Category Archives: Vacation

The Little Bucket List

I was talking with my good friend Mike Sack the other day and he said he was making his “little bucket list.” I asked him to explain, and he said that after all the years he and John have been living in Seattle, there are so many things right there in the city and environs that they’ve always said they wanted to do but never done. Isn’t that the truth?

Usually, “bucket lists” are grand schemes. Sail around the horn. Fly cross country in a balloon. Raft the Colorado through the Grand Canyon… But what about the amazing little sights and events and natural wonders in our own back yards? Where I live, in Oregon, they are legion, and my eyes, thanks to Mike, have been newly reopened to them.

Al and I regularly take what we call “ExplOregon” days and weekends, where we visit a place we’ve not been before, but it’s been a while since we’ve done that. And there are so many other things that I’ve always meant to do that are right here, twenty minutes or an hour away that would take an hour or a day to do.

I don’t know about you, but long-distance travel isn’t much fun any more. I don’t mind sticking close to home for the next year or so, but now that I see the local, experiential riches that are on our little piece of note paper stuck to the refrigerator, I’m happy to be right here.

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Seward, Kenai and Dolly Varden

Part III

We trained from Talkeetna to Anchorage, rented a car and drove to Seward. This is September, and we were late in the season. We went late in order to miss the big tourist season, and we did, but things were turning toward winter. We got the fall colors inland, but the rain was coming in in the coastal areas. It poured rain most of the time we were in Seward.

But it’s a fun little community and in the river behind our hotel a family of river otters gorged themselves on fish every morning. Very fun to watch. We took a tour through Kenai Fjords National Park and saw dall porpoise, harbor porpoise, stellar sea lions, lots of bald eagles, enormous jelly fish (Al thought the first one we saw was a submerged buoy), blue glaciers — and even some crazy guys surfing right in front of one. Big blue ice bergs floated in the fjords. Again, the landscape was fantastic. Photos do not capture the amazing scope of this amazing land.

After two nights in Seward, we jumped in the car and drove through more astonishing wilderness to Kenai, where we stayed with our fishing guide, Gabe Linegar and his lovely wife and two beautiful daughters.  Gabe, of Drift Alaska Charters, is a great fishing guide. Al fished first while I explored the galleries of Homer (Homer was virtually closed for the season), and he caught a dozen rainbows, the best of which was a 10 pounder. (No photos, because I had the digital camera.) Then the two of us fished the next day, and Al got shut out, only snagging one after another of the millions of spawned-out, dying pink salmon, but I caught a little rainbow and a nice, 5 pound Dolly Varden. The Kenai River is certainly salmon-choked, and while we missed the big salmon run, the evidence of bears was everywhere, in the matted down foliage at the riverbanks and all the salmon carcases left there to rot. The third day Al fished, he caught a 17-pound steelhead on the Kasilof River, and his trip was truly complete.

Then we drove back to Anchorage. I miscued about how often I might find a gas station, and we drove fifty miles through wilderness on fumes and prayer. Al was busy scouting all the trucks that carried spare gas cans. But fortunately we found fuel at the last possible moment in Girdwood and were ready to get back to Anchorage.

We got back to the hotel to find a sign up on the door that warned guests of a black bear in the neighborhood. We took a walk around that quaint and unusual little town and could easily see how a black bear could live in downtown Anchorage without being caught.

It was good to get home again.

Bottom line: We’ll go back. We’ll certainly go back to the Kenai for salmon fishing, and from here, we could actually do that over a long weekend. Now that we’ve done the whole tourist thing, next time we’ll get off the beaten path and go to Kodiak, and perhaps fly into Ilianna for some wlderness adventure.

If you haven’t seen Alaska, I suggest you do. Put it on your bucket list and be amazed.

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Bear, Moose, Wolf and Vistas

Part II

From Fairbanks, we took the train to Denali National Park. The rules for the park are very interesting, in that there is only one 92-mile road into the park, and private vehicles can only go so far in. The rest can be traversed only by park buses (hop on, hop off, hike your brains out in 6 million acres of wilderness) or tour buses. All of which is very interesting park management, and has kept the wildlife wild and the area pristine. I wonder if other parks ought to be so managed.

We took an 8-hour tour that went 62 miles up. Saw 13 grizzly bears, lots of moose, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, and three wolves, one of which trotted across the road right in front of the bus. At the end of the 92-mile road is a luxury resort on Wonder Lake. I’d love to go back and stay there for a week or so.

Mt. McKinley was only kind of visible at one point, but the rest of the views were incredible. The landscape is glacier-sculpted, so there are mountains, valleys, and “braided rivers in unfit river valleys” the likes I’m sure to never see elsewhere. Breathtaking, and I don’t use that term loosely.

We stayed two nights at Denali, and went for a nice hike across the river from our hotel, and then hopped the train for Talkeetna, traditionally a staging area for those who want to hike Mt. McKinley. And there, we found the real Alaskan color. Al made friends with a reindeer, we met a couple of true characters, ate breakfast–complete with reindeer sausage–at The Roadhouse, and saw the mountain out in all its glory from our room at the Alaska Talkeetna Lodge.

We took a little river trip and saw how the old trappers used to live, and we could have done without that particular tour. We stayed two nights in Talkeetna, and played lots of gin rummy. One night would have been perfect.  At least the mountain came out for us.

And then… on to the Kenai Peninsula. Stay tuned.

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We started at the Arctic Circle

Well, we really started with our list of things we absolutely had to do before we die. The current buzz word is “bucket list,” but that is just flat-out too cliche for me. Regardless, Al and I spent some time considering the reality of how many summers we have left of adventure travel, and how we want to spend them.

This trip to Alaska was at the top of both of our lists, and while there wasn’t too much adventure involved, we did the grand sweep of Alaska and found out what we want to go back for. And boy oh boy, will we be back.

While trying to arrange the trip myself, there were just too many possibilities, so we put ourselves in the most capable hands of Alaska Tour and Travel.  They were quite amazing, and with one small exception, everything they set out for us to do was spot on. I even argued with them about the twelve hour (!) tour to the Arctic Circle, but they assured me we would enjoy it. They were right.

So we started in Fairbanks, and spent an afternoon in the amazing Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The next day, we flew an hour and half or so in kind of a rickety 1980 Piper Navajo bush plane with a pilot that seemed a little too casual, but landed safely in Coldfoot. There we met our tour director, Barbara, and the five of us drove 10 hours back to Fairbanks. 

What a great trip. We inspected the pipeline, met strange and wonderful people, watched the sunset from the Yukon River, saw caribou, moose, a lynx, gorged on wild blueberries and most of all, luxuriated in the vastness of a wilderness so immense it’s hard to grasp.  The fall colors were breathtaking.

Even the aurora came out and gave us an incredible show from Joy, Alaska, where we stopped for late-night coffee. There were only five of us in the little van, including Barbara, the tour guide, who had just retired from the UAF, and she was very smart about everything. The Haul Road (Dalton Highway, built to build the pipeline 30+ years ago) is not for the faint of heart, as we drove 230 miles on this dusty gravel road with gigantic semis zooming past throwing rocks as big as my fist.

An amazing adventure. I don’t need to go this far north again (although Al would like to traverse the Brooks Range and go all the way to Prudhoe Bay), but I’m glad I saw it. There’s nothing quite like walking on tundra (it’s like walking on a trampoline) and getting the whole story from a woman who majored in soils management. What a day.

Next: Denali National Park.

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Filed under Fall, Learning, Possibilities, Vacation

Ahhh. Vacation

What is it about me that resists a vacation?

I love my life, for one thing. I like my routines, my rituals, my work, my husband, my dog. I like cooking dinner and having lunch with my girlfriends. I like going to school, and seeing my kids and my grandkids.

My life is a vacation.

So when Al and I were invited to the Big Island to watch the Mastercard Invitational Golf Tournament, I was excited, because we would stay with dear friends, in Hawaii, and I’d never been to a golf tournament before. As usual, just before leaving, we had furnace troubles. Tensions.

We touched down into 83 fragrant degrees (coming from a high of 40 and a low of 23), and I immediately relaxed. Two days later I was a different person. Granted we stayed in the opulent lap of luxury, with a “meeting” in the spa every night at 5, but it was a break in my reality. I stood twenty feet from Lee Trevino as he sunk a twelve foot birdie putt. How cool is that? Four days later I could barely remember my old life. I still checked email and voicemail, but found a sublime freedom when nobody was looking for us.

I’ve been through some trials since my last vacation, and my daily routine, I now see, had become more of a rut than a routine. I needed this vacation. It was like a ray of Hawaiian sunshine warming my back. Literally.

We’ve got another trip, completely different, scheduled for September, and I hope I will not resist it. I need to remember how I felt after four days, and how good it felt to come home and resume the routine.

It took me a good four days, though, to really feel the effects, and after seven days I felt brand new. A weekend away is a nice break, but it is no vacation. It’s still part of life. I think we actually need to vacate in a real way to gain the benefits.

Even though my life is like a vacation, I still need a periodic break. We all do. I hope I’ll remember this come September and look forward to it with the amount of enthusiasm it deserves.

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Filed under Stress, Travel, Vacation