Mission

MISSION:
To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GO Scarlet Knights!

Back from Alaska and I am ready to head home... I am leave for the Big Apple... I am headed to the Pinstripe Bowl... I am cheering on my team - GO RU!!!


The plan is to enjoy the city for the holiday, take in a show, visit the windows, do a bit of shopping and cheer on my team... GO RU!!!

I am headed to the game with some college friends.  Two of us were in colorguard together and never got to see post season action.  This will be our first bowl game. GO RU!!!

The game is Friday, the 30th, at Yankee Stadium... we play a good Iowa State team... it should be a great game.

Up stream, red team
Red team, upstream
Rah, Rah, Rutgers Rah!

Yes, I am excited.

Barrow - Where Milk is $10/Gallon

Barrow Streets
Honestly, Barrow is not much to look at when you land.  It lacks that jaw dropping scenery that you get when you fly into Anchorage... Barrow is past the Brooks Range.  The land get flat after that, and with the snow, the arctic tundra is just a frozen space.  The town buildings actually raised off the ground, like you would see at the beach.  The heat from the structures would damage the tundra and sink the structure.  Buildings are quite weather worn - but if you sustained constant winds from the confluence of 2 seas and the extreme cold that reaches beyond -50 F, then you would look a bit haggard as well.

Barrow is the government seat, aka the "capital", of the Northern Slope.  The North Slope Borough is the largest municipality in the world - covering almost 89,000 square miles of arctic territory.  Most of it is open tundra; eight villages are scattered throughout the area.  The entire population of the area is about 7500, and 4700 live in Barrow (by comparison, the condo community I live at has about 4400.)

$10 milk
Barrow is a town on the extremes... the native Alaskan, Inupiats, subsistence hunt to feed their families.  After visiting the market, it makes not just cultural sense, but economical as well.  Milk is about $10/gallon; grape juice was $8 for 2 quarts; eggs 2 dozen for $10; a half gallon on OJ is $12. That $2-3 Rice-a-Roni pack that we all get on sale is about $7.  Tide was $25 for the small bottle; soft soap was $5.  Canola oil was $8 for a quart; flour $10 for 5 pound bag.  Most stuff was at least 5x what we pay for it in the lower 48... or even what I see it in for in Anchorage.  The only thing that was not incredibly marked up were the tampons (but being that they are cotton and non perishable, that makes the most sense).

Whale hunting season is pre and post full ice coverage.  That puts the season in September and April.  Bowhead whales that are hunted feed the community for months.  Meat is divided and stored.  In addition to whale meat, birds, seals, caribou, fish are all hunted and kept during the long winter months.

Now, when I headed up there, I was warned about many things... yes, I was told that it was cold.  And it was very cold.  I was told that it was dark... and arriving less than a week from the winter solstice, I got to experience some of the longest nights you can.  However, I feel like I was mislead.  The dark was there - and yes, the moon was fully in the sky for most of the day, but for a few hours, dusk lighting set in - you never saw the sun fully, but the sky lightened for a bit.  And yes, that was the coldest temperatures I have ever experience.  I was told to prepare for the possibility of negative 50 with wind, when I was there there was no wind at all and the temperatures never went past negative 20.  Guess I brought the heat with me.

I had a few hours while in Barrow to explore between meetings.  A coworker took us out onto the ice just so we could say that we walked on the ocean.  I took a taxi to the whalebone arch and had him take a picture of me while he sat in the heated car.  I visited the Inupiat Native Heritage Center while they celebrated the holiday with a party.  Of course a part of the center was closed, but I was able to see some amazing local carvings and masks.  I made it through a pictorial documentary of the whale hunt and learned about the traditions of this northern community.  The hunt and its pageantry, as well as necessity, is such a part of the local culture.  It goes beyond subsistence.  It is about the community - how they care of each other and who are leaders in the group.  The whale brings everyone together.  And because the Bowhead is so important to the community, I felt like almost all major buildings had bowhead bones outside their entrances.

I stayed at the Top of the World Hotel (and yes they had a bone too)...  and no, it was nothing like a Sheraton.  But the staff was amazing, the rooms were clean, the water ran and the air was toasty.  The manager was definitely welcoming.  I was directed to the correct cab company to you (hello, city cab 5050), told about the local art and stores, and most importantly, helped me with a major airport situation. I could not have asked for better service and support.  And when you are in the middle of now where and know no one (after your colleagues leave), it was great to have a friendly hotel to help you out - thanks to my new friend Monica.

You really don't feel the cold when you are not in it too long.  Jumping from building to cab, where everything this superhot, you just don't notice the cold... that is until you stand in it for a bit.  When I first arrived, while I was waiting for check-in, I was directed to the local art store... it was like a JoAnn's Fabrics, without the name.  It sold some trinkets, but really, you could tell that was here that locals got their materials for their hand crafted parkas.  And just a few blocks from the hotel, it should have been a manageable walk (and it was), but WOW did you feel the cold after a few minutes.  Dressed in more layers than I have ever worn, I was okay, but I know that I would never want to do that on a permanent basis.  After all my meetings and eating at the northern most mexican restaurant, Pepes, I was ready to head out and visit my friend in Fairbanks.  But the trick was I needed to leave...

Just what airport mishap did I have, you ask?  Well, it was completely my fault.  I took some bad advice. The airport in Barrow is small and I was told not to worry about lines... well, that was a huge lie.  As I found out, there is only one TSA worker in Barrow and once they stop taking bags and start taking tickets, there is no going back.  I was given a choice of staying in Barrow or leaving with out my luggage.  After some major apologizing for my mistake, I got in touch with the hotel and Monica - who agreed to ship my bag to me in Fairbanks.  Thanks to the Alaska Airlines workers that got me on the plane, the taxi driver that took my luggage back to the hotel and to Top of the World for helping me out of a major mistake.

After hours of flying back to Anchorage, a delay, and then to Fairbanks, I was happy to be with someone I knew, somewhere with a kitchen where I could cook some fresh veggies and eat something not from Pepes.  Even if I did not have fresh clothes (they arrived much later and were not accessible for another day), I was good in Fairbanks.  And seriously, after a week in Fairbanks this summer, I did not think I could see Fairbanks as big... but after Barrow, its all relative!

A few pics from Alaska

I finally downloaded the pictures off my small camera.  I took my good camera on the trip; I was hoping to see the aurora, but it never showed.  So, that camera stayed in its case, and my purse camera jumped from my interior pocket to take very quick pictures.  I just did not think that the cameras would be able to work for very long in the extreme cold of the arctic... hoping to keep the battery warm, I kept it close.

I will add more with the next chapter of commentary...

Snow piled at City Park - Anchorage

Monday, December 26, 2011

Back from the TOP OF THE WORLD

Happy Holidays everyone.  I am back from my great Alaskan adventure.  It is always interesting heading up there, and going in the throws of winter just adds to the adventure...  I have to download a handful of my pictures (there are not too many) because there is proof that I walked on the ocean.

One week in Alaska and I got to see three great contrasting areas: Anchorage (this BIG CITY, by Alaska standards); Barrow (the "capital" of the North Slope and utterly isolated); and Fairbanks (the second biggest town in Alaska, at 10% of Anchorage's population)

My trip began with a quick stop in Anchorage after flying for almost 9 hours.  I waited forever for my luggage and taxied to my hotel... and was just awed with the recent snow... they had been hit with a big storm right before I got there and everything sparkled with fresh white powder.  Trees were covered, the ground crunched and the holiday lights twinkled off the icy layers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Headed to the TOP OF THE WORLD

YEP - you read that right... I am sitting here in Anchorage right now, and I leave in less than 12 hours for Barrow, Alaska.    Yeah, I know it will be cold... I know it will be dark... yes, I heard there are polar bears, I heard the town is small and there is really only one store... BUT IT IS THE TOP OF THE WORLD.  I am oddly excited!!!

Earlier this year, May, I made it the farthest north I had ever been.  I spent a few days in Fairbanks and crossed the Arctic Circle line with a friend.  We did not quite make it to Coldfoot...  this is several hundred miles further north.  This is right on the Arctic Ocean.  It is the northern most town in North America. 

It will be completely dark there.  It is only a week from the winter solstice...  so today, while I Anchorage, I made sure to get out and enjoy the sunlight (for the few hours it is out here).  Cold, yes, but not Barrow cold.  The sun was not strong, but I needed to store up the vitamin D... I am headed for several days of dark.

For this trip, I had to buy all sorts of new clothing... not only did I need long underwear (which I have never bought/wore before), but I needed things like sock and glove liners, special warm boots, and a head covering.  Skin freezes quickly up there.  At negative 20, 30, 40, 50 things get ugly fast.  I really can't imagine what that kind of cold feels like.  This May, while in Fairbanks, I wanted to visit the "Negative Fifty Experience", but it was closed (since it was not official tourist season yet).  I have spoken to friends and colleagues and about that frigidness, but really how can  you describe it... I guess I will be finding out for myself shortly.   All they tell me is that it is painful.

I will be in  Barrow for only 2 1/2 days.  But that should be enough.  I have my fingers crossed for one clear night... I want to see the aurora!  I have been to Alaska only 3 times in the winter and never seen it... Anchorage is not a great place anyway because the lights get in the way... they say that northern Alaska is better.   According to the news, a storm is coming ... I hope to miss it.  A storm will ruin my chances at seeing the aurora and I really don't want to get stuck up in the land of perpetual night.    (Besides, I have to get back to the east coast by the end of the month to see my Scarlet Knights at the Pinstripe Bowl! - GO RU!!!)