Gratitude Day 3: The Gift of Hatcher Pass

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“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”  ~John Muir, Alaska Days With John Muir, 1915

A few weeks ago I asked my dear friend Nancy, “If we could do anything to celebrate your birthday, what would it be?”

It took her a few days to answer honestly, but she finally asked for what she wanted:  an overnight getaway in the adorable little cabins at Hatcher Pass.  I passed the word to my friend Janelle, who had a cozy cabin booked within hours.

It turned out to be perfect timing, since all of our husbands were either moose hunting, jetsetting to Seattle for a football game, or working on house projects.  So we women packed up our kids and cars and headed for the woods.

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The Hatcher Pass cabins are rustic in all the right ways.  There isn’t running water, but they are heated, dog-friendly, and surrounded with bucketloads of blueberry bushes:



The first night we explored the trails around Independence Mine:






That evening we ate dinner at the Lodge.  I’m not a fondue fan, but apparently it was incredible.  The kids played board games at the table next to us, which gave the moms time to chat the night away.  We walked back to the cabin and celebrated with homemade peanut butter pie, and Nancy took the kids for their first sauna experience.  I made up crazy stories to help the kids fall asleep, but unfortunately they put the moms out first!


The next day we hiked the April Bowl trail.  If you’ve never done it, you should.  Look at this scenery!!

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As we neared the lakes, we were dusted with the first snowflakes of the year.  It was surreal to watch them float down from the blue sky above, gracefully swaying and landing softly upon us.  It felt like the mountain was happy to host us for those brief moments, and perhaps even blessing our winter ahead.  Washing our spirits clean, as Muir predicted.

Nancy and the kids kept going past the lakes, all the way to the top of Hatch Peak:

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We left with a happy boy,


A tired dog,


And a little girl’s best hike ever:

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Not to mention this little girl’s first hike all by herself:

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Things did get a bit chilly on the way down… almost there Maggie!


It turns out that Nancy’s request for a night in the woods was a gift to us all.  We traveled a mere hour from our front porches, and only spent one night.  We focused on our children, our friendships, and the inspirational scenery around us.

Our getaway was brief, but Muir’s words still rang true:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
~John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901


Gratitude Day 2: Happy Endings & Lessons Learned

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What a relief that no one was hurt in last week’s magnitude 6.2 earthquake that rattled Alaskans.

My school library sustained some decent damage, but my ego may have taken the biggest hit of all.  Here’s the scoop:

There were three classes in the library that morning, in addition to about a dozen kids on individual passes.  When the shaking started I was walking down the hallway with one of the groups, on my way to a budget meeting near the main office.  We initially thought the commotion was due to the construction that is currently taking place in our school.  It was quickly apparent that the entire building was shaking and we were in the midst of a massive earthquake, so we got the kids into nearby classrooms and underneath door jams.

As soon as the shaking stopped I sprinted back to the library, where kids and teachers were emerging from underneath the tables in a state of shock.  A quick glance around the room revealed damage, so I snapped a few cell phone photos and immediately reported the findings to my principals:

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One of my principals was on the scene within moments, and he immediately evacuated the library.  He declared that no one would be allowed to re-enter until the engineers could ensure the safety of the space, so we got everyone out and locked up the doors.  I put up a sign and headed to the front office to wait for the maintenance crew to arrive.

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Our library is shared by both a middle and high school, so I sent an email to the teachers at both of my schools to let them know the library was closed until further notice.  I attached my cell phone snapshots so they could see for themselves why we were evacuating.

And while I was an evacuee I found a spare moment to upload a few pictures to Facebook as well.

Fast forward 30 minutes or so.  That’s how long it took for me to discover one of my photos – the one with the students crouching underneath the tables – was published on the front page of the Alaska Dispatch News website.  They even gave me credit for the photo!

Say what?!



It’s not like there was anything wrong or inaccurate with the photo, but I had not sent it to the media.  No one asked my permission to use the image.  So how did they get it?

My Facebook account is private, but I knew someone on my friend list could have easily forwarded the image.  I deleted my post about the earthquake, but it was too late.  The image kept turning up everywhere.

KTUU, our local television news station, posted it without any attribution.

My school district posted it to its Facebook and Twitter accounts:



And then the picture went viral:  MSNBC and CNN picked up the posts from there:



Honestly, I have no idea where else it was posted, viewed, tweeted, and shared.  Nor will I ever know.

In the after shock of the earthquake, I learned – firsthand – a very important lesson I have already taught hundreds of students during Internet safety presentations:  Once you put something on the Internet, you lose all control.

Later that afternoon I discovered how the photo went viral.  Would you believe it wasn’t due to Facebook at all?!  A teacher at one of my schools is married to a local journalist, and she forwarded my “Library Closed” email to her husband.  She was sending the pictures as a wife to her husband, simply saying, “Wow, look what happened at my school!” and not as an undercover tip.

I could choose to be angry, but instead I choose to appreciate her honesty.  I’d still be wondering how that photo got out if she hadn’t approached me with the truth.  I choose to accept that the mistake was actually my own, and I will never again email or share anything unless I’m comfortable with it seeping out of my control.

(Honestly, I live a pretty benign life and this has never been an issue for me before.  Trust me, if you hack my iCloud account you won’t find anything but puppy pictures and video clips of my kids’ piano recitals.  And a few earthquake pictures, of course.)

It’s not like there was anything wrong with my viral photo, but as an educator I’m conscientious about posting student images online.  I was worried parents might be upset at the image of children crouched underneath tables with debris falling above their heads, even though I knew everyone was safe.  When the district posted the photo on its social media accounts I breathed a sigh of relief, because obviously that meant the communications department approved.

More importantly, I choose to learn from this experience.  I spent the evening after the earthquake collecting screenshots of all the places I found the picture published, and I plan to use them in my new and improved Internet safety presentations.  Honestly, what good is any experience in life if you don’t learn from it?

And most importantly, I choose to be grateful for the leadership of my principal, whose call to evacuate the library was absolutely correct.  The structural engineers found additional issues and crews worked through the weekend so we could safely reopen our doors today.

Our happy ending, after some important lessons learned!  I am grateful for both!

Gratitude Day 1: Maggie & Marley

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There is a Gratitude Challenge going around on Facebook right now.  It encourages people to spend a few minutes each day reflecting upon their blessings, and then posting about them.  Last week I was nominated, and I have decided to accept the challenge.


I am blessed to say that listing 15 things, people, moments, or experiences for which I am grateful is an easy task.  So I’ve decided to transform this task into a writing challenge for myself.  Can I carve out some time for the next 15 days to write about these moments of gratitude?  I will certainly try!

On this Day 1 I am grateful for literacy.  For education.  For great authors and their amazing books.

Books that changed my life, like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret  when I was a a child and A Thousand Splendid Suns as an adult.  Books that change my students’ lives, like Speak.  Books that kids love but adult try to prohibit… like The Fault in Our Stars.  Books that bond my family, like Harry Potter and Matilda.  Books that keep my son up into the wee hours of the light… from his early reading days of Ready Freddy to his annoying phase with Diary of a Wimpy Kid to all the sports book he now inhales by Tim Green and Mike Lupica.  And books that keep my daughter up into the wee hours like… um…. hmmmm…

To be honest, there haven’t been any.

Until now.

Bring on Marley.


It’s not that Maggie doesn’t like books.  She is first to leap onto the couch during family read aloud nights, and the silly humor of Mo Willams has always been her favorite.  But Marley is the first book she’s read on her own that has made an emotional connection for her; the first book to teach her the power of falling in love with a character in print.

Maggie came home from her school library with the young reader adaptation of Marley and Me by John Grogan.  I’ve read the adult version and know the basic plot:  crazy cute yellow lab puppy (Marley) becomes the heart of a family.  But those of us who have endured Old Yeller and How the Red Fern Grows know how this ends.

I knew we were in trouble when Maggie asked, “Why did my librarian say this book is sad?  It’s soooooo funny!!”  She proceeded to read me the part where the author met “Clearance Dog,” the breeders’s nickname for Marley:

He plowed full steam into me, throwing  a cross-body block across my ankles.  Then he pounced at my shoelaces as though he was convinced they were dangerous enemies that needed to be destroyed.

She was laughing so hard she could hardly get the words out.  Clearance Dog.  Shoelaces as enemies.  Good stuff when you have a new puppy of your own that acts the same way.

Fast forward a few weeks, and all was calm in our home.  It was the 9:00ish hour, and the kids were upstairs reading.  I too had retired with a good book, and Clark was downstairs watching TV.

Cue the wailing.

The screeches from Maggie’s room were so intense that everyone raced to check on her.  Even Sam.  Based on the intensity of her outburst I fully expected to see blood, but it turns out her trauma was purely emotional.

It was grief.  Pure, unencumbered, intense grief.  She had finally read far enough into the book to realize that poor Marley was not immortal.  I’d tried to prepare her, but she insisted she could handle the book.

Clearly she had fallen in love with Marley more than we realized.  She has since finished the book – more tears were shed, but thankfully they were less intense.  And she says it was worth the read, even though it ripped her heart out.

I hope Marley is the first of many characters Maggie will grow to love on her own, and someday she too will realize what a gift it is to live in a country where literacy is a core value.

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Purple Noodle Soup

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It’s soup season in Alaska, but we seem to have a carrot crisis in this house.

Last weekend it was the beef stew.  The meat was already tenderizing and veggies half chopped before I realized we were out of carrots.  Apparently the kids are devouring them in their lunch boxes.

Last night it was chicken noodle soup.  Once again my children had inhaled 5 lbs of carrots in a few short days, and I had no idea.  We don’t live close to a grocery store, it was already 6 PM, and I decided chicken soup with two carrots would be just fine.

Maggie, on the other hand, made it her mission to canvas the neighborhood for the sake of our soup. She came home with four beautiful purple carrots:

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I had never heard of purple carrots, but as I peeled and chopped I became a convert.  Clearly these beauties would make this batch of soup extra special.

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Just how special I did not know.  Would you believe my new purple friends turned the entire batch of soup purple?  No artificial dyes required!

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It tasted the same as usual, but the kids loved it a little more.

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It wasn’t quite Stone Soup, but it still felt like a community effort.  We sent a few bowls of our purple concoction to the neighbors, thanking them for the carrots.  We hope the enjoyed it as much as we did!


Back to simpler times

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After all the big water, ocean going boating experiences this summer I cannot describe how great it felt to be back on the Kenai River last weekend.  We’ve had our little raft almost as long as we’ve been in Alaska, and it’s been the vessel for many memories:  getting engaged on the Gulkana River, Clark’s float hunts on the King Salmon, and camping with a grizzly bear on the Kenai. We’ve floated with grandparents and friends, aunts and uncles, parents and cousins.  It’s where the kids catch fish and the dogs run free.  Good times.

Simpler times.


The kids loved it all over again.  We’ve named all of our favorite gravel bars and pull outs along the river, and from Camera Stop to Bear Island to yodeling under the Halfway Bridge they remembered them all.

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It was the first time for Tess on the raft, and she did great.  She ran like a banshee every time we stopped, and she was alert and sniffing while we floated.  She still doesn’t love the water, but she did finally swim!

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Just listen to the laughter… this day was a gift!


Boat Log 7

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August 18, 2014

Clark’s mom came for a nearly 3 week visit, so we were confident we’d be able to get her out on the water.  Unfortunately, the weather and seas did not cooperate.  By the time things finally calmed down I was back to work, but we decided to make the best of it and go for a quick evening excursion one day after work.

We took the 4:30 tunnel to Whittier, and since it was a Monday afternoon it wasn’t busy at all.  We headed to Shotgun Cove and had all the shrimp pots dropped by 6:15.  The water was flat calm and the sun was blazing – it was a great start!


We decided to explore somewhere new this time and headed up Blackstone Bay.  As we got closer to the glacier the temperature dropped noticeably.  We saw a kayaker and two otters, but not much in the way of wildlife.  There were a few chunks of glacier ice floating, but we didn’t get too close.  I was nervous about navigating the narrow, shallow moraines around Willard Island so we turned around at the tip of the island.

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We did manage to scoop up a nice sized chunk of glacier ice for Sam’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  We thought this would add a nice Alaskan flair to his task!  Clark and Sam netted it together and we put the 20 lb. chunk in a bucket on the back deck.


We headed back to Shotgun Cove to jig for a bit.  The tiny kelp greenling liked our lures and each of the kids reeled up three fish.  Clark caught a small rockfish, but we released them all.

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At about 8:45 we pulled the shrimp pots and were pleased to catch half a gallon in a few short hours.  Grandma was looking forward to a tasty midnight snack when we got home!  We cleaned the shrimp and put them in a bucket of sea water next to the glacier ice.

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After a quick stop at the rookery we motored back into the harbor.  This is where I always get nervous – launching the boat is getting easier, but landing it is the hard part.

Clark suggested I stand on the gunwale as we approached the dock.  He thought this would make it easier for me to hop down onto the dock.  It was worth a try, so I hoisted myself up, hanging onto the top of the boat with one hand and the bow and stern lines with the other.

He brought me in 2-3 feet from the dock (we have differing memories of the exact distance).  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to jump both down 3 feet from the gunwale and across 3 feet to the dock, especially since my jump would push the boat even further away from the dock.  But another boat was already landed ahead of us, so there was no time for fear about little things like getting squashed between our 6000 lb. boat and the dock if I couldn’t make the jump.

So make the jump I did.  I took a deep breath and launched myself.

This might be a good time to mention that I’m not the most athletic of souls.  Or nimble.  Fear and adrenaline got me to the dock, but they certainly didn’t keep me on my feet.  I came down hard and started rolling, and kept on rolling all the way across the dock.  Thankfully I came to a stop just before toppling into the water on the opposite side.  I was tangled in the lines but did not drop them, so I scrambled to my feet and tied up the boat before promptly bursting into tears.

I wasn’t terribly hurt – just a few scrapes on my elbows and knees – but I was absolutely humiliated.  I heard the two men ahead of us say something like, “Well that was a fail!” but luckily it all happened so fast that they didn’t have time to videotape the incident.  The next thing I heard was Clark barking at Sam and Maggie, “Stop laughing!  You have jobs to do!”  I looked up to see them staring at me wide-eyed through the cabin windows.

We quickly and quietly loaded up the boat before heading for home.  I was still feeling sulky as I rode in the back seat, full of frustration for being such a klutz.  It had been such a great evening up until that last moment!

We pulled into the driveway around 11:00 pm, and I boarded the boat to get the shrimp and glacier ice.

But guess what?  They were gone!

The latch to the door on the back deck had come undone, the door was open, and the buckets must have slid out onto the highway as we drove home.  I pray no one was behind us when the buckets came crashing out or we could have caused an accident.  Not to mention we had littered, lost the glacier ice, wasted the shrimp, and blown the midnight snack.  As if my banged up elbows and ego weren’t enough?

It looks like Grandma will have to come back again to get her fresh shrimp.  Hopefully by the time she returns we can go boating without any of these ridiculous incidents!!


Boat Log 6

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July 25 – 27, 2014

We had been anxious to do another overnight trip on the boat, and this weekend seemed ideal.  Calm seas were the priority, even though cloudy skies and rain were in the forecast.

We caught the 2:30 tunnel to a very rainy Whittier, but the launch was flawless!  By 3:30 we were motoring out of the harbor.  It was very foggy, but we didn’t plan to go far.

We dropped shrimp pots for the first time this trip.  We sent four pots down into 350-450 feet of water near Ziegler Cove.  From there we went into the cove and anchored.  Clark took Tess and the kids to shore while I organized the cabin and prepared a spaghetti dinner.


We were cozy and warm in the cabin and played a game of pitch (Maggie just learned!) after dinner.

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Later that night we pulled the anchor to go check our shrimp pots.  We were thrilled to find 41 jumbo shrimp!  They totaled about two gallons.  What a delicious midnight snack for Clark and the kids!

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We dropped the pots again and were optimistic about how many shrimp we might catch when the pots had time to soak all night.

We anchored again in Ziegler for the night.  The waters were incredibly calm – so calm that the bugs were awful.  We tried to leave the cabin windows open all night, but it wasn’t the best decision since several mosquitoes decided to bunk with us. No one slept much between 4:30 – 7:30 AM thanks to a restless dog and buzzing bugs.  Finally Clark gave up and took Tess to shore and the rest of us a caught a few more zzzzz’s.

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The good news was that the skies had cleared and it was a beautiful morning.

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We were pretty disappointed when we pulled our shrimp pots at 11:30 and there were only four shrimp.  We dropped the pots again and motored to the head of Pigot Bay, where we found another beach to explore and had a quick lunch.

We spent the afternoon trolling for salmon, but only caught pinks so we didn’t keep any.  It was still plenty fun!


When the kids got bored with the fishing, they simply headed into the cabin for some solitaire:


We had slightly better luck fishing for bottom feeders and reeled up a Dusky rockfish and kelp greenling for dinner.  We of course hoped for plenty of shrimp to go with the fish, but when we pulled the pots around 6:30 there were only about 25 shrimp – maybe half a gallon.

It was still a pretty amazing dinner, with the fresh seafood, green beans, cucumbers, and a side of pasta for the kids.  We are figuring out the stove and it is a nice cabin for cooking.

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After dinner we played another game of pitch before heading to bed around midnight.  Unfortunately, rain moved in overnight and we had the bow window open (it’s the only one with a screen) so we got a bit wet.  It wasn’t too bad, and overall we all enjoyed a much better night of sleep.  Sam moved to the floor at some point and liked that better.

Despite the rain, Sunday started very well.  We had a lot of fun pulling up the very heavy shrimp pots – there were 85 shrimp in all along with a handful of crabs that we set free.  Our luck was back!


I was getting more comfortable driving the boat, and somehow brought us right alongside the buoys for our pots so Clark could scoop them on board.  Despite the electronic pot puller, pulling the line took some effort bending and pulling up the pots, but it was fun to work together.  The kids liked to watch the yellow line emerge, which signals the last few feet of rope.  After that the pots are visible and you never know what you will pull up from the ocean floor!

Done shrimping, we stacked the shrimp pots on the deck and started motoring toward Pigot where Clark wanted to troll for salmon again.  I was driving as he prepared the fishing poles.  When he decided to start the kicker motor – for trolling – everything on the entire boat suddenly went dead.  Blip.  Main engine power – gone.  Kicker power – gone.  Even the radio was completely dead.  We had no navigational devices or way to communicate.  We were drifting in (last we knew) around 400 feet of water, so manually dropping anchor was not an option.  We were very worried we would eventually crash into the large rock wall on our starboard side, so we grabbed a cell phone and tried to call all three of our boating friends.  We hoped one of them might know what went wrong.  Unfortunately, no one was answering!

The shrimp pots – which had been such fun less than an hour before – were now completely in the way.  We were checking batteries, crawling into the engine compartment, and basically starting to panic.  The kids were oblivious as they played solitaire in the cabin below.

Clark stood on the deck and began waving a red life vest to indicate we needed help.  There were many other boaters trolling in the area, and right away a boat motored up to us.  It was the Merle out of Seattle (or so it said on the hull) and the Captain and young men aboard were so helpful.  They pulled up parallel to us, and we both tied up our bumpers.  We then roped our boats together and their Captain boarded our boat.  What a relief!

He really had no idea what had gone wrong either.  Josh, the Captain, and Clark crawled into the engine compartment and fiddled with the fuses and connections.  Everything seemed to be in order.  He assured us we’d checked all the obvious places.  After 15 minutes of fumbling around we all stood on the deck scratching our heads, and on a whim Josh turned the key to the kicker engine.  It started!  Mysteriously, all power was back and we were able to fire up the main engine.  What a relief!!

Thank you to the entire crew of the Merle!  They refused to accept anything but our gratitude, which I still feel in spades.  They said they had spent the previous evening helping some other boaters who were in trouble, and it had been a very late night.  I believe in karma and pray those weary fishermen hit the motherlode later that afternoon… they deserved it!

Needless to say we weren’t in the mood for fishing any longer, so we headed straight back to the harbor.  We didn’t want to take a chance shutting down the engine again!

There was a lot of traffic in the harbor that afternoon, but landing the boat went well.  The line to the tunnel was stacked deep, but we made it out in time.

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As we drove back to Anchorage I was fairly certain we needed to get out of the boating business.  Maybe a nice, safe RV instead?  Or a cabin – something we could use year round?  Wouldn’t either be safer recreational options for our family?  It had been a nearly perfect weekend, but those 30-45 minutes were all we could talk about on the drive home.

I mean seriously… we both grew up in Nebraska.  How much farther from the ocean can you get?

Back home, Clark got in touch with his boating friends and they talked us off the ledge.  It sounds like a “simple” loose connection to the battery was the most likely culprit.  Sure, simple.

Some lessons learned on this trip:

1.  Hand held radios are a must.  Also, we need to keep the main radio on more often so we know which of our friends are out on the water at the same time.
2.  Charge both batteries when the engine is running.
3.  Extra everything – fuses, etc. – is a necessity, not a luxury.
4.  Fellow boaters don’t mess around.  When people are in trouble, someone will help.

And perhaps the biggest lesson was that getting scared can cloud a person’s common sense.  When I shared our saga with a friend, she pointed out that a pull start on the kicker  motor might be a good idea.  I mentioned this to Clark at dinner the next night, and he had to stop mid-chew to avoid choking.

Because guess what?  Our kicker does have a pull start!  We tested it, and it works flawlessly.

Our entire panic could have been averted if we had remembered this simple fact.  But when you are in the moment with a new boat and new territory it’s easy to overlook the most obvious solutions!

I do believe we will survive this first season of boating.  We are looking into a Boating Skills and Seaman’s course put on by the US Coast Guard this fall, and are surrounded by many friends with countless hours of experience who are happy to mentor us.  The spectacular beauty of Prince William Sound make this learning curve worth the effort!

Boat Log 5

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Clark has several one-liners that he repeats ad nauseam.  “Well, success is measured in many different ways…”  is one of his favorites.  He typically puffs up his chest and releases this phrase in one long exhale after an unsuccessful hunting or fishing excursion.

I’ve heard this gem more than enough for this lifetime (no offense to his hunting or fishing prowess) but would like to steal it just this once to describe our last boating excursion.  Success is indeed measured in many different ways, and in this case success = survival.  Forget the National Geographic whale sightings or epic fishing luck… neither are necessary.  Survival, baby… from this case out that is all I care about.

That, and to not crap my pants with fear in the process.

We barely made the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier.  We left home in plenty of time, but needed to stop in Indian for fuel and found ourselves in line behind a few oversized boats that needed hundreds of gallons of gas.  After a 20 minute wait we filled our tank and sped south.  We were among the last through the tunnel, but we made it!  Lucky?  Time would tell.

We met friends at the launch:  Brandon, Keri and Emily were heading out in their boat, and Clark’s coworker John was there with his family as well.  John had spent the day before helping Clark rig up our shrimp pots, and we planned to drop pots together in Culross Passage.  It would be our first attempt at shrimping.

The launch went pretty well.  No wind in Whittier makes a huge difference.  The only stress was a blaring alarm after the boat started, but after feeding the engine some outdrive oil it was happy and we were on our way.  Another warning?  If so, we ignored it.

The marine forecast predicted 2 foot seas and 10 knot winds, so even though it was very overcast we expected a good day.  This trip was about fishing and shrimping rather than sightseeing.

It all started well, but when we motored to the East side of Cochrane Bay the water suddenly became very choppy.   One minute everything was fine, and the next we were pounding across large waves.  This kept up for over 30 minutes – the cabinets in the berth popped open and slammed closed.  The buckets on the deck rolled about.  Worst of all, our skiff – the little raft tied to the top of our boat – came crashing onto the back deck.  Clark had to stop motoring, climb onto the bow, and tie the skiff back on top of the boat while we drifted in 4 foot seas.  (And yes, he was smart enough to put on a life vest for this chore.)

I was terrified of the rolling waves, and watching John’s boat being tossed about next to ours didn’t help.  It seemed he could capsize at any moment, even though both guys have since reassured me that our boats could have easily handled more.  Brandon and Keri had already turned around by this point.  John and Clark decided we would keep going, but when our skiff came crashing onto the back deck a second time we turned around.

Clark begged me to “be a rock” for the kids, but they weren’t scared in the least.  In fact, they rode in the berth on their knees, flailing their arms above their heads and pretending to be bull riders.  This ride was like an Alaskan roller coaster to them, and they were having a ball.  If anyone needed a rock, it was me!  A rock of solid ground!  At one point Sam asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  I tried to convince him I’d just been sprayed by one of the waves that was crashing over our fishing deck.

When we motored back to calmer waters we connected with Brandon and Keri on the radio, who said they were now fishing in Pigot where it was raining but calm.  We headed that way, where we trolled for salmon and John dropped his shrimp pots.  Our pots remained unused on our deck, as I wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to drop them and waiting hours to see what we could catch.  Clark trolled a bit more in Shotgun Cove and the kids played solitaire, but before long we called it a day and headed back to the harbor much sooner than expected.

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John spent years in the Coast Guard and estimates that the seas were 4-5 feet with strong gusts of wind.  After debriefing, it sounds like all three of the guys would have powered through the rough water had it been a “dude fishing trip.”  But since all of our boats had wives and kids aboard they played it safe.  Clark said it best:  we are recreational boaters, and no one was having any fun.  (That, and I might have mentioned putting the boat on Craigslist…)

We ended up motoring into the harbor right behind Brandon and Keri.  We had buoys and lines ready on both sides of the bow – a huge help – and when we saw the opening at the dock it was no problem to quickly hook up the stern line and bumper.  Keri was on the dock so I tossed our lines to her and she easily helped land us – at least something went without incident!

Clark went to get the trailer, and Maggie took Tess on a much needed potty walk.  Meanwhile, Sam helped me walk the boat up the dock as boats ahead of us pulled out of the water.  He was so proud, and I was grateful for his genuine help.  But we did hit one last glitch here… our boat was safely secured to the dock and I stepped away to help Keri walk theirs up to the retrieval point.  For some reason Sam thought I told him to follow with our boat, so he untied it and tried his best.  When I looked back and saw our 63 lb. child trying to hold onto our 7000 lb. beast of a boat I nearly had a heart attack!  Luckily the dock was full of helpful souls with the same panicked reaction.  We all rushed and grabbed the lines from him.  Sam’s emotions ranged from embarrassed shame to defensive frustration.  I knew the feeling, with my lack of helpfulness out in the big water just hours before.  I grabbed his life jacket and pulled him into a huge hug and reminded him we are all learning right now.

When it was our turn to move the boat again he was apprehensive, but he swallowed his fear and clenched the bow line.  I followed with the stern line and silently whispered that I would always have his back.  Always.

Finally, I got to be the rock.  (It was admittedly easier from the dock…)

We popped out of the 5 PM tunnel to sunny skies and it was a beautiful evening in Anchorage.  As we caravaned back to town we all decided the best way to celebrate the sunshine and our success – our survival! – was with a few pizzas in a sunny back yard with friends.  A relaxing end to a stressful day!


No Fireworks Necessary

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We avoided the crowds and spent the 4th of July with friends at their family cabin on a lake.  Sunscreen was mandatory on this incredibly warm weekend, with temperatures pushing 80 degrees.  Usually I take our children back to Nebraska in the summer so they can enjoy outdoor swimming, but on days like this it’s actually possible right here in Alaska!

The kids bounced between swimming, paddle boating, badminton, kickball, fishing, shooting BB guns, riding four wheelers, hiking, and playing fetch with the dogs.  No mind numbing electronic devices allowed, or even requested.  That alone made the weekend a success for me!

Not one of the kids even asked about fireworks.  It’s just as well, because even the best pyrotechnic display couldn’t have competed with the booming laughter of our children or the explosive beauty of the scenery that surrounded us.

Happy Birthday USA!  Alaska may have been late coming to the party, but we’re so happy to be part of the club.

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Boat Log 4

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Friday, June 20th 2014

This was the trip I dreamed about when we bought the boat – the chance to take out my family who was visiting from the Midwest.  It would test the boat with 10 passengers, but we ran the numbers and came in under the maximum weight.  Our friends Brandon and Keri were on the water this day as well, and we told them our call name on the radio would be “Temporarily Overloaded.”  (We really need to settle on a name for our vessel!)

We hit the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier.  The winds were blowing like mad and it was overcast and spitting on the other side of the tunnel.  A lady was walking a reindeer on a leash down the middle of the street, which is not a site you see every day!

We had a new strategy for the launch.  This time Clark turned the truck around and backed part of the way down the ramp.  Then he got out and held the boat lines, while I backed the trailer the rest of the way into the water and launched the boat.  This was a great decision because with the 35 MPH wind gusts even Clark  had a hard time walking the boat to the end of the dock.  I hopped out and helped, as did another woman whose family was launching ahead of us.  I think we will stick with this method from now on – it was much easier, and on days that aren’t as windy it should work great.

As usual, we motored to the kittiwake rookery for a few minutes.  From there we went up Passage Canal towards our favorite spot – Hobo Bay.  The seas were calmer than last week and the skies were clearing.  It was blue and the mountains and glaciers looked impressive.  Even with 10 people on board Clark was able to get the boat on step as long as most of us stayed down in the berth.  The kids all slept on the drive out:

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Everyone except Maggie hopped right up in Bettles Bay when we saw our first whale.  It was a single humpback with a distinct white tail – I wondered if it was the same one we saw here last time with Lor and Zach?



We spent quite a while watching this whale, who was close enough to see and hear but not frighteningly near the boat.

Clark decided to wash the upper boat windows, but as he dumped a bucket of sea water on the windshield it all splashed into the berth!  The windows down below were open.  We soaked the paper towels, matches, guide book, and two iPhones.  Not to mention poor Kylie!

Eventually we said goodbye to the whale and finished our cruise to Hobo Bay, where we anchored in 30 feet of water.  Clark wanted me to drive in closer to shore, but I was too nervous.  As a result he had to row quite a bit further than he’d have liked – we had to shuttle 3 times to get all 10 of us to shore in the raft.

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Tess was much more agile and exploratory on the beach this time.  She immediately started running like a banshee through the grasses.  She splashed in the sea water but knew better than to drink it.  We found a little pond and she waded in up to her chest and took a few good drinks.  All this activity tuckered her out and she slept like a baby when we got back to the boat:

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Mom loved the shore and roamed all over with her camera in hand.  Kylie stretched out on the rocky sand and dried out her pants.  As usual, Maggie went off on her own to play in the sand and mud at the tideline.  Clark found a $100 Sog knife that we packed out (after letting the kids whittle some sticks), along with some garbage a previous group had left.  Frustrating that even in the middle of nowhere people leave trash.

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We kept a careful eye on this eagle, who was probably keeping a careful eye on our puppy!


After we all had a nice break, snack, and drink Tyson had the honor of shuttling us all back to the boat.  I think it gave him a new appreciation for Clark’s upper arm strength!


We raised the anchor and cruised toward the head of Port Wells, where we again saw the sea otters and pups.  On the way back we stopped south of Pirate Cove to fish.  There was another whale in the distance, but we focused on making some sandwiches and fishing instead.  Kylie caught a Pacific cod, and when Dad got a bite he let Madi reel it up.  It was an ugly Irish Lord with lots of worms, and Madi actually kissed it before we released it back to the sea.  Yuck!  Later in the trip Tyson caught a small black rock fish that we decided to keep, but that was the extent of our luck.


The whale luck continued however.  The lone humpback in the distance was moving closer and closer.  All of us watched in awe as we drifted with him – we could hear his blows, see his bubbles, and at one point he breached 50-60 feet off the side of our boat!  I drove Clark crazy with my vocal worries that it was going to breach right under us – it was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying!

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For scale, here is Mom’s head and arm (she is taking pictures) with the whale in the background:IMG_1721 IMG_1703 IMG_1702 IMG_1701

Time was ticking and at this point we still didn’t have any fish in the boat, so we said goodbye to this whale too and headed towards Piggot Point for some trolling.  Madi proved to be a good driver!


We didn’t have any better luck fishing in Piggot.  Ty had a bite but it got away, but he did bring up the small black rock fish here.  It made for a small midnight snack that evening, as well as a dissection lesson for the kids.


As we rolled into the harbor the winds picked up again.  I rode on the bow this time and waited until we saw which side of the dock was open before tying on the buoy and line.  It was quickly apparent to Clark that the wind would be an issue, so we asked a guy on the dock for assistance.  I threw him the bow line and Dad tossed out the stern line, and he expertly attached us to the dock.  We still didn’t do it solo, but it went better.  And this time we were sure not to forget to raise the boat motor!

We were all pretty happy as we washed up the boat this time.  Mom and Amy were just thrilled with the whale sightings and experience – who wouldn’t be?!  We couldn’t have asked for better scenery, weather, and wildlife!  It was an ultimate family day that I will remember forever!

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We drove home into some of the most unique skies I have ever seen over Anchorage and the Inlet, adding one more element to this unforgettable day!

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