Talkeetna, Alaska: A Solo Vacation

I kid you not, I almost forgot how to log-in to this blog. I’m here, albeit sporadically. I’m currently caught up on all my paid-photography, so I’m finally chipping away at all of my personal work.

I think I need to get everyone up to speed on what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. First, my dear husband Isaac has been in the process of applying to Officer Candidate School (OCS); a process proven to be quite grueling in both the volume of paperwork required, and the demanding prerequisites required of all applicants. It has been about 8 months since he started the process. For months we sat around, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for our orders to Korea to come down (it was the only place with open slots for his MOS), or waiting for an acceptance to OCS.

Second, we recently we heard that he was accepted! Instead of the year-long waiting period for the class date to roll around, Isaac was notified that he would have only 6 weeks to prepare for his departure. Normally this wouldn’t be too problematic, however OCS requires a 3 month training period at Ft. Benning, Georgia. That’s a really long distance from interior Alaska, and a long period of time to be solo-parenting on my end.

Hence the solo vacation (the third order of business). Knowing a summer without Isaac assuredly means very few outdoor opportunities; remember when we attempted Granite Tors, a 15 mile hike while babywearing? Yea, not so successful, I wanted to take off on my own for a little bit, as a sort of motherhood Rumspringa.

I almost went to Ecuador, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t because the earthquake that hit there recently would have definitely occurred while I was there! I fortunately opted instead to stay closer-by, and headed south on a 5 hour drive to Talkeetna, Alaska; my favorite town in Alaska.

Far too much time was spent in my car (my new car, a 2016 Subaru Outback! – so much new information for you all if you don’t follow me on instagram) the first day. The Denali Park Road was open to personal vehicles to mile 30. Typically the park road is open to Savage River at mile 15. I was excited to go further into the park from the comfort of my own car as opposed to a bus, but I didn’t take into consideration the 35 mph speed limit. This added about 2 hours of drive time to my road trip. Well worth it since I saw three grizzlies and a small caribou herd and still made it into town in time to grab food and meet up with my dear pal Jo of Oma + Jo. We’ve bonded a lot over the last year and I count her as one of my closest friends. Anyway, I arrived in Talkeetna a little stiff, but eager to start my vacation.

Jo taught me how to play cribbage, an incredibly archaic yet fun game that probably had originally asinine, made-up rules. I caught on quicker than I would have expected myself to, given my poor math skills, and enjoyed playing rounds at the Pizza place patio over beers and Hummus platters. We had fun drinking, and chatting, and visiting the historical museum. Good company, and the only (temporary) company I’d have the entire trip.

I booked a room at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. Central to all town activities, I was able to watch the tourists and locals walk the town from my window. I was in walking distance to everything except for my massage which took place up the Spur road and in a blue Yurt, of all structures. So cool.

Despite a wonderful time at the local eateries, bars, museums and hiking trails, the main event was reserved for one of my final days in Talkeetna.

I purchased a flightseeing tour over Denali which included a Glacier Landing on the famous Ruth Glacier. The morning of I took a trail run along the river, ate a big breakfast at the Roadhouse, and got a call from K2 aviation about my flight; would I like to come in an hour early and get an upgraded flight for a longer tour with a glacier landing? Sure! I showered and rushed over to the ‘airport’, eager to gain some life changing perspective about the land I intend to call home for good.

I don’t want to bombard you all with a basketful of cliches about how my life has changed from a single flightseeing tour, but I really want to emphasize how mind-blowing this experience was. Alaska is vast, I knew that empirically before this trip, but I didn’t understand it in practice. Flying at low altitude, through the neighborhood of Denali, among the monsters like Mount Hunter, and Mount Foraker and then Denali, I finally understood the gravity of the mountaineering undertakings from the adventure books I’ve been reading for a year, and understood the zeal everyone holds for this mountain range.

Don Sheldon’s Cabin is over my Right Hand!

Structures that looked to be the size of small stones were in reality the size of ranch style homes.  Ripples in the glaciers were evidence of crevasses deeper than the the tallest skyscrapers in midwest cities. My mind still has trouble comprehending the scale and scope of the experience, but I’m still contemplating it regularly.

Of course I had all the confidence that our pilot would get us through the tour unscathed, but a naive (or pragmatic?) part of me felt I would probably die on this trip. I was super relieved to land safely on the glacier, to pose awkwardly on it for a photo, to walk around suspiciously on its crevasse-riddled surface, and ultimately re-board the plane, this time riding shotgun.

We flew back the way we came, over semi-frozen tundra. The twisted rivers, partially melted, gave way slightly to spring. The landscape has since turned lush and green.

Homesteads below spread far and wide, connected sometimes only by rivers.

I was exceedingly happy to disembark the small aircraft, if only from a place of self-preservation. I’m an anxious person, and prefer to have my two feet on the ground, fair enough?

I spent the rest of the day decompressing, playing over and over again the sights and sounds of the day in my mind. I went to happy hour, read a book and kicked around some local lakes for a quick hike. My trip ended with a cinnamon roll from the Roadhouse and a long, contemplative ride home to my family, presents in hand; ready to start my summer of solo-parenting.


Winter Fun in Fairbanks

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo  The dark days are here in interior Alaska. With only four hours of daylight, it’s become all-important to squeeze in weekend outdoor activities at high-noon. If the lack of daylight weren’t challenge enough for a photographer, I’m also working with custom white balances on the reg.

Ever wondered why your snowy iPhone photos are so blue? That’s your camera white balance messing up the ‘temperature’ of the snow. It even happens with my Canon 5D Mark iii; so I’m regularly using Adobe Lightroom to fix my photos. It’s a lot of extra work that I certainly don’t mind doing for paying clients, but for my own personal work – meh. It’s time consuming and cumbersome. That’s why you won’t see many wintery pro-photos around here.

Indoor photos don’t offer reprieve. Flourescent bulbs, and mixed lighting cause chaos for white balance — maybe I’m overthinking it, as most people might not even notice. An easy fix is a black and white conversion. See Woods below? He’s walking! In color, and in black and white.  Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo For those of you who don’t know Woods personally, let me tell you something about his personality. He loves being a baby. He loves being worn, held and carried, loves being hand-fed, and loves being cuddled. He knows he has a sweet gig going, and isn’t letting up on the baby days anytime soon. So it was no surprise that he took an extra month or so beyond his first birthday to start walking.

Woods also loves to eat. His prime motivation for learning to walk was the multi-tasking appeal of carrying snacks around everywhere. I always know where he is by following his trail of cheerios, or listening for the light crunch of our dog, crumb catching behind him. He has a nice shiner on his eye from face planting on his snack cup just last night. Eat hard, play hard. That’s his mantra. Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo  Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Speaking of eating hard, Thanksgiving seemed to last forever around here. I once again made way too much food for my small family. We had Thanksgiving meals on repeat for like, four days. I spent most of the year Vegan – mostly subjecting my family to the same, and have since transitioned to a Vegetarian diet (a life without feta, is not a life I want to live). For Thanksgiving, I went ahead and made an organic turkey for the kids. I had my fair share, too. Our turkey was free range, so I assume the bird lived a happy life outdoors, but the turkey was also from Fresno, so I’m guessing not. Ha! Go Bakersfield! 

We tried to ski it off all the food, but I’m pretty sure one session of XC skiing is not the caloric equivalent of half a dozen pieces of pie, gingerbread cookies, fudge and toffee over the week. I’ve got a few dozen ugly dates with the treadmill this month.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Hot Cocoa is a must - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo        Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Ski Pulk - Ski Pulk Modification - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo   Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

We’ve really enjoyed cross country skiing this year. It’s our third winter in Alaska, and our first season skiing. We ran out of newborns, and excuses, so we took the plunge and purchased skis. A proper ski pulk or Thule Chariot were out of the question for us (I think $1000 would be better spent in a number of other ways), so we took a utility sled, and rigged our Contours Options Double Stroller seats into it. The seats fit perfectly, and provide just enough structure and wind shelter to keep the kids warm to 0 degrees. Hand warmers and blankets help, and we always end our ski sessions with hot cocoa.

We were so glad to have my mother-in-law Christie here from Oklahoma to celebrate the tail end of Thanksgiving and to partake in Margot and Woods’ baptisms this weekend. I think she and Margot had a great time making gingerbread ninjas and skiing. Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

Aurora Borealis

I don’t think these Northern Lights will ever get old. I’ll always enjoy watching them, but I know as the temperatures drop here in Interior Alaska, the desire to sit outside for an hour shooting them will fade. Last week was the perfect climate for catching the Lights show.

Snow from a week ago had mostly melted off, leaving our grass once again exposed. Warmer nights (only dropping to the low 30s) meant down parkas and snow pants stayed in the closet, while we reached instead for vests, light hats, and fleece jackets and gloves. Any colder out, and my fingers would have turned to numb useless nubs, my camera battery would have drained, and my damp hair would have frozen. I don’t know how more disciplined aurora chasers tolerate the freezing temperatures closer to the winter solstice.

So here I present to you the Northern Lights, from October 6, 2015. Hopefully more to come, since this is our last season in Alaska, for now.

And in case you missed it, Isaac and I changed our residency to Alaska. We are coming back to settle down here after his military service ends (not for a few more duty stations, unfortunately). Sorry California and Oklahoma family, but something about this wild, Libertarian place has really appealed to our frontier sensibilities. It must be a mix of the bold folks who live here, the pristine tundra, and the bountiful wildlife and the lack of fashion rules that have really got us dreading the adjustment back to the lower 48 next year.

I’ll miss this one day.