Near Death in Deadhorse

We woke in the treeless north of the Arctic surrounded by frozen lakes and soggy tundra saturated from the snow that was melting quickly under the bright light of the sun that lingered high in the sky for over 20 hours. The stark land that stretched endlessly in all directions reminded us how far we were from any resemblance of a town. We had been slowly traveling north on the Haul Rd. intending to spend the month of May hiking, fishing, bird/mammal watching and exploring the far north of Alaska that was unfamiliar to us. Also known as the Dalton Highway, this route which ended at the oil fields of the Arctic Ocean in Prudhoe Bay was far from the smooth ride one might imagine from the name highway. Rutted with potholes, wash boarded dirt and thick gravel, spotted with the occasional stretch of pavement, it was well travelled by the semi-trucks hauling loads to and from the work camp of Deadhorse which sat at the furthest northern part of the route.

We were about 150 miles from Deadhorse playing fetch with the dogs before we headed north again. Sequoia was stumbling around a little during our game and I commented that she “seemed a little drunk”, but didn’t really give much more thought to it as we loaded into the Chinook and rolled out from our camp spot. A couple of hours later we stopped to make a cup of coffee and take a break from driving. Shilo was acting odd, rocking in small circles and stumbling around our camper. Goose said, “she seems drunk” and his comment struck me as odd since these were the exact words I had used for Sequoia earlier in the day. We had no idea what would have caused the weird behavior in both dogs, but we guessed perhaps they had gotten into something at our last camp spot. Goose mentioned noticing a small amount of radiator fluid on the floorboard of the front seat, leaking from a broken heater coil. The dogs slept in the front seats at night and we began to worry that perhaps they had gotten into the liquid. With no internet/phone service all we could do was to continue to head north, now with a bit more urgency, and monitor the dogs as we went.

Sequoia was now acting normal, but Shilo seemed to be getting worse as we drove. A couple of hours later we pulled into the industrial work town of Deadhorse and found phone service for the first time in weeks. I immediately searched “dogs acting drunk” and my heart sank as I read this was a common sign of anti-freeze poisoning. My dread grew as I continued to read that there was not much that could be done for this type of poisoning which usually ended in death from kidney failure. We found a place to pull over and I immediately phoned a vet in Anchorage. The vet confirmed what I had read and apologetically told us that there was probably nothing that could be done other than to fly south where they could help them pass away with less suffering.

I was in disbelief and was not ready to accept the outcome which I was being told was almost inevitable. Goose had found some activated charcoal which we were feeding to Shilo in hopes of absorbing the toxins that she had ingested. We fed a little to Sequoia as well, but our main focus was on Shilo who was getting worse by the moment. I fed Sequoia bowls and bowls of watered down food trying to flush out her system. Shilo refused to eat or drink anything so I gave her sub-cutaneous fluids under her skin with a needle. We had read, and been told, that the time which had passed since they had ingested the poison made my efforts futile, but I felt I needed to try something.

We called Alaska Airlines to find out about a flight to Anchorage even though we knew it was probably way out of our budget, this was confirmed when we were quoted $1200 for the two of us to fly that night. I also called another vet for a second opinion, who confirmed what the first vet had told us and encouraged us to fly to the city to “ease their passing” as their inevitable death would be “slow and painful for us all”.

In a daze Goose and I discussed our options, including taking the dogs out to the tundra to shoot them rather than let them suffer. As heartbreaking as this option sounded it seemed like it might be our only choice. We then realized however that we didn’t know what to do with their bodies as we would be unable to bury them in the thick permafrost. It was too much for me to handle as I broke down in sobs. We sat for a while to try and process everything that was happening so quickly. Unable to think of any other good solution we decided to send Goose on a plane with both dogs while I waited in the north. He went into the small Alaska Airlines office to purchase a ticket for the flight leaving in a couple of hours while I waited in the camper snuggling and saying goodbye to both dogs. He returned to us quickly with news of amazing kindness from the airline supervisor who upon hearing our predicament extended her guest passes to allow us both to fly with the dogs for under $200 total roundtrip. It was such a relief to know I would have a few more hours with them and would not have to wait alone, heartbroken.

We departed a couple of hours later with Shilo shivering in our arms, unable to walk, appearing unlikely to even survive the flight. When we landed however she had improved considerably, walking off the plane and interested in playing fetch. It was great to see her physical improvements, but we knew this was just a sign of the initial poisoning symptoms moving into the secondary less noticeable stage of kidney damage/failure. We caught a taxi and rushed to the vet at 1am, now close to what we guessed to be 20 hours since they had been poisoned and much past the time of any likely treatment.

After waiting for a while at the vet the dogs were both taken for blood and urine samples. We sat with them awaiting the results, smothering them with love and treats assuming it was all we could do at this point. When the vet called us in to discuss the results of the tests we had no expectations other than bad news. The vet discussed “normal” kidney values and crystallizations in the urine and when she then told us that both dogs were within a range of a viable treatment we were amazed and a release of emotions washed over us.

The treatment was to get the dogs drunk on vodka. The stronger the vodka the better. Shilo was admitted for the next 48 hours to get inebriated on Everclear through an IV, and we were given a small bottle of the 151 proof liquor to feed to Sequoia every hour for the next two days. Apparently the alcohol inhibited the poison from destroying the kidneys. No matter how the silly the treatment seemed, or how costly the simple solution was quoted from the vet, we were overjoyed, as well as still in a bit of sleep deprived confusion and disbelief, at the opportunity to save our dogs lives.

Two days later we reunited our family, all of us so happy to be back together healthy and alive. We hopped a plane back to Deadhorse, were greeted with hugs and joy from every airline employee in the north who had expected us to return alone, and began the southbound portion of our road trip together in a state of pure gratitude. Gratitude for the outcome of what seemed to be a helpless situation, gratitude for all of the incredible kindness that we encountered from many strangers along the way, gratitude for the beauty of our lives and gratitude for every moment that we had to spend with our furry critters as we continued our adventures together.

Furiously Fast Fall

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The fall season exploded in fiery colors and almost overnight the mountains were warmed with a blanket woven in a swirls of orange,  copper, burgundy and yellow. Like a fire that rages in full fury and then settles into a soft, low flame until only the shimmer of the coals remain, the landscape changed rapidly and soon the last shimmering embers on the mountains in the north extinguished. Winter crept over the peaks and down into the valleys shaking the last of the leaves clinging to the branches with icy fingers in the winds. 

We realized that as soon as we inhaled the fall air we would have to exhale it's warmth into the cold of winter and we wanted to make the most of those short weeks we had to play in the colorful landscape. September is an amazing time to explore Alaska. While the seasons are rushing through in a hurry much of the state begins to slow. Visitors depart for warmer climates, businesses lock their doors and board the windows taping up signs that say, "See you next year!". Seasonal workers celebrate their unemployment packing up their bags and saying goodbye as they scatter across the world in a variety of adventures. Berries sweeten with the first frosts, birds migrate in noisy yet graceful dances through the sky, animals prepare for the long cold winter months and the wilderness becomes even more wild as a deep quiet sets in.

We took advantage of the slowing season and peaceful wilderness by exploring many of the trails, mountains, lakes and beaches through out the state. We visited some of our favorite places to play and also explored wilderness we had never seen. We slept late in cabins, had coffee in our tents, soaked our shoes crossing rivers, dried our socks by the fire, watched the auroras dance in the sky, pushed against the winds, slipped across ice, waded through snow and soaked up the sun. We played games, drank beer and whiskey, helped build a cabin, danced at a music festival, skipped rocks, picked berries, meditated, gathered herbs, watched movies, listened to music, paddled a kayak, practiced yoga, visited and traveled with friends. We balanced our days and nights with lots of play and plenty of relaxation.

We followed the sun and the birds as they headed south in order to extend the fall season as long as possible. The colorful shoulder season ended as quickly as it had arrived. We are settling into the onset of the long winter ahead but not planning on hiding out indoors. A quick change over to our winter gear and clothes and we are ready to head back out for another month of playing in the woods. We will slow our pace as nature does the same. We will welcome the next season, the longest of the Alaska seasons, where we can continue to feel the change in the air and hear the silence sweep over the woods. We may yearn for longer warmer days but we will also embrace the opportunities that winter brings and continue to adventure outdoors through all of the changing seasons. Eternally grateful for a life lived outdoors. 

The Guide Life

The middle of August can be a challenging time of year as a multi-day wilderness guide. Burnt out from late nights, long days, little sleep, hard work, miles of driving, and back to back trips for most of the summer. Some call this "angry august" and at times I know why. Guiding begins the moment of opening your eyes and lasts until the moment you close them. Even in sleep you are vaguely aware of every noise in camp, ready to jump whenever you are needed.  It is exhausting and it is draining.

I was once told, "A good guide is never cold, tired or hungry."  I might add, grumpy, sad or bored. Of course you are these things at times, but a good guide would never let it show. It's not fair to the people that have been dreaming about this destination for months, years, or a lifetime. They deserve an experience that is hopefully beyond what they had dreamed of. They deserve to see this amazing place with the thrill and excitement that I felt when I first traveled across the state. With wonder, awe and joy that brought me to tears of gratitude.

I know all of this, but I miss my life. I miss having my own schedule, exploring and enjoying nature in my own way. I miss my boyfriend, my family, my friends, and my dog. I miss silence.

But I can still find wonder, awe, joy and excitement. It is impossible to not find beauty and to feel all of those emotions around almost every turn in Alaska. And although my mind wants to wander to September, to when I will return to the freedom of exploring my life my way, I must remember that this is my life as well. A life that I am very grateful for.

I must stay present and enjoy the final moments of summer. When the last of the wildflowers cling to their stems before they turn to seed and dance away in the crisp wind. To be amazed by the movement of the wild creatures who are gorging on the abundance of  food before the harsh winter arrives. To be impressed by the salmon who fight their way up river to spawn with their final moments of life. To savor the sweet berries as they roll in my fingers when picked and burst in my mouth when bitten. To appreciate the twittering sounds of the birds before they fly away to warmer places for the dark months.

This place is filled with beauty everywhere, on an epic scale. I get to see the amazement of this beauty in the faces of those I guide. I get to hear the excitement of these new experiences in their voices and  see the joy in their eyes. When I focus on that I get to feel those things as well.

When I stay present in each moment of each amazing day I realize how much surrounds me that I am grateful for and I experience this gorgeous place with the wonder and joy of the first time, again and again. I am happy.

 

"The Lone Trail" by Robert Service

The Lone Trail
 
Ye who know the Lone Trail fain would follow it,
Though it lead to glory or the darkness of the pit.
Ye who take the Lone Trail, bid your love good-by;
The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail follow till you die.

 
The trails of the world be countless, and most of the trails be tried;
You tread on the heels of the many, till you come where the ways divide;
And one lies safe in the sunlight, and the other is dreary and wan,
Yet you look aslant at the lone Trail, and the Lone Trail lures you on.
And somehow you're sick of the highway, with its noise and its needs,
And you seek the risk of the by-way, and you reck not where it leads.
And sometimes it leads to the desert, and the tongue swells out of the mouth,
And you stagger blind to the mirage, to die in the mocking drouth.
And sometimes it leads to the mountain, to the light of the lone camp-fire,
And you gnaw your belt in anguish of hunger-goaded desire.
And sometimes it leads to the Southland, to the swamp where the orchid glows,
And you rave to your grave with the fever, and they rob the corpse for its clothes.
And sometimes it leads to the Northland, and the scurvy softens your bones,
And your flesh dints in like puty, and you spit out your teeth like stones.
And sometimes it leads to a coral reef in the wash of a weedy sea,
And you sit and stare at the empty glare where the gulls wait greedily.
And sometimes it leads to an Arctic trail, and the snows where your torn feet freeze,
And you whittle away the useless clay, and crawl on your hands and knees.
Often it leads to the dead-pit; always it leads to pain;
By the bones of your brothers ye know it, but oh, to follow you're fain.
By your bones they will follow behind you, till the ways of the world are made plain.
 
Bid good-by to sweetheart, bid good-by to friend;
The Lone Trail, the Lone Trail follow to the end.
Tarry not, and fear not, chosen of the true;
Lover of the Lone Trail, the Lone Trail waits for you.

Robert Service

 

Swept Down River

"You're okay baby" was the last thing I heard before our brief moment of panicked eye contact was broken and I submerged under the swirling waters of the glacial river and was pushed beneath the log that moments before I had been standing upon.

It had appeared to be a fairly simple log crossing. A much better option than trying to get into the deep gray silty water that rushed by in currents much to powerful to cross. The large fallen tree spanned most of the river and the footing seemed solid and dry across the thick bark. I was standing on that thick bark when it broke beneath my feet and without a moment to react I was in the deep cold water gasping as I resurfaced. My eyes locked with Goose's and my arm instinctively reached up to grab a hold of the log. At this point time seemed to slow and my thoughts became clear and methodical.

I had to let go of the log. The current was much to strong to try and hold on. I had to let that current pull me under the log and hope that I would surface on the other side. When my head went back under the icy waters Goose's reassuring words of "You're okay" became the background mantra as my mind kicked into auto pilot. The water pushed me under the log and my full backpack began to pull me downwards. I had undone my hip belt and chest strap before attempting the river crossing so it was easy to wiggle my way out of the shoulder straps while swirling under water. In the brief moments that I spent being tumbled in the dark my mind went through a long list of training that up until that moment I had only hoped had been ingrained in my mind enough to become automatic reaction.

Get out of your pack. Check. "You're okay." Hold onto your pack unless it becomes a hazard. You don't want to lose your gear. Check. "You're okay." There is another large log ahead followed by lots of branches through the next turns of the river, you need to get out before you hit those underwater snagging dangers. "You're okay." Swim hard to the bank away from the snags. Check. "You're okay." Goose should be able to access the river from the bank for the next few turns, if you get caught under water he might be able to help save you. That's assuring. "You're okay." Don't use your feet to try and stop, you could get caught and pushed back under. Swim, swim hard. "You're okay." I can touch bottom here. I'm getting close to the shore. I can stand. I can make it to the shore. "You're okay."

I waded into knee deep water while Goose rushed across the riverbank and I stood somewhat in shock while he took the dripping pack that I held out to him. I watched him quickly open the pack and pull out my stuff sacks searching for dry clothing. I remained in the water as time began to regain a normal rhythm and I realized that I was soaked, I was freezing cold and most importantly I was safe.

I know that every time I head into the woods there are potential dangers and I can only try and prepare myself for how to react when faced with those dangers. This terrifying incident was a reminder of how quickly things can go horribly wrong, but thankfully it was also reassurance that the my preparation and training for these possible dangers could, and did, help to keep me alive. 

 

 

Changing Seasons

The month of August whirled by in a flurry of camping trips with new groups, play time in the city when time-off finally over lapped with the boyfriend, long drives, late nights, early mornings, good food, great conversations and all while the breathtaking backdrop of Alaska finally wilted of colorful flowers, pushed forth the fluff of white seeds, exploded in sunny yellows and deep reds of fall foliage and fruited rich, juicy berries.

As I wrap up my final tour of the season I am mixed with emotions; amazement for how quickly the summer passed, appreciation for all of the beauty and adventures that filled my days and nights these past months, exhaustion from the crazy schedule, nostalgia for the places that became my home during my trips and the people whom I connected with in these places, and excitement for the upcoming plans for the fall. I am trying to be present in these last moments of the summer and trying to soak in all that I love about Alaska, but I am distracted with the next adventure and the changing of the season.

The fall ideas are forming into actual plans. We have booked flights to Colorado to pick up the car and dog that spent the summer there and intend to spend a short amount of time at our friends house getting gear, food and details together for an 800 mile hike of the Hayduke Trail in the southwest. We hope to be on trail to begin this journey in just a few weeks and the amount of planning that we have ahead of us is a bit overwhelming. I would feel comfortable jumping into other long distance trails with little/no preparation, but this is an "extremely challenging route" through remote desert and will require some forethought as well as possibly some water caches along the way. We are thrilled at the idea of getting into the backcountry on a long distance journey however, and I am sure we will manage to pull together all of the details with a few all-nighters of prepping.

As excited as I am for the upcoming adventure I do have eight days left in this amazing state up north and I am going to try to soak up the moments as they come. To enjoy the smell of the rain as it saturates the earth and drips from the trees, to feel the chill of the crisp fall breeze across the mountaintops, to savor the sights of turquoise waters, jagged peaks, deep evergreen trees heavy with spruce cones, swirls of colorful leaves that blanket the grounds and abundant wildlife as it prepares for the fast approaching winter.  The changing of the seasons are dramatic in many ways and I will try to embrace and revel in it all.

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Fireweed in Valdez

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I had the opportunity to go sea kayaking with the group to a tidewater glacier today, but I chose to stick around Valdez instead. I have taken this kayaking trip before and it is amazing, and I am sure I would have had a great time with the group paddling on such a beautiful day, but  I was happy to enjoy some the blue skies and sunshine at a mellow pace by myself today. I had a few things I needed to do for camp...restock the ice in the coolers, shop for a few supplementary groceries, fix a wire on the trailer lights. Then I caught up on a few personal things...calls to the family, paying online bills, mailing some letters and packages. In between I soaked up the sun, sat on the river bed, hiked a short trail and gathered wild fireweed flowers. The flowers are blooming all over Alaska right now coloring the roadsides and vibrant fuchsia. I stood in a field of flowers a foot taller than I stood while I harvested them with my pocket knife. When my arms were full I exited the patch of flowers and you could not even tell I had been there as there were still so many remaining. The flowers now stand in my rubber boots in the back of the van awaiting the drying process so I can use them for future projects.

The evening ahead includes dinner out with the group, a drive to watch the spawning salmon at the river mouths and hopefully the bears who come to feed in the area, a few late night camp duties to get ready for the following morning and then hopefully a bit of time chatting around the campfire.

I woke in an incredible mood this morning and have been enjoying the emotional high all day long. Tomorrow we leave for McCarthy where we will camp along the Kennicott river at the base of two glaciers and Mt. Blackburn. I really enjoy spending time in McCarthy and hope that this incredible mood will keep me energized for the upcoming days!

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Another week for another adventure

Another week and the start of another trip. I picked up six new guests this morning, all traveling to Alaska for the first time. As with most groups there is a wide range of ages, back grounds, home countries and more, but the commonality of our upcoming journey together breaks through those differences quickly and conversations came naturally as we spent the afternoon together. 

This trip began with a five hour ferry trip through the Prince William Sound where we watched sea otters floating through icebergs in various shades of blue, dall's porpoises zipped playfully through our wake and while I napped on the upper deck four humpback whales entertained the rest of the group and fulfilled several dreams of seeing whales in the wild. 

Together we dined on a meal I had prepared the night prior (pasta primavera in a light cream sauce, grilled chicken breast, mixed greens with pecans and dried cranberries and garlic bread) and now as I write we are pulling into the Port of Valdez. After a quick beer run we will head to our campground to set up home for the next two days and celebrate one of our campers birthdays, which is today, with sweets by the campfire. I am excited for the upcoming week and look forward to the adventures in Alaska ahead!

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Rejuvenated

I returned to base camp last night and after a mellow day here today getting ready for my next trip tomorrow. I did most of my "flip over" work of the gear and van cleaning last night. Goose also returned from a trip last night and the whole crew, including the bosses six and three year old daughters (incredibly adorable girls!), helped get his rig/gear/food flipped for him to leave again this morning on another trip. We quickly focused on the chores at hand as we were looking forward to have a little bit of free time together. After all was done and we had enjoyed a wonderful home cooked meal we left to take a walk through the neighborhood. The sky was still light at 10pm and the wildflowers were in full colorful bloom, standing taller than I in areas. We soaked in each moment trying to make the most of the little time that we have together this summer.

Goose and I are both guiding for Alaska Outdoors this summer and since the peak of our busy season, and for the next upcoming weeks, we are running back to back tours headed in opposite directions across this huge state. Our super busy days and limited phone service make it hard to connect often and we have only been seeing each other for a few waking hours at base camp in between trips. Those hours have become very cherished by both of us. We are enjoying what we are doing and we are so appreciative for our time traveling Alaska, but we are also anxious and excited for the end of our season so we can spend more time together adventuring. We will also be able to reunite with his dog Shilo in the fall, who we (especially he) miss terribly. We have been living and traveling together in a 1975 Toyota Chinook pop-up camper since last fall up until our drive to Alaska this spring, and the recent time apart has been tough. We are maintaining an appreciation for the now, but also looking forward to the future!

I awoke with Goose early this morning to see him off and then was able to go back to sleep for a few more hours. The day was then spent doing a few chores and errands, catching up with my friends over the phone, packing up for the trip tomorrow and cooking a dinner for the following night on the ferry with the new group. I would love to stay up late catching up on more "home" things but I need to head to bed soon as I have an early morning and a busy and hopefully adventure filled trip ahead. I am feeling rejuvenated tonight and looking forward to see what this next week will bring.

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Long days

Yesterday was another long day. I had tried to prepare myself for the day ahead, even taking a nap on the incredible whale watching glacier cruise we had taken on a small boat the day prior and then going to bed fairly early in anticipation of long day I knew I had coming, but no matter what, the travel day from Seward to Denali always kicks my butt.

I awoke in Seward at 6am after a restless night sleep in a hotel where the early rising fisherman intermittently stirred me from my slumber starting at 3:30am. After a group breakfast at the restaurant next door we loaded into the van northbound for Denali National Park. The skies were cloudless and blue in Seward, our fifth day in a row of beautiful weather, but as we headed further north we began to experience the rain and clouds that had been predicted for the area. After nine hours on the road we pulled into Denali, the group ready for a short hike even in the rain. As they hiked I picked up our campground reservations, wilderness tour tickets for the following day and made confirmations and reservations for the upcoming activities for the weekend. I then picked the group up from their hike, where they encountered a moose with her calve, and we drove further into the park to set up at Savage River Campground.

The rain lightened for us enough to allow a fairly dry set up of camp. After setting up appetizers I made an ice run to replenish the "bar" and ice chests that were in need after a couple of days in the trailer and returned to serve some hot tomato soup while we waited for the lasagna cooking in the dutch oven. The rain continued to pour down on us creating rivers and puddles around our tents and wet clothes and shoes for most of us whenever we moved out from under our kitchen shelters. Hot food and hot after dinner drinks helped to keep us warm. We discussed the plans for the following day in the park, packed sack lunches, did dinner dishes and packed away camp into bear proof boxes and the trailer. Once everyone was settled in bed close to midnight I set up my tent quickly and crawled in completely exhausted from the eighteen hour day.

The rain never let up during the night but as we rose for breakfast at 7am we did receive a short break from the moisture in the sky. Once the group headed out for their wilderness tour in the park I finished the breakfast dishes/clean up and crawled back in bed to catch a couple more hours of much needed slumber. When I rose a bit later, feeling much more refreshed and in a much better frame of mind, I headed towards the visitors center and cell service range in order to finalize reservations and activity options for the following days. The drive down the park road boasted views of the surrounding mountains with a fresh cover of snow from the previous night and expansive tundra dotted with sparse trees all illuminated by the occasional sun peeking through the clouds that still moved across the sky. I marveled at how much I appreciated a little sun after nothing but dark clouds for even only a brief period of time.

 I now sit at the campground mercantile to use the free wiifii and will return to camp soon in order to make a birthday cake for one of our group members and to meet them for the night we have planned at the local brewery for dinner and drinks.I am excited to hear about their trip into the park and hope they have many wildlife photos and stories to share with me. After dinner hopefully we can return to camp early enough to enjoy cake and conversation by the fireside as this will be my last night with the group and I have really enjoyed our time together. I will drop them at a park hotel tomorrow for their final few days in Alaska and I will return to base camp to ready myself and equipment for another camping tour across the state leaving the following day.

It is the peak of our busy time of year and I am starting to feel the affects of the past twenty five long days of work without a break, yet I am still trying to maintain a balance of positive energy and constant appreciation for each moment of every day. I truly do love this life.

 

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Lunch Break

Lunch break at Lower Russian Lake. I took the group, a family of three generations, to the falls to watch the sockeye salmon spawning in the river and then we hiked an additional three miles to the lake where we are now lounging on the beach after lunch. Some of the group took the canoe that is at the lakeside forest service cabin out for a paddle on the glass like waters while the rest of us are napping on the dock and gravel at the waters edge. The sky above is a cloudless blue, loons on the lake edge echo their haunting call across the water and four bald eagles are circling overhead climbing higher and higher into the sun filled afternoon sky. 

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Amazing Alaska

My work week began with a ferry ride across the Prince William Sound. A five hour boat ride amongst spruce and boulder covered islands with dramatic cliffs that dropped to the ocean below, intense blue icebergs bobbing in the waves, whales that lunged for food in the rich waters and sprayed into the sky in the distance, otters that napped on their backs floating through the seas and stellar sea lions that sunned themselves under the blue skies. I was traveling with a group of nine campers and together we lounged on the back deck of the boat, slathered in sunscreen, constantly rising to take photos of the glaciers and breathtaking mountains that created the backdrop of an already amazing paradise.

We arrived in Valdez in the evening and set up our tents on the green grass in front of the waterfall that flowed through our campsite. We gathered around the fire until almost midnight never exactly sure of the time as the sky was still light from the sun that lingers for most hours of the day.

The next morning I set the group off for a full day of sea kayaking, a little disappointed that I was unable to join them due to a full boat, but content knowing I would have future opportunities to paddle at sea and excited for them to have this experience on yet another beautiful day in Prince William Sound. I spent the afternoon doing a few camp chores, reading and napping in my hammock and catching up on some computer time in the library. I met the group in the evening and after dinner out we spent some time looking for bears and watching the thousands of salmon fighting their way up stream to spawn. The night ended around the campfire and then I climbed into my sleeping bag under the open sky next to the waterfall.

Day three we drove north on the Richardson hwy through steep canyons, past towering waterfalls and over a large pass stopping at glaciers and other beautiful sites for many photo opportunities. In the afternoon we walked across the bridge at the Copper river and began our 59 mile drive down the bumpy dirt road that dead ends in the very, very small town of McCarthy. McCarthy and the old copper mining town of Kennicott are set in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, with over 13 million acres of pure wilderness only accessible via plane or the one dead end road that we were traveling . It is home to approx. 14 local residents in the winter and it my very favorite place in Alaska. 

We set camp on the edge of the Kennecott river at the base of two glaciers and Mt. Blackburn which towers behind the glaciers at over 16,000 ft in elevation. The following day in McCarthy some of the group headed out on the glacier for exploring in crampons and ice climbing some of the sheer walls while others headed out to climb a mountain on a nine mile hike to an old mine site.

After the group were all on their way to the days activities I got to fulfill my dream of seeing the enormous wilderness that is Wrangell St. Elias national park from the air. As a guide I get the amazing perk of enjoying the activities in Alaska at little or no charge and more than anything I had wanted to go flight seeing in this breathtaking place. I boarded a small Cessna plane and flew with the pilot to the town of Chitna where we picked up four other passengers. We then returned to McCarthy where we  proceeded to take the most mind blowing aerial tour of huge mountain peaks, enormous glaciers, ice falls and uninhabited forests that stretched far beyond where we could see. The trip brought me to tears of happiness and left me speechless. I am so incredibly grateful for each moment of my life, but the moments spent in the air over this wild place brought my gratitude to a new level. 

I look forward to the rest of the week I will spend with this group as well as the rest of the summer I will spend guiding and playing in Alaska. I am sure I will have many more incredible moments but I imagine this experience will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

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No kitchen needed

I love to cook. The wandering lifestyle that I now lead leaves me without a kitchen to indulge in my culinary passion so I have had to find new ways to fulfill my desire to create meals that do not come pre-packaged. 

On the camping trips that I guide I cook all of the meals and have access to four propane run burners which allow me a lot of cooking creativity on the stove top. My latest outdoor cooking tool obession however has been the cast iron dutch oven.

Last season I was introduced to this method of cooking and prepared many lasagnas, mexican casseroles and brownies for my groups. Then in the fall I purchased my own small dutch oven to use on the road and since that time have been experimenting with many new recipes. 

The concept is fairly simple. Heat the cast iron from below as well as on top and bake as you would in an oven at home. Using charcoal is the quickest and most consistent form of heat, but cooking on a wood fire also works. 

During the spring  as I traveled around Alaska with my boyfriend Goose and our friend Not Ryan (many of my friends are known by nicknames or trail names) we decided to try a new dutch oven recipe every day. Most recipes were successful, cookies however were not. Our successes included biscuits and gravy, a variety of muffins and cakes, chili, hash brown and egg casseroles. Our favorite experiment however was a bacon lined baked macaroni and cheese. We covered the bottom of the dutch oven with strips of bacon and then filled the dish with a pre-cooked macaroni and cheese (we used Annie's deluxe  brand) to which we added more crispy bacon, fresh spinach, sautéed garlic & onions, then we topped with shredded cheddar. The bacon on the bottom made a crispy crust for the rich and creamy macaroni dish. I have since made variations of this dish, including vegetarian versions and all have been amazing! Tonight I experimented with the double high stacked dutch oven cooking method... lasagna in the bottom cast iron and brownies in the top dish with layers of charcoal in between. I was impressed with how the tower looked and even happier when both dishes turned out so well.

Goose recently purchased a cast iron deep dish pan with a lid that can double as a skillet. He has made a couple of great breakfast dishes with his new kitchen toy. We hope to continue to grow our cast iron collection, although will need a living space larger than our current tiny mobile home in order to house the collection that we dream of someday owning. Until that time we will enjoy experimenting with the cast iron that we own and the ever increasing list of dishes that we would like to try and make.

Cooking over a campfire has always been an extremely enjoyable experience. Cooking in cast iron is a tried and true incredible tool. Combining the two to indulge my culinary passion has been a lot fun and I am super excited to continue to create new tasty delights to share with others, no kitchen needed!

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Another day on the job

An nine hour drive from the Alaska coast in Seward to the interior of Alaska at Denali National Park. It is a drive I do almost weekly, a drive I have done more times than I can count and it is just another part of my job as a Guide. At the end of the day I am exhausted, especially after an early morning to set up breakfast, a mid day lunch break, arriving at night to set up camp, cook dinner and get everybody lined out for the following day of activities. At midnight I finally  crawl into my sleeping bag, too tired to even be bothered with setting up a tent. Yet I still linger here at the edge of the lake and marvel at the colors of the sky as the sun dips behind the horizon for just a few hours. A full rainbow brightens the clouds behind me and touches the mountain top in the distance. The wind makes the quaking aspen dance overhead. I reflect on the conversations enjoyed with the people I have been spending the week with. People who have traveled here for a vacation that they will always remember, one that hopefully exceeded their imaginations. A journey that perhaps they have dreamed of for many years. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this journey with them and to be a part of these memories that they will cherish. 

Even though as I lay in my bed knowing I need to be up in five hours to cook breakfast, and my body aches, and my head throbs I am still overwhelmingly happy that I can call this my job.  

 

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Genesis Hike

It has been decided to name the short "weekend" backpacking trip that Goose and I squeezed into our two and a half days off in between guiding camping tours "The Genesis Hike". The genesis of my re-entry into the blogging world, the genesis of Goose's commitment to re-enter the world of YouTube videos, the genesis of our adventure lifestyle and future in Alaska, and even more specifically the genesis of the decision to plan our most recent upcoming adventure trip, hiking the Hayduke Trail. I'm sure I will be getting into great detail about that upcoming hike in future writings, so for now I will focus on the hike I am currently enjoying, the Genesis Hike, on the Goldmint trail in the Independence Mine area of Alaska.

I returned from my last guiding trip on Wednesday night. Goose and I turned over all the gear, washed the van/trailer, did some laundry, showered and were on the road just after 11pm, the night sky as bright as the early evening. After a beer run we headed for the mountain area behind town and were soon camped at the trailhead for the night. The next morning over coffee we realized in our haste to leave base camp Goose left his backpack behind. Although we could have continued with just his daypack and without his hiking clothes we decided to return for the pack as well as a few other things we could pick up while in town. After the town run we returned to the trailhead, baked some macaroni and cheese in a bacon lined cast iron dutch oven over a wood fire, packed our packs and got on trail around 6pm.

The mild trail meandered along the banks of Little Suisitna River, through fields of multi-colored wildflowers, and deep into a canyon surrounded by glacier topped cliffs and steep rock faces. We marveled at the beauty along the way, enjoyed the opportunity to hike at our own quick paces, stopped to observe the beaver dam lined and pools with large lodges and beavers busy working mid-day oblivious to the sun as they are lacking the typical nocturnal part of their brain this far north. We chatted most of the hike and when we fell silent we hollered out the occasional, "hey bear!" to warn the possible critters in the woods of our approach. When we reached the end of the canyon we worked our way up the left side and found a huge squishy tuft of tundra grass where we set up camp for the night.

The original idea for this hike (I approach most aspects of life with only ideas vs. plans to keep options flexible) was to follow the Goldmint trail to an saddle in the mountain range to the left, cut across the saddle and join with the Archangel trail which we would then follow back to the road leading to where we had parked. However the following day after a leisurely morning enjoying our camp spot and coffee we realized that we had hiked too far the previous day, at least to be able to easily return to the car the following day in order to return to work by noon, and would have to remain in the area and return via the Goldmint trail the next morning. With less pressure to not have to bushwhack over a mountain ridge this day we set off on a climb for an afternoon of adventure. After climbing to the top of a waterfall we settled in next to the river hot from the climb and the intense Alaska sun. We had a picnic by the water, drank our ice cold beers we had chilled in the stream and lingered in the sun. Later in the day what we had thought to be a totally isolated mountain top was interrupted by two hikers cresting the ridge below us just in time to disturb some naked hippie napping in the grass. We decided to pack up our bags and head back down the ridge line to find a camp spot for the night.

We again dined by the river and then stashed our bear can and other smelly items away from both our dinner spot and our tent. We returned to bed where we read out loud to each other for a little while (we are just finishing Edward Abbey's 'Monkey Wrench Gang') and then fell asleep.

We had to rise early the next morning as we needed to be back at base camp to work that day. We used an alarm (typically not allowed on my backpacking trips) to rise before the sun and after coffee we headed down the mountain side to find the trail we had left behind a couple days earlier. After returning to the well beaten path we had a beautiful morning hike to start off our day. We spent much of the time on that morning walk discussing our upcoming plans for the fall hike and our dreams for even farther in the future. No matter where each day takes us I know it is likely to always be an adventure.  

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