Trailside views

At Tutka Bay Lodge we have several trail loops that are adjacent to the property. We hike these loops daily (sometimes more than once in a day). I love seeing the difference a day can make. Or a rainfall.

We have a temperate rain forest here on the coast. Yes, you heard that right–rain forest and Alaska. The key being a “temperate” rain forest (receiving between 60 and 200 inches of rain a year from the Pacific ocean). This is the most northern extent of this type of forest. Further to our north is the boreal forest.

We’re still seeing Spring unfurl. I can’t wait to start seeing the wildflowers burst open! Here’s a few glimpses of what I saw today. Be sure to check out (and “like”) my Stay Curious Facebook page, where I post some quick pics whenever I can!

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Juvenile Octopus

Look what we found at Within the Wilderness Adventures‘ Tutka Bay Lodge during super low tide (-4.7) today! A tiny octopus. We had a great time watching it swim, change color and respond to our observations! It was about 8 cm from tip to tip of tentacle when it was fully extended. We carefully released it back into the ocean after we were able to get a closer look at it! So special.

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This photo shows a little of the scale of the octopus.
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Exploring Homer, Alaska

I arrived on the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry (the Kennicott) late on Friday night. I am staying with the Carroll family (Colleen is a friend of one of my NC friends, Lori). They have been amazing hosts. I’ll be here for a few more days until I take the water taxi over to Tutka Bay Lodge and begin working!

This is their home, about 9 miles west of downtown Homer. Colleen runs the Homer Theatre (more about that later) and her husband, AlRay, fishes and is also an engineer on a vessel that takes supplies (like lumber, machinery, etc) out to the remote villages in the Northwest. He was home for one day while I was here, then he left for about 8 weeks on one of their delivery trips.

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I’m staying in a little RV on their property while I’m here!
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The views from their porch never get old.
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We have had moose in the yard several times. Woodpeckers, grosbeaks, swallows, and more keep us entertained. Outside my window I can watch some clever long-tailed voles run around in some of AlRay’s fishing nets and old lines that are in the yard.
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Saturday we celebrated Cassidy’s birthday (she’s Colleen and AlRay’s 8-year-old). We went down to the Homer Spit and did some tidepooling with some of her friends. We had a great time. Then it was off to Starvin’ Marvin for some pizza.
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Sunday morning I went to an Edible Plants of Kachemak Bay walk. It was part of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird festival that has been going on for the last several days. An astonishing amount of migratory birds come through Homer. homer_08_edibles_sign

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Although the person leading the walk has been foraging and learning about edible plants for almost 20 years, she was not a botanist, so most of the information was very general and the best advice we learned was the mnemonic for telling the difference between an edible plant, Angelica, and a poisonous plant, Water Hemlock. First, you observe where the veins of the leaf end… at the tip of the leaf or in between lobes (the “cut”). Then remember this:

Veins to the cut, pain in the gut; veins to the tip, everything’s hip

Colleen’s parents are visiting from Florida. They will be moving here later this year (and living in a cabin right next door). Since it was Mother’s Day, we went in search of a place for brunch. A few of our first choices were full (uh oh, we were supposed to make reservations?), but we found a nice place and I enjoyed a salmon sandwich. Later in the afternoon, Colleen, Cassidy, and I went for a short hike on the Calvin & Coyle trail. We had a lovely time and saw a moose, a very vocal squirrel, and lots of interesting plants. The trail weaves through a forest, a meadow, and a bog (via strategically placed boards).
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Monday we went into town and stopped at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. Such a great place. I hope to get out to their field station on the other side of Kachemak Bay sometime soon.
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They have 3 ROVs that they made from NOAA “Bot in a Bucket” plans. I didn’t have the openROV with me, but we shared about equipment, ideas, and experiences with the underwater explorers! I’ll bring the openROV down to show them at some point.
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Next stop was the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
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I explored the exhibits a bit and then spent some time walking around outdoors on their trails. One trail leads down to Bishop’s Beach (where the Edible Plants walk was). The best part of Bishop’s Beach is that there is a fantastic bakery right on the edge of the road, Two Sisters Bakery. They have the most amazing oven, incredible breads, delicious coffee, and a fantastic view.
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The day ended with a hike along the Homer Spit (poor Colleen got a blister on the ball of her foot, ouch!). Cassidy joined us, but she rode her bicycle while we walked. At night, we finished reading the second book of the Harry Potter series, and then watched the movie together. I had forgotten how long that movie is.

There really isn’t a bad view in Homer. No matter where you look you see mountains, glaciers, the Bay, wildlife, or a coffee shop.

As I mentioned, Colleen is the manager for the Homer Theatre. Right now they are showing the Avengers and I plan to go watch that tonight. What is the best thing about the small theatre? They serve popcorn with real butter and they have nutritional yeast to sprinkle on it!
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It is nice to have a few days to do laundry, pick up miscellaneous supplies, and explore Homer before heading out to the lodge. But I’m really looking forward to getting started… especially since we have a super low tide coming up early next week!!!

Stay tuned, and Stay Curious!

Whittier to Kodiak Island: Rain and Drills

We arrived in Whittier on Thursday morning at 6am. I walked through the pedestrian underground tunnel over to the Anchor Inn.
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They weren’t open yet for breakfast, but I was able to sit and use their wifi until they were ready. Whittier lived up to its reputation of being rather bleak. We had rain and wind to accompany the view of the old Soviet-style buildings. However, the people make up for the surroundings. They were so friendly and helpful. I did have a few minutes to check out the tiny local musuem, which did a great job highlighting some of the local history. Still, I think the prettiest thing in Whittier is the Ferry sign.

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We left Whittier around 11am. As we pulled away from the port, you could tell something was different. The ship felt even emptier. Most folks had departed at Whittier for Anchorage. We now have only 33 passengers onboard until Kodiak Island. That means there are more crew on the ferry than passengers!

It was a rainy day (and night) crossing the Gulf over to Kodiak. During the day, the crew practiced some drills. First they did some fire drills… complete with gearing up and using fire hoses.
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Then they did some Abandon Ship drills. For these, they lowered the life boats (not quite all the way down to the water, but enough to practice using the hydraulics that lower and raise the boats).

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We also made a quick one hour stop in Chenega Bay. This is a tiny (and I mean, TINY) village of folks who were affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. You can see the oil spill recovery units on the water and on the docks (put in place for any future spills). They were recipients of settlement money (and they also had someone who invested for the town in the Dot.com days and they cashed out in time to do really well). This means, basically, the people here don’t need to work, other than fish when they want to. There was no cell service in port. The main reason we stop here is for the locals to come aboard and buy some fresh baked pie or a burger or two.

On across the Gulf to Kodiak Island. We had some rolling and pitching as we crossed the open water. Not much to do but get a last night of sleep on the ferry!

I awoke early as we were pulling into Kodiak. At 6am a few of us disembarked and went in search of coffee. One of my fellow passengers is a traveler from Texas, Robert, who is creating his own adventure. He came to Kodiak in search of summer work. At the coffee shop he started making friends with the locals, finding about odd jobs, and putting up his “Available for Hire” sign on the bulletin board. I’m sure he’ll find something and have an amazing summer here. We walked into town together and I enjoyed learning about his life in Texas, his plans to eventually go to grad school to become a licensed dietician, and his thoughts about Alaska.

Found a great coffee shop right on the harbor. A great way to spend the day.

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I have a few hours left in Kodiak, so I’ll walk around for a while before heading back to the ferry. Then it will be time to pack up and get ready to arrive at my final port: Homer. This has been an amazing trip on the ferry and a great way to start my summer season here in Alaska.

Extra Adventures: Hubbard Glacier

We have had such incredibly gorgeous weather that the crew has been able to add some extras into our schedule. On Tuesday, after leaving Juneau, we had smooth sailing through Icy Strait and took a little side trip around Elfin Cove and on in through a narrow channel to the village of Pelican. This allowed the crew some extra piloting practice. Once we were outside Pelican, they turned the boat 180º pretty much in place. We kept hoping for wildlife as we went through the narrow passage, but we didn’t see anything extraordinary. Well, I did see Mt. Crumpit (sort of).

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On Wednesday morning we docked at Yakutat for about 2 hours. A few of us walked to the local grocery, Mallott’s General Store. We arrived before the store was open, but the door was unlocked. I guess in a town of 622, you don’t lock anything–even stores. After the store workers arrived, we went in and were amazed to find just about anything you could ever want. The building certain was larger inside than the exterior revealed! Fresh fruit and vegetables, all kinds of canned, frozen, and fresh goods, sporting gear, snacks, Brown Cow yogurt (!), and even an espresso bar.

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Since we have had such remarkable weather, the crew decided to take some time to get some practice in with their fast rescue boats.

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Just outside of Yakutat is the very large Hubbard glacier. The Kennicott doesn’t usually pull in to view the glacier, but we did today! Once near the glacier, we put down two orange fast rescue zodiacs and while they did their maneuvers, the pilot also practiced some terrific navigation through icebergs and maneuvered right up to the glacier.

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You know it’s a pretty special day when the ship’s crew comes out to take photographs.

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I was able to grab a video of the fast rescue boat retrieval back onto the ship. One cable lifts the entire boat, along with the 3 crew aboard. What a wild ride that must be.

The movie for today was The LEGO Movie… but it was playing while we were all outside watching the glacier. I think we made the right choice!

Ferry Folk

I’ve mentioned that we have only about 100 passengers on the ferry right now (capacity 499). This means I’ve been able to meet many of my fellow travelers. And each one has a story! Here are some of the ferry folk.

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Ron was a cowboy in the Midwest. He’s traveling up to Nome to meet with a friend who takes barges from Whittier up to Nome. He’s been telling me stories about working cattle and life on the range. I’ll definitely tell you the story about the broken eggs sometime soon. Ron doesn’t own much, but he does have a plan. He was so kind to give me a blanket for my birthday.

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Ben is a young guy originally from Ketchikan. He’s lived the last year and a half with his brother in Washington state. He’s on his way to Anchorage to be with his dad, whom he only just found a few months ago. Every time we have a few hours in port, he grabs his skateboard and heads into town.
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This young couple is traveling to the military base near Anchorage. He’s an MP and has been serving in upstate NY. They have a few weeks to explore Alaska before he has to report for duty, so they are taking the ferry to Whittier and then will explore Denali and the Kenai peninsula.

Jeremy is heading to Alaska to work at a lodge outside of Denali. He has worked for the last 3 years at a lodge just outside Yosemite. He’s looking forward to returning to Alaska (he visited once years ago). No photo, I missed taking one before he left the ferry!

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Troy is a boat captain from South Carolina. He’s headed up to Seward to captain a fishing boat for the season. He’ll start out working on multi-day trips but will work up to day trips so that he’ll be back every night. He’s looking forward to having his wife join him for a month during the summer.

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Finally Iwama Yuchi is on a trip around the world. He is Japanese and we spoke briefly when he was trying to identify some things he was taking photos of.

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His website has information about his interesting adventure: http://yuichi.ikidane.com

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Juneau

Today (May 5) we are in Juneau for a few hours. When we are in port, I try to find a coffeeshop or some other location with wifi so that I can get online and post an update. We usually also have cell service for a few hours before and after we arrive. However, once we are truly underway, I lose connection with my online world and that is not a bad thing. We are surrounded on all sides by amazing beauty. So many mountains. So many islands.

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Yesterday we had our first sighting of humpback whales from the ship. A few people also saw a pair of porpoises. When we are close to the shore, it is easy to see eagles and other birds. I don’t go anywhere without my binoculars (you never know when something will beg for a closer look).

There are 100 passengers on the ferry. The capacity is 499. This makes it feel somewhat empty. But it also makes it easier to strike up conversations and to find uncrowded places on the ship. Even the theatre (which seats about 50-75) is never full. Normally there would be tents filling the solarium and upper decks. But right now there is plenty of room and people are making themselves at home easily (I especially like the hammocks that were set up from the solarium rafters).

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Speaking of the theatre. We watched two more documentaries on Monday. One was very interesting and well done, about the Alaska Marine Highway history. The other was old, not as informative as it could have been, and rather poorly crafted. I should have stayed on the deck scanning the horizon. Everywhere you look you see something breathtaking.

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I did miss one unfortunate incident as we pulled out of Ketchikan. Apparently a float plane had problems on a landing and not far from the docks it tipped over and then was submerged upside down. Fortunately, since it was close to the docks, it was able to be secured by a cable and brought close. They will need some equipment to right it. Speculation was that a pontoon filled with water. We hope everyone got out ok. There are several pilots on our ship and they were all talking about other difficulties with landings. Nevertheless, air travel will always continue because it is essential for the rural villages and areas that have no other connection to the outside.

I met a couple from Sydney (Susan and Dieter). They are visiting Alaska for the first time and are fortunate to be staying 5 weeks. It was fun to hear their reactions to the scenery, the wildlife, and the differences in weather (they are heading into winter back in Australia). Amazingly, we have had sunny, warm (for an Alaska spring) weather for the past 2 days, with only one area of sprinkles. Today as we arrived in Juneau, the sky was completely clear, and a full moon hung above the mountains.

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The best part of my tiny cabin/stateroom on the ferry is the window. It has a depth of at least 18 inches, so it feels like a windowseat. Although it is high and I have to climb up into it, I like to sit in the window and watch the sea go by. I put a blanket in the window so I could sit and read or look out the window to make sure I don’t miss anything. Unfortunately, there are two panes of thick glass, so it makes photos distorted. I’ve tried to take some photos when I see something that I need to quickly snap, but I need to run up on the deck if I want to get better photos.

This post is dedicated to Eric and Sally. Eric was a commercial halibut fisherman for over 35 years. They live in Juneau and were departing the ferry today. They kindly gave me a ride into town. They are an amazing couple and full of stories. I hope I meet many more people like them.

Greetings from Ketchikan, Alaska

On Saturday (May 2), I boarded the Kennicott, one of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries, to travel from Bellingham, WA, to Homer, AK. It will take me six days. For the first 36 hours of the trip, I was in Canadian waters (as I traversed northward, I waved to the port side of the ship in the direction of Frasier Cain and to the starboard side toward Carin Bondar. I did not have internet while traveling the 36 miles to our first stop in Ketchikan, which allowed me plenty of time to explore the ship, enjoy the views, and meet interesting people. I’m posting this from Ketchikan, on May 4th. Since today is my birthday, I am quickly posting this (at The Landing Restaurant, which has free wifi!) and then will be off to find Sweet Mermaids, a fantastic bakery, where I hope to find some treats to celebrate the day. Although, I won’t be able to truly celebrate until I have some treats from Chef Mandy Dixon at La Baliene on the Homer Spit!

Here are a few travel tidbits from my trip so far:

I woke up at 4:10am to find that the sun had already begun to rise. I’m looking forward to our very long days of summer sunlight! As I travel further north, the length of daylight will increase. As the summer solstice grows nearer, each day will bring more and more sunlight… giving ample daylight for our adventures.

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We passed numerous little villages and many, many islands. One village, Alert Bay, was a small fishing and logging village and had beautifully carved Native culture totems that we could see from the ferry.

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I saw my first sea otter of the trip. Out on Kachemak Bay we have rafts of them! I am looking forward to seeing all the newborn pups!

I watched 2 documentaries on the ferry. One was about the history of Ketchikan, the other was about the Ketchikan fishery. My IMCC friends would have huge smiles to hear everyone talk about sustainable fisheries. I sat with a couple from Juneau. Sally was a marine biologist (yay!) and used to work with the Alaska Fisheries. They knew some of the people in the documentaries!

Another interesting person I met is the chief pursor for the Kennicott. She lives in Ketchkan with her husband who is a bosun on the Columbia (another Alaska ferry). They work 2 weeks (separately, each on their own ferry) and then have 2 weeks off! She has one daughter and a new granddaughter (who lives in Washington state). You can just imagine all the cute pictures she showed me. She is going to visit them this week, so she was pretty excited.

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Eight laps around the ferry is one mile. I wonder why I know that. The kitchen crew recognized me in the dinner line because they had seen me going by their window so many times.

The tidal zones on the coastal rocks are marked by colors of seaweed. I wish I could scramble around and identify them more closely.

A quick shoutout to my extended family for all their encouragement and support and patience while I have this amazing summer job. Thank you for letting me be away for so long, and I promise to post lots of photos.

And with that, it has just started to rain. I feel like I’m really in Alaska now.

Stay tuned for more updates, and Stay Curious!

Last view of NC before Alaska: Baby Birds

I left NC this morning to head to Alaska. As I left, I took a peek at the 4 baby birds who hatched the day before my departure. I also grabbed a few of the lilies of the valley (my favorite flowers) that bloomed before I left. Two special treats to send me off and help me remember how special home is. On to Alaska!

I won’t be around to document the growth and fledging of these birds. But you can see some photos I took of a previous year’s nestlings (click here for the archive – scroll through for the full set of posts–they are in reverse order)! This nest has been used for the last 4 years to successfully raise 3-4 birds each year.

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