leftyjew: (Default)
Saturday - Shabbat

Vay'hi erev vay'hi boker - Yom hashishi. Vay'chulu hashamayim v'haaretz....
Okay, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but we did at least see a good part of the land and sky that was totally new to us. On the Sabbath we ceased from our "labors" of driving around, kayaking, hiking and cooking, and instead visitied somewhere somewhat familiar and somewhat foreign - Chabad Anchorage.
We actually woke up at a reasonable time Saturday morning and walked about a half mile (full mile?) to the Chabad. We chose our hostel specifically for its nearness to shul (the reform shul - frozenchosen.org - was in the suburban part of town, and nowhere near a hostel), so I was happy to go. We got there during shacharit. Leyning was unimpressive - no cantillation at all, and the reader slurred the words "ohel mo'ed" (tent of meeting - used often in parashat Korach).
There were several notable features of this Chabad.
First, they mentioned that since it was Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, we should all be thinking about the last Lubavitch Rebbe's 10th yahrzeit (3 Tammuz) which is much better than the Chabad in "Simcha" Monica that talked about the man as if he were alive. They talked about how much good has happened in the world since his passing and about Matisyahu and how he represents the work of the late Rebbe - the popularization of Chabad Judaism among the masses - how it's "cool" to be Chabadly Jewish.
Also, they spoke great words about the late rabbi (I think) of the reform shul. She was a great person, apparently, and very welcoming. She was in good relation with the rabbi of the Chabad shul, and it seemed like they got along quite well. I may be misremembering, but I think the Chabad rabbi referred to this woman as rabbi. I was pleased that she was mentioned in such glowing terms.
I was also pleased that they said several psalms in English. It allowed for those who don't know Hebrew well to follow along with a rather rote part of the service.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine didn't really get any stares because she was wearing jeans. We did, however, get asked or assumed several times if we were married. (She was wearing a bandana over her head out of respect for the shechinah).
Finally, I was glad that the kiddush/lunch was completely open to the public and veg-friendly. The cholent was meaty and there was a salmon kugel? salmon mold? whatever you call it - chopped up salmon in a jello mold shape with a spicy crust.. Anyway, everything besides those dishes were completely veggie. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I were expecting to eat salad, challah and wine, and then to leave, but we wound up rather full of good food. Go Alaska! The company was okay, too. Of course, I wound up speaking to someone with few social skills for a good while (I always wind up finding them), but the rabbi was interesting enough (he was impressed with [Unknown site tag]'s SCA position and knew folk in DC). Also, there was a really neat couple from Pittsburgh. Did I mention that the guests went around the room introducing themselves? They did. The woman from Pitt said a lot of really interesting things about the differences between large and small communities and the differences between being a participant (required in small communities) and being a member (the norm in larger communities). She misses the chance to participate like she did in NorCal. [livejournal.com profile] kellev - you better be reading this because I was thinking about our conversations from last year on this topic.
After shul and a hearty lunch, [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I decided to walk around downtown Anchorage. We walked behind some of the girls from Chabad who had been imported to run the camp, but we eventually parted ways. Anchorage has lots of nice trails. We walked along the history trail which recounts Anchorage's history including a lengthy talk about the Good Friday Earthquake, and quite a bit about the history of the rights of indigenous people (not as happy as you'd want it to be, but better than it was in the Lower 48). We also walked through a beautiful and bustling Saturday open air market where we saw, among other things, a woman selling sandals without straps that stick to your feet. We also spent a while in this nice National Mall-type park which was hosting an African-American celebration of some sort (possibly June-teenth??). It was pretty nice, and they had a flagpole made of 110-foot-tall Sitka spruce. Sad for the spruce, but nice for the people of Anchorage.
We then walked along the bike trail we rode on the second day. This time we went a bit slower (because we were on foot) and we saw more things. For instance, there's a tunnel that had a lot of painted handprints all over it, as if a bunch of people dipped their hands in paint and touched the wall. My first reaction was "How terrible is that!" Then [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine pointed out that if you look at it the right way, it was a huge fish. Wow! It was so cool!
Anyway, we said goodbye to the mountains, to the open sky, and to the bay, and continued on. It was a really beautiful closure to a beautiful week. Even the mud flats seemed welcoming and altogether lovely.
We headed back to the hostel for seuda shlishit at about 7. We were a bit parched (we weren't carrying water) and sunburned and tired. We ate, talked, and spent the rest of shabbat hanging out and talking. Keep in mind that shabbat ended at 2:40 am. We stayed up the whole time, and a bit afterwards. The people at the hostel may have been annoyed but we were downstairs, so out of the way for the most part. At 2:40 sunday morning, we made our various emendations of havdallah over Kedem grape juice, Hanukah candles and cinnamon, loaded up the car, left our payment and keys in the appropriate receptacle, and drove to the airport.
We chatted a bit with others leaving at the same time. They were annoying and we were glad we didn't spend our trip taking cruises and bus tours like they did. If you're interested in the ridiculousness at the airport re my ticket, I can refer you back to episode I, but otherwise, the ordeal was rather uneventful. I got home, and had tea with Rachel, Toby, and David. And I was done.
leftyjew: (starfish)
So I told [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine that if she posted her photos, I'd finish the week off. Last we left our heroes, they had just parked the car in Denali State Park and were getting ready to set up camp....

Thursday - Beyers Lake

We decided we had a few things to do to set up before we could really head out hiking. We were both a little tired from not doing anything all day, but we had to eat, set up a tent, and then we could play. We thought it was important to get this all done before we went for a hike because when we got back, we assumed it was going to be dark.... So much for assumptions.
Anyway, we throw together and almost burn a stewy thing of soup mix, dried veggies, fresh onion, pasta, and some other vegetables we had brought. It was actually pretty tasty. While washing dishes - far from capsite so as not to attract bears - we decide to throw out the jar of salsa we'd been schlepping since Seward. When that left the car, everything just smelled better. What we thought were [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine's jeans turned out to be a jar of molding salsa. Lesson: Always refrigerate after opening.
We set up the tent and got ready to head out. It was about 8, so there was still plenty of light.
We head out around what we thought would be a two hour trail around the lake so that we could get home in time for nightfall. We saw beautiful flowers, a great alpine lake (it looked like photos of upstate NY, and it reminded [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine of her hikes there). It was really beautiful and peaceful. Except for the constant mosquitoes swarming around the large body of still water. There were great flowers, some birds swimming on the lake, beautiful vegetation in general, and spiderwebs. Lots.
The trail also takes us through a tree-stripped and machine-laden area briefly, but we were soon off that part.
It took a lot longer than we thought. Our navigation was a bit off - we thought we were mostly done when we crossed that deforested area, but that was just because we were going along the trail in the opposite direction. It got later and later. As we went on, [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine pointed out trail building techniques that were employed and how to make it better, and I wanted to stop at one particularly scenic view of the mountains, lake, forest and sky for a while. But soon, we both got a bit nervous about being out late. We knew we wanted to be home by dark. Fortunately, we did. Apparently, we could have gone on a several day hike and gotten back before dark. We arrived back at about 11, and went fairly straight to bed....er... sack.

Friday - Kesugi Ridge Trail and the rush to Shabbas

We knew we had to leave by 11 the next morning for checkout, so we were a bit nervous when we left the tent at about 12. We both hoped no rangers were going to come by and ticket us. None did.
It was Friday, so we also wanted to be back in Anchorage before Shabbat. Since it's about a three or four hour drive, we had to leave Denali no later than 830pm. Talk about time pressure :)
We took our tent apart, ate some breakfast, and started on our next adventure.
We wanted to find another hiking trail. This would be our last hike, so we wanted to make it good, and we were in Denali, so we wanted to make it good. We decided on a long and difficult ridge trail knowing that we would never have time to finish it. It was a few miles up the road, so we drove off, stopped at an overlook on the way, saw Mount Denali almost peaking his head out and headed to the Little Coal Creek entrance to teh Kesugi Ridge Trail.
The really great thing about Kesugi Ridge is that it's parallel to the ridge with Denali and Foraker. You get beautiful views the whole way, and on a clear day, you can see the whole valley. It is truly breathtaking.
When we got there, we didn't have exact change for day parking, and when we asked a ranger, he told us, "I'm the only one working here right now, so don't worry about it." We scraped together enough cash anyway.
As we were about to go, we met up with a couple who was just coming back from a multi-day hike across the whole trail. They said it was great and desperately wanted to shower. They also said that they could see Denali. Oh, and they also told us that there are people you can pay to drive your car form one place to another if you want to have a multi-day hike that isn't a loop. That's what they did, and I thought it was an interesting and very Alaskan/non-East Coast idea. No one here would let strangers drop their car off somewhere.... or go on multi-day hikes.
So we went on. We didn't have much water left of our gallon jug. We had quite a bit the day before and used much in cooking. The pump water in Denali is not safe to drink. So we head up with snacks and some water and lots of bug spray. Oh, and hats. We go and climb and go and climb. At first it's mostly flat, but very pretty. Much of the vegetation reminded us of the night before (no surprise, it's all of 10 miles away or so). As we start to climb, a down-coming hiker tells us something scary. This time it's not bears, but something much less predictable. A person - young man - is walking around with a gun. He's Aiming it at hikers and telling people that he's using it to kill bears in case they attack. But he's pointing it at people. Anyway, we get his description and are on the look out.
This is one piece of Alaska wildlife I'm happy to have missed. We never met up with this kid, but we decided on various ways of approaching him. But thankfully we never had to use them.
We head up some more. The trees and grass give way to just grass. Then the grass gives way to grassy rock. We turn around and see Mount Denali beautifully. Still covered in a cloud, but beautiful, nonetheless. Or because of that. Maybe it's the mystery. We're told that it is much better from further up and though I'm skeptical, we push on.
Climb climb. People pass us, we pass others. Some travel in large groups with lots of gear, and some look like people out for a stroll (with water).
About the water - I told you we didn't have too much going into it. About the time we got to the grassy rocks, I notice how low my water is. I decide to drink slower (bad decision in general).
We approach an area that's almost entirely rocky. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine points out the small plants growing between the rocks and informs me that it is officially arctic alpine. Cool. We turn around and see Denali. Wow. It is better from further up. We sit there for a while debating about whether to press on to the Ridge itself (we were still perpendicular to the Kesugi Ridge. We had what looked like 100 yards to go. Most of it up.) [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine reasons that since we're almost out of water (about 3/4 empty), we really should start to head back. After we check out the view a bit longer.
So we sit near a cairn and watch the scenery not change. It's about 6 at this point. Beautiful (though a bit warm) weather. Sun brightly shining. Shabbas approaches. Eventually we start to head down.
On the way down, I run out of water completely, and start to feel lightheaded. Not so good. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine gives me some of hers, but before we're back at the car we're both out. Lesson: Always bring enough water. I manage to make it back to the car. A bit dizzy, but there's a bit of water waiting for us there. We down it and head to the nearest shop.
But before we go, we want to say goodbye to Denali. We stop at that viewpoint we stopped at earlier, and Denali is completely cloud-free! Amazing. It happens so rarely, and we were so lucky to see it. It's a gorgeous mountain. No, not gorges. Gorgeous.
We go on. We need liquid. We leave the park, and find a large general store. We get some drinks, some snacks, and some special Seattle sodas for Shabbat, and we book it to Anchorage.
I get a bit tired around Houston and stop for coffee at one of the many "espresso" trucks on the side of the road. Then, I stop for the bathroom at Arby's and pick up a souvenir for Adam who has regaled me with stories of his childhood trips to the Arby's in Kenai. Houston's not really close to Kenai, but it's a hell of a lot closer than Virginia is. Drive drive drive! We sing songs to keep us awake and not bored, and we worry about prepping for Shabbat. Organizing our luggage, which we had talked about doing since erev Talkeetna, had never happened. We knew we needed to have some good pre-shabbas time, and we weren't sure we could make it. We knew we had to be organized, so we made mental notes of what to do and in what order.
One of those things was calling Chabad to see when services started. Nine o'clock. There was no way we could make it to Anchorage by nine, much less be ready to take on the restrictions of Shabbas. Ok, so we'd do some kabbalat shabbat on our own. At about 930, we pull into the Thirteenth Street Hostel's driveway, park, and start to organize luggage.
Hussle hussle hussle. Get stuff in the house that we need in the house that we needed, start cooking what we needed to eat that day (there was a lunch at Chabad but we were both sure there would be no veg options), get stuff ready to go so that we can leave immediately after shabbas on Sunday. Choose what stays in the car, split stuff between the two of us, cook with the camping stove that was running out of fuel, find this and that, lots of last minute hurrying!
Candle-lighting was at 11:45. We lit at about 11:47 and made a few excuses why we needed the particular spot on the table that the camping stove was on so that we could move it. Lesson: No matter how late shabbat starts, you're never ready in time. We said a small kabbalat shabbat and individual maarivs. It was shabbas.
After dinner which was delicious, I stayed up for a while watching the candles to make sure they didn't burn the backyard down. The hostel owner was looking at me oddly, and I think he was afraid to put the candles out himself for fear of offending me. I would have preferred he extinguish them but oh well.
And then late Friday, I went to sleep.
leftyjew: (Default)
I kinda want to get done with all of this, but Friday and Shabbas will probably take at least two entries each. Anyway, here's...

Thursday - Denali State Park

After we left Talkeetna, city of earthen roads, we drove on to Denali State Park. "Denali" is the Athabascan/Tanaina name for Mount McKinley and his wife, Mount Foraker, is called "Menlale". Alaskans and climbers all tend to use the name "Denali" for both the park and the larger mountain, so I'm going to use that. If you're a fan of President McKinley and want something named after him, maybe we can call Cuba or Luzon "McKinley Island" (While we're at it, we can name Puerto Rico "Foraker Island". Apparently in order to get a great Alaskan mountain named after you, you need to be a turn-of-the-century Republican from Ohio involved legistating the Spanish-American War. Or finance a trip to climb Denali.)
Anyway, nomenclature covered (rather caustically, too!) I can continue with the story.
We drive a ways along Parks Highway, and eventually see a big sign. Welcome to Denali State Park! No gate or entrance fee or anything. Very nice. We start looking for our site - Beyers Lake. We pass several places that seem campgroundy and eventually stop at a lodge with a storefront. I go in to ask if we've gone too far and figuring it would take a minute, I ask [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine to wait in the car. Big mistake. This was my closest encounter with real bush Alaskans. They were incredibly deserving of the redneck title. The husband had a white mullet and was eating a ham and mayo sandwich while sitting at the counter. The wife was a bit plump and kept pretty quiet except when spoken to. They had run this shop for 25 years. Yes, that's nearly my entire life. The woman was born and raised in the area (I assume that means within a few miles), and the man is originally from... somewhere else. Maybe even as far as Fairbanks, but I don't think so. They had so much to say, and I learned quite a bit. "Brown lie down, black fight back." "Avoid Troublesome Creek this time of year - it's called troublesome for a reason. The bears are gonna make sure you don't get their salmon." "This here is the best and prettiest trails in the state. Denali National Park?! This guy wants to go to Disney Land! They shove you on a crowded bus and it's as bad as anything you get in the Lower 48. With all the tourists, you may as well be in Yellowstone!" and so on. The conversation went on for quite some time, and I got a great map of the trails from them. They were good people - they weren't really trying to push me to buy anything and gave me tons of talk, advice, and information. I wish [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine had come in so she could meet them. Oh, and also, they had power kayaks. Those seemed like fun, but were pretty expensive to rent.
We keep heading the way we're going and eventually we get to the Denali part of the park. There's a gorgeous overlook with amazing views of the mountains. Denali is almost always covered in clouds. It's one of the stormiest mountains in the world, and climbers will often wait at high camp for more than a week just to wait for the weather to clear. Many who make it to high camp turn back from the wait. Most people who see Denali from the ground cannot see his peak clearly. It's a dangerous, cloudy and stormy mountain. He's also not a graceful mountain. There is no sharp peak - there are actually two summits joined together by a massive grumpy black-rock mountain covered in glacier.
Anyway, we saw a really beautiful view of a really imposing hulk of rock and ice. We read about the race to climb it and the lies involved. We ate some fruit, took photos, got annoyed at tourists and sat around a bit, and then we headed onward. But before we went on, we used the restroom. It was kind of a demarcation of sorts. The restrooms were bear-safe. They had no flush or trash. They were immaculate and the doors swung closed tightly. They had no sinks and no running water. There was potable(?) water from a pump on the other side of the parking lot. It was an interesting way to tell that we were in a park and not a civilization center. We went on.
Past Troublesome Creek (following the advice of the shop owners) and to Beyers Lake (following EVERYONE's advice). We got there, chose a camping site, and parked. This would be my first time camping. I'm still not used to nature being a consumer good, but it's the way the world works. "Nature" is some place you go to "get away". It's a vacation and not an existence on its own. It kind of weirds me out conceptually, but I do like the experience. Anyway, in a place surrounded by other campsites just like ours, some filled with RVs, a few with cars, many empty dirt driveways, we set up camp.
leftyjew: (Default)
Not much time before shabbat, but there's not much to say about Talkeetna.

Thursday - Talkeetna

We didn't get up until about noon Thursday. But we didn't really have much planned besides more driving and then hiking, so I was okay with it. We wound up staying at the hostel, eating some quick lunch/breakfast, and relaxing. We didn't leave until about 2. It was really a pretty great place. The unfriendly guys we met on entering really didn't match up with the super-great folks we met that afternoon. Apparently a storm had just left the peak of Denali, so lots of climbers who had been stuck at high camp (17,000 feet) had a chance to quickly head to the peak (21,000') and summit, and then head down. Many of those climbers make their way back through Talkeetna. Many of them smell. Many of them want $3 showers offered by our hostel. But many of them are also really outgoing and full of positive energy since they had just done something incredible. I met a group of Taiwanese and got to use my 普通话 a little (and learn how poor it had gotten in five years). Man, I need practice! The hostel is just funky enough to be good, and not funky enough to smell. Best of both worlds. And the person who tends the place is a real nice woman with a little kid. (So many hostel owners/managers have kids! I guess it's what backpackers do after they have little ones.) She actually told me that the woman who owns the hostel got her place from a Kelly. I wonder if that's my friend who had spent time living in Talkeetna. I'll have to ask.
Next, we needed fuel - white gas, specifically - for [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine's camping stove. We'd been trying to get the stuff since Seward and hadn't had any luck. Apparently everyone in Alaska uses propane fuels. There was one place that [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine had heard about. The owner said they'd be around unless their kid wanted to go for a walk. So... we tried to find this place. But failed. It's strange because Talkeetna, as mentioned before, is not big at all. In fact, we drove up and down the street we were told had this store and it didn't seem to exist.
Instead, we found a different place that offered camping supplies. The owner asked us if we were from the east coast. "Yes, why do you ask? Is it the accent?" asked [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine. "Well, in part it's the accent, but also no one here has used white gas in ten years. It's pretty old. But hold on, let me see if I can find some for you." He takes out a phone book (about 2.5" thick) and calls his friend. "Hi, is this Lorraine* with the two beautiful children?" ... "Well, I got two hiker backpacker types here asking for white gas. Do you have any?" .... "All right, thanks a lot. Talk to you soon!" He hangs us and tells us the good news. We go to Lorraine's place of business, and remember that we left the water jug at the hostel. I go and get the water jug and [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine gets the white gas (since she knows what to expect). Apparently, she had the option to either buy a new gallon or take a free 3/4-full gallon. Free fuel is good fuel, so we took that and headed out of the tiny town of dirt roads and down-to-earth people.
Back the Talkeetna Spur, right on Parks Highway, and on to Denali State Park (better views, cheaper and less authoritarian than Denali National Park which actually contains Denali).

To be continued....
leftyjew: (Default)
Wednesday (still) - Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the drive to Talkeetna

So across Seward Highway from the exit to Portage Glacier lives the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It's not quite a zoo and not quite a preserve. Basically, they take animals who can't survive in the wold and put them in large pens. Large - the bears have 3 acres of space each. It was okay. We saw reindeer and moose and a few other things. They were still building the lynx pen. We saw some other interesting stuff but nothing really turned me on. The owl was kinda cool. It largely felt like a zoo.

Then we headed back on the road to Anchorage. We arrived in ANC fairly late (9ish) and wanted to pick up some groceries at the natural foods store before we headed north in the land where, as Amy W. says, vegetarianism is viewed as a disorder. Natural Food Pantry (which [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine kept calling "Annie's" for some reason) is HUGE. Think about the largest suburban grocery store you've seen. Then add a little more. I think it was even bigger than the Meier's in East Lansing (including the clothing section). Anyway, this is all filled with lots of natural food. We got a good supply of things (but not too much because it was fairly 贵/expensive) and headed out at about 10. Now, Talkeetna is a good 1:45 from Anchorage with no traffic, so I knew we were going to get to the hostel pretty late. We decided to call and let them know we were coming late because we thought they would either want to know or refuse us entry. We got a machine and left a message.
I davened mincha at a gas station, and we headed up. Through the beautiful and large Mat-Su river valley. We crossed the Matanushka River and passed by Matanushka Glacier (the Mat part of Mat-Su).

We wanted sunscreen, too, and some snacky foods, so we stopped in Wasilla's Safeway which is even larger than Natural Pantry. Wow! We had a good talk at the counter with the cashier who laughed at the Weekly World News* with us - there was an article about seven cities that archaeologists had just discovered in Israel that were made entirely of halvah.

*That's not [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine or anyone I know.

Anyway, we continue our drive through the small cities that dot the Glenn Highway - Wasilla, Houston (where fireworks are obviously legal), etc. We called the hostel again and left another message as we were leaving Wasilla. We still hadn't heard back. It was 11, and we knew it'd be another hour. We were getting worried and kept checking that there were other places to stay along the route. We tried to remember what milepost they were at just in case. I kept the speed limit. People passed me (it's a two-lane highway that's mostly double-yellow down the middle, but who wants to wait behind someone going 65?) A moose crossed the road in front of us. Why? To get to the other side I suppose.

Other towns go by. It's a long drive. There are lots of "shops" on the side of the road that are basically trailers with signs on them. They generally say "espresso" - not coffee, espresso.

The sun is still setting. This is the latest we've been up this whole trip. It's not what I'd call dark, but it's definitely early dusk. We pass logging area and campsite, hotel and motel, forest and we exit onto Parks Hwy (AK-3) - This takes you to Denali but is actually named after former governor of Alaska Territory, George Alexander Parks. (Kinda like the Outerbridge Crossing - the outermost bridge between NYC and NJ named after Eugenius H. Outerbridge.) Drive more and more. it's pretty, there's music playing, and we're having a decent conversation, but we're worried about the hostel (call again, machine, hang up). I wasn't worried about making it awake. I was worried about having a place to sleep once we made it. Parks Highway eventually turned off at the Talkeetna spur, and we take that. Keep driving. Time keeps ticking. We cross the wide and ungainly Susitna River and eventually make it to Talkeetna.

Talkeetna is a small "city." It has two paved roads - 3rd St and B St. The hostel is on I St. That's actually its address - I St, Talkeetna, AK. No number. We follow signs that point the way until the pavement ends. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine gets out to walk down I Street to find the hostel. It's midnight. She's walking alone as a tourist down an unpaved road for who knows how long. I run out to her and we agree to drive up together. Eventually, we find it. It was now definitely dusk. We're hungry, tired and scared that we won't be let in. But the front door is open. We give each other a huge hug. There's a note on the whiteboard for us - our rooms are in the back. Hooray!
The people hanging out in the front of the hostel were rather rude. We don't engage them in any further conversation. We bring in a few of our things (just the essentials really), don't bother cooking food (I had PB & J and maybe some leftover something, and I don't remember if [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine had anything). We were beat. I said maariv, [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine showered, we talked for a bit about various things including about the trip thus far and what we expected of the future, and we went to bed and slept soundly.
leftyjew: (Default)

Wednesday - Portage Glacier (cont'd)

So the boat driver has a winter job - he drives a high school bus in Seward. He knows several of the exchange students the organization that I work for put there this year. That was kinda cool. He thinks its fun to drive a school bus, and also fun to drive the Portage Glacier boat. Good for him! He's a really good guy.
The forest ranger was a good guy, too. He gave a bit of history of the lake (how it used to not exist), and spoke a bit about the spruce trees. I forgot to mention what Wolfie, the kayak instructor, told us about spruces. There are three spruces in Alaska - the white spruce, the black spruce and the Sitka spruce. The black spruce grows with its branches angled down. The white spruce grows with its branches flat. The Sitka spruce grows with its branches angled up, but in the winter, they lower the angle so that when the snow falls on them, they don't break. I'm sure there's a midrash here. Also, I think that if Judaism began in the Pacific Northwest, our psalms would not boast about the cedars in Lebanon, but would talk about the birches in Alaska. כבירץ באלסקא ישגה שתולים בבית נשרים....

Anyway, back to the boat ride. We putter around in the white-blue not-so-salty glacial water, seeing tiny icebergs and listening to the spiel about the until we come across the glacier. Click-click! She's interesting. She's actually a combination of two glaciers which have merged together. You see that black streak that looks like a truck ran over it? That's where the two glaciers spew dirt on each other. Yes, glaciers spew dirt along side their path as they come down mountains. They grind it very very fine. Some of it gets trapped in the glacier and gets ground even finer (this changes the water to that weird white-blue color). There are some living things in the glaciers, like ice worms and snow algae, but you don't get too much life until the glacier retreats. As the glacier retreats, you can see lichen, then alders start to grow. They are nitrogen-fixing so that the soil becomes tree-sustaining. Then you get spruce. Anyway, you can see the whole timeline around Portage Lake. We saw evidence of an avalanche that had happened the day before (or was it two days before) and we saw a sizable chunk of glacier sitting aboard the boat. They passed around pieces of this to touch. Glaciers are so heavy that they create the kind of pressure to create new forms of ice - ice II, ice III, etc. The outer layer is a plastic, which my friend, Annie, tells me, means that it's somewhere between liquid and solid, but in layman's terms, it means it's very slick and allows the glacier to flow more easily. We got the captain to give us a piece to take home for [livejournal.com profile] alanscottevil (who upon receiving a hunk of melted glacier, immediately drank the remains of age-old ice.
The ranger also pointed out the site of the longest auto tunnel in the world (shared with a train). It goes to Whittier, a town so small, everyone lives in one of two apartment buildings. The tunnel is one lane and only allows car traffic in one direction for 15 minutes every hour. I guess the train is what was key when it was built.
Anyway, after disembarking (not "deboating") we get back to the car and are again greeted by the smell of mold - when we get to Talkeetna that night, [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine swears she will finally do laundry. After confronting the odors, my phone rings. It's Anna inviting me to shabbat at [livejournal.com profile] alanscottevil's! "Who are you talking to?" she asks. "[livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine." "Oh, is she back?" "No." "Wait, where are you?" "Outside Portage Glacier." "Ohhh! Awesome. I guess you can't make it in for shabbas." "Nope!"
And we left Portage to the same beautiful views we had going in.
leftyjew: (Default)

Wednesday (yes, still only Wednesday) - Portage Glacier

On our way up, before [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine fell asleep, we agreed to go to check out Portage Glacier.
So about Portage Glacier: When the Portage Glacier Visitors Center was built, it was basically abutting the glacier. Now, you have to take a short boat ride across a brand new lake to even see the ever-retreating hunk of ice. This works out great for the visitors center, because now they can charge people to go see it. Driving to the glacier was fantastic. There are lots of glaciers around there. Really pretty drive.
So... we step inside the Visitors Center where it's full of tourists. And I mean hotel tourists, not hostel tourists. Lots of overweight suburbanites who I haven't seen the likes of since the airport. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine gets in line to pay for the last (4:30) tour and I look at a book on Alaskan birds that's for sale (really well-organized and pretty. It's in sections by color!). One of these tourists (I would bet he's from Brooklyn based on his accent and mannerisms) walks up to me and says, "I didn't tell you this, but there's a buy-one-get-one discount on the 4:30 tour. You should tell your girlfriend [sic] that she has to specifically ask for it."
ASIDE: Throughout the trip, everyone kept assuming we were either dating or married - especially at Chabad when [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine wore a bandana. Even friends of ours asked if we were going out when I told them the two of us were going on a trip together. It wasn't really annoying, more interesting, really. Can't two friends of different genders/sexes go on a trip together? Anyway, at this point I didn't think it was necessary to correct the nice Brooklynite.
Okay, so that aside, let's go on. I pull over [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine to tell her and the guy comes up and clears up any confusion. She told them about the deal, and they were suspicious. "Where did you hear about that?" "Huh?" "It's an Internet special. Where did you hear about it?" "Uhhh... the Internet." "No, where'd you really hear about it? Was it someone in here?" "No, " [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine lied convincingly but nervously, "it was a woman named Sandy (? I forgot her real name) I met at the hostel in Seward. She was here yesterday." (note that most of that sentence was true - we heard about this boat ride from her, and she did go there the day before). "Okay, fine," was the reluctant reply.
Anyway, one coffee later, we get on the boat, and set out on the lake. The water was that same shade of white-blue we saw in Resurrection Bay. Same consistency, too. The forest ranger aboard the boat informed everyone that it was due to fine particulate that the glacier grinds from the rock face as it makes its way down the mountain. We learned a lot. I was really happy to mix in this type of learning as a complement to the more experiential learning we'd been doing before.
Hmmm... I wish I had time to explain to all of you about glaciers, but that'll have to wait for my next entry...
leftyjew: (Default)

Wednesday - Sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay

We woke up Wednesday at about 6 am. Apparently that was too late.
After I davened, ate, and we got all our stuff together, it was about 7:30 am. We were supposed to be there by 7:30. Good thing "there" was really close to "here". We rushed rushed, drove in the wrong direction, and rushed back and finally made it there. Apparently we didn't slow them at all. We signed waivers, got into PFDs, jumped in a van smelling of wet dog, and headed down to the shore. They got us down there to a beach with black sand and water that didn't smell or taste very salty, but looked very white. It was glacial water.

As they were unloading the kayaks (or "qayaq" if you want to be all authentic Alaskan), we saw some sea otters playing in the water. (The picture isn't mine, but it's in the same waters). They were kinda cute from what I could see.
We got brief instructions on how to kayak, and headed out in a two-person craft along with another pair. Ours had [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine in the rear (steering) and me in the front. IT was pretty cool. We saw some white circles in the trees which we were told were bald eagles and saw an eagle nest, too, with a young one in there! (Aren't eagle nests called "rooks" or "aeries"?) Anyway, after a while of kayaking, we get out to this great waterfall, have a look around, eat some snacks, learn about fiddlehead ferns which apparently taste great sautéed with garlic and olive oil (or a quick google search will yield MANY more complex recipes), but you should inspect them for bugs cuz they are tightly-wound. Then we picked up a banana peel someone left, and headed back in. This time I was in back. It's really nice to be out floating so low to the water level but completely dry. I will do it again soon in DC or Chesapeake Bay. The weather was perfect (I was scared it would rain and we'd have to kayak soaked). We hung out for a bit, considered visiting the Seward Sea Life Center but decided not to, and left Seward.
Oh, and we got a parking ticket on our way out of town. Arg...
Anyway, about this time, I noticed that the car was starting to smell like mold. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine thought that it was a pair of jeans she wore incessantly in Seattle including on Shabbat during a downpour. Maybe. There was something very moldy in the car and I was very concerned we'd get in trouble for it. This will be continued later.
So we headed up Seward Highway in a moldy-smelling car. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine offered to drive, and I was down since I had about 4 hours of sleep, but eventually we switched off and I drove the rest. We pulled over to eat lunch at what we thought would be a nice forest, but turned into a mosquito- and blackfly-infested wood. Not fun. I refused bug spray until [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine noticed about 5 or 6 crawling around on my face and "highly recommended" that I spray myself. Okay. Anyway, we finished our lunch in the car and headed up to Anchorage.
leftyjew: (Default)

Harding Ice Field Trail

So we decided to hike up the open section of the Harding Ice Field Trail, and decided that it was too late to do the full trip anyway (This site I only just looked up says to spend 6-8 hours! We only had 2 and a half before sundown at 11:30ish.)
We start climbing and see our first wildlife - moose droppings and then a forest ranger. The ranger tells us that people have been seeing marmots who apparently whistle, and a bear with cub. Tells us to be smart and whatnot. We say goodbye to Ms. Slightly Awkward Ranger, sign in at the trail register, and head in talking, watching beautiful sights and taking photos.
It's a decent hike, but amazing views. We see vegetation we'll later learn is called a "fiddle-head fern" and our friends the horsetails. There are a few flowers, and a lot of trees. There were waterfalls of glacial runoff and snow melt. There were also a few helpful signs instructing us to fall off a cliff with rocks falling from under our feet (we opted not to heed those signs). We did heed the signs telling us to hike in alternating directions around the switchbacks. We walked through a few drainage areas which just seemed overflowing, and across some rocks that were on fast-flowing water. This was when [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine mentioned how fortunate it was that we were all wearing hiking boots (some of us were considering not switching shoes).
The whole way up, we heard people talking about a bear and her cub right on the trail. Tim was particularly excited (his trip to Denali was bear-less, and he felt that a real AK experience would include bears). Heck, I was excited, too. I wanted to see a bear. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine who actually has bear experience was less excited. We kept talking so as not to startle the bear. But you know? The whole way up we went we did not see that sow. I was a bit annoyed. We did see some audacious marmots, though. They were right on the trail and when we approached, they just kept munching. Well, one was munching, the other was having a good time standing on his hind legs on a rock. We got a few good photos and they were very cute.
We also saw some stunning views! Especially at the apex of our climb. It was just amazing - the glaciers, mountains and trees (it was getting to be a bit past 10, and we wanted to head back to be home by dusk). Some of the ever"green" trees had these bright red branches - possibly new growth. It was really cool. The sky was so big and the light was absolutely perfect - you know, that a-bit-before-sundown 7pm type of pink-orange light. The type of light when I would normally get off the metro and stop to listen to the Dupont Circle New Orleans brass band blast their horns. Now I was just watching G-d blast whatever it was that was creating such beauty. So.... We lingered for a while.
Then we headed back down. We passed our marmot friends, and looked a bit for Tim's lens cap which had fallen off somewhere along the trail. We passed familiar signs and flowers and waterfalls and trails. We were having a good time and talking about how it was a shame that we didn't have longer. As we turned a corner, Tim (who was in the lead at the time), holds his hand up to us. "Stop! Shhh!" "What?" "There's the bear!"
Wow. Black bear. We crept forward to get a good look. She was a lot smaller than I thought. On all fours, she was only about 3'6" and maybe 3' wide. Her baby was real small - about the size and shape of a large ottoman. Anyway, they were munching on veggies and doing what they do. Very alive, very attractive, and very powerful. There's just a certain intention that these black bears were walking with that just exuded majesty. Basically (and I'd see this again in moose), they were the ones who belonged. They had control and were really really cute. I didn't feel too threatened, either, just sorta cautious. Tim didn't feel cautious. He went slowly up to Mrs. Bear and started taking photos of her and her little one. She made sure to stay between her baby and us. She kept very close to her cub actually - almost knocking him over. I guess that's what's called being "overBEARing" :)
(Lesson #3 - bears) Anyway, [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I decided that while Tim was taking pictures, we should walk carefully past. So, avoiding eye contact, we slowly walked past Mrs. Black Bear. All is A-OK. We're about 4 feet from her and her cub. Maybe 6. Anyway, the two of us walk together past her. All of a sudden, she looks right at me, stomps her foot and goes, "HEFF!" Now, I know you can't outrun a bear. I know that if you run, you look like prey. I know that you do not by any means run from a black bear who is generally docile and doesn't want to bother hunting you. But no matter how many people tell you to not run from a bear or how well you know it.... well, heffing is scary. I bolted. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine yelled at me, "Stop! Don't run!" I stopped. I stopped running with my feet. My body was still in fight-or-flight and I couldn't stop shaking for at least ten minutes. Tim continued to take pictures from near the bear as we were trying to leave.
The rest of the walk down was fine. Nice views, wet waterfalls, fresh and living air. It was good. Especially after I stopped shaking. We got back to the hostel at about 11 and had really great conversations with all the folks who were hanging around the kitchen table. I also got into a long talk with Tim about minority communities inside a majority culture. We were talking about Chinese and Indonesians in the Netherlands, but I was also talking about Jews in America and about pluralism within the Jewish world (and anyone else who doesn't want their version of life to fade into a mushy brown melting pot). I went to sleep at about 2am which was perfect because four hours of sleep is all you need when you're going kayaking and driving for 5 hours the next day.
And then Tuesday was over (yes, I know. I still have 4 more days, but Friday will probably be brief, and Thursday, too).
leftyjew: (Default)
This is taking a while. But it's good to remember things this way I think.

Tuesday - Exit Glacier

So at about 8, we head to Exit Glacier. I have to say that a big part of the reason I wanted to stop in Seward first was to let Tim separate from us if he wanted to (he seemed a bit annoyed with us, but that could just have been my impressions). I enjoyed [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine's trail information. I can see that it could have worn on someone who's less of a dork, though. Anyway, Tim opted to stay on with us to Exit Glacier. As we approach, we notice a sign that said, "Caution! Dangreous conditions ahead! Don't proceed without winter weather gear, etc. etc." I pull over and think about what to do, while another car comes by. We ask if it's safe to go ahead and they said it was fine, so we go.
We get there and stop in the gift shop-cum-nature center (a lot like Dickey Ridge in Shenandoah). There's a book which I considered getting for Maya called Turnagain Ptarmigan about the ptarmagin (state bird of Alaska which turns color from snowy white to spekled brown based on the season). I love evolution :) I decide against the book both because I have no clue where I'd put it and because I didn't want to buy much of anything on the trip. We get a trail map and head out of the nature center toward the trail heads. There's an easy a medium and a hard, but the easy provides the closest views of Exit Glacier. We opt for that one first, then the hard one (which is still closed from winter snows at the high elevations).
There's a small trail that basically goes really close to Exit Glacier itself at the base. It's pretty. This was my first real life glacier. I was excited and awed by it beauty. The blue is just stunning and the runoff water is a whitish (thanks to all the minuscule silt that the glacier pulls from the mountainside. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I decided to taste the glacial runoff (since we assumed it was pretty ancient and therefore not unhealthy). Our decision was okay, but later we learned that glacial water can still give you Giardia. On your way to the glacier, there are signs with numbers on them: 1840, 1872, etc. Turns out these are marks for how large the glacier was in those years. It was rather surprising the little impact that humans have made. The space between 1800 and 1850 (pre-industrial revolution) seemed about equivalent to any post-revolution span of 50 years. I was trying to prove otherwise, but Tim managed to convince me I was wrong.
We also noted some signs that warned of $5000 fines and 6 months prison time for crossing the "stand back - calving glacier" rope. We figured that meant it must have been quite a view from the other side and was probably worthwhile (but didn't actually cross the line). There were folks who crossed the line, though. No arrests.
After finishing our ogling, we headed over to the Harding Ice Field Trail to complete as much as we could to be home at a reasonable time. We wanted to be back by sunset, so since it was about 9, we decided we'd walk until a bit past 10pm and then head back.
To be continued...
leftyjew: (Default)
I forgot to mention the beautiful crane we saw in the mud on the Tony Knowles Trail. Thought I'd give Mother Nature public credit for that one.

Tuesday - Seward Highway

Woke up Tuesday, davenned, had breakfast (but skipped the probably-dairy waffles), and packed up our stuff to head down to Seward for part 2 of our trip. As [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine was handling the bill (I paid for the car rental so she paid for everything else), I heard a guy making reservations at a hostel in Seward. I had heard last night that he was heading to Seward and thought that it would be nice to take him with us (nice for him and nice for us). I offer him a ride, and explain that we'll be taking the long route and hiking along the way. He had no problem with that and actually preferred it. In hindsight, I probably should have asked my travel companion before inviting a guest, but I didn't. Anyway, there's no foreshadowing here - he isn't evil, it was just another thought.
So [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine, and I set off with our Dutch travel companion, Tim. Southward, ho! It turns out Tim is planning to stay in the same hostel we are, which makes things super-easy. Anyway, I had heard about this trail in Girdwood at the Alyeska Hotel where you can see Portage Glacier. We were planning on going there, but not before getting on Seward Highway. Literally the most beautiful highway I've ever driven on. I suppose this isn't saying much because I think #2 is I-80 between Lewisburg, PA, and the NJ Turnpike. But it really is amazing. If it means much, the road is 55 mph, but between the curves and wanting to ogle the scenery, I think I went about 40 most of the way. Anyway, you see beautiful views of Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains, and the sky the entire way. Wow! As we went along, we came across signs saying things like "Scenic View" where you can pull aside and take a picture. I didn't quite get that at first. I just saw signs that said, "Scenic View Ahead" and then a camera with a right arrow and I thought, "Right there is an officially scenic view. Everything else is not really scenic. Ready for a scenic view? Ok! Look right there!! Oh shoot, you missed it!"
Right, so the highway was great! We came to Girdwood and followed the signs to the hiking trail. Got out, put on our boots and were ready to climb. Unfortunately, the shuttle driver told us that the trail we were planning on taking (to the top of the tram) was closed, but there's the Winner Creek trail still available. So we settled on that. It was a nice hike. Lots of dense spruce forest with ocassional clearings where alders had set up camp. We came to a wooden bridge over some whitewater leading to a waterfall. It was a great place to stop and think, and munch on snacks (trail mix and granola bars was our lunch that day). There was another footbridge (much more narrow) and then we got to the highlight of the hike - the hand tram! Basically it's a metal cage suspended over the creek by a few ropes that you get into and pull yourself across. Well, the first bit you basically go with gravity. The second part (after the middle of the slack) was fun. The first part was scary as anything for someone who's afraid of heights. What an adrenaline rush! [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I went first - there, then sent the tram back to Tim, and then [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I went back, sent the tram back, and Tim came back. Pulling Tim was significantly harder than pulling [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and my full weight, but it was all good fun. Then we headed back to the car.
On our way back, we saw a few people coming into the trail. One couple (40s-50s, good health, man was wearing Yankees cap) was near the start of the trail and asked us, "So is there anything to see here besides this?!" By "this," he meant lush trees and undergrowth and all sorts of pretty things and the solitude and peace of walking through a forest. We told him about the tram and the waterfall, but I don't think they should be hiking.
It was about 3:30 by the time we got back to the car. I had another granola bar, some nuts, and headed down along the highway. Still amazing scenery. We talked a bit less because we were getting tired. We also talked a bit less because the scenery kept getting better. We listened to right wing talk radio and talked about how stupid it was. Eventually, we pull into Seward.
We get to Moby Dick Hostel at about 4 and no one is there. The office doesn't open until 5 or 5:30 (I forget). We take the opportunity to visit the Safeway we passed on the way into town. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine and I pick up a bunch of useful things like salsa and veggies and such and basically plan our meals for the remainder of the trip. Tim gets some salad. So we head to the hostel, find out which our rooms were. I was nowhere near as into this place as I was into the 26th Street Hostel in ANC - no real public space or homey feeling. We make a quick dinner of burritos and head over to Exit Glacier at about 8 (we're ready for another few hours of hiking before sunset).

Tune in for the next installment - Exit Glacier hiking.
leftyjew: (Default)

Monday - Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

So.... [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine points out that this is taking a long time. Yeah.... but since this was my first real vacation-vacation where I stayed in hotels and not with friends and did something completely different, I have a lot to say. And I'm relatively excited about it, still.

Anyway, back to our story. We came back to the hostel after lunch and asked the owner to rent bikes. We got two bikes and two helmets and one lock. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine didn't trust the bike helmet she was given (no plastic shell) and fought to get a plastic-covered one. Anyway, one bike was an awesome Mongoose, and the other was a girls' bike with a weird gear shift, slightly deflated tires and a bad gear ratio. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine took the girls' bike first, and I took it on the way home. Anyway, we wound up biking about 28 miles there and back and it was a fun ride (for me... but I had the Mongoose on the way there). We kept stopping to look at pretty plants and skies and mountains and the bay. There were really cool grasses that we learned were called horsetails, and amazing wildflowers. Earthquake Park was interesting. They really have a way of taking advantage of this event...
On Good Friday, 1964, G-d decided to remind a few million people the true wonder of Good Friday. So G-d had the North American Plate move against the Pacific Plate. When this happened, there was a huge (read: 8.7 but some are talking about upgrading it to 9.4) earthquake. It is the largest recorded in the Northern Hemisphere to date. So what were some of the results of this "Good Friday Earthquake"? Well, aside from your usual wanton destruction [my spell-checker tells me that I can't make a written pun about havoc in Chinese soups. It also tells me that spell-checker is not a compound word, but I think it at least deserves hyphenation.] including train cars welding together and tsunamis as far out as California, the land actually moved. I mean of course it shook, but things actually MOVED relative to, let's say, Fairbanks. Also, thanks to a lot of weak spots along the water, the coastline changed. A lot of the coast around Anchorage fell out, and lots of salt water came in. Trees tried to drink the water by their roots, and wound up killing themselves with saltwater ("Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink," works for trees, too). Many were cut down by the Army Corps of Engineers who spent some serious time cleaning up Alaska after the quake, but many stand to this day - bright white ghost forests - testaments to impermanence of the earth beneath your feet. Also, much of the land has become super-saturated mud flats. There are signs along the coast saying "Dangerous Water and Mud Flats," which is shorthand for: "If you step in the mud, you might get stuck. If you get stuck, the tide will come and drown you. If you can get to someone before high tide and they send a helicopter to rescue you, your legs might get ripped off as they pull you out." I'm not sure how much is urban legend, but my coworker out there says that every year some (or some two) dumb kid goes out there and dies.
Anyway, so there a whole park dedicated to the results of the earthquake and teaches about various local flora, and there's also a cool planet walk which we didn't look at at all. I think the Smithsonian has more thorough planet stuff, but a to-scale walking model is a pretty cool idea.
Anyway, the bike ride was really cool. We got to see some amazing views of the Chugach Mountains, and the Kenai Peninsula across the bay. Wow. We were so fascinated by the mountains in front of use that we just kept biking. We went through another park (Something Hill??) and saw a Cold War-era missile silo, and kept going. Eventually we saw this funny looking plane ahead of us which looked so ridiculously-proportioned, I thought it was the Spruce Goose, but it turned out it was a military transport plane. Oh, it also turned out that we had biked significantly off the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail trail and were now by the airport. Yes, Ted Stevens Int'l - the place where we came in. So much for renting a car, we totally could have biked to the hostel. Anyway, it was getting late (10 or so), so we were concerned it would start to get dark soon (and we hadn't eaten dinner). So we took a quick break for trail mix and to watch the mountains, swapped bikes and headed back. I understand why [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine was complaining about her bike on the way. It was NOT a good bike. It was okay, but not really good. Anyway, I rode quite a bit in low gears and made it through.
On the way back, we passed a family staring off into the distance. [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine sped through on her hot bike, but I came up slowly and looked off at where the 7 year old was pointing. (Lesson #3 - always look where kids are staring) There was a moose! She (no antlers) was laying down munching away, totally not caring about us staring at her. "[livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine! [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine! Come back! There was a moose!!" So we watched for a while. We stopped at a few more scenic views on the way back (at one I took the opportunity to learn about natural TP and it's antithesis, spiky Devil's Club. I spent a while worrying whether I had wiped with poisonous leaves, but was relieved to find that I was ok).
Anyway, we got back to the hostel well before 11:30 sundown, ate, and I said minchah at about 11. According to [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine, "You can say minchah bidievet until sundown. You just have to wait to say maariv until there are three stars in the sky... oh wait. That doesn't happen here." I love weirdly long days. So I think eventually said maariv but maybe not.
And it was evening, and it was morning, the second day.
leftyjew: (Default)

Monday: after breakfast

So last we left our heroes, they were about to go to the Alaska Native Heritage Museum....
We drove out there (it's about as far away as Anchorage gets from our hostel) and saw a demonstration on a native Alaskan sport where you have to jump and kick a ball that's at eye level or higher. Serious jumping skills, but not all that stimulating. The kids were teenagers or so and could really kick that ball high.
We went downstairs where I met a woman I had spoken to at the basket-weaving exhibit at the Folklife Festival last year. She is a woman of may talents. Very crafty. Shoshana's mother type (even though I've never met Shoshana's mother). Most of the museum is outside, though. Outside, they have villages set up sorta like "typical" villages in the four regions of Alaska - Inupiaq in the north, Yup'iq/Chup'iq in the west, Athabascan in the interior (including Dena'ai), Aleut and Alutiiq in the southwest (the Aleutian Islands), and various groups in the Panhandle including the Tlingit.
I can go on for a whilee about what I learned here, but I will probably get a lot wrong. Here are some interesting tidbits which maybe [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine can fill in more about:

  • Most native Alaskans live in rooms built into the ground. I felt like I was walking through a hobbit village

  • All of the people working at the displays were native Alaskans. It felt so much friendlier and realer than any similar minority exhibit I saw in China (so much better than the presentation where I cried at the dehumanization - "可爱的老套儿"). People were modern and real and just exemplifying what they do. It's like if I was sitting down and explaining tefillin to my non-Jewish friends. Except that they didn't mention religion at all. At all. Part of this could also be that most of the folks there were high school or just post-high school. They were my-ish generation - at least people I could relate to. It seems like it's a pretty cool summer job. Anyway, big props to the museum for representing people in a respectful way.

  • Polar bears will hunt people for food. People have learned to hunt polar bears. They use baleen cut into jagged weapons and then put that in a hunk of seal meat. While the bear digests the seal meat, it is torn apart from the inside. 15 hours later, you can bring home a bear.

  • Alaskan natives tended to have multiple camps - winter spring summer or fall, all they have to do is qayaq and they'll be there (yes they will) together again. They call the winter camp their home

  • Seal skin is awesome.

  • The Aleut kid explained troubled times as "storms." "There were two storms in our history - The Russian occupation [the period from the late-1700s to mid-1800s when Russians forced Aleuts to hunt sea otters for their pelts even though otters are considered the animal closest to humans and hunting of them is traditionally forbidden] and WWII [when America forced all Aleuts into internment camps 'for their safety' after some outer islands were occupied by the Japanese]." [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine mentioned that the climate is so stormy on those islands that it makes sense to see historical travesties like storms that pass. She also noted that it speaks to an old and self-aware culture.

  • There's a really neat form of yo-yo that the Aleut have (or was that the Tsamishan?). Apparently it's to train skills with a flying snare thing.

  • Qayaqs are really cool, too. And sewing is men's work, cuz who's gonna fix your clothes when you're out hunting?

  • I know that [livejournal.com profile] sarahrubin would be particularly excited for the Tlingit exhibit, so I paid attention there. I learned about matriarchal moieties (raven and crow - these are notably different than my friend Adam's aboriginal Australian moiety both in name and structure), and totem poles, and a bit about other things. The region where Tlingit (and Tsamishan, etc) live is a temperate rainforest. Lots of trees (most Alaskans relied on driftwood for wood). Lots of life. Decent weather. You seemed to get a lot more social organization in this setup - both with the various languages and groups and with the subgroups within the groups, and within each group, there is more complexity. It makes sense (thank you Maslow).

  • It bothers me to look at people with too many piercings - one kid had a lip ring and those lobe inserts. Kinds gross if you ask me. I wonder if it's traditional (doubt it) or a reaction against.... something

We also heard some singing and dancing before going outside (one song about drinking whiskey/cola) and left. The dance/song group seemed was a bunch of high school or just-past-high-school kids. (again - props to the museum for creating a casual environment where people can be themselves) Their social interaction reminded me of every other group of teenagers I've ever seen, but it was weird to see it on stage :) I wonder who had a crush on whom. There was one cute girly girl in the group. The other girls were neither as superficial-looking nor as made up.
Oh! I also met an artist who I've heard of. I might have seen his things at thee Museum of the American Indian in DC. (You really get a lot out of being in DC. I like it!) He talked to us about his works and he's a pretty cool guy. I think I might go to the national pow-wow to meet him again! George Something(?). I bought one of his T-shirts, but no the one I wanted because they didn't have my size.
Okay, so after the museo, we got falafel at the only kosher restaurant in Anchorage (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] alanscottevil!) and met Amy W. She's very cool. So were the falafel-shop-owning Israelis. The falafel was better than Amsterdam (though not as many toppings) and Amy claims the shwarma is great. Anyway, Amy is cool and told us about moose dropping lip balm and moose dropping earrings and about her time in Katyuska(?) and about her time in Anchorage and about being a math teacher. We ate outside and had a pitcher of water. It was nice. Good fries, too (better than in Israel, for sure)!
Then we returned to the hostel for an afternoon bike ride along the Coastal Trail....(to be continued)
leftyjew: (Default)
My rib seems bruised from last Friday. I wonder if this is related to kayaking (Tues). I called the doctor who told me to come in first thing in the morning and take Tylenol every 6 hours until then. Oy!

Monday - Anchorage

On Monday, I woke up early and davenned on the balcony. Then I indulged in the free breakfast! Foods I considered safe included: instant oatmeal, fresh fruits and waffles. Mmmm. Good....
People I considered safe included Sacramentons Bud/Charles and his brother who were stuck at Denali high camp for two weeks, two Israelis with whom [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine had a long conversation in Hebrew (which another Israeli who lives at the hostel briefly joined), and a German woman who thought she might have broken a leg climbing Denali/McKinley and her sig-oth.
Then we headed over to the Alaska Native Heritage Museum for an interesting time.... (to be continued)
leftyjew: (Default)
I just went to Alaska for a week. I can't make a full entry about it, so I'll break up the trip. In all it was fantastic and I highly recommend that others go (although maybe it would be better in a month or so so that all the berries and wildflowers will be in bloom).

Saturday - pre-Alaska

SOOOO much happened on Sasturday that was just so lucky and logistically wonderful and serendipitous. I exhausted myself by basically not sleeping from 4 am until 10 pm. Much of that time, I was not home (in the hospital with a friend for the second time that week, walking to tell people about things, walking back to hospital to check on friend, coming back after noting he was released, going to the pride parade with a slew of people, walking to shul, walking back, etc etc etc). Anyway, I fell asleep on my covers after I was too tired to do anything else and hadn't packed much.

Sunday - Getting There

That exhaustion from the night before led me to wake up a bit later than I wanted to on Sunday. I had to get everything together, pack, and get out. I also wanted to get my keys to [livejournal.com profile] kellev so he could check my mail for me (and i had to get my air mattress to pimpin' [livejournal.com profile] nosockstorock who's had house guests 4 weeks in a row. Wow!
Ok, my flight is out of DCA at 12:30. I get to DCA at 12:10 or so. Far too late. They are no longer accepting passengers. Lesson #1 - don't miss your flight. Especially to Anchorage. The next flight to Anchorage (ANC) is the same time the next day. The next flight to ORD (where my flight transferred) would get in after my flight to ANC leaves. I consider spending the night in Chi-town (perhaps calling some friends I have in the area), but they don't have any Chi-bound flights that day anyway. So.... I try other airlines and go one-way on Continental through Houston (IAH). Lesson #2 - Never change carriers one way! Especially without alerting your original carrier. Apparently (I found this out on the way home), this is considered a breach of contract and they will cancel your return flight. That means you can no longer fly home on the ticket you already bought. Anyway, I didn't know this second part until next week, so we'll discuss this there. Suffice it to say, I spent much more on transportation than I had planned.
On the IAH-ANC leg, I sat next to a freelance oil pipeline inspector and had an interesting chat. Also, I somehow got the one window seat without a window. I snuck some awesome views out of the window in front of me. It was really amazing - you can see Kodiak and Kenai and mountains and glaciers and oceans and wowowow.
Oh also, Continental still offers food, but they offer cheeseburgers. It was so weird. I can't think of many religions that allow cheeseburgers. Vegetarians, Jews and Hindus, of course, would avoid it, but I would avoid it if I were Muslim, too, because who knows if it's beef or pork. There was no alternative offered.
I get into ANC only an hour and a half after I planned and [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine had been waiting for only an hour or so. We pick up the rental car and head to the hostel (pretty close to the airport). ANC is one of the prettiest airports I've been to, though the ones in Xining, Qinghai (XNN) and in Lhasa, Tibet (LXA) are better. At each of them, you get an absolutely breathtaking view of mountains as soon as you step out of the airport. ANC has glaciers and dark gray mountains. Xining has dark brown ones, and Lhasa has pale brown that are all way above the tree line, and a perfectly clear sky so you can see the cracks and crevices in the mountains. Wow. Mountains always bring me back to China and sometimes I-80 in Pennsylvania which were my first encounters with mountains of any substance. (I don't really consider PA's mountains to be substantial, but roads that cut through mountains generally remind me of family trips to my Aunt in Dalton, PA).
Our hostel is nice. Free breakfast in the mornings with waffles, fruit, instant oatmeal and dry cereal, a real community feel, a cute kid who belongs to the owners, a bunch of Israelis (of course), and really great rooms. We make some instant soup and couscous, eat and go to sleep at about sundown (12am).
To come...
  • Monday - Anchorage - museum, falafel, Amy W. and a bike ride

  • Tuesday - Seward Highway, a creek by Girdwood and Exit Glacier (including a bear encounter)

  • Wednesday - Kayaking in Seward, Portage Glacier, Alaska Conservation Reserve, and the looong drive to Talkeetna
  • Thursday - Talkeetna and Denali State Park (including a talk with some locals)

  • Friday - hiking, seeing Denali, the drive back to ANC and preparing for Shabbat

  • Saturday - Shabbas - Chabad and downtown touristy Anchorage

And actually, I'll do Sunday right now.

Sunday - the trip home

I got to the airport for my 7:30 flight (I thought it was 7) and [livejournal.com profile] arctic_alpine's 7:50. I'm glad we got there very early (and I'm also glad we were at the same gate). It turned out that when I didn't take my flight there, it cancelled my flight home automatically, and I had to repurchase a ticket home. Unfortunately, there were no tickets home left. I bought my ticket to DC to get in at 7am, and they put me on standby for everything else. I easily got a flight from ANC-ORD (boring flight - I slept most of the trip even after I ordered some tea). ORD-DCA was more tricky. I was the second-to-last person called from the standby list, and wound up with a snazzy first-class seat. Row 1, baby. Anyway, I didn't feel like taking advantage of the alcohol and my kashrut restrictions didn't let me take advantage of the meal, so that flight was rather inocuous, too. I finally read Bill Bryson which I had brought with me. It is well-written and interesting. I noted that there was a chapter on Mount Washington in it. I look forward to reading the entire book, but it's not on my priority list, really.
I got back and was welcomed by a fun night with [livejournal.com profile] kellev, Rachel and Toby. It's great to be welcomed back by good friends. It's also great to get a good night's sleep after a long trip instead of red-eyeing it into work. This was be my first trip like this where I slept in my bed before work the next day, and I really appreciated it. In all, the trip was not long enough, but really really really good. I think the percentage perfect fluctuated between 87% and 92% which is really pretty good for a trip of any significance. Remember - this is percent perfect, not percent good. The trip was 99% good (the only real un-good was the cost of getting out there and back).
More will follow....


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December 2011

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