Tuesday, March 29, 2011

But what about the boots?!

I have more things I could write about my short trip to Alaska. I could write about the seafood, the local brews (coffee and beer!), the bald eagles I met on a rooftop or how I came to discover that Alaskan garbage cans can save you from a bear attack. But I think the topic you're all dying to hear about is a little more pressing - rubber boots.

If you have no idea why you're dying to hear about the rubber boots, I'll direct you to the first post on the topic -> here there be boots.

And I want to thank everyone who shared their wisdom in that particular conversation. Your input was invaluable. So, what did I end up purchasing? KEENS! These Keens to be exact (though I found them at a much more reasonable price!). They took up roughly 32% of the space in my suitcase and added an extra 20 pounds, but I stuffed them full of wool socks and packed light on everything else.

The first two days in Juneau, I thought the rubber boot warning a little extreme. Though they do "cinder" the streets and the soil is constantly freezing and melting off, covering the sidewalks with muddy water, it hardly warranted the level of vehemence I picked up in our conference calls. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have my boots while trekking to and from the hotel and deciding they would be useful for similarly murky times in Kansas.

On the third day, we hit the glacier and that was when I realized exactly why I had my rubber boots. Grippy and insulated, they made the trek to and from the glacier (which we have now decided was roughly 5 miles total) much more comfortable than it otherwise would have been.

My colleagues who did not take the rubber boot warning seriously, ended up wading through piles of snow and slush in nothing more than tennis shoes. More than once I heard people asking how quickly frost bite could settle in and I was more than a little worried that we would not return to Kansas with as many digits as we arrived with.

Just imagine walking through this for a mile in your regular, lightweight tennis shoes. . .

Obviously, no one lost any toes, but I was far more comfortable at the end of the day than many. Even the Alaska folks (who predominantly wore XtraTufs - bonus points to everyone who recommended those) were approving of my bright blue babies.

How blue were they? GLACIER BLUE.

They served me well, I must say. Very well, indeed. In fact, the joy you see on my face below? That's all about the boots.

Okay, and maybe a little about the glacier, too.


Maybe a lot about the glacier, but at least partly about the boots. Let's say 32% about the boots.

So here is what I know: if you're going to Alaska, TAKE RUBBER BOOTS.

Also, a side note of awesome about that last picture - I called Tessa Gratton from that exact spot. And texted her that picture. From the middle of a frozen lake, chilling on an iceberg, about to lick a glacier, I was able to share that moment with her. CRAZY.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moar Glacier Pr0n

One brief addendum.

Of our group of 33, only 2 climbed up and into that teardrop cave. One of those two is pictured below and she paid the price in a little bit of blood on her way out of said cave.

But I'm so glad she did because omgthecolors!

Mendenhall Glacier

Yesterday afternoon, we all took a break from conferencing and signed up for various field trips. One of those trips was to hike out to the Mendenhall Glacier and I don't remember what the others were because they did not include the words "hike" or "glacier."

We piled into a school bus and made the incredibly short trek from downtown Juneau to the Tongass National Forest. And basically, we came around a corner and BLAM! GLACIER!

None of these pictures are going to do the experience justice, I'll just put that out there.

Even from a distance of 1.5 miles, we could see how blue the ice was and how fractured and ready for calving (*gulp*).

Cue the science - See where I'm standing? Approximately 1.5 miles from the face of the glacier? Well, in 1938, you could touch the glacier from pretty much right there. This thing has seen tremendous loss of sea ice in the past century and even in the past five years. Changes both dramatic and startling.

We were told that as it is March, and the thing between us and the glacier is a melting lake, trekking out to the glacier from was NOT recommended. The last calving event (when mama glaciers birth baby bergs) was on March 4th (*gulp*).

But out we all went because when are we ever going to be so close to a glacier like this again and the ice looks good and solid. . .

So away we went! And here's the thing about trekking across an lake covered in ice and snow - you are constantly falling. Not down on your hands and knees, but through the snow until it decides to catch you again and laugh at your expense. Basically, I spent a lot of time feeling the ground give way beneath me and wondering if I'd actually found a whole that would drop me into the freezing lake.

I'm really not joking.


Here's proof.

This was very close to the glacier where icebergs had torn through giant sections of lake and we had to tread very, very carefully.

Unnerving doesn't really begin to cover it, but again, worth it and what kind of Sagittarius would I be if I didn't do things that make normal people make the o_O face?

And why did we cross the hole of icy death? To get to the other side!!!

I did not actually make it to that tear drop cave because as my group and I  stood strategizing our approach (which berg to climb? is that the ice that guy fell through a few minutes ago?) we watched the rough edge of the ice sheet we stood on break away and fall into the lake. It was followed by many a groaning, popping sound you DON'T want to hear ice make unless it's on your TV screen and collectively decided to put a little distance between us and the unstable ice.

(I'm not the craziest of Sag's after all!)

On our way back to solid ground, there were bear tracks and water falls and many a breath-taking sight. I'm including a few of my favorite photos below. They can tell you better than I can this morning just how much beauty lives in that ice.

Looking through the ice.


A risky journey to the ice face.

Midnight sun (okay, not really, but sorta).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


After 3 flights including 4 take-offs and landings, 2 buses and 18 hours, we arrived at our hotel in Alaska. Considering the grueling schedule and the fact that I was coordinating travel for 19 people, it was actually a relatively easy trip.

Our stop in Seattle was long enough for me to grab a bowl of Ivar's clam chowder which I haven't had since I lived in the area nearly a decade ago (um, whoa how time flies). I may have squealed with culinary joy when I saw the sign and promptly took control of the dinner decision. The people with me are now Ivar's converts. If you ever get to Seattle, this is a MUST eat. Do not pass go!

And we interrupt this Ivar's lovefest for an image the Coastal Range, which we flew over on our way to Juneau via Kechikan.

By the time we got here, most of us were pretty sure we'd traveled far enough to be on another continent or at least in another country. And even now, having slept, Alaska still feels a little like another country. It's a place where someone from farther north can ask, "So, are all your roads in Juneau paved?" and it's a totally legitimate question. I feel it's important to remind you at this time that Juneau is the state capitol.

PS - Did you know you can only get to Juneau by air or by sea? There are no roads in or out. I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing for surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Suppose it depends on where it starts. And how. /over-thinking it

It's the end of our first full day here and I'm still totally confused about the time and this advertisement I walked past:

I don't know why I find this as disturbing as I do, but the diamond mustache is just so. . . weird. I mean, why did this seem like a good idea? Can you explain it to me? Please try.

Also, the ravens here are big enough to EAT MY CATS. And when they caw at you, it's about like you would expect.


And finally, a shot of the harbor and the mountains of Douglas Island. Tomorrow, the conference officially begins and soon after will be our trip out to Mendenhall glacier!

So far, the rubber boots have seen zero action, but they promise the weather will turn by morning and then they will be out and about!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disney on Proper Hygiene and Fear

And so for the fifth time in my life, I went to Disney World. This is the sort of thing that makes me want to get all Susan Cooper-y and say in a boomy voice, "And then there were five." (Sooooo many bonus points if you take my meaning).

Disney with the Gratton's is always a lesson in strategy and quick crowd navigation. By now, I expect the plan to be laid out in beautiful detail days before we set foot in the park. This time was no different, but this time there were apps and the potential to reach maximum fun capacity was high. Tessa has already posted the play by play, so I think I'm going to talk about how Disney can still make me feel like a little kid and also about bathrooms.

Yes, bathrooms.

But let's start with feeling like I'm ten or twelve years old when I look up at the amazing display of fireworks (choreographed with music) and see hearts and Mickey's and REAL MAGIC in the sky. Or when, during one of their many 3D adventures, the seats/floor/air does something I didn't expect and I'm *actually* surprised. Or when my entire family breaks down in laughter over a shared joke and everyone is so, so happy. Or when I'm in line for Space Mountain and my legs are weak even though I know what's coming.

Space Mountain is really what does it to me. Every single time I get in that line, I remember the first time I rode it and how I begged my parents to take me. I remember feeling like I was finally old enough, wise enough, mature enough to be able to handle it and how I boasted it would be no big deal.

I remember being wrong. So very wrong. I remember being Scared To Death, but riding it again right away because my dad saw that there was no line and wanted to go again. He was probably just excited to finally have a chance to ride the thing. I couldn't back out and my legs were nothing but jello as we climbed back through the tunnels to the cars.

And that's what happens to me TO THIS DAY. I get in line for Space Mountain and I'm a bundle of irrational nerves. I sort of love that. It makes the ride thrilling every time I do it.

Usually, I can't do much other than hold on to the safety bar (seriously, SM is the only coaster on which I WILL NOT raise my hands) and hold my breath until it's over. By the third time (maybe?) I was feeling slightly more confident and when we were moving through the first tunnel before they shoot you into space I snapped a picture.

It's blurry because my hands were shaking with FEAR. Also, Tessa was yelling at me to put my phone away. I'll admit it wasn't the smartest thing to do on a roller coaster, but I think that photo was worth the risk.

But now let's talk about bathrooms. Why? Because there we found two remarkable things about them.

First, let's go with Disney, who cares so much about proper amusement park hygiene that they post signs in every single bathroom reminding you the steps required for washing your hands as though the process is as elusive as that for the three seashells. . .

Just in case you can't see in the photo, I'll repeat:

STEP ONE - Wet hands and apply soap.

STEP TWO - Scrub hands and rinse.

STEP THREE - Dry hands thoroughly using paper towels.

STEP FOUR - Re-read steps 1 through 3 to make sure you haven't missed one. All steps are crucial!

STEP FIVE - Take a picture and spread the word. Clean hands are happy hands!


So when it comes to bathrooms, I have to say that Hogsmeade wins. Hands down. Because this was their ladies room sign:

I mean, how awesome is that?

I was probably too thrilled when I noticed this sign. I can pretty much guarantee I was the only person photographing the public conveniences in Hogsmeade. At least on that day. ;)

And finally, my favorite picture from this trip, taken on the last day in the Magic Kingdom at just the right moment to capture some Mickey Magic.