Category Archives: Alaska

Thrive, Don’t Just Survive

BITING DOWN on an oversized mouthful of sunflower seeds I peeked back at my dad wondering how he spit out just one seed at a time. Giving up in this new skill, as it was as useless as trying to figure out exactly who assassinated President Kennedy. I dunked my fingertips into the cool clear water of the Buffalo River. Abandoning my paddle because we both knew I was only pretending, I joined my hands and clapped along as my dad became John Denver belting “Rocky Mountain High”.

SETTLED INTO a comfortable rhythm, my mom and I slowly wound our way up Schweitzer Mountain. Communicating through a silent telepathy we stopped as my mom pointed out a single flower sprouting from a field of mangey three leaf clovers, the red and yellow popped from the sea of green. Reaching up toward the sun like a yogi in warrior pose the red pedals cupped the yellow pollen as if it were the last drop of earthly water. Taking in the flower we continued up our path, drinking plenty of water of course.

1. Yoga on the trail up Dude Mountain. 2. On a boat in the Misty Fjords. 3. Family in Ketchikan, AK. 4. Ellen and I were feeling Sluggish. 5. Jenna and me looking toward San Francisco from Angel Island.

TURNING OVER in my warm cacoon of a sleeping bag, I looked outside to see Jenna and Luke brewing coffee. If the smell wasn’t enough to help me shed my cacoon, the company was. Joining my sister and brother-in-law on our claimed side of Angel Island we took in the view of the sun rising over the barges in the Pacific Ocean. Admiring the strength of the tug boats, we packed up our bags and headed out along the trail.

“KOBY! COME!” Sara hollered at her goofy black dog as he leapt across the field almost out of sight. In a flash he was back, back at her side. Sitting in the shadows of the mountains in Breckenridge, we took turns throwing Koby a chewed up tennis ball. Recovering from an ACL tear, my sister looked up at the snowy slopes the same way I look at a Chipotle burrito. Off her skis, only for the moment, she had Koby to romp around in the snow with.

STOPPING TO catch my breath I saw Ellen way above me, leaping along the trail with the giggle of a kid being chased during tag. After years of taking insufficient mental polaroids in order to divulge my passion for the mountains to my sister, I no longer had to try. Our feet were sharing the same high soil and our hair was being brushed by the same mountain air. Besides its unavoidable attachment to the Big Lebowski, this mountain–Dude Mountain–will always stick out in my roladex of mountains because it was my first shared with Ellen. And she finally understood.

What my family has taught me is to surround yourself with people who challenge you, people that make you better. People that teach you the importance of sunflower seeds on canoe trips, communication through silence on a hiking trail, the joy of drinking coffee with the sunrise, the happiness and friendship of a loyal dog, and to never forget that mountains are the playground for adults.

These memories with my family members are all outside because I think it is then that we are all out best self. While these are the people that have shaped me, its been the mountains that have taught me what to do with that.

So what is it that makes me thrive? I suppose it’s not solely the gigantic tectonic plates waging war on each other in order to make me smile. Or the security of knowing the mountains will always uphold the basic moral principles I aspire to. What makes me thrive is being that person to others that my family is to me. Perhaps my logic is dangerously reminiscent of  the proud drivers who slap “Jesus Saves” onto their back bumper with rigid belief, but I’ve always felt a heavy sense of duty to open peoples eyes to the majesty of the mountains.

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A Pirates Life for Me

Shaking uncontrollably in the frigid waters of the Atlantic while clutching onto a doorframe and staring into the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio is where I thought I was headed when I rolled through lane four and boarded my ferry back to the mainland. While I was going to be traversing the Pacific and the men on my ferry were more reminiscent of Alan Arkin, my eyes remained glued forward ready to alert the Captain of any and every iceburg that might stand in our way.

Luckily my attentiveness yielded more results than the realization that iceburgs don’t exist this far south. Armed with the full series of Planet Earth on DVD, I set my laptop on the window sill and pretended my screen was the happenings of the world in front of me. This lasted for a good 15 minutes until I looked past the screen and realized I had the Discovery Channel live all around me.

Perhaps it is a consequence of growing up in the land locked Show-Me State, but the ocean is a fascinating world. My ferry was a two day jaunt from Ketchikan, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington and now that I have my feet on solid ground I want to go back! The photos below were taken along the way–as I somehow managed to escape the fate of Rose Dawson.

Better than a door frame.

Ideal place to spend the night.

Goodbye Ketchikan!

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

Inspiration to speak Whale:

The colors!

The mainland!

Hello Sunshine, I remember you

this guy

Life in Ketchikan is pretty dang simple and the smallest victories take giant strides toward plastering a smile on my face. You know that game universal to every carnival, fair, theme park, etc., where you slug a hammer down as hard as you can and try to get the bell to ring? If you replace that bell with happiness, I’ve had a couple pretty solid swings this week: Becoming reacquainted with the Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, stumbling upon an awesome craft store with Elle and finding beautiful wildflowers on top of Dude Mountain has almost knocked the bell off entirely.

Living in a town where it’s almost easier to communicate with smoke signals and finding an especially ripe salmonberry bush means a good day has given me a new perspective on what to expect when I wake up in the morning. While I might complain about my new best friend–the constant drizzling rain, and the lack of a Chipotle, Ketchikan has made me appreciate life on a day-to-day basis. When my hardest tasks are deciding whether to wear my jacket or leave it in the guide tote and praying to the ziplining gods for fit, friendly, non-frugal clients (friends), there’s not much room to call it a bad day.

Here’s my week in photos:

Sunshine!

Hole in the Wall Bar

The bartender Heather leaned over the soggy wooden counter and nodded her head to the right toward the grizzly man with the fu manchu, “Watch out for that guy, he’s a wolf trapper but fancies himself a lady trapper.” Heading her warning all I could really hear about my new friend Falcon McCallister was the wolf trapper part. Wolves! Growing up in the more tame midwest, our Kindergarten graduation question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ was answered by veterinarian, teacher, fire fighter, repeat. Before Friday night I had never met a wolf trapper but the lifestyle is standard for Alaska, especially Ketchikan.

Every town has its own hole in the wall bar, Ketchikan got creative enough to name its just that–Hole in the Wall. The locals that might as well pay rent are exactly what I had in mind when I decided to move to the salmon capital of the world. Their faces tell more about the tough, rainy, carhart, xtra tuff rainboot, fisherman life than I can:

Falcon McCallister dances with wolves too

Butch

Part of the band