A long one: Goodbye to Anchorage and hello to Juneau
I'm in Juneau now; earlier I was hanging out at Silverbow Bagels getting some free wireless and some Juneau atmosphere: behind me was a group of three young kids watching Star Wars, talking about the Cartoon Network, and otherwise geeking it up (yes, I love the Cartoon Network myself, and I know what that makes me). In front of me was an older couple who look like they are off one of the cruise ships, drinking in the local color. There was all kinds of “flair” (anyone see Office Space?) on the walls: an American flag, “vintage” lunchboxes, busts of the Three Stooges, and boards from board games like Charlie’s Angels, Bargain Hunter, some freaky game with Tiny Tim’s picture in the middle, Barbie, AND Barney Miller. So there was a good mixture of kitsch and cool. And then there was me, blogging, posting on nhbgear.com, checking email, and laughing audibly every now and then like the crazy person I am. I guess Juneau atmosphere isn’t that different from other atmosphere, partly because I’m everywhere I go.
I wanted to write about my last day in Anchorage, Saturday, which was a good one. I went to the open mat at Gracie Barra Alaska and trained my keister off for about 2 hours. I did a gi spar with Tony and then went no-gi with Jon and Charles. I'm happy to say that some of the stuff Cindy Hales showed me when she was kicking my ass is sticking in my brain and muscle memory. I had a ball with those guys, even though I got a huge scrape on my forehead. Tony and Jon kept accusing each other of being the one who gave it to me, but I'm pretty sure it's mat burn. I had Debbie take pictures of it; here's one. Notice also that I'm "representing" in my nhbgear.com shirt, which Sam Kim just sent to me (He runs nhbgear.com and sells lots of cool, well, nhb gear). Thanks, Sam!
Anyway, even though the moneymaker is temporarily damaged, I didn't care. But the guys felt kind of bad, and I think they wanted to show me a little bit more of Anchorage, so after I made them pose for a picture:
(L-R: Jon, Ony, Tony, Steve, Richard, Charles, John. Guys are so funny. Chicks would be putting their arms around each other, etc.)
they took me to Moose's Tooth, a restaurant that brews its own beer and has terrific pizza.
The funniest exchange was when I asked the guys whether they eat meat. They looked at me like I had sprouted an extra head and said, “Um, this is Alaska.” My bad. I’m just used to eating meals with vegans, people who are lactose intolerant, etc. I guess they eat vegans here, although I did find a cool place that I think I wrote about: the Organic Oasis. That was all kinds of vegan. But anyway, we ordered 4 different kinds of pizza, all with copious amounts of meat on them. I also had a Moose’s Tooth beer sampler, with an IPA, an amber, a raspberry wheat, and a lager. Delicious, especially the raspberry wheat, and I don’t usually like wheat beers. We also got to try the hard cider.
It was interesting to hear from everyone what brought them to Alaska; one or two of the guys were born and raised here, but one or two were just looking for something different. Ony is from Mahwah, NJ, so we bonded over that a little, especially when I told him about the two traffic jams I was in—he was laughing about how some of the locals complain about traffic here, and we were all high and mighty because WE know from traffic (NJ is the 4th smallest state in land mass and the most densely populated). He got the opportunity to come here for school. Tony left San Diego for greener pastures. Jon joked that he wants to live in all four corners of the country (he’s got Maine and Florida left to go). Richard is from here but went to Pittsburgh for college. Nobody, including him, really understands why. (Pittsburgh is one of the few places in the country that gets more crap than NJ, though I’ve been there too and found it to be perfectly pleasant.)
So we had our share of meat, I enjoyed some of the beer but am such a lightweight I had to make the guys drink most of it, and then we parted ways. Thanks to the Gracie Barra Alaska guys!
(L-R: John, Jon, Richard, Ony, Tony, me with the mark of the beast).
Later in the day, I drove to Girdwood, a place that a couple people recommended I check out. I was pretty exhausted from training, so I didn’t really even get out of the car, but I did get some okay shots of the gorgeous scenery along the way. The trip was about 40 miles each way on the edge of Chugach State Park along a body of water called, variously, Cook Inlet, Chickaloon Bay and Turnagain Arm.
Girdwood is known for its hiking and camping opportunities, and I also heard good things about the town itself: restaurants, local color, etc. By the time I got back to my hotel, I was less interested in checking out the Renewable Resource Fair than I had been in the morning. I did walk around a little, but not a lot: saw some tables with jewelry for sale, saw the keynote speaker for the Fair, saw some port-a-potties. I just wanted to get back to my hotel, do some laundry, and steel myself for the 4am wakeup call.
So goodbye to Anchorage! It was a fun stay, and I am grateful to everyone I met in the area for a fun time.
Now I’m here in Juneau. Debbie picked me up at the airport yesterday morning after an uneventful flight, thankfully. I got about 2 hours of sleep because I went to bed late, had to get up early, and rarely sleep well the night before I have a morning flight anyway. Turns out she didn’t sleep at all: she was up till about 4 with a client and then stayed awake the rest of the night cleaning her place. Debbie is a midwife and a doctor of naturopathy, which means she plans her life around birthin’ babies. She can schedule naturopathy clients at more normal hours and intervals, but when a baby’s ready to come, it’s ready to come. It’s fun to walk around town with Debbie, because we’ll frequently run into parents whose babies she has delivered, and by now the babies are walking, talking humans and the parents are always still grateful for the terrific job she did.
So we grabbed a bagel here at Silverbow, took her dog CB and her boyfriend Shane’s dog Volt for a walk, and then took a long, awesome nap.
The walk was cool, because it was along the Perseverance Trail, which runs right behind her house; she is yet another one of my friends who can step out of her house and into cool nature-type things to do. Among other things, there are waterfalls, rushing rivers, and bears nearby. Debbie told me that the thing to do if you encounter a bear is to make yourself look big: wave your arms and yell, “Go away, bear! Go away, bear!” She also told me that one time when she encountered a bear on Shane’s property, she screamed to high heaven and ran as fast as she could into the house. I guess she needs a little more drilling in bear safety.
I don’t know much about what’s around here, because every time I ask Debbie what this river or that hiking trail is called, she doesn’t know, which makes her feel bad. She offered to make stuff up, but then couldn’t come up with any plausible sounding names for things. Great tour guide, I tell you. What I do know is that we are in Tongass National Forest. So I mostly took pictures of things that have signs next to them telling you what they are:
Perseverance Trail, which we hiked a bit:
The Mining Museum, which will probably be like the Statue of Liberty was for me growing up; I basically lived in its shadow for 18 years and NEVER visited it. The Mining Museum is less than half a mile from Debbie’s door and I am willing to bet we will not go there.
And this is just a pretty shot of a river below us and a waterfall that may feed it, though if I stick with Debbie, I will never know for sure.
I was also tempted to take this log—it’s free, after all—but when we came back along the trail, someone had kicked it aside. And I don’t want a pre-kicked log, even a free one. (Anyone remember Log from Ren and Stimpy? It’s better than bad, it’s good!)
We had Volt and CB with us.
Volt is Shane’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever; whenever he shoots something, she goes and gets it. Her favorite game is Stick, where she chooses a stick, the bigger the better (she would have chosen Log if she could have picked it up), and then you throw Stick, preferably into the water or the woods, and she goes and gets it. She totally has a perm, and Shane said she secretes an oil that makes her coat more waterproof and keeps her warm, kind of like what happens when you oil a Barbour jacket or decide you want dreadlocks.
CB is Debbie’s doggie; she rescued him from a neglectful owner, and he is so happy it’s contagious. When I wake up in the morning at Debbie’s place, here is what I see:
CB seems to have some kind of gastrointestinal thing going on that makes him very, um, musical. And fragrant. It’s not so bad unless you’re in an enclosed space with him. So I try not to be. The best thing about CB is that when you take him on a walk, he jumps in the various rivers and lakes and splashes around. Then he looks at Debbie and barks and barks. She’s decided that it’s his version of singing in the shower; he isn’t upset or anything, just seems to be glad to be alive. How cool is that?
In the evening, we went over to Shane’s place for some dinner. He built his house himself, including an outhouse for the construction site because he didn’t want to have to pay to rent one. (I just love that he took the time to build an outhouse.) It’s a beautiful house, with a hot tub, 3 bathrooms, lovely hardwood floors, and a gorgeous view of the Mendenhall Glacier:
It’s also got stuff on the walls that he has hunted and mounted himself, including this deer:
and this wild goat:
Also, apparently he has had to throw rocks at bears that lumber onto his deck, to give him time to get in the house. Volt lets him know when there’s something out there that she doesn’t like.
PLUS, he has toys like big-wheeled motorcycles and an excavator. I don’t know what an excavator is for (when I asked Debbie what it does, she said, “Excavates things.”), but there’s a good chance that I’ll be able to drive it while I’m here.
Debbie and I were both exhausted at the end of the evening even though we had had naps, so we crashed hard last night.
This morning we had some tea, went for another walk with CB (Volt was with her dad), showered, and around 11:30 were ready to start our day. We marveled at how quickly you can get used to having your time pretty much to yourself. See, Debbie also left a work situation that wasn’t good for her; she quit her job back in February, about a month before I did, and went out on her own with her colleague Johanna, midwifing it old school and independently. So back in the winter, we would talk a lot and give each other moral support and brainstorm ways to make money in case we became destitute: selling blood, working at Trader Joe’s (still a viable option for me), walking other people’s dogs. Neither of us has become destitute, and I’m pretty sure she’s not sorry she made the choices she did. And it’s mighty nice to roll into the office at noon (her) or park it at a coffee shop and drink tea while playing on the computer (me) after a lovely morning hike.
Of course, Debbie is now gainfully employed while I am still a drain on society. Well, on my own finances. But I haven’t got a single regret.
In the afternoon, we went to Sweet Dream, a funny little bubble tea house that sells bubble tea (obviously), regular tea and coffee, Asian soups and hors d’oeuvres, and pre-packaged candy and snacks from Japan. It also rents out anime. It’s located in one of those office plazas like where maybe your eye doctor or your accountant has space. So it’s a very interesting little place. I had spring rolls with shrimp and a huge cup of chai—delicious. Debbie had noodle soup and a bubble tea.
For those of you who don’t know, bubble tea actually looks and tastes like a smoothie and comes, if you want it, with little balls of tapioca in it. They give you a straw with an extra large diameter so you can suck up the tapioca while you’re drinking the tea. I find the tapioca to be mildly disturbing. Debbie loves it. We agreed to disagree.
I also bought some of the pre-packaged snacks, specifically Hello Panda, little treats that are reminiscent of teeny chocolate éclairs, only the outside is crunchy and there’s no chocolate (though there is cream inside AND a little panda face stamped on each one):
There are different flavors of Pocky, including green tea, black sesame, and various fruit kinds. As near as I can tell, Pocky itself is a long stick-like cookie that has been dipped in one of the above flavors. I got Men’s Pocky because it is dipped in bitter chocolate, and I like chocolate. Plus, I wanted to see how strict they are about selling the Men’s Pocky only to men. (Not very.)
These snack boxes remind me of engrish.com, which is a website devoted to showcasing fractured English. For instance, I once saw a t-shirt on engrish.com that read “Varsity Urine Team”—and there was an Asian girl proudly wearing it. I guess it’s like an American getting a tattoo consisting of kanchi characters or Sanskrit or something: it looks cool and you trust that it says what the salesperson tells you it does. Or, you don’t really care. The writing on the snack boxes is accurate English, as near as I can tell, but there’s something about “Pocky” and “Hello Panda” that just screams engrish.
Anyway, I liked Sweet Dream a lot, and it’s the other place in Juneau that has free wireless. Plus, Silverbow doesn’t have karaoke on Friday nights. (In your face, Silverbow!) In the picture of me in front of the place, you can see the anime videos in the background, the obligatory Hello Kitty banner, and the 7th-grade study hall-looking door, all of which make Sweet Dream an accurate name for the place; it’s a little surreal, but very pleasant, and when you look back on it, you aren’t quite sure whether you are accurately remembering your visit or imagining things. (As an aside, you can also see my mat burn and my mullet, both of which are coming along nicely.)
And here’s a pic of some of the décor:
Later in the day, we went to Shane’s to pick him and Volt up, and then we all went on a walk there. Volt played Stick, CB sang in the shower, Shane packed heat (he always does when walking around outside in case of bears or other things he might want to have Volt retrieve), and all was good. Along the trail we saw what could have been some bear feces, what were definitely salmon headed upstream, and giant skunk cabbage:
Smells strangely like CB. We also found wild blueberries and salmonberries:
“Salmonberry” is a misnomer, because they taste like chicken. (No, not really. They are called salmonberries because they tend to grow near streams and rivers where salmon are swimming and spawning.) We also saw some tracks that looked kind of like horse, kind of like deer. I deduced that they must be the tracks of a satyr (that half man-half goat creature). It was the only rational explanation.
I took a cute picture of Debbie, Shane, CB, and Volt, but I also promised them I wouldn’t post it. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s a great picture, and I’m not just saying that because Shane was carrying a gun.
Debbie and I went to see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in the evening (pretty damn funny), and now here we are. I probably won’t be able to post this till Tues morning because there doesn’t seem to be any pirateable wireless at Debbie’s place. But I’m sure CB will give me my wake-up snuffle like clockwork, and then maybe we’ll hit Silverbow again before heading to the tramway or to Mendenhall Glacier for a little hiking.