Thursday, March 27, 2014

Springtime Hiking in Alaska

The weather is changing! The changes are tiny…and maybe imagined on my part.  But, the sun seems to be carrying a little bit more heat and the wind isn't quite so bitter.  Yes, the temps are still in the 30's but they are steadily inching towards that beautiful springtime range.

We took advantage of this tiny change and took our first "big" hike of the warm season.  We did an (almost) six hour adventure out at the end of Thane Road in Juneau. The road ends in Juneau in many all places.  Thane is no exception.  It is basically just another place in our beautiful town where civilization ends and the true wilderness begins.  Such a contrast to downtown Juneau that lies only a few miles away!

Anyways, we took off on a trail head and made the 3(ish) mile hike down to an isolated beach area. We went with five people and three dogs…quite the crew! And, we all packed in firewood (it's been very rainy so we were concerned about wet wood). When we reached the beach we unpacked our wonderfully dry wood and set a fire on the beach.  The dogs played, seals teased us (and the pups) by swimming lazily by the shore, and the sun made my cheeks just a little bit pink.  Ahhhh…

We packed up our stuff and played around/ hiked up some giant boulders and then took off exploring some more.  We finally headed back in the direction of home after a little over five hours.  It was such a great way to kick off the warm weather seasons.

Back at home the three of us (Cody, me, and the doggy) promptly passed out and only woke up to eat a tiny dinner before drifting back off into a semi-delirious but oh-so-happy sleep.

Any sign of warm weather in your part of the world?
What is your favorite warm weather activity?

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday this week.  The day of my birth happened to fall over Spring Break so I got to hang out, relax, and generally just do whatever my heart desired.  Coincidentally, Cody and Specks also celebrated their birthdays this week.  It has been quite the exciting break.

As with every birthday though, I start to question things.  I don't know why birthdays do this to me! A billion questions ran through my head though on that day.  Should we stay in Juneau? Should we move on to another adventure? Should we finally start planning our wedding? Should I find part-time work over the summer? Do we have enough money saved for Cody to go back to school?

Geesh! My head was hurting.  Sometimes I get a little overzealous when thinking about the future.  This time I just tried to breathe and remind myself that sometimes I don't need to make those decisions.  Sometimes I just need to throw my ideas to the wind and hope that the right idea will make its way back to me.  Today's post is just a reminder that we all need to take a step back and breathe sometimes.  Now, everybody do it with me….

How do you relax?
What big decision are you struggling with right now? 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pros & Cons Of Living In Alaska

Alaska is still somewhat of a mystery to people in the Lower 48.  It isn't a typical vacation destination or a place that children grow up wishing they lived in.  With the surge of Alaska-affiliated reality shows over the last few years though the interest has really grown.  I've found that a lot of people are interested in our lifestyle up here.  I get asked a lot of questions both personally and through my blog about life in this beautiful state.  These questions are what inspired my post today.  So, without further adieu, here is my list of Alaskan pros and cons :)


1.) Outdoorsy Lifestyle: If you love the outdoors and don't mind braving the elements, you can really have a good time with recreational activities. Hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, camping, ice climbing, rock climbing, etc. There is never a shortage of outdoor activities (year round).  Hiking, climbing, and fishing have really shaped our personal lives, and helped us make really valuable connections with friends.

2.) The State Pays You: After one full year of living in Alaska you can apply for the PFD.  It ranges from $800-$2,000/yr.  Each resident is eligible for it, no matter your age.  Also, there are similar "incentive programs" for various careers.  In Juneau you can qualify for up to $5,000 in additional money for working in any early childhood program.  It's nice that the state appreciates their residents so much that they are willing to pay us to live here!

3.) Wildlife: I've seen moose, deer, mountain goats, bears, eagles, otters, and a ton of other cool wildlife while living here.  It can be dangerous, but it is also an incredible experience to find yourself 50ft away from two black bear cubs (if you're like me you'll scream loudly at them).  I find that sitting on my porch and watching the eagles is one of my favorite, relaxing activities to do here in Alaska.

4.) Comfort is Key: There isn't a passion for fashion in Alaska.  I suppose that some people might see this as a negative thing, but I am not one of them.  I love that I'm allowed to teach in jeans and a school-affiliated sweatshirt.  I love that I can live in my Xtratuff boots. You have to dress for the weather up here, so casual and practical clothing wins out every time.

5.) No Bugs: The bugs here are nothing compared to the Lower 48.  The mosquitoes suck, but the lack of poisonous snakes, spiders, roaches, and centipedes more than makes up for it.  I've killed approximately one bug in the entire time I've lived here.  It rules.

6.) Native Alaskan Culture: I've been lucky enough to work for a tribe in SE Alaska while working/living here and the culture is amazing.  The languages are still alive and the elders are still revered.  Honestly, I could do an entire post on this.  Oh wait, I did (follow this link).


1.) Cost of Living: The COL in Alaska is outrageous.  The goods in remote villages are insanely priced (think $10 for a gallon of milk). For example, an electronic item that Cody and I wanted to purchase cost $250 in town but only $150 online. The local housing prices are no better.  I pay $1,000/month for a place that is less than 500sqft and I know people who think I'm LUCKY to have cheap rent.  Inflation is everywhere. Seriously.

2.) Darkness/ Seasonal Depression:  During the winter even our southern communities don't see the sun for more that six hours per day and it gets more extreme the farther north you travel.  Seasonal Depression (SAD) is a very real problem here.  I know a TON of people who have experienced it here.  Many people find it to be especially bad in Juneau because we typically see the sun less than 60days per year due to rain and snow.

3.) Travel Costs/ Accessibility: Very few places in Alaska are connected by road.  We are completely isolated unless we schedule a ferry (months in advance) or pay a ridiculous amount for plane tickets (months in advance).  Ferry tickets are cheaper and the ferry is fun to ride, but it is not a time-efficient way to travel.  Flights to the Midwest can range from $800-$1500.  It's rough on the bank account.

4.) Minimum Wage Sucks: The minimum wage in Alaska is $7.75.  Imagine having to pay $10 for a gallon of milk and $1,000/month for rent on a minimum wage job.  Honestly, unless you qualify for a very good skilled labor job (fishing, mining) or a great professional job (teaching, federal/state jobs, healthcare) I wouldn't recommend moving up here.

5.) Slow Shipping: All of your goods are shipped or barged in and I've found that shipping varies greatly.  When I lived more remotely it wasn't out of the ordinary for a package to take a month to arrive.  Here in the "urban" areas of Alaska the shipping is a little more reliable.  Prices are still high though and I've found that my packages are often MIA for random lengths of time.  Keep in mind that almost everything you buy (basics not included) is shipped so costs add up quickly.

6.) Snowy Roads: They do not use salt on the roads in Alaska…they use gravel, and sometimes it's not very small gravel.  While this works great for traction, it's not so great for many people's windshields.  This also means that snowpack stays on the roads all winter long.  Studded tires are a costly but necessary evil in this state.

What are some additional questions you have about Alaska? 
What type of Alaska-related posts would you like to read?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves

Sometimes you get to experience something so spectacular that you know it will happen only once in your lifetime.  I experienced something like this while on a hike this week.  I took off hiking across a lake in Juneau and ended up inside of Mendenhall Glacier.

Standing on Mendenhall Lake.  Look closely and you'll notice that we are wearing ice cleats! 
Mendenhall Lake, which the glacier sits on, is completely frozen right now.  This makes getting to the caverns underneath Mendenhall Glacier not only possible, but downright easy! The Glacier is accessible to hike to/in all year by hiking West Glacier Trail.  However, this trail isn't for the faint of heart, especially if you are not the most skilled hiker. The trail includes some steep climbs, slippery rocks, and it requires that you go off-trail to get to the ice caves.  It can also be quite dangerous to go inside the caves under the glacier due to the constantly melting ice.  Enter at your own risk!

View from West Glacier Trail,  August 2013. 
With Mendenhall Lake frozen though, the glacier is accessible by hiking a mile across the lake, up the base of some rather large hills/cliffs, and sliding on your bum (literally) down a slippery slope to the opening of the ice caves. It was a wonderful hike and the views the entire way were spectacular.  Nothing can compare to the feeling of standing INSIDE of a glacier though.

Cliffs near the glacier.

Touching a glacier for the first time!

Inside Mendenhall Glacier, frozen ice columns. 

Inside the largest cavern in Mendenhall Glacier. 
Look up! Massive hole inside of the ice caves that looked skyward. 
The glacier was completely amazing.  Everything emitted a soft, blue glow.  The ice was the smoothest thing that I have ever touched.  It appeared bumpy, but the bumps were actually many inches underneath the actual top layer of ice.  The top layer of ice was so clear that it was almost invisible.  It was cold inside of the caves, but warm enough that I was comfortable without my gloves and hat on.  This was, without a doubt, a once in a lifetime experience because of the melting ice.  I am so thankful that I got to experience this incredible, natural wonder.

What is the top item on your bucket list?
What is something that you've done that is "once in a lifetime?"