Friday, November 5, 2010

Vacation 2011 - what to do... what to do...

We've gone back and forth on this a a hundred times it seems. The economy's not great and I'm sure there are a ton of good reasons to stay home next year. We could put some more money in the bank or maybe pay down the mortgage on the house. Maybe a stay-cation next year? Its not like we live in New York City or anything... there's always a great time to be had in Colorado for an outdoorsy couple like we are... and we've had some pretty amazing vacations the last three summers in British Columbia and Alaska. Maybe it is time to cool our jets for a while...?
Or... we could just go find something else to do in Alaska... Ok. I'm in! I need to watch the hard sell; I don't know my own strength I guess.
Seriously, last year we had such an amazing time that I can't imagine not going back. And yes, money's tight. Money will probably always be tight but I'd pickup aluminum cans and clip coupons if I had to.
Last summer we kayaked from a camp that we setup on Point Adolphus. What a great trip. When we left Gustavus we flew east to Juneau and then northwest up the coast towards Cordova and then on to Anchorage. During that flight we flew over some massive ice fields and enormous mountain ranges. I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to explore some of that country. After a little research I learned that this area was the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
The park is the largest national park in the world. Its larger than Switzerland! Its a little over 20,625 square miles (6 times the size of Yellowstone). Four major mountain ranges converge here claiming 9 of the 16 highest peaks in North America. It is also home to the Malaspina Glacier. This glacier is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
In July of 2011 we'll be headed into that park for a week of camping, sightseeing and raw adventure! Pam and I will celebrate our 8th anniversary there. I can't wait. I expect grandeur but beyond that I'll be open to experience whatever the park throws at us.
I think we'll front the trip with a few days of fishing to boot.
Yep. Sounds like a grand time :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alaska 2010 Retrospective - Munsey's Bear Camp

Sunday August 15th was a busy day. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on the gravel beach of Point Adolphus, Chichagof Island just south of Gustavus, Alaska. This was the last day of a three day sea Kayaking trip with Alaska Discovery (Mountain Travel Sobek). Over the course of that day we would finish the trip, break camp, boat to the mainland, grab a shower and head to the airport for the 5 o'clock flight to the town of Kodiak by way of Juneau and Anchorage.
The hotel in Kodiak was pretty Spartan but it was the cheapest place in town. When we booked it 10 months earlier we figured that after 3 days of camping the worst room in Kodiak would be a welcome sight. The room was clean and it had a working shower so we'll call it good. An open window provided adequate ventilation and when gun shots rang out that night probably made us feel closer than we probably were…
Monday morning we called Andrews Airways to get the schedule for the flight out. They would pick us up at 11:00 am for a noon flight so hopefully we had time for breakfast and a load of laundry. It turns out that fitting the laundry in was a little tight when you factor in the 2 mile round trip hike to the laundry mat. In the end everything worked out and we made it back just in time for the shuttle to Andrews.
Andrews is located on an island just east of down town. They have a couple of float planes and Munsey's uses them exclusively to shuttle guests back and forth from Kodiak to the lodge at Amook Pass about 60 miles due west of town. Any time you get a chance to take a float plane trip, do it.
We arrived at Andrews about 11:40 and the plane was waiting. We jumped on the scale and they took our gear to the plane. We went inside to pay for the ride and met the other 2 folks flying with us that day, Pat and Wally from Kona, Hawaii. Pat is Mike Munsey's mother so this would prove to be an extra special trip.
We all left the office and made our way down the dock to the plane. Our pilot today was Phil. He was a tall lean guy with a dark tan and a long pony tail. Pilots seem to all have a good sense of humor and maybe even more so when they're BS'ing with tourist. They love to tell you that they haven't ditched a plane this week... yet, and its only Monday.
Phil was fun to fly with. I asked him what he did in his off season and he was quick to reply that he lived on a sailboat currently docked in Fiji. I'm obviously doing something wrong...
The weather was cloudy and rainy with light wind. We took the northern route to the west side of the island as it required passage through the fewest mountain passes. In no time we had swung south and were headed down Amook Pass for a smooth landing at Munsey's.
When a plane arrives at Munsey’s a shuttling process takes place. There are 3 floating docks at camp connected end to end to end. There are usually at least 3 passengers, luggage and boxes of groceries on the plane. Mike, Robin and Marcia are on the outermost dock to meet the plane. Luggage and boxes are going off, guests are getting off and saying hello. Other guests are saying goodbye and loading on to the plane. Its a mixture of joyful/tearful chaos at its best.
This year when we got to camp there were 2 gentlemen already there. Renee' was a photographer from Switzerland and Dick was a retiree from Maryland. We had met Dick at Munsey's last summer. He's a regular in camp and is very much a part of the Munsey family. Both men had been here for the previous week and Dick would be here for a few more.
Once the plane leaves Mike shows everyone their quarters and invites them to the house for lunch. After lunch you take go out on the Mary Beth for fishing or sight seeing.
This year Pam and I shared a cabin with Pat and Wally. We each had our own bedroom and bathroom and we shared a great room that had a heater. Mike and Robin built the cabin from a kit a few years back. It was quite an undertaking and they did a great job.
The Mary Beth is a 43 foot boat that they use for trips to the mouth of the river to see bears or to the upper end of Uyak Bay for whale watching or fishing for silver salmon and halibut.
After lunch we headed north for fishing. I'll never understand quite how you pick a spot on hundreds of square miles of water to park a 43 foot boat for fishing. I'm glad that its not my job. Monday we stopped in about 130 feet of water not far from shore and started jigging for halibut.
To halibut fish you have a metal lure about 8 inches long with a big treble hook on the end. You put a piece of cut fish (herring) on the treble and bounce it off the bottom. The thing weighs about 8 ounces and sinks with no issue. The rod and reel combo is a very heavy duty setup that gives you sufficient power to pull almost anything you can catch up from the bottom.
Monday afternoon Pam caught a halibut and a silver (coho) salmon. Wally caught a skate (looks like a sting ray) and I caught 2 skates.
At Munsey’s after you return from the day’s trip you’ve got some time to get ready for dinner and then we meet in the house about 15 minutes early for conversation and possibly a drink before dinner.
The food at Munsey's is top notch. You’ll gain weight here. Don’t worry about it. Its going to happen. When you budget for the trip, throw in a couple of weeks of cardio after you get home and then just enjoy being there .
Tuesday was our first day of bear viewing. After breakfast we all boarded the Mary Beth and headed south to the mouth of the river. Once we got to the south end of the bay we boarded a smaller boat and Robin dropped us off at the bank. This area is a huge tidal flat. It is heavily grown up with sedge grass (approximately 3’-4’ tall) and when high tide comes in this area would be under water. When the tide recedes salmon get trapped in some of the tidal pools and creeks allowing the bears quick access to food.
We worked our way along the edge of the flat and the base of a ridge that ran uphill into the timber. As we were making our way we suddenly came upon a large bear sleeping directly in front of us. Mike stopped and we all backed and looped around further into the flat where we immediately bumped another feeding bear that stood up to see what we were.

When this bear splashed away the first bear woke up and lumbered up the hill away from us. We were finally able to continue on up the bear trail to our first viewing spot; a steep hillside above a small creek.
For the next couple of hours we watched bears feeding along the creek in front of us. This year we saw several mature males. They would approach our position until they got wind of us and then they would turn tale and run. They acted completely different that the sows and sub-adult bears.
After we ate some lunch we headed back out into the flat to photograph some bears fishing along the edge of the shoreline. As we approached the flat one bear came running directly towards us at a full gallop. About 100 yards out she slowed to a walk and began to feed on sedge grass.
She was a smaller-framed bear than the rest on the beach and had long hair that waved dramatically in the breeze. Mike told us later that she had somehow adopted him. She was a great photographic subject for about 20 minutes and then she wandered back down to the shoreline.

Next we headed south across the mouth of another large creek. As we approached the creek another bear stood up in front of us and after determining what we were it turned and quickly left the beach.

Our plan from here was to cross the creek and make our way out to a point where Robin would pick us up in the skiff. It had been especially rainy this summer and the creeks were flowing fast. This particular creek was braided into 3 channels. The creek bottom was smooth gravel so footing was not an issue but the water was quite swift and we were all carrying packs containing more camera gear than I care to think about.
Mike led the way followed by me and then Pam. Renee’ was next and then Dick. Mike sensed Dick was having trouble so he waded back to help. I crossed the first channel and then laid down my pack and went back for Pam. In the mean time, Dick took a dip in the creek ruining his camera and getting soaked from the waist down. Did I mention how cold Alaskan creeks are??? I waded back out and helped with Dick. We took our time ferrying camera gear, tripods and people across until we all made it to the south side of the creek and then out to the point for the pickup. All in all, we’ll call it a successful first day of bear viewing.
The plan for Wednesday morning was bear viewing along the river. Dick would stay on the boat halibut fishing while Mike took Renee’, Pam and myself up the river. It was a good day for it because the wind was howling out on the water so fishing where we fished Monday would be a rough proposition.
This trip involves a bit of a hike in but it offers a chance to see bears chasing salmon up the river. This is what I initially came to Munsey’s for. There are no falls that corral the fish and make for easy pickings for the bears. The bears really have to work if they want to feed. Sitting on a bank watching an 800 lb bear running like a quarter horses through a river chasing salmon is an incredible experience.

The hike up the river takes you up a gravel shoreline and then up the side of the mountain covered with alder. It is hard to describe exactly how dense an alder thicket can be. You’re walking in on a trail that can only be described as a bear trail through some of the thickest vegetation you can imagine. It’s a surreal sensation to say the least.
We broke out of the alders in a grassy meadow and left the bank of the river cutting the corner of the meadow heading for a tidal creek. When high tide comes in the creek is flooded allowing salmon to make their way up river. As the tide goes out some salmon will become trapped in pools of water as the tidal creek returns to the state of rocky creek bed. We took our first vantage point overlooking a pool of trapped salmon.
Upon setting up it became apparent that a bear was asleep in the sun on the opposite bank. We couldn’t tell much about the bear so we just kept an eye on the knoll where it lay sleeping.
The wind may have been howling out on the bay it felt great where we were at. The sun was out and I felt like stretching out just like the bear and taking a nap. Pretty soon though a very large boar waddled out onto the tidal creek and started heading our direction.
All bears are big but when you see an exceptionally large bear you just know it. They’ve got a big pumpkin shaped head and it looks like someone’s piled an extra layer of fat on their forehead. They move slowly and they’ll walk around logs rather than having to climb over them. They look like a cask with feet. The big bear made his way towards us and then sensed something wasn’t right and left there in a hurry. When he hit the bank of the creek I guess the sleeping bear heard him and awoke. Things got interesting here. He could see us but not smell us. I guess he assumed we were smaller bears.
He immediately went into posturing mode. He made himself look big and then jumped with his front end and came down post-legged causing the bank to give way under him. I really felt like if we had started moving away he’d have followed. We held our ground and he swaggered by showing us his profile as if to say, “Look how big I am!”
He finally made his way to the alder patch on our side of the creek and we didn’t see him anymore. Hopefully he caught our wind and wondered off. Hopefully…
We didn’t give him time to visit again. After he left we gathered our things and headed further up stream to another spot that gave us a good view of the river. We saw several bears that day as well as lots of sea birds and eagles. That being said, the salmon seemed much smaller than it had been the previous year.
The hike to this particular spot follows a bear path. These paths are several inches deep and really narrow. When hiking in rubber knee boots you really have to watch where you step or you can get caught up and twist an ankle. That’s exactly what happened to Pam on our hike out. Mike was leading followed by me then Pam and Renee’ brought up the rear. We hear Pam cry out and looked back and she was down on the side of the trail. She said that she would be ok but that she needed a minute before continuing on. Concerned about her condition Mike offered to shoot her as leaving her behind overnight in the bear infested wilderness would border on inhumane. Pam thanked him for his graciousness but said that she felt like she could hobble on. She endeavored to persevere and we slowly made our way back to the pickup spot.
While we had been looking for bears Dick caught a halibut around the 40 lb mark in shallow water.
We were accompanied back to the lodge by a fin whale feeding along side the boat.
In spite of Pam’s foot injury the trip had worked out well. The next day the weather was really nice so we headed north to fish. Pam was in no shape to hike so we decided to give fishing another shot. We headed to a likely looking spot and dropped some lines. The limit in this area is 2 halibut and 5 silver salmon a day. Now I’m not certain that it was ever done previous to that day or since that day but I managed to catch a limit of both! I think the other folks caught some fish too BUT NOBODY LIMITED OUT ON BOTH!
It was a great day on the water.
The last full day of the trip we headed further north and then fished offshore on the east side of the bay. The silvers were biting very aggressively that day. Even if you were fishing for halibut on the bottom if you stopped the lure on the drop you were bound to get pounded by a silver. The halibut bite was healthy as well but it seems like we mostly caught smaller than average halibut that day. After a while we headed south to the place where I had limited out on both species the day before (not sure if I mentioned that or not…).
The wind picked up and the bite seemed to slow down. That being said there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.
I love sharing the outdoors experience with other folks so the two days of fishing were great. There’s time for camaraderie and getting to know the other folks on the trip with you when you’re fishing. It’s funny how easy it becomes to give what was a complete stranger grief about missing a hook set or catching a trash fish. I’ve learned that the friendly encounters that I have with other folks on trips like this are often as rewarding as the natural encounters on the trip.
Saturday morning we were greated with a low ceiling and rainy weather. This was a short day as the float plane was scheduled to arrive around 1pm. We took the Marry Beth south and fished for Halibut close to the lodge. Both Pam and I managed to catch the boat anchor. Pam hooked into a good fish but couldn’t get it to the boat. While we were fishing a bear meandered down the beach and strolled towards the lodge.
The bite was slow and try as we may, we couldn’t end the trip with a fish in the boat.
We made the quick return to the lodge for a bite of lunch before the flight out. The ceiling had lifted a little bit and we heard a plane coming in. Our pilot flew in early due to the bad weather. We quickly finished lunch, grabbed our belongings and headed to the dock. Goodbye’s were said quickly so we could try to take advantage of the higher ceiling and get back over the first of several passes on the flight out.
On takeoff this time we headed north. If you can’t make it over the passes you can fly around the coastline on the north side of Kodiak. Phil banked the plane east and we made it over the first ridge. As we made our way closer to the first high pass the clouds just never seemed to open up. Phil throttled back and seemed to float, waiting on the clouds to part. The cloud bank became more dense and finally our pilot relented and banked back towards the open sea. We made our way north to the next passage east. Once again we climbed towards the saddle separating two mountain valleys. The clouds were thick but this time Phil could see blue (ish) sky and darted through the opening! One pass down, one to go…
We turned south and ran up the valley. The valley floor was rising to meet us and the ceiling was falling on top of us. I know these pilots fly this route like I drive to work but I found a new kind of fear in that last 100 yards or so of cloud cover… Finally blue sky appeared and we were in the clear all the way to town.
Once we reached town we said our goodbye’s to Pat and Wally. We dropped our fish at a seafood company that repackaged and froze them. We grabbed some dinner and waited on the late flight back to Anchorage. We were able to check our luggage all the way through to Denver and it’s a good thing. We had to change airlines in Anchorage which meant we had to get to a Frontier Airlines ticket counter and clear security. When we arrived in Anchorage we had about 3 minutes less than we needed to get to the ticket counter, clear security and board the plane.
And just like that the trip was over. The day we left Kodiak was as hectic as the day we arrived.
Notes from Kodiak:
We really enjoyed visiting with Pat and Wally. Pat is a great lady and it was cool to hear her talk about the first days when Park (Mike’s father) bought the camp and the trials and tribulations that they went through out there.
Pat had a nursing background and Pam reaped the benefit of that once she twisted her ankle. We really appreciate the care she gave.
We got to meet Mike’s brother Bob and visit with him some as well. He seemed like a genuinely good guy.
The salmon run this year just seemed off and the big bears were much more present. I guess when food is more scarce they have to be a bit more territorial.
Island Seafood in Kodiak will box and flash freeze your catch for you.
The airline can check your luggage all the way to your final destination if you have the right information for them. We shipped 120 lbs of fish (3 boxes) and 2 pieces of luggage back to Denver from Kodiak for about 60 dollars!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Alaska 2010 Retrospective - SE Alaska

Last year due to our travel arrangements I was able to update a blog of our Alaska travels nightly on the trip. This year we stayed more unplugged. As a result I'm going to try to provide some commentary on the trip retrospectively over the next few days.
If I were really on the ball I would add photographs but as I just returned yesterday from 10 days off I don't plan on being "really on the ball" until about September 20th, give or take a day...
Onward and upward!

Thursday August 12th:
The day started early as we had an 8:10 flight on Alaska Airlines that would begin our journey north-westward. The first stop was Seattle then Juneau and finally Gustavus (pronounced "Gus-Tave-us").

Noteworthy points:

1) the trip from Seattle to Juneau crosses one of the most amazing mountain ranges I've ever seen! Lots of snow and huge glaciers. Its cool to know that such country exists.
2) the flight into Juneau is pretty cool. You fly up an inlet where the float planes land and at the last minute you swing to the right and hit a landing strip. The airport is quite small (maybe 4 gates and I'm betting 3 of them don't get much use).
3) the flight to Gustavus is about 15 minutes and just a great piece of air time (takeoff, 10 minutes of AWESOME scenery, landing)
4) the state of Alaska subsidizes flights into Gustavus to support tourism.

A van from the Annie Mae lodge picked us up. There was another couple (Robin and Jeff) from DC there for 10 days of vacation. They were experienced kayakers and were full of good tips and helpful information.
When we got to the lodge there were several other guest there from the Tyler, Texas area. One couple (Wes and Angie) were there for a long weekend. Wes was one of the pilots that flew the group up and Angie was doing her residency as a doctor. They were very nice folks.
The food at the Annie Mae was REALLY good. I had the dungeness crab while Pam had steak. After dinner we repacked a few times for the kayak trip.

Friday August 13th:
It occurs to me now (10 days later) that this was Friday the 13th...
After breakfast the next day we said our good bye's and a van picked us up for the trip. The van was driven by our guide (read "guide/chef/instructor/naturalist and all around good human") Shelli and the rest of the group were already aboard. The group consisted of Steve from New York and his mother Jane from Massachusetts and a lady Susan from Oregon. Everyone seemed to have an adventurous spirit and you could just tell that this would be a good trip.
We made our way to the Alaska Discovery warehouse to get outfitted with dry bags and repack our gear for the trip. Shelli said that since the boat would drop us at our camp that we wouldn't be restricted two drybags per person. This was great news as I could bring anything I wanted to out of my camera kit! We loaded the van and made our way to the dock.
Here's a quick note about the tides in Alaska. They go WAY up and WAY down... (+/- 20 feet!)
When we got to the dock the tide was out. The ramp from the pier to the floating dock was on about a 45 degree slope or steeper. We had haul gear for 3 days and 3 kayaks down the ramp to the sea taxi that would transport us to Point Adolphus. I feel like I got my workout in on this day.
Our captain on the day was Sterling Bodell. Sterling works in Gustavus part of the year and lives in Utah the rest of the year. He loaded our gear and secured our kayaks and took us south across Icy Straight to the beach we call Point Adolphus on the north shore of Chichagof Island. The tide was low when we beached which made unloading gear a tedious proposition. After about 15 minutes we had everything off the boat and had begun transferring gear from the kelp covered rocks at the shoreline to the beach above the tide line.
Next Shelli lead us into the forest and gave us a lesson in the proper way to pitch the tents. These tents were all Mountain Hardware of the 4 season variety and probably bomb proof! We set our tents just inside the forest of Sitka Spruce and Hemlock. This was one of the most beautiful forest I've ever seen. It was very mossy with very little undergrowth. The forest floor was very clean and very soft. Although we had sleeping pads I'm not certain that we would have needed them. Where the forest met the beach and the sunlight could reach the ground allowing alders and other brushy plants would grow. Pam and I chose the "honey moon suite" along a slow running creek.
After the tents were pitched Shelli gave us the run down on camping and kayaking. We ate lunch (pita bread sandwiches and fresh fruit and veggies) and headed out for an afternoon paddle. The weather was cool and over cast but cleared up as the day went on.
The first afternoon I was wearing WAY to many clothes. Everything seemed like allot of work and something was hitting me in the lower back and causing me a huge amount of pain. I remember thinking that sea kayaking may not have been for me...
A few notes about sea kayaks:
1) they are very stable (if not, I'm pretty sure we'd have flipped ours a few times).
2) you turn the kayak with foot peddles that are connected via ropes the rudder. It seems like you are constantly pressing on one of the peddles all the time.
3) you wear a spray skirt that fastens tightly to the opening that you sit down into keeping water from leaking into the kayak. A pair of suspenders keep this skirt up around your chest. If the buckle from one of these suspenders gets loose and works its way to your lower back where your back makes contact with the upper part of the seat you may want to die, at least you will not have a great time kayaking...
Past that, the scenery was beautiful, the whales were active it was fun being out with the sea lions.
On our first paddle out we headed east and saw several humpback whales feeding, tail slapping and breaching. Curious sea lions would swim by us like a gang of taunting teen age thugs.

It was just like watching a national geographic show or something on animal planet.
After the afternoon paddle we put our kayaks to bed for the night (hauled them above the tide line and secured the skirts over the seat holes) and watched Shelli make dinner (pasta with red sauce and wine). As she worked a humpback fed back and forth in the water along the beach. The skies had cleared and the setting sun was spectacular!
The sun made a welcome addition to our 6 person team.
After dinner Shelli brought out a special dessert.
The night before the trip she had baked a birthday cake for Steven, disguised it as a box of camp gear and smuggled it on to the island. It was his 39th birthday that day. I'm not certain that it could get any better than chocolate cake and a box of red wine under a spectacular sunset with a group of special folks that the universe had brought together on that spot on that day.
After dinner we all took turns washing and drying dishes on the beach under the sunset.
As we lay in our sleeping bags that night under the canopy of hemlock we could hear the whales feeding by off shore.
This was probably the greatest Friday the 13th ever...

Saturday August 14th:
The day began with Shelli making breakfast for everyone. The food was great and there was always lots of it. The day began with lots of fog and cloud cover. While we waited for the fog to burn off we went tidal pooling. This is where you comb the beach at low tide to see what ocean creatures are hanging around. Shelli provided lots of interesting commentary about the various crustaceans hanging around. It was a very interesting outing.
By the time we made it back to camp the fog had burned off and it was going to be a beautiful day. Today we began by paddling west. The sea lions joined us immediately and we occasionally saw humpbacks. The current was flowing east down the shore line like a slow moving river. It was incredible to see how strong the current could flow. Before too long we turned east and paddled back past camp, past the point we paddled to the previous evening to a distant shore line. We stopped halfway on a rocky shoreline and Shelli laid out lunch for us. We ate lunch while watching humpbacks feeding by.
After lunch we continued eastward. When we reached our destination for the day we beached the kayaks and Shelli took us on shore to show us a muskeg. A muskeg is like a peat bog. Its very acidic and very little will grow there. There are water/mud holes that are quite deep. We could hear whales breaching as we made our way back to the beach stopping along the way to picking some wild strawberries.
We saw LOTS of whales on this day. Although the trip is marketed as "The Whales of Point Adolphus" somehow it is much more about the experience of being out in the environment. Everything was new to us and interesting. The whales were ever present and fascinating to watch but they were just a part of a really cool picture.
On the paddle back to camp the wind was out of the west and the paddling was pretty intense at times. It felt good to work hard and see progress. Pam and I were the first ones to reach camp (not that it was a race or anything but we didn't come in second or third... :)
We put our kayaks to bed and Shelli immediately went to work preparing dinner. Tonight we were having halibut tacos and she had brought us each a beer to wash it down with! After dinner we watched the sun set behind Mount Fairweather while we finished off the last of Steven's birthday cake and a box of red wine. Life is good!

Sunday August 15th:
As good as this day could possibly be there would still be an air of bittersweetness about it. We'd had a great time already getting to know our camp mates while exploring a beautiful coastline on kayaks but our departure time was rapidly approaching.
The day started off just beautifully! Not a cloud in the sky. Pam and I had got a jump on the process of dismantling our tent and packing our gear for the return ride across the straight.
We all enjoyed a breakfast of granola and yogurt while Jane told us about her run-in with a brown bear the evening before. It ended like it should have with the bear making a hasty retreat towards the south end of Chichagof Island.
After breakfast we readied ourselves for a paddle westward again. Today the sea lions were out in force! We paddled west until it became apparent that the whales were mostly east of camp. Time was winding down so we quickly turned around and made our way back past camp and then a cove or two further east. The whales were ever present and quite cooperative today. We saw lots of feeding, diving and some breaching. Finally we turned the kayaks west for the last time.
Upon reaching the beach we began dismantling the kayaks and bringing all of the camping gear down to be loaded on the taxi for the ride back to town. This time the boat was quite a bit larger and better suited for the rocky shore line by having a front loading ramp. We formed a fireline and quickly loaded the boat by passing dry bags person to person to person until the last bag was on board. The captain headed north and we were on our way. In 20 minutes we were back at the dock and just our luck it was low tide AGAIN! After about 30 minutes of intense mountain climbing with sea kayaks on our backs the van was loaded and we were headed back to the warehouse.
We stopped at the town park for lunch and to attempt finishing off Steven's bag of wine. We did our best but I believe the bag won out. Better to have tried and failed than to have failed to try...
We unloaded our gear at the warehouse and repacked our bags for the rest of our trip. Shelli offered us use of the shower in their office area and we gladly accepted (and the people of Alaska Airlines should be glad we accepted as well!).
After dropping everyone else back at their lodges Shelli returned for us and dropped us at the airport in time for "the" flight from Gustavus to Juneau (and then on to Kodiak by way of Anchorage). We said our goodbyes and boarded the plane.
The day would end with us flying about 1,000 miles over 3 flights for the second part of our trip in Kodiak. Details to come...

A few thoughts about the trip:

1) I think the word "amazing" is one of the most over utilized words in the English language. I hate it... That being said, when you are discussing Alaska I find it grossly inadequate.
2)This was a trip to see whales but it ended up being much more than that. For us the best part was the fellowship we shared with the others on the trip. We would have gone on this trip if no one else had booked but the shared experience with other folks with a love of wild places made the trip that much more special.
Also this trip gives you access to many different environments. You get to enjoy the forest, the sea and the tidal areas. This really added to the experience. All of this said, the whales were amazing to watch.
3)The food was great and there was lots of it! I'm not sure that I could have consumed more calories if I had been fed intravenously... (good thing kayaking burns 4000 calories an hour! (I may have just made that part up)).
4)Our guide Shelli worked tirelessly to ensure that everything was always as good as it could possibly be. She was also quite knowledgeable. She fielded hundreds of questions and she could respond to any question in great detail. Her stories of local lore and history really added to the trip.
5)If you're in a kayak and you feel an intense pain in your lower back save yourself some agony and find the cause of the problem the first day. It turns out that kayaking is allot of fun when you are not in agony...

Monday, May 3, 2010

last lasik update for a while...

About a week ago I had another eye appointment. After my lasik procedure my left eye was TACK sharp. My right eye left a little to be desired... My optometrist kept reassuring me that things would be fine. Somehow the right eye would magically catch up to the left.
First we treated the right eye differently with some drops than we treated the left. This had some good affect. After a month or so the left eye was perfect (better than 20/15 which is as good as he could measure) and the right was seeing about 20/25. I can only guess that my right eye was over corrected by the procedure. I was slightly near sighted. Dr. Knapp sent me home that day with a contact for my right eye. He said to wear it for the next 6 nights and to come back to see him. The contact had enough correction to make both eyes very even. It was great! Except I'd just paid a bunch of money and was still wearing a contact lens...
The first few days were really nice but then things became unbalanced again (which gives me a headache when I'm reading)... Each day was a little worse. I took the lens out Thursday afternoon. Guess what??? The right eye was MUCH improved! Almost perfect in fact.
I went back to see Dr. Knapp on Monday and the lens worked as planned... basically it irritated my eye causing the eye to lay down an embryonic layer of collagen cells (I'm going from memory here and have know idea what I'm talking about). The collagen cells pull water into the cornea that causes the eye to become more nearsighted... (yeah, I thought the guy was smoking crack too :)
He says things will continue to improve for a bit and told me to come back for my 6 month evaluation. Life is good! My vision is great!
Black magic or not, I'm a fan of intra-lasik (

Monday, March 8, 2010

4 days post Lasik...

Today is Monday. I had intra-Lasik eye surgery 4 performed on both eyes 4 days ago. I had allot of concerns going in to the procedure and I blogged about them so I thought I would revisit those thoughts a few days post operatively.
If you have an ounce of sense in your body you would be at least slightly concerned going into a laser eye surgery procedure. I know I had mine. Here's what happened on my day under the laser:
Arrive at 6:45 am to fill out paper work and pay for the procedure.
Went to the exam room for a few tests before seeing an optometrist before the procedure. The nurse ran me through 3 tests to verify my prescription, perform a 3-d mapping of my corneal thickness, measure the diameter of my pupil and one other thing that I can't remember right now (but with the exception of the corneal 3-d mapping it was just like any other eye appointment).
Then they took me to the room with the eye charts on the wall and ran the exact test that the optometrist would do. After the eye exam the took some very tiny silicon plugs and inserted them into my punctal tear ducts (ducts in the lower corner of each eye by the nose where tears drain from your eyes) to help keep my eyes moist during the healing process. After this you go hang out in the waiting room until the nurse calls you again. If someone is there with you its probably a good thing to have them come sit in on this part. You go into a nurse’s office where she explains how and when to use the different types of eye drops that they'll send you home with. As a patient you're probably already hyped up too much to pay attention to this part...
They also give you a valium and something like demoral. After that they walked me across the hallway to the surgery center waiting room (4 big recliners and Ratatooie playing on a big screen tv. They put little booties over your shoes and head, put about 4 sets of drops in your eyes and the doctor comes and says something to you because you are about to pay him the equivalent of $30k/hour (not making this up. I did the math) to alleviate your complete dependence on prescription eyewear so the least he can do is say "howdy do"...
About 1 minute later they tell you to head back to the surgery room where you lay down on the table. Think about this room being a clock and you are laying on the minute hand with your head at the 6 and your feet at the 12. At the 9 there is the laser that will cut the corneal flaps first. At 3 is the laser that will reshape your corneas. First the table pivots to the 9. By this time your eyes are pretty much deadened. You can see as good as you ever could but you don't feel much. the nurse tries to give you the run down on what's about to take place but you really won't know until it happens. Next, the doctor comes in and opens your right eye and places a clamping device on the lids to keep it open. Everything is so close to you that you can't really see it and it doesn't hurt so you don't fight it. Next he tells you to look into the green light as the apparatus lowers slowly towards your eye. At the last second a little piece comes down, touching your eyeball and creates a very minor amount of suction that holds your eyeball in place so the flap can be cut. They tell you to watch the green light and but don't follow it. As you're watching the light a laser cuts the corneal flap.
Honestly, you feel nothing more than the slight suction of the device holding your eyeball in place. It takes about 20 seconds. You don’t hear anything, smell anything or feel anything. PERFECT!
The machine rises slightly, they tell you to close that eye when they remove the clamp and then they repeat the process on the left eye.
Once the cuts were done the surgeon steps out of the room for about one minute. He may be doing 2 patients at a time but he probably had to check in with his personal shopper(s) to make sure they could keep pace with his 30k/hr run rate.
The nurse swings you around from 9 to 3 and after a few seconds the doc comes back in and tells you to look directly into the red light. He folds back the corneal flap and this red light moves in very close. The amount and type of correction affects the amount of time that you're under the laser. For me, 3.1 diopters and slight astigmatism resulted in about 25 seconds on one eye and 15-18 seconds on the one without the astigmatism. At the end of the laser process you see that the red light was actually several red lights. Everything is crystal clear. They lay the flap back in place and squiggie's it down with a very small squiggie (not kidding). You don't feel a thing.
After both eyes are done the swing the table back to the six o'clock position. You sit up and walk into another room where the surgeon looks at each eye with a microscope. He proclaims perfection and goes about his business. They move you to another recliner and tell you to close your eyes for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes you put on some wrap around sun shades and they walk you back out to the waiting room to where you collect your driver and go home. In my case it was about 8:45.
Go home and sleep as long as you can.
When you wake up keep your eyes closed as much as possible. Stay in a dark room. Don't even have a tv on in the room.
You're eyes are going to be uncomfortable for a few days. They may even hurt some (but not bad). Use eye drops allot. You won't hurt yourself by using them too much.

Day 2:
I woke up to no pain in my right eye and slight scratchiness in my left. I had an appointment the day after with my eye dr. I was 20/20 in the scratchy left and 20/30 in the comfortable right.
By the end of the day I had no pain in either eye but had some light sensitivity issues and a headache after trying to read email that day.
Here are some random thoughts about this deal:
I can't say that the valium did much for me. I was as tight as a fiddle string for the entire procedure. I'm the same way at the dentist office. Maybe it hadn't kicked in.
Try to relax. Its an uncomfortable procedure at best but there was nothing painful about the procedure itself.
You will recover rapidly. I compared 4 hour blocks of time for discomfort/cloudy vision/trouble focusing. Each day everything continues to improve. I'm very optimistic that they will continue to improve over the next few weeks.
Use this time to unplug and relax. I couldn't really watch tv, read anything or surf the web. I couldn't work out with weights. All I could effectively do was some cardio (in the dark) and some house cleaning.
20/20 is WAY underrated! I don't know what my corrected vision has been in the past but 20/20 to me is like watching 1080p HD on tv compared to life with my glasses. If that's as good as it gets I'M FINE WITH IT! REALLY!
That's it for now. I'll update in about a week (after my next dr's appointment).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going under the laser...

T minus 24 hours and counting...
Tomorrow morning at this time I should be in the pre-op phase of my intra-lasik procedure. Almost everyone that I've talked to that has had this or a similar procedure performed say that they wish they'd had it performed sooner and that they would have it performed again in a second. I hope they're right!
I've worn glasses for well over 30 years now. They are the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night. They're such a normal part of my life that its hard to put my finger on a reason as to why I'm doing it now.
I know that I'm about 5 years away from needing reading glasses so I'm sort of rolling the dice that I'll have a few good years of spectacle free vision.
I'm heading into this next day cautiously optimistic a more than a little bit anxious. What exactly is going to happen? I've heard descriptions... they cut a corneal flap with one laser and then a second laser reshapes the stroma layer of the cornea. The corneal flap is replaced and heals by itself...
Ok. I get that. But what if I move... at all? What will I feel? Going into this I'm thinking its going to be like something out of some sort of science fiction movie where some type of vacuum cleaner device sucks your eyeball up so it can't move anymore and then someone goes to work with a drill or skil saw...
What's the recovery time/process going to be like?
Will I have more noticably dry eyes after this is over?
I've asked all of these questions and I've heard a myriad of answers... but in the end I won't know until its all over...
T minus 23 hours and counting...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alaska 2010 - The planning phase

About this time last year we started putting together our first trip to Alask. The economy was absolutely in the tank and it didn't seem like a great time to plan on spending the kind of money that an Alaska vacation requires. We did it anyways. It may not be the most prudent way to think but sometimes we do things with the rationale that this may be the last time we'll be able to do this. That was the though process for last year's trip.
This year hopefully the economy is on the mend. Either way, we're heading back to Alaska in August. This trip should be fairly packed full of fun stuff (but not allot of time for connections).
We'll start the trip by flying all day on a Thursday. We'll stay at an as of yet undetermined bed and breakfast in Gustavus, Alaska. The next day after what I can only imagine is a brief orientation we'll get on a boat and cross Icy Bay to Point Adolphus on the norther tip of Chichagof Island. We'll tent camp on the bank for the next two nights while we cruise around about 5 miles each day in a 2 man sea kayak watching whales, observing nature and enjoying the great outdoors.
After 3 days on the water hopefully we'll make it back to the airport in time to catch the last flight to Kodiak by way of Anchorage. We get to enjoy a few hours of civilation (and a much needed shower and a bed) before catching a float plane on Monday to fly to Munsey's bear camp.
I hate to give away a secret but if someone wants to go spend some time seeing a whole lot of what Alaska is about Munsey's Bear Camp is as close to one stop shopping as you can ask for. Munsey's offers a very comfortable environment with great food and wonderful hospitality. Mike and Robin have this thing down pat. The food is great, the schedule is easy. Each day you'll be up close and personal with raw nature (simply indescribable) but each night you have a delicious meal and a great place to stay waiting for you. Given the logistical nightmare that running a remote fishing and bear viewing lodge must be they offer this at an incredible price. If we had the vacation time and money I could see spending a few weeks a summer with the Munseys.
We'll finish up with the Munsey's about noon on Saturday and start the marathon 2500 mile journey home hopefully arriving home around 6am Sunday morning. Hopefully we'll be worn out from another awesome trip.
It saddens me already to think about this trip coming to an end...