Ahhhh…. beautiful sweet calm

When we last heard from our hero (that’s a joke people!), he was beyond miserable in his job, bitter, angry, and just plain frustrated.  That hasn’t changed.

Just kidding.  Things have improved drastically in the past couple of weeks.  In fact, had my entire summer been like this, it would be hard for me to have any real complaints.  I’m still struggling to fall in love with Alaska itself, but I am enjoying myself.  The job challenges have calmed down to a normal level, and life right now is pretty good.  I work a 10-ish hour day, then my evenings are spent doing activities around the area, reading, exercising, or just relaxing.

Keep your fingers crossed that it will stay this way!  I know that the end of the season will a challenge, but right now I’m on cruise control.

This is 3 miles south of where I live. Although explorations by car are limited here (south or north on the highway), at least it's beautiful.

Inside Denali National Park. I used to think Alaska and Colorado look very similar (and they often do). But what really separates them is the distances. Mountains are often miles apart, with incredibly huge valleys between them.

Earlier this month I really really, I mean REALLY needed to get away.  Did I mention that I needed a break from here?   So I ended up in Fairbanks.  Unfortunately plans can go awry.  I had been dealing with shingles and an ear infection, and it became obvious while in Fairbanks that the ear infection was in fact getting worse.  Ah yes, the joy of spending hours in a urgent care clinic.  AND, this was my 3rd doctor visit in a few weeks!  But I did go to the Museum of the North, and decided that, since I’m in Alaska, I have to see the pipeline.  Yup, I lead an exciting life.

Museum of the North, Fairbanks

Museum of the North, Fairbanks

One of my favorite pieces of art EVER. I was fascinated by this piece, and if I return to Fairbanks, I'll go to the museum just to see this piece again.

Detail. Simple at first glance, but quite complex the more you look at it.

Creamer's Field, Fairbanks. This former dairy is now an urban park, and has fields, wetlands, and woods. Lots of birds (and mosquitoes!)

Just in case you were wondering, yes, part of my misery came from the shingles and ear infection.  PAIN!!  GREAT.  PAIN!!!!  Over a month later, the shingles has calmed down.  The rash is gone, but my pelvis feels beaten and bruised.  A very manageable level of pain, but obviously I’d prefer to be without!  The ear infection is better but refuses to die.  I’m starting to think it’s something else, though what I can’t imagine.  But at least I can stand and walk – for 2 days in May I could do neither!

I have been running a lot this summer, more than I have in my life.  I’ve been ‘barefoot running’ (with Vibram Five Fingers) since last summer, but trail running with them here has been a revelation.  I’m now running 6 miles without even thinking about it, and I’m planning to do a half marathon in August.  Something I never thought possible!

Since Aramark runs the visitor transportation program concession for Denali National Park, I’m lucky as an employee to be able to go on the bus tours for free.  Last week I did the “Kantishna Experience”  tour, which goes all the way to the end of the gravel park road (92 miles) to the old mining town of Kantishna.  It was way too long to be on a bus – 13 hours! – but it also means more wildlife and scenery viewing opportunities.

I have been lucky enough to be able to get on two flightseeing trips into the park.  A month ago I joined Denali Air on a 1 hour flight into the Alaska Range and around Denali (Mt. McKinley).  I had a great time.  Video is less than 2 minutes long.

Ten days ago I was able to do another flightseeing trip with another company that flies to the base of Denali and lands on a glacier.  We flew in an old prop plane and landed on the Ruth Glacier.  That flight and landing will probably be the highlight of my summer.  Video is less than 3 minutes long.

Part of my job is making sure that the employee community is a positive place to live.  I supervise 5 RA’s (Resident Assistants) and we provide regular activities from movie nights to hikes to games to billiards tournaments to community cleanup days.  We started off our activities with a bang when I hosted a photography workshop – “how to take better pictures (even with a point & shoot camera)”  – that was a HUGE success.  I was expecting 4-5 people, but about 19 showed up.  I lectured for about 45 minutes, then we took a drive on the Old Denali Highway to practice our skills.  It was a huge hit, and people have asked for a repeat.

My photography workshop participants! Attendees ranged from 18 to 70 years old, and came from 3 countries. This was a great night.

I had to spend most my time driving, being a guide, and helping people with their photography, but I was able to take a few pictures.  This was the best of the night.  You may remember this scene from the May post, when it was covered in ice!

My star RA (Resident Assistant) Justin leading an activity - teaching fishing. I loved that this young lady from Turkey decided to try.

The number one game on property - "cornhole." It can get quite competitive.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been taking employees on a Monday night hike.  We hop in a van, pick a random place, and hike.  This week’s hike was special in a couple of ways.  One of the “golden girls” (we have a group of women in their 60’s working here and that is their self-selected name) came along.  She was a trooper and the kids (you know you are getting older when everyone is ‘kids’ to you!) were very patient with her.  Driving to the hike, we saw a momma moose and calf swimming a pond just off the highway.  The light was gorgeous, the setting was amazing… National Geographic moment.

What’s the lesson I learned in Anchorage?  Oh yeah, that lesson – ALWAYS have a camera!  I had a camera, but the wrong lens.  With luck, one of the group will share video they shot of the moose.  Hopefully I can share that amazing video next time.  While I didn’t get moose video, I did have fun shooting pictures of everyone shooting pictures.

A momma and baby moose swimming a pond is definitely the highlight of the day!

Our hike this week. Not such a bad place to go for a hike!

Wildflower season is starting to wrap up here.  I’ve been shocked and a bit disappointed at how short the season is here.  I’m used to six weeks of flowers in Colorado.  Not in Alaska!  I haven’t been as successful as I’d like with my flower photos this season, but that’s life.

Not a flower, but I enjoyed getting a close-up shot of it.

That’s it for this time.  On my next days off (Thursdays & Fridays) I’m hoping to go camping for the first time since I arrived in Alaska.  I’ll either car camp on the Denali Highway, or go backpacking in the park.  Please wish me continued good luck with my summer!