Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Alaskans

Alaskans are definitely a unique people. Folks who didn’t fit in down in the lower 48. People who like their hair long and as much personal freedom as the law will allow. Or perhaps more: something like 10 % of the state has a criminal record. As the saying goes: “People come to Alaska on vacation or probation”. Guns are a big part of life here. I live about a mile north of the intersection of NRA lane with Farmer’s Loop road. I’m not kidding. I’ll be happier once have a lock installed on my front door.

I made my first trip to the laundrymat a couple of nights ago. I’ve never seen so much hair. The laundry lady was a gorgeous tattooed punk with red-fro dredlocks down to her waist and only one front tooth. I was a little intimidated to buy laundry tokens from her, given the way she was man-handling the bear-like men who were waiting around for a shower. The laundrymat is a one-stop cleaning shop for cabin-dwellers. But, Pippy-the-Punk Longstocking explained how to use the machines and I plugged in my i-pod to make it clear to the wooly mammoths that I didn’t want to talk to them. It worked.

This weekend I’m cabin-bound, as my new car is in the shop getting a new head gasket, new airbags, and new brakes. I won’t speak of this again, for obvious reasons. Note to self: never buy a car from members of a Ukrainian religious cult who live out in the Bush. Yesterday, the temperature peaked at a balmy 20 F, so I decided to check out my neighborhood. It took me five minutes to make it to the end of my driveway, so I turned back and got my skis. There were 18 inches of snow on the ground yesterday and this morning we got another inch.

I decided to ski up to the Dog Mushers’ Hall at the top of the hill. The Hall is a regional headquarters for the mushing association. There is a big dog race here this weekend, but the start line was downtown and I had no way to get there. My guess is that today’s race is just finishing up because all of the neighborhood dogs are barking like crazy right now. I’m posting a few photos of the dog teams that were over in a field near the Hall. Today, I’ve been perfectly happy to stay home in my silk pajamas and drink coffee.

7 comments:

thameside said...

there seem to be some themes emerging here. bears in particular. you encounter them in the woods and in the laundromats.

kevin v said...

no need for a door lock, Cherry. the locals will just shoot the door in if they want inside

SkookumPlanet said...

Boy, this brings back memories.

I lived and worked in Alaska in the late 70s and early 80s. After a couple months in Anchorage, I was in Homer. Later, I crewed a crab boat out of Dutch Harbor and salmon boats in Bristol Bay. You're lucky to have means to get out to these places, although it's probably constant work. Come to think of it, so was fishing.

I avoided the frigid interior, but feel fortunate to have travelled almost the entire coast from Bristol Bay to Seattle. I even had a two-week circumnavigation of the Alaska Peninsula in a 32-ft. Bristol-Bay boat, complete with a Kodiak-based Coast Guard helicopter medevac of a fellow traveler, as my farewell before I left for Outside permanently. Couldn't have been a more perfect Alaskan adventure! Ah, memories.

You sure know a lot of people in a lot of places for not having lived in AK before. If you have an opportunity to visit Miriam on the Kenai, go to Homer and go across Kachemak Bay and explore it's southern coast. If you check it out in advance, there's likely a small-boat owner running a "ferry" that will get you over to a road, from Seldovia to the outer coast, that you can hike along Kachemak Bay. Or see it by boat or plane, they're all good. The overall environs are a combo of the rainforest-covered archipelago of Southeast, the interior's tiaga, and the state's great riparian valleys -- all in a compact tableau.

I was last up there, visiting Homer, when you arrived in New York, August 1995.

Kachemak Bay is the best of that entire coastline I traveled. Simply spectacular. Unparalleled beauty. I still miss it.

And for thameside

You bet bears are a theme, bigtime. For illumination, I reccommend Alaska Bear Tales by Larry Kaniut, 1983, Alaska Northwest Publishing Company. I don't know if it's still in print, but it deserves to be. I read one of the stories in it in draft form, the one about the Kenai Peninsula game biologist and his wife on a moose hunt. "Hair-raising" is a good adjective for the genre.

Anonymous said...

thanks, skookumplanet...I am thinking of going down to the Kenai with my friend who lived on the CG base at Kodiak for a while. So Kachemak Bay is the place to go? do you think hiking is preferable over kayaking or fishing? i'd love to make the most of our time down there.

AK must have been a bit different in the 70s and 80s...

SkookumPlanet said...

Anonymous

It's all good. There's great halibut fishing. I only mentioned hiking because it was discussed.

But kayaking -- there you go! I've done so once, on my first return in 85, a 4-day guided trip with my brothers.

The southern coast is close to ideal kayaking environment. Only improvement would be more spread out in all directions and less linear. Still, besides many islands there is great coastal crenellation, with fjords, coves, and bays. One of these, Tutka Bay, is worth 2-3 days itself, with a spectacular hidden lagoon, accessed through a slit cut through a long, high, steep ridgeline, and a small waterfall on the opposite shore. There are spits, flats, and pocket beaches to camp on, both on the mainland and on islands. All of this is covered, up to 1,000 ft.[?] high with dense spruce-hemlock rainforest, just like southeast.

Water wildlife? Eagles everywhere, year round, non-stop. [I've also seen belugas and now there are sea otters also.] Despite being weathered in by wind for 2 days, we kayaked with dolphin, seals, and late one evening, slowly darkening, socked in, no wind, a fine mist, a brother and I in kayaks chased a minke whale. Left behind, we gave up, returned to camp, and two to three hundred feet from the beach, it popped up in front of us! It had turned around and come back, probably curious.

Need I say more? [I could.]

We left from the end of the spit and the crossing is roughly 5 miles, I think. It's possible to get a boat lift over, I assume, which would save time. Once across you can go either up bay or down bay. Down bay is the more interesting, as in more varied and more of it. There are outfitters in Homer and probably kayak trip planning info on the net.

Weather's the only sticking point on the water. Also the spruce have all been killed, spruce bark beetle, probably secondary to global warming. I saw this in 95, but the trees and needles where still there. From a distance it was dark maroon and not necessarily dead, or even diseased, in appearance. It will become a giant ghost forest, like the small debarked, bleached groves scattered around the Kenai coast, killed by 64-quake-caused saltwater infiltration. A ghost forest so large will itself be striking.

The sunsets alone! Across 30-40 miles of Cook Inlet's open water, behind mountain ranges with towering, active, glacier-covered volcanoes, toss in Alaksa's special slow-motion sunsets and the coast's chronic, multi-layered maritime cloud skies. When the overcast allows them to pop....I've never seen comparable. Nothing.

Kachemak Bay will always be beautiful.

I did say more, didn't I. Maybe later I'll discuss changes I saw over 20 years.

mj said...

yup, the kenai has some nice treasures. if you go when the salmon are running, you won't be able to escape the RVs and the people that they came with. one nice thing to do on the kenai is to go sea kayaking out of seward.. you get to see kenai fjords, and the only people you will meet along the way are fellow kayakers,and you will feel like you are in a national geographic adventure with all the wildlife you encounter. homer is a lovely town and it is nice to go across kachemak bay as skookumplanet suggested, and go to halibut cove, an artists' community with only a couple 100 residents.

jessie, i can't wait to come up this summer!!! locks, schmocks.. you'll be fiiiinne!

SkookumPlanet said...

mj is correct.

Kayaking Kachemak Bay would be a more domesticated trip than the Kenai Fjords. I know nothing about access to them from Seaward, other than it's a fair distance over open ocean and it's a well-known kayak destination. I assume there are transportation options, such as sightseeing vessels, to go to and fro.

The 4-day KBay kayak I did, once we crossed the bay, along the shoreline we were basically screened from visible boat traffic. But one might run into other kayakers, boaters, etc. Also the coast is inhabited, although discreetly. Halibut Cove is a beautiful,. picturesque community, although touristy and with expensive Anchoragites' weekend homes, even a restaurant. Go the opposite direction, southwest toward Tutka Bay.