Thursday, June 26, 2014

Alaska-The Last Frontier and The Last Blog Post!

I arrived home on August 21st, 2013 after having been on my bicycle trip for 518 days. At first it was a little surreal to think that I was done with the trip and then within weeks the trip seemed distant-as if it had occurred years ago. 
It took me a while to get settled into life in the real world again and to finally figure out all of the stats from the trip, but because I am so much a keeper of details, it had to be done. 

My GPS recorded 14,252 km/~8,856 miles. I only had it turned on while I was actually riding my bike (not hitchhiking). Although I almost never used it for navigation it made a great statistics keeper!
Statistics of the Bike Trip

Each table below is sorted by the country with the highest (to lowest) stat from the first statistical column.
Chile wins as the country where I spent the most time and rode the most miles. Listed are only the days I rode in Mexico as I spent about a month there after I ended the bike trip.
The mountains of South America were absolutely amazing. The mountains were the most challenging and my favorite parts of the trip, but it was all fantastic!
Chile wins for the country in which I ascended the most cumulative feet. But that is because I was there for such a long period of time and because I crossed the Andes three times there! Colombia, however, wins for the country in which I ascended the greatest number of feet on average per day.
This is my route overlayed on Google Earth. My GPS program offers this view. When I went into Google Earth to look at this view I found out I could zoom in on any one of my waypoints and take a look at exactly where I was using the street view feature. I only discovered this while finally loading all of my GPS waypoints, routes, and tracks into the MapSource program and it was super cool to zoom in on some of the remote places and reminisce on being there.
 For my next trip, I have to  figure out how to send the link to this type of overlay to the public so people  may go to Google Earth and see exactly where I have been. I saved this to my places but I don't know how to save it to a location someone else can access. If anyone reading this already knows how to do that, please send me a message (!
When I met people while on my bike trip they would be amazed to learn that I was from Alaska. Although most people are familiar with Alaska from the movies or TV, the chance of actually meeting one of the 720,000 Alaskans (especially on a bike in a small village in Latin America) is probably less than the chance of winning the lottery. I enjoyed telling people about the abundant beauty and wildlife of Alaska. After having spent a year in Antarctica and nearly two years on my bike trip, I realized I hadn't been "home" in 3 years except for brief visits. I missed it. 
I kept really busy getting back into the swing of everyday life. I had a lot of catching up to do. I rented a room in a friend's house and moved in there, emptied out my storage unit, and visited with friends.
I am fortunate enough that Dan, the CFO of a company where I used to do accounting work in the summer of 2010, heard I was back in town and offered me a job right away. I asked to defer my starting date for six weeks (adjustment time) and told him I only wanted to work three days a week so that I can focus two days a week on writing my book. Dan met all of my requests and I have been very happy working there again.
Before I started permanent work, I had my first little excursion. My friend Jack, (owner of Alaska Air Taxi and who I used to work for) put me in contact with a client of his who owns a gold mine in the mountains of the Alaska Range. The mining camp operations were scheduled to close for the winter and the owner needed someone to take an inventory of all camp equipment and parts. It sounded like a great opportunity to make a little spending money and to have a little adventure at the same time. The camp was located in a beautiful valley a little over an hour by flight (in a Turbine DeHavilland Otter) from Anchorage. I flew out for five days and took inventory of the whole camp. It was awesome to be out there in the middle of nowhere while the fall colors were alive on the mountains.
Jack flew me and the mine owner out to the camp.
In Alaska you can fly for hours over the mountains in the Alaska Range and never see evidence of humans.

View of the landing strip at the mine. I was used to flying with Jack into all kinds of very crude landing strips in remote parts of Alaska. I never tire of flying in the various small planes that Jack owns. I have been on flights where we landed on gravel sandbars and strips in planes equipped with big tundra tires or on rivers or lakes in planes equipped with floats, and in the winter in planes equipped with skis. The DeHavilland Otter is a work horse that can carry a lot of cargo and still fly in and out of fairly small strips.This particular plane takes off in seconds after throttling up because of its turbine engine and huge wings. It is a blast to feel the "G's" when it lifts off so quickly.
View out the window as we taxi towards the camp. Notice the crudeness of the landing strip.
My tent.
This was luxury compared to camping on the bike trip! There was electricity and heat in there!
Some of the mining crew and owner of the mine (front right) inside the mess tent. The crew stays for most of the summer and works for about 3 months straight, usually without days off. Not only did I inventory all the parts and equipment, tents, beds etc, but every thing in the mess tent too.
A few of the sleeping tents and tent skeletons.
Mess tent, shower tent, and camp office. Jack flew out most of the gear in which to build the camp in countless flights over two seasons.

The three outhouses that sit over barrel pits.
The camp boundary was surrounded by an electric fence to keep the bears out. The camp ran on solar power and a few large generators as back up.
One cold gray day but still beautiful!
It snowed one night and dusted the mountains.
Safety first around camp. A hard hat, safety glasses, and safety vest were required when leaving the housing area. The camp is regulated heavily by government organizations specifically designed for regulating mines and their camps.
Appropriately this rainbow ended over the mill building where the gold flakes and powder were milled into bars for transport back to Anchorage.
Relaxing a little after work.

It was a cold flight back to Anchorage in the plane called a Skyvan. As you can see, it is a cargo plane with only one passenger seat, lots of space and rollers to make loading it easier. Jack has hauled large gear at times, to include some small vehicles and even heavy equipment like a Bobcat. The plane was pretty empty going back to Anchorage with only a few items and me.
At the end of September some friends invited me to go to Denali National Park for two days on a special permit to drive their own vehicle into the park. In order to get this permit, people have to win a lottery for it. The park administration only allows a certain number of people to drive into the park in private vehicles and only for four days at the end of the park's summer tourist season. Aside from those four days when people can drive vehicles into the park, the only other way to see the park during the rest of the summer is by bus on a tour. The advantage of being able to drive in independently is that we could stop any where and at any time to view the wildlife. On a bus tour, people are subject to the whims of the driver of the bus, other tourists, or a clock that predicates the length of the tour.

Denali National Park is a very special place and it is absolutely huge. The national park is six million acres of which Denali Wilderness (mentioned above) is two million acres at the center of the park. The entire park is larger than the state of Massachusetts!
The view from the bed and breakfast where we stayed on the north side of the park boundary in Healy.
Before we even drove into the park we had a visit from a moose in the yard of the bed and breakfast.
First moose sighting in the park. We ended up seeing four different moose.
One of the dangerous parts of the road into the park. Driving is slow on the dirt road but at least we didn't have to drive on snow.
The photos of some of the wildlife are little blurry because I was at full zoom for most of them. I just barely caught this bear before it ducked over the hill.
Dall sheep
Ptarmigan were very camouflaged.
I loved the fall colors!

John and LeeAnne-my friends (and ex-boyfriend's parents) who won the lottery to go into the park and who generously invited me to join them.
In the foreground is some morning frost that had not been hit by sunlight yet. Winter comes quickly in the middle of Alaska where this park is located.
The indigenous people named this mountain Denali but it was changed to Mt McKinley after President McKinley. It is the tallest  mountain in North America at 20,320 feet (6,193 meters) and is only visible about 20% of the time because of the weather around the peak. It was out in full glory on this beautiful day!
This porcupine that was not scared at all by the 10 or so people that stopped to take photos of him.

Double whammy! Two grizzlies together! At first I just saw the dark bear and then the brown grizzly came into view and got right up near the other one. Based on the hump on the back of the darker bear I think it is just a dark colored grizzly instead of a black bear.
The landscapes within the park are so different around each corner along the 92 mile road into the heart of the park.

One way in and one way out. At the end of the road are some very expensive lodges. There is a landing strip here and some guests fly to their lodge instead of taking the six or so hour ride into the park by bus.

Caribou mom and young one. The only difference between caribou and reindeer is that reindeer can fly (smile). Actually reindeer are domesticated caribou. In Alaska reindeer sausage is popular.
Some racks of antlers on display at one of the pullouts. Both female and male caribou grow antlers that they shed every fall and grow back in spring. Sometimes antlers are found on the ground before the critters eat them. These antlers were from a dead caribou since part of the skull was still attached.
The weather was gorgeous and so was the view from the bed and breakfast balcony.
Continued views of Mt McKinley from the highway on the four hour drive back to Anchorage.
Sign giving details of the mountains as seen in the photo below.

More views of the Alaska Range.
Swans in the wetlands just south of Anchorage.
One of my favorite places to visit regularly is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, located in Portage, about 50 minutes south of Anchorage. The AWCC is a wildlife rehabilitation center that cares for abandoned, orphaned, or injured wildlife from all over the state. Sometimes the animals can be rehabilitated and released and sometimes they have been too habituated to humans or injured badly and end up spending their lives at the center. It is a beautiful location with a very natural setting and large enclosures for the animals.
I first became familiar with the center when I was a tour guide 15 years ago. I used to stop at the wildlife center (called Big Game Alaska before it went non-profit) four times a week as part of a tour that included a whale watching trip, a visit to Exit Glacier, and a scenic drive between those places. I became acquainted with the owner and all of the animals there at the time. Before the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain and other diseases which became a potential problem, it was common for people to bring fruit and vegetables and raked leaves (in fall) to the center to hand feed the animals. Who knew that moose absolutely LOVE bananas?! I can't even remember when I first learned that but once I did, I never arrived empty handed. Often I would find a bunch of tourists lining the outside of the moose enclosure and trying to coax the moose that were sitting in the middle of the field to come over to the fence. It was my favorite trick to arrive at the fence and peel a banana upwind from the moose and watch them get up immediately and come right over to me for their treat. I used let each of my tour guests feed them. I believe you haven't lived until you have squished a moose's nose! Their nostrils are very soft and squishy and the moose are very tolerant of being touched when they are being fed bananas. Feeding the animals at the center is a little different now for the general public but every once in a while I can coordinate it to get treats to the moose.

They even like the peels!
These guys aren't very old or big but their noses are squishy just the same!

Adult caribou make a cool clicking sound when they walk. The sound is due to tendons that roll around a small bone in their foot.
Elk are not indigenous to this part of Alaska but are indigenous in Southeast Alaska. The center has a big herd of them that are thriving here.
Musk ox have some of the finest and softest wool (called qiviut) of any animal.

I was there during bear feeding time.


Eagles in Turnagain Arm mud flats between Anchorage and Portage. Turnagain Arm is a body of water which borders Anchorage. It is funnel-shaped which is part of the reason why it is the home to the third highest tides in the world at 39 feet (11.9 meters) of difference between low and high tide. These mud flats are particularly dangerous because the mud is made of glacial silt which has very angular grains. The grains are normally balanced and have lots of water between them. When the mud is stepped on, the delicate balance is disturbed and the grains rearrange themselves and the water flows out. When the water and grains are rejoined they settle around a foot or leg and they become locked together like cement. It is very difficult to free something locked in the silt. When racing against time to beat the very swift changing tide, a person can become hypothermic or drown before rescuing is possible. At least three people have drowned after sinking into the mud. Fortunately, due to advanced techniques in dealing with the mud, many others have been rescued.
Portage Lake (fifty minutes from Anchorage) with two glaciers visible in this shot.
My friend, Kim, recently purchased a rough cabin in Talkeetna about 2 hours north of Anchorage. I went up to check it out and spend the night before the first snow.
I could live here!

Prayer flags-Alaska style.
My friend, Erin, on my immediate right, organized a reunion of sorts of all of the Alaska Air Taxi people when Heather (one of the pilots who had moved to Minnesota) was back in town. We all worked together over 10 years ago. This was a great mix of bush pilots, mechanics, a dock worker, dispatcher, me the bookkeeper/office manager, and Jack the owner. None of this group works there anymore but we sure had a blast back in the day.
Steve, (in the Air Force shirt) in previous photo is a National Air Guard rescue helicopter pilot. When he took over command of the rescue squadron all of the Alaska Air Taxi crew got together again and watched his change-of-command ceremony then had a tour of the helicopter he flies.

Vegas Baby!! My friend from Florida rendezvoused with me in Vegas while she was there for a convention. She and her boyfriend, Mike, accommodated me in their huge corner suite with this view at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.
This was slightly different from the rooms I had been staying in while in Latin America.
There was a huge wrap around balcony outside of the room. Talk about spoiled!!

If you remember from a prior blog of mine, Mo likes to drive fast and is good at it. She and Mike took 6 laps in a Lamborghini and a Ferrari at the speedway
I want to play Cowboys and Indians!
This shot is for my friend Tim who actually met the members of the band Kiss back in the day. Tim is an artist who at the time created paintings of rock stars (he painted a beautiful one of Prince for me) and managed to present Kiss with a painting of the group. He met them twice and they remembered him the second time. They gave him an autographed guitar! He now specializes in photography and has some amazing photos of Alaska found on his site Check out his blog about a composite photo that went viral on the internet and was touted as a real photo of a kayaker in a whale's mouth!
Back in Alaska I spent Thanksgiving with Jack and his girlfriend, Maria, in Seldovia. Seldovia is only accessible by boat or plane so I drove Jack's truck to the end of the road and took the ferry across the bay to the small town of Seldovia where Jack has a little vacation house. We all spent the weekend there and then flew back to Anchorage.
In Homer around the ferry terminal there were several eagles.
The "beach" at the Homer spit and the view across Kachemak Bay.
No joke, there were surfers in the frigid water on Thanksgiving Day. Apparently the waves are best in the winter months.
Homer Spit is full of cute little tourist spots and is booming in the summer. On Thanksgiving it was like a ghost town.

The ferry which is part of the Alaska Marine Highway operates year round and even on this holiday of Thanksgiving. I imagine it gets pretty miserable to handle the lines when the decks and lines are frozen.
I saw three little sea otters on the way across the bay and a couple more around Seldovia.
Approaching Seldovia on the ferry.
The mountains of the Alaska Range across the Cook Inlet were looming brightly that day.
The little town of Seldovia is adorable in the busy tourist summer or in the quiet of winter.
The only bar in town is owned by Stefanie who is from a very small town in Chile (Villa Cerro Castillo) that I had ridden through on my bike trip! It is a small world for sure.
Good times with Jack and Maria and her daughters Sierra and Tessa.
Jack's Piper Navajo was a very comfy ride back to Anchorage.
Sierra was co-pilot on this one.
A visit from Joe, who I met in Antarctica, stopped in Anchorage on his way to work on the North Slope of Alaska.
Another visit from another friend I met while working in Antarctica. Ron and I spent the winter together at the South Pole with only 49 total people and we never got on each others nerves! Ron stopped in Anchorage on his way to work on the North Slope too.
View of Anchorage and Sleeping Lady mountain from a trail head in the Chugach Mountains that border Anchorage.
  I was busy meeting friends and getting reacquainted with Alaska again and before I knew it the typical Alaska fall weather was upon me. I only managed one little bike ride around Anchorage before hanging Tankita from the garage ceiling for safekeeping through the winter. I should have taken Tankita on a short overnight trip so that I could feel the difference between having her fully loaded and trimmed down with minimal gear. Since I was probably in the best shape I had been in years, it would have been nice to have gotten a body fat calculation for fun too. But that didn't happen and instead I went from riding a 135 pound bike for 20-25 hours per week to doing absolutely nothing physically. So, before my body figured it out, I had twenty pounds on me! I am the heaviest I have ever been and looking at me you would never know I just did more physical activity in the past 20 months than I ever had in my life! There is no justice!
While house sitting for a friend I had this little guy as a visitor in the back yard. He had a habit of coming around and molesting the bird feeder in the neighbors yard.
Snow carving created in the annual snow carving competition in Anchorage. The bear is bowling and the pins are penguins and a walrus (next photo). Too bad that penguins do not live where bears are found!
The cutest bowling pins ever! Maybe the pins were supposed to be some other kind of bird?

On January 2nd, I started writing stories for my book. A friend of mine (Lorraine Chittock-a published writer who I met in Chile while on my bike trip) said to expect it to take at least two years to write a book. I consider that it may take longer since I am only doing it part time. Then I will have to see about getting it published, so don't hold your breath for it!
Traci, a friend and ex-coworker from MacOps in Antarctica, heard I was writing and sent me a request for submission for an online literary journal that she and some others had recently created. Ignoring the possibility that my story was chosen only because the journal was new and maybe the editors didn't have many submissions from which to choose, I was ecstatic when they selected my story for publication! After receiving invaluable help from one of the editors, I am pleased with the final results. The story, one of my favorites from my bike trip, can be found with the other chosen submissions in the "Crossroads" edition . The issue will be archived when the July 2014 issue is posted but you will be able to find it on the archives page under "Issue Two" or try this link:

Summer is here now and I have been on Tankita several times and am enjoying it immensely! Here are some miscellaneous photos of Alaska'a beautiful summer!

This is the sign found in the parking lot of a trailhead where I took a hike. One of the scenarios states "If the bear is slobbering, huffing, jaw popping, hop charging. This tells you that you are in deep doo-doo!" Then the sign continues to explain what to do if the risk heightens.
I met this mama bear on the trail. She blocked the way and didn't look like she was ready to leave any time soon. So I waited and continued to take photos until it was apparent that I wouldn't be able to go back to the lot where my car was parked. Instead I had to hike two miles in the opposite direction to a different trail head and to hitch a ride with some folks back to the other parking lot. It was a good think that the trail was a through trail and not one way in and out as I could have been there all day.
Then there are just plain stupid people. I realize my zoom lens makes this bear look closer to them than she is, but I still think it was too close. I found out from people who had been on that side of the trail that she had two cubs that were in a tree just there off the trail. Her cubs were safe so she just hung out on the trail eating stuff off off the brush on the sides.
Turnagain Arm overlook with the highway and the railroad tracks that run alongside the arm.
Another surprise sighting on the same hike when I saw the bear.
My friend (and ex-supervisor from my communications operator job in Antarctica) Mary, passed through Anchorage on her way to her summer job in Denali National Park. We hadn't seen each other in about 4-5 years.

My two sisters just visited Alaska for five days at the beginning of June. It was the first time we had been together for a happy event (the last time was after our parents deaths) in about 8 years! Here we are at the Seward Small Boat Harbor before departing for a five hour nature and wildlife cruise.
Being greeted by sea otters before even leaving the harbor is always a good sign!
Noisy sea lions can be seen on every single cruise in Resurrection Bay.

A few people were tagged by bird shit when we went by the rookery.
The kittiwake rookery.
Thar she blows! A whale sighting! I think they said this was a humpback whale.
Double whammy!

These little buggers were fast and kind of far away so I only managed one decent puffin photo.
An Orca off in the distance.
Bear glacier 
Mountain goat and baby
We walked right up to this massive glacier called Exit Glacier. Notice the scale of it next to the people on the right side of the photo. Visible is only a small portion of the glacier.
Laurie, me, Heather (my twin)
An adult and young bald eagle on the mud flats at Turnagain Arm
This mama had three calves (you can see two on the right if you look hard) on the roadside about 40 miles south of Anchorage.
Jack took my sisters and I out for a scenic flight in the DeHavilland Otter. It was Heather's first time in a small plane and Laurie's second.
We flew low over the Knik River out to the glaciers tucked in the valley only twenty minutes by flight from Anchorage. It was a beautiful day for flying.
Knik Glacier flowing down into the valley
Mugging it with Jack and my sisters where we landed near the glacier on a small dirt strip.
The Otter alongside the strip where we landed. I've landed with Jack in the Otter on a hiking trail on the top of a mountain once that was narrower than this!
The lake in front of Colony Glacier with icebergs bunched up on the shoreline. Nine years ago Jack gave the okay for some friends and I to take one of his planes (and a pilot) out for the day for my fortieth birthday so we landed in front of the glacier on this lake in a DeHavilland Beaver on floats. We lassoed one of the tiny icebergs and brought it back to town for ice in our cocktails!
The flight home. Yes that is snow on the mountains in June.

Another trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center so my sisters could get acquainted with the animals and vice versa.

A musk ox calf only weeks old. There were two born a short time apart named Tsuni and Nami.
The top of the tram at Alyeska ski resort.
Grinning again for the camera with my two sisters and Tina our step-sister who stopped off (on the way to her job on the North Slope) while my sisters were here. Laurie hadn't seen Tina in at least three decades (since before her dad and our mom divorced each other) and it had been awhile for Heather too.
The last night before my sisters left Alaska this mama moose and calf visited the yard at the condos across the street from where I live so that my sisters could see how the crazy moose travel in and about people's yards all over Anchorage! Gotta love a place where moose camp out in your yard. I love Alaskan summers!

This post brings you up to date to my life back in the real world as of June 26th, 2014 and it concludes my Hollywould On A Bike blog. Thank you for supporting me throughout my bike trip and for continuing to read the blog posts while I caught up on them even after I had returned home to Alaska. Your support has meant the world to me! I hope to finish my book in a couple of years and to get it published so that I can share more travel stories with all of you.
People often ask me if I have another big adventure planned. Tentatively, after the mission of publishing my book is accomplished, I hope to volunteer somewhere in a national park or refuge in Africa where the big animals roam. I haven't spent much time on that continent and I will be overdue for a big adventure by then! Wanna join me?