Monthly Archives: July 2012

Land of the Midnight Sun

Theresa at the Midnight Sun Baseball Game in Fairbanks, Alaska around midnight on the summer solstice

We haven’t seen the night sky since we were in Dawson Creek, British Columbia on June 8th, over seven weeks ago.  And then it was more dark blue than black.  The last truly dark sky in which we could see all the stars was in Great Falls, Montana on May 19.  Since then we’ve been travelling in Canada and Alaska, land of the midnight sun.

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We’ve Got a Keen Eye for the Kenai Peninsula

Kenai Mountains above Tarn Lake

The Kenai Peninsula is a large peninsula jutting 150 miles into the Pacific Ocean off the southern coast of Alaska just a short drive from Anchorage.  It’s often referred to as “Alaska’s Playground” because it offers world-class salmon and halibut fishing, one of the longest wilderness canoe routes in the United States, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, hundreds of lakes, hundreds of glaciers, snow-capped mountains, the largest ice field in the country, the second-largest national forest in the country, a national park, national wildlife refuge, and wildlife galore including moose, bears, eagles, sheep and goats.  We spent two weeks on the Kenai Peninsula (pronounced KEE-nigh) and really enjoyed our stay.  Please check out our photos from this very special place:

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Cook Inlet
Homer
Seward
Kenai Fjords National Park
Turnagain Arm
Chugach National Forest

Sometimes, It’s a Bumpy Ride

When I first looked at maps of Alaska, I wondered why it showed so few roads and decided (wrongly) that the map was only showing the major “highways.”  At one point, I suggest to Timm that we visit a remote area and he explained that we couldn’t get there by driving because there were no roads to take us there.  “No road?? What do you mean there’s NO road?" I asked.  I didn’t understand how there could be NO roads.

I soon learned that the vast majority of Alaska is wild and remote, accessible only by plane or water ferry.  This includes the capital city of Juneau.   Furthermore, I came to discover that many of the so-called major roads shown on the map are gravel!  Gravel?  Yes, miles and miles of gravel.  The below map shows these gravel roads marked by a blue circle. 

Map of Alaska.  Copyright © U.S. Public Affairs Resource Center

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The Art of Doing Nothing

Several years ago, my very thoughtful friend Stanislava gave me a book called The Art of Doing Nothing.  It’s one of those cute 2 inch by 2 inch books filled with quips of wisdom on how to relax, slow down and do next to nothing.  Shortly after receiving it, I sat down and read it as if doing so was a task to complete.  Yet one more thing I could check off my to do list.  “Read book about doing nothing.”  Check.  Task accomplished.  Yet even as I sat reading the book, I could feel that I was doing it all wrong.  I was not sipping hot tea, not enjoying a sunny morning and not relaxing as I read the book about… relaxing.  But I didn’t know any other way to be.

The cover of "The Art of Doing Nothing"

One of the personal goals I set prior to starting this trip was to learn to do nothing.  In November 2011, I wrote about wanting to find inner peace. “On this journey, I want to be still and learn to be at peace doing nothing… and I want to get so good at it that I can feel this way… without effort.”

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Gift #3: Shared Passion

“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.” – Winnie the Pooh

Gift #3 is the shared passion Timm and I have for this adventure of a lifetime and being able to experience it together.  We are kindred spirits in our love for nature and our interest in hiking the beautiful parks across North America. It is a valuable gift to be able to share this experience together.  Timm and I will hike to the top of a mountain, sit side by side in awe of a magnificent panoramic view and turn to each other to say “I’m glad you’re here to share this moment with me.”  This is truly a gift.

Lucky to be here together.

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Mosquito: The Alaska State Bird

Darby and Shadow hope that the mosquitoes aren't this big

Theresa’s dad Jim likes to joke how we are safe from vampires in Alaska because of the 24 hours of daylight.  However, he forgot about the millions of other little blood suckers: mosquitoes.

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Cute But Armed and Dangerous!

I’ve always wanted to see a porcupine in the wild.  As luck would have it, we saw 2 porcupines on the same night foraging along the road in Stone Mountain Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada.  This fascinating creature has one of the best adaptations of any animal.  Its barbed quills easily detach, piercing any predator who dares to touch it.  Contrary to common folklore, porcupines can not shoot its quills at an enemy.  However, the porcupine will abruptly swing it’s backside toward a pursuer in an attempt to lodge the barbed quills in the predator’s face.

I may be a cute porcupine but I'm armed!

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Summer in Alaska

Mt. McKinley from Denali State Park

Spending the summer in Alaska has been on my “bucket list” for decades.  For nature lovers like me and Theresa, Alaska represents all that is wild and untamed.  In Alaska we find the largest national park in the country (Wrangell-St. Elias), the tallest mountain in North America (Mt. McKinley), over 3 million lakes, 100 thousand glaciers, and 34 thousand miles of tidal shoreline.  Alaska is home of the midnight sun in summer and the aurora borealis in winter.  “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” ~John Muir

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Gift #2: Taking the Long Way Around

“I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling
Lived like a gypsy
Six strong hands on the steering wheel.
I’ve been a long time gone now,
Maybe someday, someday, I’m going to settle down.
But I’ve always found my way somehow,
By taking the long way around.”
— Dixie Chicks

I often listen to this song, The Long Way Around by the Dixie Chicks, as I drive our RV across the country, admiring the beauty of the towering mountains, flowing prairies and wide open skies.  As I wrote in an earlier post, this adventure has given us 5 gifts.  The first gift is the luxury of time. This song exemplifies Gift #2, the gift of being able to take the long way around to experience the beauty and sights off the beaten path.  We have had the opportunity to explore the many lesser known lands in North America, found places to camp in the middle of nowhere, stopped at zany roadside tourist traps, and met many genuinely nice people.  Taking the long way around.

Driving through Canada on our way to Banff National Park.

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Technology on our Trip

Ironically for a trip to natural lands, we rely quite heavily on modern technology.  It would be very difficult to plan and execute our trip without computers and other electronic gadgets and especially the Internet.  If we had taken this trip thirty years ago, we would’ve likely had to spend lots of time at the library and mail away for brochures from the dozens of parks we planned to visit long before we started our trip.  But today we can simply visit a park’s website immediately before our visit, download the latest brochures and maps, and make campground reservations. 

That is, when we have Internet access.  Even in this connected world, we’ve discovered there are still many areas in the United States and Canada that have limited or no Internet access.  This is especially true on our trip because the places we want to visit tend to be far away from civilization centers.  And when we are in Canada, Internet and mobile phone access is ridiculously expensive, so we have to seek out coffee shops and visitor centers that offer free wifi. 

Timm using his smartphone in Buffalo Gap National Grasslands

(In the photo above, I’m fetching email on my smartphone many miles from civilization and on the edge of the Internet in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota)

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