Monday, September 6, 2010

Kodiak Island!!

My season in Alaska came to an end last week in the most perfect way. My co-worker Sean and I planned a trip to Kodiak Island, the first island on Alaska's Aleutian chain. It was a 10 hour overnight ferry ride to the island where we were greeted with perfectly blue skies that lasted all three days of our trip. We couldn't believe the luck we had, especialy after the locals explained how they'd experienced such a rainy summer up untill the day we arrived. Lucky us! We rented a car which turned out to be the best decision as we spent most of our days driving from one end of the island to the other to check out all the different beaches and views. Sean and I had some missions to fill during this vacation as we'd printed off a list of "75 things to do on Kodiak Island." For the short amount of time we were there, we were able to check off a decent amount of things such as visit the rocket launch, go to Jewel  Beach, watch people surf at Pasagchak, have a picnic in Fort Abecrombie Park, count bald eagles, go fishing, eat the fresh catch of the day, and much more.

Before we left for Kodiak, Sean had contacted a fellow letterboxer (treasure hunt hobby similar to geocaching)  online who lives in Kodiak. We lucked out bigtime as this lady, Denise, and her husband, Rob, just happened to be the most welcoming and hospitable people on the planet. They allowed us to sleep on their porch for the night since they were out of town until the next morning, during which we woke up to breakfast burritos, orange juice, tea, and endless enthusiasm to tour us around the island. Denise had even picked fresh rubarb to make me a birthday pie! Rob and Denise took us out on their boat with the first priority of finding puffins. I've wanted to see puffins this entire summer and as my days in Alaska were running thin, I was losing hope on meeting my goal. It was a great birthday surprise to finally see those funny little birds riding the waves next to our boat. We also got some amazing views of sea lions, otters, and seals. The rest of the day was spent hiking around the island and enjoying our new friends. That evening we had a great BBQ of fresh halibut and salmon with a few of the neighbors who were all equally as friendly and kind as Denise and Rob. We closed out our vacation with a true Kodiak experience: getting drinks at the B&B, the first licensed drinking establishment in Alaska, 1906. The bar tender was wasted by 8 pm and in Denise's terms "you can count the number of teeth in that bar on one hand." Sean and I boarded the ferry that night with huge grins- what an awesome vacation, birthday, and finale to a summer of my dreams.

This past week I have accepted a job teaching english in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand. I am nervous but of course very excited. I will keep up with this same blog while I am there, as it's been fun for me to journal about my experiences, and hopefully its fun for you guys to read about. I leave Kansas the end of September and will be in Thailand for a year. Until then, I'm catching up with friends in Kansas and Colorado so if you're anywhere near by, lets get together before I head out. And if anyone is looking for a vacation in the upcoming year...I hear Thailand is pretty cool! :D

View of Kodiak from the top of Pillar Mountain
Bald Eagle viewed through a spotting scope
Jump shot on the beach
Sunset in Pasagchak, our campsite for the night
Kodiak Brown Bear, subspecies of the Grizzly only found on this island
Fatty :)
Birthday puffin!!! Better in real life, of course
Our spectacular new friends, Denise and Rob- thanks for everything guys!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Valdez or Bust

After graduation, the team leaders were curious what we would be doing for our last week of work. We were SO happy to hear the good news that we were able to go on a road trip anywhere we wanted, as long as we were back in Indian by Tuesday around 1 pm. Anywhere is a big deal in such a vast state, so we made sure to take full advantage of one final hoorah with the co-workers we've lived and worked with for the past six months. We decided to drive to Valdez, a beautiful town on Prince William Sound, with more glaciers than anywhere I've seen. On the drive there, we drove over Thompson Pass, where I counted over 15 glaciers in sight at the same time! We had the most gorgeous blue skies and enjoyed every minute of the beautiful Richardson Highway.We had a great night camping in Valdez and woke up to another sunny day! We spent the morning watching a black bear fish for salmon and a few of us jumped in the FREEZING cold waters of the Valdez Glacier Lake. So refreshing! We continued the day by driving back up the Richardson highway to Paxson. WE found a spot where the Alyeska pipeline goes underground, making it easy to climb onto it. We entertained ourselves for a while playing on the pipeline right above the giant sign telling you not to climb on it. Once in Paxson, we met a super friendly guy who owns the Paxson lodge. He hooked us up with tons of potable water (a rare commodity on Alaskan road trips), free firewood, and a private campsite right next to the river. To show us where to camp, he drove our staff member around in his truck that no longer has brakes due to a collision with a moose. It is also lacking a front windshield and the right door doesn't open. Too funny!!

The last day of the trip was spent driving the Denali Highway, watching caribou run through the valleys, enjoying the spectacular views and geocaching the whole way! Geocaching is one of my new favorite hobbies, thanks to some of my co-leaders here that have introduced me to it. Anyone else into it? Let me know and lets go find some caches together!!! It's so much fun!

So now we're back at the shop, with just 3 days to go. I'm planning a trip to Kodiak Island with a coworker here for next week. My future after that is very up in the air, but I do know a visit to Kansas and Colorado are definitely in order. August 27th I'll be in Kansas so I look forward to seeing many of you soon!!

Fireweed on the Richardson Highway
 Worthington Glacier View from the highway. We later walked on this glacier.
Sarah enjoying Thompson Pass
 The beautiful town of Valdez
 The tide went out and left behind hundreds of salmon for the gulls to feast on
Black bear caught a salmon
Katie, Sean, and I standing on a glacial iceberg at Valdez Glacier
Sean, Bethand I playing on the pipeline :)

Happy to find the Landmark Gap Geocache on the Denali Highway


The last few weeks of the season our crew worked on another DOT project just south of Fairbanks, as well worked on a hiking trail in Girdwood. I was excited for a project near Fairbanks because it meant another beautiful roadtrip to an area I hadn't been yet, and it meant I'd be able to go the farthest North I've ever been. It was also a relief for the crew to be near a big city where cell service, laundry, grocery stores, etc. were readily available, after spending the previous 4 weeks in incredibly remote places. Fairbanks has some beautiful surrounding areas but nothing about the town itself interested me. We did have a chance to attend WEIO, World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, and that was a really neat experience. People from villages all over Alaska come to Fairbanks to compete in events such as ear pull (two people stand face to face with a rubber band around each of their ears and pull backwards until someone gives up- blood and tears are usually shed). Another event is called the 4 man carry where each contestant has four 150-170 lb people hand around their necks and they compete for who can walk the furthest before dropping the 4 men. This event was created in honor of the strength it takes the hunters to bring back a moose, caribou, seal, etc. after a successful kill. There are some very interesting (and HARD) competitions at WEIO to demonstrate endurance, pain tolerance, and strength. Very fun cultural event to attend! 

Working on trails in Girdwood for the last two weeks was awesome. It was such a great way to end our season, being out in the woods rather than on the side of the highway or pulling invasive weeds. We fixed up the Beaver Pond Trail by building a few walkways over streams and widening the trail corrider so visibilty was improved. It was really satisfying work and it was great to work for such a fun town and community.

So now all the youth corps members have graduated and returned home for school or work. We had a wonderful graduation ceremony for everyone that completed the season with a beautiful slideshow that captured all the hard work we completed and the millions of laughs we all shared this summer. It was sad to see them say good bye, but I know the memories of this summer will live on forever.

 WEIO One foot high kick event. Whoever can kick the ball at the tallest height and land with only their one hand and foot on the ground wins! This event is based off a signal the natives use while seal hunting to signal back to the village that they need assistance in bringing in a kill.

Blanket toss event, based on the blanket toss eskimos do for visibility in order to look out for whales to hunt. 
Beaver Pond Trail before we started work.

Beaver Pond Trail after our work- nice open corridor so no one surprises any bears and hikers don't get stabbed by Devil's Club and other spiky plants! 

Crew member, Kim, and I after completing the little flat bridge for bikers.