Road Trip!!

Things have been feeling more and more at home every week. This is a especially true when people finally start to show up in Alaska! After an amazing visit with Jen’s sister, we were blessed with our next guest. One of my best friend’s parents were coming to the next closet town to us (Skagway, see past blog).We did not hesitate to let them know that we would definitely come to meet them. They were coming in on a cruise ship and wouldn’t  have the pleasure of being on out at our lake property, but just seeing a familiar face from back home is such a blessing. Skagway is one of the best stops for cruise ships cruising around the inside passage, and only a 30 minute ferry ride from Haines. With the ferry having several breakdowns and schedule cuts due to downed boats, we had to drive to meet them there. This means going from Haines to Canada and then back into the US on the other side. One really big horseshoe. When the ferry is running, you can do the whole loop, which the locals call “the golden circle”. This is by far one of the most amazing drives that anyone can take. It’s about 5 to 6 hours of mountain driving.20160822_144740.jpg The city of Whitehorse is located in Yukon Valley in Canada, between Haines and Skagway. I’m calling this town the “recharge” city. We were able to go to a Walmart and a chain restaurant. They even had a Jiffy Lube and a large shopping mall. This was the first time we stepped foot into a major department store in the last 5 months.In Haines, Amazon.com is the king. It gets delivered straight to the airport in town, they call you when it lands, then hold it until the next time you are in town. It was kinda of amusing to have so many choices on all the aisles. It was nice to know that we have such a place to restock on all supplies and things we might not be able to find in Haines. It’s pretty amazing all the things that you start to say….”Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a while”. This was the first time we have seen street lights and a Starbucks since we’ve moved out here.

As we passed through Whitehorse, we drove through the most beautiful mountain ranges before reaching Skagway.  The summits were high up in the clouds, as we climbed along the same mountains and passes thousands of people traversed during the famous 1898 gold rush.20160823_152559.jpg The size and magnitude of the mountain-top glaciers always amazes me and we are truly reminded of  how magical this place is.20160822_191834.jpg

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We stayed in Skagway the night before our friend’s ship docked. That way we could meet them bright and early in the morning. They had invited us to ride along with them on the famous White Pass Yukon Route train ride. This was an amazing trip. Being a huge history buff, I have read so much about the great Yukon gold rush and couldn’t wait for the experience.

As the train twisted and turned slowly up the mountain, we were engulfed in amazing views along with amazing company in our little box car. When we finally made it to the summit, we were surrounded by clouds.20160823_094638.jpg It truly is awesome to get to see folks from Lafayette, Louisiana in the far north.

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It was mesmerizing to hear tales of the people who climbed this route in search of gold. It was inspirational to think of the folks who built the railroad on the side of these cliffs. They used lots of black powder to blast through the rock, and during the winter, the workers could only work one hour at a time before taking a break in the “warming tent” because of the brutal cold. Canada required each gold rusher to carry 1,000 pounds of supplies with them on the trail. Those who didn’t bring a horse or a donkey to loan up had to carry it themselves. We heard that some people brought 20 crates each weighing 50 pounds, then carried each one a little ways at a time. Others brought larger loads all the way to the top, then left friends and family to look after their stuff as they traversed down again for the rest of their supplies. One trip up the mountain took the average gold rusher about 3 months. Many people died along this route, and many horses and other work animals. In fact, one area  is nicknamed, “Dead Horse Trail.”

While we were away, our hometown of Haines held their own version of Mardi Gras. We missed it this year, but we will mark our calendars next year for Mardi Gras in August!

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Back at home, the projects continue to flow at a steady pace. It is a feeling of accomplishment when we look at our “to do” list that we worked up together in the beginning and see how much we have been able to finish up in such a relatively short amount of time. However, it feels like we’ve been here for years. We added the finishing touches to the hot tub time machine, adding a shelter to keep dry stacks of wood and a place to hang towels and robes.20160827_082334.jpg Also, I made Jen a sundeck. She wanted a place that she could lay out and get some Vitamin D. I conditioned a large piece of wood slab that was cut from one of the trees on a property  that burnt down on the large lake. I took a blow torch and toasted it a little to bring out the tree’s life lines and then turned it into a great bench. We also cut down a few trees and started to open up our view a little more.20160827_082539.jpg We kind of liked having the trees hide us, but we got to thinking “hide us from who?” There’s no one that ever comes back here. We have this amazing view of the mountain range in front of us that keeps getting more and more amazing with the clearing of these trees. We had a great trip to Skagway, and an awesome visit with friends. While it was fun to get away, there’s no place like home, and we were thrilled to come home to our little place on Chilkat Lake.

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Sisters

sisThey say that visitors are like fish—they start to stink if they hang around for more than three days. I guess that might be true of some guests, but for me, hosting my sister for the past month at our guest cabin, I would describe her more like a flower than a fish. Her time with us seemed too short, and it took her a good while to bloom while she was here. She arrived tired and pale, and spent the first few days here resting…sleeping off stress and fatigue. By day three, she had a little bit of color in her cheeks and her energy level was definitely improving. In the beginning, she had lots of trouble traversing our property. She complained that the walk from her cabin to the outhouse was a “workout” even though the distance is only about 5 yards. (It is straight uphill.) On her first day here, we walked down to the lake together, and she slipped and fell in. She was laughing so hard, she had trouble pulling herself out. That first day, she not only fell into the lake, but she also shot her first gun, and saw a mink close up and personal. Over the next few weeks, my sister learned to navigate the terrain better. No more falls into the lake, although she did fall off the stairs to our cabin one late night when it was dark. (I hope she has more good memories than bruises when she gets home.)

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During the course of her stay, she devoured many books about Southeast Alaska. She was especially interested in our “Bear Tales” book that chronicles gruesome details of bear attacks in Alaska. She began to put together her own plan of survival in case she was attacked while she was here. In the beginning, she said if a bear broke into the guest cabin while she was asleep, she would simply hide under the covers, but as her stay progressed, she became more active in her bear defense plans. She talked about scaring him away with the fire extinguisher or shots fired from a BB gun. She also spoke about grand getaways where she might jump off the 2nd floor deck of the guest cabin and dive into the water to escape a grizzly attack. She wondered if we would be able to hear her scream, so we practiced one evening, but we didn’t hear a thing. We finally agreed to charge our walkie-talkies so she could signal us if she needed help. It’s a good thing to be prepared and alert for bears in this part of the country. I was afraid she might become too obsessed with the thought of a bear attacking her, so I wanted to her to see a bear in the wild. I thought that if she could see how skiddish they are of humans, it would help her understand that not all bears are out looking to attack and eat humans. We have seen many bears eating salmon on an area of our lake known as “Bear Beach”. We went there several times, hoping to spot a bear, but no luck anytime sis was with us. On another part of the lake, we did spot a young moose sloshing through the marsh, and we were able to get pretty close in the boat so that she got some good photos. Her wildlife tales from her visit consisted of a mink, a moose and lots of bald eagles.

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One of the books she read talked about the Dalton Trail and all of the gold that has been mined from this part of the country. She decided that there is gold on Bear Beach, so we took her there to dig up a few buckets full of “pay dirt” to sift through back at the house. While we were at Bear Beach, I was impressed with how confident and unafraid she was. She walked all over the place, inspecting the half-eaten salmon left by bear earlier that morning, and the bear scat (poo!). She got close to the trail that bears take back into the woods. She peered in and stood there for a long time. I was impressed with her bravery, although Nate was close by (holding a loaded Marlin 45/70 that could drop a charging bear with one shot.)

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Like us, my sis was amazed at all of the beautiful flowers in Alaska. She was impressed with the vegetables from Nate’s garden, and the flowers we have growing on the deck which have been grown from little seedlings. She says Alaska was nothing like she imagined. The colder temperatures in summer (50’s and 60’s) didn’t feel that cold. She was also stunned at how clear and blue the lake water is on Chilkat Lake. She says our little cabin on the lake is like a little slice of heaven.

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Nate says he caught his limit of Zucchini

 

During her second week, sis was feeling very energetic. This is no small feat because she has lupus and is sick many days. She says she felt amazing while she was here, and that it was a combination of the peaceful rest and relaxation, good, fresh home-cooked meals, and the brisk air temperature. So, while she was feeling good, we put her to work. She weeded my flower garden next to the front door of the cabin, picked blueberries, and split firewood for several hours. She ate more blueberries than she harvested in her container, but she was mesmerized by how plentiful the bushes grew around our property and how delicious and sweet they tasted right off the bush. The next day, we drove to Friendship Mountain to pick more berries. We came home with loads of elderberries, blueberries, and watermelon berries. Sis’ favorite was the watermelon berries.

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This visit was the first time in our adult lives that we got to spend so much time together, one-on-one, without our children, or anyone else. We baked our favorite childhood cookies, tried to remember cheers from our high school days, and watched an assortment of old movies.

By the third week of her visit, sis was lugging her own water down to her cabin, helping us load everything from lumber to provisions into the boat at the landing, and she had a nice, healthy glow on her skin. All signs of stress and fatigue were gone, especially from her face, as she was thriving, living moment by moment, day by day, in the peacefulness of the mountains. She said her favorite part of her stay was the days we went boating and looking for wildlife. On most of these days, we would motorboat to a certain area, then kill the motor and just drift in the wind for hours. Sometimes we would fish, but most times we would just look and listen. She used to ask me why I liked deer hunting and said she couldn’t understand sitting in a blind for so many hours. I would try and explain to her the peacefulness of just sitting in nature, watching and listening. I think she understands it better now.

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The days we spent together on this visit, we were like frontier women—splitting firewood, canning strawberries, washing dishes by hand, hanging out our laundry to dry on the line, washing our hair in buckets of hot water heated over the fire. At one point, she said to me, “In your wildest dreams, did you ever think that we would be together in Alaska cutting firewood with a 20 ton log splitter?” My immediate answer was, “No.” I never thought I would be in Alaska at all, but then again, I never thought I would have the opportunity to be on this big adventure. So, while I never specifically dreamed it, I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point in my life that would be so fulfilling or so amazing.

 

Our mother was a novice painter, and we have many fond memories of her painting flowers, and memories of her teaching us both (and our children) how to paint flowers. I encouraged sis to paint some flowers on canisters in the guest cabin in memory of mom, which she did. Then, she wanted to throw them away because she said they looked like a kindergartener painted them, but I love them. They remind of my sister and my mom, so what could be more beautiful?

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I will always think of flowers when I remember my sister’s first visit to our lake. When she first arrived, she was like a plain flower seed, but when she left, she was a beautiful flower, and we were the lucky ones who got to see her bloom.

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The Help, Muskeg, and Monsters 

So now we are to the point that going to town is a drag. Unfortunately this means blog posts will probably start being posted every couple of weeks versus every week. This just means that we will have more to write about. The past couple of weeks have been very eventful. The Southeast Alaska state fair has come and gone. I convinced Jen to enter one of her best desserts and I participated by entering what I do best…Gardening. Jen placed 1st in her division. My black currants got 1st, watermelon berries got 3rd, high bush cranberries got honorable mention, and my Zucchini got 3rd largest…all my seeds got in the ground late this year due to us getting here about a month behind the growing schedule, but  I will be better prepared to take home all the blue ribbons next year…lol.

The garden  has been doing great and we are getting a good harvest. We have already started canning veggies for the winter. The Sockeye salmon are plentiful in the lake right now.

The last time we checked the fish and game counter it had 20,000 fish that passed through the gate in Clear Creek. These fish are a challenge to catch because they stop feeding when they hit the fresh water. The Coho Samon that arrive in Sept or October are the ones that hit lures, so we are anticipating to gather the majority of our fish then.

 We have been baiting alot of bears at the end of the lake to get good footage on the game cams.”img_1318.jpg We’ve caught a young one on film and a couple of larger browns. One afternoon while we were setting up the cameras, we heard a lot of commotion in the woods heading our way. All of a sudden a large cow moose burst through the alder bushes followed by two large calves. As they ran through the marsh and swam through this little gully, Jen and I could tell the mommy cow was highly stressed and agitated. Once they crossed the gully and got to high ground, we could tell they were being chased by something. At that moment,  a huge grizzly stood up on his hind legs and popped his body out of the brush to get a look at where his meal was. Then, he went back down and all of a sudden he was bursting through the bushes as well and running straight towards the moose. He jumped in the gully and started swimming towards them. Jen and I were in the boat about 100 yards away in awe about what we were about to see happen… then when we thought we were going to see an amazing National Geographic  moment  of a grizzly bear mauling a moose, the mommy moose turned towards the grizzly and started to charge it in the water. I guess bears know they are no match for a long-legged moose in the swampy water, because he immediately did a 180, and went back to the other side of the stream. Once back on land the bear stood up on his hind legs and gazed at the little moose as though he was thinking…”ya’ll lucky ya’ll with your momma”,  then he scurried back off into the woods. We are always reminded how wild it is out here.
“The help” arrived this week…Jen’s sister is visiting us for about a month.img_1321.jpgimg_1335.jpg

I tell you that woman can wash some dishes! lol   We have been doing alot of boat riding and sight seeing and showing her God’s country.img_1316.jpgimg_1313.jpg20160801_204719 I also had a long list of things she could help with .

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It has been nice to have another set of hands on the property, but after about a of day hanging out with the two of them together, I had to get off the property ASAP! So, Mr Harris and I decided to go up the the top of Flower Mountain and do some exploring. He is always a great tour guide. We took his jeep up to the top followed by his son and buddy on their dirt bikes, and another friend on his quad. He showed me all the best spots for snowmobiling in the winter time. He was really wanting me to have the real Alaskan mountain experience so he had to introduce me to Alaskan “muskeg”. For those who don’t know what this is, its just like quicksand! Once you’re in it, it’s near impossible to get out of it. As we were cruising across the mountaintop in his jeep, we came to an abrupt hault. We were completely up to the doors in muskeg. This mushy, swampy ground had us in its grip and we were going nowhere fast. received_10202131563408236.jpegreceived_10202131563248232.jpegWe were kinda perplexed that we happen to run into the only spot on the entire mountain were there was some muskeg. After spending roughly 2 to 3 hours trying everything we could think of to get his jeep out, we finally gave in and decided we needed to go down the mountain and get my four-wheel drive truck. This might have been an easy task if there were some trees to wrap the wench around,  but there is not much timber on the summit of most of these mountains. After making it back to the top with my Toyota, we were able to extract the jeep and continue riding around on the summit and enjoy the views.received_10202131562288208.jpeg

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Back at the property, we decided that we should fall the last dead tree on the property and split up the rest for our winter firewood stash. This tree was a monster. It had to be 200 plus years old.20160802_101415 Knowing that if I knock down this tree, it would provide us with the last of what we will need to be adequately prepared for the long winter. So, with that in mind, I started to chip away at it. The giant finally came to rest right where I was anticipating.20160802_131423 I really hate cutting down these giant monsters, because they have so much mystic appeal to them, but it was dead and it could be a threat to the house.20160802_132116 The really tough part of this jobs isn’t falling the tree, but after bucking these large monsters, its getting the huge chunks up the hillside to the log splitter.img_1631.jpg
I’m finding out really quickly that there’s not much we can’t accomplish if we just try and give it our best. Things are running smoothly and everyday we are feeling more and more as though we are home. The leaves are already starting to charge colors and all the fireweed blooms are gone. This is the native’s way of knowing that summer is over and fall is around the corner. It has been an amazing first summer to our adventure and God willing we will have many more to come!