74624116_2191631534468706_2724142093353091072_n.jpg72844564_547168426047311_3773812708718149632_n.jpgIf you read along last time, you’ll remember that Ian now has his furry companion, Balto. We’ve heard repeatedly since Balto’s “gotcha day” that huskies are working dogs and don’t make good pets. Huskies need a job; without one they’ll dig your yard up and chew everything in the house. While I appreciate all the warnings, we’re not rookies with working breeds. Mogwai, our Tennessee Mountain Hybrid, is a treeing cur dog with a big territory and lots of energy. We sacrificed a few beds Mog Faceearly in his life as we learned that he must stay employed regularly to prevent him from destroying everything. Once we figured out how to keep his brain and his body busy, cohabitation got much smoother. Ian never wanted a husky as a pet. From the moment he met the breed, he’s been obsessed with their ability to work.

Dr. J, my former supervisor and director (who I miss dearly!) came very close to diagnosing the situation. He texted me his assessment:

Just had a revelation. You and Brinn are grooming Ian for the Iditarod…1. Trip to Alaska. 2. Purchase of husky. 3. Training Balto to pull increasingly heavier weight. Next I expect you begin assembling (one by one) a team of sled dogs and conducting winter training in Gatlinburg or North Carolina. The picture is beginning to come into focus.

I read this message to Ian who laughed and said: “Mama, that’s not your plan. That’s my plan!” From July 2, 2018, Ian has had it in his mind that he will have a full team of sled dogs. When we returned from our Alaska trip, he had poor Mogwai tied to his plastic snow sled, making him drag it around the yard in July. Mogwai was not a fan, but I remind him that domestication doesn’t come free.

Now that Ian finally has his [first] husky, he’s been determined to train Balto to be his


Photo cred: Aunt Joy

first sled dog. Within days he had a leash connecting Balto’s puppy harness to the plastic sled so Balto could get used to something bouncing around behind him. As Balto has grown, Ian has moved him up to pulling a wagon and carrying heavier weights, including carrying 50 pound sacks of grain out to the barn each week when we pick up horse feed. Ian has the desire for Balto to be a working dog, but we’re lacking in the needed training skills, so I began hunting around online for local trainers who may be able to give Ian lessons. Then Tabitha found an event on Facebook she thought Ian would like: IWPA September in Baxter.

20190915_101013Baxter is only 15 minutes from our house, so I looked up the organization: International Weight Pull Association. Once I read the description on the IWPA website, I knew this would be the perfect event for Ian and Balto. I messaged the members of the local group and asked if we could bring Ian to watch. Multiple owners responded and invited us to bring Ian AND Balto and offered to loan Balto a harness and to teach Ian how to compete in the novice division. After double checking the date, I realized that this event was set for the very next day, so we packed the canopy tent in the truck with Balto’s swimming pool and a water bowl so that we would be prepared for Sunday morning.

The day of Ian’s first pull dawned hot and muggy. We filled two coolers with bagged ice20190915_101432 left over from our last camping trip, and stopped by Dollar General to buy more ice on our way to the event. When we arrived, Ms. Sheryl greeted us warmly and helped Ian sign up for the novice division. We popped up our tent to create shade, filled Balto’s pool with ice, screwed in the metal spike to clip to his runner, and settled in to learn about this new world.

2So here’s the basic concept: Dogs wear a special harness which distributes weight evenly across their bodies. The harness is attached to a flat cart with wheels, and increasingly heavier weights are added to this cart. After handlers clip their dogs to the cart, the owner goes to the end of a fenced chute and calls their dog to come to them. The dogs are timed to see how long it takes them to pull the cart across the line. Handlers are not allowed to use any type of coercion other than voice so it’s entirely up to the dog to pull the weight. The dog who pulls the heaviest load wins. If there’s a tie on weight, then the dog with the best time wins.

Dogs are not eligible to enter the sanctioned weight classes until they are at least one 1year old. Balto was six months old at his first pull, so he obviously started in Novice, and will stay there all year. Since Novice follows all of the sanctioned classes, we settled in to watch and wait. Balto laid in his ice pool until all his ice melted, but he splashed so pitifully in his pool of cold water that Brinn ended up running down the road to the closest market to pick up another 20 pounds of ice to refill Balto’s arctic tundra. Finally Ms. Sheryl called for a 15 minute break before Novice would start.


Photo cred: Aunt Joy

Ms. Missy, a trainer and harness maker, gave Ian and Balto all kinds of advice and support. She loaned Ian a green pulling harness to fit Balto and showed us how to put it on. Ms. Missy and Ms. Sheryl instructed Ian in the process, and off they went! Balto did great in his first and second pulls, but halfway through his third pull, he stopped and started his husky talking. It’s hard to describe as it’s not a howl, or a wine, or even a yap. It’s just this weird complaining talking that huskies do. Up until that point, everyone had praised Balto for his great attitude and chill, non-husky behavior. After Balto’s temper tantrum, everyone laughed and Ms. Missy said “there’s the Siberian coming out!”

20190915_152406We finished the day with 4 goodish pulls from Balto, and one entertaining pull. During awards, Ms. Sheryl award Ian with first place in Novice Junior Handler, and Ian doesn’t seem to mind the fact that he was the only junior handler of the day. So far he’s content with “winning” and doesn’t feel like he actually has to beat someone. Some might complain about the participation trophy generation, but this award has lit a fire under Ian to practice and come back with more weight and faster times for the next event.

We left the event with lots of advice and plans for the next event. Ian spent the next month working on sharpening Balto’s reaction to verbal commands of “come” and “hike!” Balto, being true to his husky heritage, tends to only hear Ian when there’s a treat or toy involved. Balto was neutered shortly after his first pull event, and was on limited activities for a couple of weeks afterwards, so Ian has not been working on any weight with him. Ian’s tried to focus on Ms. Missy’s advice for getting his dog excited about coming to him. Ian’s trying…but Balto’s enthusiasm varies.

20190915_142637Yesterday brought us back to Baxter for Ian and Balto’s second weight pull. The group allowed Ian to try to help with the cart during several pulls, and all the trainers continued to offer Ian advice and training tips for Balto. Mr. Joe has invited Ian to come practice with the Knoxville group, and we are going to have Ms. Missy size Balto and sew his own weight harness if the behemeath will ever quit growing. Ian finished the day with some improvements from last time, including more weight and a slightly more agreeable husky. Once again, Ian finished with a first place award for Novice Junior Handler, with no other junior handlers in attendance, haha.

Now that Balto has fully recovered from surgery and the temps are dropping, Ian is ready to start ramping up Balto’s training. With advice from the local trainers and invitation to come train with some of them, Balto is entering his life as a working dog. Now we sit back and see if Dr. J’s prophetic plan for Ian and Balto comes to life.

Thank you East and Middle Tennessee Weight Pullers for introducing us to Ian’s favorite sport!


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20180703_131541.jpgIt all started December 25, 2017 when Grandpoppa said “Let’s go to Alaska.” If we hadn’t gone to Alaska, Ian would have never know what he was missing. But we did go to Alaska, and while there, he discovered that his life just isn’t worth living without a husky to share it. And thus began Ian’s obsession.

Ian’s pack of plush dogs grew alongside his fascination. Every day he found more41741872_1974800962829191_8973303875352133632_n opportunities to remind his parents how much he wanted a husky of his very own. Brinn and I presented a united front early on, but our resolve eventually began to weaken. Well, mine did. And Brinn just kind of went with me.

58380043_319096779005449_9032295946947395584_n.jpgEventually we found ourselves conducting a lot of research, then looking at local options. We ended up calling a breeder for more information, and she invited us to come and view her litter to see if we wanted to put down a deposit on a pup. We planned to let Ian pick one out Easter evening, but the breeder called us that morning to share that the pups were ready to wean, and if we wanted, we could pick one out and take it home that day. Nana  helped with the cost as this pup would be Ian’s birthday present, so we cut short our family camping trip, packed Ian and his bike up, and took off to pick up his early birthday surprise.

Ian knew Balto was his as soon as he laid eyes on him. When we pulled up at the breeder’s60338632_10157686322510656_2314450093610106880_n home, Brinn convinced Ian to close his eyes before he got out of the truck, and he carried him around to the back yard where the puppies were kept. Ian kept his eyes jammed shut until he heard the mama dog bark. His eyes flew open as puppies bomb rushed him, and he immediately scooped up the cream colored male. Ian discovered love at first lick, and knew that this was his dog. We tried to convince Ian to play with the other pups, and for 30 minutes Brinn tried to persuade Ian to consider taking home the adorable grey female, but Ian wasn’t having it. He knew exactly which puppy was for him, and thus the cream pup was christened Balto.


60717954_2251700018426806_5864319080051245056_nWe brought Balto home and began the process of helping him adapt to his new life. The first evening was rough as he missed his brothers and sisters. He tried to curl up beside Mogwai and Chaco, but they weren’t thrilled to have a little brother. After taking Balto out for a last potty break, we shut him in his crate which we’d placed in Ian’s room. As soon as we left the room he started crying, and he proceeded to cry for the next two hours. We thought he had finally cried himself to sleep, but when we peeped in to check, we found that he had a new source of comfort. With our exhaustion combined with the cuteness, we just let it ride. This became the routine for several nights until Balto became more comfortable with his crate and sleeping on his own.


59921278_304313463803315_8583439703800283136_nBalto had moved in with us right in the middle of stage 3 of barn 58380965_1505675639565023_3938954312918499328_nbuilding. He quickly had to evolve from husky pup to barn dog. Originally Grandpoppa had been strong with us on our resolve to hold out on waiting to buy Ian a puppy. He also supported the opinion that we did not need a husky in hot, humid middle Tennessee. Grandpoppa is usually the first one to cave to Ian’s wants, but on this one he was staying strong…until he actually met Balto. Not only did Balto take to his life as a barn dog, but he also attached strongly to Grandpoppa, who has grown pretty fond of the pup.

60083407_420272772086816_9084840765825220608_nIan spent his summer falling more in love with Balto. I don’t think there has ever been a more wanted husky on the planet. They’ve had quite a few adventures already as Ian has stayed busy teaching Balto to hike, kayak, play in the creek, drive the gocart, and work the farm. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, as Balto’s favorite chew toy seems to be human flesh, but Ian listened closely to the vet’s training advice and stuck with the program. Balto’s biting has decreased, but we still can’t break him of his 57504876_10157628214995656_1535712930174074880_n (1)pickpocket habit where he steals your shoe right off your foot without you noticing. I’m not sure if he loves my house slippers or hates them, but he puts quite a bit of effort into tracking and attacking them. Oddly enough, Balto doesn’t really destroy shoes or toys. He enjoys chewing, but doesn’t completely destroy objects the way Mogwai does. I’ve never seen a dog take better care of his toys!

60309070_1348849808588980_1280368268204310528_nBalto. Fluffy. Shark Teeth. Sharp Tooth. Fluff Fluff. Fluffernutter. Fluffy Teeth. Fluffy Shark. Nutterbutter. Pup Pup. No Bite!  When Ian brought this many-named dog home, he only weighed 6 pounds. Now the 6 month old fluff ball weighs a whooping 60 pounds!

Every dog should be so lucky to have his very own boy. I’m sure Balto heartily agrees.





Posted in Balto, Family, Farm Life, Holidays, Ian, My Critters, Outdoor Adventures | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back Stacking at Double Trouble

So I did a couple of things Sunday that I haven’t done since my pre-Ian years. The first one was absolutely amazing. For the first time in seven years, I kayaked the Ocoee with my husband. Then we locked our boats in the bed of the truck and jumped in the raft, which we intentionally flipped, something else I haven’t done since becoming a mother.

My driving force in getting through my lessons with Ace Kayaking this summer was to be able to get back onto the Ocoee consistently with Brinn. Before having Ian, we used to go out regularly. Granted, Brinn basically had to hold my hand on those trips, and I always walked around Tablesaw. Nonetheless, I was able to put in at the rails or Staging Eddy (whichever had a parking spot open) and mostly make it down the river with Brinn. I had mishaps for sure, including swims at Surprise (my most hated rapid on the entire Ocoee) and even at Powerhouse (because I’m special like that), but I was out there. After becoming pregnant, I quit paddling altogether for two years, and it was nothing like riding a bike. Not much came back to me naturally.

So here I am, seven years later, taking lessons and plaguing Brandon with the worst student of his teaching career. A few weeks ago I went back for my last lesson, and worked with Jake, another great instructor at ACE. I don’t think I gave Jake quite as much of a headache as I did Brandon, but I still found ways to amaze him with my ineptitude… like when he wanted me to leave the eddy above Moon Chute and surf across a wave to ferry over above the rapid. I left the eddy…and started to ferry onto my surf, but my bow was too high, and the current rejected me. I should’ve have gone back to my eddy and came in again, with a lower angle, but nope, I tried to plow on through, so I blew right past my surf, and then past Jake, and ran the whole thing backwards and caught an eddy below Moon Chute where I waited in chagrin for Jake to come find me.

Regardless of my mishaps with Jake, he somehow managed to cram some new information into my brain and help me build on the skills Brandon had initially installed, and now kayaking isn’t quite as scary as it has been for the last five years. But for weeks now, we’ve wanted to go rafting. I think I forgot to mention this, but we bought a new raft this year! After saving for the last few years, and sacrificing most of our tax return, we finally bought the Super Puma we’ve had our eye on for years. More about that another day. We have this awesome new raft, and we’ve only had it out two times all spring and summer long. Rafts aren’t meant to stay dry. It needed to be on the Ocoee surfing. So Brinn and I finally had a Sunday that wasn’t accounted for. I didn’t have kayaking lesson, neither of us had a rescue course, and we hadn’t scheduled to go with a group to a different river. It looked like we finally had a day we could hit the Ocoee with our tree frog green raft. Except I realized that I kind of wanted to kayak. On the Ocoee! I thought I was starting to burn out a little bit after 5 lessons and multiple trips outside of lessons. But when we started planing our day without Ian, I realized that I really wanted to get back out there again. So we decided to do both!

Once we started our ungodly early drive to the Ocoee, which was even earlier than planned because someone mistakenly set his alarm for 4:00 AM…, my nerves started to build and make themselves evident. I won’t say I regretted asking Brinn if we could kayak first, but I was starting to worry a bit going out for my first post-Ian non-lesson trip down the Ocoee. Then I received a response text from our beloved Mrs. Anderson who completely changed my perspective on the situation. I hope she doesn’t mind that I’m sharing her words: “Don’t worry. You will have a wonderful day. What a blessing to paddle with your husband.” I immediately shared her text with Brinn, who drove in silence for a bit as we both thought about Dr. Anderson for a few miles and how much we miss him. And how much more Anne must miss him every day, especially when we beg her to join us on the rivers that she paddled frequently with him for years. Anne was right. I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to paddle with my husband anytime that I want, and I should absolutely take that opportunity whenever it presents itself. So I went to the river stronger and more thankful.


People often wonder why I am so reluctant to go boating without Brinn. I mean, I managed to paddle for months before I met him, so why couldn’t I do it now? Because I’m a dunderhead without him. I had offered to let Brinn put in at the ramp with Jeremy so they could both run Grumpy’s and meet me at the rails, but Brinn valiantly declined and insisted that he wanted to paddle with me. It’s a good thing, too, since I got to the bottom of the stairs and went to screw my drainplug in, and found it missing! It had been attached the evening before when I loaded this exact boat into the bed of the truck. How did it just up and disappear? Fortunately I had MacGuyver #1 and MacGuyver #2 with me for the day. After Brinn failed to find my drain plug in the truck or the raft, he yanked his out of his boat, and screwed it into my boat while Jeremy hunted for an appropriately sized stick. Brinn pulled out tape and a lighter, and somehow sealed up the drain hole on his boat, and we were river worthy and finally able to put on while Tabitha drove down to Goforth Creek to pick us up.

Because we were going to raft as well, Brinn suggested that we only kayak a half lap so that we wouldn’t get too worn out. This sounded like a great idea to me, except Brinn wanted to do the top half of the run, which has always intimidated me more. Usually when we did a half lap, it was from Goforth down. But here we were, running the scarier half of the river, with conservative lines at Broken Nose and Double Suck, and we ended up having a fantastic day. The drain plug ended up being the only mishap, and we had an amazing trip down the river with Jeremy, who I didn’t even run over. No surfers were harmed by my refusal to look where I was going on this trip.

Double Trouble Kayak.jpg

After our kayak lap, we said a quick hi to Rick Ford, then piled humans and boats back into the truck and drove back to the top to unload the raft. And guess what we found? My drain plug! It was safely wedged into the raft, so at least it don’t blow or bounce out. Now it is safely screwed back into a hard boat. Brinn dumped the raft and gear out by the ranger’s stand and he and Jeremy left to park both vehicles down at bottom and to pick up Mrs. Anderson who was joining us for our raft lap.


This is the day we hit every eddy we came across.

Tabitha and I are still working on getting comfortable in the Super Puma. The higher rocker really helps it punch through holes and over waves, but it also makes it a bit harder for the front paddlers to brace in as we keep sliding back. It didn’t matter, either way, as Brinn wants to test the limits of this boat every time we take it out so we will be fully prepared for winter creeking in it, and to avoid mishaps for trips with Ian. On the last trip, Brinn and I R2ed and he wanted to see how many eddies we could catch in this boat…including the teeny tiny kayak eddies. We only managed to catch one eddy through Tablesaw, to his disappointment, but we did catch the eddy directly behind Diamond Splitter rock that day. On Sunday, rather than catching eddies and making hard ferries, Brinn wanted to test to stability and weight distribution of the raft. Actually, he really just wanted to flip it, but he built compelling evidence for the need to flip it. So after Hell’s Half Mile, he moved me back beside him, and Tabitha and Anne directly in front of us. We went through the first big wave, and caught some air, but the bow settled back down. We went through the second big wave, and thought we were clear, but then the stern of the boat (with all of our added weight) did exactly what kayakers try to never do: lean upstream.

Double Trouble

As soon as the stern buried in the current the bow climbed again and inertia did its job. Hydrology and physics worked together to take us over spectacularly. We didn’t just dump truck. We flopped the whole thing right over on top of us. Seeing the carnage coming, I settled back and grabbed hold of the chicken strap in anticipation. After we completed our flip, I reached up to feel the raft over the top of me, and used the chicken strap to pull myself out from under the boat and I popped up right behind it, still hanging on. But then Brinn shoved his paddle at me and said “here, hold this.” He grabbed the boat, so I floated away from it and started looking for my eddy. Brinn struggled with the boat, so I swam into the river right eddy directly across the current from Jump Rock. Funny, I just spent half my summer ferrying back and forth between these two eddies. After watching Brinn go deeper in the eddy and still not flipping the boat, I resigned myself to the fact that he probably wasn’t going to be ferrying back across to pick me up. Tabitha was even further down in the current and Jeremy was helping her swim for the bottom of the eddy. Anne waited right behind Jump Rock, where I should have gone. I waited for a few kayakers to go past, then left the eddy high, but lemme tell ya, that current was a lot pushier without the benefit of a double blade and a boat. I swam, and swam, and then swam some more. Finally I got near the eddy and Jeremy darted over to grab the paddles from me so I could finish my swim on my back, because my muscles were done.

Brinn got the raft back right side up and we discussed tactics for flipping it next time. Ultimately we agreed that he should’ve shoved me on top to flip it because his shoulder chose to disagree with climbing on board. I’m thinking hitting the Green Narrows less than a year after major surgery may have been a bit too much for him this year. We all climbed in and laughed about our experience. Even Tabitha showed good humor at her unrequested bath. Jeremy delivered our paddles to us, so we were able to head back down river.

Jeremy was the major MVP of the day. We left the ramp with five paddles, and we arrived at the takeout with all five paddles! Not a single loss on Jeremy’s watch. I bought him a beer that evening.

By the time we made it down to Flipper just a few rapids later, Brinn didn’t even ask if we were up for surfing. I think he knew that we were all exhausted from swimming. I decided then and there that I would be visiting the campus pool a lot this winter to swim with a paddle. I obviously need to get stronger and more efficient with a single and double-bladed paddle because, well, swimmers are going to swim.

Going through the Doldrums, Tabitha motioned toward her husband and mouthed for me to flip him. Jeremy had decided to ride down in my Nomad for his second lap of the day. I knew I couldn’t be stealthy enough to pull it off from inside the raft, so I motioned for Brinn to swim over and grab his boat. Unfortunately Brinn telegraphed his intent all too clearly and Jeremy saw it coming. I launched out of the boat to grab the bow while Brinn shoved the boat over. Despite his unsealed skirt, Jeremy refused to swim. Even when Brinn flipped the boat over, Jeremy came up and held a brace against Brinn flipping him again and through clenched teeth he yelled “WILL.NOT.SWIM!” Somehow Anne came out of the raft after I did, so Tabitha and Jeremy ended up being the only two to not swim here.

After Jeremy drained about 600 gallons of Ocoee water out of the Nomad, he jumped back in and we floated on downstream. Our second mishap of the day came at Tablesaw. Brinn wanted to try for the top eddy on river left, and called for Tabitha and I to paddle hard as we crashed over the top wave. The bow rode up so high that we struggled to get our paddles in the water, and we blew past the eddy. As Brinn regrouped and aimed for the next eddy, Tabitha went bonkers and started yelling about her foot. With her T grip waving around in my face, I quit paddling as well  and stared at her. The side of her foot had locked up in a giant cramp, and it refused to relax. I grabbed her foot to mash my hand into the Charlie horse, and she came unglued. She yanked her chaco off and threw it in the floor of the boat while hopping around in her seat. Brinn thought we were both possessed and yelled at us for not paddling. Tab’s moment finally passed and she was able to put her shoe back on. Neither of us remember anything about going through the rapid.

We completed the rest of our trip smoothly with no additional mishaps. I think Brinn would’ve liked to back stack at Hell Hole, but I didn’t have it in me to swim for another eddy. I would’ve just floated to the takeout… So instead he had Tab and I scoot back just one thwart so we could brace in a bit more securely, and we had no issues plowing right through both waves, then floating over Powerhouse. We arrived at the takeout both tired and hungry, but every bit of the exhaustion was worth it. It’s been a hard summer of ferrying and eddy hopping, but I finally feel like I’m back!

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Gliding Through Tablesaw


I went back to the Ocoee this past weekend for my next round of lessons. A few days before we began packing my gear I received a message from poor Brandon that I’d been reassigned from my new instructor, and would be continuing to work with Brandon instead. As excited as I was to work with a new instructor, I was still more relieved than anything to be able to continue with the instructor I was familiar with and had come to trust. You would think that I would have been grateful enough to be a model student, right?


Saturday went well enough, but everything changed Sunday. Brandon began the day with an easy warm-up of stretches and review of basic paddle strokes (which I still can’t do) and then laid out his plan for the day. He announced that he’d thought it over the previous evening, and he’d decided it was time to step it up. I was going to do one of two rapids that we’d been putting off –both of which he felt I was ready to do, but he was only going to make me do one. All I could do was stare in horror as he continued: “Broken Nose or Tablesaw.” Ice, ice coursing through my veins and a slight buzzing noise in my ears. And Brandon went on to announce the winner for my personal fear contest: Tablesaw (cue the flying monkeys soundtrack).

Guys, from this point on I was the absolute worst student in the world. Seriously. If Ian


had behaved this badly I would have yanked him up and taken him home after having a “come to Jesus” discussion. If I’d behaved this way in a riding lesson, any of my many instructors would have removed my stirrup irons and made me finish the rest of the day in a two-point at working trot. Ordinarily I would be mortified to see anyone behave this badly, but man, I wallowed in it. I talked back. I argued. I stalled. I whined incessantly. I negotiated. I came up with excuse after excuse. I ran over rocks. I missed eddies. And all the while Brandon, my beloved instructor who had reassured me for three days of lessons that everything we would do was challenge by choice, took a firm stand and ignored my very logical and eloquently delivered rationale for walking Tablesaw.


I’ve never run Tablesaw in a hard boat. Ever. Broken Nose either, for that matter, but at least Broken Nose was off the table for this day. Back in the days before Ian, when Brinn would help me tiptoe down the skirt lines on the Ocoee, we always ran far, far left at Broken Nose, and I hiked around Tablesaw while everyone else ran it and waited for me below. When I signed up for lessons, I just assumed that I would continue this routine. It had been working pretty well up to this point. It’s hard to swim or hit your head on the ejector rock when you’re busy shouldering a boat across the giant table rock… Brandon has asked me several times what was my goal for lessons. And always my answer is to not be such an idiot on the water. I don’t want to be a liability for anyone else, and want to be able to control my boat better. I didn’t realize I needed to add that I wanted this control so I could hit all the portage eddies…

Saturday was a really good day on the water. I felt like we were taking off my training wheels and I was finally starting to move beyond beginner tactics. Brandon continued building on our earlier lessons to enhance rules I’d learned earlier in my paddling career, and in some cases, completely toss out those rules. I’ve consistently heard that you have to be moving faster than the water to be in control… While we didn’t address this particular adage, Brandon did teach me how to use my bow angle to speed up or slow down a ferry. A slow ferry requires more paddle strokes, but gives me a tremendous mental boost to know that I can take time to look around and consider what’s coming up next. I’ve always heard to leave the eddy high. And sometimes Brandon had us leaving high, and sometimes he had us leaving in the middle, and at Hell Hole we just slid right out the back of the Eddy. So I learned to leave the eddy high sometimes when our next move required it. But what helped more than anything was to learn that when we leave high, we don’t start high in the eddy. Brandon had me backup and start much lower in the eddy to begin paddling so as to build momentum for that ferry once I broke the eddy line. And most important of all, he was teaching me to see which situation called for which moves so I could start assessing scenarios and know what to do and how rather than just following someone else like a duckling. We paddled from the Staging Eddy to Goforth with no major mishaps and one minor mishap as I paddled clear over the top of the boulder I was supposed to slide off of sideways… Only I could botch the move I saw a 10 year old kid pull off just two weeks earlier. But overall Saturday ended as the best day ever. Brandon was the best instructor ever, and one of my most favorite people ever.


Now as I’m sitting in the creek near the takeout on Sunday morning Brandon is looking less and less like one of my favorite people. I suggested we could drive over to the Hiwassee and he laughed it off. I offered to take us shopping at Rock Creek, my treat! He declined. I even volunteered to paddle back upstream from the lake to the commercial takeout again. No dice. We were headed up the river road and Brandon seemed to determined to do his job. He carried our boats down the steep bank to Jump Rock and we warmed up with some attempts at a one paddle stroke ferry, which I failed at, but I did get more confident in charging for the green water to initiate my


ferry. Then we turned and followed the river downstream…bringing us ever closer to Tablesaw. All went well until we made it to Flipper where Brandon decided we weren’t going to go far, far, far right as we had previously. My negotiations and protestations began again, and he calmly waited out my temper tantrum, then waited some more on my nerves, and finally we sliced diagonally across Flipper successfully with none of the issues I’d built up in my mind. We floated on down to Goforth where we were greeted by Brinn and Rick as we got out for a break to stretch. Since complaining wasn’t working, I went to sit quietly by myself in the sun. Brinn kept asking if I was okay. He didn’t seem to support my opinion that Brandon is the meanest person in the world, but instead helped me get back in my boat when Brandon decided it was time to go.

Brandon guided us over to river right just above Tablesaw where we hopped out, parked our boats, and began hiking across the table to watch Brinn and Rick come through. Brandon pointed out visuals that I should identify early to hold my angle. He showed me how we were going to come in behind the first wave, maintain a left hand angle, and only paddle for stability and to maintain the left angle if the water dropped my bow. He insisted that this angle would push me into the gigantic friendly eddy on river left. Then we watched several boaters come straight down, and others even with a right hand angle, proving Brandon’s next point that there was a wide margin for error in this rapid. We left the water with a good plan and unfortunately the walk back didn’t take very long.

Once we reached our boats, fear completely took over my heart and mind. I don’t know if I looked as sick as I felt, but I felt pretty yucky. I kept waiting for Brandon to show one sign of weakness. Had he waivered for even a split second, I would’ve jumped all over it and used the excuse to climb out of my boat and start dragging. But he didn’t. He offered some reassuring advice, made a few jokes, and patiently waited while I shook like a leaf. Lots of stuff rolled through my head. I finally followed Brandon back into the current. I shook like a leaf and bumped every rock between our eddy and the main current. Brandon peeled out into the current with one hand on his paddle so the other hand could wave and remind me of my visual aids and show me my boat angle. I glided out behind him, and glided right down through and over the waves and into a river left eddy where Brinn was waiting for me and cheers erupted across the river.


So many emotions. Too many emotions to feel them all individually, and they completely overwhelmed me. Had I known how many friends had stopped to wait on me, I may have ended up chickening out. I had no idea that multiple good Samaritans had hopped out of their boats with ropes and cameras at the ready for me. Shane, Krystal, and Michelle, along with their friends and family, parked their raft and waited for my first go at this rapid with the camera rolling. Rick filmed from the other side of the river. His friend, Charles, who I had just met minutes earlier waited as well. Brinn stayed parked in the higher of the two eddies to be ready to go after me or give me a focal point to paddle towards. Brandon swung in and waited for me as well, and the first emotion I could actually identify was overwhelming gratitude for this amazing group of river family to cheer me on in my success. I threw my arms up and tried not to cry as I felt the fear sneak away and warmth replace it. Adrenaline coursed, and I continued to shake all over, but no longer in fear. Brandon reminded me that it would still be pretty scary next time, and probably the time after that, but it won’t be as scary.


Still jittery, and now distracted by it, we left Tablesaw and meandered down through Diamond Splitter (my most favorite Ocoee rapid) to eddy on the left before Dixie Drive for Brandon to issue the next set of instructions. I had to ask him to repeat himself about 10 times, and apologize repeatedly for listening to only half of what he said. I now have a greater appreciation for how hard Brinn has to work to listen through his ADD. Finally I digested the bulk of my directions and we headed back downstream, where I proceeded to miss eddies, fail to hit surfs, and blow ferries as well. At some point it became clear that we weren’t finished and Brandon wasn’t going to let me jump out at Torpedo or at the bridge, so there would be another first to add to my plate: Hell Hole. Hell Hole scares me because it’s big, it’s fast, it’s incredibly pushy, and I’ve never ran it in a hard boat. But I’ve swam it, so I guess I’ve already experienced the worst that could happen. I like to think that I didn’t protest running this one quite as vehemently as I did Tablesaw, as I’d pretty much resigned myself to going through it. And Brandon helped to set an angle through this one that helped me punch straight through and into the eddy on river right. And it was absolutely fantastic! Now all that was left between me and a swim-free day was my old nemesis…Powerhouse. Rather than get in the pushy current that goes straight for the junk over on river left, Brandon helped me sneak right out the backside of our eddy and paddle straight over the river right side of Powerhouse. I’m ashamed to say that it was much smaller than I had remembered it, and there was no risk of falling over backwards this time.


So I did it. Over the course of two days I managed to creep down the Ocoee from the Staging Eddy to the takeout without carrying around anything. We ran conservative lines on most everything above Goforth, but I didn’t have to bushwack and shoulder a boat. And Brandon is once again the best instructor ever and one of my favorite people again.

I can’t even possibly begin to thank everyone involved in helping me add this to my paddling portfolio. My mom kept Ian all weekend so Brinn could come out and watch me achieve new things. Brandon worked overtime to protect me from myself and help me work through some tough moments. Brinn cheered harder than any husband has ever cheered on a wife. Rick and Krystal documented my achievement so I could relive it over and over. And so many more people were responsible for getting me to this point. Hopefully an opportunity will arise where I have a chance to give back to them just a little of what they have done for me. Until then, I’ll try to pay it forward as best I can, because the river is not just a waterway filled with spills and thrills, it’s a community –one whose membership floods me with gratitude.

“Bad coaches make their students dependent. Good coaches make themselves redundant.” -Paul Strikwerda

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Paddling Out of the Fog


I’ve never been a good kayaker. Those who know me, who have watched me boat, can attest to this fact. I wasn’t necessarily a bad paddler, and could get down class II fairly competently (aka, not dying). Heck, I could even make it down class III if someone (cough, Brinn) would let me follow their lines. If I flipped, and didn’t manage to completely panic and bail, my roll would usually bring me up. I definitely wasn’t headed towards class IV or anything particularly hairy, but I could typically make it down the Ocoee with minimal swimming so long as I took the cheat lines (which included hiking around Table Saw).

Then I decided to have a baby.

I assumed that I would pick paddling back up the same way I’d picked riding back up.


Riding was a little rough immediately after birth as I’d lost more core strength than I’d realized, but with time my strength came back and once again I could hop on Reggie and go. Paddling was a bit trickier. Because I nursed Ian for a full year, and worked a forty hour week, time to fit in a full river trip was just too hard to come by. So a year went by without any time on the water. The next year, I was able to fit in one trip, then the following year Ian was ready to start going along with us, so I spent a lot of time in a funyak. By the time Ian turned four, I finally felt less guilty about leaving him behind to hit the river without him, and I thought I was ready to start stepping it back up, but a new experience confronted me at many outings.

the grunch

Anxiety can absolutely cripple you. I’d never experienced it before, but my postpartum existence invited it to creep it slowly. I went from happily running my beloved Jett to Lilly on Clear Creek, to finding myself sitting on Spring Creek and unable to leave an eddy. Just a few weeks before this paralyzing trip, Brinn and I ran Spring Creek from Waterloo down to Tom’s house by ourselves and had a great run, despite one swim. But when we came back a few weeks later with Ben, I couldn’t make myself go through Meat Grinder. The same rapid I’d had no issues with just weeks prior seemed enormous and impossible. I realized that I couldn’t do it. I may have had the ability in me, but my brain and body were not cooperating well enough to get me through it on this day. It’s hard to describe the feeling, except to say that it was overwhelming, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I ended up walking around 3 or 4 rapids that day. The hike was twice as hard as the rapids would’ve been, but I just couldn’t do it. And I had more experiences like this to hit me. I couldn’t make myself get back on the Ocoee. We took the raft down, even the ducky, but I just couldn’t will myself to carry my kayak down the rails to get back on this river.

I needed help. Lots of it. And all kinds. The first step was to seek medical advice. I’ve never had anxiety issues before in my entire life. Rather than looking for a chemical option, I began a nutrition program to look for a holistic option. I’ll have plenty more to say about this program in a future post. The condensed version: getting a handle of my dietary needs and eating the right foods for my body, while taking food based supplements to satisfy deficiencies has helped bring my baby-growing hormone-wrecked body back together and drastically improved my outlook. So now I should be ready to get back on the water, except I still had that feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t make my boat do what I wanted it to do even through class IIs. Brinn, God bless him, tried so hard to help advise me on technique, but he just couldn’t dumb it down simply enough for me to get it. So I reached out to Joe Gudger of Ace Kayaking and he recommended a series of lessons. He finalized my schedule and last week sent me a reminder that I should meet Brandon at the Ocoee takeout on Saturday at 10:00. The Ocoee. With my kayak. Excitement warred with dread as I tried to convince myself that I was looking forward to my first lesson, but dread started pulling ahead. Despite my reluctance, I got in the truck Saturday morning with all my gear so Brinn could drop me off to meet Brandon Beaty.

Brandon is a superhero hiding in a Jackson Nirvana wearing a disguise of Kokatat and Sweet Protection while accessorizing with Werner. I hope Brandon didn’t find the day as exhausting as I did, but I fear he must have. Laughing and issuing the same advice to an inattentive audience has to be trying and tiresome. Saturday began with seemingly simple work on the lake where we quickly established that I didn’t know anything at all about kayaks or paddles, or how to combine the two for forward movement. Brandon patiently answered my dumb questions and showed me the same strokes again and again and again as I attempted to imitate his technique. Then we began going upriver while working on attainments. This kept me too short of breath to ask as many dumb questions, but don’t worry, I still thought of them. After this portion of the day, we floated back down to the take out ramp, took a break, and loaded up Brandon’s truck to head up river for some work in real current.

Brandon carried my boat down the bank to put in below Slice and Dice and immediately put me to work on ferrying across some very minimal current near the bank on river right. He tweaked and adjusted while always encouraging. He’d remind me to rotate while I would insist that I was rotating –picture me sitting stiff and rigid from hip to head with not one degree of rotation in there anywhere. I’d start across the current and lose my angle and he’d patiently remind me to use my stern draw. Too bad I wouldn’t listen to him until seconds before I hit my new eddy. But despite my best efforts to stemmy Brandon’s efforts to fix me, his commands were actually starting to sink in! So he led me across the pushier current coming from the bottom hole of S&D to the big eddy on river left. From here, the goal was to go to the top of the eddy and practice ferrying across the slightly pushier water. And here is where fear found me again. The current looked so strong. I knew I’d lose the angle of my ferry and get pushed down river and have to make a sloppy S turn to hit the new eddy, if I didn’t blow right past it. Brandon talked me through our goal and method of execution and reassured me that I was over thinking it, and the current wasn’t nearly as bad as I was building it up to be. And I sat and over thought and worked myself up. Brandon never yelled at me (as I deserved), nor pushed me to jump out before I was ready. He patiently waited for me to speak or indicate my readiness. And I finally identified the source of my fear: the bow draw. This one, seemingly simple paddle stroke still confused me in flat water. Now I’m supposed to put it all together, leave the eddy with forward strokes to initiate my ferry, use a stern draw on the left to maintain my ferry, then throw in a bow draw to turn my boat before charging my new eddy. Easy, right? Sure, except for that bow draw. So I finally shared this with Brandon, and rather than telling me to suck it up or dismissing my fear, he simply announced “then don’t do the bow draw.” And he graciously left the eddy to show me how to complete the exercise without the bow draw.

Finally, after much internal dialogue, I left the eddy. And it was nothing! The rushing current I’d worried about felt more manageable than I expected, and I found myself following Brandon’s instructions (to an extent) and was able to join him in the next eddy. It wasn’t pretty. There was lots of yuckiness. But it was starting to come together! Now he changed it up a bit to go back across the current, leaving from a different eddy than the last time we ferried this direction, and ferried through a different section of the current. I followed a bit more quickly this time and didn’t require as much coddling to jump out there. More yuckiness ensued, but some good stuff started surfacing too. Then the rafts showed up. And they kept coming. Starting to feel more confident about myself and my newfound abilities, I decided I could be brave enough to jump out between rafts. I reviewed Brandon’s commands in my head: “leave the eddy and hit the current in the second trough, right below the big trough, then let my bow drop to charge the eddy. Don’t pause between my forward stroke and my stern draw. Rotate at the waist AND LOOK WHERE I’M GOING.” I spotted my opening in the rafts and I shot out towards the current…and proceeded to let every single one of Brandon’s instructions leak out of my ears. I left the eddy with too high of an angle, didn’t let the current drop my bow at all, never looked at where I wanted to go, and found myself landing right in the first trough…on top of another kayaker who had been merrily surfing before I came to town. I immediately apologized to him and he reached out to touch my arm and tell me not to worry about it, that it was completely okay. At this point I frantically tried to reverse my ferry (bear with me, my brain is leaking, remember?) to get off of him, so I yank away from his hold and then I hear splashing and maybe even a chuckle out of Brandon. Kayaker manages to roll so at least I haven’t caused someone to swim, but he was snorting and spluttering a bit. While this was probably the worst of my gaffe’s, it certainly wasn’t the only one. Some of them were bad enough that Brandon would just shake his head and say “we’re not going to discuss that one.” Other times he’d start with “well, do you know what you did wrong?”

By Sunday morning Brandon had correctly assessed that my brain couldn’t hold any new information, so rather than trying to teach me more strokes and concepts, we headed up river to practice the programming he’d attempted to install on Saturday. Some parts were really yucky, and some parts were great. I had a few moments where the light bulb would go off, and several instances where I realized how lost I was. By jumping around to different places on the river, Brandon subtly began working us down river so that we finally went through a few rapids and did a short section of the Ocoee. Anxiety backed off and was replaced with apprehension, which I found easier to push through. As we prepared to hit the waves below Flipper on river right, my heart raced and my muscles constricted with fear. For lack of a better expression, I kept a nervous grin on my face and let Brandon lead me out of the eddy…and I blew my instructions again and hit the swifter current and blasted past my fearless leader. But he calmly issued a few commands, and somehow I managed to follow them, and my control returned. At this point, my boat climbed over the waves smoothly, and I found success. My nerves still caused my whole body to shake, but I’d done it. I know it’s a tiny achievement to most, but it’s a mountain of an achievement for me. Now I actually feel excited to return to the Ocoee in two weeks for my next lesson with a new instructor. Thank you Brandon, for helping me ease back onto the Ocoee and move out of the blinding fog.

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Leaving Alaska


Alaska Part XIII , trip day 10-11; July 11-12, 2018

Somehow, despite a year of planning, scheduling, stressing, and preparing, our highly anticipated trip to Alaska drew to a close. We woke up Wednesday morning to a bright day and began reluctantly packing our luggage and carry-ons for the impending flight rather than a day of driving to a new lodging. We had to make sure that phone/kindle chargers were in our carry-ons, and Ian’s hot wheels case was properly arranged for the flight.

750_4393We hiked one last trip down to the river to burn a few more mental images of the Kasilof, then back to the cabin for Brinn to pack our fish in the cooler we purchased on our first day in Alaska. For a relatively inexpensive insulated cooler, we are pleased with the results! It successfully hauled our food all around the south-central region of Alaska, and got our fish home in still frozen condition!

With the Sequoia loaded, we pulled out and left our cabin behind unlocked, because the 750_4339owners assured us that there are no need for locks in Alaska! We headed north and traveled back through Soldotna, and enjoyed our last views of the Kenai River and my now favorite shade of blue. In fact, I later took this image to Lowe’s to match the color to repaint my bedroom walls! The sun even came out for our last day of driving.

52612824_587637321718858_6249239924634025984_nOf course we had to stop at Summit Hill Lodge once we made it that far since we learned that it’s our favorite cafe in the country. Another fun stop on the way back was off of the Seward Highway at Canyon Creek. This tributary runs into the infamous Six Mile Creek, which we didn’t have the opportunity to raft. Nonetheless, it was still a fun hike around CC, and there were bathrooms! You can tell we’re getting further north at this point because the beautiful blue water starts to regain the silty, gray glacier runoff. Goodbye beautiful Kenai blue!

Our drive brought us back along the coast as we crept back up the peninsula. Finally 20180702_213114arriving in Anchorage, we stopped for an early dinner in a small diner where I had the spiciest bowl of tortilla soup I’ve ever encountered. We returned the Long House Hotel for an evening nap, then we headed to Ted Stevens Airport to put an end to our magical vacation. As the airport itself contained many displays and artifacts, we were able to almost consider it a slight extension of our touring.

20180702_213307I’ve never been one to find disappointment in airport food, but Anchorage sure did know how to cater to groggy, hungry travelers at 1:00 AM. Brinn wondered around and found an Alaska pizza: caribou, moose, and elk! It’s too bad we failed to discover this delicacy before our last hour in the state.

Sitting in the airport waiting for our 1:30 AM boarding time, we experienced the most 20180702_121615darkness of our entire trip. A storm was moving in, bringing dark clouds that masked the dusky twilight that we usually saw at night. Our weary selves were thrilled to finally have the sun dimmed for a bit. In fact, some of my soundest sleep of the entire trip was in the darkness of Seattle during our layover!

Our last full day in Alaska was probably the least exciting, but we were still fortunate to experience amazing contrasting views. The day started midways down the Kenai Peninsula, and took us all the way back to Anchorage. We saw a wide variety of flora and fauna, with the peninsula’s sights contrasting sharply with Anchorage’s. I spent most of the drive trying to commit all of the grandeur to memory. My biggest regret at this point was not requesting an entire month off of work. I think we all would have happily stayed another two weeks!


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Cruising the Prince William Sound


Alaska Part XII , trip day 9; July 10, 2018

When I originally started planning our Alaska trip, I intentionally left two days open with no reservations. We filled the first of these open days with our excursion to Homer. The second day I was loosely keeping open for a trip to Seward to see glaciers. While camping at Frozen Head State Park in June, we lucked out in setting up our camper next to a couple who were relocating from Alaska! While discussing our upcoming trip, they offered lots of advice that helped finalize some of our itinerary choices. When I mentioned a glacier tour to Seward, both husband and wife emphatically agreed that we should visit Whittier instead. They insisted that we would see more glaciers by cruising directly from the Prince William Sound. So a month later, when we were enjoying breakfast in Wasilla at Lake Lucille, we discussed our last unscheduled day, and made the decision to jump online and book a cruise out of Whittier.

750_4471A one-way tunnel through the mountain limits all access to and from Whittier and the Seward Highway. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel passes through Maynard Mountain for 13,300 feet, making it the second-longest highway tunnel in North America! Cars also share the tunnel with trains, so the Department of Transportation must stick to a rigid schedule of when each group is allowed passage through the tunnel. Cars traveling to Whittier are allowed through on the half hour, while cars leaving Whittier are allowed through on the hour. This meant that we had to plan our drive time from Soldotna so that we did not miss our window of opportunity to go through the tunnel during the right hour and risk missing our cruise departure!

We left our Kasilof cabin early to start our trek to Whittier, and stopped for a much Summit Lake Lodgeneeded bathroom break at Summit Lake Lodge Cafe. Their convenient location and road access drew us to stop, but once we entered their coffee shop, we fell in love! Brinn and I enjoyed the best chai lattes of our lives while Grandpoppa had a giant coffee and Ian enjoyed a hot cocoa. We also loaded up baked goods as well to fortify us for the rest of the drive.

750_4716.JPGFortunately we made it to the tunnel in plenty of time, and had the luxury of sitting and waiting for our turn to pass. Ian lost interest in the tunnel about half way through, but the rest of us found it impressive, and at times even a little eerie. Fortunately we passed through and emerged unscathed into the small town of Whittier. This small city claims a population of 214, all living in the same building! As a former military town, Whittier provides a port on the west side of the Prince William Sound. This is the port we planned to leave out of for our cruise.

We chose to experience the Glacier Quest Cruise with Phillips Cruises and Tours. The 26 750_4502Glacier Cruise option would have allowed us to see considerably more glaciers, but the full five hours versus 3 and half hours seemed a bit daunting for Ian’s attention span, so we decided to save a few bucks and play it safe with the shorter cruise. Had we known Ian would sleep for half the trip, we would have booked the longer cruise! Our package allowed to see seven glaciers and quite a bit of wildlife along our way!

750_4483Once our ship departed, we were served lunch which we were able to pre-select when we made our reservations. Grandpoppa and I had a bowl of chili while Brinn enjoyed a salmon chowder. Ian snacked on fruit and chips. The cruises out of Seward included prime rib and salmon…but they also cost quite a bit more than our cruise! We ate while our ship slowly chugged into the Sound, and a park ranger narrated our trip. She explained that we were actually in the Chugach National Forest, which is a temperate rain forest. She gave us an overview of the glaciers we would visit as we eased through Blackstone Bay. These included Tebenokof, Blackstone, and Beloit glaciers.

750_4519After finishing lunch, Brinn and I left the warm, comfortable cabin to stand in the rain and spray on deck to marvel at waterfalls pummeling straight down the sides of the mountains into the fjord. Luckily we were prepared by our friends from Frozen Head and dressed for the experience so we were able to stay comfortably dry. Ian stood out with us part of the time, but ultimately he was happier to watch from his cushioned booth inside the ship while eating snacks and completing his junior ranger packet. Grandpoppa came out to join us on deck a few times, but he spent most of the time in the cabin so that someone stayed with Ian.

The ship had a secondary story (is that the correct term? It doesn’t sound very nautical)750_4541 with benches so that we could sit up top and view the geology around us, but ultimately I enjoyed standing against the rails on the bow the most. I looked in the wrong direction at the wrong time, but Brinn’s better timing allowed him to watch part of a glacier calving off into the sea! At this point I gave up and returned to the cabin to thaw out and let my rain gear dry out a bit.

750_4692While sitting in the cabin with a sleeping Ian, I admired the bravery of sea kayakers to battle the elements. From my warm, comfortable position, I didn’t envy them too much. Some sea otters swam beside our ship for a good distance, and later we got to see quite a few birds making their home along the cliffs. At this point, the crew brought out fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

You would think that by this point, glaciers would have lost some of their impact since 750_4643we’d seen them for a week now, but I don’t think it’s possible to lose their impressiveness. To see Denali and experience a glacier were the main goals I had for our Alaska trip, but our cruise allowed me to check an item off my bucket list: visit a fjord.

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Through Homer, Down the Spit: Alaska, Part XI


Alaska Part XI , trip day 8; July 9, 2018


Have I mentioned that Alaska summers have a lot of daylight? We spent the entire day fishing on Spirit Lake and still had more than enough daylight for Brinn and Ian to return to the Kasilof River when we got back to our cabin. So after day of catching fish, they caught some more fish. We definitely were making good progress on our collection to bring home!


Bright and early after our usual vacation breakfast of toast, jam, eggs, and bacon, we hit the road for a day trip to Homer, halibut capital of the world. Our itinerary included a trip to the famed Homer Spit, a stretch of land at the tip of the Kenai peninsula which extends out into the Kachemak Bay. The entire spit is less than 5 miles long, and in some places, you can easily see both sides of the bay surrounding it.


Ignorantly, I assumed since we were moving further south we would be warmer. The first stop I begged for once we reached the spit was for me to run into a shop to buy a pair of wool socks to save my poor sandaled feet! I was flat-out a dummy. I should have known better after our chilly day on the lake, but I guess I was hoping to avoid getting sand in my shoes. So instead I got sand in a pair of wool socks!


The spit had a great variety of neat shops. We visited tons of markets to buy fresh or frozen seafood as well boutique type shops offering local art. Brinn and I selected a few cards to bring home and frame, but we haven’t quite gotten around to that just yet. I’ll bet the clothing stores made a killing selling socks, sweatshirts, and hats to gumby tourists like me!


After some shopping, we started weighing our options for lunch. Obviously the boys wanted fried halibut. When in Rome… We easily weeded out the few non fish options (there was actually a pizza place on the spit) but had a harder time deciding which place was for us. We ultimately ended up going with the Harbor Grill, largely for its location. The Harbor Gill was located right next to the dock, so Brinn was able to watching fishing boats come in and unload giant drums of halibut. The limit in Homer is only two halibut per person per day, but these fish were so big that a couple of people could bring home 80-100 pounds of fish from one trip! Grandpoppa and Brinn enjoyed their fried fish, as they should. It was likely the most expensive fried food any of us have ever had! I had shrimp, which was good, but not $30 good. Great experience, but not one we’ll likely repeat.


With full bellies, we stopped for a quick beach visit. Ian only made two requests when we were planning our Alaska trip: to ride behind sled dogs, and to go to the beach. We’d already accomplished his first request, so the second was easy enough. Down to the water we went. And for all that is holy, that may very well have been the coldest water I’ve experienced in my entire life. Ian settled into playing in the black sand with some of his toys while Brinn and I walked the water line, keeping him in our line of sight. We frequently had to step around giant piles of dead, squishy seaweed, and occasionally stop to grab a smooth stone for Ian’s rock collection. I only made it for about 45 minutes before I begged Ian to cut his beach trip short so I could return to the warm car!


Desperate to warm up, I was completely happy to spend some time exploring Homer by car. We did stop to view a glacier that extends into Kachemak Bay, and we even drove out to see the road that the Kilcher family (from Alaska: The Last Frontier) lives. After seeing a few more sights, we stumbled on the Pratt Museum. We stopped in here to learn more about the area, its activities, and its wildlife. Then we found a manicured trail right outside the museum, so Brinn, Ian, and I went hiking for an hour while Grandpoppa took a break and reviewed his museum photos.


After our hike, we were all ready to head back to our cabin and rest so that we could get an early start for our adventure to Whittier. Ian settled in to watch Balto for the 47th time. Grandpoppa laid down to read up on our drive to Whittier. Brinn returned to the river to get in as much salmon time as he possibly could. I did none of those things. Instead I jumped into a hot shower and tried to warm my core back up. After finally feeling like a mammal again, I drug a rocking chair in front of my bedroom window overlooking the Kasilof, wrapped up in blankets, and alternated between watching the river and reading. In my world, this is pretty much the recipe for a perfect evening.

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Sneaking, Thieving Eagles! Kasilof River and Spirit Lake -Alaska Part X

Alaska Part X , trip day 7; July 8, 2018


After driving down the Kenai Peninsula we finally made it to our cabin on the Kasilof River. Here we finally had the opportunity to truly relax into our space. Unlike Otto Lake, we didn’t have to share a kitchen or bath with other tourists, so we could leave fishing gear on the deck without worry of getting in someone’s way, and the cabin rental included access to a storage building which had a freezer for fish we might catch, as well as poles and waders for our use! The owners of this cabin eat, breath, and sleep fishing. The company we rented from, Widespread Fishing, offers two different locations for rentals. The owner, Reubin, talked us into one of the cabins on the Kasilof River. They also have a lodge on the Kenai River, but I think Kasilof was the right place for us. The heart of Widespread Fishing is their fishing charters.


Brinn and Ian wasted no time in exploring our section of the Kasilof as soon as we dumped our bags on our beds. Once you left our front door, hop down the steps, turn left at the forest, and follow the trail right to the banks of the breathtaking Kasilof River. Brinn had finally arrived at sockeye salmon fishing Mecca, and he had no time to consider doing anything else with his evening, so he went straight to the river to try his hand at “flossing.” We were in for a world of education for Alaska Department of Game and Fish requirements. Our neighbor informed us that game wardens will sit in hidden areas along the river to observe fisherman to make sure they abide by department guidelines. For a bunch of TN creek and lake fishers, it was odd to put absolutely nothing on a hook. We couldn’t even use a fly. Our neighbor showed Brinn how to floss his line across the river in order to snag on the lip of a salmon swimming past. The whole process baffled me, but Brinn found a great deal of success with it!


Brinn managed to pull in a sockeye his first evening on the water. The sockeye, or “red salmon” has a red body with a green head. I can’t say that they are the most attractive fish species I’ve encountered, but everyone sure seemed to enjoy how they tasted. After catching this bad boy, Brinn dashed back to the cabin to filet it out and prep some foil packets for the grill. I was in charge of sides while Brinn took over the grilling portion of the meal for the evening. One salmon fed our group of four with plenty more to freeze and bring home with us! As beautiful as this meal plated, Brinn wolfed his down quickly so he could spend more time on the river.

The next morning, we had finally had an opportunity for a late start as we didn’t have to leave for our fishing trip until 10:00 AM, but Brinn took off early to head back down to the river. At this point I had decided that Reubin was a genius for putting us in this cabin. Brinn could fish to his heart’s contentment without requiring the rest of us to load up in the car and all go together since it was our only source of transportation. He had a quick breakfast, and got in an hour of salmon fishing before we began packing for our guided fishing trip.


When I spoke with Reubin over the phone way back in the early winter of 2018, he suggested that we visit Spirit Lake for our guided trip. Widespread Fishing offers a variety of fishing packages, including salmon fishing on the Kenai or Kasilof rivers, Halibut fishing on the Pacific in Homer, or trout fishing on Spirit Lake. Due to Ian’s age and attention span, Reubin speculated that  halibut and salmon fishing might be a bit boring as we could go all day without a bite. But he promised that we would have good luck pulling them in on Spirit Lake. I was a bit skeptical at first about trout fishing, since Tennessee has plenty of trout available, but Reubin promised that it would be a good experience. I booked a charter for the three boys, and then Reubin offered to let me ride along for free. I hesitated, as I was kind of looking forward to a whole day of hanging by myself to sit by the river and read. But then Reubin filled my head with grandeur of Alaska. He insisted that we would have the opportunity to see bald eagles fly over head, moose come to drink, and maybe even a bear or two! So I gave in and made plans to go. And how thankful I am that I went.


We were warned by every member of Widespread Fishing’s staff to dress warmly for our trip. We’d been sweating just two days earlier, and now we were preparing for 50 degrees in rain! Veterans of cold watersports, we pulled our kayaking gear out and fitted ourselves with base layers, fleece, and waterproof outer layers. We even put Ian in his paddling booties and hydroskin socks to make sure his feet stayed warm. I don’t think any of us got too cold on our trip, but we weren’t exactly stripping layers off, either. With half our gear on, and the other half packed in an NRS bag, we piled into the Sequoiah and headed out to meet Trevin, our fishing guide for the day. We followed Trevin to the middle of nowhere down dirt roads where we would’ve been completely lost on our own, then suited up while he launched our boat. We grabbed a bag of snacks, secured Ian’s life vest, and we were off!


The sky stayed dark and grey the entire day. The rain drizzled almost non stop. And despite both, the scenery was something from an adventure book. Spirit Lake, nestled into Native American lands, finds itself so far off the beaten trail that not many people venture to it. We saw an occasional house on the lake, but very few, and at times, we saw no evidence of humankind. Mountains rose up around us, while my favorite spruce trees surrounded us. Trevin set up the lines for each of the guys, and showed them where to cast. In no time at all we had bites coming in. Regardless of whose line, everyone let Ian reel most of them in. He pulled in quite a few kokanee, a landlocked salmon, and even a dolly varden! Brinn and my dad had the chance to pull a few in as well, but they continued to let Ian have the majority of them, until Ian had some competition.


Eagles! We were delighted the first time we saw an Eagle pass over the lake, but quickly dismayed as it swooped down to the water with the intent to grab Ian’s fish! Trevin waved his arms and yelled at the bird, successfully chasing it away, but as our trip continued the birds became more aggressive and less skittish. Trevin said that he had never seen eagles do this. We had to do battle for our catch, but in the end, the eagles left disappointed and we left with a mess of kokanee, trout, and one dolly varden.


After a while Ian started to grow tired of sitting, so Trevin offered to let him drive the boat. This quickly became Ian’s favorite event. If you ask him now what his favorite part of Alaska, he’ll likely answer with cuddling with the Iditarod pups or driving the boat. After the fish seemed to quit biting, we pulled in all the lines and Trevin helped Ian to “drive fast.” After some fast cruising, we all decided we were ready to head in. Once we beached the boat, Trevin cleaned all of our fish so that we could strip off our wet outer layers and get into a warm car.


The eagles definitely provided the most entertainment on the trip. I think Grandpoppa enjoyed seeing Ian reel in the dolly varden, and Brinn enjoyed pulling in the few kokanee that Ian allowed him to, but we were all most impressed by the sneaking thieving eagles. Our delight in seeing our national bird definitely gave us away as tourists, but hey, we were on a sight-seeing vacation!

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Down the Peninsula and Through the Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Part IX

Alaska Part IX , trip day 6; July 7, 2018


Traveling through Alaska was filled with intrigue. As none of the four of us had ever been here before, we didn’t know what to expect as we left one geographic area and headed to another. After leaving Bass Pro, we headed south of Anchorage for the first time of our trip, and eagerly kept our noses pressed to the windows to see what landforms we would encounter next.


The ocean came at us much sooner than I expected, with mountains rising straight out of its depths. We followed along the coast, winding around craggy cliffs and muddy flats, and even found the train snaking around the same path. We must have been traveling during low tide, as the water was a good ways out, but we could see evidence (mostly mud!) that it had recently been very near the road. We passed little in the way of civilization, lending the land an eerie and empty beauty.


While kept driving, the landscape changed yet again as neared the Chugach National Forest. Trees became plentiful once again, and we left the coastline and reentered the forest. Despite the beauty of the remote coast, my woods loving soul felt relief once we were back in the bush. We began to see streams fed by snow melt coming down the mountain, and even paths gauged out by glacier movement. Snow became more plentiful as the road took us higher in elevation and back up the mountains. We saw more signs for creeks, and even began to cross over rivers again. My beloved white spruces grew more plentiful, and all we could do was gape in amazement.


The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage provided a nice rest stop about midways for our trip down the peninsula, and gave us all a chance to get out and stretch our legs and view some of Alaska’s critters up close and personal. This 200 acre sanctuary hosts injured and orphaned wildlife in natural habitats, and allows visitors such as us an opportunity to see this animals as close as “in the wild” as we can safely get. The center offers a shuttle tour around the facility with your admission fee, but we just missed one bus, and didn’t want to wait the two hours for the next one leaving out, so we chose the self guided tour.


When we first arrived at the center, I was shocked to step out of the vehicle. I’d not been out of it since Anchorage, where Brinn had walked around comfortably in shorts, teeshirt, and sandals. Portage and Anchorage clearly did not share weather patterns. After we all went in the gift shop to use the restroom, I returned to the Sequoia to add a pair of leggings under my jeans and pile on a couple of sweaters under my coat. I grabbed Ian’s coat as well, and then we were ready to meet the animals.


The caribou were cool, and came right up to the fence to greet us, but after our experience in Palmer, we weren’t nearly as impressed as we would have been otherwise. Brinn enjoyed seeing the adult moose and elk, while I found the eagle to be pretty striking. Little did I know that I had a much more imposing eagle experience in store for this trip. Just as Ian and I finished with the eagle, the staff announced feeding time for the Lynx, so we shuffled over to observe the female lynx come out of her house and climb around her pen to snag some snacks. I fully appreciated her anatomy and decided I am just fine never meeting her in the wild.


We saw black bears in Tennessee all the time, so we didn’t spend very much time with their exhibit, but instead made the hike out to the grizzly area. None of the brown bears were very close to the observation point, so we weren’t able to see any clearly, but Grandpoppa saved the day with his camera lenses. The bison were a bit easier to see from the road, but again, we see them grazing on Dodson Branch Highway often enough at home that we didn’t need to devote a lot of time to them. The musk ox were a new species for us, so we did observe them a bit longer.


Most of the nocturnal animals were hiding from the daylight hours inside a large barn, so we wondered in to check out some owls and foxes. Ian grew bored inside, so we ventured back outside to go check out the porcupine exhibit. Holy moly, I never expected the smell! We have our own menagerie of critters at home, so I feel fairly tolerant, and desensitized to the odors of most animals and their droppings, but porcupines have a pungent stench like nothing I can describe. Ian enjoyed viewing Snickers the Porcupine, but I decided to breakaway and visit the coffee cart to order some coffees for my dad and Brinn, cocoa for Ian, and a chai for myself. Our comforting drinks helped us warm up while we finished our tour.


We saved the wolf exhibit for last. Our culture loves wolves. We glorify them in literature and film, the fierce but graceful beast. The House Stark sigil features a wolf and the Stark children all raise their own pet wolves. Professor Lupin transforms into a wolf. Even vampire lit features wolves! I guess all of this fictional exposure convinced me that I’ve been around wolves, but upon reflection, I don’t recall ever viewing one in a zoo or a preserve. The television or computer screen are the closest I’ve come to seeing these giant killing machines. And giant they are! In my ignorance, I never had an opportunity to appreciate how truly gigantic these beasts are. I can’t possibly imagine overpowering one, and now better understand how justifiably terrified Laura Ingalls must have felt living out of a covered wagon while traveling the Dakota territory. Still, it’s hard to deny the beauty of these regal creatures. I guess that’s why we enjoy them in film and literature.

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