About 5 Minutes of Summer

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You’d never know it by following this blog, but summer happened. And it was a total whirlwind. Now I’m sitting inside, finally, enjoying the darkness, a glass of wine, and the first fire of the season trying to write about it.

Side note: this highly-anticipated fire is a misadventure all in its own as it’s colder in our apartment than before it started, and we had to open all the doors because it’s so smokey. Just so you didn’t think life was too picturesque around here.

Anyway, I was trying to remember what it is exactly that kept us so busy this summer to tell you about it. It’s really tempting to make up for lost blogging time by creating a giant list of all the awesome things we did this summer, but after starting to put that together, I’m unsatisfied with it.

The reason it was all so awesome was because of the details – the great moments when I felt so lucky to be alive, in that very spot, with those people, at that exact time. But I never mention those moments in lists or bring them up when people ask what the heck I’ve been up to all summer. Don’t get me wrong, hiking the Caines Head trail, floating the Kenai, entering and surviving [narrowly at times] my first mountain bike race series, and snag fishing at midnight were all great in and of themselves. But the moment when I woke up at 2 in the morning, unzipped the tent and caught a brief break in the unrelenting rain to see a dusky sunset over resurrection bay – this sticks out as one of the best of the summer. I’ll never forget silently watching the one of the most beautiful places in the word and basking in the cool breeze blowing on my face after an evening in the stuffy tent as if I had the world all to myself.

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Contrarily, a less fun but equally memorable moment was when Sam woke up at midnight on the Homer Spit to discover that the tide had risen dangerously close to our tent and we had to quickly unstake it to drag it – sleeping bags and all – 50 feet up shore to avoid getting washed away.

I told plenty of people that Zack, Sam and I mountain biked into the caribou cabin on the resurrection trail during one of the best weekends in memory. But I really didn’t mention that we approached the cabin only to find a crazy, solo grizzly bear hunter named Jeremy with a loaded gun bigger than I’ve ever seen in a movie asking if he can share a bunk with us. Likewise, I told plenty of people about trips down the Kenai, but I never took the time to try to describe just how majestic the peak of fall colors were as the yellow and deep evergreen covered the barely snow-tipped mountains, and that during one drive, I looked back over the river just as a giant grizzly paced across it looking for lunch.

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There was also an adorable moment when, exhausted, I told Sam that I needed a quiet, relaxing weekend and he told me that he had just the thing!  …that he’d booked us a cabin and we’d “just” need to load up a canoe, pack our gear, and go get food to drive a few hours to Nancy Lake and canoe into public use cabin #3 (only accessible by boat) and stay there for the night. I complained, but then we went. And it was great.

…Quiet and relaxing, not so much.

The question I get asked the most is, “Don’t you get tired?” This summer I learned that living in Alaska is certainly tiring, but the long list of things left to explore keeps me energized. It’s pretty rough to get home after midnight on Sunday, unpack loads and loads of gear from the car, fall into bed and curse the alarm clock the next morning… but never enough to think for a moment of not doing all that stuff. Well ok, maybe for a moment.

I’ll try my best to be better about blogging this winter!

Weekday Expeditions a Month from the Solstice

There are up sides and down sides to living in Alaska one month out from the solstice, both of which are closely related to being able to make the most of your average say, Tuesday night.

The Up-Side: It Never Gets Dark.

Let’s say you work until 5. Heck, let’s say you work until 6. This leaves you daylight time to still have a 1-2 hour activity of some sort, drive home, stop at the store, cook/eat/clean dinner and sit down to some television. All before it even gets dark! Good times. 

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Here I am taking in the view from Bird Ridge trail sometime around 8:30 pm.

 

The Down-Side: It Never Gets Dark.

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Dusk over the Cook Inlet at 10:30 pm.

I think the best way to illustrate this point is through a brief story:

My first week at REAP, right around 5pm, I hear a short tune sounding, followed by a loud rendition of the national anthem through my open office window. As I began to wonder what national holiday it was or where the sound would be coming from, Shaina shouts loudly from her office next to mine, “IT’S QUITTIN’ TIME, JENNY!”

National anthem plays = time to go home. Cut. And. Dry. 

(I later learned that the anthem is played by the nearby military base to signal the end of the official duty day and also serves as a ceremony for paying respect to the flag.)

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Sun setting in Eagle River at 11:00 pm. (This picture makes it look a lot darker than it actually was, too)

Anyway, usually for Sam, quittin’ time in the summer is when it gets dark. We turn around on our bikes to head home, cut the hike short, etc, based on when we’ll run out of light. I never realized how nice and important this check and balance (shall we say) is to not being totally exhausted all summer long! When it’s light until after 11 pm each night, by the time 8:30 pm comes and goes, we’re still left with this feeling of needing to do more, more, more. 

And even after 11, it’s not dark. It’s half-assed dark where you can still see light coming in through the window. This keeps me awake just long enough to think about what we might do tomorrow as I fall fast asleep.

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Biking in Denali

Hi Readers. I apologize for not posting much since Sam has gotten here. As you can imagine, our days and weekends have been packed with settling in to work, meeting new people, and finding exciting places to run, ski, bike, mountain bike, hike, etc, etc. It’s a little overwhelming that, for example, the nearest convenient after-work ride, entails climbing up a 4-mile 2,000 foot road only to enjoy a spectacular view of the valley, city of Anchorage, a few nearby mountain ranges, and the inlet at the top. Everything here is big, beautiful and generally awesome.

So anyway, I haven’t been not blogging due to a lack of fun things to share, I’ve just been too busy enjoying them to get on my computer (e.g. I literally haven’t opened my computer in weeks). I will try to be better! Anyway, here is my recap of last weekend. And, I miss you all! Book your tickets to visit! Bring some Greenbush doughnuts for me in your suitcase!

In continuing with our theme of the overwhelming amount of fun things to do in Alaska, some friends invited us on their annual Denali biking weekend. Sam and I had to think for oh, about half a second before we eagerly agreed to tag along.

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Turns out that early May (I know, I’m late posting this) is the sweet spot for Denali biking: it’s after the roads are cleared and the temps have risen a bit, but before the tourist buses begin. Apparently, the buses make the dirt road not very fun to bike during the summer due to the frequency with which they drive by kicking up dust.

Anyway, we loaded Sam’s trusty baja to the brim and drove up to Denali on Friday night, making a pit stop for some delightfully unhealthy food at the Cadillac Cafe just outside of Wasilla, where we met the rest of the crew. We pulled into the Riley Creek campground around 11 pm, picked a campsite, and guess what? It was still light enough outside to set up our tents without turning on a single headlamp. How convenient! Meanwhile, someone struck up a campfire, and then we hung out until well after 2 in the morning, where it stayed relatively “dusky” the entire night. It was pretty great.

I woke up the next morning with a headache due to a few too many pulls off the ol’ Bulleit bottle, but we pulled on some bike clothes, packed lunches, and headed into the park nonetheless.

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[This is the part where I do a poor job describing just how beautiful the park is and how fun of a day we had.] I’m not certain, but I think this may have been my first time at a national park, and now I wholeheartedly agree with that famous quote by Wallace Stegner, “The national parks are the best idea we ever had.” Well done, Roosevelt.

Anyway, the views of the Alaska Range were so great, the pictures do it no justice. It was sunny, the roads were dry (e.g. good biking), there were great people to get to know along the way, and we even got to see some wildlife: 4 grizzlies, 2 lynx (!!) and a bunch of caribou. It was a really great day. About 32 miles by the end of it – 16 hard ones going up, and then donning every item of clothing and a rain jacket to block the wind before flying back down.

The next most noteworthy thing about the trip was the magnificent preparedness our biking-mates came camping with. When we returned back to the campsite, they broke out delicious tacos (we’re talking spicy pulled chicken, seasoned black beans, guacamole, cilantro, chips, etc. and even lactose-free sour cream… capital A-mazing!) This was pretty awesome in itself. But it didn’t stop there. Next came out the fixin’s for these cilantro-lime vodka cocktails and/or another cocktail option (none of which I touched due to last night’s Bulleit misadventures…still).

The next day we packed up camp and drove to the quaint town of Talketna for some biscuits and gravy…mmm….. before heading back to Anchorage to unpack and scrub the layer of dirt off of every item that came with us.

Anyway, thanks a million to the wonderful, friendly group of adventurers who brought us with you!

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Please Remember

Dear Jenny,

This is a note to remember to continue to notice how spectacular it is here.

ImageLong after you’re done saying, “I just moved here x weeks ago,” after the apartment searching, and the learning new roads, don’t forget to still look at the mountains with awe at how they magnify the sunsets and sweeten the landscape. 

Never stop dropping your jaw when an enormous moose strolls past you while jogging on the coastal trail, and please keep playing the game, “Clouds? Or Mountains?” Also, just try to remember when stuck in rush hour traffic that your backdrop is mountains and billboards, as opposed to just billboards.

Eventually, soon probably, these surroundings will become commonplace, but it is important not to take this much beauty for granted.

Sincerely, 

Previous Self

Happiness, As I Know it

*Sam and Debi Travel Update: Our dynamic mother-son driving duo is sleeping safe and sound in Watson Lake, Yukon tonight with just under 1,000 miles left to travel. Apparently today was a beautiful one with sun, mountain passes and lots of wildlife! Continued prayers for safety are requested as some rain and snow are forecasted for the next two mountainous driving days!

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A teary-eyed me paused when it was my turn to share what I am thankful for at last years’ Thanksgiving meal. Looking around a table full of many of the most important people in my life, I felt completely overwhelmed with emotion and happiness. I somehow choked out that I would not be able to answer – that to explain all I am grateful for, I would have to slowly describe each day, for I have been fortunate enough to come to a point in my life where the little moments stick in my mind far more than the huge occasions or pre-planned activities.

Living in Anchorage the past three weeks has been… hectic, new, exciting and insightful. Since I left, Sam encouraged me time and again to slow down and try to use the time to my benefit and for some reflection. It’s not so often I have the chance to take this much time for myself. At first I shushed him and felt as though the best thing to do was to keep on moving so as not to let the past well up and make me sad. But over the past few days, I’ve kept mostly to myself, and embraced a wonderful set of emotions. Of homesickness and of impatiently waiting for Sam to arrive to start our new adventure, certainly. But I have mostly been overcome with gratitude and happiness, and I feel lucky to have had the time to reflect on it.

Though I have always been surrounded by a fantastic support network and generally happy conditions, tonight I spent some time thinking of where exactly this feeling of contentment that I have been graced with so freely lately flows. Here are the top five things I settled on:

(I’m sorry if this comes across as boastful or overly sappy. If it is, you don’t have to keep reading. I won’t be mad at you, promise.)

sam1. Love. My family and friends the the world’s greatest. (No really, you are.) And, Sam …Sam is my rock, my comedian, my friend. Somehow, even in my worst moments, he shows me how much he loves me. He and his love make me continuously happy, plain and simple.

adventure2. Adventure. Experiencing new things brings out the child in me. While admist the unknown, often surrounded by beautiful things (sunsets, aspen forests, winding single-track, you name it) I enjoy that rare feeling of being completely engaged and in the moment. The excitement of seeing something totally new, and not knowing what’s around the next corner is uniquely satisfying, and increasingly rare. But also the need to rely on whoever I’m with to keep one another safe in uncharted territory, this builds trust and friendships pretty fast.

460249_10101743375962459_551963076_o3. Home. Some of my most special moments happen while stirring a pot of simmering marinara or in kneading dough amidst a floury disaster in the kitchen. They happen when resting my head on Sam’s shoulder and laughing about something funny that happened that day. They’re while reclining on a cheap, plastic chair under the canopy of the full tree shading our deck. Or laying in my bed watching the morning sun pour in the windows. I like to get out and enjoy the world a lot, but I like to come home, too.

380506_10102026290080299_573585002_n - Edited4. Activity. Preferably outside. If I go a few days without some, I feel sluggish, negative, and ugly. (No wonder why college was so hard for me! I never exercised!) As someone fairly new to consistent exercise as an adult, it is a game-changer. You know all those things the articles say about endorphins and positivism and joy related to exercise – turns out, they are all totally true. And, beyond simply exercising, I think setting a goal, all on my own, and sticking to it is a pretty amazing thing, too.

reflection5. Reflection. I relish in life’s joys by speaking them, and obviously, by writing them down. I know this isn’t for everyone. But sometimes when I don’t actively reflect on what’s good, I overlook it. I feel as though my happiness  and my awareness of and gratitude for said happiness go completely hand in hand.

I don’t really think this is the “right” happiness list and it almost certainly varies from your list. But I wanted to share it with you because many of you reading this are the reason behind my happiness and the very foundation from which I stand. Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing me such happiness. I hope I can do the same for you.

-Jenny

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Three Exciting Things

This week was mostly overtaken by work. However, three great things happened:

1. Sam and Debi left Wisconsin to make their way up here. They are currently in Manitoba – so it’s safe to say they still have a little ways to go….

Hopefully I’ll get them to post some updates from their roadtrip🙂

They're sleeping in A, headed to B tomorrow, and here I am in C.

They’re sleeping in A, headed to B tomorrow, and here I am in C.

2. I saw a moose! Finally! It was really awesome. I was running, so I didn’t have my phone at the time, meaning I don’t have a picture to share. Either way, they are HUGE and look like a combination of a horse and a camel. Kind of scary, but mostly just awesome. This also happened on a particularly fantastic run with a great sunset over the inlet and fantastic view of the city on the way back.

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3. Today, some friends took me on a hike to Flattop trail. Here’s a little summary:

Flattop is Alaska’s most frequently climbed mountain.  Located 13 miles from downtown Anchorage, the Glen Alps Parking lot in Chugach State Park is the jumping off point for many outstanding hikes but Flattop is by far the most popular.  This 3-mile round-trip hike begins at 2,200 feet.  The 1,350′ elevation gain to the 3,550 foot summit is easy at the begining, moderate with railroad tie steps in the middle, and steep with firm footing on the headwall just below the top.”

Anyway, the trail was REALLY slippery. No one else seemed to have as much of a problem with it as I did, but it was an incredibly narrow trail on the side of a really steep mountain. It was worth it for the views in every direction. I will definitely do it again, but maybe in the summer next time!

As you can imagine, it’s always harder on the way down. After slowly struggling, everyone decided it was best to simply jump off the edge of the trail and slide down on our butts. I took a little convincing, but after a while I went for it.

That was actually pretty fun.

Alright. I’ll update more soon.

Love,

Jenny

Welcome to Alaska

Sam still won’t be here for two more weeks😦 so I am in full-on, “Operation Distraction” mode. Luckily, Ryan and Shaina’s friend Jake invited them to crash a cabin trip he was planning to go on, and they invited me. And it was just what I needed.

The weather couldn’t have been better. The views – literally every direction you looked, as far as the eye could see – were breathtaking.

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We took a scenic drive (above) from Anchorage, through Girdwood to a trailhead near Hope, AK. (Pictured below.)

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We began our trip at the trailhead of the Resurrection Pass Trail. Aptly named, because it brings you back to life.

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We had a 7 mile ski into the cutest little cabin.

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I keep telling everyone I meet that it was easy for me to make the decision to move up here because of Sam’s excitement after he visited – I have never seen him so animated about anything. Now I understand why. This much beauty and ‘adventure potential’ is usually reserved for our annual, summertime 10-day vacation. We usually take a week off of work, pack up the car, drive far away, and cram as much adventure into those precious days as possible.

However, this kind of adventure came on a weekend trip where I slept at home on Friday night, packed on Saturday after brunch, and was back home at a decent hour on Sunday. I guess it’s the Alaska way. AND IT’S AWESOME.

IMG_0755Anyway, irregardless of the beauty all around me, the perfect skiing conditions, and the cutest little wooden cabin ever, the thing that really stood out to me about this trip was the people.

They were so welcoming, encouraging, funny, friendly… just good, good people.

As someone new here, that is so much appreciated and so comforting!

So, thank you to Ryan, Shaina, Jake, Aurora, Joel, Steven and Chelsie for giving me a proper introduction to Alaska. And well done!

 

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Week in Pictures

What a great first week. Honestly, moving up here has gone much smoother than I ever expected. However I’m partially convinced that I haven’t had much homesickness simply because I haven’t yet had any time for it.

Between learning the ropes at work, getting my “life checklist” in order, keeping up with Ryan and Shaina, and spending as much active time as possible, I have had very little time to myself. I think that’s probably a good thing.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to:

Skiing with Shaina in Bicentennial Park

Learning to skate ski. Progress is a little slow…

Completed my first week of work downtown at REAP. I think I’ll really like it there.

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Shaina and I did some bouldering (v2 baby) and got belay certified to do some indoor (and hopefully outdoor) climbing. Climb on!

The sun came out for a few hours so I finally got a glimpse of the mountains. Otherwise it’s been snow, snow, snow!

No more jogs down city blocks for me! This is in the park right near Shaina and Ryan’s house.

Took in a spectacular view of the city from the coastal trail. I would say I get overly excited about things like this.

Not pictured: We also attended Arctic Entries, a storytelling event where seven people each tell a seven minute story on a theme, which changes each month. This month was “Commitments: Makin’ em, Breakin’ em and Fakin em.” Since Sam and I are huge fans of the Moth podcast, I knew I would really enjoyed this as soon as I heard about it – and I did!

I can’t remember everything else because it’s been a blur. More to come soon!

First Impressions and Anchorage Fashion

Today was my first day living in Alaska. (I had to put that in italics for added emphasis because I kept telling people, “I live in Madison” or just saying things in such a way that makes them think I’m just visiting.)

Anyway, yesterday I [re]packed up all my stuff in Minnesota (except the big yellow boots pictured below because they would not fit into any of my suitcases no matter how hard I tried), loaded myself and my stuff on a plane, watched a couple of movies, and then landed in Anchorage. Little did I know, my boots look was simply preempting my good Anchorage style – the Minnesotans just couldn’t appreciate it as they should. More on this later.

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Ryan gave me instructions to try to sit in a window seat on the starboard side of the plane and I am so glad I did. The view coming into the city was spectacular and I hope you all are making a mental note to do this for when you come to visit me🙂.

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Shaina tells me Ryan also handled the decor for my temporary room while I stay with them. (Pictured left.) Pretty fancy, huh?

Anyway, thanks to Shaina’s kindness and ability to befriend really great people, I had a fantastic first day. We took a beautiful morning ski on the coastal trail. Then we grabbed some groceries (which were notably more expensive, as I was advised) and headed to Ryan and Shaina’s friends’ house for a cookout. After that, we made a pit stop at the REI clearance sale (you know, to update my wardrobe and fit in) before heading to the Bear Tooth for margaritas and to meet a couple other friends. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly and welcoming.

One interesting thing that came up was Shaina explaining to me that apparently Anchorage was voted America’s worst dressed city. I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to evaluate this on my own just yet, but there was a funny moment today when I asked Shaina if she planned to wear her ski clothes to the cookout, and she replied that she would probably just put a skirt on over them. So, I grabbed a Mountain Hardwear dress, and when the time came, I just threw it on over my ski pants and baselayer.

When in Rome…right?

Sure enough, at the cookout, one of Shaina’s friends was wearing a down skirt over some black leggings with an athletic top, and surprisingly, I think she looked really nice.

After this, I started noticing people’s clothes. And by that, I mean I saw seas of down jackets, Gore-Tex, and Patagonia as far as the eye could see. So, I’ve temporarily concluded that Anchorage is not the worst dressed city, it’s just the most comfortably dressed city.

I think I will like this. So far, so good!

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Just. Get. On. The. Bike.

I have had a major case of the winter blahs. A few weeks back, Sam had to pretty much hoist me off the couch and onto my bike trainer in the basement and start pushing my feet in circles to get me going.

I’m exaggerating, but only a tiny bit. I had a pretty bad attitude about the state of my fitness after I read this article about how your fitness level drops dramatically within twelve days of inactivity. My thought process was pretty much, “Sooo… what you’re saying is I’m not still in shape from that half marathon I ran last November?” Bummer.

But I already knew I was far from in shape. Many things cause the winter blahs for me, including but not limited to: dirty snow banks; mucky puddles slowly draining into your basement; zero leaves on the trees or growing green things; relatively short days, lingering cold temps, etc. But for me, nothing causes them worse than months of inactivity. I’m pale, I’ve put on at least five pounds, my muscle should now be referred to as “former muscle,” and I’m getting bored.

SO. Back to the trainer. I really don’t like that thing – but this time, Sam had the sense to put the documentary Ride the Divide on Netflix while we watched – the story about a bunch of people who decide to race from Canada to Mexico along the continental divide.

IT IS SO MOTIVATING. Wow. There is an awesome woman competitor, Mary Metcalf-Collier, for whom I was rooting out loud, in my basement. I cheered, I cried, I laughed. It was just great. She had this awesome line about heading out with one of the other male competitors for the day, as he was worried he may slow her down. She goes,

“Well, let’s get started. And then we’ll see on the hills….”

Love it! Anyway, the point of this post is not to get you to watch Ride the Divide while you exercise in  your basement (though I do recommend that). The point is to remind myself and all of you that getting going is so hard, but that the pain is temporary. Making a routine is harder than keeping a routine. This is something we all know, but it’s easy to forget. I struggle with it every March.

After this, I still needed a few more pep talks and kicks in the pants, but I’m starting to gear up for a busy season. I know that in order to be able to do all the stuff I want in Alaska, I’m going to have to be in good shape.

But, until I feel like I can call myself in good shape, I will continue to just. get. on. the. [expletive]. bike.

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