Otto Lake, Alaska Part IV

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Alaska Part IV , trip day 3; July 4, 2018You would think after living the longest day ever, that we would have slept for 20 hours straight, but sadly this was not the case. At 6:00 am, my dad frantically woke Brinn up (which caused me to wake up) in a complete panic that we’d slept too late. “Brinn, it’s already 10:00!” My snippy, sleep deprived response informed him that it was indeed 10:00 in the morning… “yes, in Knoxville. Go back to sleep.” I’m such a delight when I’ve been kept awake for two days.

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After another earlier start than planned, we all dragged ourselves over to the bathhouse to reluctantly start our day. But once we left our cabin and took in our surroundings, we forgot all about sleep. Otto Lake has absolutely stunning views. Hands-down, this was absolutely my most favorite place that we stayed during our 12 day trip. Denali Outdoor Center’s outpost offered a large campground as well as four small cabins. The cabins all shared one bathhouse which contained toilets, showers, and a fully stocked kitchen. Later that evening we hit the Three Bears grocery store to stock up so we could cook during our stay in Healy. This worked beautifully as dining options near the park were more limited than other areas we would visit. Surprisingly, the grocery prices weren’t all that bad, either!

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Our cabin door opened right onto the large lake, which had some of the cleanest water I’ve ever seen. The lake was surrounded with all kinds of native flora, and occasionally moose would even ramble over to take a drink from the lake. Supposedly the lake was stocked, but I don’t think Brinn or Ian ever actually caught anything. Outpost guests could borrow boats to paddle out across the lake or even swim in its chilly waters. The mountains in the background reflected off the surface. The white-capped mountains contrasted against the abundance of bright green leaves, grass, and bushes everywhere! My Tennessee eyes had trouble reconciling snow with summer foliage, but that didn’t mean that I failed to appreciate the wonder of this view.

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Every morning and evening we walked around the lake to take in the mountains. Often we made this trek simply to breath. The complete lack of humidity combined with purity created the perfect atmosphere to revitalize your energy and to just feel good. My legs didn’t burn from climbing hills and I didn’t puff from exertion. Ian’s little legs didn’t fatigue quite as often, and none of our heads hurt. Sinus pressure simply didn’t exist!

When (not if!) we make it back for another visit in Alaska, we will be revisiting Healy and staying on Otto Lake. If I had one regret from this trip, it would be that we didn’t spend more time here. While everywhere we saw was amazing, I can for certain say that the Denali area was the most impressive and enjoyable for me.

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Ending the Longest Day Ever in Healy, Alaska Part III

Alaska Part III , trip day 2; July 3, 2018750_3536Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.Evan Hardin

After we wrapped up our amazing aerial tour and glacier landing, we were starving, soTalkeetna we were off to find some local grub. Downtown Talkeetna, here we come. While it was 9:30 in the evening, Main Street looked like it was maybe 6:00 or 7:00 PM. People were just sitting down to eat at the many places we drove past, and parking was almost nonexistent. Brinn identified a spot right in front of the Denali Brewing Company, so that’s where we pulled in to eat. This probably ended up being my favorite eatery during the entire trip. I had the ribeye sandwich and it was pretty amazing. The place had a cool vibe, and the energy was fun and festive. This little town reminded me so much of Boone, NC. A little touristy and a lot earthy.

brewWe wrapped up an enjoyable dinner on the deck by recounting our amazement with flying through the mountains and walking on a glacier in sight of Denali. We all passed our phones around the table to ooh and ahh over the images we were able to snap from the air. Ian hugged on Steele, munched on a few fries, half a grilled cheese, and began melting into a puddle of tired little boy. So we jumped back in the Sequoia and began our trek to Healy to continue along the longest day of our lives.

My driving directions indicated that we should expect the drive from Talkeetna to Healy750_3499 to take about 2ish hours. Ha! We probably got back on the Healy Spur around 11:00 PM. Keep in mind that it is still looks like 7:00ish PM by Tennessee standards. At this point we have been awake since 5:00 AM, and have failed to experience darkness yet. My research promised that there would only by 22 hours of daylight, so we must be getting close to dark, right? Again, just kidding! By 22 hours of daylight, my sources must have meant full-sun daylight, because it never seemed to get any darker than twilight.

750_3505We drove and drove, and drove some more. Mount Denali loomed in front of us, then eventually to the side of us. For hours we drove, bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t have stayed in Talkeetna. Wouldn’t that have been a great idea? Except I’d already made reservations in Healy for that night and rafting reservations for the next morning. So we soldiered on to our destination. The shadows grew a little longer, and eventually I had to set the font size a little larger to read my kindle comfortably, but full darkness never arrived. We drove past the most breathtaking scenery of my life, but around 1:00 AM I just lost the energy to care. And then we drove some more.

Finally we arrived to our cabin on Otto Lake. We trudged into our cabin, located beds,750_3539 crawled under covers and crashed. The last thing I remember saying was “the only person allowed to wake me up is Ian. We are not getting up with Eastern or Central Time zones.” So finally, the longest day of our lives ended. It’s just too bad Grandpoppa continued to function on Eastern Time…

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Summertime Snow Angels, Alaska Part II

Alaska Part II , trip day 2; July 3, 2018750_3194After our break at Willow Creek, we continued the longest day of our lives and headed north-east to Talkeetna. As we got closer to the turn for the Talkeetna Spur, Denali’s peak came into view and held our attention for most of the drive. Everyone talks about how the Rockies make the Appalachians look so small, but the Alaska Range absolutely dwarfed the Rockies, with Denali featuring prominently in the middle. All 20,310 feet stood out as clear as could be on this gorgeous evening. Not a single cloud or strip of haze marred the absolutely perfect sight.

Along the Spur, we encountered our first moose sighting. We excitedly turned around for a second view, thinking we were really seeing something. By the end of our trip, we decided that Alaskans see more moose than Tennesseans see white-tailed deer. Along with our moose sighting, we found a road side viewing area that provided an absolutely perfect angle of Denali. We stopped for a while, shot a few pictures, then headed on to K2 Aviation.

750_2941I don’t think we could have selected a more impressive company to take us out for an aerial tour. K2 Aviation maintained a beautiful facility full of flowers with seats and a small playground, while providing guests with drinks. They suited us up with galoshes type boots to pull on over our shoes to keep our feet dry during our adventure, then they matched us up with Daniel, our pilot for the evening. Daniel led us out to our 1965 model plane which would provide transport for the evening, and helped us settle in to our seats and headsets, then we were off!

Our tour flew within 6 miles from Denali’s summit, then took us down into the750_3107  Ruth Amphitheater and Great Gorge. We viewed the Tokositna and Ruth Glaciers, the ridges of Mount Huntington, hanging glaciers on Mount Hunter, and the famous Moose’s Tooth. Our guide pointed out many different features:

  • South Face of Denali
  • Don Sheldon Amphitheater
  • The Sheldon Mountain House
  • The Great Gorge
  • Moose’s Tooth, Broken Tooth
  • Mount Dickey
  • Ruth Icefall
  • Mount Hunter
  • Mount Huntington
  • Susitna Valley

We probably have pictures of each of these, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you which was which.

750_3149I cannot even begin to formulate a way to describe our views. To say they were breathtaking or fabulous is the worst under statement. I love science. In fact, Geology was probably my most favorite college course I enrolled in. Seeing the geological formations and understanding the geological forces that created all of this was an absolute geek-out experience for me, but ultimately, taking all that in really changes your perception. You don’t have to agree with me, but I just don’t see how anyone could experience such a landscape and question a greater power. It seems all too evident that none of this was a mistake. Obviously a great divinity intentionally put into motion all the tectonic forces which formed this wondrous terrain. Truly, we took part in a religious experience. Sometimes you have to leave church to find God.

In the middle of our flight, Daniel brought our plane in for a landing on the 1,000 year750_3249 old Ruth Glacier. Ian and I were pretty excited about landing on a surface that required skis, and it didn’t disappoint. We had our smoothest landing of all 5 of the aircraft we traveled in for this trip. Once our plane was parked, Daniel helped us all tumble out into the snow to play.

I know you hear that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” The King Ranch, birthplace of TX ranching is bigger than Rhode Island. I’m sorry, Texas, but I believe Alaska has you firmly beat. Denali National Park contains over 6 million acres. That’s bigger than Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Delaware! Granite peaks surrounded us on every side as we faced Denali’s south face. The slopes rising up in front of us looked just feet away, but Daniel warned us not to stray far, because those hills could actually be thousands of feet from us. We asked if we could walk to the stunning blue glacial pools we could see just below us, and he had to explain that those were actually several miles away, and he couldn’t guarantee the snow pack or depth of ice outside of the area we were parked.

received_1644411878941203.jpegOur flight included quite a few children, so we had an exciting stop on the glacier, including a giant snowball fight. Ian did get in trouble for hitting the plane. Daniel called him out and set him straight that the plane is the one target off-limits. Brinn could hardly stand himself as he took in all the possible ski trails and started calculating the negotiations that would be required to convince a pilot to leave him out there with skiing equipment for a few hours. Brinn and Ian both hit the ground to make snow angels and to slide down the hills. They were both far more active than me. Even my dad spent most of the stop taking as many pictures as possible. I just walked in circles in a daze while trying to drink it all in. If I close my eyes, I can see Denali looming over and beckoning climbers to come tempt its received_10156968813965656.jpegroutes. I can still hear the rushing of water all around us, and even flowing beneath the ice that we stood over. I remember the hot sensation in my fingers of holding giant handfuls of fresh snow. It tasted so clean.  An above all, the absence of smells will stay with me forever. No exhaust, or chemical scent anywhere around us. No plants or animals came close enough to this elevation to leave behind any odor. No one brought food for the short journey. Everything simply smelled fresh. I think it may be the first time in my life to truly experience “clean.”

750_3237aThe privately owned lodge with its own helicopter pad caught our interest, so Daniel spoke to that during our stop. The Sheldon Chalet has 5 luxury rooms available for guests to reserve, but with the price per night in the thousands, it’s not likely that I’ll have the opportunity to indulge in this particular tourist attraction.

20180703_192243.jpgUnfortunately our time on the glacier came to a close, and Daniel loaded us all back into his plane to resume our aerial tour before delivering us back at K2 Aviation. It was somewhere near 9:30 PM at this point, and we still felt like it may be 4:00 in the afternoon. This sunlight was unreal. Reluctantly we left our beloved glacier behind to head on to our next adventure of enjoying Denali from the water. Stay tuned as the longest day of our lives in land of the midnight sun still continued for another five hours…

 

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Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska Part I

Alaska Part I, trip day 1-2; July 2-3, 201820180703_131018.jpg20180703_171855Upon arriving in Alaska, we spent a very, very brief night in Anchorage. We were warned to expect 24 hours of daylight in Alaska, but my research indicated that this was only true in the more northern reaches of the state. Landing as far south as Anchorage, I read that we should expect closer to 22 hours of daylight. With a 10:30 PM arrival, we were thrilled to still have full light to navigate our exit from the airport as we settled into an unfamiliar car while driving Anchorage’s roads to locate our hotel for the night. The daylight really made the process so much easier as we were all exhausted. At home it was 1:30 AM! Our plan was to check-in and be in bed by midnight. I figured that we could sleep until 8:00 AM and get a full 8 hours before starting our Alaska adventure. At this point the sun looked about like it does around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening at home.

After I finally wound down enough to drift off to sleep, it seemed like it was only 10 20180703_084910.jpgminutes later that Brinn was shaking me awake and garbling about sleeping late. The sun was directly overhead and shining brightly, and thus began the longest day of my life. I dressed and repacked in record time while Brinn got Ian ready and my dad showered. We were out the door within 30 minutes and headed to Wal-Mart to make a planned stop for supplies. Our initial plan had been to wake up by 8:00, find somewhere to eat, hit Walmart by 10:00, then begin our long trek up to Denali. Feeling that we were already behind, we rushed straight to Walmart to purchase a cooler along with drinks, snacks, and ice to sustain us during our journey. When we arrived at the Walmart Supercenter closest to our hotel, however, we found the first door looked with a sign to enter on the other side of the store. We all thought this was odd, but maybe they get a slower start in Alaska than they do in TN? The three of us started to walk down to door #2 while my dad headed to go move the car closer to door #2…in a very empty parking lot. At this point he calls out to us, “I don’t think it’s 8:00.” I check my phone, and realize that the signal has gone crazy and the time zone seems to be stuck somewhere near Japan. We enter door #2 and ask the greeter what time it is. He patiently points to the clock right in front of us and shares that it is almost 6:00 AM. SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!! This is the day after we left just flew THOUSANDS OF MILES across two countries! At this point we all stare at Brinn who sheepishly volunteers to go find mosquito nets and fishing supplies. So now at this point we’re running extremely ahead of schedule.

20180703_100239After a groggy jaunt around Wal-Mart, we mosey over to the nearby Denny’s for some much-needed breakfast where we discuss our itinerary. Originally, I had planned for this first day to consist only of gathering supplies and making the long drive to Healy where we had a cabin reserved for three nights. After the third night, the plan was to make our way back south, stopping in Talkeetna for an aerial tour of Denali, and then coming down to Wasilla for a couple of days. Upon checking the weather, however, we discovered that our flight day was forecast to be overcast and drizzly. Since we had such an early unexpected start to our day, we called the flight company, who happily changed our flight from Friday to that Tuesday. The only catch: we’d have to wait until 7:00 PM to be able to all go fly together. Talkeetna was roughly two and half hours from Anchorage, so we now had a little over 10 bonus hours for our day. We quickly decided to hit our Wasilla stops on the way up to Talkeetna and enjoyed a very touristy day killing time.

 

Our first post breakfast stop found us at Peter’s Creek. We stumbled on this small park20180703_114531.jpg right off the Glenn Highway in the Eagle River area. Brinn noticed a pretty creek running under the highway and saw a good area to pull over, and from there we identified a parking lot. We followed the trail for a little while, and then opted to hike up the creek banks to do a little scouting. The rapids were smallish class IIs, but it still looked like it would be a fun run. Unfortunately we didn’t get an opportunity to talk to any local boaters about anyone running this creek, but we’ll add it to our list for when we go back.

 

20180703_175903.jpgThis is where we first encountered Cotton Wood trees.  This odd tree grew a white fiber that strongly resembles cotton, but shed worse than a crepe myrtle! At time it felt like we were walking through a very warm snowstorm. Our clothing quickly furred up, and we looked like a lint filter had exploded on us, but we all relished the opportunity to stretch our legs.

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20180703_100952.jpgAfter leaving Peter’s Creek, we pushed on to Wasilla and decided to tour the Iditarod Sled Dog museum. It turns out that the museum itself is quite small, really no bigger than the gift shop. But rather than spend time viewing the exhibits, Ian wanted to see the dogs. While we were there, we had the opportunity to ride in a wagon behind a few of the dogs. Some of these dogs had actually raced just this year! I couldn’t believe how excited the dogs were to pull us. They were yipping and jumping the entire time we loaded the wagon. Once their handler called for them to go, they were off like a shot. It felt a bit like careening wildly through the woods in a gocart.

After our ride, the staff shared with us that they had recently had a litter of pups, and we20180703_101621.jpg were invited to snuggle with some husky babies. Ian, obviously, was quite taken with the puppies and reluctant to turn them loose. I ended up buying him a small plush replica to encourage him to turn loose of the real deal. Surprisingly he found the knock off satisfactory, and I didn’t have to refinance my house to be able to afford a pedigreed puppy whose mama had run in the Iditarod race. Ian struggled to come up with a name, so I (a true 90s kid) suggested Balto. I had tried to encourage Ian to watch Balto a few years ago when it was on Netflix, but he had absolutely no interest at the time, so obviously he didn’t remember the movie I was talking about. Later that week, I loaded Balto on his Kindle , and it became his favorite movie during our trip. After his second or third viewing, he decided that his new plush puppy looked exactly like Balto’s nemesis, so he named his dog Steele. Steele has risen to prominence in Ian’s life, and now ranks higher than Greenie the bear. Steele participated in almost every excursion through Alaska, and now sleeps beside Ian every night.

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20180703_141530.jpgOnce Ian acquired Steele, we were on to our next Wasilla stop: the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. What we expected to be another small operation turned out to be a largely outdoor venue that covered several acres. We began our tour indoors and viewed quite a few traditional museum exhibits with information about the earliest forms of transportation in Alaska in its early days of settlement, then we worked our way outside to the big toys. This place was every little boy’s dream. Literally full of planes, trains, and automobiles, we also encountered farming machinery, rescue equipment, and helicopters. This destination was well worth the stop.

 

At this point our early start after a long, late day really started to catch up with us. We20180703_152223.jpg stopped for a late lunch, then began to head north again. Needing some rest, my dad pulled into Willow Creek State Recreational Area to enjoy some pretty scenery while he caught a quick nap. Ian settled into watching a movie with his new puppy, so I followed Brinn as he lugged his fishing gear down a trail to the river. Here we marveled at the giant king salmon 20180703_152235.jpgjumping right out of the water to flip around in the air. Anglers were not allowed to fish for the kings while we were there, but Brinn still had a good time trying (and failing) to interest other fish into biting on his line. I had the chance to rest my tired feet, still a little puffy from the flight, and soak in the majesty of our view. Several people had warned us that Anchorage is just a city like any other, and you really had to get out it before you could really see Alaska. Willow Creek gave us our first opportunity to really begin seeing Alaska in all its glory.

Follow along next time as we arrive at Talkeetna and get up close and personal with Denali while learning more about that midnight sun during the longest day of our lives…

 

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The Great White North

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Last year my dad said “let’s go to Alaska.” For several months, the talk was all hypothetical and speculative, but then by Christmas he handed me a credit card and instructed me to start making reservations. At this point it started to get real. And scary. Most of my travel experience has been relatively close, and geared around gate times for horse shows or dam release schedules for boating. I’ve never had to schedule a flight in my life, and now I was responsible with planning all the details for the trip of a lifetime.

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I honestly had no idea how to go about planning this trip as many of the trip blogs I came across on the trusty ol’ web focused on different areas of the state than we wanted to see, or they made recommendations for cruise ships. As I kept stumbling along from city to city online, the Kenai Chamber of provided a page to leave my email address for more information. Thinking I would receive an automated response listing several local businesses, I ignorantly entered my email and waited for inspiration. Instead of receiving a directory, dozens of local businesses started reaching out to me via phone and email to share information with me about the area and their specific businesses. One in particular really stood out, a fishing guide who was originally from Georgia. I mentally filed away his business name and figured I’d reach out to him later in the week, but that evening he called to speak with me over the phone. In that conversation, he provided me with quite an education about fishing on the Kenai peninsula, lodging, eating options, and scheduling. Our entire trip came together in that one evening as Rubin Payne helped me develop my itinerary for 12 days of traveling and helped us select the best options for my family’s situation.

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After developing the itinerary, the pieces started coming together smoothly, and based on Rubin’s advice, I was able to make some strategic selections in booking the remaining items we wanted to hit along our route. While I would do a few things differently now that I have the luxury of hindsight, overall our trip ran to plan and most of our excursions yielded amazing views and fond memories. I’ve tried to condense our trip into one entry, but I just can’t find a way to do that and adequately describe all of the amazingness we experienced in the 49th state, so you get to look forward to multiple upcoming entries detailing our travels.

Stay tuned for part 1: Wasilla

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Nerf War for the Big Six Year Old

750_2433.JPG750_2431.JPGIan couldn’t quite make up his mind for his birthday party’s entertainment this year. At one point he wanted to have another laser tag party, but then a week later he asked to have his party at the Children’s Museum , and then he asked to have his party at the Fun Factory (an indoor bounce house). We’ve already done the laser tag thing, the Children’s Museum is all the way in Chattanooga, and the Fun Factory was a little expensive and restrictive on time and foods. Then a brochure for a local gym750_2367.JPG caught my eye: “Nerf War Birthday Party!” The idea was great, but the cost was still a little high. The facility provided bullets and clean up, but guests would be required to bring their own guns and eyewear. Then Marilyn suggested we look at renting one of the local gymnasiums through Parks and Recreation. The cost there was extremely reasonable, and they were completely open to letting us set up for a nerf party. But then Brinn put in a call to our church just to see if we might be able to use their facilities, and that landed our winner.

With the money we were able to save on the facility, we were able to purchase guns, bullets, and safety glasses for each child invited. Brinn visited Lowe’s to acquire cardboard boxes to set up forts and barriers for kids to hide behind. Ian’s Nana took him to the park on Saturday morning so that Brinn and I were able to meet Joy at the chu750_2336.JPGrch and set up quietly without Ian’s knowledge. Several of Ian’s sweet friends from Kindergarten were able to come, some kayaking buddies, a neighborhood friend, and his best bud from pre-school even showed up for the nerf battle! Everyone was able to keep the secret, and Ian got to show up for his first surprise birthday party!

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Little Ranger Camp

received_1528105160571876.jpegIan spent the first half of his spring break attending Little Ranger Camp, a day camp at Burgess Falls State Park.  Park rangers planned a highly educational experience that walked the students through many biology and anthropological skills this week. Based on the education Ian received while having a blast, I’d say we received a bargain on our tuition for this camp.

On day one, the little rangers began camp with a guided hike over the received_1528105363905189.jpegpark’s trails. Ian has walked the main trail here dozens of times, but this was the first time he got to walk all the way down to the top of the big falls. From there, the hikers had the opportunity to take the Ridge Top Trail to see the Falling Water River from over the bluffs.

received_1528176027231456.jpegAfter a quick snack to recharge some tired hikers’ batteries, the park staff pulled out their reptiles for the educational portion of the day. I’m not at all sad that I missed the opportunity to hold a snake. Ian, on the other hand, has decided that snakes are pretty cool, and he particularly enjoyed the turtle. He came home from his first day of camp spouting all kinds of facts about scaly vertebrates.

I was able to attend day 2 with Ian, when the little rangers started their day with a 20180313_092416.jpgdiscussion about mammals. The park staff focused this lesson on using animal skulls to help children identify the differences between herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. The campers quickly determined that bears are omnivorous. When the park rangers asked the junior rangers what bears usually ate, Ian was the one kid to pipe up and answer: “people!”

20180313_102154.jpgAfter spending the morning handling skulls, the group moved it outside to learn a survival skill. The park staff taught the campers how to use materials available in the woods to build a shelter to help protect you if you are stranded overnight. This kids erected their stick and leaf shelter remarkably fast. I believe you could actually wait out a rainstorm in this shelter and remain mostly dry!

The children were also required to take part in a service project during camp. The staff 20180313_110025.jpgdetermined that the campers were going to help prevent erosion by covering up unauthorized paths were hikers have begun taking illegal “shortcuts” through the woods. Each little ranger was responsible for emptying a bag of leaves over a portion of the unauthorized trail, and then covering those leaves with sticks. By the time they finished, it was hard to tell that there had ever been a trail there!

20180313_093850.jpgBoth days of camp provided Ian with an excellent outlet to burn off some energy, but he also learned quite a bit about biology this week. I appreciated the staff’s education and ability to share that information in a fun way that kept the little rangers engaged. Ian has already decided that he plans to return to summer camp at Burgess Falls!

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Pizza Out

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Most folks who know us think that Brinn’s true passion lies in paddling, but this just isn’t true. While we paddle quite a bit, and Brinn paddles extremely well, skiing will always be his first mistress. In fact, when I first met Brinn he was back in Tennessee temporarily. His goal was to work the Ocoee for the summer while wrapping up his personal affairs in order to move permanently to Colorado, but then he started dating me. Woops. Now he has resigned himself to remaining in the south, with infrequent visits to the mountains.

The unseasonably warm weather last winter made it difficult for the local resorts in Western North Carolina to develop as deep of a snow base as Brinn prefers, and the longer drive to West Virginia didn’t quite line up with Brinn’s surgery dates or my PT schedule, so we haven’t been able to get Ian on a pair of skis until this year. Over the holiday weekend, Brinn finally had the opportunity to share his greatest passion with his little boy, and Ian finally had the opportunity to practice his moves.

Four years ago we spent February glued to our television watching as much Sochi

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coverage as possible. Between watching Joss Christensen clinch the gold in slopestyle skiing, and Shaun White’s infamous snowboard crash in the halfpipe, Ian pulled his little trampoline over to the recliner, and started jumping off the chair onto the trampoline and throwing in spins. Now that stinker is a big five year old, and he insisted that he didn’t need anyone to teach him how to ski, and he was going to work on his 360s at the mountain.

Magic Carpet

So it turns out that Ian wasn’t able to go straight to 360s as he’d hoped. Instead, Brinn started him slowly and they practiced making a pizza wedge to slow down and stop. That may also be about the extent of Ian’s abilities for his first ski trip, but Brinn seemed pleased with Ian’s progress. After a few trips down the bunny slope, Ian mastered the magic carpet, and Brinn deemed him ready for the lifts. I’m 98% certain that Ian will remember the lift more than any other part of the trip, and had the most fun riding it up the mountain. Brinn had to hold and guide Ian down all of his runs, but I can’t imagine a more qualified instructor to help him begin learning edging and turning.

I suspect now that Ian has had a taste of winter sports, we will find ourselves driving

Ashlee and Ian

more frequently to the mountains. He seems to already have big plans for his next trip, and Brinn’s already thinking over Ian’s equipment needs and deciding which size skis he plans to put Ian in for the next trip. It looks like I won’t be burying my ski pants in the back of the closet anytime soon.

 

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A Dry Run

20180104_163339.jpgI bought a drysuit for Ian. Well, for all of us, but more about that another day. Back to Ian. He hates getting soaked on the river. Now mind you, he’s the kid that hates getting splashed and wet in the raft, but an hour earlier he’s swimming at the put-in, then at the end of the day we can’t drag him away from swimming at the take-out. But while he’s on a trip, he hates a cold splash. I’m right there with him. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only chump wearing a drytop in May on the Hiwassee. Ian has been wearing a splash top and pants with hydroskins underneath for a year now, and they have improved his experience quite a bit, but basically they’ve been a spring/fall fix. Winter paddling has remained off-limits for our dude until now.

Kokatat makes a great kids semidrysuit, but the smallest size available is a children’s 20180110_161909.jpgmedium. As far as kids’ sizes go, this is a very generous medium, but Ian FINALLY has grown just tall enough that he just barely manages to fill a suit out enough to safely wear one. As soon as he came sorta kind almost close to the minimum specs, we placed the order and waited eagerly for his suit.

Once Ian’s Kokatat arrived, we suited him up and headed to the creek for a trial run. Our plan was to get our boats in the water and let Ian paddle around to see how it felt to stay dry when water dribbled down his paddle shaft, or if he leaned too far and let in some water around the cockpit rim. It turns out, Ian had entirely different plans for testing his suit.

20180110_162355.jpgI often joke about personality types and use the metaphor that some people (like Ian) don’t like to ease into new things, they just jump straight in. This is exactly what Ian did with his new suit. Rather than wading out and adjusting his body temp to the cool water temp, or floating around high and dry in a boat, Ian took off running across the gravel bar, crossed his arms across his chest, and jumped right out into the water. No need to worry about Ian’s commitment to product testing –he thoroughly put his new suit through its paces.

So far we’ve had a very dry winter for Tennessee, but we’ve had a pretty steady rain 20180110_163547.jpgtoday alternating between downpour and drizzle, so I expect the creeks to actually have more than a few puddles between rocks over this weekend. Maybe Ian will get to take his boat all the way down the creek soon to enjoy his drysuit.

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Winter Is Here

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20180106_144202.jpgHouse Stark’s motto cautions all to remember “Winter is coming.” Winter found Tennessee early this year, and brought a hard freeze that transformed our local creek into an ice covered splendor. After a few days of below freezing temps, we braved the bite and chill of the air to experience nature’s sculptures.

The Upper Cumberland region usually receives its fair share of winter weather, but we 20180106_140541.jpg
infrequently find enough consecutive wintry days to produce a good hard freeze. This year we’ve actually encountered two winter events already, with this hard freeze coming first. It seems that this cold snap hit the entire state, as friends posted beautiful pictures and videos from back home in Wartburg of a completely frozen over Potter’s Falls, all the way down to Tellico Plains with a frozen Baby Falls. Rather than driving people deeper inside to huddle by the fire, this winter event brought more people outside to marvel at the glacial figures.

20180106_141648.jpgWe began our frosted expedition of Spring Creek top side at Go-No-Go where Ian enjoyed throwing rocks across the frozen eddies. The majority of the creek had enough current to prevent a solid freeze from bank to bank, but we definitely found solid H2O in the calm areas.

After walking along the creek back towards the large fall, Waterloo, we decided to walk 20180106_144026.jpgto put-in down below Waterloo to see what sights might be lurking. The chilly walk down the trail and over the metal stars held gratifying results. We found some icicles that hung so low that they had fused with the ice below and formed full columns. Brinn didn’t want us to walk directly below any of the icicles, as stabbing by ice could be a painful way to go in the event that one had detached and fallen, but the outcrop of rocks hanging over the creek bed offered a good defense. Following along the overhang, I was able to walk behind the ice to view it up close. Maybe the non-permanence of the ice added to its beauty, but its magnificence left quite an impression with us.
While I’m not in any hurry to pack up and move to Wyoming to enjoy winter’s opulence more continually, I must admit that I do appreciate the infrequent gusts of arctic air that have moved through Tennessee this January.

 

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