Posts Tagged ‘Homer’

Discovering amazing places in the world is a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it shows travelers the beauty and diversity of the world, a curse because it leads to this draw away from the comforts of the settled life and a struggle to choose where to call home.

When I was at The Pub a few weeks ago, I chose to wear my New Zealand All Blacks shirt from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which NZ hosted and won while I was working and traveling there. The man seated next to me asked me the reason for the shirt, and I proceeded to happily talk to a complete stranger about my country for a chunk of the evening.

Over the course of our conversation, this father of a first year college student and a free spirited teenage daughter heard tales of my travels in NZ, China, and Mexico. Some of my adventures worried him as he thought of his own daughter, but mostly he seemed entertained by my tales. Toward the end of the conversation he asked, “Since you love New Zealand so much, what’s keeping you from going back?”

After my usual bs mumbling about visas, needing a job, and the cost of living, I stopped and reflected on how I’ve compiled excuses for not making a move to my favorite country happen. A few years ago I read a blog post about dreams and whether we pursue them or not. Unfortunately I can’t recall the exact line or find the post, but it said something like:

When our dreams seem too difficult to realize, we convince ourselves we never really wanted them that badly, and then we force ourselves to not want them any more. In making up excuses and moving around our dreams, we abandon them and never know what could have been.

The Importance of Big Dreams – similar yet different post by a great blogger

As someone who still gets more fired up to talk about New Zealand than anything else, that idea saddens me. I haven’t let the dream die, but I’ve realized that something else has gotten in the way. To explain, we have to return to the South Pacific.

Wanaka, a cute town in the Central Otago region of the South Island, wanted me to slow down and stay awhile during my travels. I arrived with only 5 days left in my ~4.5 weeks of wandering everywhere I could squeeze in down south, and I was greatly saddened that I had to catch a flight so soon. Though it’s a town situated on a beautiful lake and just down the road from ski areas and the Southern Alps, Wanaka seemed rather unassuming and quiet compared to the nearby tourist-saturated Queenstown. I quickly decided that its character and 4 season climate made it my preferred area to live.

While walking down the main street, I noticed The Picture Lounge – NZ Photographers Gallery, home of what I discovered to be a gorgeous collection of landscape and adventure photography. Naturally, I went inside to check out the beautiful images. As I took in the pictures hanging on the walls and flipped through the many albums, the unexpected happened. I began to cry.

I cried because New Zealand is too unfairly beautiful. I cried because I’d fallen in love. I cried because I had just about 2 weeks left to spend there.

As I struggled to contain myself, an employee walked over to chat with me. When I looked up from the album and he saw I was in tears, his expression changed to concern. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I smiled through my tears as I worked on wiping them away. “Sorry, just give me a minute.”

Once I’d closed the albums, I was able to walk up to him and explain I had no interest in leaving his amazing country. He was relieved to know that was the only reason for a teary visitor, and of course he appreciated my mentality. Kiwis know how fortunate they are to live in a gorgeous country and be so distant from the rest of the world; one simple t-shirt design reads “Living in a better place… New Zealand.” I bought one.

Despite not wanting to return to America, I left New Zealand on schedule and have spent the last 5 years frequently daydreaming of my hobbit home and when I will return. Alaska – specifically Fairbanks – has been my home base ever since, but it hasn’t necessarily felt like home.

Being a homeless couchsurfer who typically floats into town for just a week or so between jobs hasn’t allowed me to establish my post-college life. Yes, I’ve found time for backpacking, dogsitting, biking, The Pub, and visits with friends. Until recently my stints in town have been too brief to really feel like I’m part of the community, though.

Now I’m back in Homer – home of the headquarters of Alaska Maritime NWR – and just a week away from leaving civilization for another summer on Buldir. After visiting Saturday’s indoor Farmers Market, I decided to step inside businesses I’ve ignored on my last 2 seasons’ worth of stays in Homer.

Enter Ptarmigan Arts, a co-op art gallery full of Alaskan photography, paintings, drawings, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, and woodworking. While browsing through the gallery, a feeling hit me as I realized…

Alaska. Alaska is why I haven’t focused my life on returning to New Zealand. Although I shed no tears, my visibility grew fuzzy, and I had to hold myself back from light crying as I gazed at the beauty – and more so the character – of Alaska captured by cameras and carved in wood.

I love Alaska’s mountains, glaciers, tundra, trees, flowers, and hot springs; its boats, lakes, rivers, islands, and ocean; its moose, bears, wolves, otters, and other furry animals; and its birds. I love its small towns, breweries, dry cabins, outhouses, plaid and Carhartts, hiking boots and XtraTufs, potlucks, and puppies. I love its funky daylight cycle and aurora borealis. Perhaps most importantly, I love its people who have welcomed me to stay for almost 10 years.

I love New Zealand. I don’t like being American, but I do love Alaska. Even though I don’t really have a home, friends always welcome me back.

So what to do? Beats me.


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Beautiful weather? Check. Bike? Check. Helmet? Check. Wallet, phone, water, and TP? Check. Destination? Unknown!

I unlocked the bike from the rack, then re-attached the lock to the rack since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the bike alone during the day. With a quick glance at my watch to check the time – 11:30 – I was on my way. On my way up the silly hill that doesn’t look steep at all, but somehow becomes a slow 24 minute climb to the overlook of Kachemak Bay. As I inched my way up the hill on my borrowed mountain bike, I wondered why I do these things to myself.

Simple. When I get on a bike after a long period away from cycling, I turn into a 5-year-old. A visceral happiness radiates throughout my body as my hands grip the handlebars and I swing my leg over the frame. As I begin pedaling, my face automatically breaks into a glowing smile that goes along with my words of “Bike!!! I love biking. Biking, biking, biking!”

It’s the most natural reaction in the world to me, and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. The same thing happened the 2 nights in August when I claimed the tent at Spike Camp. Having not stayed in a tent since April, just unzipping the tent fly triggered the same soul-deep joy. “Tent!!!” was all I said as I climbed inside and stretched out on the sleeping bag.

Little things that draw out such basic, yet deep, happiness shouldn’t be ignored; they need to be embraced whenever possible, whether anyone else “gets it” or not. They’re what form a world of intriguing individuals.

Being on the go with no set route or destination – another of my favorite pastimes – was another reason for today’s ride. I’d headed north up the Sterling Highway, but I didn’t know where I was heading or where I’d turn around. To some people, that equates to a recipe for getting lost; to me, that’s a recipe for a fun adventure.

As I approached one curve I saw a sign indicating that a left turn would put me on the Old Sterling Highway. I bet the Old will hit the main road again at some point, and I’ve never been on the old highway before! Decision made.

Making that turn paid off, as I traded the 55mph speed limit and “traffic” for a winding road through woods and marsh that took my mind to the roads near Wilderness State Park in the northwest corner of Michigan’s mitten. It was perfect. Yellow and orange leaves covered the trees alongside the road. Colors in the marshes ranged from green to yellow, red, rust, and burgundy. Houses were few and far between.

Anchor River

Anchor River

Eventually a downhill led me to a bridge over the Anchor River, where I realized I was on the outskirts of Anchor River State Recreation Area. With beach access just 1.3 miles down a road to my left, I knew it was time to go admire the mountains. Along the way I passed a campground that mentioned North America’s Most Westerly Highway Point. Being a bit of a sucker for finding geographical extremes, I knew that the bike had carried me where I needed to go.

The beach offered me everything I was looking for and more: relaxation, a beautiful view, a gorgeous collie-english setter puppy, and friendly conversation with a group of real cyclists who showed up not long after me. The only thing I could have asked for would have been an ice cream stand. Homer bike

Once it was time to leave, I headed up to the town of Anchor Point to find snacks. Having participated in PALM and DALMAC, organized bike rides across and up Michigan, many times, I felt right at home stopping in the local grocery store for Gatorade, a banana, and a granola bar. As odd as it sounds, I epitomized myself; I was a happy ginger on a bike checking out a little town that most people blaze right on through.most westerly

The ride home on the (new) Sterling Highway was fairly uneventful but was a continuation of the picturesque journey. The final 2-3 miles were the icing on the cake: racing down the hill I’d crawled up at the start of my ride. Tucked as close to the handlebars as I could get, I coasted most of the way home in probably the 35 mph range.

“There’s the cyclist? How was your ride?” Emily asked as I walked down the bunkhouse hall.

High on biking endorphins from my 34 mile ride, I responded, “That was the best thing I’ve done in my life!” While I’d walked out the door that morning unsure of what I’d see on my ride, I returned very pleased. It was a good reminder that if I just keep pedaling through life, I’ll get to where I’m supposed to be going.

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Last (and only?) sunrise at sea, north of Kodiak

The morning of September 5th dawned with an elusive scene in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea: a beautiful sunrise. As the nautical miles slipped by, the Tiglax moved ever closer to returning our band of field biologists to Homer. The ship’s crew seemed anxious to return home to friends and family, and the rest of us had emotions ranging from apprehension to excitement to calm.

After picking up a small field crew on East Amatuli, there was nothing separating us from Homer except the waters of Kachemak Bay. Riding a rising tide, we finished our last supper of brisket and coleslaw shortly before rounding the Homer Spit.

loaded truckA small welcoming committee greeted us at the dock, where we unloaded dry bags of personal gear and boxes of extra food, diet samples, and data books from the ship. Once everything had been carted up to a waiting pickup, we were turned loose on solid ground. After unloading at the bunkhouse, there was just one more thing to do before bed.

We Buldirians, Aiktakians, and Chowieteers walked to the Otter Room next door for a beer. Drawing heads’ attention upon our entrance, I knew we were XtraTuf-wearing unknowns. The 7 of us put 2 tables together, ordered pints, and timidly looked around as we tried not to stare at other people or the multiple TV screens. We talked quietly – as we always do – about the season and personalities aboard the boat. Knowing glances made their way around the table, and I knew we were the 4 hobbits having a journey’s end pint at the Green Dragon. No one else in the bar knew where we’d just returned from, and most of us don’t quite know what’s next in store. We’re happy to be together, though.

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Thursday 25 August 2016, week 15: Buldir Island, 19:10

Time is rapidly flying by, and mere days are left before we Buldirians leave our summer home. I keep looking for ways to delay our return to society, with the only possible winner being a mega storm that means the Tiglax can’t pick us up on time. Unfortunately our current forecast for Friday through Monday calls for variable 10 knot winds and 5 foot seas, roughly as nice as conditions can be for running the skiff to and from the beach. I was reminded that locking the captain in his stateroom and turning the ship for a surprise trip to Attu has a name – mutiny – so regrettably that option is also out.

As the days tick by, we’re checking off tasks for the last time. We’ve made our final visits to the puffin nests we’ve been following on Main Talus and Northwest Ridge. Monday gave us our final round of reaching inside storm petrel burrows and feeling for chicks. With Tuesday’s sunny weather we took down the food weatherport and moved boxes of food to the bunkhouse. Wednesday brought wind and rain but also time for a first attempt at making cinnamon rolls and plenty of inventorying everything in camp. Today found us mostly wrapping up inventories and then taking our last weekly measurements of fork-tailed and Leach’s storm petrel chicks in our chronology plot. Tomorrow we’re planning a day trip to Spike for one last look at our kittiwakes and murres on the ledges, as well as the horned puffins on Bottle Hill.

The end of the field season is no tech’s favorite time of the year. While I haven’t been missing much about the rest of the world, there are a few things I’ve been looking forward to for quite awhile: · stable ground
· football season
· more episodes of “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People,” a podcast of hour-long phone calls with a host who gets genuinely interested in whatever the caller wants to talk about

Yet on the other hand, among the many aspects of field life that I love, I’ll miss: · our camp kitchen
· my sleeping bag and plywood headboard (the only headboard I’ve ever had), along with feeling the bunkhouse move with gusts of wind and hearing rain on the roof or sounds of the ocean · the cutely curious songbird fledgelings that use camp as a playground
· nightly “comms” when we hear what the Tiglax and other island camps have been up to each day

But more recently I’ve realized that the following are good reasons to leave Buldir: · not wearing Helly Hanson raingear and XtraTufs every single day · having real eggs on hand
· talking to some friends over the phone
· puppy time
· spending a week on the Tiglax as we return to AK Standard Time

Anyone know of some puppies who need some love in Homer? I’ll be available soon! Until then I’ll enjoy the rest of the abnormally nice weather we’ve had all season on Buldir.

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