Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's cold, but we're still here!!!

                       Approach to Kodiak, AK

Well, this isn't a real blog post, but I wanted to check in with everybody.  I'm enjoying an adult beverage in Anchorage, where it is a balmy 34 degrees.  It was so warm I had to take a layer off while running around on deck.  Today I realized I have been on this Alaska run too long because I now consider anything in the low 30's to be warm.  We had about 6 hours daylight today, though as we are past solstice, the days are getting longer.  Traveling North from Seattle, the days are always getting shorter this time of year, so I don't notice this supposed phenomenon.  I don't know how the Alaskans do it.  The bitter cold, the darkness, the isolation.  They all seem pretty cheerful and like good people, so who's to say?  Then again, I'm in a brewery, so that might explain things!

November was a dreadful month, but as soon as fall turned into winter, the weather started cooperating with us...Though some other ships and docks didn't fare as well.  

Stay tuned.  Next week I'll fill you in on all my sea stories with plenty of gnarly pictures to boot.  Thanks for keeping up with the blog!

                    Anchorage, AK (that's ice in the water)

p.s.  As per usual, Grant shipped out right before I was due to come home.  Luckily it was only a month relief, so we'll catch up with each other in a few weeks.  Besides my sea stories, we have a lot going on in the next few months:  My best friend is due with her (and all of our) first baby, Grant has some skiing in Jackson Hole to do, and we are planning a trip to Mexico with Grant's and my favorite sister and brother-in-law, with a bit of Missouri thrown in for good measure. Life is wonderful!  (like I said, I'm in a brewery :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter At Sea (Rougher Than You Think!)


                 Here Be Monsters

Well it’s winter in the North Pacific Ocean and that means nasty weather. You know how when you’re watching the weather channel and they say the storm moved safely out to sea? Just remember that there are sailors out at sea in that storm. And guess what? ‘Safely out to sea’ for the landlubber means dangerously heavy weather imminent for the sailor. So let’s just think a safe thought for those caught in heavy weather at sea this winter.

      Actually a pretty nice day for those on the Ship

Robin sent me an email from her ship describing horrifying seas and high winds. I’ve been in some heavy weather myself and it makes my stomach churn thinking about being in those conditions.


Imagine not being able to sleep yet having to work anyway. In terms of watchstanding mates, they generally work 4 hours watchstanding on and 8 hours off. So you stand on the highest weatherproof deck of the ship(the Bridge) and monitor the ship’s progress to your destination. The bridge is the apex of the pendulum and so the motion is very exaggerated – when the ship rolls, the people on the bridge have the most motion. It can be so bad that you literally have to hold on to the rails and not move for fear of being flung across the bridge to violent and painful effect. Many have sustained broken bones in just such circumstances!


So you can barely stand. And you certainly can’t get any sleep because you’re constantly tossed out of your bunk. And all of your coworkers haven’t slept either. No one has any patience. Tempers are quick and short. A simple task of making coffee or filling out a logbook becomes extremely difficult. You begin to wonder what the hell you’re doing out here in this inhospitable environment? Oh right. People in Alaska need their plastic walmart toys for the holidays. Wait, that’s not too fair. They really do need their groceries too. But I really don’t want to die. And this ship is old. Can we really withstand this weather? Is it worth it? Sometimes I really think they aren’t paying me enough for this crap…..

And never forget the awesome power of nature at sea. There are no words to express how powerful the ocean is. Even when you see it and experience the ocean in it’s power you cannot comprehend how immense and devastating it can be.

    Why did they stow everything strewn about the deck?

Containers out on deck are stove in from the power of the waves. Many containers are lost overboard every year due to heavy weather. There are ways to avoid the worst of the storms in terms of navigating around them. But guess what? That adds time and distance to your voyage. And you’re on a schedule remember? The Captain is responsible for the safety of the crew, the ship, and then the cargo. There is quite a bit of pressure from the ‘bigwigs’ sitting safely in their climate-controlled offices urging the ship to remain on the schedule. So if you slow down due to heavy weather or try to sail around the storms the office yells at you for being late. I think every one of the ‘bigwigs’ should have to spend one winter voyage at sea to experience the danger and appreciate the conditions the sailors must endure to remain on schedule.


The KAUAI Bridge portholes blown out from a wave. Note the overhead was destroyed too!

So next time you casually walk into a store and nonchalantly grab a cheap plastic item off the shelf or even a fresh piece of fruit from some faraway land remember that some hard working sailor has endured possibly some horrifying seas and sleepless nights of hard work and determination to bring you these items.

      I just want to go home now

It is not thrilling and exciting to be at sea in this very rough weather. It is terrifying.
Enjoy your Christmas toys; thank your favorite sailor today!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More to Wyoming than I knew

More Moose pictures....Anybody like nursing babies?

'nuf said

As much as I sing praises for Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, I have always had a dim view of the rest of Wyoming. To me it is sagebrush and Halliburton (why do you think “Dick” C. calls this home?), and I detest driving across it. I have seen a few highlights outside the Hole, namely Devil’s Tower and hiking in the Wind River Range, but for the most part I have nothing nice to say. And really, if you stick to I-80, any road leading to Casper, and I-90, you will probably agree it is a miserable place.

Recently we had the opportunity to visit good friends who made the great escape from the fast-paced-long-commutes-keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s life of Jackson Hole, to a more normal family-friendly life in Sheridan. Now, the thing about Sheridan is that you can’t get there from here. Look at the map, and you see there are several mountain ranges, winding roads that don’t point in the right direction, and 12 months of snow. Lots of snow (not actually on the map, unless you dropped it in the snow). In fact, from November to May, most roads through Yellowstone are closed. It’s times like these that you keep your fingers crossed that Togwotee pass is open. If it’s not, it’s time to crack open another Pabst at Phil’s Tavern, call into work sick, throw another log on the fire and let the brown couch suck you in for the evening, ‘cause you’re not going anywhere. At least, not to Sheridan.

Luckily for us, Yellowstone was still open, and we had a break in the snow with a few days of weather above 40 degrees. It was downright balmy over in Sheridan! Three of us took off like a herd of turtles and decided to take the scenic route through Yellowstone. We exited the east side by Fishing Bridge, went over the Absaroka Mountains, stopped for a beer with the local color in Cody, and crossed the sagebrush of Wyoming through Powell and finally over the Bighorn Mountains on the Medicine Wheel Passage/Bighorn Mountain Scenic Byway to Sheridan. And boy was it scenic! I had no idea. None at all. Wyoming sure has some beautiful rocks! You can imagine the dinosaurs sitting in those rocks waiting to be found. Here’s some photos from more of that good ol’ scenic Wyo’. These photos don’t do the drive justice. There is much more to see.

Yellowstone Lake

Just Scratchin' my beard

On the way home we decided to check out the medicine wheel of the Bighorns. According to the google, it’s an old Indian ceremonial site that has some celestial alignments among the stones. In our tennis shoes, we took our hangovers for a three mile hike through the snow… and guess what? We couldn’t see the wheel because it too was buried in snow. Duh! But the views were great anyway.

The trail

Medicine Wheel National Monument

Edge of the world, Medcine Wheel, Wyo...

We were glad we made the trek even though it delayed our voyage. After all, you really only live once right? While the actual sight of the stones was lost beneath the snow, we could understand why it could be a significant location due to it’s beauty, remoteness, and solitude. It was a moment of reflection for both of us, despite our triflin’ atheistic ways.

There is much more to Wyoming than meets the eye. We feel lucky to have spent three months in NZ because it taught us to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, in our own backyard. Before NZ we would have driven right past the medicine wheel in our hurry to get to the next destination. Now we realize there are many beautiful things worth stopping to see right here in our own neck of the woods. And despite slowing down those few hours, we were still home before bedtime, and happier for it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fall Colors in Snake River Canyon, Jackson Hole

"What do you mean I don't need this junk?"

This is the real Jackson Hole!

As September turned into October, the temperatures dropped and the snow started falling.  The snow hasn't been sticking long, but it's quite cold compared to a week ago. If you haven't seen the fall colors in the Snake River Canyon, go check them out. They are astounding this year, brighter and redder than I ever remember. I hope it's not too late, but if you miss them, here are some pictures from the day before it snowed.

The cold temperatures and snow brought my resident moose down from higher altitudes. I was so excited when Grant gently woke me up yesterday with "Honey, the moose are here". After I got up, we found we actually had a whole fam-damily of moose: a momma with twins, and a young bull (like our friends, the Youngbulls. Hi Cody and Tricia! Hope you have twins too). It is rutting season, but because the bull is so young, we aren't sure if he is trying to get laid, or just wanting to hang out with mom still...Probably the former, but we are a wholesome couple with wholesome thoughts so would never assume that nature was taking its course, nor would we watch for hours in the hopes of getting pictures of two moose doing it in our backyard... Because I am lucky to have trees and bushes for my backyard, we could not get a clear photograph of the whole family, but here are pictures of Mom with one of her calves, and the bull through the trees. If you look closely, you can see his paddle-antlers. His are very small, and one is deformed, which we read could mean he was accidentally castrated...or he's very young :) They all slept in my yard, 50-ft away, for hours. I know many people, especially locals, are jaded about moose and other wildlife, but I will never tire of it. Where else in the world can you sit in your warm apartment with a cup of coffee and watch the wildlife come to you? So expect more moose pictures... Cheers!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Yellowstone and the Tetons", or "September Is My Favorite Month", or "Do you even use the National Forests?"

Mr. Buffalo is trying to make his great escape too!

Grant and I made the great escape from Seattle to the Rocky Mountains. We decided to drop down through Yellowstone on our way to Jackson, because we love the Parks. We love them sooo much that we get an annual parks pass every year. We also used to buy a Northwest Forest Pass, which is good for parking fees at the Washington and Oregon National Forest trailheads. A few years ago the National Parks, Recreation areas, and Forests decided to combine their passes into one big "Interagency Pass". The National Parks card comes with a handy dandy rear view mirror hang-tag that allows you to park in said National Forest areas, thus making it truly "interagency". Well, the Yellowstone Park employee only gave us the card, and not the hangtag, making it useless for National Forests. Luckily, as we have bought this pass in years past, we noticed in time to whip around and explain her mistake to her. The ever-helpful park employee sneered, "Do you even use the National Forests?" Umm, is it any of your business? We paid for an interagency pass, and you didn't give it to us! It turns out this lady, and the other Grand Teton and Yellowstone employees, do not give you the National Forest part unless you specifically ask for it. So in other words, they happily and knowingly take your $80 and don't give you what you paid for, nor do they tell you what the interagency pass is! So unless you are like us and were lucky enough to buy it previously at a different National Park (Rainier) with nicer employees, you would never know. She also explained that the foreigners just go home so don't use the forests, so they don't give foreign tourists the hangtag!!! So it's their policy to screw foreign tourists over. I have never been treated this poorly in any country I have visited, and I am embarrassed and angry that the Yellowstone Park employees have this awful attitude. Shame on you! And buyer beware, when you buy your new Annual Interagency Park Pass, make for damn sure they give you both parts!

Anyway, apart from the crappy employees, we love Jellystone. It was a short visit this time, so we focused on the thermal areas. We walked along a thermal site I hadn't been to before, and even made it to good ol' "Old Faithful" in time to see her go.

No soap suds here! (They use soap suds in Rotorua, NZ to make the geysers go off for the tourists. How lame is that?) I wanted to hike to Morning Glory Pool, but we ran out of time. These other pools are pretty, though.

Spasm Geyser

Silex Spring

We saw Buffalo and a few Elk, but no bears this time.

Dropping into Grand Teton National Park nearing sunset was impressive.

Every time I see these mountains after being gone for a while, I am blown away. I say, go to Yellowstone for the buffalo jams and the geysers, but if it's truly magnificent mountain scenery you are after, the Tetons are hands down the best.

But GTNP is also great for animal sightings. The day after arrival I went on a hike to Taggart Lake, and was stopped by a black bear jam (not for toast) just a few miles into the park. It was awesome! Mom and cubs were too far into the trees for a good picture, but it was still fun to see.

Here are some of the hikes and activities we have been doing the last week:

Taggart Lake was a beautiful 4-mile hike. I haven't done all the hikes in the Park yet, but I think if you only have a little time, and are of only a moderate fitness level, then Taggart Lake could be your best hike in the park. It gives you big views for minimal effort.

We also hiked the String Lake Loop, just north of Jenny Lake. It had pretty fall colors, and we saw a wild ferret and mule deer!

For our third day, we decided to head out to the Bridger-Teton National Forest to do a much loved-by-locals hike up to Goodwin Lake. Along the hike, we ran into some hunters on horseback who told us they had been charged by a black bear in this area just the day before. He had his rifle, but didn't want to shoot the bear. She came so close that he was going to give her two more feet before shooting, but she veered off just in time for the both of them! This story was a great testament to proper stewards of the land who respect the wildlife and the wilderness and are courageous enough to stay calm instead of wantonly killing a wild animal in its home. I was almost too scared to keep hiking, but we screwed up our courage (or stupidity) and kept going. It was a very rewarding hike. We saw a marmot, "Teton Chickens" (grouse), horses and dogs, but thankfully no bears.

The last weekend of summer called for some water skiing and beer drinking at Palisades Reservoir, in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest over by Alpine, WY. Grant was looking great on his slalom ski,

and I was beaten up on the tube.

At sundown we all made it over to the hotsprings to warm up before putting our fleece on as the temperature plummeted to fall temperatures. A few mule deer families joined us for a dip in the lake. Lucky for them, the hunters in our group didn't have their rifles, LOL.

It was a great day!

But wait, there's more. We had to cut firewood before it started snowing,

Mosquito Creek, Bridger-Teton National Forest

Notice we do not cut down live trees, they are already dead, and even down when we cut them!

and with one more day of sunshine in the forecast, we topped our hiking off on a 10 mile round-trip hike to Surprise and Amphitheater lakes. I have never come so close to those peaks in my life (though Grant has summited a few of them, a few times). I felt like I could reach out and touch the Grand, but alas, at our elevation of 10,000 ft I was not even halfway up, with about 4,000 more feet to go.  Not to mention the path we were on would take us to Disappointment Peak, not the Grand. It's a disappointment, because when you get to the top, it's a sheer drop off with no way to summit the Grand. I'll save that part of the hike for another time. Gorgeous.

This is what I love about Jackson Hole. We have direct access to National Parks and Forests, rivers and lakes to go hiking, fishing, hunting, water and snow skiing, raft the rivers and go soaking in free natural hot springs. Ok, I just hike and sit in hot springs, but Grant does all these activities! Plus, if you don't feel like getting outside, civilization is also here with great restaurants, movie theaters, and the arts. What a combination.
The pictures speak for themselves, but September is the best time to be here. The weather is warm and stable, the crowds have thinned out, and the fall colors are awesome.
And to the sneering Yellowstone employee, in just one week, we used the National Forest three ways: hiking, boating, and cutting firewood. I can say emphatically and with proof that YES, we do use and love the National Forests, Parks, and Recreation areas, so go sneer at yourself!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A much more deserved, but inadequate, eulogy

A close friend of Grant's and his dad's passed away last night.  I consider him my friend too, though we weren't close.  He had a lot of friends, and though I didn't know him well, I can tell you some of what made him special.

Patrick is the type of person that will catch and hold your attention, and probably have you laughing your ass off, within 60 seconds.  He is open and genuine.  He's not afraid to tell you anything about himself.   He has the charismatic personality that makes you feel special and like you're in on the joke.  He makes you feel like a good friend whenever he talks to you.  And you know what?  You are his good friend. 

Patrick loved to travel.  He loved other cultures, and their food and drink.  But he was no sappy liberal that thought every other culture was more beautiful or more perfect than his own.  He had a lot of insight, and saw the hilarity of what might be wrong, tragic, or just different the way other people and cultures do things, while maintaining genuine respect for them.  A classic example is his "Of course we are having cold beer today" story while in India.  I'll butcher the story so won't tell it, but it's a great, simple anecdote he tells that serves to illustrate a basic difference in our cultures.   It was also just a funny story to tell over beers.  It goes without saying that he had a lot of insight into the hilarity of our own culture, too.

Patrick took you under his wing right away, with no reservations, and without judgement.  One of the small things I loved about him, was he always called me by my high-school nickname even though I didn't know him back then.  He heard it once, agreed it was the right name for me, and called me by it from then on, just like my best friends.  But it always sounded right coming from him.  It gave me that sense we had known each other forever. 

Mostly what I know about Patrick, is that he was always laughing. Even if he was talking ill of somebody, it was through laughter, and never cruel.  Everybody around him was always laughing too, many all the way to the finish line. He loved life.  That much is obvious.  He inspires me to travel and learn.  He inspires me to stop whining, get off the computer, and enjoy life.  Or at least light heartedly make fun of it.

Patrick was a great guy, and he will be missed.

So this ones's for Patrick!  And this one.  This one too.  Boy I'm getting drunk.


Hey everybody, get your colonoscopies!  Especially you.  You know who you are.

Hey English majors, screw you and your tenses.  I can mix my tenses as much as I want in my blog.

Hey Congress, we need health care reform.  Get off your asses and do it now.  

Hey people who don't think we need health care reform.  Shut up.