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.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Denali Bushwhacking

An excerpt from my Journal:

July 30, 2010

"Woo Hoo! Freedom! I got to take two days off work this week to go backpacking in Denali National Park with my two college friends, Bonnie and Austin. I'm SO glad this worked out. We are on Day 2 of a 4 day, 3 night trail-less hike along the Savage River and Jenny Creek. None of us have ever done an entire backpacking trip by bushwhacking so its a bit of an intimidating experience, especially in such intense bear and moose country. We started off with quite the struggle, plowing through painful brush up to our hips. We were told there might be an old wagon road to follow but our first few attempts to find it were futile. Following a few game trails that would start and stop rather abruptly, we finally found the wagon road. What a relief! We finally were able to make some progress through the valley. After a full day of driving to the park, planning our trip, and bushwhacking for a number of hours, we were quite exhausted come 8 pm. I'm carrying the heaviest pack I've ever carried due to not sharing my tent with anyone, having a bear canister and carrying food for 4 days, my longest trip yet. My hip bones are bruised and my legs burn after just a few inclined stip, but I love it. I love this experience, being outdoors, exploring new places, spending time with great friends I haven't seen in a long time. Sure we are tired, sure our bodies ache, and sure we are constantly on guard for bears and other wildlife, but this experience is amazing. I love the mountains, I love the adventure, I love working through my fears. I wish everyone could experience the wilderness in sch breathtaking ways." 

The rest of the trip was equally as rewarding. We had fantastic weather and didn't see even one drop of rain the whole 4 days. We had a great viewing across the valley of a momma grizzly and her cub that luckily ran away after getting a good look at us from her hind legs. We successfully navigated our way down the Savage River Valley, over a ridge, and back to the road through the Jenny Creek Valley. It was an awesome four days of beautiful scenery and lots of laughs. 
Searching for the Wagon Trail through the thick brush. 
Enjoying the beauty!

Bonnie and I eating lunch in front of some beautiful ridges! 

Sunset beginning at 11 pm.

WOO HOO! We crossed the ridge into the second valley! 

Our home for the 3rd night. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Holy Invasives!!!

We just finished up a month long project pulling invasive weeds and man does it feel GREAT to be done! We got to venture to very beautiful places and get to know each other really well but it sure was tough staying motivated to do the monotonous work of pulling invasive plants for 40 hours a week for 4 weeks in a row! (not to mention making sure 6 teenagers stay motivated as well-yikes!) Some education: Invasive weeds are plants that are non-native to Alaska and disturb the natural ecosystems. For example, invasive plants can damage entire river systems and interfere with subsistance lifestyles that many Alaskans depend on, among many other things. It's very important work and I enjoyed it for the most part, it was just unfortunate that it was 4 weeks in a row of very repetitve work. The great thing was that we got to travel to some awesome places. We pulled weeds for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest National Park in North America. It's home to 9 of North America's 16 tallest peaks! We got to work in Copper Center, Slana, and McCarthy, 3 different towns in the park. McCarthy was by for the best. A very very remote town with only 70 residents in the summer, and 15 in the winter. It is BEAUTIFUL! The town is surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains and glaciers and we had an amazing camping spot at the terminal moraine of the Kennicot Glacier. We got to go on a tour of the Kennicot Mine buidlings that supplied tons of Copper to the lower 48's in the early 1900s. My co-leader, Beth, and I also took a day off to go ice climbing on a glaicer! It was an incredible experience!!

This week we are just outside of Fairbanks for another Department of Transportation project. I'm excited for a new project and a new location. I'm still loving my job, working outside, exploring the amazing state of Alaska, and working with some really amazing youth. I must say though, I am exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, (not so much physically since pulling weeds isn't too demanding). In the end it is all worth it and I wouldn't trade this experience for the world, but I am tired and looking forward to some independence. We only have 4 weeks left with the crew and I know it's going to fly by and the second we all leave I'll want to go straight back. I am just soaking up every moment I can!
Mud Face Paint!

Hiking to a Fish Weir on a Flooded Trail! SO FUN!

Bear print on the trail- HUGE!

Showing off our weed pulling
 Fun times in freezing cold lakes
We shaved mohawks for all the male crew members-they look very hard core :)
Lounging in the weed barn where we store bags of invasives
After pulling 180 bags of invasive weeds we got to burn them all!!

Our beautiful campsite in McCarthy

The view from just outside my tent of the Kennicot Glacier in McCarthy.
Ice Climbing on Root Glacier! Sooo cool!
Climbing up an ice wall

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Seward DOT

It's Saturday after our first week of work and we have had an awesome time so far! We traveled down to Seward for a Department of Transportation (DOT) project. We worked along the Seward highway clearing brush from under and around gaurdrails. This work is important for a few reasons. First of all, it's important to clear the line of sight around tight blind corners so that cars have more time to see any obsticals in the road (accidents, animals, etc). Second, animals are everywhere and the more distance between the road and the brush means the animals are more visible for drivers and they will have more time to slow down and avoid hitting those animals. Lastly, the Seward highway is a gorgeous drive and is a designated Scenic Byway. We cleared an entire forest of Alder trees to open up a view of Kenai Lake for tourists and locals to enjoy as they drive past. This part of the project was so rewarding because shortly after we cleared an opening to the lake, some tourists pulled over to the side of the road to check out some moose near the lake. If it wasnt for our work, they wouldn't have been able to enjoy that beautifulview of the lake and moose.

Working with teenagers has been such a blast. They are so hilarious and make me laugh all the time! After just one week I have already grown to love each one of them and I'm so excited to spend the rest of the summer getting to know them even more.

The youth crews making smores during their training week.

A baby musk ox and its mom at Alaska's Wildlife Conservation Center
Never in my life would I have predicted myself to be wearing a hardhat, a reflective vest, and a face mask, working on the side of the highway with a bunch of teenagers. It sure is a blast though!! This is me using a brusher (a weedwacker on steriods) on our DOT project. Power tools are pretty fun!!
Two crew members and I decided to see if it was possible to stuff 100 M&M's in your mouth at once. Chris succeeded but Kellen (pictured) and I had to chew a little before the last ones would fit.  
The view of Kenai Lake that we opened up. You wouldn't have even known a lake was there before we started the project.
Meet the Barrell of Monkeys, the best Serve Alaska Youth Corps Crew ever!!
We took at trip to Seward's Sealife Center and I finally got to see puffins!!! Such crazy birds!!

A fur seal at the Sealife Center
Sea otters may be my new favorite animal. They are SOO awesome! We got to watch them swim and play in the water everyday on the drive to and from work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Crews are here!!!!!

The youth crew members have finally arrived and our projects will start in just a few short days. The crew members are all from Alaska and are ages 17-24, with the majority of them 17. A number of them are from Anchorage, but others are from as far away as Barrow (on the Arctic Ocean!!) and Brevig Mission (close to Nome). They have been here for 4 days and it has already been such a blast getting to know them and see their personalities come out. We have been craming the 3 months of training we had into a one week crash course for them before we all head out on our first projects next week. I've been having a blast playing games with them, chatting around the fire, and learning about where they are from and what their lives were like growing up in Alaska.

Tonight we find out which youth will be on each crew so I'm really excited to find out. I'm not worried at all because they are all so awesome that no matter who ends up on my crew, I know we'll have a blast. They are all so eager to work hard and learn and give back to their state. I'm so impressed with their motivation and passion for this summer!
A close encounter with a moose right in the way of the trail!  
A Humpback Whale's skeleton at the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage
Hiking in Chugach State Park on the Power Line Pass Trail

Just a reference for how bright it is at night! I haven't seen darkness for a few weeks now!!!
Serve Alaska Youth Corps 2010!!
This is all the team leaders and the crew members getting sworn in to their term of service with Americorps!