Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Site on Clam Gulch

This post about an evening with friends on Clam Gulch is out of order because I had to collect pictures from numerous devices- no easy feat in a place where the internet moves slower than a glacier at best, but appears most content to simply stand stubbornly still. Oh, life on the edge (network)!
How we even landed on a beach in Clam Gulch to hang with two proud Eskimos, one from the north and one from the south central part of Alaska is a story that began five years ago in Nome. Kimi and I picked Nome from a map of Alaska as a destination for spring break. When most people were packing bathing suits and shorts, we packed x-country skis and snow pants, and headed north. We knew nothing about Nome except that it was on the water and Alaska airlines flew there. Perfect criteria for a vacation!
The town was crowded and full of life when we arrived. Little did we know that The All Alaska Sweepstakes, a 404 mile dogsled race that occurs every 25 years, was about to start. That meant no available seats at the pizza place that night! That's when I noticed a woman waving at us. I checked behind me, positive I was blocking one of her friends from joining the party, but there was only a wall. I pointed questioningly at myself and Kimi. She nodded, waved us to her table, and invited us to sit with her and her friends. Folks, we were about to meet Josie Stiles, our first and favorite Alaskan friend.
On our current trip, as it turned out, the way things sometimes do, Josie happened to arrive on the Kenai Peninsula from Nome at about the same time we arrived from Portland. She would be camping with a friend for a few days on Clam Gulch, a beach on the way to Homer where we were headed. Could we stop by and could we pick up a 12 pack of Beck's? Yes and yes!
In a few hours on a beach along the Cook Inlet thick with fog and Alaska rain, we dripped with laughter and fun more than we dripped with raindrops. From unexpectedly cleaning two halibut in a small freshwater stream to staying warm from a coal-driven fire (the coal came off the beach) and eagles flying overhead, Josie and her amazing friend, Donna, gave us yet another unforgettable time in Alaska.
See for yourself!

Carrying wood from across the fresh water and COLD stream to the fire

Getting closer!

About to get toasty!

A couple of fishermen caught two halibut and asked us to clean them.

Donna is up for the job, but not before bargaining for some of the catch

Doesn't get much fresher than this.

Mmm, tasty halibut tacos cooked by Chef Josie

Clam Gulch, AK - a beautiful place made better by two beautiful women - thanks Josie & Donna!

Update: In rereading and thinking about this post, I realized I missed some sort of essence about our time on Clam Gulch. The essence of standing in the rain around a campfire with friends, new and old, amazed it can all get so right; of watching a Yupik woman clean fish, the knife guided by a culture and old traditions; of beginning to understand how the Inupiaq know their land intimately, and can start a fire from wet driftwood and coal that comes from the sand; and finally, the essence of the question - are we really here - needing to be asked over and over again because the answer is nearly unbelievable.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Clam Gulch, Alaska

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fish Camp

We left the Homer Spit this morning with a personal escort who broke all speed limits.

The locals told us the Spit police were nasty, but even they don't mess with someone like this, allowing us to make good time to Ninilchik.

The fishing begins tomorrow. Ninilchik is a small fishing village on the Cook Inlet with a population of 883 - not counting eagles. We found our fish camp high on a bluff and quickly settled into some 5 star comfort.

The inside:

Five beds and two people means there is room to stretch. I've claimed at least one top and bottom bunk! Each bed comes with its own towel, a rough piece of sandpaper that has the roll back look of Walmart in better days. Drinking water is now something one buys at the store. The kitchen has been replaced by an enormous utility sink that smells of Lysol today, who knows what by morning.

But we love it. We love it because a porcupine joined us for dinner and a juvenile eagle nesting somewhere below rides the thermals high over the bluff fully delighting us each time she makes an appearance 15 feet from our front porch. We love it because Mt. Redoubt, the king of Alaska's ring of fire, looms large across the Cook Inlet keeping us all in check for one more day. All we can say is how beautiful it all is. Repeatedly.

I've mentioned before the graciousness of Alaskans - both dogs and people alike. We ran into this generosity again today when Sara, a local fisherman, gave us some of her fresh caught halibut to throw on our grill.

Later, we dined on fish and chips Ninilchik style...

aka halibut and Lays potato chips!

This fish camp, despite its inauspicious beginnings, has become one of our Alaska legends, a story and place never to forget. And who knows? Maybe the legend is only beginning - we go king salmon fishing tomorrow. On that note, I should crawl into one of my bunk beds and call it a night. The boat leaves at 5. Ahoy, and good night from Alaska.

Doing the dishes- "Camp clean."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Ninilchik, Alaska

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Morning on the Spit

The fog and steam from my coffee roll off Kachemak Bay early this morning.

On Alaska's long arm of the Kenai Peninsula, the call of the mountains meets the call of the sea. A line baited with hope is tossed, the outcome irrelevant. You're already hooked in the mouth, coming up for air, unwilling to suffocate on your own existence.

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Location:The Homer Spit, Alaska

Friday, July 13, 2012

North to Alaska

Again, my bearings pull north. On Wednesday, I landed in Anchorage, Alaska, got my fishing license (something that's worth more than a driver's license in these parts), and beat it out of the United States' northernmost city faster than one can say mush. My rented Chevy Impala complied and immediately turned south onto the Seward Highway and into the Chugach mountains.

We found our home until Saturday in Girdwood, an artsy little mountain community that cares about recycling, healthy living, and sustainability. In Girdwood, we also found a restaurant that serves King Crab legs by the pound (I'm sure mine were caught by the crew of the Wizard!), and another one that little black bears seem to prefer. As we sat at a table by the window eating yam fries, a young bear strolled by hoping for an easy dinner. Everyone, including the locals, were excited. I was happy for that window because I wasn't giving up my yam fries without a fight!

In addition to Girdwood's many bears, there are also quite a few trails to hike. Although I'm blaming the weather for not venturing out too far (it's been rainy and cold), it's really the bears that have me sticking close to home. We did a short hike at the edge of town yesterday to a pretty water falls, and the only wildlife we saw were three crazy dogs happy to be in the woods with their owner. I don't know - maybe I'm overthinking this bear thing?!?

Me looking around thinking, "This looks a lot like Oregon!"

With the summer solstice behind us, the days are getting shorter meaning we only have daylight for 18 and a half hours to cram things in. If you love long, stretched out days, Alaska in the summer is the place for you. Last night, wanting to build up my bear/trail comfort and feeling brave after a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, I decided to do one last hike just before 9 o'clock. However, I didn't fool everyone with my bravado because soon I had a sweet little friend for company.

She stayed with me through the entire hike, and even provided door service as she walked me all the way home and up the steps to my front door.

I've long thought the people of Alaska are some of the friendliest I've met; apparently, the dogs of Alaska are too.

Alaska loves me, loves me not.

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Location:Girdwood, Alaska

Friday, July 6, 2012

Here, now.

yearnings deepened by time,
awakened by promise,
stand still
where water meets the mountains.

here, now,
the future awaits,
and the past remains,
a confluence of time uninterrupted.

There's wisdom in these lakes.

Wisdom swimming in Mirror Lake.

Wisdom and I atop Tom, Dick, and Harry (nice name, huh?!?) Mountain, surrounded by the jewels of the Pacific Northwest- Mt. Hood, Jefferson, Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier. Standing at the summit with only one other hiker, his dogs, and Oregon stretched out around us, we marveled at our luck at living in such a beautiful place. Two people, three dogs, and five stunning peaks finally finding their shine after a long rain.

We took pictures for each other, and then Mark, the other hiker, prepared to head down, but not before offering me some chocolate. As I broke off a piece of the Toblerone, I rearranged the top 10 essential backpacking gear list I composed on the way up to include chocolate #'s 1-9. The world and trail are sweeter with chocolate that's shared.

Wisdom resting at the summit with Mt. Adams in the far distance.

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