleeping in a tent, I was looking forward to getting home and sleeping in my new marshmallow of a bed. I also eagerly anticipated a long, hot shower. Since sleeping in just isn't an option when you're camping (especially when you're a morning person), I was back in Fairbanks around 12:30.

Aug 30, 2009

i'm not dead yet

Posted by Mary |

I survived the weekend of camping. Please hang up any phones on which you may have dialed 9-1 and waited....

I'll share the story of the trip later, when I can add photos. For now, I will tell this tale...

On Friday I decided to play a game with my co-workers. We have a chat program set up for the office. I put my status as "Marco" and sat back to bask in the glory of a million "Polo" chats that were sure to come my way. The results were not so impressive, especially in light of the conversations my "Is zymurgist a word?" status provoked.

Aug 28, 2009

out of office auto reply

Posted by Mary |

I'm heading down to the mountains in about 15 minutes. I'll be enjoying a weekend of solo camping and hiking. If you don't hear from me late Sunday night, a bear probably ate me.

Aug 27, 2009

oh noes

Posted by Mary |

I have heartburn and the hiccups. Is this what getting older feels like??

Aug 24, 2009

spoiled for choice

Posted by Mary |

I decided I wanted to travel again, but somehow this has turned into planning trips on three separate continents within the next year.

It started with Asia. My friend Christi moved to Cambodia in January, and it seemed logical to go visit her. I was halfway through planning a trip through Cambodia and Vietnam when I bought a house and realized that the airfare was not budging. My newest financial metric is one mortgage payment, and airfare to Phnom Penh was no less than 1.5 mortgage payments. I've informed Christi that this kind of rules out Asia.

Then Dara mentioned going to Belize this winter. A ticket to Belize is about 0.7 mortgage payments. So I began working up dates and an itinerary for Belize, Guatemala and possibly parts of Honduras or El Salvador.

Then an old friend told me today that she will most likely be in Kenya for field work next summer. She and I have been talking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for about a year now, but it's always been a stumbling block for both of us to be in Africa at the same time. And now I know she'll be there and I can stay in her apartment for free.

What to do? What to do? I don't think I can turn down this chance to meet up with Cara in Africa. But I still have that leftover ticket from Seattle that I need to use by January. Should I try for just 2 weeks in Central America and then 4 weeks in Africa? I've got enough accumulated leave (and should have more by then) to pull off both, but there is a financial impact there. Should I designate the Central America trip as PFD money and the Africa trip as $8K-house-buying-tax-credit money? (Note: The trip will not be $8K. Most of that money is going to my mortgage. But I was planning on spending between 10-20% on something fun.) Should I just give up and buy an around-the-world ticket and figure out how to make all the segments work? Seattle-Belize-Fairbanks-New York-Amsterdam-Istanbul-Nairobi-somewhere else is looking mighty good....

Crap. I'm calling for a retreat. I'm heading out this weekend for parts unknown to camp by myself for a few days and consider all my options. Maybe I'll have some clarity when I come back.

Aug 17, 2009

heard in the kitchen

Posted by Mary |

You really do need a man to cook for.
--Maegan, who doesn't seem
to realize that she is currently a
beneficiary of my kitchen efforts

It was an unexpected evening gathering. Liz came over to watch the season premiere of Mad Men with me. To celebrate, I made an Italian sausage and tomato soup, salad and bread, and we ate on the back porch. We enjoyed the show even though I couldn't find the right cable to hook my laptop to the new television. After Liz left, I began to whip up a batch of The Brownies, prompting the above comment. I can't help being so domestic at times. I have a love affair with food.

summer winds down

Posted by Mary |

Liz, Rachel and I try to stay dry before our performance

Of course it rained. It was time for the Tanana Valley State Fair, right? This year my dance troupe had the honor of being one of the closing acts at the fair. On a rainy Saturday night, we took the stage at 10 p.m. and danced until the fireworks started. There was no covered area for us other than the stage, so we had to hop up and down into the mud and wait in the rain. Still, it was a good end to a great summer of performances.

Although it was a Saturday night and I should have gone out to meet friends, I chose to go home and take a long, hot shower. I mixed up a dirty martini and retired for the night.

My big purchase since buying the house has been a new bed. I'd had my old one for many years, and I was no longer sleeping well. As some people already know, I have a penchant for a high bed. In fact, my bed frame was elevated on 7-inch cinder blocks. Fun fact: New mattresses are much thicker than old mattresses. As a result, my new bed was obscenely high. Like "3 feet off the ground" high. Like "the cat can barely make the leap up" high. Like "this would be easier with a step stool" high. Not a problem. On Friday night, Maegan and I hit Home Depot and I bought some scrap lumber. For $2.01, I was able to make much lower bed raisers (a contradictory concept) and my bed is now accessible once again. And in case you were wondering, it's like sleeping on a marshmallow. I love my new bed.

The weird feeling of home ownership is fading. I still like knowing that I own that squeaky spot in my bedroom floor, but I no longer panic when I think about mortgage payments. In fact, I'm even starting to think about travel again, though I probably can't swing the trip to Asia I was hoping for. (Sorry, Christi, but the ticket alone would be 1.5 mortgage payments!) At this point I'm considering a return trip to Central America for the holidays.

Aug 4, 2009

....and we're back

Posted by Mary |

That wireless router problem? I fixed it.
That burlesque show? It's done.
That housewarming party? It was a hit.
That new roommate? She arrives tomorrow.

I'm pretty much settled into the house. There are still issues I need to resolve. For instance, I need a new bed but I also want a new chair. There's not enough storage space for two people in the kitchen if one of those people is me. My temporary solution is a set of shelves in some dead space by the laundry area. My more permanent solution is to build a pantry in that same area.

And I need to tackle the new windows project but Lowe's does not sell the windows that meet current Energy Star requirements for tax refunds. I'll need to special order them, which means I also need to figure out how exactly to measure the damn window properly. There are 6 identically sized windows in the house, but my numbers don't match up with standard window sizes. I refuse to believe they are all custom windows. Since it will take about a month to get the windows in, I don't know if I'll be able to replace any of them this year. In theory, I could do all 6 in one weekend with a few dedicated helpers, but I wouldn't get the windows until mid-September at the earliest.

I'm off to Anchorage this weekend. Liz and I are leaving early work early on Thursday. After 6 hours of Neil Diamond, Avenue Q and general cattiness, we'll be there by the evening. Friday will be a relaxing day of shopping and lunch with Joanna, followed by a show where I only have to perform for TWO numbers! Then two days of dancing with Mira Betz and we're back on the road to Fairbanks.