Monday, June 30, 2008

Winding Down

So, my time in Wisco is winding down and I printed out three articles that averaged about 15 pages each today. I have to have them read by the 8th of July, which is when I will be in Fairbanks for classes again.

I decided to bail on the conference in San Fransisco. I spent last Wednesday babysitting for my nieces and realized how freaking awesome they are and how little I actually get to see them. Tonight my mom, dad, two of my brothers, my sister-in-law and my nieces all spent time hanging out outside and eating ice cream. It was nice and was one of my best nights at home yet.
Last week, my cousin April and I went swimming at an awesome lake called Knight Lake in nearby Waupaca. The water was amazing and was clear and blue and I would love one more day laying on the dock and swimming there before I leave. Plus, Summerfest is going on right now in Milwaukee and I'm heading down there tomorrow to see my friend Chad's band, Baghdad SCUBA Review play (along with Railroad Earth and Yonder Mountain String Band).

Last Friday evening my friend Jon and I headed up to Country USA. We were a little out of place admist all the cowboy hats and I only knew a few songs, but it was a blast.

The headliner that night was Kenny Chesney and I do know quite a few songs by Kenneth.

However, a few songs into the set it started pouring and everyone ran for safety into the nearest beer tents where we danced and yee-hawed to a small local country band. It was a blast! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera in the van and don't have any pictures.

Other than that, I've been spending time walking Macy, riding my bike and today I went frisbee golfing. I am positive that I have become addicted to the sport again and I even had a couple of really good shots, which is always encouraging. It's my goal to get up early tomorrow and play a round before it gets too hot out. We'll see if that happens.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sprout II** Heads East

My big drive across the country began with my arrival in Eugene, OR on June 10th. My friend Chris and his family picked Macy and I up at the airport and we promptly drove to the nearest burrito place and caught up a little. Upon arriving at the Woodward's home in Corvallis, Chris and I began prepping the bus for its big trip east.

The first thing Chris wanted to do was to take out the existing seats and cut out part of the existing wall behind the seats to make the van a walk through. Although I had never done any sort of fabrication work on cars I tried to be as helpful as I could. I was good at riveting sheets of metal together and I tried to pretend the Sawzall wasn't as loud as hell.We spent the rest of the 10th and the 11th working on the seats and the wall and getting that ready. My friend Brian Rendall arrived in Eugene on the 12th to help me finish prepping the van and to be my wingman on the trip back to WI.

A little about Brian...

One of the first things I said to him on this trip was, "Do you realize that you and I have known each other for TEN years?!" We went to college together only until he decided to go ahead and graduate in 2000. We kept in touch after that and he calls me almost every Sunday to just say hi and catch up. Most recently, he was hired by LKSD as an itinerent Tech Ed teacher and will be traveling to villages teaching driver's ed and virtual welding to the students at each site. His first stop...Napaskiak along with some pesky kids from Oscarville. It's going to be awesome to have him so close by!

Brian and I went on a road trip last year as well. I went up to Gordon, WI for a night or two to visit him and my plan was to continue west to Montana to visit my good friend Julia. Somehow I convinced him to throw some stuff in the car and come with me. I think Brian likes coming on road trips with me because it gives him countless hours to make fun of me and rip on me, which seems to be one of his favorite pastimes. I keep inviting him on road trips because although I get annoyed by his antics it secretly makes me laugh. He's a good guy.

So good in fact that I picked him up at the airport in Eugene he went directly back to Chris' house with me and began cutting a hole in the roof of the van for the camper top. Wait, I think we ate a burrito first, then cut the hole. What matters the most is that Brian was instrumental in cutting the hole in the top of the van. The following pictures are not good pictures at all due to the fact that my camera had been laying on the ground all day and there was some gunk in the shutter preventing it from opening. Since my LCD screen is broken I had no idea that the pictures were not so up to par until I downloaded them.

Brian and I struggled with the camper top and the finishing touches on the van for the next couple of days. We had no idea how to put it on and since I am such a perfectionist about everything (which my students will whole heartedly attest to) I was pretty much a huge pain in the ass about it. Finally, I let the man do his work and handed him his tools and found other jobs for myself when I wasn't needed and we got much more done when I stopped caring so intently.

We originally wanted to leave Friday afternoon but that camper top was still giving us some trouble. About 10 pm we threw our tools down, took some showers and headed downtown for some beers. We arrived home a few beers later and I crawled into the van to sleep with Macy while Brian fell into his bed exhausted.

The next morning we woke up early, went to the hardware store, and were done cleaning up everything early in the afternoon.

We packed up and began our drive.

Brian happens to be a beer aficiando. He loves the stuff. Last year on our road trip to Montana we loaded the car up with beer from WI for my friend Julia that she can't get out there and brought back a whole trunk of beer for Brian that he can't get here. The first stop on our drive was about an hour away at Newport, Oregon. We parked the car and walked around Newport. It's a nice little town. There are murals of sea scenes painted on buildings all over town and we walked down to where the stacks of crab traps were. Macy made lots of new human and canine friends in Newport.

After walking downtown Newport we decided to head to the Rogue brewery. Since we missed the 3 pm tour Brian and I sadly had to wander into the bar area where we each ordered some food and a tasty tasting tray. We ate and drank our beers and after purchasing some necessary road trip supplies in the store area we were on our way once again.

Since we really had no plans for where we were staying we just starting driving. We took a break at Pacific City and Macy loved running on the beach. Brian and I spent some time looking for sand dollars and stretched a little.

We finally ended up by Tillamook and camped at the entrance to Cape Mears State Park.

After waking up in the morning and making some coffee we checked out the lighthouse, the view of the ocean, and the octopus tree. A short walk also led us to a huge spruce tree in the middle of the woods.

Finally, we were back on the road and spent our second evening in Pullman, WA visiting my good friend Kale and his brother.
The next morning, Brian and I purchased some frisbee golf discs and were on our way. Oh yeah, this was also my 28th birthday. I hate birthdays, actually, hate is a strong word. I simply don't like birthdays. I don't like being the center of attention and people singing to me and such. Plus, I'm starting to hate that inevitable approach towards 30 and with every "Happy Birthday" this year, I was reminded over and over that I'm, well, almost 30. So, Brian knew it was my birthday and treated me to a lovely lunch at Tito Macaroni's in Coeur d' Alene, ID. After lunch we took a stroll through the park and then it was back in the van.

We called our friends Julia and Mark soon after reaching Montana.

We were told we were two hours away. When I arrived in Whitefish three hours later Julia was ecstatic I was there but was amazed at how slow the van had to move up hills. Since it was still my birthday we went out for a burger and spent some time catching up.

Julia had taken off of work the next day and we just spent the day hanging out. Mark was going to be off of work early as well so we went shopping downtown for a bit and pulled some weeds from her flower beds as we waited. When Mark got there we drove to Murray Lake and swam a little, jumped off some rocks and threw sticks in for the dogs. After swimming we went to the KOA and played a quick round of "folfing" as those Montanians call it.

When we arrived home we only had a few minutes to get changed and hurry down to Wasabi, the sushi place in town. 9 sushi rolls and 4 carafes of saki later we headed out for just "one more". Well, let me just say that Whitefish was, of course, fun.

Three of us had major body and head aches the next day and it took Brian and me until 4 pm to pack up and get back on the road.

The rest of the trip was kind of a race home (again). We were already a day behind schedule and lost almost another day in Whitefish. Brian was awesome about helping me check oil and helping with maintanence. It was so great to have him around. I dropped him off in Eau Claire and his friend Kirby's place and headed east back to Kaukauna. I arrived him just in time to take a quick shower and help my mom and dad get ready for my dad's 60th birthday party.

Everyone there loved the van and all had ideas about paint jobs and such. It was pretty cool to hear some of the stories people told about their experiences in VW's and stuff.

All in all, the trip was awesome and was super rad. The van rocks and I am already planning a much more extensive and more relaxed road trip for next year.

** Sprout II is the very unofficial name for the van. Sprout I was my friend Chris's original van and when they got this one it got the unofficial name of Sprout II. However, I still have yet to name the van. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dirk and Erin's Denali Adventure

Dirk and Erin’s Denali Adventure began on the 25th of May with our arrival in Anchorage. After securing our rental car we were on our way! Erin’s friends, Miranda and Brody opened their house to us and we spent the night of the 25th running some errands and just chilling out in Anchortown for the night. We met Erin’s roommate Christina and her friend Richard for dinner and returned back to Miranda and Brody’s early so we could get an early start for Fairbanks the next morning.
We woke up the next morning and after eating breakfast and getting some beer for Miranda and Brody (it’s the Wisconsin way of reciprocating hospitality) we were packed up and on the road by 10 am. However, we didn’t leave Anchorage until well after noon. Dirk’s dog, Katja, having a sore tummy from dumpster diving and feeling a little ill from the motions of the car decided to throw up…three times. We had to stop three separate times to clean up the mess and finally stopped at Fred Meyer and bought some Dramamine for her. After feeding a pill hidden in peanut butter we were once again on our way.
Apparently, the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes about 6 hours. We made it in 10 due to stops in Talkeetna, Denali and frequent doggie breaks. We arrived in Fairbanks around 10 pm and easily found Pat’s house. Pat was Dirk’s teacher mentor this past year and is awesome! She opened her house up to us and was so cool about letting us come and go. We spent two nights there and prepared for our big adventure into Denali.
Dirk has a thing for trains and insisted on taking the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Denali. We had decided to board the dogs at a place called the Holy Dog Ranch. The name apparently has something to do with the introduction of horses into native cultures in Alaska. Since the majority of people then used dogs for work when the horse was introduced the natives were amazed by it’s size and called it the "holy dog". The people at the kennel also boarded horses and therefore called the ranch the Holy Dog Ranch. Since our train was early on the 28th we had to bring our four legged friends to the Ranch the night before. We woke up early on the 28th and headed to the Fairbanks Depot.
The train ride down to Denali was amazing. The scenery was beautiful. Other passengers on the train provided endless amusement. Our favorite passenger was the one who boarded the train confused as to whether she was the engineer or the passenger. She wore head to toe engineer’s stripes, an engineer’s cap, and top off the ensemble with a little red handkerchief in her back pocket. Her long blonde hair had been curled in little ringlets and hung down her back. She was traveling with a man named Mike (whom we called "The Professor" –because he looked like a professor) and halfway through the train ride approached Mike with a souvenir bubble blower/train whistle in the shape of a train. She then made him blow bubbles and try out the whistle. She was cool.
We arrived in Denali around noon and set about organizing our trip into the backcountry. We hiked down to the Backcountry information Center (BIC) to plan our trip. Denali is over 2 million acres in size and is split up into perhaps 32 or 33 "units" of varying size. When planning a backcountry trip people have to decide not only which unit they want to explore but also when they will be in said unit. After studying a binder full of descriptions and pictures of each unit and staring a ginormous wall map we had our trip planned out. We would spend that night in Unit 26, then take the bus down to Unit 7, hike into Unit 6 then take the bus back down to Unit 25.
Once we had made our itinerary we had to fill out paperwork that informed the BIC of our previous on and off trail hiking experience, the color of our clothes, packs and tent as well as emergency contract information. After the ranger approved our itinerary and our paperwork we were sent into another room to watch a backcountry safety video. The video informed us of all sorts of important things, like how to cross a stream safely, how to set up our camp, how to store our food and how to deal with a bear encounter and a bear interaction. In fact, much of the video focused on bear encounters and interactions that left us feeling a littler nervous but pretty pumped to get out there.
While we had been watching the video our handy backcountry ranger had processed all our paperwork and had printed off our backcountry permit. He handed us our Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC) and sent us on our merry way.
Now armed with our BRFC we hiked back us to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) and tore our packs apart in order to accommodate the BRFC. We had about 2 hours before our bus left to bring us to our first unit and spent that time rearranging our food and other supplies. After sawing the ends of our toothbrushes off we were pleased to see that we had crammed our entire food supply as well as all hygiene products into one BRFC. After we were all packed up again we called our mothers to tell them if they didn’t hear from us by June 2nd to call Denali to initiate a search and rescue mission. Erin’s mother seemed really concerned about bears but was relieved when Erin informed her that they would be carrying bear spray.
We met our bus and rode it out to Savage River. Since it was late in the afternoon we had decided that we would hike in a short ways and set up camp, make dinner and get a good night’s sleep so we would be rested our the big hike the next day. Since it had started raining/snowing out the going was a little slow. We were also dismayed to find out that our plan was being foiled by steep terrain. After hiking for a couple of hours we decided to climb up the slope to see if we could find some flat ground to set up camp. On the way up we encountered a local who informed us as best he could that flat ground at that elevation was pretty much nonexistent. We eventually found what looked like a good place as any to set up camp and once the tent was up we made dinner. Since we were both cold and wet dinner was an exciting process. It delayed however when Dirk decided to go the bathroom and knocked over our stove, pan, and all the boiling water. Eventually our first meal, veggie lasagna was cooked and we crawled into the tent tired and excited by the upcoming adventure.
The night was long. Not only was it a little chilly but also we each woke up about a million times to crawl out of the bottom of the tent and to find a place to wedge ourselves in at the top of the tent. Once settled, we would drift off to sleep only to awaken to find ourselves at the bottom of the tent a short time later. This delightful process continued throughout the evening, which resulted in very little sleep for either one of us.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast of oatmeal, packed up camp and hiked back to the road to meet our bus. Our bus driver’s name that day was Sam and Sam was very cool. After showing him the map of where we wanted to go he dropped us off at a little ranger cabin on the East Fork of the Toklat River. We hiked down to the cabin as snowflakes began to fall. We decided to eat a quick lunch and set up on the tiny little porch in back of the ranger cabin. We watched, as the snowflakes quickly became a mini snowstorm, which dumped about an inch of snow in about 15 minutes. After lunch Erin went off to use the little out house that was near the cabin. When she emerged a short time later Dirk was standing there and excitedly pointed up the trail a little way. There, about a hundred yards away was a much larger cabin with a much larger, cleaner, and well-covered porch. A short distance away from that, he explained excitedly, was a "pimp daddy privy". Erin, not believing him went to investigate and sure enough, there was a much nicer out house than the one she had just used.
We had decided to follow the East Fork up to the head of the drainage to see if we could see some glaciers that were back there. The hike up the braided riverbed was amazing. We had a few small streams to cross and there was plenty of ice still remaining that we had to cross carefully. At one point Dirk stopped in the trail and pointed at some bushes and said something was moving in there. After seeing a flash of brown we both froze and whispered. "BEAR!" The flash of brown turned out to be caribou and we stood quietly as we watched about 15 caribou cross the ice pack. Once most of the caribou were out of the way we continued walking. A few stragglers were still hanging around and a few circled back around to check us out.
After the caribou encounter we continued our†hike on the riverbed. The rocks were quite large and eventually our feet began to feel sore from walking on such uneven ground. We started looking around for a place to make camp that night and agreed that the first flat spot we found would be our stopping point. One of the backcountry rules is that you can camp anywhere as long as you are at least a half-mile away from and out of sight of the road. Since Denali is largely tundra and quite open it is much harder to be out of sight of the road than one would think. Although we had hiked about 4 or 5 miles by that point we could still see the road off in the distance. We spotted what looked to be a nice spot of tundra a little ways ahead and found to our delight that not only was it flat but we were tucked out of sight of the road as well. We quickly set up camp. Dirk was putting his sleeping bag in the tent and Erin was eating a Clif bar when Erin looked up and saw a fox right in front of her. Unable to communicate due to the large amount of granola in her mouth she proceeded to get his attention by kicking him directly in the ass with her hiking boot. He quickly whipped around ready to retaliate only to see Erin, mouth full, trying not to laugh, pointing at something in front of her. It was a nice fox.
After dinner we hiked further up the riverbed to investigate Pendleton Glacier. As soon as we set out another snowstorm set in and it lasted the entire hike. It was nice to walk without our packs on. Although the rocks still hurt our feet we covered quite a bit of ground before turning around to head back to camp.
That night was bliss. We were lying flat on a soft bed of tundra. We slept well and when we awoke the next morning we were greeted by a clear sky and bright sunshine. We made breakfast, filtered some more water and planned our venture from Unit 7 into Unit 6.
To move from Unit 7 to Unit 6 we had to walk around the backside of Cathedral Mountain and cross some low ridges. We crossed the riverbed once more and started our ascent. The open landscape of Denali makes judging distances difficult at times. From looking at the map the distance between Unit 7 and Unit 6 didn’t seemed feasible However, once we were on the ridge line and looked across to see snowfield after snowfield we knew we would have our work cut out for us that day.
Most of the day was spent walking across three ridgelines intermittently covered with snow. We had to walk lightly across the snowfields because breaking through the snow meant crawling out of hip deep snow to try to find solid footing again. Although it was irritating to continuously sink into hip deep snow we had a lot of fun playing around. Dirk threw snowball after snowball at Erin and thought he was quite funny. Erin didn’t think so. After negotiating across some partially frozen streams we found ourselves at the top of the final ridge and the Teklanika Riverbed was below us.
Getting down to the riverbed was trickier than we thought. As we walked down we had to navigate around many small lakes and observed some magnificent architectural feats by the local beaver population. We also found a kick ass caribou rack in the tundra.
Once down into the riverbed we started to hike down it. After hiking for a couple of miles we stopped to make camp and once again were excited to be sleeping on flat ground. Dinner that evening was Turkey Tetrazzini and both Dirk and Erin gave it two thumbs up. It was by far the best meal we had the entire week. Since both of us were exhausted we crawled into our sleeping bags early and then tried to remember how to play card games. Our conversation that night went something like this…
"Do you know how to play Kings Around the Corner?"
"Hmmm…I don’t really remember how to play either."
"Do you know how to play Cutback?"
"Let me think. I can’t remember how to play."
It was stimulating. So stimulating that we put the cards away early and went to sleep.
The next morning the sun was shining again and we tenderly touched our sun burnt faces and asked each other how we looked. After assuring each other that we looked stunning (as always) sporting our summer looks we cleaned up camp and headed out for another day.
Our plan for the day was to hike up the Teklanika River and then cut across through the woods. Dirk was pumped because we had some pretty decent sized river crossings to deal with that day. Dirk likes water…just in case there is someone out there who doesn’t know that. The entire time we were out there Dirk would walk by rivers and stare at the water and then look at me and say, "I bet there are some fish in there." It was quite charming actually.
After walking for a little while and getting our feet wet we came to our last big obstacle…the tundra!!
Dirk became excited by the prospect of bushwhacking out way back to the road. He took out his compass and after looking at the map we decided our course and with a few yells of "Hey bear", we began our trek to the road.
After awhile Dirk offered a quick orienteering course to Erin and in a few shakes of a lamb’s tail Erin was leading the way. Dirk had told Erin to pick a point off in the distance, walk to that point and then to use the compass to find another point and walk to that one. It was quite a simple process. However, since Erin has an attention span of a gnat the simple process was complicated by the fact that she kept losing her reference point. She would pick one out and as they began walking towards it she would forget which tree was her reference point. Instead of stopping and taking another point of reference (which would have been the smart thing to do) Erin just pretended she knew where she was going. When she felt she had walked in the general direction for long enough she would stop and then find another reference point. Then, once on the right track again she would begin to walk towards the next reference point. She would then promptly lose the reference point. This lasted about an hour or so and when Erin got tired of compassing she handed it back off to Dirk who did a much better and more accurate job of leading the way.
After walking for a little while more we finally hit a trail and we knew we were close to the road. We followed the trail around until we came to a stream. We could see Igloo Campground on the other side and as we looked at the rushing water Dirk immediately began to develop an intricate plan as to how we would cross this body of water. It was Erin who pointed out that since there was an established trail on the shore opposite of the campground that there must be a footbridge or path across the stream. Sure enough, after walking about another hundred feet upstream Dirk and Erin came to a nice bridge.
As we climbed up towards the bridge it was a bittersweet moment for we knew our Denali adventure was almost over. The sun was shining bright and as we lay down in the grass to rest and soak up some sun it was almost impossible to imagine that we had been in a snowstorm only two nights earlier. We ate some lunch in the presence of some Michiganders and just talked (as if we hadn’t done enough of that in the last few days). We slowly packed up out lunch and walked down to the road to meet our bus back to the WAC.
After getting on the bus we sat where our body odor would cause the least amount of distress to those around us. We finally got to see a moose from the bus window. We had decided earlier to not stay in the backcountry for one more night. Instead we rode the bus to the BIC, turned in our bear canister and caught another shuttle to the Riley Creek Campground. After setting up camp we walked to the mercantile and bought some beer and ice cream and sat outside in the sun eating and drinking and doing some more talking. Erin carried the heavy load of firewood back to the campground. And after she unloaded her burden the two of them enjoyed eating dinner by the fire and drank yet another beer or two. The fire died out quickly and afterwards we walked down to check out Riley Creek.
We finally figured out some card games that night and spent some time in the tent talking some more and playing cards. We got the maps out (something that had become a nightly ritual) and instead of planning our route for the next day we looked at where we had been. We also got the camera out and looked at our pictures from that day (another nightly ritual). After a little while we drifted off to sleep, anxious to see our dogs the next day, amazed at how much fun we just had and already thinking about our next adventure.