A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about islands

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

A Look Into My Travel Journal, My Writing Process, and Photos

semi-overcast 75 °F

I decided for this week’s entry to offer you my journal entries in their rawest form. These entries are the starting point for what will eventually become another thrilling edition of this blog. In a given week, I’ll head out exploring and recap the days adventures in my trusty journal. I’ve been writing a journal since 1997, and have filled up twelve notebooks of a variety of size. The entries are usually a quick recap. I try to write about what really struck me throughout the day. When I have time to write, my journal more thought out and thorough. There are often diagrams, maps, sketches and doodles added to the mix. Using these scribblings for inspiration and facts, I let the writing process flow. Often, I will get inspiration at strange times, and I have to try to remember what it is I want to say for most of the day before I get a chance to write it down. Somehow, the system works, and I'm able to occasionally write something thoughtful and coherent.

I realize I haven't updated my blog in the last couple of weeks. My apologies. I’ve been very busy of late spending my free time getting reacquainted with my slack line, my camera, and my friends. I've been depriving myself of needed sleep in order to enjoy my life, and something had to give. However, I think this small sabbatical has been good for me, but perhaps, not my blog.

The following are journal entries ranging from the inside passage of British Columbia to Clarkston, Washington on the Snake River.

9-10-12 BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
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I’m in B.C. these days. It’s our phase day (deckhands switch shifts once a week giving us 18 hours off in a row). I took advantage by going on a short hike into the thick forests. The moss is quite spongy, and comfortable to lay upon. We found a black banana slug, some shells and whatnot. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wrote my blog. I ate some cheese and crackers. I also collected a few plants to add to my terrarium. Mostly moss, but another limpet shell pool and the like.
Peanut butter , Honey and Cinnamon sandwich for lunch. Tea with Miss Tiffany. Pretty Beautiful. Pretty nice.
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9-11-12 TO BREATHE
Lido. Sunshine. Coffee. Orca. Watts. Dolphins. Stretch. Then I sat in the shade and exercised my breath. Alternating Nostril, deep, shallow in and out, deprivation, inflation. So good. Then I let my voice flow in a chant and it was lovely. I had all of the air I wanted and my voice was very, very low and rich. Satisfaction.

9-16-12 A FOUR DAY RECAP: POSITIONING, AMELIA, SEATTLE, PORTLAND
Well. Here I am in Astoria again. To get here, I went to Seattle. We dropped off our photo nerds and I went to sleep. I awoke to Amelia in the dining room. We talked, catching up and sat in the sunshine. She brought me a giant burrito from our favorite food cart. We compared notes, we had a good time.
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Positioning was a dream. I love positioning (this is when we take the boat from one port to another without guests). I was working nights, as usual, and hung out with Lofall (my deck partner) in the night. Decent seas. I love a good roll.
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I forgot to mention as we rolled into Seattle, I watched bioluminescent bow riding dolphins. It was AMAZING! Pacific White Sided Dolphins slowly doing barrel rolls in the bright white biofeed. Beautiful. I love the ocean. It felt so good to be back on it, rolling, riding and moving in flow.

9-17-12 CASCADE LOCKS ZEN
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Such a lovely place. A shroud of pines protects me from the sun and wind. I’m in a pocket. Cozy, but breatheable. The carpet is tan of dead grass silky to the touch. Chickadees roll through. Time to forage. In the center of the grove is a picnic table which I’m quite attracted to. So I stop and take it in. This is my second spot to stop. No, my third. My first were a wind swept pitch of grass under an ancient oak tree. Good air forced into me. My second was a slack line session with a lead of forty feet. It was awesome to feel it all. Warm sun, strong wind, slick slack line, freeness of accumulated crap I collected all night. Gone. Smiling.
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I could use one more stop, a visit to a tree I know on the south end of the island. I think I’ll let that one stand as a fine memory of last year. I love seeing the cusp of a shadow. The upper branches of a broad leafed maple are green. Glowing. Beautiful. And here I am.
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“He who understands the Tao in the morning can die in peace in the evening.” ~ Confucious

When I’m this tired, I can stare at anything for long periods. When I’m this tired, my blinks take longer, sometimes several seconds.

9-19-12 PALOUSE RIVER STATE PARK, WASHINGTON
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Well, I’m here again. At the falls, though this time I chose a shaded grove of trees and grass to slack line in, rather than hike around to the falls. It’s nice. It’s quiet. The wind in the trees, soft, warm, and fragrant. Slacklining has been good. So far, I’ve managed to slack line everyday this week. Each time at a different place.
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Yesterday, was at Maryhill. A typical session involves a couple of beers, walking the line, friends, shade and trees. The smoky clouds mute the intensity of the sun. It’s still out, but obscured by wildfires.

9-23-12 SEPTEMBER FLYING
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Whoa. Time is hauling ass. Made it to Clarkston. Three days of smoky skies, friends, slack lining, a bit of work, and walking around.
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On the first day, I went slack lining when I finished work. I went to the doctor who told me I had strained my shoulder. Seems about right. It takes six weeks to heal, and I’m on the 4th week. Ah weel.

On the second day, I visited my old friends Eva, Ada, and Faith. We caught up and hung out at the pool. Eva and I went slack lining. What a fine lady. On our way back to our ships, Tiff calls and I rush off to an antique store and buy a bike. I asked the lady in charge if she had any bikes. “ Just the one out front… or we do have an old one.” I told her I wanted to see the old one. “Really? Ok.” It was an easy sell. It’s a seventies tan cruiser. It had two flat tires, but I can fix it. In fact, I’ve already put on a fixing session. I put on an inner tube, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seat, de-rusted the rims and so on.

It’s going to be a sweet ride.

Day three.
Smoky. Real smoky out. Mountains obscured. I went to the Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston. It was hot, muggy and smoky. Every type of person you can imagine was there, a walking display of humanity, most of it kind of appalling.
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We went on rides and they were very fun. Part of the scare of these rides is wondering if the contraption they lock you in is going to hold together. Then the fun speed of flipping upside down and screaming. I was having a ball. We went on the Kamikaze, the Zipper, and the Tilt a Whirl. My body didn’t know what the hell was going on. I flipped it, spun it, rotated it, and shook it. It’s sleep deprived, sun baked, dehydrated and sweaty. The tilt a whirl was too much. I felt sick halfway through the ride.

Then we waited a long time for a ride back to the ship. Stupid Purser. I felt like a kid though, exhausted, sticky, tired, and a little sick. Don’t count fat people at a fair. It might depress you.
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Hot shower. Cold Beer. Comfortable bed. Ahh.

Now, you are back up to speed. Look for more adventures along the Columbia River until early November. My plan of riding the Zen flow has already proved very interesting. Instead of leaving this ship in Portland, Oregon, I’m now leaving it in Longbeach California. Big Smile!

Posted by Rhombus 16:59 Archived in USA Tagged islands rivers rainbows friends sunsets canada ships sunrises forests philosophy zen slacklining Comments (0)

Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
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I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
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Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
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The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
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My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
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My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
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The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
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Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
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It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

.

Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

Alaskan Atmosphere

A Breath, Mists, Wildlife, Sea Scapes, and Very Large Animals

semi-overcast 63 °F

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I’m trapped in the ether of Southeast Alaska. In this region of Alaska, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure. The air is coldest at the point of entry- my nose- and warms only slightly as it flows down my windpipe into my lungs. At the entrance to my lungs, the cool air spreads evenly into my lung tissue. It feels as though someone just walked into a warm and cozy house after spending several hours out in the winter cold. It smells fresh. It tastes pure. It blows my endorphins wide open. With every breath, I feel alert, happy, and somehow, more alive.
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When I say I am “trapped” here, I mean to say that I am once again working on a ship with few options for escape. To those of you who might have worked on a vessel before, you will understand what I mean. Even if I wanted to gain my freedom, there are only two choices: I can jump off the boat and swim to shore, or I could get off at the next port later on in the week. I think I’ll stay.

Life on a ship is not so bad actually. The work is good, the people are fun, and the seascapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
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In fact, I think Alaska is almost impossibly beautiful. I will never understand the physics behind the mist and fog that forms and flows around the islands, mountains, and rain forest. I don’t think I want to. Physics aside, the results are inspiring.
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If the landscape wasn’t mind blowing enough, then there are the giant animals that wander though these Alaskan scenes. During my first week, I had close encounters with Stellar Sea Lions near the Inian Islands. I watched a pod of Orca catching Salmon in Peril Straight. Near False Bay, I saw Humpback Whales working together to corral herring in a giant bubble net. As one, the whales swam through the net feasting on the herring in an orgy of mass eating.
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It was very exciting. I was leaning on a portside rail, looking out at a school of herring dancing on the water. A quivering ball of herring makes the surface of the water bounce, as though a heavy rain is falling on the ocean. I heard the whales before I saw them. I looked down and with a rush of frothy white water, the pod broke through the surface right next to the ship. I was spellbound.
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On land, I watched grizzly bears foraging along the shore. They were prying mussels off the rocks for their lunch. I spied a wolf pack through binoculars loitering on a beach. The pack had a young pup, and it embraced its playful nature. While the mother and other members relaxed on the beach, the pup ran around between them biting them on the muzzle. In one scene, I saw a murder of ravens, a wolf, and a grizzly bear hanging out near a creek.

The Reid glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the prettiest I have seen. A giant ice cave has formed on its face this year. I love looking at the texture and coloring of this glacier. It has a marbled look, mostly brown and dirty white, but it glows a very subtle glacier blue.
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This past week was perhaps the best welcome back present I could have had. Alaska continues to be very good to me. I feel like my words and pictures can’t really do this place justice. I could use thousands of adjectives from the English language, but none of them comes close to describing what it is like to stand in place and look off to some distant fog covered island. It is one of the world’s truly remarkable locations.
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I’m satisfied with my captivity. If I’m going to be in prison, it may as well be by choice in the wilds of southeast Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 02:46 Archived in USA Tagged trees boats islands whales alaska clouds oceans mist photography bears wolves Comments (1)

On Isle Royale

The Hammock Tour of 2012

semi-overcast 74 °F

June 20th, 2012
Thunder Shack #2
Moskey Basin, Isle Royale, Michigan
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The rain continues to fall unabated as it has for the last two days. I am sitting in my lean-to, a three-sided wood structure of ingenious design. Its sound quality and craftsmanship protects me from the worst of the wind and rain. A fine screen covers the front side of the building. This screen allows air to pass through, but keeps the damnable mosquitoes out. Thusly protected, I am comfortable enough and am taking time to catch up on my journal.

I arrived on the island yesterday after a lengthy and uneventful passage from the outpost of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The vessel, the Isle Royale Queen IV, makes daily passages to and from the island, and I procured my passage via telephone the day before. The cost was reasonable, some $120.00 roundtrip to this wilderness isle. The waters were calm, though the sky was building darker clouds to the northwest. I felt like it might rain, but wasn’t worried as I had the necessary rain gear to stay dry.
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Upon reaching the protected waters of Rock Harbor on the northeast corner of the island, the Captain docked the vessel, and I stepped ashore. I checked in with a park ranger, who signed off on my proposed itinerary. I secured my equipment from the deckhands, and weighed my pack on the scale at the park store. It registered at 65 lbs. It was heavy, but I took on this burden without complaint.
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With my trusted walking stick in hand, I commenced this journey at a brisk pace walking southwest along the shoreline trail towards my destination for the day, some seven miles distant. The path followed the shoreline passing through groves of spruce and birch. It twisted and climbed up and over occasional black basalt rock outcrops. The summer foliage is lush and green and many wildflowers were out in bloom including wild rose, blue bells, and bunchberry.
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After I had walked five miles, the darkening clouds finally released their load, and it began to rain. I put on my raingear and continued along the trail. I was still feeling good, though I was tiring from my efforts. I had just returned to Michigan from the wilds of Alaska, and my body had yet to adjust to the difference of the light. Because of this, I had only slept for four hours before I rose from my bed to embark on the ship.

I continued walking through the rain shower. I consulted my map, and knew I was getting close to the Daisy Farm campground where I would make camp for the night. I arrived at the campground in the late afternoon. I set down my burdens and sighed with relief. I found an unused lean-to that I have described above, and set about making a lunch of peanut butter with honey spread on a round Mexican flat bread. I ate two of them with little difficulty.

I set up my hammock outside under the eaves of the shelter and lit my pipe. It felt wonderful to free of my heavy pack for the day, and it was very pleasant to sway in my comfortable hammock. After about an hour, it began to rain much harder than before, and I had to move my enterprise inside the lean-to.

I checked my pocket watch for the last time at six pm, and laid down on my bedroll intending only to stretch out for a few minutes before preparing dinner. I awoke to the booming of thunder, many hours later. The sky was darkening in the east, and I presumed it to be near eleven o’clock at night. I rose briefly to attend to my nightly personal affairs and went back to my bedroll. There was no dinner this night. The thunderstorms continued all night. The lightning hit with such intensity that the thunderclap shook my lean-to with its force. The rain intensified, and it sounded as if the drummers of Scotland were beating on my roof. I slept.
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Upon waking up, I felt completely refreshed. I think my slumber lasted well over twelve hours, a luxury I rarely get to enjoy. The day was still dark and gloomy, but I happily made breakfast of oatmeal and tea inside my shack away from the rain. I pumped water from the lake into my canteens, repacked my equipment and donned my raingear. I was ready to continue my trek. I had not hiked very far before the trail was covered in several inches of water. Indeed, it looked much like a spring creek, with water happily chuckling over the rocks. This was to be a trying day. My boots are durable and mostly waterproof, but the amount of water I was walking through eventually overcame their protection, and soon I was walking in sopping wet footwear. It began to rain again, and the mosquitoes tapped into me with annoying regularity. I was sweating in my raingear, and the rock outcrops I crossed were slick with all the water. I was moving slow.
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I stopped briefly to take a rest on an outcrop. As I sat there, I noticed a hare several yards up the trail. I kept quiet. Then, it came hopping down the very path I was walking. It stopped three feet away from where I sat, and I had a good look at it. It looked pitiful. Its hair was matted and soaked through, clinging to its body. Its large black eyes looked at me as if to ask, “Oh dear, oh dear, what has happened? Where has all this water come from? My home is flooded.” It bounded off down the path, looking for an answer. I saw three more rabbits that day. I think their warrens were flooded, and they had no place to go.
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It is just under four miles from Daisy Farm to Moskey Basin. I planned to stay at Moskey Basin for two nights. I passed one moose that was munching leaves just off the trail. Beleaguered as I was, I didn’t even stop to look at it. I simply talked to it, letting it know I was passing by. Moose are quite plentiful on this island, and I was happy to see one.
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I finally made it the head of Moskey Basin in time for a brief lull in between rainsqualls. I was soaked through, tired and sweating. I found this shelter in reasonable condition and set about making it more comfortable. I hung a clothesline under the eaves, and hung up my wet effects. I went down to the shore and dunked myself twice in the chilly water of Lake Superior. I returned to my shelter, changed into dry clothes and set about making lunch. That is where you find me right now, lounging comfortably in my hammock. I’m content to nap through the afternoon, as my old tomcat would on rainy days. I’m enjoying the graffiti written on the walls of the shelter from past tours. It seems I’m not the only hiker who has spent rainy afternoons in this lean-to. “I love Isle Royale, but I don’t love mosquitoes and rain.” “I miss my pizza.” “Berry Girl Aug 2009.” Below that, her partner wrote, “a.k.a. the snail” meaning she spent her time picking berries instead of hiking.

6 O’clock - Still raining.
8 O’clock - Rain and thunder.
9 O’clock - Rainy, going to bed.

June 21st, 2012
Thunder and Sunshine Shack #2
Moskey Basin, Isle Royale, Michigan
~Summer Solstice~
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What a difference a day makes! Today dawned clear and bright without a cloud in the sky. If it weren’t for the slippery mud on the campground trails, I would almost believe it hadn’t rained at all. I spent my morning at ease, content to sit quietly on the rock ledges and watch the wildlife around me. I find that sitting quietly is the best way to witness wildlife in their element. For instance, I saw a raft of otter swim by, some 100 yards distant. There were five or six in the group, grunting amongst themselves as they swam towards the head of the bay. There are several types of fowl that live here in the bay. I saw several golden eye ducks, some red headed mergansers, and heard the haunting summer call of the common loon. While I sat on my rock, a dragonfly on patrol flew out to a golden eye paddling in the water. I’m not sure if its intent was to land on the duck or not, but it flew too close. The duck looked up and snapped the dragonfly in its beak, shaking its head and munching the unfortunate fly for a late breakfast snack.
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I swam in the lake around midday. The water is still quite cold, but very refreshing. After drying off, I made lunch and took a nap. I love my days of leisure.
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Towards evening, the rumble of distant thunder rolled over the basin. I looked at the sky and a large dark gray cloud rolled overhead. It began to sprinkle, but only for a short while before the cloud past and the sun returned. The waters of the bay had flattened, almost to a perfect mirror finish. The clouds above reflected below made for a beautiful scene that I enjoyed. I had a feeling there was going to be a rainbow. I ran out to a rocky tip with my camera. A beautiful spectrum of color rose from just above the treetops in the eastern sky. At first, it was dull, but as the sun cleared the clouds, the more intense the colors became. The nearby pines glowed in the golden light from the sun. It was truly magnificent. Nature knows how to put on a good show.
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I finished the evening by sipping tea and watching the sun set over the island. The clouds glowed orange as if lit by fire. The solstice is our longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. This one was spectacular from dawn to dusk.
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June 22, 2013
Three Mile Campground
Isle Royale, Michigan

Today was as bright and clear as yesterday was, and I spent the day hiking eight miles along the lakeside trail back to Three Mile campground. The hike was uneventful. The trails were in better condition than they were on the 20th. They had dried out from the last two days of sunshine. I enjoyed the trek and made good time down the path. I slipped on a rock at one point and landed with all of the combined weight of the pack and myself right on my left kneecap. Evidently, I’m made of some stern stuff, as it didn’t affect me at all.

I arrived at Three Mile just after noon, and happily threw my pack down. The sixty-five pounds were starting to get to me. My shoulders were getting sore from carrying the load, and I longed for a massage from a sweet lady I know. Alas, it was not to be. I jumped in the lake once again, and dried off on the hot black rocks that make up this island. I looked at my remaining camp food with disinterest. I had nothing that looked appetizing anymore, and so ate more rolled up peanut butter flat bread.

I set up my hammock in the shade, and read for a while. I am reading “Black Elk Speaks” by John Neihardt. I wrote in my journal, and took a brief nap.
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I passed the afternoon away, enjoying views of the lake, and watching the trees sway in the breeze. The campground red fox trotted past me along the trail to my camp. It paused briefly to inspect my wares. I had my sweaty clothes drying on the picnic table, and moved on. It had a beautiful rich coat of auburn, its tail full and fluffy. Its eyes were yellowish green, and it looked at me and said, “Hey amigo, Que pasa?” in a sly, quiet way foxes have.

I started craving pizza about the time I was watching the noodles boil for my dinner. I was starving, and while I waited, I began to imagine the particulars of the post trek celebratory pizza. [Cue Harps]. It would be a large, pepperoni, green pepper and onion pizza from Jim’s in Calumet. The cheese would be perfectly cooked, almost molten. The crust would have a satisfying crunch... After daydreaming for several minutes about it, I popped back into reality and looked at my pot of bubbling noodles. I laughed. My dream dinner would have to wait, and I finished preparing my dinner of macaroni and cheese with tuna and shallots. It was good, but a starving man will eat most anything and call it delicious.
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For dessert, I made a cup of tea and ate the last of my chocolate. I sipped my tea along the shore, and took in one last sunset over the island. I couldn’t see the actual sunset because of the island’s trees. The setting sun lit up the clouds over Rock Harbor and they reflected into a collage of oily colors on the flat surface of the bay.

June 23rd, 2012
Isle Royal Queen IV
Lake Superior

I’m on my way back to the mainland of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. The vessel is running true, and the waters calm, despite a stiff breeze out of the south. The only event worth mentioning is that we passed the ore freighter Arthur M. Anderson. The Anderson is one of the more famous ships in the great lakes fleet. The Anderson was traveling ten miles behind the Edmund Fitzgerald the night the Fitz went down back in November of 1975. It was the Anderson that witnessed the Fitz disappear on its radar.
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As a mariner, I look at ships all the time on our vessel’s radar. To see a ship the size of an ore carrier disappear off the screen would be very intense. It is one of every seaman’s worst nightmares. I can’t imagine the surge of adrenaline that went through the bridge of the Anderson, not to mention the uncertainty of their own survival in seas that treacherous.
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I stepped ashore safe and sound and keenly aware of my proximity to the pizza I craved. And let me tell you, it was as good as I imagined it to be.

Author’s Note: The ranger in Rock Harbor informed me that it rained three inches on the island during the first two days of my stay. The city of Duluth, MN received seven inches from the same band of storms. The resulting flash floods caused remarkable damage to the city.

Posted by Rhombus 08:21 Archived in USA Tagged birds islands parks flowers rainbows backpacking photography trails Comments (0)

From Homer to Haines: Crossing the Gulf of Alaska

Two Days in Homer, The Best of the Spit, On the Ferry, Alaskan Scenery, and the Fairweather Mountains

semi-overcast 57 °F


Homer, Alaska is a “quaint drinking village with a fishing problem.” It is also the “halibut capital of the world” (so they say). I don’t know if either of those boasts are true, but I DO know that Homer is home to the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (from K-Bay Coffee), and home to the best seafood I’ve ever eaten (Captain Patties). Beyond those opinions, Homer is an intriguing Alaskan town that catches hold of you like a virus. When you first arrive, you say, “Wow, that’s a hell of a view.“ Then, thirty years later, silver haired and rheumatic, you say, “Wow, what happened? I came here to visit and stayed for thirty years.“ I stayed for two days, and I regret leaving.
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I think it is the view. Homer sits largely on the side of a long, high bluff that runs roughly southwest to northeast on the north side of Kachemak Bay. On the far side of Kachemak bay, lie the snow capped and picturesque mountains of the Kenai Peninsula Mountain Range. It is a daily view of this mountain range, which captures the soul. I felt their pull. Every morning I would wake up and look out over the bay to those mountains and think to myself, “I want to go play over there.” In talking to a Homer resident, he put it this way, “There’s something powerful about this place. I could be having the worst possible day. On my way home I’ll look out at the view of those mountains and see the sunset lighting up the clouds in colors I’ve never seen before. Then a rainbow will form above it all, and I forget about what it was that was bugging me.” In my experience, it’s hard to feel bad when you live near mountains.

With two days to explore, I barely had enough time to see the town, much less Kachemak Bay and the mountains beyond. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed for a week and researched the region enough to make an adventure out of it. However, on this occasion I was just passing through, waiting two days to catch the ferry to Juneau.

My main goal in Homer was to visit some friends of mine. One of them was nice enough to put me up for a few days, a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But she did it without complaint, and for that I give her my sincerest thanks. My other friend was an old classmate of mine who I had not seen in nearly a decade. It is roughly 2,600 miles from Homer, to the small town where we went to school (as the bluebird flies) in northern Michigan. I was curious to see what she had to say about life in Alaska, and we set up a time to go out for dinner at Captain Patties.
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On my first day, I was given the driving tour of the town. There really wasn’t much to it, but she showed me the downtown area that was full of the necessary services such as the bank, grocer, liquor store and hardware store. There were quite a few restaurants, and independent shops. Most of the businesses looked like fun places to visit. They were brightly painted, clean, with a funky feel to them. My friend told me that, “The meals you eat here in Homer, will probably be some of the best food you’ve ever eaten. The people of Homer spend all winter trying new recipes and tinkering with old ones.” It’s true. Homer serves delicious food. They also embrace the locally grown food movement, which is always good to see. I sincerely regret not eating at the Vagabond Café. I mean, who better to endorse such a place? I’ll eat there next time.

After our spin through town, we drove out onto the Homer Spit, and it was here where I would spend most of my time.
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The Homer Spit is a narrow piece of land that juts almost five miles into Kachemak Bay. The Spit-as it is locally known-is where the action is (at least during the summer months). The Spit is home to an eclectic mixture of tourist shops, restaurants, campgrounds, sport fishing charter companies, fish cleaning shacks, and industrial warehousing. The marina can handle any boat from a small skiff to deep water vessels hundreds of feet long. There is public access to the beach at Pioneer Park, and many people take advantage and use this park daily. Next to the road sits an asphalt bike path that runs almost the entire length of the Spit.

My host was working evenings, so I had plenty of time to roam around town. But since I was on foot, I decided to base my explorations on The Spit because of its scenic beauty, beach access, restaurants, and photo opportunities.

Scenes From The Spit
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The Salty Dawg Saloon is one of my favorite taverns that I have visited. This small wood tavern was built from the wood of several of Homer’s historical buildings and has been around since 1957. I had to duck my head a little to get through the front door. I went in and sat down at the end of the bar, taking in my surroundings. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. As it was, I couldn’t stop looking at the building’s decoration. There were thousands of dollar bills pinned to every open surface available. The bills displayed the name, and hometown of the people who pinned them up. It was really cool. I felt as if I had just walked into the secret room of a mad man obsessed with dollar bills. I ordered a brew from the Homer Brewing Company, and hung out, digging the atmosphere. A small group of friends began to sing a traditional shanty out loud, and it sounded beautiful. Besides the bills, there were unique pictures and pieces of maritime history from old ships that have passed through. As a mariner, I loved this place. And of course, I put my own dollar bill up on the wall.
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Taking the Ferry From Homer to Haines
The ferry was seven hours late. In Alaska, the tides control a lot of the timing for a large vessel. This is because the difference between high and low tide can be quite dramatic. The Alaskan ferry Kennicott was delayed by these tides somewhere along the line, and we had to wait. When it arrived, I was sitting in the ferry terminal building finishing up a chapter in my book. There were two kids staring at the monstrous ship as it slid close to the dock for mooring. I don’t know if they had ever been on a boat before, but they looked to be in awe.
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After I boarded, I checked in with the purser to see if there were any cheap cabins available. I would be aboard for three days, and thought I’d see if I could get a roomette. I was in luck, and I purchased a room for thirty dollars a night. The room wasn’t fancy, but it had a bunk, and a place to keep my stuff. I was happy with it.

I had never been on the Kennicott before, and I went for a walk to check it all out. I won’t give you all of the vessels stats, but its 382 feet long with a beam of 85 feet. This vessel is one of two accredited ocean going vessels that the Alaska Ferry System runs. On my walkabout, I found that the vessel had a large forward observation lounge, a dining area, a small bar, a solarium (where I would’ve slept had I not taken the cabin), and two aft observation lounges. Beyond that, it had two outside companionways on two different levels where the passengers could hang out and sit in the sun if it appeared. I would be comfortable enough.
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I sat on a watertight locker as the Kennicott’s deckhands hauled the massive mooring lines aboard. We were finally leaving, and I was at sea once again. I wanted to find a place on board where I could watch the passing scenery and have quick access to the exterior decks on either side of the ship if there was a scene I wanted to photograph. I found the aft observation lounge perfect for this purpose. Since it was directly over the propellers, the room was slightly louder than the forward lounge, and it also had a bit of a shake to it. Being a seasoned mariner, this didn’t bother me at all. I had the room entirely to myself for most of my voyage.

I spent my days sitting back in the aft lounge relaxing. It felt great to sit around for a few days, something I rarely allow myself to do. On a boat, you have no choice. Time passes slowly.
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After living in a plywood shack for two weeks in Denali, it made me appreciate having a warm, well lit room where I could plug in my computer, get a drink of water, and use the head. I was loving life! I took turns reading, catching up on my writing, playing games, taking photographs, and listening to tunes and podcasts. I ate when I was hungry. I made a lot of peanut butter sandwiches, and suffered through meals from the ships cafeteria. No offense to the good people who work on the ferry, but the food is awful. There is no love in it, and it’s all prepackaged, or frozen. Ugh. I’ll admit I’m a spoiled mariner, as I work on a cruise ship that serves fresh, local, nutritious food that I don’t have to pay for.

My plans for exploring the coastal towns that the ferry stopped at were dashed by our seven hour delay. At each ferry terminal, we were reminded that we would be leaving as soon as we possibly could, as the captain was trying to get us back on schedule. On the original itinerary, we were to scheduled to be in port for several hours at a time. Instead, we spent just enough time to unload and load passengers before moving on. We also arrived at most of these ports in the early morning hours when I was fast asleep. Ah well.

The following pictures are scenes from the Ferry.

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Islands and Clouds
I was amazed at how thick these low island clouds formed. They stretched out in a long low band across Ushagat and Amatuli islands. They were simply beautiful.
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Chenega Bay
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We arrived in Chenega Bay just as the sun was setting over the mountains. The surrounding islands and mountains were bathed in great light.

The Fairweather Mountains
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I’ve seen the Fairweather Mountains from Glacier Bay National Park, and I have seen them from far away (near Sitka, Alaska). But I’ve never seen them from up close. We passed by them on a stunningly beautiful day, and I sat outside in the chilly air all afternoon. Mt. Fairweather rises 15,325 feet above sea level. That high point was almost three miles above where I sat on the bow of the Kennicott. I don’t think I’ve seen a prettier mountain range. Bands of clouds flowed around the high peaks of Mt. Fairweather, Mt. Adams, and Mt. La Perouse among others. I saw the Fairweather glacier, and had a good look at the La Perouse glacier as we passed by. I love traveling by ship. Most vessels travel so slowly, it gives you a great chance to enjoy the scenery. In the late afternoon, we rounded Cape Spencer and passed into Cross Sound leaving the open ocean behind. I was back in familiar territory. We passed familiar places, such as the Inian Islands, Glacier Bay, Icy Straight, Funter Bay on our passage to Juneau (see May to September 2011 for more adventures and pictures of these incredible places).
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We docked in Juneau at 8:30 pm. I stepped on land for the first time in three days. It felt good. I spent two hours reading my book before I boarded the ferry Matanuska which would take me north to Haines. I slept on the ferry under the heat lamps of the solarium. But it was a fitful sleep where I tossed and turned on the plastic deck chair. When I awoke for our arrival in Haines at 3 a.m., I got a call from my friend who arranged to have her boyfriend pick me up. I was looking for a guy named Darren who had a full “Fu man chu.” He said “hello,” handed me a beer and drove me to the apartment where I would be staying. We talked a bit, but it was 3 am, and we were both beyond tired. I went into the spacious one bedroom apartment that I learned would be my home for the duration of my stay, and crawled into the bed that was already made up for me. I love having good friends! I fell asleep just as the sky was starting to get lighten up for the coming dawn.

I wonder what Haines is like?

Posted by Rhombus 08:17 Archived in USA Tagged mountains boats islands alaska clouds oceans photography homer taverns fairweather Comments (0)

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