Thanksgiving eve I checked out the Juneau nordic ski club's site and found that the Mendenhall Campground was groomed and ready for me and my new skis. It was welcome news since we really haven't had snow yet and I've been itching to get outside.
I conned Mr. X into agreeing to a sunrise lap on the trail, but we didn't make it out the door until 9:30. That's about four hours late by my standards - but I'll admit it - I was the one sleeping in. The trail was a little icy; there really isn't much snow out there yet. We enjoyed meeting four dogs and were awed by the skate skiers who zoomed past us toward the lake. We went down on the ice and looked around, but we'd already been out for an hour which is long enough for two out-of-shape, chair force members.
Mr. X's skis on the ice
We'll have to see about getting a ski club membership. They really do a great job keeping the trails in shape - they groom the campground daily. It's just a question of whether I'll actually get out enough to justify the cost.
On the lake with Skater's cabin in background
After our morning activities we went home and I put the chicken in the oven. Yes, chicken, since it was just the two of us and chicken was 1/2 the price of turkey last week that's what we did. I already had potatoes made from a batch I took to a work party, made boxed stuffing and a green salad. Mr. X had his obligatory rice. Good eats.
I was a little nervous about dessert. Mr. X was enthusiastic. It turned out pretty well.
I had made a pumpkin pie by adjusting a vegan recipe. Instead of milk and eggs, I used cashews. Instead of maple syrup I used honey. And I made a graham cracker crust - that I was afraid had burned. It was actually a really good pumpkin pie - though it might be hard to go wrong with pumpkin.
After our feast we sat down to a viewing of Toy Story 2. You know, I really think that should be our official Thanksgiving tradition: Pixar animated movie after dinner.
getting set to go. Thunder mountain in distance.
Edit: Saturday night, we went night skiing at the campground. It was good, but there was a creepy guy hanging out in the middle of the trail with his headlamp turned off. Not cool. And wouldn't you know it. We finally got more snow (at least six inches) Sunday.
In the fall, the University hosts a lecture every Friday night. When I learned the lecturer on November 16th would be Karsten Heuer, the author and adventurer from Being Caribou, I invited Mr. X to join me for a night out.
You might recall that I recommended his book and his wife's film in 2010. I first became aware of them soon after we moved to Juneau and read Being Caribou and Y2Y in 2007. This year Being Caribou was chosen as the "One Book, One Campus" book selection, and I was excited that the University brought them to campus so we could meet these adventurers in real life.
Karsten has been a Canadian park warden in Banff for the past 18 years or so. His background is in wildlife biology. Leanne Allison is a filmmaker. Being Caribou is the real life story of this couple's trip following the caribou to their birthing grounds in the arctic and back again. The Y2Y initiative is a Yellowstone to Yukon corridor which would improve animal migration, and hopefully their survival. This is an idea that I have been aware of for many years as we've seen and heard of the increase of wildlife at Mack's Inn and the surrounding areas. Mr. X did a research project and presentation on this topic when he was working on his wildlife degree, and I remember discussing the concept with him at the time.
At the lecture Karsten summarized their adventures: Y2Y, Being Caribou, and Finding Farley. In Finding Farley, they took their 2 year old son and traveled from their home in Rockies of Canada to the Maritime provences where they met Farley Mowat, the author of dozens of classics including Never Cry Wolf. The family was able to find the den of arctic wolves just by following the description from the book! It was a real treat to see their slides from this trip, since I'd not seen the film yet.
In 2014, the family plans to take another of what they call a necessary journey. I can't wait to hear what they have planned next.
It's winter. Which means it's dark. And I didn't feel like hiking in it, so I reserved the Berry Patch cabin at the Eagle Beach Campground (Alaska State Park).
This cabin was recently built and has been beautifully maintained by the state parks. Located at campsite #1, it is drive up in the summer and only a 0.2 miles walk on a paved sidewalk...or snow in the winter. Downstairs there is a sleeping platform with enough room for four adults. An angled ladder delivers you to the loft which has room for four adults or six if you know each other well enough for that kind of thing. There are plenty of hooks for your coats and gloves, a chain from the ceiling from which to hang you lantern, and I appreciated the counter and cupboards in the meal prep area. The cabin comes with a two wheeled wheelbarrow/cart so we didn't even have to lug our heavy dutch oven and bottled water the 0.2 miles from the car. The door has a combination lock. You are given the code when you get your reservation confirmation. We were glad the building was lockable when a man came knocking at midnight.
The Berry Patch cabin is heated using a kerosene stove (diesel #1). Mr. X and I have previously not had much luck starting one of these puppies, but somehow we made it work. Actually, when the instructions say "a couple tablespoons of oil" what they mean is when one corner of the cup starts to look damp. And Mr. X created a teepee with all the toilet paper he used on the cone. Once we got the stove going we were roasting. The whole time.
Since we didn't have to hike-in to this cabin, I wanted to try some dutch oven cooking. I had decided to make an enchilada pie. Mr. X split kindling and we started the charcoal briquettes. I assembled the goodies that I had precooked at home and put them on the coals.
Our friends arrived now, clutching each other. Apparently, their flashlight went out so they walked out with only their cell phones guiding them. Another group of friends arrived shortly after, announcing, "whew, that's my kind of hike."
Dinner was bubbling away on the coals, and when I brought it into the cabin I set it on the stove to since that was the safest place for a hot pot...only the stove was so hot the enchiladas really boiled.
After our Mexican dinner we played Mexican Train dominoes and went to sleep. Well, really I think I just roasted all night.
In the morning, I took off on a the loop trail. I looked at the tide flats of the Eagle river, crossed under the highway and took a short jaunt up the Eagle glacier trail (we've never been up there despite it's being on my list for years), part of the Yankee Basin trail and then on the planked trail around the Methodist Camp. When I got back to the cabin, I watched some of the river ice break-up and grind itself on the shore. I also watched a seal watch me. Mr. X caught up with me then and told me he had found some bear tracks in the tide flats above the cabin.
For breakfast, I had planned to cook on our tabletop stove that we bought 4 years ago (garage sale $3) and have never used, but I just set our pot on the stove and cooked everything up that way. Easy Peasy. After breakfast burritos, Mr. X burned our trash and taught our friend to use his sling. Then we all headed for home. A simplified but satisfactory outing.
You might recall, last year we were starting to look for a house to buy. Obviously, that didn't happen. Yet. And we're okay with that.
And here's why: a house is a place to live. It really isn't a very great investment. Sure you get to leverage other people's money (i.e. the bank) and there may be growth in your market, but there is a pretty big expense called interest. In addition, house prices average a much lower return than other investments. Not to mention property taxes, maintenance and improvements.
I recently heard that there is no economic advantage to owning a house. None. Zero. There is, however, a behavioral advantage. While owning a house does not necessarily make you richer, the act of paying down the mortgage so that at the end of 30 or 15 years you own an asset does. So, if you're a renter, but you don't want to end up like most, you need to make sure your behavior is like that of an owner.
When we've gone to look at homes, we've grabbed the disclosure forms and the financing information. You know the kind I mean, the ones that show how much the average electric bill, heating fuel, garbage, sewer, property taxes, etc. along with the monthly payment based on different downpayments and mortgages.
We've taken this information home, added a percentage for improvements and compared them to our current expenses. We are saving/investing the difference each month. Originally, we started doing this so that when we do buy a house our budget will shift easily to paying for all the expenses of homeownership. Now I know that this practice is actually protecting us from our renting selves as well.
Of course, I've got no source for where I heard the above economic information. So, take what you will from it. Just don't forget to Save for Retirement!
Yesterday was Alaska day; the day we celebrate the transfer of Alaska from Russia.
It was a good day for swapping the summer tires for the winter tires. It was also the perfect day for the floor jack to go sideways for the first time; thankfully it jammed under the car so the car didn't come all the way down. Mr. X retightened the lug nuts, and we started over.
In the afternoon, we walked to Nugget Falls having a sucker hole follow us the whole way. Nice to not get snained on. The Glacier appears to be out of the lake on the West side as it continues its retreat. We'll see how long before it's completely high and dry...I'm guessing we have one more summer.
I also spent some time cooking. Mr. X decided he wanted to try going vegan -- I've convinced him to eat chicken a couple times a week, since I don't think it's a great idea for him right now, but he's encouraging me to have fun with squash and millet and tofu. Okay, not tofu. I couldn't find it at the store (really! I've also never found tahini and cleaned them out of cayenne pepper). I'm not convinced I want to go vegan, but I can handle having a few new tasty recipes. I'm using the Part-time Vegan as my reference for now.
And my skis arrived. Boy, that sounds weird. I spent some of my PFD this year on X-country skis. We'll have two decent sets this year; hopefully that means Mr. X and I will get out together.
I'd really like to do this trip justice, but I'm afraid if I wait that long, I'll never finish. So, since I'm not a perfectionist...here we go.
Saturday morning we left Haines Junction early but first we stopped at the combined Library / Liquor store. Daddy X used to say there are two things to do in Alaska in the winter: read or drink. The Yukon is so efficient, they made it a one stop shop.
Then we swung past the Senior Drop-in Center which used to be the weigh station and winter check-in station. Back in 1963 the Haines road opened for the winter for the first time. Travelers would stop at check-in stations with their name and information. Their information was passed on to the next station and if you didn't arrive in a reasonable amount of time, the mounties would come looking for you.
Our next stop was Kathleen Lake. We had heard there was a beautiful hike here up to the King's throne. It was a lovely morning so we took a little stroll. Mr. X and I will have to come back to finish the hike.
Next we stopped near Lake Dezadeash for a quick walk up to the rock glacier. This is a rock/gravel formation left over from a dead glacier. It was pretty amazing how it was shaped...and the view breathtaking.
It was another nice little hike. I spotted some big tracks in the leaves, but we didn't see any other signs of bears in the area.
Million Dollar Falls
Can you tell we are approaching tideland? The sky got progressively dark as we drove along. But the fall colors came back in brilliance. This place is buried under yards of snow in the winter - and is perfect for snowmobiling. Not that I know anything about that.
We decended out of the mountains and re-entered the United States. Mr. X was in the driver's seat so he had the pleasure of answering the agent's questions -- he and Mom gave the guy our travelogue. The guy had recently transferred from Skagway so he pretended to be interested in our Golden Circle trip.
Again we forgot about the time change going back to Alaska; we had an extra hour to kill.
We stopped at this lake to take pictures of trumpeter swans.
Went out of our way to stop at Mosquito Lake
Saved a drowning dragon fly.
Hung out with birdwatchers at the Bald Eagle Preserve.
Then we headed into town, and to the Chilkat lake where everyone and their brother were out fly fishing with really long poles. One guy stood on the edge of the road and had his pole over his shoulder while watching other anglers. He didn't realize his pole was so long it was blocking the entire road. I politely meep-meeped (with my voice) and he laughed at his faux pas.
We checked in at the ferry and they told us we could leave for another hour since the boat wasn't in yet. We headed back to Haines to see the old fort - we didn't find much - the hammer museum, library, and the IGA. Finally we found a place with ice cream! It was even reasonably priced. Mom had abandoned her cane so Mr. X took off running down the street with it like some pompous gentlemen, but it sure stopped traffic. Nobody wanted to run down the poor fool.
We boarded the Malaspina and ate dinner. The Malaspina is the sister-ship to the Taku which is the boat that Mr. X's dad rode while he lived in SE Alaska in the 60's. Both ships were inaugurated in 1963 and are still in service.
Although it's only a 4h30m hour trip back to Juneau, we got a stateroom so we could stretch out and catch some zzz (before 9 am church). We knew we were back in Juneau when we landed at midnight - it was raining cats and dogs.
Friday we finally hit paydirt...well at least several bears obliged us and crossed the highway. We'd had plenty fall colors and gray jays - finally wildlife.
Not too far out of Haines Junction we found two bear digging for roots on the roadside. They noticed us and appeared to be bothered, so they crossed the road and we left them in peace.
We drove and drove, winding around Kluane Lake and heading for Destruction bay and Burwash landing. Mr. X spotted this bear in the road side ditch. We paused to watch him cross the road.
In Destruction Bay, they take their speed limit seriously. This is the RCMP cutout they have to remind you to slow down. Made me look twice, but we were quite careful about our speed on this trip anyway.
This bear wasn't crossing the road, she was walking along it.
As she approached the car, Mom lamented, I guess we probably can't have Sarah roll down the window. Yeah, probably not! Photo quality is not that important.
We had looked all over for a short hike, but the book Mr. X had used was old and the "2.3 km walk from the hotel" left us mystified since there was no hotel anywhere. We eventually found another trailhead for the Soldier's Summit.
Definitely worth the half hour out of the car. The weather was perfect, the view spectacular - check out that silt line on Lake Kluane - and the history interesting. Fortunately we didn't need our bear spray since we had left it at the B and B.
There had been a call to build a road from the end of the rail belt in Edmonton to Alaska for some time. After Pearl Harbor it became a priority. The idea was presented and passed in one day in March 1942. Canadian and US engineers worked tirelessly for the next eight months and met at this location, Soldier's Summit, to open the road on November 20, 1942. The original road was a haul road, not something permanent. It was also a military road and not open to civilians until 1948. The road was rerouted and improved over the years and today the new highway bears little resemblance to the original Alcan highway (much like the old highways throughout the lower 48 that were replaced by the interstate system).
Portion of the original road bed, current highway below.
Site of the highway opening and dedication ceremony. Based on the photos, the US soldiers wore whatever was warm - baggy, furlined parkas and pants. The Canadians wore their dress uniforms - poor saps or tough chaps?
We ate our lunch on the edge of the Kluane lake and then headed back to Haines Junction. We were looking for another hike but never found it. We did find these two bears again. There must have been some really good roots right there since 6 hours later they were back in the same spot as in the morning.
At the Green sprout we had dinner and then reclined on the third floor balcony with our books. The birch rustled in the wind and the mountains towering above us. Mom and I made berry smoothies for our late night snack.
Thursday afternoon we headed back into town. Well, first we had to wait for Mr. X to change his pants and for he and Mom to de-fur their clothes and clean their shoes. Apparently, the dogs in the yard, were very excited to see them. Not sure how I got off so easy.
We bought Subway for lunch and although the wind was still blowing, it was warm, so we sat in the Peace park and then walked along the Yukon river, near the SS Klondike.
We also got the car washed. After driving the Atlin road, the car was pretty gross. I don't mind dust but the road crew had sprayed an anti-dust salt so the car was really grimey. Oh, and I had read about tranplanting invasive species by not frequently washing you car along the Alaska hwy. At the car wash I finally spent my Canadian money. Mr. X had given me C$10 nine years ago for Christmas because he know I was (supposed to be) going to Victoria with my mom; we took a different trip, so I'd been holding onto the cash for nearly a decade.
We also watched the Visitor Center movie and took Mr. X to Canadian Tire. For whatever reason that was the priority on his travel checklist. He was about as excited about it as REI or Cabelas. We had looked for short list Breyers at the grocery store and walmart and it was nowhere to be found. Disappointed, we went to McDonald's and were told their ice cream machine was broken -- on a day that was 75 degrees and everyone was out in tank tops!
In the late afternoon we took to the highway for the two hour drive to Haines Junction. This was probably the least scenic area that we drove through. Where before we felt like we were driving into an oil painting, this area was a little less inspiring - until we glimpsed the Kluane range.
Two elk herds are supposed to reside in this area, but we didn't see any. The only wildlife we spotted were a couple of ground squirrels.
When we arrived in Haines Junction, we found the Kluane Green Sprout easily enough, but we couldn't get in to the B&B. Our cell phones wouldn't work here. Fortunately, there was still a working pay phone at the defunct grocery store and we were able get ahold of the caretaker and get a code to get in the door.
The Kluane Green Sprout is a beautiful, modern building. The bottom floor of the building appears to be an aparment, the second floor houses a granite tile entry, bathroom with washer and dryer and two comfortable bedrooms (one queen, one full). We were glad for the washer and dryer. Our dog clothes needed a double rinse.
On the third floor is a full kitchen stocked with all the utencils needed for cooking, plus cereals, muffin mixes, spices, oils, coffee, teas, peanut butter, jams, popcorn. In the fridge we found fruit for smoothies, eggs, and the next day we received fresh bread, creamer, and juice.
In the living room, the top of the wall is cut out and a "picture window" installed; this window perfectly frames the mountains towering over town. They provided plenty of magazines as well as some Kluane hiking guides which Mr. X used to plan our next two days.
Wednesday I got up early and ran along the Atlin road. It was another gloriously beautiful morning. After breakfast we packed up and checked out - headed for the (official) Alaska Hwy and Whitehorse.
On our way we stopped at Marsh lake and the Swan Haven. As soon as I turned off the car, two labs greeted us, so although there weren't any birds around, Mr. X still got his "wildlife" fix. Swan haven was lovely, on the edge of Marsh lake, thousands of swans come here in the spring on their way north to nest.
We then stopped in Whitehorse, but the wind was blowing, so after we took a quick tour of the library, bought some fresh groceries, and were accosted by homeless men we got back on the Klondike Hwy to Lake Laberge.
You know the place. Where Cap cremated Sam McGee according to Robert Service. We stood on the marge of lake Labarge. Mr. X and Mom took pictures while I just wanted to get back in the car. It was a beautiful drive, but man that wind was chilly.
I just about hit this doe and her sister on the road back to the highway.
Wednesday night we stayed at Muktuk Kennels; the home of Yukon Quest champion Frank Turner. We drove past our cabin thinking "surely we aren't staying there"! But we were. Beautiful accomodations. Shilo's Chalet gets two thumbs up from me.
We had a view overlooking the valley and river.
At sunset the dogs set up a racket. They probably were being fed, but it was pretty eery hearing them all howling at the sky. We were glad our cabin was not immediately adjacent to the dog yard.
In the morning we headed over to the lodge to take our self-guided tour. We managed to pet all 100 dogs and enjoyed watching the puppies run in the jumbo sized gerbil wheel.
Before breakfast this team raced by. You can tell they're loving their run.
We met Frank Turner which was fun; he's a great host. He took time to talk to us even we hadn't scheduled a tour and he had several projects he was working on (we didn't try to bug him, he just went out of his way to make us welcome.)
Many (if not all) of Frank's volunteers are German speakers - even the Irishman responded to German directions from the dog yard manager. This just added to the fun I had with the Swiss German at Little Atlin.
Muktuk is off the grid, so Mark (from Denmark) came over the cabin and started the generator with Mr. X and showed us how everything worked. We had a comfortable sofa in the living room, woodstove, fantastic gas range, lights and indoor plumbing. They had some games and many magazines. A small small fridge provided, but they don't like to plug in because it is an electricity sucker. They provided me with ice packs which was sufficient for us. I think they'd probably allow you to use the fridge if you needed to (i.e. refrigerated medicine), but you'd have to run the generator repeatedly.
The stairs here were not as steep as Little Atlin which was good. The BBQ was not as nice, nor was the kitchen as well stocked and organized. It was fine, but I couldn't find a measuring cup anywhere so our rice was quite sticky.
The front porch was perfect with nice chairs and to the side of the cabin was a large fire pit, perfect for bonfires. Mr. X had some fun splitting wood and replenishing the kindling pile.
Again, another place I would recommend for an extended trip. I think I could handle a week here.