Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alaska, Part II: Adventures on the Kenai Peninsula

The cruise ended in Seward, 1600 miles from where we started in Vancouver.  We disembarked, said goodbye to Michael's family, and picked up our rental car, all before 7:30 am.  With only 3 full days left we had A LOT of adventuring to do!

Exit Glacier

Our first stop was Exit Glacier to hike the Harding Icefield Trail (8+ miles roundtrip). After gaining significant elevation through the forest, we crossed Marmot Fields (and saw marmots!) and began the snowy ascent to the Harding ice field.   I started to get a bit nervous when we stopped seeing the orange flags that the park service uses to mark the trail.  As we learned a bit later, we were in fact in an avalanche zone and the park service had deliberately removed the flags.

Beginning the ascent to the ice field.  The trail was still marked here.


Fastest way to get down the mountain!

After the Harding Icefield Trail hike, we followed the caravan of RVs (seriously, Alaska must be the RV capital of the world!) for the 4 hour drive to Homer.  Homer is a fishing village on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Katchemak Bay. The views from Homer are spectacular--looking across Cook Inlet you can see several active volcanoes and some impressive snow-topped mountains.   The town's most notable geographic feature is the "Homer Spit"-- a 5 mile piece of land (gravel, sand) jutting out into the bay.  According to a local, the spit was formed by now retreated glaciers.  

The Homer Spit

The highlight of our 10 day trip was bear viewing with Sasquatch Alaska in Lake Clark National Park.  It was a day I will remember forever.   

Lake Clark National Park is across the Cook Inlet from Homer.  While technically on the mainland,  it is only accessible by plane or boat.  I wasn't too comfortable climbing into the tiny Cessna 206 (6 person prop plane) for the 1 hour flight from Homer to Lake Clark's Chinitna Bay.  I survived with some deep breathing...

Our "ride," a Cessna 203
View from the plane on the way to Lake Clark

We landed on the beach (!!!) in Chinitna Bay where we had easy access to two bear viewing sites, one of which was a large meadow just over the dunes.   According to our guide, the bears were very much aware of our presence, as their sense of smell is excellent. However, since we were predictably situated at the bear viewing site, they never bothered us.

The bears at Lake Clark are brown bears.  We learned that the male bears are usually larger and have darker fur, while the females can be quite light skinned.  In late-May the bears have just come out from hibernation in the mountains.  We were a few weeks shy of the beginning of the salmon run, when the bears really get their nourishment.  In preparation for the salmon run, the Lake Clark bears were fattening themselves up on meadow grass.   At one point we could count 12 bears in sight!

For our last day in Alaska, we hiked the Grace Ridge Trail in Katchemak Bay.  Like Lake Clark, this area is only accessible by boat or plane.  The hike was a 9 mile thru trail, so we scheduled a water taxi drop off at "Kayak Beach" and pick up at trail's end.  We didn't see a human soul on the trail, only countless bald eagles and several marmots.  As with the Harding Icefield Trail, the first portion of the hike was wooded.  The second portion along the ridges was spectacular.

Just making it out of the forest on the Grace Ridge Trail

Starting the ridges...Yes, that is the path!

We were exhausted by trail's end and almost totally out of water.  The boat arrived a little after 5 and took us quickly back to Homer.

Water taxi pick up!

In spite of all our adventuring, we did get a chance to relax!  Kenai Peninsula Suites was our "Home(r) base."  Just a few miles outside of town, KPS boasts unique accommodations of subterranean rooms and cabins and is situated on a large property with breathtaking views across Cook Inlet. We stayed in a cabin, complete with a small kitchen, deck, grill, hot tub and million dollar views! In the evenings, we shucked oysters from the Homer Farmer's Market, grilled salmon, and drank beer on the porch.

I can't say enough good things about this little town.  Homer, you have won my heart!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Alaska Part I: Cruisin' the Inside Passage

We spent our big vacation of 2015 in Alaska: 7 days cruising the Inside Passage in honor of my father-in-law's retirement followed by 3 days of adventuring on the Kenai Peninsula.

The cruise embarked from Vancouver.  Here we are in Stanley Park.

The Inside Passage is only a small portion of the vast state of Alaska and is an archipelago bordered by mountains.  It hugs the coastline from the Puget Sound all the way to the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage.  Because of the calm waters most Alaska cruises are within the Inside Passage.  The landscape is mostly temperate rainforest with snow-capped mountains.  It's also home to the only tidewater glaciers on the Pacific coast.


For our first port of call, we did a family salmon fishing excursion at Knudson Cove.   Most of the King Salmon in the area where we were fishing were actually hatchery salmon.  This means that they were spawn at a hatchery and released.  The physical characteristics of hatchery salmon are different from wild salmon and they are smaller.  "Sammy Salmon" was a typical hatchery salmon--around 30 lbs and producing 7-9 lbs of salmon steaks. 

"Sammy Salmon" poses with the family

Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

We had no planned excursions for Icy Strait Point/Hoonah, located on Chigahof island.  I had read that there were no hiking trails in the area. Finding that hard to believe (this is Alaska, right??) we asked a number of locals, all of whom advised us not to go into the woods because of the dense bear population. So, what to do?  We walked from Icy Strait to the Tiglit community of Hoonah and continued down the road.  When we came upon a nice little log cabin home with an elderly gentleman in the yard,  I put on my biggest smile, walked into his yard, and started chatting.  When we told him we were in search of some nature, he pointed to his backyard which abutted an inlet and told us we were free to go there...

Walking into Hoonah

Local's backyard trail in Hoonah


Prior to the cruise, I had reserved an all-day trek of the Mendenhall Glacier with Above & Beyond AK for our day in Juneau. Above & Beyond AK promised an active day for adventurous travelers.  It was the highlight of the cruise for Michael and me! 

In front of the Mendenhall
Adjacent to the Juneau ice field (which is the size of Rhode Island), the Mendenhall Glacier is a favorite tourist destination for cruisers. Now is the time to see the glacier, as it is currently receding at an impressive rate.  Not surprisingly,  it's heavily studied by scientists researching global warming.

After our guides outfitted us with crampons, harnesses, etc. we hit the trail.  It was a 4+ mile trek to the base of the glacier itself, with a little bit of rock scrambling involved.

On the Mendenhall Trail

Mendenhall Trail

Mendenhall Trail

The Mendenhall is situated in the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rainforest. This made for a nice hike of contrasts---green and humid on the rainforest trail vs. icy and cold on the glacier.  We finally made it to the glacier, put on our gear and started our 2 hours of ice time!

Ice axes!!  These proved quite handy...

Michael climbing on the glacier

On the way down the glacier, we stopped in a REAL ice cave.  It was an amazing experience!


Skagway is a Klondike gold rush town on the border to the Yukon.  As soon as we arrived in town, we made a bee line for the National Park Service Ranger station and asked for a hike suggestion.  Within minutes we were at the trail head for Upper Reid Falls. We saw very few people on the 7 mile trail which was a welcome relief after the close quarters of the cruise ship.

That evening, Michael's family honored our 1st wedding anniversary with dinner at the Millenium's Olympic Restaurant.

Olympic Restaurant

For our final day at sea, we cruised into Yakatak Bay to see the Hubbard Glacier.  The captain maneuvered very close to the glacier itself and we enjoyed watching the "calving"--breaking off of pieces of the glacier--into the bay.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier

And, here we are the last night of the cruise in an impromptu ping pong tournament with some lovely Chileans.

Ping Pong Tournament!

Stay tuned for part II of our Alaskan adventures in Homer on the Kenai Peninsula...

Monday, June 8, 2015

RTW Fast Interrupted

I might as well come out with it.  I broke my Goodbye Valentino RTW Fast.

I was chugging along just fine these past five months with no temptations.  Sure, I never found time to make a Linden sweatshirt or some basic knit tops, but I had enough clothes and determination to not be tempted.

Cue: work stress, life stress, no sleep, and an awesome and much-needed vacation to Alaska.

Result: I bought two activewear tops, a sweatshirt and one horrendously ugly pair of Lululemon pants.

So, how did I let this happen?   It was the perfect retail therapy storm and I should have seen it brewing.  After working late into the evening most nights the week before our first wedding of the season (Atlanta), I came home to my sewing machine and burned the midnight oil trying to finish the Anna.

I threw the towel in at 2am the night before leaving when I  realized that that the skirt seams didn't match up with the bodice pleats. This was AFTER I had french seamed 7 seams (x2 for the lining). Exhausted, I went to sleep in tears!  Yes, I cried over the dress and a thousand other things.  It was the classic "why [I] still can't have it all" pity party.

I wore my guipure lace Laurel dress to the wedding (originally worn at our rehearsal dinner)
Since the wedding was Sunday evening, we flew home at 6am on Monday.  I was on the road again within hours for a presentation at my company's Boston office.  Tuesday evening, with my presentation finished and a mountain of work waiting, I *somehow* found myself at the Boston Eddie Bauer outlet. I couldn't resist the 40% off sale and scooped up a Linden-style sweatshirt, long sleeve activewear hoodie, and short-sleeved workout top.

I felt a little guilty about breaking the Fast, but I was too exhausted to care.  These were all items I had wanted to sew, but never prioritized.

I returned to NYC on Thursday at 3am with just enough time to pack for Alaska.  In Vancouver on Friday morning, I spied the flagship Lululemon store across the street from our hotel and emerged with what is quite possibly the ugliest pair of pants on earth.  Lululemon's "Hot to Street" pants were on final clearance and I know why.

What was I thinking???  A bit too HOT for me...

With 10 wonderful days of vacation under my belt--including one 16 hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep--I'm ready to renew my commitment to the Fast and finish the Anna.

I leave you with a few pictures from our Alaskan adventures.

Harding Icefield Trail (Seward, Alaska)

Wearing my EB hoodie just before we trekked on the Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska)
INSIDE an ICE CAVE on the Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska)