Friday, July 10, 2009

My hairbrained scheme

In Alaska we frequently encountered paticipants in the Iditarod, amateur mushers, or others associated with the sport (it is the official state sport afterall). Having two Saint Bernards holding the floor down at home, I couldn't help but wonder how well they'd do in the race. Sure it's 1000+ miles and rather cold (-60 and frequent blizzards), but Saints were built for alpine conditions, and what's a 1000+ miles?

Saints were bred to rescue people in the alps, and one Saint, Barry, was reported to rescue over 2000 people trapped in blizzards, buirried by avolanches, or otherwise fucked over my mother nature. Having two Saints at home who are at home on the coldest of snow (-12 this year) validates the whole built for the cold aspect, but ours don't seem to be able to rescue too much before wanting to take a break (perhaps they're unionized Saints). Supposedly a Saint can pull as much as 2900KG, so maybe a few could pull a bunch more who are resting and then take turns?

Let's say I have some underachievers who can "only" pull 2500KG (over 5,500 pounds), that means a 200lb dog (a big Saint), could pull 27+ of his pals! Since this isn't easy to do for distances let's lighten the load and give him 10 buddies to pull, so he's only working about 9% of the time. To break the monotony, give him nine buddies, so 10 Saints pull another 100 and a musher (on a big ass sled). Wouldn't that be more impressive than a bunch of gnarly huskies? It would be like the Budweiser Clydesdales of the north. Maybe we could get a sponsorship gig?

Sure we'd need huge mounds of food for the 110 dogs, and there would be a bunch of big piles of shit everywhere, but imagine the possiblities. That beer deal would be the tip of the iceberg. Books, movies, video games, etc... It would be like Beethoven meets Snow Dogs meets Cool Runnings!

I got tired of copying and pasting sleeping dogs, but you get the point

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Planes, trains, and boats

In the past weeks, Liz and I flew on 6 planes, strolled through 7 airports, rode 4 trains, cruised on 3 boats, and rode on countless buses. We stayed in 3 lodges, visited 3 ports, traversed numerous biomes, and wandered through 2 Canadian provinces and one big ass state.

And this doesn't even sum up our journey!

Alaska was our primary destination, and we started off with two days in Fairbanks at the Princess Lodge (we booked our tour through Princess). There we embarked to excursions on the Riverboat Discovery III and the El Dorado Mine (both tourist traps, complete with gift shops everywhere--including the boat). The boat ride was particularly fun (we even saw a genuine red nosed reindeer!), and we really loved the folks in Fairbanks.

Next we boarded the Alaska Railroad (special 2-story panoramic cars for us) and headed down to "Glitter Gulch", the gateway to the Denali National Park. We stayed in another Princess Lodge, this one looking more the part, but also featuring that motel charm. There we sampled the hot tubs, enjoyed great food, and waited out the somewhat dreary weather. That afternoon of overcast skies gave way to a gorgeous morning, which was a fortuitous start to a wonderful day (ignoring the 75 minute late start). Denali is the name of the park and the mountain (well some debate the mountain's name), but most see more of the former and less of the latter. Denali being such a huge snowball of a mountain creates its own weather and usually is veiled in clouds, but our first glimpse of the mountain was nearly complete, with just a hint of a cloud. This was 12 miles or so into our 60 mile (120 roundtrip) journey. Before that glimpse, we saw moose, and shortly thereafter we saw Grizzly Bears, caribou, marmots, and a fox. Later still we saw squirrels, more caribou, more bears, and Dall Sheep. All along our journey, we were surrounded by beautiful vistas, clear skies, and lots of biodiversity.

By now we'd already gotten to know the larger than life nature of Alaska, Alaskans, and their heroes. It seems everyone had climbed Denali, raced the Iditarod, or both! Even the kids joined in, as they're expected to do recess outside until it's colder than -20f! Imagine being hit by a dodgeball at -20! School stays open no matter the weather, but parents can keep their kids at home at -50f. In Alaska, Paul Bunyon would be a smurf.

All of this and we were only 1/3 of the way through our trip! Another rail encounter delivered us to another lodge, the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. We ate more great food, wandered through a swarm of mosquitos, and stared at the clouds wondering which one the mountain was hiding behind. We also drove by Wal-Mikes in Trapper Creek (think Wal-Mart meets Sanford and Son with an Alaskan flair) and saw another moose. Before long it was another time for train ride, this time all the way to the boat, but we caught a last glimpse of the mountain before our next trek.

This was our longest trip by rail, including some of the best views. We traveled along side some beautiful views of rivers, mountains, and swamps. We saw more Dall Sheep, quite a few out houses, and even Wasilla. We ended up our journey with a one lane/one rail tunnel to Whittier. Cars and trains take turns going through the 2.5 mile tunnel, and the two directions of traffic must wait as well--only in Alaska! Once we exited our tunnel, the big boat came in sight.

We've never cruised before, and I'm pretty sure Liz hasn't been on too many boats of any kind. After our cattle call boarding procedure we were introduced to Purell and lots of it. It seems you can't do anything on the boat without sanitizing before, after, or most likely both. Before long we found our room, met our steward, and tried on our life vests. Then we started exploring the ship. Our boat, the Diamond Princess, is a newer vessel, and a biggish (too big for the Panama Canal) one at that. Despite all this size it really seamed you couldn't go anywhere without either traversing the casino or the art gallery. Later we discovered you could also go anywhere you wanted if you were willing to wander across the pool laden deck, which was the preferred route, as it also housed the pizza, ice cream, buffet, and chocolate buffet.

We soon settled in, and the next two days were relaxing journeys through fjords gazing at glaciers and keeping an eye out for wildlife. I half expected to see whales and eagles, but certainly not as abundant as we saw. We also saw seals and porpoises. We even found the rare seagull that found the sea (as opposed to some Wal-Mart parking lot in Ohio or a landfill). As impressive as the sights were, the sounds were also noteworthy, especially the sounds of glaciers calving and crashing into the sea. In between the natural sights and sounds, we strolled into the casino, learned our lesson, and eat away our disappointment in one of the many four course (or more) meals.

The following days saw us arrive at Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan (all down south and far removed from the tundra we saw before). We previously arranged for activities in Juneau and Ketchikan, but Skagway was pretty much unplanned. We wandered through town, became bored of all of the jewelry stores (no matter how much the Princess infomercials hype the diamond deals, you're still in the US!), and wandered into a tour operator looking for adventure. We signed up for and got a Yukon Adventure. While Princess offered tours that go just enough into Canada to bring about the annoyance of passports and shit, they don't really go anywhere besides the edge of British Columbia (which isn't at all like Colombia btw). Notions of heading to the Yukon somehow seemed more entertaining, and the price was right.

After all the excitement of Skagway and our 100 mile trek into the Yukon, Juneau was a bit more subdued. Juneau, the capital (almost as big as Rhode Island and Delaware--combined!), is a small town (all that area and like 25,000 people), and it was a small town overrun by 7 big ass boats. Sadly it was foggy, so we didn't get to see much besides tourists, but we hear it can be pretty. We did get to see a one-eyed eagle, listen to Christian music, and almost give into the sight of a McDonalds and smell of Subway. Ketchikan was almost as uneventful, but the Coastal Wilderness Tour we booked brought us eagles, seals, and bears.

Soon time had flown so fast that it was all over, and we began to pack our bags, eat our last meals, and begin planning our next adventure. Many many more pics can be found here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Liz and Shane's Christmas Adventure

Somewhere between trend and tradition lies our habit of celebrating Christmas with our families on alternating years. Christmas 2006 saw my parents (and much to their disappointment their mild Florida weather) visit us in Columbus; in 2007 Liz and I make the trek to Sacramento; and now this Christmas past, Liz and I flew down to Jacksonville to spend Christmas (and Kwanzaa) with my parents. Much to my mom's disappointment, it was even warmer than usual (mid 70s, so no cranking up the AC just to be able to light a fire). It was however, a very nice experience, as we hadn't had the chance to see my folks since our wedding.

I won't bore you with flight details this time, and Christmas itself was pleasant, but not blog worthy, so we'll just start from 26th, the first day of Kwanzaa.  We headed off to Anastasia state park, where we wandered on the beach, taking in the salt air, scouring for shells, and taking snap shots of the scenery (where else does one find pickup trucks and pirate ships?).  We continued on to Vilano Beach for more of the same.  We began our seafood smorgasborg (like grizly bears we load up for a week and have to make do for months--due to Ohio's shitty seafood selection--without) in the afternoon, and for dinner we chowed down on 2lbs and 3.5lbs of crab legs respectively.

A couple days later we began our central Floirda sojourn by heading down to Kennedy Space Center.  Most Floridians are ambivelent to the space center, but I always enjoyed it (despite to too numerous field trips there), and Liz has never had the chance to go.  Fortuitously we thought enough to plan ahead (a day ahead) and reserve our tour, which in case the fortuitously comment didn't imply that they were sold out when we got there, lets just say they were.  Beyond that the place was fuckin packed, but we managed to make the most of it all.  I even surprised some Aussie tourists by squeezing in a Mercury space capsule, maybe Shaq has a chance to star in the remake of the Right Stuff.  After that we went on our tour with the overly passionate tour guide.  Dude really cared about his shit, and nothing quite riled him up like the differences between Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

We then proceeded to cruise on over to Orlando, where we had one of the worst hotel experiences at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.  Beyond being snooty, snobby, and pretentious, they were rude, inconsiderate, and downright dirty (FYI, I wouldn't recommend it to others).  That being said, we went to Orlando for Disney, and the hotel realy didn't matter.  In an attempt to get away from our "resort", we headed to Downtown Disney.  A friend of mine warned me that the week between Christmas and New Years is the most crowded week at Disney, and she wasn't kidding (Kwanzaa must be gaining in popularity).  The parking lots at Downtown Disney were full--all of them!  We managed to cut through some cones and luck into finding a departing car.  Somehow it never seems as crowded within the friendly confines of your (even if just a loaner or rental) car, and it was almost overwealming on foot.  Having spent the better part of a week in the Downtown Disney area, we knew our way around, and we managed to make the most of it, even if it meant being a couple minutes late with the Magic Kingdom fireworks (as seen from the Polynesian's beach).

After dealing with the huddled masses the night before, it was no surprise that the parks were packed the next day.  We started off by parking at the Magic Kingdom, and hopping on the bus to the Animal Kingdom (the Magic Kingdom was open to 2am and the Animal Kingdom closed at 8pm), and after catching a fast pass for Expedition Everest, we hiked to the safari ride.  There we enjoyed our first stay in line.  After that we headed over to the Bugs Life 3d movie thing, which was fun, and afterwards we took on Epedition Everest, which ended our time at the Animal Kingdom (we had seen almost everything in our previous visit--we'll do Nemo next time Liz!).  Craving Norwegian food, we hopped on a bus and headed for EPCOT.

Since we were planning on returning to the Magic Kingdom to close off our day and squeeze in the Hollywood Studios (no longer MGM) for Fantasmic and the christmas lights, we were essentially deciding to do all four parks on a day where it was so crowded at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT that they stopped allowing more new guests in.  What the hell, we're young and crazy, so why not!  Once we got to EPCOT, we wandered over to Norway, where there was a bit of a queue of people with reservations (many books 6 months prior), so we were gonna have to dine standby.  Unlike other Disney restaurants, Norway (a princess dining experience), seats in waves, and just about everyone has a reservation.  Stanby guests can get in when someone doesn't show up, and after a 40 minute wait, we got in.  We followed the line through, and got our picture taken with Belle, and then we were able to finally eat lunch.  As we ate many princesses (and non princesses, as Alice from Alice in Wonderland crashed the party) stopped by for photos and such, but somehow I still missed the old Norway experience: empty restaurant, buffet laden with stews, reindeer, and odd bits of pickled and smoked fish.  Oh well, the kids enjoyed themselves, and I was able to chow on salmon--a true win win. After lunch, we went on the revised Spaceship Earth, and then headed over to the Hollywood Studios.

We had two goals in mind for our trip the the Hollywood Studios: Fantasmic and the Christmas lights, but alas we needed to wait for night for both.  We ended up getting in line for Fantasmic about an hour and a half before the show, but at least we were able to sit for most of it.  While waiting, the crowd started busting out waves, fast waves, slow waves, and other nonsense.  The show was delayed for a bit, and we got even more waves--wahoo!  Eventually the show went on, and afterwards we saw the Christmas lights.  Had we not been supremely underwealmed with the light show at the Columbus Zoo's Wild Lights, I may have expected more.  There were lights--lots of them.  Thats it.  We then headed to the Magic Kingdom, by way of the Polynesian.  We barely missed the last train at the Magic Kingdom, so we had to brave the hoard of people waiting for the fireworks just to get to our intended destination, and before we got there we got to watch the fireworks.  Afterward we enjoyed fries, a sundae, and a trip to Pirates of the Caribbean.  Before long we were starting to get puckered out, so we made our way to the exit.  The damn parade was going on, but they waived people through to cross the parade during a break in the action.  Liz and I started across, I was waved forward, but she was held back, we were together holding hands, but so much for Disney family values.  Desperately wanting to leave, we pleaded, were waved on, before I was clubbed, ney clotheslined by some Disney employee asshole, who felt that we somehow were going to endanger the dude in the wolf suit twenty feet away--there wasn't even a vehicle coming!  Could he have quickly escourted us across, yup.  Could he have not waived us through a second before, yup.  Could he have told us to hurry, yup.  He'd rather clothesline me, and no he didn't even apologize.  I guess the show must go on.  Don't think I'll forget that one Disney.

All in all it was a blast, and we were able to sneak in a trip to a fish camp (hard to explain, but I've only seen such things in Florida).  I managed to eat bacon every day there, and we returned home to our wonderful furry family.  Who could ask for more?