Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A New Season Has Begun

This morning I travelled downtown for a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting.  The meeting was cancelled at the last minute, so I decided that since I was in downtown proper I would take advantage of that and go pay next month's rent at a bank.  The bank was not open yet..........I decided to drive across the bridge to Douglas and visit a colleague.  I visited for only a few minutes before feeling restless enough to move on.  I drove down to the harbor to take a few pictures before heading to my office.  I had enough time to take a couple of boat pictures and a couple of "end of road" pictures before it started to rain.  The morning did not get off to a rousing start......
There is something very compelling about Douglas S and the Treadwell Mining Trail.  It is a beautiful area, full of history, and sand and moss-covered mining artifacts, mountains and water and sandy beach.  A beautiful beach area on a beautiful and rugged island.
With concentration waning by late morning, and with it still raining, I drove down to the Salvation Army store in town and found a couple of very interesting things.  Xtratuffs made for a 3 or 4 year old child caught my attention and my fancy, and right now they are sitting on the stove in the kitchen that I have yet to start.
I have probably 6 or 7 pairs of Salomon trail running shoes.  I have been wearing Salomons as long as I have been adventure racing, and I love them - they are comfortable, stable and drain well (important in AR).  I always buy them on sale, but even then still usually pay $80 or so for a pair.  I have one pair up here in Juneau right now, and will have the rest of them up here eventually.  When they wear out they become paddling shoes.  I hate to throw them away, and they have to be falling apart before that happens.
I found these at the Salvation Army today - I paid $3 for both the xtratuffs and the Salomons.  The shoes are for my Mountain Boy (darn it - too big for me). 
On the way home for work I picked up a microwave at someone's house in Auke Bay.  It works fine (except it does not rotate).  I found it on Craigslist and got it for free.
By late afternoon it was mostly sunny and warm out.  This picture was taken at an overlook near the house on the way home from work.  Even though I was completely snowed in just a week ago, it is surely spring now in Juneau Alaska. 
The world is getting louder, as it has a tendency to do this time of year when it seems that every one and every thing is waking from slumber - there are more cars on the road, more boats in the water, more planes in the air, more birds in the trees.  And so it goes..........a new season has begun.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trails, Devil's Club, Moose Heads and Booyah Burgers

It was getting close to Mothers Day in Canada, my oldest son was about 8 years old at the time, and he wanted to buy me a gift with some money he had earned from doing chores.  We walked into a card store and he saw this little picture frame.  I pretended to be looking at something else at the time, so my young son could do his shopping in peace.  But I watched my boy as he picked up the frame, looked at the back of the frame where the price was, and it must have been a good price because even 18 years later I can still picture the excitment on his face when he realized he had found something nice at a price he could afford.  I have this frame up here in Juneau  A picture of my boy when he was around that same age has been in the frame for a very long time......

And just this minute while I am typing this, I just saw a little chipmunk through the glass door standing on my outside porch.  My dog Jamie would have been hysterical if she had seen him (as in "she would want to rip him a new one" hysterical)  :-)

On my last day of a long-weekend I again woke up feeling lost, out of sorts, and wondering how I was going to spend my day.   Feeling guilty about neither biking nor hiking this weekend, I decided that I would force my unmotived-self onto my bike.   And an hour later I looked out the window and it was pouring rain.  Which effectively killed what little motivation I had mustered together.  

I have had hypothermia a handful of times during my years as an adventure racer, and have been borderline hypothermic more times than I care to remember.  
Some of those occasions have resulted from exploits on the water during races - either getting tossed into freezing rivers, paddling in cold white water that splashed back at me for hours on end, sitting in cold water in the bottom of a boat, in one horrible occasion an extended very cold river swim, and (on still one other horrible occasion) an overnight canoe on the water in freezing rain and white caps. 
But mostly it has resulted from freezing cold and extended bike rides in the mountains and in the rain.
But even during those times I knew that I had team-mates, race staff and support crews to help me get healthy again before we went back out there. 
When I looked at the cold and heavy rain this morning, it did not take me long to back out of a planned bike ride.  Whenever I go out I am keenly aware of the fact that if something goes wrong (health, injury, mechanical bike failure etc.) that I don't really have anyone right now that I can call on. 
Which is why I at least call my Mountain Boy before I go out onto trails, tell him which trail, and call him when I get back out.   At least someone knows where I am......

I decided instead to take a short walk on a trail near Montana Creek - a residential park of sorts, easily accessible to the residents of the Valley.  I left Out the Road in pouring rain.  By the time I got to Auke Bay it was not raining (and in fact there were no signs that it had been raining at all this morning). 
View from the Montana Creek parking lot.
In addition to the sign (above) providing information on the trails, there were also signs indicating that the numerous fields along the way are filled with wildflowers during the summer.  I have seen this a few times in my travels around Juneau, and I hope that I get a chance to see these fields when they are in bloom. 
Someone at work had told me that the trail was only 2.5 miles long.  The sign at the start of the trail confirmed that, but also that that distance was on the paved trail. 
I walked the paved trail for a short while, quickly gettng bored.  As I continued along this path I encountered quite a few people walking their dogs, and also realized that there were numerous dirt trails pulling off on either side of the paved path.  On the spur of the moment I took one of those trails - wanting to explore - wanting to get away from people.....

The first dirt trail eventually hooked back up with the paved trail.  I took another one.  It also eventually hooked back in with the paved trail.  Once I realized the pattern, I just wandered, not really paying attention to either the time or my location.  Just trying to stay away from people and stay off pavement. 
I succeeded in both of those goals.  While I was on dirt trails I never crossed paths with another person.
Although most of the trails that I explored today were mossy, pine-needle and tree root filled, there were a couple that were completely covered with Devil's Club:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil's_Club
I had my introduction to this beast of a plant a few days after I arrived in Juneau.  I was walking on a technical trail, and made a grab for a sturdy plant to help with a balance check, without really looking at it properly first.  Ouch.  It is a sturdy, thorny nasty plant that you definately do not want to come into close personal contact with if you can help it.
An then unexpectedly and wonderfully, the sun came out. Sunshine wasn't in the forecast, but I determined earlier in the week that NOAA never updates their Juneau forecast anyway.  I don't question sunshine.  I just relish in it when it happens.
I had left the house without eating breakfast this morning, and after walking on trails for two hours started to feel hungry.  I had brought snacks with me, but have been living on nothing but cereal for a few days now, and decided that I needed a burger. 
My favorite burger restaurant that I have found so far is the Booyah Grill across from Auke Bay Harbor.  I have never been able to finish their 1/2 pound burger, but felt like I was up to the challenge today.  Hungry or not, I was going to wait and try and finish one of those monster burgers when I left the trail.
After 3 1/2 hours wandering aimlessly on trails, one last beautiful view of the mountains, glacier and fields of Montana Creek before heading to the Booyah.
Although I gave it my very best shot, I still did not succeed in finishing my burger and fries.  One of these days I will take more pictures of the restaurant.  It's not much - one section is non-descript bar, one section is even-less-descript restaurant, they have animal heads on the wall, and a magnificant view of the harbor from the windows.  They also have lots of good food at a good price, and the place suits my speed.  Some of the animal heads (the moose was watching me while I ate my burger - a little unnerving).
Next weekend I need to do a big, back-country, isolated trail hike...........

My growing blue-shell collection

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yet Again

The closest I have ever seen an eagle since my arrival in Juneau in early January.  This beautiful bird was about 15 feet directly above me at a beach area close to my house.

At 6:30 this morning I was woken up by the sound of strong rain and even stronger winds howling outside.  I could hear branches crashing against the tin roof of the house, and I looked out the window to see all of the very tall pine trees that surround my house bending precariously in the very strong winds.  I knew that it was going to be a raw, cold and wet day.

By mid-morning I was suffering from cabin fever, and even though it was cold, windy and wet, decided that I needed to go......somewhere.  After getting dressed (including two pairs of socks after my frozen toe experience of yesterday) I grabbed my pack and car keys and headed for the beach about 4 miles from the house.  When I arrived, the beach was empty and I wandered aimlessly along the beach, lost in introspection.  Far too much introspection these days.......
As I was picking up shells to add to my blue-shell-collection I saw something in the water.  It was a bird with a white head, I thought at first it was a seagull, and he was about a football field away from me.  I watched him only half-interested while he was head-bobbing, and then I realized that he was swimming towards the beach. 
I continued to watch him swimming towards shore, and as he got closer to shore, and as I got closer to him, I realized that he was not a seagull at all - that he was an eagle.
I stopped moving, and reached into my pocket for my camera. 
Finally he reached shore and walked out of the water.  I was still quite a ways from him, so couldn't tell what he was carrying.  But as he stood there, and then continually reached down with his head to the ground I realized that he had a fish.  That he had caught a fish, swam it to shore, and that he was now taking his time and enjoying the fruits of his labor......
As I continued to watch him feeding, I slowly kept walking in his direction - taking pictures every 20 feet or so and trying hard not to startle him.
Finally when I was less than 40 feet or so from him he must have decided that I had gotten close enough.  He grabbed the remainder of the fish in his beak and took flight.
He took his fish into the pine trees along the beach, I'm sure thinking that he could enjoy the rest of his meal in the trees.
As I put my camera back into my pocket I heard a huge screech coming from the trees, and immediately afterwards saw three eagles coming out of that same clump of trees, and frantically flying around.  It seems that others wanted his meal as well.........
After considerable noise and lots of short bursts of flight, they all quickly flew across the parking lot to the trees on the other side of the driveway.  I could see two of the eagles standing on branches of trees about 20 feet apart from each other, screeching angrily at each other. 
I quickly walked away from the shoreline, up the hill and across the driveway so I could follow what was happening between these angry eagles, while at the same time calling my Mountain Boy to share what was happening.
The eagles screeched at each other - one wanting the fish and the other most definately not willing to give it up.
They flew down onto the ground - one protectively eating and the other insisting on getting a share.
Until eventually they took flight again.  The picture at the very top of this blog is of the one eagle who decided to remain in the area, and while I took pictures of him from a safe distance he continued to loudly express his upset and displeasure.  He was not a happy camper.  The entire episode lasted about 5 minutes and was the most outstanding episode I have seen to date from these wonderful, beautiful and iconic birds.  It made my outing into the cold very very worthwhile.

After leaving the beach I drove down to the Auke Bay Recreation Area.  Walking down the long staircase from the parking area to the beach, it was obvious that I was now in an open water area - the wind was very strong and very cold.  But the picnic shelter provided cover for a few minutes while I stood and decided what I was going to do now that I was there. 
This part of the recreation area is a very civilized outdoor experience - paved trail, fancy picnic shelter, semi-circular retaining walls, nice benches, even a huge fireplace.  I could imagine my and my Mountain Boy walking this area and then sitting by a fire and just talking......
And with breath-takingly beautiful views of mountains, islands and channel.  Yes.......I could imagine us spending some time here in this wholly civilized outdoor experience.
I often look at these pictures that I take, and I very often realize that my little digital camera can never do SE Alaska justice.  The pictures are nice.  Sometimes they are even beautiful.  But this camera (as much as I love it because my oldest son gave to me) can never ever ever be able to truly capture the scope of the natural wonder of this place. 

And I look at the mountains in these pictures, and I know that they show one layer of mountains.  And that there are multiple layers of mountains that appear and disappear depending on how high or low or how dense the fog and clouds are,   On a clear day you can see forever.........
Even though it was very windy, I put on my gloves and pulled up the hood of my jacket and walked along the shoreline instead of walking on the paved trail - hoping to reach the clump of trees at the point. 
After walking for a while, taking pictures, wallowing in introspection still more, I realized that I would not be able to walk along the shore to the point - that I would run out of shoreline before then. 
I turned back, determined to find another way to get to that point.  The furthest most place on this beach.
Yesterday I needed to drive to the furthest most point of paved road.  There's deep meaning to that current need and desire I am sure...........
After some searching I found a trail that led to the point.......
Until I actually walked to and then saw this point, I did not realize that I had been to this place before.
A few days after I arrived in Juneau, my then room-mate gave me directions to the closest trail.  I walked that trail alone and greatly enjoyed the entire experience. 
The point I reached today was the same point that I reached on that day almost 3 months ago.  It was just as cold and windy on that day months ago, as it was today.  The two trails obviously connect with each other somewhere, and I just did not realize it until I revisited the point this morning.

I remember months ago wondering if the sky was big enough, if this place was open enough, if me and my Mountain Boy could move to this place, be happy here and make a life with each other here.
Months ago I was hopeful and believed that we could.  I was filled with quiet concern, but also cautious optimism. 
And now I am not so sure.

Yet again we thought that we had our house in Tennessee sold.  A private sale.  This was supposed to be the last visit to the house - money secured, good-to-go.  And he never showed up.  And he never called.  And we are back to square one.  Again.

Yet again the unresolved issues with work have arisen - still unresolved and even more pressing.  Right now I don't know where life will take us.  And two restless wolves continue to pace back and forth in their cages 4000 miles apart.  Yet again.

This last picture is a wonderful picture I think.  Rugged water, rugged mountains, rugged weather.  And something almost alter-like in the rock tower built at some time in the recent past by another visitor to the point at the beach.