Sunday, August 22, 2010

I love the sunshine & McHugh Peak

Recently I read an article about how Anchorage has beat the record for the most rain EVER in one summer.  It also explained how it has been the 10th coldest summer on record.  This explains a lot to me.  Being that I knew no different, I was trying to take it with stride - bundling up each morning and drinking lots of hot tea - making the most of it.  I never realized how much I enjoyed the sunshine...until I never got to see it. 

Praise the Lord, though, the rain went away and the sun came out the last 3 days.  It was such a rare event, Matt and I both got off work early on Thursday and Friday to get outside and enjoy the weather.  I could just stand in the sun and soak it in for hours (which I did when Matt and I dragged our little table and chairs to the big lawn for lunch where the sun was shining). 

We also went to enjoy the mountains...because hiking in sunshine is so much more enjoyable than in the rain!

Thursday, when we both got off about 2:30, we hiked Flattop - one we had done before but knew it was a good 3 hour hike since I had to work the next day. The parking lot at the trailhead was packed.  I mean cars were everywhere fighting over spots.  It reminded me of a shopping mall on black Friday. Each man for himself. (Can you tell I'm going through shopping withdrawals?) 

But it was beautiful.

Mocha is getting really good at this hiking thing. Though her bad hip wears her out towards the end.  We forced her to the top this time around.  The summit is so steep, Matt had to literally pick her up and I had to pull her collar to help her get up a few spots.  My overprotective side kinda freaked out a few times, as well did Mocha.  But the views from the top were worth it (as always). 

Then Saturday we decided to do a peak climb.  McHugh Peak.  I think this qualifies as my favorite hike yet.  It was very challenging (basically hiking straight up about 4,000 feet), but the views were incredible!  We hiked along a ridgeline - with the valley one one side and Anchorage on the other.  A thick fog rolled through on our way up. There were several times we couldn't see anything within 20 feet around us, kinda eerie with nobody else around, but every once in awhile the fog would clear and we could see...yes, there is still another peak to climb over...

Enjoying the short-lived view of the other side when the fog cleared a bit

Enjoying the small accomplishments of reaching a ridge

It was intense, but when we reached the top, God blessed us, and the skies cleared and we could see for miles and miles.  It is one of the higher peaks around and which was obvious as the sights. 

We were all tired once we reached the car...well almost reached the car.  About 50 feet from the trailhead and our vehicle, Mocha decided she was too tired to contine and laid down. 

We could not get her to get up and come for the life of us!  I ended up hiking back up and having to carry her 70lb body a part of the way down before she realized that the car and a ride home was awaiting her tired self.

As challenging as it was, this hike ranks in the top of what we've experienced up here. I think this is one that we'll have to do again when company comes calling.  Get prepared. :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Map

Once again, I had a brilliant idea...which I'm learning my ideas rarely turn out bring a little personalized decor to our new home.  My idea came from this popular blog that I often read.  It consisted of hanging a map and putting pins in each place you have been.  I thought it was a great idea, because one thing that Matt and I desired to do when we got married was to travel together.  I thought this would be a great way to document it!

The map that I got the idea off of was only of the United States, but I didn't want to limit ourselves (especially since we currently live in Alaska which is not exactly on a map of the lower 48...and if so, it tends to be just off the coast of Arizona) so I decided to invest in a world map. 

Now, this seemed to be a fairly simple, cheap project.  I found a really cool map online for $12 and ordered it.  I was excited because it was big (48"x36" to be exact), but not until it came in did I realize how big.  But no biggie, I was going to mount it on cork board tiles, such as these:

anyways.  So the bigger the better because I could add boards as needed.

Well, we decided mounting them straight to the wall would not exactly make this piece of art relocate-able (yes, I think I just made up my own word) in a few we headed to Home Depot and purchased a large piece of particle board to glue them to.  After much debate and a few hours later, we had cut up the cork board squares to the appropriate size and mounted them to the particle board.  After even more discussion, we discovered a way to mount the particle board to the wall by the stairs. 

So many, many hours later it resulted in this:

Ta-da!  We were so proud of our creative abilities and excitedly put our pins into the map.  We got to enjoy if for about 3 hours.

Then we went to sleep and awoke to this:

Ok, so we needed better glue to mount the squares to the particle board.  That I can work on.

But, then we went to work that day... 

...and came home to this...

Clearly this project wasn't working!

My quick, cheap project had already taken like 10x's as much time and money as I had planned on investing in it and it kept falling apart!

We let it sit there for several days...defeating us each time we went up and down the stairs...until we randomly went to Michael's one day.  Just as we walked in the door, it was like a light was shining from above onto this:

A large framed cork board.  Matt kindly asked if I had even attempted to find one in the first place...and I had, but in my defense they were very expensive online.  But this one was cheaper (about $25) than the cork board tiles we had already purchased and glued together.  It was a bittersweet discovery.

We purchased it and brought it home...and surprise - the map we already had was too big.  I should have expected that much.

So, back to ebay I went and found a smaller version for about the same price and waited for it to ship. 

About a month later, we finally got our new map mounted on the wall.  We weren't as excited the next time around as we marked all the places - via color-coded pins - we have a) traveled to together, b) lived together, c) individually traveled to since high school.  Though I do think it looks rather nice - even after all that.

Hopefully, as time passes we will fill up the map...and laugh at how it started.

But for now, we have an extra world map if anyone is looking for one. :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Seward: Couple's Therapy

A couple weeks ago I had this great idea.  Let's go kayaking in Seward, Alaska.  It's about 2 hours south of Anchorage on the Resurrection Bay - one of the top fishing spots and where lots of cruise ships port.  It's one of the larger cities in Alaska with a booming population of 3,000.

Of course there are guided tours for novices like myself, but they are quite pricey and Matt said he had gone before so he decided let's just rent one ourselves for a fraction of the cost and do our own tour.  His co-workers convinced him there is this great 5-mile round trip hike to a 100 year old fort that can only be reached by water or an even longer 18 mile hike.  By water it's a 5-mile trip there and 5 miles back.  No biggie, right? Let's do it.

We enlisted a couple of our good friends, Jared and Nicole - who, God bless them, are up for any crazy idea we come up with - and we hit the road Saturday mid-morning. (Jared, who is a pilot, had just gotten back from LA at 2am the night before, so we let him sleep in a bit.) Our plan was to arrive, jump in the kayaks for the 6-hour or so adventure and end our evening with a big, well-deserved meal at an amazing sea-food place before driving home.

Sounded like a wonderful plan, right?

Matt calls Millers Landing (kayak rental place) as we were leaving to make sure that they would reserve a couple double-kayaks for us - since that would be depressing to drive all that way for nothing.  They informed us that due to the risk of it being Alaska and having cold waters, they would require us to take this 2-hour safety lesson first.  Annoying, but we obliged.

About one o'clock, we finally arrive, quickly eat our sack lunches we brought and informed them we were here.  They set us up with wet suits and go over a basic training on dry ground first.  I knew that when I was cold just practicing on shore that it was not a good sign for the upcoming proving-myself-worthy in the freezing water. 
They took us out on the water and then told us we have to intentionally flip our kayak upside down, pull ourselves out while under water and get back into the kayak using only the paddle as leverage and try not flipping it again - which tends a common occurrence. 

As you can imagine, all I was thinking was - are you freaking kidding me?!  Never the less, we had plans to kayak, gosh darn it, so we were going to do this!

As my heart was pounding, we flipped the kayak and we fell into the Alaskan ocean.

Holy was ridiculously cold!!  I wish I could remember what all I was exactly yelling saying as I floated along in my numbing body.  However, it's probably for the better than I don't remember...

I'm here to verify that it's true that freezing water feels like a million needles piercing your body.  Miserable.  I had to help Matt into the kayak first before I could crawl in.  I truly wish I had pictures to verify my story, but good news is that our instructor (who I'd like to add, never actually got into the water himself) said we did it in record time.  I think Matt had no choice as I might have wanted to hurt him had he taken a long time to get back into the kayak.  And I, for one, am rarely that motivated...

Thankfully, 2 hours later we were back in our dry clothes and dragging our sea kayaks back into the water.  It was 4pm and high tide was at 5:18pm. Our destination was 5 miles down the bay...against high tide.  I'm pretty sure the workers at Millers Landing were laughing at us as headed out...remember it was supposed to take us about 6 hours in normal circumstances and none of us had ever done this sea kayaking thing before. 

We fought the current and high waves for 2 hours straight without stopping...if we stopped we would start being pushed backwards and the kayak would turn around.  So no stopping was allowed!  I think for every stroke we went like 1 cm.  About 1 1/2 hours into it, we saw the old military dock - FINALLY!  But due to our speedy moving, I didn't think we'd ever reach it. I swear I looked at that dumb dock in the distance for it felt like hours before we finally arrived. 

That's the beloved dock behind us, after we finally reached shore
And in the back of my mind, I knew we still had a 5-mile hike ahead of us. 

We pulled our kayaks ashore, so they wouldn't float away while we were gone and tried to dry out from the cold, splashing waves that had been hitting us for the last couple hours.  It's about 6:15pm at this point...and  we have one liter of water and a couple granola bars to our name.  So, naturally, we start up the trail...

The hike was quiet (I think we were the only crazy people out at this point) and rather muddy.  About an hour later, we arrived at a couple old barracks and the fort.  We had to have flashlights to explore...and to be honest, I think we had all seen one too many scary movies to feel completely comfortable exploring the pitch black abandoned concrete building hidden on the side of a mountain on a cloudy, cold evening unable to be reached by any motorized vehicles.  Though on the flip side, it was kinda cool thinking about what it was like back in the 1940's when men were stationed there. 

the entrance
Inside...not eerie, at all, huh?

Group pic at the gun turret
Being about 8 o'clock now, way past dinner time and all being cold, hungry, tired, and Matt and I were out of water and food and we still had a 5-mile kayaking trip back.  We sadly came to the conclusion that all the good restaurants would be closed by the time we would complete this exciting we tried to think positively and discussed all the way down the mountain how wonderful a Big Mac at McDonald's will be on the way home.  It made us walk a little faster.

Quickly water-sealing our belongings that were still dry

We got back to the shore and quickly jumped back into the kayaks and headed out. The rental place closed at 10pm.  We needed to be back, because at this point owning kayaks was not high on our list.  I wish I could say we truly took in the amazing scenery and the peaceful water (because we did not see a single boat on our way back...they were all in bed at this hour), but my exhausted arms, pounding head, growling stomach and my wonderful husband singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" behind me may have caused a few shouts of agony and couple held-back tears of pain. 

nothing like forcing those smiles

Despite my complaining, it was rather magnificent.

The best part is that after we finally got back into the car at 10:45pm...and still really looking forward to that Big Mac, we learned that Seward does not have any fast food places (which, yes, means it's that isolated!) and not much - ok, anything - is open that late. And keep in mind, there is nothing for 130 miles between Seward and Anchorage.

Praise the Lord, we passed a grocery store on the edge of town that still had it's lights on and we were able to make a concoction of things to create a dinner.  At this point, I think we would have eaten anything. 

On our way home - til 1am - we ate our food (which included cookies and a quart of milk...because we had earned it) we laughed about how ridiculous a day it had been.  Which we like to equate it to an odd form of couple's therapy: whatever extreme of emotions we were feeling, we needed each other to get back.  I like to hope it just grounded our marriages and friendships deeper.  And at least we have a good story to tell. :)

Date Night

Another unique thing about Alaska is that it promotes locally owned and operated stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  I love that aspect.  But I won't deny that the first time we drove by Chili's I was rather excited to see something familiar - bottomless chips and salsa just sounds so good when you've gone without.

Anyways, Friday has turned into our date night.  I love the concept of a night set aside to just spend special time together, but it's a battle because to Matt that definition means that every night is date night...however, that's a whole other story for another time.

So this past Friday we ate some leftovers at home and hit up our bikes.  Nevermind that it was raining outside, because we had planned to ride downtown and hit up the "Chocolate Lounge" (just the name makes you want to to go there, right?) - so rain or shine we were headed that way.  Plus we wanted to try out our new helmets we had found on REI clearance that had just come in the mail and my new bike we had bought off Craigslist...which this time came with shocks (geez, those make a huge difference!). Nothing like new toys.

With freezing, wet fingers in tact we arrived on bike (so green of us, huh?) downtown to enjoy $3 bite-sized truffles and this incredible drinking chocolate that made it totally worth the trip.  The truffles were a little odd - as they sounded delicious until you saw they were topped with fresh salmon or garlic salt or something completely odd.  We decided that part was a little over the top trendy for our taste.  But when you come visit, I'll make sure we make a pit stop for you to enjoy the discovered treasure of drinking chocolate as well. :)