Oct 1, 2009

autumn awesomeness

I think we picked the best week of the year for a road trip through Alaska. We'd been trying to decide what to do with our whole week off this summer (OK, i had more than a week off, but Mike only had one), and we decided on a sight-seeing trip south. I had only been to Seward for about an hour before - as part of a field trip for a tectonics conference in Girdwood - and Mike still likes to show me around the state... So we headed south the first week of September, which I'm telling you is the best time to travel. Most tourists and mosquitoes have cleared out, and the fall colors are just incredible. We also lucked out with great weather almost all 10 days.
Our first stop was Talkeetna (another place I'd never been). We checked out the Denali Brewing Company which had good beer but so-so ambience, so we opted for the more fun and established West Rib Cafe across the street for dinner. We stayed at our friends' son's new place up the hill and woke up to this amazing view of the Alaska Range:Heading south, we drove through Hatcher Pass (another first for me), which was overrun with hunters, trucks, ATVs at that time of year. We decided moose season must have just opened. The road to Hatcher pass is slow going, but offers amazing views and hikes the whole way.

We spent a fun night in Anchorage visiting old Fairbanks friends and eating delicious Indian food (there is not a single Indian restaurant in Fairbanks!), then headed toward Whittier the next day. Our hike up to the Byron Glacier was an unexpected surprise. The trail ends about 1 mile in, but we kept going until we were stopped by steeper ice (when we wished we had brought crampons).
We camped on Portage road. Clear, calm water in the morning......and drove down to Seward. The weather in Seward was glorious when we arrived! We camped two nights at Miller's Landing, just south of Seward.
It clouded over for the next couple of days, so our kayak trip was cool and a bit rainy, but much calmer seas than Valdez earlier this year. Lots of seals and otters. There was one otter floating on his back that we thought was dead. In fact, we couldn't tell if it was driftwood or an otter until we got close. We paddled right past him and he never moved, but then we didn't see him on our way back.
At the Alaska SeaLife Center the next day, we learned that otters will sleep wrapped in kelp so they don't drift. Smart little critters.

Spent two rainy nights at the Exit Glacier Lodge (great little hotel!) and ate at the delicious Salmon Bake next door. A very cold, wet hike up to the Harding Ice Field was a little disappointing because it was socked in at the top, so we couldn't see much besides grey. And we were freezing, so we hightailed it back down the trail. Mike's been there on a clearer day and says there's nothing like it!

With fantastic weather the following day, we left Seward and stopped to hike up the new North Face trail in Girdwood. It was super muddy in sections, but super awesome nonetheless. It takes you up to where the tram ends at the Alyeska upper mountain lodge. We heard hushed exclamations of tourists "they just walked up here!" as we watched a few paragliders take off from the top. BEAUTIFUL!
The weather was just so incredible that we spent another night camping along the Portage Glacier road, and the following day hiked up the Bird Ridge trail along the Turnagain Arm. Mike was pretty stoked about the view from the top:
We drove back along the Glenn Highway (yep, another Lena first), which Mike declared "officially the most beautiful place in Alaska". As usual, photos don't do the colors justice, but it gives you an idea.Stopped to camp at the Matanuska Glacier - wow!!!
I'll end with one of my experimental long-exposure night shots. Mike and I had a lot of fun coming up with new headlamp-on-the-bridge designs. This is my favorite:

Aug 28, 2009

Some Summer Pics

We are finally headed out today for our summer vacation. Mike took a whole week off so we're headed south to Seward with Talkeetna, Anchorage, Whittier stops along the way... So although we haven't had an actual vacation, we've had a great summer - gardening, a few day hikes, barbecuing on the deck. Most importantly, very little work on the house! A nice change from last summer.
Our garden (lettuce, chard, beets, cabbage, (cukes died early)):
Tomatoes and basil in the little greenhouse:
Sun-lit cabbage leaf:
Norma taught me this great trick of laying blueberries/raspberries out on the cookie sheet so that they freeze individually before putting them in a big ziploc for the freezer. These are all from our yard! Bad-ass Mike with the berries:

Aug 18, 2009

The plane is on fire?

F-18s in the hangar at Eielson AFB. Watching these planes take off and land was pretty cool, and really loud!
This sign cracks me up because it seems like it's for the birds:I love this tilty tree out by the OSS (Operations Support Squadron) building:So the gravity surveys ended with a bang. Well, with flames anyway. Here are the pilots just before our right engine caught fire!!
The sortof order of events, within 4 minutes or so: weird sound in the headsets, fumes, flames, fire extinguisher, right engine shut down, right propeller stopped. Then a while trying to decide where to land with our single engine. We were way out by Bettles, which is about 200 km from Eielson. The pilots decided to fly all the way back, but there was a lot of discussion of alternate landing sites the whole way.

The landing was actually very smooth, and the entire Air Force fire brigade was out on the tarmac waiting for us. Here's our plane getting towed off the tarmac once we got back to Eielson:I got to ride in the tow truck!
Left engine:Right engine:This is about half of our group, some of the pilots swtiched out halfway through the survey. Navy in the green camo color. Mechanic in black, NOAA peeps in blue. Left to right: Tim, Mike, Bob, Adam, Theresa, Keith, me. Thanks for an exciting season!

Jul 27, 2009

the state is on fire

This is our King Air, C-12, twin-engine Navy plane:
My 'desk':
Denali!At least 70 wildfires are burning throughout the state at the moment. This is a major one down near Nenana, just west of where we takeoff and land at Eielson Air Force Base:Flying through smokey clouds is pretty crazy. outside of the airplane is a yellow-gray glow, and everything inside the airplane smells like a campfire.The eastern edge of the Alaska Range, just south of Eielson, on the horizon:

Jul 14, 2009

I'm in the Navy?

I headed down to Pensacola, Florida for Aviation Physiology Training at the Naval Air Station. Why did I have to go get trained by the Navy? Well, I'm flying airborne gravity surveys for a NOAA-funded project this summer, and since the planes are Navy-operated, everyone on board has to be Navy certified. The soonest training available was in Pcola, so I crossed the entire country for 3 days of power point presentations and semi-fun simulations.

I was one of two civilians in a class of 25, and one of 4 women. I felt really tough in the flight gear until I saw this photo of myself. Maybe I'm not cut out for the military after all.The simulations included the MSDD (Multi-Spatial Disorientation Demonstrator) - sortof a glorified "teacups", but the cups are fully enclosed, dark pods with a dashboard and visor thing with moving lines. The idea is that you can't tell what horizontal is or what direction you are spinning. It works, and I didn't puke!

We were also put in a hyperbaric chamber, which I only went up to 9000 feet in, but others went to 25,000 feet to experience the effects of hypoxia. At 25,000' they had to take off their oxygen masks and play patty-cake with a partner. After less than 1 minute, most people were screwing up patty-cake pretty bad. A few people lasted a long time with a goofy smile on their faces (later reported feeling euphoric), but were still unable to follow very basic instructions.

The final day was in the pool, we had to swim, tread water, and do some basic underwater tasks in a flight suit, vest, helmet, boots, gloves. Then we got flipped upside down while strapped into a chair with a 5-point seatbelt, and needed to pull out the window, release the belt and swim through the window frame. I also practiced inflating my life vest and climbing into a rescue basket as if being rescued from the water by a Navy helicopter. Exciting!

NAS Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, which is a super cool place, and I don't even like airplanes much.
The missiles on this plane are clearly labeled "Inert".
The command module for the month-long Skylab II mission flown to the orbiting space station in May-June 1973 is on loan from the Smithsonian:The Naval cemetery:
Pensacola Beach was crazy crowded (especially between July 4 weekend and Blue Angels weekend), but I found a nice chill spot for afternoon swims and naps.I stayed in a cute B&B, close to historic downtown Pensacola - established in 1859! - which is very cool, and with interesting architecture, but sortof ghosttowny. My last night in town I went to a tapas place and met a famous DJ (A-Trak) because of his polar bear action figure, although i didn't know how famous he was until afterwards.