Thursday, August 30, 2012

Zippity do dah …

When one is retired, one can leisurely drink coffee and review the newspaper and various sections that show things to do around the Great State of Alaska. I hardly ever do things here except ride my motorcycle. But this year seems to be the year of touristing in Alaska, doing things I've not done before or often. I've done a bear viewing and flight seeing trip with Hobbs, the musk ox farm (although we did go a long time ago) and volunteering to work with the young musk ox, a hike to Exit Glacier, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. Wow.

Then I read the newspaper Play section one day and there was an article on Alaska ziplines, two of which aren't far away … Talkeetna and the Matanuska Glacier area. Who knew. I immediately knew I wanted to do one or both. A few of us checked on the one near the Matanuska Glacier and made a decision to do it in early September. We also decided to book the ice trekking trip which can be bundled together with the zip. The ice trekking will take us up onto the glacier for a walk about and tour. Geez, I'll probably learn something.

The other zip is in Talkeetna, and while up on a ride, Uncle Glen, Jaz and I checked it out. Jaz and I booked it. It would be nine zips, two suspension bridges and a rapel. Cool. I didn't know for sure what it all would be but it didn't matter. It would be a new and exciting adventure.

The day of the trip, Aug. 28, Jaz and I left Anchorage about 8 a.m. It was cold riding, but a clear day and we knew it would be awesome and fun-filled

We arrived at Denali Zipline Tours and got all signed in, waivers galore, of course. We also had to be weighed and I liked their scale. It was a red for a no go, and green for a go. No nasty numbers on that one. It turned out friends of mine were there and the he-part of the couple was going on the zip along with his daughter and her friend.

Claudia and Daryl, his daughter and her friend.
A bus took us about 15 minutes away to the start of the zip. We were all geared up with harnesses, helmets and gloves, and off we went for ground school.

Jaz and I all geared and helmetted up.

I'm showing proper braking with my right hand flat on the wire behind me, exerting pressure to slow myself
(photo by Jaz).

Jaz demonstrates the proper protocol for getting to a platform if you are no longer zipping along and need to pull yourself along the line.
Ground school shows you how to brake using a gloved hand behind you flat on the wire while exerting pressure, how to speed up, how to use your wrists to turn you one way or the other, and the proper way to position your body as you race down the line. We also had to learn the signals our guide would give us to speed up or slow down. Then we got a practice zip on a short line between two trees, about eight feet off the ground. All eight of us passed. Yahoo. Now it was time for the real thing.

Jaz zipping along.
One of the zipping platforms (photo by Jaz).  I'm on the far left.
We walked up a path to the first platform, and climbed up. The folks are very safety-conscious and made sure we knew exactly what to do and expect on each of the zips. There are nine of them, some shorter, some longer, reaching up to 35 mph. The two longest ones are 600 feet, with the last one taking us over a pond. Woo hoo.

Each of us had our harnesses attached to a line on the tree above the platform, and these would be attached at all times except when our guide would remove it to move us to the actual zip line. All precautions were being taken to make sure we didn't fall from a platform. Each of us was reminded to “not touch the shiny stuff”) which was the equipment that attached us.

And then we were off, with our lead guide going first, and our sweep guide positioning us, one at a time, to zip down or across to the next platform. The sweep would come across last.

The first zip was exhilerating, with the wind in my face, in a different manner than that when riding the motorcycle. The zips run through the trees, and it smelled different than running the road. You could see from the tops rather than the bottoms, giving a different perspective to the trip.

Zip, zipping away (photo by Jaz).
Safely arriving a a platform.

Jaz zipping through the trees.
Some platforms are higher than others, so you zip along at different heights. For those with a fear of heights, it could be daunting. But it was so much fun. Then we reached the first suspension bridge, which is actually a two-piece bridge. Our lead guide would walk out half-way and then signal for the next person to follow. Again we were attached to a line running above us so there was no chance for someone to fall off the bridge. Shakey, but so much fun. We walked like drunken sailors, from side to side, up and down.

Suspension bridges are not  for the weak in the knees.
Only two people were allowed on the bridges at a time. This is to lessen the stress on the trees at either end. I asked some questions about the whole zip route. The people who started it (this year is the first year) had looked around the country at various zips. They wanted to use their property for something that would conserve the land and the zips were laid out with that in mind. The area was walked to find the best zip routes, the trees were tested for strength and health, and I was very impressed with the whole operation and the knowledge of the guides.

Happy zipliners.
After a few more zips, we did a rapel from one platform down to a lower one. This involved being attached to a pulley then you had to step over and around so you were backwards, lean out and then at the right moment, “let loose” and be propelled downward to the next platform. The trick was to do it right so you didn't bang your shins on the platform. I do not have a fear of heights, and didn't have a problem trusting my guide to get me down. I did have a problem with doing it properly and ot banging my shins. I had enough of those when I was a kid. Much to my surprise, I did it just right and got down with no damage to my shins or my pride.

Rapelling from one platform to a lower one.
Then much too soon, we were at the last suspension bridge, and the last few zips. One is called the “spanker” because it goes through the trees and there had been a couple of branches that would graze people as they went through. I didn't feel a thing. And then the last one, a 600-foot zip across a pond. It was the best one, and we all did our version of a cannonball position to get enough speed to get us to the other side. I twisted my wrists, looking left and right at the view. It was wonderful, and then a perfect landing on the stump on the platform and then … it was over.

Jaz zipping across the pond, a 600-foot zip.

Me zipping across the pond, nearly to the middle (photo by Jaz).
A short walk back to the tent where I was unharnessed from my gear, a short ride back into Talkeetna proper, and nothing but the memories.

The adventure was well-worth the money ($149). It was about 3-1/2 hours from the time we signed in and did the waivers until we were delivered back to the office. It was fun, with lots of laughter and a feeling of camarderie with people you did not know before, as well as cementing a bond with people you do know. I'd do it again. In a heartbeat.

Talkeetna, a community with character.
It also doesn't hurt that Talkeetna is a cute little town with lots of things to see and some good places to eat. And best of all … we got to ride there.

What's next on the Alaska tourist menu? A trip and stay in Chitina, ice trekking on the Matanuska glacier and the Matanuska zip line and a visit to the reindeer farm, for starters.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 25, See the Sea Life at the SeaLife Center

Have you ever been to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward? Here I am, born and raised in Alaska, born in Seward, as a matter of fact, and I had never been.

I had been visiting with a former co-worker and she told me about the baby walrus that was on display at the Center. I'd read about the three of them (one of which had died), one that was still under care, and the third that was on display. My friend told me about the little (not so little at a couple hundred pounds), and I decided to take a ride down to see him.

I am still traveling, just in Alaska.  This piece of artwork is outside the Alaska SeaLife Center.
The SeaLife Center (115,000-square feet) was built using money from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. It's got a combination of something for everyone – conservation, education, marine research, animal rehabilitation and entertainment.

My visit started with a senior ticket price. That's always a good sign. There are benefits to being 62, 63, 65 or older. I decided to purchase a season pass as I fully intend to go back down and see what's new.

As I wandered through, there was a petting tank with starfish, which I elected not to pet, swarms of salmon (yes, I know, it's not a swarm or a herd or a flock, but a school), fish tanks with jelly fish and so much more. But I had focus to my visit. I wanted to see the walrus.

The ceiling near the salmon tanks had these beauties hanging from the ceiling.
The walrus was in an enclosed viewing area, with visitors looking down on him from the large windowed observation area up above. I could see a young woman sitting on the floor, wearing breakup boots, with a walrus laying across her legs, his head in her lap. She had her arm and hand across his back, stroking him. She would stop and the walrus would roll over, pushing on her with his flipper, as much as saying, don't stop. She would continue again. I understand the young ones need to be touched 24/7, or they don't make it, like babies of the human species. The walrus will decide when he doesn't need the touch anymore.

Another young woman came into the area and the walrus was up and moving. She must be a favorite of his because he followed her around the wading pool in the middle of the floor, almost like a dog, scooting along quite quickly for a big baby.

The wading pool appeared to be favored as the walrus got into it, and one of the young ladies tossed a frisby-type disk in the water. The walrus seemed to want to retrieve it for her and would move it along with his flippers. She put it on his back and like a dog, he kept flexing his skin and moving around until he got it off of him. It all was great fun to watch, and I must have stood there for a half-hour. But no photos. The glass and angle didn't lend themselves to photos, so it's only a memory-chip in my brain. But the whole trip was worth it just to see him and his interactions with the humans. He will not be put back into the wild as he's had too much human contact, but will be moved to a zoo somewhere. Would be nice if we could keep him.

This face looked like it was laughing at me trying to get photos.
Through the underwater viewing area, these creatures make swimming seem so effortless.
After watching the little walrus (because he is still small), I wandered around and outside to some of the other tanks where there were some Steller sea lions. One is huge, 2,000 pounds or more. It glides around, down, up and heads toward you, looking you in the eye, then down and around again. I enjoy watching the swimming creatures. Maybe because my sign is water, Pisces? I also went down and watched them through the underwater viewing windows and was just as fascinated with them. There are also seals, and a whole exhibit with just birds, puffins, loons, ducks. I never got the shot I was looking for with the birds. Then I lost patience with it all and wandered on to other things.

It's a bird's life.  I think this is a Common Murre.
This Tufted Puffin posed for as long as I wanted to take photos.  But I never got one that I thought was great, just okay.  And I had such a good subject, patient, colorful. 
Look at me, look at me.
The center is astounding with many things to do and see. I know I didn't spend enough time, and totally missed some remote camera that sends video of the sea lion rookery in Resurrection Bay. I read about it later, but it gives me a reason to return. Besides there are special tours and programs that I found interesting and would like to see. Maybe more than one trip is in my future.

This was another statue outside of the Center, dedicated to the Iditarod Trail Blazers.
There's just lots of cool stuff to see at the SeaLife Center.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 23, Queen to Queen

August. It's nearly over already and it seems like it's barely started, or that there has been a summer.

If you want to ride, you have to get out, good weather and bad, although I try not to get out in the bad so much.

One recent day I decided to go to Portage Glacier. It was time to check the water level in the lake, which is just another excuse to ride, and a reason to go to the lake. Check to see if it's still there (it always is), check to see if any glacier ice has broken off and is in the lake (this time there was) and check if there are any bugs (this time there were none).

I rode leisurely, down Turnagain Arm, into the Portage Valley, past the visitor center, through the tunnel and on around to the parking lot. I stopped and took a few photos. The weather was cooperating that day, so it was a very enjoyable ride.

The Portage Valley has an abundance of glaciers.
Once at the lake, I shot a few glacier shots, and then looked down and saw there was a canoer on the lake. That appeared to be a photo that would look rather nice, so I took it. Then I heard, “Patti, is that you? Patti?”

What the heck? Who was calling my name? I turned around but there wasn't anyone in the parking lot, and the only person I could see for a mile was someone in that canoe, and I had no idea who it was. But again, “Patti? Patti, is that you?” The person in the canoe was hollering at me, and I had no idea who it was. I don't know anyone who'd be canoeing; that's not my style.

I hollered back, “Who is it?” Traffic was coming from the Whittier side, so when the person answered, I couldn't hear the name. So I hollered again, and the person hollered back again. What a lack of communication was going on here.

Then I heard the name, “Julie.” What? “From the Harley Shop.”

Turns out it was Julie, the Queen of the Chrome. She is working part time at the Harley Shop this year, and it was one of her days off. She'd decided to come down and paddle around in the lake.

The Chrome Queen in her canoe at Portage Lake.
She was dragging her canoe back up the hill, and it was nearly straight up near the top. I helped her drag it a little. Although she could have managed, it was nice to help and chat with her for a bit since we don't often get the chance.

Queen to queen; it was nice to visit in a place outside of the shop, and get to know her a little bit better.

Then, back in the saddle and back to town. The queens separated as each headed to their respective corner of the world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

If I can't see them, they can't see me.

August 7, chasing grizzly bears

Hobbs and I rode out of Anchorage Monday morning, about 10 (Aug. 6). We were heading to Homer. I'd bought a bear viewing trip on Groupon (two for one), and we were to check in and fly out Tuesday morning, into Katmai National Park.

We stopped for lunch, and finally I ate Mexican food again, Acapulco's in Soldotna. It tasted pretty good. Glad I got my taste back for it since I'd some really bad stuff more than a month ago and hadn't eaten Mexican food since.

The blooms aren't to the top yet.  There must be some more summer out there somewhere.

The Spit view from our hotel.

A great place to stay.  Nice rooms, nice people.
On to Homer where we checked into our hotel, the Ocean House Inn, near the Spit. The room is very nice, cozy and with a huge bed that promised to be very comfortable. The bathroom is up a little set of stairs, and there's a chair and loveseat, making for a nice little nest for a few days.

Ocean House Inn.
The entrance to our room.
Off we went to the Spit to check in at Alaska Bear Adventures, get weighed and get our instructions for the next morning and where to report. No glass, no plastic bags, NO FISH!!! That let out the tuna sandwich I wanted for lunch. And just to be safe, I wasn't going to take my fish oil vitamin.

The airport is just up the Spit so we figured to locate where we'd be reporting in the morning. Hobbs made me lead, so I turned where the sign said to for the airport, right into a parking lot. I should have turned just up a little. There's a reason I don't lead, and that's one of them. But I found my way out of the parking lot.

Since we'd had a big and late lunch and weren't hungry, we went to the store and picked up food for a lunch, a few snacks and oatmeal for the morning before leaving. Don't want to go hungry.

The room from the doors.  Notice the bed model, showing there's enough room for both of us and four Beagles.
The bed was more than comfortable, and we both slept like rocks. We'd gone to bed by 8 p.m. and I slept until nearly 6. Hobbs was already up and showered, the coffee was made and I even got served in bed. That must be a Hobbs first, and I felt pretty special.

Then it was time to get ready to go, and off we rode, heading for the airport and our small aircraft chauffer, Tom. Three planes would be flying out, Cessna 206s. There were four of us and our pilot. We were paired with a young couple from Holland. Others on the other planes included a family of five from Quebec.

We got fitted for hip waders, were given last minute instructions on what NOT to carry … NO FISH!!! We were given personal flotation devices, a safety briefing and then to the aircraft.

I rode the co-pilot seat going out.  The cockpit was a little familiar.  I gave up my pilot's license years ago, but it's nice to know I still remember a few pieces of the gear.
The flight was a little more than an hour, smooth but not much to see. There was a lot of cloud cover so we flew up above it.

As we were descending, we flew over a spectacular glacier, with spikes and peaks, streaks of dirt and deep-hued blues that you hardly see anymore. It was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.

I don't remember the name of the glacier, but it was spectacular.
The ice formations were beautiful up close, rugged and not a place I'd want to do glacier walking.
The colors and the way the glacier has eroded is like none other I've ever seen.
Tom set us down on the beach, we unloaded, gathered our gear and received another reminder to always obey what our guide would tell us to do. Stay in single file, if confronted stay behind the guide, if he told us to do so, spread out next to him and act big!

Getting our gear and heading out along the beach.

Here she comes.
The weather wasn't bad, cloudy, but beginning to clear up. I was still wearing my rain jacket, though, just in case. We wandered down the beach, toward a sow and cub. She had been fishing and the cub was just being a young one, chewing on a stick. They came up the beach and laid down, the cub to feed and then both laid down to take a nap.

Momma and baby.

This youngster was all about hamming it up for the camera.
Momma was keeping an eye on her offspring.  She'd had two cubs earlier in the spring but it was suspected a boar killed and ate one of them.

Chasing fish.  Hobbs spotted a lot of different bears off in the distance, near the edge of  the river.  The little gal from Holland was amazed before he told her he was using binoculars.

Just having a little fun with mom.

This momma showed love for that baby, and I just kept snapping photos.  Film is cheap.

After a little nap it was time to play.
We'd seen three bears flying in, and now we'd seen 10 more, some closer than others. The bears didn't pay too much attention to us. We walked out through the stream toward two other bears, and they didn't seem too concerned about us either.

Even the beach washed by the tide was like nothing I'd seen before.  The ripples left by the waves had patterns of all their own, beautiful but to be changed with the next tide.
When walking back, one decided we were worth a second glance, and he came toward us, bluffing, to see what we'd do. Tom stood tall, telling the bear not to come closer, then using more firm language. I never felt that the bear threatened, and we figured later he really just wanted to get by us, but didn't want to pass up a chance to maybe see if he could be in control over us. That did not happen.

I could have watched the bears all day.
Just sitting in the water relaxing.
Then curiousity.
We went back through the stream, and the sow and cub were quite relaxed after napping. The cub was even more wound up than he'd been, jumping up and down, running back and forth on the beach, charging his momma. Momma bear even got into the act, playing with her youngster, and even taking a stick and chewing on it, tossing it. It was one of the most amazing interactions I'd ever seen … and it was just for us … I felt privileged to be able to participate in the bear viewing and more so to see how some of the bears behaved. It was so much fun, and our guide, Tom, was great. (Alaska Bear Adventures, if you're interested.)

The little guy was just being goofy. 

Pawprints in the sand.
The flight back was awesome as the clouds had mostly moved out, and we had clear views of small turquoise-looking lakes at the tops of mountains, snow-covered mountains, glaciers, emerald-green grass and brush. The scenery was some that you only dream of seeing when you're in bush Alaska, and Hobbs and I were seeing it all. What a day …

While we'd had lunch, it was time for FOOD. Starvin' Marvin's is the place, pizza, pizza, pizza. We ate a whole one, with salads. I was hungrier than I'd thought, and devoured more than my share.

Back to the hotel, where we sat out in rockers, drinking tea, looking at the scenery, relaxing in the sun, enjoying each other and talking about what a wonderful day we'd had.

Just relaxing.
The fireweed just outside the door is beautiful.  But don't step back too far; it's a drop off.
Contemplating a walk on the beach ... or going into the hot tub.

Just a walk on the beach.
Then we decided to walk the beach, and down the steps and ladder we went. We walked for maybe a mile and a half, then returned, only to find we were just in time to get back up the ladder as the ocean was lapping at the bottom. We had another route as a backup plan. But we got back up safe and sound, then back to the rockers again. What a great day … seems like we did so much, and we've had several days of vacation.

Got back to the ladder and up just in time.  The waves were lapping at the bottom of it as we climbed.

There's always room for a photo of pretty flowers.  The blue is so brilliant.

Tomorrow we ride home. The weather is supposed to be good. I sure hope so.