Thursday, March 17, 2005

South to HI

The North to AK faction is on vacation next week, starting on Friday! Galileo, the wonder dog, would be excited about going to the dog resort, but he has little understanding of future tense. Frank and I, however, are looking forward to our trip to Maui.

Packing is always interesting with Frank and I. Frank is a planner, and is already getting his clothing arranged around the house. His strategy: Take mostly old things that can be thrown away during the trip.

As those of you who have travelled with me can imagine, I am not following this strategy. In my self-fulfilling role as "the one who is always prepared", I must take many things. On my list -- my backpack, two camelbacks, cold weather gear (it gets cold on the volcano), sunscreen, various complicated and "very technical" clothing, sunglasses, two cameras, hats, various medical supplies, biking apparel...well, it's a long list. In typical fashion, I don't plan on actually packing until tomorrow afternoon unless prodded. But don't worry, I can probably figure out how to get it all packed by 3am or whenever we are leaving AK on Saturday morning.

We usually make our list of activities on the plane, but I started last night -- Snorkeling, Mountain Biking, Spelunking, Whale Watching, Kayaking, Hiking. Also on the list is powered paragliding and kiteboarding, but those are more iffy. Of course, we might not do all of these, or we might need a vacation to get over our vacation (or injuries)!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

March Madness!

I remember walking towards the corner of Euclid, like thousands of others in town, to watch the crowd after UK won the finals. Euclid and Patterson was the epicenter of celebration, and you could tell from miles away. In fact, I never made it actually to the corner -- it was amazing how many people could be fit into such a small block.

Everyone was in a good mood, although of course you had some students who took things too far. Considering the fact that I can count the times I have "whooped it up" in any sense of the word in one hand, I remember feeling safer knowing that the riot police were on hand. The next day we heard stories of cars being turned over, and a guy who climbed to the very top of the sign on the corner to wave a UK flag. He had to stand up there for hours until they could bring in a firetruck to bring him down.

But the fact remained that the tournament is a magical, jubilant time in the Bluegrass, and I will never forget the two (2!) national championships that were won while I was there.

So, when I look at the brackets for the NCAA tournament, I feel especially compelled to choose Kentucky to go as far as possible, eventhough I don't really watch basketball much at all. I would love to be part, just in a little way, of a national championship again. So I've put together my brackets, using my tried-and-true methodology, using my first impressions of the team colors, mascots, and whether I have actually see them play or not. Oh, and UK going all the way to the finals :).

UPDATE: Anne also remembers the Euclid corner! BTW, Memoirs of a Geisha is a great book! And Anne, don't worry about the marathon as well -- we'll be back in town in the summer, maybe we can do a 5k or something?

Sorlie Wins!

Robert Sorlie, a firefighter from Norway, has won the Iditarod. He was slowing down a bit, but noone could catch this guy.

At this point, four mushers have finished - Sorlie, Ed Iten, Mitch Seavey, and Bjornar Andersen.

But it's not done yet for many -- there are many mushers who will not make it to Nome for a few days yet!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Collaborations is Up!

Amy is a great friend from graduate school who is an artist, and is exceptionally talented in so many ways. Her mosaic work was also featured in Extreme Makover Home Edition this last weekend!

Please check her website out!

Alaska Sealife Center

This weekend, Frank and I went to the Alaska Sealife Center, down in Seward. Seward is a beautiful town on the Kenai Peninsula, about 125 miles from Anchorage.

It was funny, but Frank and I had been a bit down on Alaska lately, I think mostly due to the fact that it's been cloudy, yucky, and there is no snow to ski on. When we decided to go to the Sealife Center, it was a last minute decision based on the fact that we had nothing better to do on Saturday.

Well, I'm glad we went. The highway to Seward from Anchorage is the most incredible roads in the world. It certainly rivals Highway 1 and the road from Sedona to the Grand Canyon in my book. Every time I drive this road, I feel how incredibly lucky we are to live in a place so incredibly beautiful. Right now, the bushes are this deep red color, and the trees themselves are kind of a brownish purple. In the mix is evergreens as well, and of course, black rocks and brown dirt. On the right side, you have the silver/blue color of the Turnagain arm, which contrasts with the grey mud flats (depending on tide) and the white mountains on the other side of the arm.

The arm itself is very interesting. The tide here changes 35 feet within a day, making the arm very difficult to negotiate, which is why you never see boats out there. Because of the tide changes, you are never, ever to walk out onto the mud flats -- if you get stuck, you could drown very fast. There is something called a bore tide, is the first wave of an incoming tide. In order to see it, you have to really know the tide tables, which I don't know anything about (yet).

I can't wait to see what it looks like in a few weeks(?) when things turn green as well!

The Kenai Peninsula is beautiful as well, and it looks like they got significantly more snow than we did in Anchorage. It's weird to see street signs almost completely covered in snow. To get to Seward, you go right through this pass of mountains so that everywhere around you is beautiful white mountains, and all these tracks of various snow sports along it. In general, the terrain reminds me a lot of Italy/Switzerland, with these big glacial lakes that are the most incredible blue color. Then, you get to Seward AK and Resurrection Bay. An incredible city, along this incredibly beautiful bay. This is where many of the Cruise ships depart from (the other place being Whittier).

At the edge of the bay is the Alaska Sealife Center. Since AK has so much coastline and this coastline harbors some of the most incredible animals, the Alaska Sealife Center conducts incredibly meaningful research while also educating the public. We got to see Sea Lions, harbor seals, multitudes of birds (right there, with nothing between you and the beautiful creatures). They also have built a way to monitor remote sea lion areas without disturbing the environment too much. This is also where Aurora and her brood are hiding as well.

Anyways, if you are ever in the area, really the Sealife Center is completely worth it, and you should go.

Friday, March 11, 2005

March comes in like a Lion....

Well, I think the weather is changing. Although the snow is not completely gone enough to see new shoots of grass, it's clear that the 40 degree temperatures we've experienced, to the chagrin of Outsiders in the midst of a cold snap, aren't going anywhere fast.

However, with warm fronts and cold fronts mixing around the mountains, hillside is in the midst of some crazy weather. Last night, I woke around 1am to hear little ice pellets hitting the windows and wind shaking the house. It was shaking the house repeatedly...with these big whoosh sounds that sound like when an explosion or sonic boom occurs around you. It was so bad that, even at 1am, I took a stroll around the house looking for damage. All I felt missing from this adventure was swirling winds, and perhaps a thunder crack or two, but Anchorage has no tornado sirens and thunderstorm warnings are unheard of.

Today at sunrise, I watched the tree twice as tall as my house sway about 15 degrees to the side in the wind. I was also very annoyed at someone's wind chimes which have not ripped off the deck (yet). And we are still getting that whoosh blast of wind that sounds like someone is slamming the door constantly.

Now, in the afternoon, suddenly I look up and realize that all the clouds are completely gone, and the sun is out. Should I believe it's spring yet?????

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Is Spring here?

Here are some pictures of Puppy, taken on a beautiful sunny day last week. I am still not sure that spring has really sprung here (I see snow and rain coming down the mountain), but you can definitely feel everyone in town "waking up". I have even seen grills in the grocery store!

I am not getting my hopes up though. As a midwesterner, I am always waiting for that last awful snowfall/ice storm/cold snap, late enough that the tulips get mangled. I am not going to give into spring fever until the last bit of ice is gone from the sidewalks at least!

Good closeup of Galileo

Puppy's interested in the camera

Galileo posing for the camera

Trail update, Wednesday

Here I have been waiting for a space of time where I can post my pictures from the Iditarod start in Anchorage this weekend, but now Hello/Blogger picture posting is down! Argh! I'll try to post some pictures later when I can.

Saturday, Ceremonial Start in Anchorage
On Saturday, we went to see the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage. Although the 11 mile trip does not count, it's a celebration of those who are brave enough to race, and everyone has a great time.

It's the only time in Anchorage where you hear men, women and children all shout "Bootie! Bootie!" on the street. No, not that type of bootie, but the booties that the dogs wear along the trail. Apparently, dog booties wear out incredibly easily and a musher will go through thousands of them on the trail. However, in this case, the Iditariders (people who pay lots of money to sit in the sled for the start) will throw out sometimes-autographed booties to spectators.

Frank and I saw almost all 80 mushers (we missed a few as we skipped a few blocks). After reading "Back of the Pack", I feel obligated to watch all of the teams to lend them all good vibes in order to help them finish the race. Frank, I think, was bored after about 2 hours, and kept slowly herding me towards the car, but not fast enough because we got to see number 80!

Current Update

The Iditarod is ON! The leaders are all on the trek from Ophir to Iditarod, which is a ghost mining town. In order:
1) Robert Sorlie
2) Ramy Brooks
3) Jeff King
4) DeeDee Jonrowe
5) Mitch Seavey

Bringing up the rear (Red Lantern leader) is Gary McKellar, a Michigan transplant now from Wasilla.

Also in the rear is Dallas Seavey, who broke his sled. He's the youngest driver in history since he turned 18 just before the race. Luckily Jacque Philip was scratching at the same time and gave Dallas his sled, which was very nice. In between Dallas and Gary is Sandy McKee, a medical technologist who was born a Buckeye.

The following people have scratched:
--Jacques Philip, who slammed into a tree on the way to Puntilla lake. He broke or dislocated his hand.
--Sonny Lindner
--G.B. Jones who had an awful time just out of Willow with dogs that would not lead. Pretty frustrating.
--Judy Merritt, who was not so happy on the happy steps. She knocked herself out for a time on the trail, thank goodness she made it to the next checkpoint!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Dog Sled Racing, Part 4: Final thoughts

Some final thoughts and reminders for you all about the Iditarod:

1) It starts TOMORROW in Anchorage at 10am ADT, but where to watch it????

For those of you out of state, it's streaming live at the iditarod homepage. You can also follow from the Anchorage Daily News.

It will also be showing on Alaska's Superstation (ABC) live as well. If you really can't watch tomorrow, OLN will be showing it starting on 4/2. I can't wait to see Al Trautwig cover the Iditarod after his odd coverage of the Tour last year!

If you do catch the start, Frank and I will be there...I will try to wave maniacally behind Al Trautwig if I can :).

2) Some people to watch (i.e. the Bob Costas Section):
--Team Norway, a group of Norwegians with a team type of plan.
--Martin Buser lost half of one of his fingers on Tuesday. Wife gets suspicious after husband and son go to doctor to "get stitches", and when Martin concedes that the finger might need more than stitches, she asks them to go to Anchorage instead. Now, if you were going to drive 1,100 miles on a dog sled in a few days and cut off your finger, would you not want to be realistic about cutting off your finger and go to the best hospital possible? Double-Duh. However, he does think this is a good omen, since big things always happen to him before he does really well in the race. We'll see...
--Jessica Hendricks could be a threat this year.
--Rachael Scdoris is legally blind and will be running the race -- the first legally blind musher to do so!

In other racing news, cycling season is kicking up! This week is Paris-Nice, and guess who will be there? Of course, Discovery Channel including Lance Armstrong! It will be on OLN all weekend, so go ahead and check it out!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Where's Fred? and a close encounter with Harvey

Two weekends ago, I went to the local grocery store (Fred Meyer), which is one mile from our house, for soymilk and another truckload of Diet Big K. Imagine my suprise while driving my cart uphill through the treacherous ice pasture known as the Fred Meyer parking lot to find Fred the moose (what else do you call a moose at Fred Meyer?) chewing on a tree less than 50 feet from the car. Galileo, the world's worst watchdog, of course was in the car napping, oblivious to the huge beast of an animal so close to the car.

So, after carefully putting my groceries into my trunk, I carefully drove past the moose, who never gave Galileo or I much thought.

The next day, I had to go back to the store for some other items. Of course, Fred is still chewing the same tree, oblivious to the fact that his presence is somewhat disturbing. It was funny to see how people reacted -- I guess most Alaskans are used to moose -- but all that Fred got was acknowledgements and shrugs.

On Saturday after my trip, I was again going to the Fred Meyer for something we needed, and wondered whether I would see Fred again chewing on the tree. But no, he was instead right off the road less than a half mile from our house, chewing on another tree.

For a midwesterner, it's kind of disconcerting to know that an animal so large and unpredictable is so close to one's house. I mean, there are deer in Ohio, but deer don't kill people every year. Death by squirrels is unusual. Which makes the whole moose situation unnerving to me.

Whereas FEMA can tell me what to do in an earthquake, volcano, or tornado, there is no mention of moose procedures. According to Washington State (I assume their moose are of the same personality as ours), we should give them lots of room, or they will kick us down with their front hoofs and stomp us to death.

UPDATED: Yesterday, I got to put my new-found understanding of moose to the test when Frank and I went XC skiing at Russian Jack. We were almost all through our normal course when we made our normal left (in order to avoid the huge hill that neither of us has any desire to deal with yet). As usual, Frank was ahead of me by a bit. I stumbled a bit on some branches that had found their way onto the trail, and looked to the left to see a HUGE MOOSE eating a tree about 5-8 feet away! I immediately looked away (if you don't look at the moose, maybe it doesn't exist...) and skied very quietly, calmly, and as non-threatening as possible, up towards the clearing. Later, when Frank stopped so I could catch up with him, I asked him what he thought of the moose. He didn't see it! I can't believe it! Obviously, he was thrown off by the red nailpolish ( they can hide in cherry trees...have you ever seen a moose in a cherry tree? You see it works!). This moose I have decided to call Harvey.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Dog Sled Racing, Part 3: Iditarod History

As promised, let's start with the Iditarod trail. The Iditarod trail started as a way to send freight and mail to Alaskan miners, and was constructed by the Feds. It started around Seward and went to Nome, about 1,150 miles away. This all happened around 1910, but the trail was built upon a trail used for centuries by Native Americans and Russian fur traders. It was a very busy trail, with 120 teams travelling in a month, going about 50-70 miles at a time; the total round trip was more than three weeks.

What everyone tends to remember about the Iditarod trail was its' role in the 1925 Nome diptheria epidemic. They needed serum, and the closest place with it was Anchorage. Since an airplane flight was not possible, the next best thing was an assmbly of dog teams using the Iditarod trail. The best mushers of every town along the Iditarod trail (it was shipped from Anchorage to Nenana by the new AK railroad) were assembled and a relay of sorts was underway to get the serum to Nome as fast as possible.

The serum arrived in the nick of time, and hundreds of lives were saved. The entire country, who had been following the relay in the papers, were all very relieved. It was so memorable that a statue of Balto (Gunnar Kaasen's lead) stands in Central Park today, and Balto has his own Disney movie (ask any 5-10 year old who Balto is and they can tell you :) ).

Despite the glorious history of the Iditarod trail, it was forgotten until the 1960s when the chairman of the Wasilla-Knick Centennial, Dorothy G. Page, was looking for projects to celebrate AK's centennial year of 1967. She talked to Joe Redington Sr, who was a musher from the Knik area, who thought is was a super idea. After two short races in 1967 and 1969, in 1973 it went from Anchorage to Nome for the first time.

If you want more information, the pages listed are great for additional information. So..tomorrow let's talk about the race itself :)

UPDATE: Mom points out that I made a typo. I have fixed it. She also says one of her coworkers suggested Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry. If you like mysteries and are interested in Alaska, Sue Henry is definitely an author you should read.

Anne in NY

Anne was an awesome presenter at her NY conference and tells about her experience in NY. I wish we could have met for coffee in Montreal...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dog Sled Racing, Part 2: A Book for the Trail and things you might not know

Last week, I read Back of the Pack: An Iditarod Rookie Musher's Alaska Pilgrimage to Nome by Don Bowers.

The book chronicles the author's amazing, sometimes comical, transformation into an Iditarod finisher. Becoming a musher is a very complex undertaking, involving a lot of very particular equipment, skills, and, of course, dog understanding. Iditarod rookies have a lot to learn, and I think the enthusiasm that Don shows is indicative of the strength of these racers, no matter what place they finish in.

Anyways, the book is well-written and entertaining enough to occupy many hours on a plane. I highly recommend you go out and buy the book above.

5 things you might not know about Iditarod:
1) The Iditarod starts this weekend in Downtown Anchorage. This is a ceremonial start so it doesn't count against times.
After the shortened course through Anchorage (it will stop at Campbell Airstrip), the race resumes the next day at Willow this year. Usually it starts in Wasilla, but due to lack of snow, Willow will be the start of the "real" race.
2) The race is staffed mostly by volunteers, although the logistics that go into this race are staggering. Some numbers: If there are 75 mushers and 100 checkpoint volunteers, 200,000 pounds of supplies must be shipped to checkpoints by the Iditarod Air Force. Even with this great logistical feat, last-minute supplies will also be mailed last minute via US Mail to the various checkpoints.
3) There are checkpoints throughout the race, where mushers can pick up their resources from the food drop months ago. Many mushers think preparing the bags for distribution to the checkpoints is more stressful than the race itself!
4) Each musher carries a package, which is in memory of the great mushers ran the trail for shipping before airplanes were viable in the bush.
5) You have to be 18 to race -- Dallas Seavey, who comes from a most excellent mushing family, turns 18 the day before the start, so he will be the youngest musher in Iditarod history.

How about a little bit of history tomorrow??