Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Top Of The World

The top of the world - or at least the top of the city of Juneau AK.  I left the hotel this morning intending to find a restaurant to eat breakfast before doing some wandering around downtown and through the back section of the city.  Only - well, there's nothing open in downtown Juneau at 9 on a Sunday morning, so any hopes of breakfast quickly disappeared.  So......with a pack containing only a bottle of water, a camera and an extra fleece I started to walk uphill to the old section of Juneau.
The picture (above) was taken from the top of one of many sets of stairs you can find around the city that connects one road with another through the back hilly section of Juneau.  This picture is looking down over the stairs, and the road view, all the way from the top of Juneau down to the Gastineau Channel at the bottom.

The State Capital building
I took a picture of this little house because it was one of the homes I had been looking at on the internet, and I just happened unexpectedly to come across it in my travels this morning.  I'm sure it's a nice little house but take a look at the distance between the roof line of the yellow house and the roof line of the blue house beside it.  No no no.  That will never work.  The front yard (such as it is) from the house to the little picket fence is only a couple of feet.  Do people really live like this?  Really?  I don't remember off-hand what the asking price for this house is, but you cannot find a detached house for under $225,000 in Juneau.  No.  That would never work.........
After wandering higher into the back section of Juneau I eventually made it to where I think I subconsciously was drawn to from the get-go.  Basin Rd which leads to (among others) Perseverance Trail.  There is also a house on Basin Rd that I have been eyeing since I was first offered my new job a few months ago.  A run down, large home that leads directly to the trails and that has definate possibilities.  Perhaps.  At some point in the future when the future on a personal level is a little more predictable than it is now.
At this point on Basin Rd I was only 5 minutes from homes and town, and yet it quickly became obvious as I continued travelling down this paved/gravel road, that the area up ahead would become increasingly rugged.  From the vantage point of this bridge the mountains lay more than 3000 feet in the air directly on both sides of me, I was surrounded by towering pine trees (so big that I could not capture them with my camera) and a fast moving stream raged below me.
And I was completely unprepared for such impending ruggedness. 
What the heck was wrong with me?  My outdoor clothing and much of my outdoor gear (including first aid kit, whistle, knife, compass, headlamps etc) had indeed arrived at the hotel.  Why hadn't I dug that stuff out if I was going to be walking in such areas?  Why was I out there without food?  When I was already undernourished from little food over the past couple of days?  Come on Karin - get it together woman............. 
It doesn't show up well in this picture, but part of the swollen stream raging below me
After walking on gravel and black top for a while I veered onto one of the trails (Mt Roberts) and hesitatingly started to climb.  The elevation gain was steep, and the easy-on-the-legs pine needle and moss covered trail was also filled with large amounts of exposed tree roots, making the walking challenging.
Everything in this town is covered in moss, and that includes everything on the trails - the trees, the rocks, the roots -  everything.  It was a beautiful rugged trail (and yet again, another sign of my lack of preparation is that my camera battery died during the hike), but I was very aware of the fact that this was prime bear country.  And with temperatures in the low 40's right now I wondered if there was a possibility I might waken a slumbering 4-legged beast.   
Thankfully no bear sightings, but I ended up cutting the walk way too short.  After being out and about for only 3 hours I headed back to town to find food, but also with the new resolution in my mind that I will not wander again without better preparation.  I should know better.  I do know better. 
As beautiful as this area is, and as quickly as you can transition from populated areas to isolated wilderness areas in Juneau I need to carry the right gear for such adventures.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Right Place For Us?

Snow capped mountains off in the far distance.  I zoomed in as far as I could to take this picture, which is why it is a little fuzzy...  ....
And here are some pictures taken from the balconey of my hotel room two evenings ago (at the end of the day and with very little daylight left), looking across the channel at Douglas Island:
I left the hotel this morning around 10am and set out to walk across the bridge to Douglas Island and explore on foot.  Some pictures taken while still on the Juneau side of the channel:
View of the channel - taken from the center of the bridge that connects Juneau with Douglas Island:
Douglas side of the bridge looking back towards Juneau:
Once I crossed over to Douglas Island I decided to head north, away from the highest density areas and the small town of Douglas proper.  I walked along the side of Douglas Highway, which it turns out is a fairly busy road, with high hopes of walking away from residences altogether and making it to wide open space and unobstructed channel and island views.  I regretfully never made it that far, partially because I am easily distracted these days.  While wandering along the road I saw a side trail with wide open gates and no signs, that looked like "off the beaten path" and impulsively decided to take it and see where it went:
Unfortunately I got less than 1/2 mile and saw this, so had to turn back:
Continuing on Douglas Hwy north I eventually came to a mobile home park that I had heard about in various real estate listings, and decided to check it out while I was there.  I actually called about one mobile home while I was at the park (not a bad place as mobile home parks go......), left a message, and then took a few pictures of the mountains and water before moving on again. 
(Somebody's got a problem....)
As I left the mobile home park I was very aware of the fact that had I been in Tennessee right now, I would not even have considered for one moment, the mobile home that I had just called about......Moving on.......
I walked down N Douglas for about 90 minutes in total, and when I realized that I was not even close to getting away from residential and into open channel, I decided to head back the way I had come.  I will have a mountain bike by next weekend and will give it another shot then. 
More pictures of the mountains and water as I headed back to the bridge:
By the time I got back to the bridge I had decided that I was not ready to head back to the hotel yet, and continued straight, walking towards Douglas Island south.  I have been south a couple of times since I arrived in Juneau and knew that the area was filled with still more mountain and channel views, in addition to very high density homes - some pricey water-front houses, but mainly housing of the apartment/duplex/condo variety, and plenty of mom and pop-type restaurants.  Your typical small village.
Douglas is a charming little town, and Douglas Island is a huge and magnificant mountainous region.  But as I was walking, and looking at the homes, and thinking about the mobile homes and the condos and the apartments and the houses on top of each other, yet again I could not picture myself and my mountain boy and my dog living in any of these places and being happy.  And there it is again..........trying to picture us all's still difficult to do. 
At the far end of south Douglas (at least as far as is developed) is yet another wharf, and as usual I am deeply attracted to these boats and felt compelled to photograph them.  Those are still Juneau mountains in the background.  I loved the boats, I loved the mountains and water.  And I really loved the houseboats:
And finally I made it to the very end of the paved roads on S Douglas and ran into the same beautiful view I enjoyed a few weeks earlier when I went exploring the old Treadwell mining trail with colleagues:
Coffee at one of those mom and pop places in Douglas before heading back, and almost 6 hours after leaving the hotel I returned tired, with the same aggravating sore right-hip I had last weekend, but otherwise feeling good.

When I look back on the pictures I took today I am again reminded that Juneau Alaska has a beauty that is unparalled.  So beautiful it can take your breath away.  So beautiful there are times I try to take a picture but give up before I even click the button on the camera, because I know that there is no way to capture in a picture the stunning scene that I am seeing in front of me.  The camera, and my amateur picture-taking skills could not possibly do it justice.
As overwhelming as the beauty of Juneau is though, the missing of family, the concerns about the job, the inability so far to find a home that I could picture my family living happily in, the concerns about whether or not family will really be happy here in this new, strange, foreign-feeling land consume.  I try to not let them, but sometimes they do anyway.  If my family comes here, they are here because of me, not because of some deep-seated desire to be in Juneau.  Because of my job.  Because I said yes to Juneau.  Is this the right place??  For us??  For all of us??  I still don't know yet.

Society speaks and all men listen, mountains speak and wise men listen....John Muir

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Home For The Next Month

Today was a busy day - number crunching again all day at work, moving furniture from the condo to another colleague's garage (some of which I had bought, and some which the colleague had bought from the Anchorage-bound room-mate), and finally moving into the extended stay hotel.
The weather in Juneau continues to confound me.  Yesterday it was so foggy for a few miles on the way to work, that I literally could not see either the Gastineau Channel or Douglas Island.  It had been clear all the way from Auke Bay to Mendenhall Valley.  Once at the valley the channel and island completely diseappeared in the fog, only to reappear again a few miles later. 
A few days earlier fog covered the same area, but was not as widespread.  I saw something that morning that I had not seen before - low lying fog, and mountain peaks above the fog (making it appear that the mountains were literally floating in the air).  An amazing sight, but one time when I did not have my camera at the ready.
Tonight my now ex-room-mate and I travelled from sunny and clear to socked-in fog again, within just a few miles of each other.  There are literally different weather fronts every couple of miles in the Juneau area, making even local travel an interesting adventure.
I am pleased to have moved into the extended stay hotel.  I have a nice room, for a very reasonable off-season price, with a water-front view and a balcony right downtown.  Between the convenience, the price, the location and the solitude it is a good move for me now.  My head is tired these days, and social niceties with strangers (both those I come in contact with at work and while staying in someone's home) take more energy than I have to give or want to expend.  A very good move.
While dropping off furniture today I came in contact with my colleague's two dogs, who were happy to see me after having spent their entire day alone.  Happily I took a few minutes to pet and love on them, and they were sweet dogs, who enjoyed the attention.  But these sweet-natured mutts reminded me of how much I miss my own dog.  Which reminded me of how much I miss my Tennessee mountain boy.  Which reminded me of how much I miss my son, and my house and my truck.  Damn.......

The pictures were taken from the car again today, in late afternoon sunshine while on trips to and from my various destinations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Mountains Will Be Mine

The reoccuring themes of Juneau include water, pine trees, ravens, eagles, bears and, of course, the mountains.  Over the past few weeks I have greatly enjoyed experiencing most of these things (the bears are all sleeping :-) The mountains especially for me, are a joy to see and feel.  They are always with you - wherever you turn, wherever you look, silently towering over, encircling and embracing the residents of the entire city.
Scenes from downtown Juneau taken on a walk from one workplace to another this afternoon.

This raven was noisily yelling his distinctive call from a lamp post downtown when I snapped this picture.  

Interesting architectural art outside the post office

I have been in Juneau for 18 days now.  It feels so much longer than that.
Professionally I have been deeply imbedded in a comprehensive budget process that has taken up almost all of my work time since I landed in Juneau.  The process is made even more complicated by the fact that I am evaluating and restructuring long-standing fees, program schedules and staffing schedules while at the same time piecing together a budget for a long-standing facility as well as a new facility scheduled to open a year from now.  A huge job - one that has moved too slowly but is moving forward none-the-less.  The end is in sight and that is a good thing.  When this process is done I can move on to other issues that require my attention, and that also is a good thing.

With preparing to move into the hotel tomorrow and work pressures I have not had a structured workout all of this week.  On the plus side I have made a point to walk part of the way home each evening, and have managed to get in 9 miles over the past three days.  After my bike clothes arrive from Tennessee (scheduled to be waiting for me at the hotel tomorrow if UPS is as good as its' word) it will open a world for me that I have not been able to embrace since I reinjured my knee in September.  The mountains of Douglas Island will be mine to ride............... 
It will be mostly road riding for now - the mountains and the weather at elevation are both too harsh to wander off road alone.  When there is someone close that I can let know where I am I'll start to wander off the beaten paths of the island.  But not until then.  There are more than enough paved and gravel hills for me to travel until my LC finds his way to Alaska.