Supporting My Friend Carleigh

Some of you may know that I have this amazing friend from way back in the day – when we were just teenagers at ‘Coyote Tracks’ the nickname of the organization called Children of Earth Foundation (Cotef) which at that time was based in New Jersey. It is the youth nonprofit that was created by Tom Brown’s Tracker and Wilderness Survival School. Carleigh Fairchild and I became friends during the summer programs and while it was years later that our friendship realized its full potential, we are great friends for life.

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Carleigh & Joannie in a Hawaii Waterfall

Carleigh has done quite a few cool things with her time thus far on our Planet. Starting with Coyote Tracks as a kid. She has hiked a large portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Took classes with Earthwalk Northwest in Washington state. And more recently enrolled in the WildernessFusion program where we are in the same class (which has been a freaking blast) together. Being the two crazy Alaskans who fly the furthest for these classes 4 times a year is a bonding moment in itself!

Last year Carleigh was one of 10 people picked to go out into the wilderness to survive for up to a year all the while filming their experiences for History Channel’s ‘Alone’. Season 3 takes place in Patagonia and they were dropped a couple of weeks before winter set in. I recommend checking it out – even with the over the top reality tv show feel it has. Most of the people on it are real and have a passion for being in the wilderness. The winner gets $500,000 and some serious bragging rights. Season 3 just finished airing and Carleigh was so close to winning! Two people were left when she was sadly pulled by the show because of her low body mass. There is a lot of speculation going around that it could have been rigged and wasn’t fair. I do agree that the runner-up really should get a little extra money for their efforts and perhaps more when it’s practically a tie. I don’t claim an opinion about the show being rigged or not, but I do know that History Channel left themselves open to a lot of backlash by how they portrayed the final weigh ins and pulling Carleigh out. Showing one person’s BMI but withholding the other is not okay, especially when its the female contestant being scrutinized by the all-male medic team while there is a plethora of gender and women’s rights issues all over the News. Leaving themselves open to so many potential avenues of attack just doesn’t fit. I am confused History Channel. Many of the viewers are confused and downright pissed. While I believe that Carleigh has more than earned monetary compensation (outside of the small stipend every contestant was given) for her time out in the woods, 86 days to be exact. She was expected to film 40 hours a week AND survive alone off the land indefinitely. I have absolutely no ill will towards Mr. Fowler who did walk away with the win. I only wish him and his family the best.

An incredible amount of people have been touched by Carleigh’s presence on Alone and inspired by her state of being. As her totally biased friend – I whole heartedly agree, Carleigh is freaking awesome. During the finale, such an outpouring of comments and posts were made for Carleigh that Shaun (my partner and also friend to Carleigh) got a wild hair that night and started a Gofundme for Carleigh to celebrate what she achieved. Shaun gets the credit as this was entirely his idea. The Gofundme is just a way for people to reach out, if that is what they feel called to do, and support Carleigh. The Gofundme is taking off much quicker than we initially expected and overall is well received. Being the internet, there is of course those who react to the idea that money is being given away – which I personally find fascinating. I always wonder what makes a person think their opinion matters when it isn’t their cause or their money involved.

Link to the Gofundme:  Celebrating Carleigh

I am sharing this with all the people I can – as many of you also know Carleigh. But for anyone who received this link and doesn’t feel called to give money its OK. If you feel called to just share it – that is great! No expectation here just because I wrote about it on my blog. I’m simply supporting one of my best friends and bringing awareness of what she has accomplished.

~Joannie

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Close to a Year

“Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” is an often quoted statement. In a way, I completely agree. Life has been chaotic, amazing, trying, exciting and sometimes just plain busy. It’s been almost an entire year since I’ve last written. Even just a mediocre sparse update about how I’m ‘busy’ but good overall. I think there is probably a multitude of reasons for this sabbatical. Some of which are; I got even busier with less down time during 2015.

My class homework with WildernessFusion became even more time-consuming than previous.

Shaun moving to Alaska and living together meant I was naturally busier with more outside social things and have had less drive to write.

Time sped up. My days have been constantly fuller be it work, people or just trying to catch up. Time seems to be moving quickly and often at a rate that I sometimes find hard to stay present with. Working multiple jobs often feels like this to me.

Some days there simply isn’t enough time for all the things. The phone calls that have to be made by 1pm because of the time differences, the bank/business/store errands that have to be done before they all close – but working later into the day means there is only a couple of hours to get to everywhere at the most traffic dense time of the day.

In addition to all the practical reasons, I’ve also been struggling with ‘what’ to write. Often I simply don’t want to share what’s been on my mind because it’s not always happy or nice – and/or I don’t have the energy to create an ‘adventure’ and ‘fun’ post with all the details and all the cool pictures (which takes hours to sift through, reduced the top choices to a more reasonable number that I can again try to trim so I don’t spend just 24 hours alone uploading large picture files) that while I love when I can crank one of those out for all that want to know what I’m up too – sometimes the mental energy just isn’t there (which has been a lot in the last 2 years). I often have the image that I’m pathetic and shallow if I openly discuss whatever challenges and trials are happening in my life when I also have all these amazing things going on.

Simply stating this feels a little gross, I’m sharing the stuff that I dislike about myself and are my ‘reasons’ for not writing or posting picture adventure posts. But Alas I want to work on my writing and this is one of the few avenues that I can seem to find some words in.

It’s 5:30am here and I’ve yet to sleep much. Shaun and I both have today off and there is a list of things to be done, hikes to be had, dogs to be walked and our lives to be lived. Something I actually enjoy more often than not these days.

~ J

Constant State of Transition – A Quick Note

I am on a plane yet again flying north back to Alaska (River too). Work – the doggies are in need of me. While I am not thrilled to be leaving Shaun, I am ready to see mountains, my ‘Alaska family’ as I refer to the Gardners and a couple of other very close people I am lucky enough to have in my life. This year started off in a state of transition and shows no signs of stopping that trend. My name as a ‘Dog Trainer’ has spread and I continue to be able to make travel and work..well, work. In only a few weeks, I will be flying back to the East Coast for more dogs and to spend time with Shaun.

My time is rather largely shared between Alaska and the East Coast. This is both awesome and exhausting depending on how much sleep I’ve had. I continue to find people in all sorts of places to share things like rock climbing, a festival or just a cup of coffee. Occasionally the stars (I mean schedules here..) align for people whom are very dear to me and we can get together. Recently I had a very short but still sweet visit with Lorien. Sadly my siblings and I have been unable to make it work – but I am hoping in the coming months that will be rectified.

The main thing I’ve come to realize is the difficulty of writing on the blog, returning phone calls, emails and such when one is in a constant state of transition. If I haven’t been quick to respond or you feel ignored, I am sorry and hope that one might understand that is it quite unlikely a personal thing. I will say for those who may need to get a hold of me for whatever reason – a text saying ‘Need to talk’ will get you a callback faster than an email or voicemail will.

The constant change of time zones, climate, driving style (east coast verses Alaska is a VERY different set of challenges), personalities of the people I’m around (in the Gardner house I can say fuck anytime of the day, in my relatives space not so much), and even worse – food option challenges, tends to leave me a little discombobulated. I wouldn’t trade it for staying in one place in the least, but I cannot say it is easy or leaves energy for other things at times. All in the trials of being a Wanderer.

I hope to add more content soon (but I’ve said that a few times before..).

~J

Back from Belize – an update

To say that I have been busy is, well… an understatement to say the least. I arrived back to the states from Belize a week ago today (Fri 21st). In many ways it feels like the Belize trip itself was much longer than a week, and that I am still ‘adjusting’ to being stateside. I surprised even myself with how quickly I adjusted to ‘not being in the states’. It was almost too easy. I no sooner hit American turf than I was already plotting another overseas trips this Fall. Don’t get me wrong, I love being back and with some of my people… but a part of me seems to be ceaselessly wanting to wander, never satisfied unless another adventure is on the horizon.

squinting in the Belize brightness

Squinting in the Belize brightness

Belize was amazing. The class with WildernessFusion was amazing. The People are simply beyond amazing (both many locals I met and my classmates). I can’t say I ever thought I would visit Belize; it’s not that I didn’t want to, it simply wasn’t on the top 10 list, or even top 20. But man did I have a great time. I’m ready to go back and explore all the things I didn’t get to see. We stayed at a wonderful eco-lodge called Cotton Tree Lodge: what a great way to rest between adventures, and for those who are a little less inclined to ‘just go’ on their own, a fun and safe way to see the sights and experience some of the local flavor. I’m not going to get into the details of the trip, class or even attempt pictures of everything yet – I have 980 to sort through first…! I’m not purposely being a tease, I just want to update and forewarn. I only have bad iPhone photos for this post!

After my serene trip to Belize, I arrived in DC late in the evening, Shaun picked me up from the airport and we headed to the hotel where Kathy & Dave Gardner were waiting along with my River!

River waiting for me at the hotel...

River waiting for me at the hotel…

Kathy & Dave were in town for some work related things, and to join in on the fun of the ‘Shamrock Festival’. We had no idea what to expect, but it looked fun! River got to come last-minute since her and I were missing each other terribly. Saturday we dropped River off (much to her chagrin) at a Petsmart to day-board – possibly overnight so she was safe and cared for while the 4 of us were at Shamrock Fest.

To say the festival was… interesting is probably not doing it justice. It was a little more party and a little less festival than I was hoping for. But we still had fun. The noise and crowds were a little over stimulating after Belize, but I managed well enough! The 4 of us wandered about, often splitting up and then finding each other. It was very cool to be share the crazy with Kathy and Dave and see them have fun regardless of the years that separate us.

Kathy, Dave & I at Shamrock Fest

Kathy, Dave & I at Shamrock Fest!

They even had an EDM dance tent which is where Shaun and I spent most of our time after the draw of the bands wore off (and Shaun had enough to drink to tell the “tall people” to get in the back’ so he could see…)

Shaun & I in front of the EDM tent

Shaun & I in front of the EDM tent

Shaun headed back to Ocean City, MD on Sunday, while River and I stayed with Kathy and Dave that evening. The next day Dave, River and I toured around DC while Kathy took care of some work stuff. It was a lot of fun to walk around Monument Mall with Dave, talking about history of the various sites, the government system (which I will readily admit, I know very little about even though I’ve been told/read books about it). River earned many an ‘ohhh!’ and ‘look at the cute puppy!’ For the areas posted ‘no dogs’ I put her in my backpack (this is after all the best view point for her to see the various national parks I take her to).

She was also really into the squirrels…I made this image macro of the picture I took of her in the car right after yet another furry tailed-rat had dashed right in front of her (but due to her being leashed – no chase ensured). She wore this grin for quite a while!

River Meme

River Meme

For a late lunch/early dinner we met at McCormick’s which is just a damn tasty place to eat! After much-needed catching up, it was time for me to do last-minute car stuff with Dave’s help before hitting the road with River in the Black Dragon.

Dinner at McCormick's!

Dinner at McCormick’s with my Alaska family!

As you can see from our color pallet and choice of patterns..we look rather family like here. Kathy LOVES teal (I do too, maybe just not quite as much as she) and Dave often sports a plaid shirt (they are undeniably comfortable and dashing), so me in plaid teal pretty much tied everyone together in this picture (clearly I should have been in the middle to get the optimum effect). I always have a great time with these guys, and for some reason they do with me as well ♥

River totally zonked

River totally zonked

The last few days River and I have been chilling in Ocean City MD at my family’s rental. Shaun hangs out with us after work and often feeds me and buys me coffee (coffee is the important detail here..). I am mostly just adjusting to not being on ‘Belize Time’ which is something that doesn’t exist in this country. Also the weather changes from hot and humid Belize jungle to blustery Northeasters on the coastline has been a couple of days of uncomfortable. A few days from now I head north to Maine to meet up with Tracy and then we head to Quebec, Canada to Linda’s place where Afsoon will meet us. Element Sisters reunited! The plan is that River goes with me every step of the way.

I head back towards DC with a few stops along the way in early April, and then back to Alaska by April 14th. River too. Once back in AK we stay put for a while as I have work to attended to, Dogs to train, money to be made if I think I want to go on another trip any time soon.

Dave took this great pic with his phone of River & I in DC right outside the Lincoln Memorial! It was a windy and chilly day – my leather cap is all I could find instead of my warm wool knit, so I kept my hair down to help keep me warm (which is why the rather dramatic style going on there..). But it made for a very photogenic picture with my black leather jacket and little black & tan dog – whose ‘tan’ markings are such a shade of red that they just about match my red hair 😉

River & I in DC

River & I in DC

~ Always on a Journey  – Joannie & River.

 

March & Schedule Update

Last day of February is here, I sit in Bangor Maine at Tracy & Carl’s house staving off the 5 degree chill by the wood stove. The last few weeks have gone by rather quickly, as I bounced from state to state along my travels. Early February found me at the DC airport 4pm in the afternoon after 14 hours of flying through the night and running around Anchorage doing last minutes things the day before. My Aunt Cathie and Family was out-of-town, so I picked up the Black Dragon and begun battling the DC 5:30 traffic towards Tennessee. It took a few hours to clear the city’s traffic in Northern VA, at which point I stopped for food and provisions. By 8pm I had been awake already for 32 hours and just wanted a bath. But Winter Storm Pax was crawling up from the southern states, threats of 5+ inches to feet of snow and I needed to not be on the highway once it started. I made it to Best Friend – Lorien’s dorm in Johnson City TN, around 2am. The roads were still clear and I could try to rest. I snoozed through the bustle of college kids and woke up to a world of white. I stayed 2 nights and just about 3 days catching up with Lorien and watching the city shut down from 8 inches of snow. I also got dinner with Jackie and Jeremy in Bristol to catch up. Friday I made the 3 hour trek to the Farm in Madisonville, passing overturned trucks, broken down cars and jack-knifed tractor-trailers. For the first 20-30 miles, I saw at least one every mile marker.

The Farm still had about 5 inches of snow, however was getting slushy. The kids were thrilled to see me. Jackie came down from College to see me. I spent the weekend hanging out, playing cards, sitting by the fire, and of course – snow play with the kids. Everyone packed into the van and off to the mountains we went. Sadly due to the feet of snow, not as much sledding happened as time was spent on getting the van’s chains to stay on, unstuck, pulled out..and other less thrilling activities. The kids were out of school Monday, Jesse and I took them to Citico Creek to fish. Upon the realization that fish weren’t biting, we went for a hike. Was a good day. Tuesday the kids were back in school, I had many things to take care of with Barbara and long chats to catch up. I was also officially sick.

I was on the road late Wednesday afternoon, stopped in Johnson city briefly to say goodbye to Lorien. Sadly Jeremy and Jackie were at wrestling practice and I already had a very late start to get to New Jersey that night. I ended up staying another night in Jersey with my good friend Amy and her husband, due to the stresses of traveling while sick. I actually went to a walk in clinic due a strange rash that had surfaced along with my cold. Turns out that I have horrible luck (those would be the exact words of the Doctor to describe my situation) . Once on the road again, my GPS acted strange around NYC, so I got to get rerouted in the city. Was exciting. The drive through Maine was beautiful and peaceful, till something shattered the little moon roof of my Subie. At that point I pulled over and laughed like a crazy person. It was a clear day, no cars in front of me, no bridges, nothing around but trees. Something just happen to shatter the glass… Carl is going with ‘Space Poo’, Tracy has picked ‘God tried to strike you down’ and I.. well this sorta my life. So I’m going with that. I finally arrived in Maine with my tapped up window to Tracy and Carl’s where Linda was as well, Saturday afternoon to a warm house full of animals and wonderful people. Last few days have been spent recuperating and healing. I have new glass for the Black Dragon, but due to costs it isn’t actually installed yet..More Duct tape!

Today, I leave for my Wilderness Fusion class in NY. Can’t wait to see what will pop out of the wood work for this. I’ll stay at friend and fellow classmate – Justin’s tonight. Class will be starting late due to having to move location to better deal with the frigid temps and..yes more snow. Should be a killer of a class spiritually. I may not survive it though! Monday once class ends, I make a dash for Maryland where I hope to arrive in a timely manner so I can actually spend time with Shaun, before driving to DC the on Tues. Turns out that I need to go back to Alaska for a few days for work (which with the extra bills, is really for the best at this point). If I get in early enough to Ocean City, MD I’ll actually eat dinner, see Shaun. If not, well I’ll stop by my Aunt Terry’s, pick up the gear that needs to go to Alaska, sleep for a few hours. And then battle the snowstorm to DC where hopefully I’ll still be flying out Tuesday afternoon..I mean what couldn’t go wrong with this schedule?

March 9th will find me back in DC (weather permitting) and I will have the rest of the original ‘Maryland stay’ I was planning on before heading out to Belize. Whew. That brings up to March 15th… Next month overview looks something like this:

Feb 28th – Drive from Maine to NY for class.

March 1-3 – Wilderness Fusion Class in NY.

Late March 3rd – Arrive in Ocean City MD.

March 4th – Drive to DC, fly out for AK in the afternoon.

March 5-9th – Anchorage.

March 9th-14th – Maryland.

March 15th – Fly to Belize from DC.

March 16th-21st – Class in Belize.

March 21st-23rd DC with Shaun, Kathy & Dave!

March 24th-April 2nd – Unsure/East Coast.

April 3rd – Drive to Maine to meet up with Tracy.

April 4th-6-7th – Canada with the Element Sisters!!!

Early April – I should probably be heading back to Alaska soon so I can continue to eat…

 

Journey On ~ J

Late Winter Schedule – Where I will be at

Wow. 31 days of January over and done with, now into February and I don’t have much to show for it with writing yet. I did take pictures though. Many pictures… In Short, I was busy with work, dogs, cooking, showing Shaun around Alaska – during possibly the worst stretch of weather in a while..more dogs and travel plans.

*detailed date by date events are at the end*

As many know, I have been in Alaska since Dec 31st, I am due to fly out to DC in a couple of days. Originally I was supposed to go to Utah for a few days to visit with a fellow classmate and friend – but sadly that fell through. Once in DC, I will pickup my car (Black Dragon!) from my wonderful Aunt Cathy and family, who have been amazing with letting me park my car, drop me off and pick me up when possible at the airport – and has even extended that kindness to a few close friends in need. After some rest, I drive south to Tennessee with a stop off in Johnson City to see my long time bestie Lorien! Then on to the Farm to see the family. River will stay in Alaska with Kathy & Dave and the Beagles. She will probably sulk and give me the paw of ‘screw you’ for a while, but I will have the peace of mind that she is very well cared for.

After about week in Tennessee, I will start heading north – hopefully see a few friends along the way and end up in Maine to see two of my Element Sisters Linda & Tracy (Tracy’s husband Carl too). I have an overdue promise to get together with everyone that I am quite excited about. * I will NOT be on the Eastern Shore of Maryland along the drive North. Which brings us to – the end of March, where I’ll be in New York with my Wilderness Fusion Healing 1 class! Early March has me making my way back down to Maryland, see my favorite snarky cousin Lucy, family and Shaun; before heading back into DC to fly out to Belize!!! I’m going to Belize with Wilderness Fusion – a last-minute class I was able to get into, that will be almost a week in Punta Gorda. Very excited. Once back from Belize, I will be in DC for a few days for fun stuff like the Shamrock festival with Shaun, Kathy & Dave, probably some museums and who knows what else! Sometime after that I will head back to Alaska since I will need to see my Rivers (and make more money..).

I know, I’ve left a LOT out. But this is the overview. Actual dates of everything as best as I can estimate are as follows:

Feb 11th – Arrive DC.

Feb 12th – Arrive Johnson City TN, with Lorien.

Feb 13th – Arrive in TN at Farm.

Feb 20th ish – Begin driving North to Maine. Hopefully with a stop in NJ for sleeping & visit.

Feb 22nd to 27th – Maine.

Feb 28th – Drive to New York for Class.

March 1st through 3rd – Healing 1 Class in New York.

March 4th  till the 14th – Maryland.

March 14th – DC to fly out early the 15th for Belize.

March 16th till 21st – Belize with Wilderness Fusion class.

March 21st to 23rd – DC Fun.

End of March – tentative back to Alaska.

Going to be a great and rather hectic next couple of months. On the off chance that the East Coast has a wicked snow storm or two, I am hoping many of my Jersey Peeps will allow me to park my car should it come to that (New York too!). I have in my driving ability and the Black Dragon to make it to Maine, even in snow – but other drivers on the damned East Coast – I do not have so much faith in…

Home is the Journey ~ J

Shaun’s Visit to Alaska

As some of you know, I’ve a guy in Maryland – Shaun, whom I’ve been spending time with whenever I am on the East Coast. I met him during my short living stint in Princess Anne, MD in the Summer of 2013. I had major doubts that I’d see more of him when I ended up moving on from Maryland. Due to my WildernessFusion classes however, I would be on the East Coast every 3 months for the next year. Deciding to see where it might go, I made my trips a little long so I could stay in Maryland before/after class.

My September visit went well, along with December’s. I extended an invitation to Shaun to visit me in Alaska in late December after I got back from my West Coast trip over the Holidays. Flights in late winter/early spring are cheap (not many people want to see Alaska in the messy month of January…). I truly didn’t think he would take me up on it — not soon at least, more like next year or even more likely ~never. Imagine my surprise when I booked a mid January flight for him! He was able to get 10 days off work and experience Alaska in the winter – complete with the Chinook Winds that brought the temps up to a balmy 36 degrees most of the time. Shaun was a little nervous of freezing to death initially, and thought it humorous that the Eastern Seaboard was having a mini ice age while we were above freezing most of his stay.

I picked him up from the airport and promptly bombarded him with the dogs. Kathy & Dave wonderfully opened their home to him and everyone enjoyed getting to know each other. There was however an adjustment period for Shaun for the trials of living with Beagles – he missed lunch a few times due to leaving his sandwich where the four-leggeds could reach. I helped him find a decent pair of boots at REI — on sale even — the second day. I don’t think he took the damn things off the whole 10 days.

Within the first 24 hours we had a nice sunset – albeit around 4pm but still beautiful.

Golden Sunset

Golden Sunset

Dave took us shooting at the range in Chugiak. Shaun thoroughly enjoyed the automatics and the bird rifles where you shoot the clay targets launched into the air.

Shaun geared up for shooting

Shaun geared up for shooting

Dave is a wonderful teacher and very knowledgeable about most anything gun related (or just most anything). Both he and Shaun had a good time going over the different guns. I took photos mostly.

Shaun trying out a Revolver

Shaun trying out a revolver

I did shoot a few rounds, but the AR-15 was way too long for me and I couldn’t hold proper form with it… According to Shaun, it’s ‘fucking awesome’ that I shoot guns. Bows are more my style, but guns are good too once in a while.

Dave overseeing me using an auto-rifle

Dave overseeing me using an AR-15

Back to the automatic! Note how much better his form is than mine… Damn hard being a small person sometimes.

Shaun with the AR 15

Shaun with the AR-15

While the guys were getting the skeet-shooting thing set up, I was taking pictures (surprise ,surprise). The mountains came out for a few minutes while the sun set. Great view and a good day.

Sun on the Mountains

Sun on the Mountains

By the end we were a tad cold as it was around 20 with a wind chill. Shaun managed to actually hit the freaking clay targets. Never even shot this type of gun before, but hits the moving targets more times than not. I hit nothing…

Dave giving Shaun a rundown on the skeet shooting rife

Dave giving Shaun a rundown on the skeet shooting rife

The next few days were mostly cloudy and not particularly pretty. One afternoon Shaun and I took a few dogs to Powerline Trail which is at the base of Flattop. The setting sun lit up our grey snowy world for a few glorious minutes.

Sunset view from Flattop Base

Sunset view from Flattop Base

With the Sun below the mountain peaks the world became every shade of grey with black and white as the ‘colors’.

Back & White peaks

Black & White peaks

With the warmer temps from the Chinook Winds, the snow was slushy and one would sink beyond the knee if one stepped off the packed trail. It was a good workout, made pretty by the Moon showing her light now and then.

Moon over Powerline Rd trail

Moon over Powerline Rd trail

Even more crappy weather a few days later meant very little hiking was had. The warmer winds melted all the snow and it turned everything into a slick, ice-coated mess. Even going into town was more than we wanted to deal with some days. Dave’s company had some Aces Hockey tickets that weren’t claimed. Shaun and I experienced our first Hockey game – with Alaskan Amber Beer. It was more fun than I thought I’d have, they really do slam each other against the walls and get into fistfights!

I introduced Shaun to Anchorage Sushi – lets just say we ate a lot, A LOT —  along with some of the bars in downtown. Bars in Anchorage are a tad different from what they are in Maryland, particularly the run-of-the-mill tourist ones. Shaun had a great time and I enjoyed getting back to some of my old haunts. Sadly, the scene in Anchorage for dancing has greatly deteriorated and not much was found.

The wildlife was showing up in style for Shaun’s visit. Moose, Eagles, Owls hooting and of course the Lynx. We saw 4(!!!) crossing the road — Kathy was green with envy. Before everything turned completely slushy, Shaun and I took a couple of dogs to the Conner’s Bog dog park. Shaun was pretty close to decent sized moose. River collected snowballs in her fur – poor thing could barely walk by the end.

The weather often concealed the views, but beautiful Sunsets were still happening.

Breath taking Sunset from the driveway!

Breathtaking Sunset from the driveway!

We made big plans to go to Fairbanks – and more importantly the Chena Hot springs outside of Fairbanks. Originally, Kathy & Dave were coming along with all the dogs. I’m not sure who was more horrified by the prospect of 4 adults and 4 dogs in the same 4-Runner for 800 miles of driving – Dave or Shaun. The weather turned nasty and plans had to be cancelled, much to their dismay. Later in the week, Shaun and I decided to drive up without the dogs for two nights. River was not pleased…

Headed to Fairbanks!

Headed to Fairbanks!

We started out in rain that lasted up until the Valley. Then the skies cleared in places and sunlight was had!

Sunlight on Snowy peaks

Sunlight on Snowy peaks

The road to Fairbanks is a pretty quiet place, only a few stops along the way to gas up or get snacks. In the winter, the number of people out gets close to zero for most of the drive. Sadly I had forgotten the cable to plug in a phone for music… no CDs this day and age in the 4-Runner, and you lose the radio stations (the ones worth listening to anyway) pretty quick. It was a rather quiet drive. Probably a testament to our early-stage relationship that after 800 miles (round trip) in silence or conversation, we weren’t sick of each other!

Pines in the snow

Pines in the snow

The clouds came back, creating a black and white view of the landscape.

Right outside of Cantwell, we spotted a small group of Caribou! I was driving, leaving Shaun to scramble for the camera or phone or whatever might capture the Caribou as they trotted away.

Caribou!

Caribou!

One young buck got separated from the group and went back the way he came, snorting and tail up in the air.

Caribou Tail

Caribou Tail

Shaun had a great time snapping photos, including candid shots of me driving…

Me driving

Me driving

Winding through the snowy hills.

Winding through Hills

Winding through Hills

We stopped at a few lookout areas to get photos and stretch our legs. Shaun’s plaid shirt camos him right in with the hills.

Shaun blending in

Shaun blending in

It was still Chinook weather, a balmy 30 degrees with a breeze.

Joannie looking out

Joannie looking out

King of the selfies took this ‘acceptable’ shot of us – as I think of it!

Together on the AK Hwy

Together on the AK Hwy

Being a solar energy type of guy, Shaun really enjoyed seeing the various Wind Turbines and other green energy that Alaska has and continues to grow.

Wind Mills

Wind Mills

About an hour from Fairbanks, the sun was officially setting, lighting up our otherwise grey world with bright colors.

Sunset outside of Fairbanks

Sunset outside of Fairbanks

Every few minutes the detail of the colors changed — Nature’s slide show.

Pink Clouds

Pink Clouds

Another random photo of me – the setting sunlight giving my rather pasty face color!

Candid Driver

Candid Driver

Sunset selfie on a smartphone.

Sunset Selfie!

Sunset Selfie!

After getting a quick dinner in Fairbanks, we made it to Chena that evening, more than ready for a hot soak. I cannot describe the feeling of being in a large outdoor hot-spring pool in Alaska during winter, other than ‘blissful’. We soaked for a good hour or so before stumbling out in a daze of overheated goodness. The hot springs tend to really take it out of you. Sadly there was too much low cloud cover to see the Northern Lights in the valley where the Chena resort is, but our time spent wasn’t hindered in the least. We had gingerale and hard cider to kick back with while watching Game of Thrones.  The next day – after sleeping in, another long soak!

Chena Hot Springs

Chena Hot Springs

Even with the low clouds it is a beautiful way to soak the aches out.

Shaun disappearing into the Steam

Shaun disappearing into the steam

The large outdoor pool is more like a large pond. When the steam blows over it, you cannot see the rock walls or even the buildings sometimes; it leaves one feeling like they are in another world.

Soaking

Soaking

Shaun had never been in such a place and was pretty enchanted with it.

Happy Smile

Happy Smile

He had a pretty hard time not smiling the entire soak.

Selfie attempt 1

Selfie Attempt 1

We had my Olympus Tough Camera — which is apparently hot-spring proof and not just water-proof!

Selfie attempt 2

Selfie Attempt 2

A better self shot picture! Having the whole place to ourselves most of the time was awesome, but also meant that any couple shots were left up to us to take…

Contrast Shot

Contrast Shot

The camera has a few different settings, including a high contrast one. I gave Shaun the camera, and like most boys with a new toy – he got a little carried away…

Underwater Selfie

Underwater Selfie

Of course when you give your guy the camera – the random shots of you happen…

Underwater shot of me..

Underwater shot of me..

My response of course was this.

Classic Joannie

Classic Joannie

Shaun had a LOT of fun with the whole underwater photographing thing.

Getting Hot

Getting Hot

He got this rather interesting one of me out of the water but as seen from underwater.

J on the rocks

J on the rocks

Towards the end, we were pinking up quite well. Not wanting to be too hot spring-drunk (its a thing, trust me) for the drive back, we decided to do the geothermal tour before driving. Chena Hot Springs is run only on their geothermal and generator energy. No power lines or anything of the sort go out to the Chena Valley. All the food has to be trucked in unless they can grow it. The history of the place is pretty interesting – having had many types of owners and managers – including the State at one point. The owners hope to one day run the resort completely on green energy and be able to supply most of the food they serve themselves. For now, it is a smaller supplemental project with promise.

Being the only two people on the current tour of the geothermal energy, Shaun got to ask many detailed questions of the operations and how the various steps worked. He got a few photos with his phone, like the one below. It was very interesting to me, but sadly I understood very little of the way the various machines worked. I also enjoyed seeing Shaun light up at the different types of green energy and how it works.

Greenhouse at Chena

Greenhouse at Chena

After the tour, we meandered around the resort, checking out the various tourist attractions – which include an ice museum, sled dog kennels, a small Reindeer herd and cross-country ski trails!

Then it was back on the road, bad weather was supposed to move in that night. Shaun helped drive the first leg as the roads were still in good condition. Around the halfway point the clouds had caught up and were dumping snow/sleet. When the 4-Runner hit ice and slid all the way across the highway it became my turn to drive. Shaun handled the ice impressively and we escaped without damaging the Gardners’ car! The rest of the drive was slow, very slow going. What radio we did have in places reported the highway being shut down behind us and ordered all none-essential personnel to get off the road.

Made it back in the wee hours of the morning — in one piece but strung out. Most of the snow was gone in Anchorage, but ice was coating the roads and driveways. The rain/sleet washed all the gravel and sand from the driveway and I had a heck of time getting all the way to the house. Shaun enjoys telling this story – I seem to have made an impression on him while handling the 4-Runner sliding backwards down the steep driveway and road, once resulting in doing a 180 spin – controlled I might add. Two bags of sand and 4 attempts had us parked in the driveway. We basically slept the next day away and only went out to get this photo during a small cloud break.

Sunset Rainbow

Sunset Rainbow

A day or two to recover and to let the roads clear; I took Shaun, Pete & River out to Portage Glacier with stops along the beautiful Seward Highway. It was very windy along the Turnagain Arm, but sunny in spots. The Sun was beyond bright and beams of light danced on the choppy water.Sun on the Water

Sun on the Water

The Seward highway is a beautiful drive – summer or winter. Mountains, water, jagged rock face, big sky feel that makes any sort of sun/moon activity even more enhanced. The wind often whips through, funneled by the mountains on both sites. This particular day it was blowing at around 50mph and brought the temps to about zero in windchill terms.

Sun-kissed landscape

Sun-kissed landscape

Beluga Point is one of my favorite spots.

Shaun on Beluga Point

Shaun on Beluga Point

At Beluga point we climbed about on the rocks, almost got blown off a few times during the process but the view was well worth it! It was a interesting challenge to keep the camera steady enough while maintaining my balance to get a nice shot.

Braced and taking shots

Braced on Beluga Point

Within the valley where Portage Glacier is, the air was calm. We were the only people around which meant Pete & River got to run free. The Glacier is receding and not terribly impressive – but still a gorgeous area.

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier Entry

Portage Glacier has been receding for the last 20+ years, you can barely make it out in between the mountains, and chunks of it float out into the water. It is still a pretty stop along Seward.

Mossy Carpet

Mossy Carpet

After Pete almost fell in the water, we went for a short walk around the park. Mossy carpets and trees were everywhere – only visible in January since all the snow had melted. The dogs had a great time romping about and the silence of the park was wonderful.

River on the trail

River on the trail

Shaun had a great time seeing what Alaska looks like without snow.

Shaun looking more like a woodsman

Shaun looking more like a woodsman

Green gems hidden in the woods.

Moss Evergreen

Moss Evergreen

We walked to the Freestone ponds, which are gravel pits that Girdwood uses. The icy blue water turns ordinary gravel pits into blue enchanted ponds…

Freestone Ponds

Freestone Ponds

I looked for pretty rocks (something I am sorta known for) and snapped pictures. Shaun was a good sport and posed for me.

Shaun by the Pond

Shaun by the Pond

Pete quickly had Shaun throwing a stick for him, even though we tried to keep him out of the frigid water, Pete insisted on swimming for his stick. I love this shot of the them – a man and his 4-legged friend.

Pete retrieving

Pete retrieving

River was not to be left behind, and splashed through many of the shallows.

River exploring

River exploring

I love the blues and teals of the water here. I could stare at it – possibly forever.

Glacier Blue Water

Glacier Blue Water

I looked over at one point and saw Pete as he appeared to be standing on the water – he was perched on a rock just under the surface.

Pete walking on water

Pete walking on water

Closeup of Shaun.

Portrait

Portrait

The Sunset on our way back was absolutely breathtaking! The high peaks are volcanoes that aren’t always visible from the Turnagain Arm.

Mountains & Volcanoes in fading light

Mountains & Volcanoes in fading light

I drove up along Potter Marsh Rd so as to get the best view. As the Sun sunk lower, we had a few minutes of intense orange and yellow light, looking like a streak of fire.

Fire in the Sky

Fire in the Sky

Overall, the trip was fantastic. I never did get tired of having Shaun stay – something I tend to have a problem with in terms of people in my personal space. I wish the weather had been a little less messy – more clear skies and Northern Lights – but I figure if Shaun can have an awesome time during terrible Chinook Winds weather, he’ll love it if he comes in the Summer! Hopefully he will experience the Midnight Sun soon.

Smiles

Smiles

Having a long distance relationship that spans 4 times zones isn’t easy, but while its working – we have fun. Strangely enough, Shaun is only the second person who has come out to see me in Alaska – even though I offer it to many people. His willingness to just ‘do it’ was a pretty big turning point in how I viewed our relationship (fun when I am in town – to ‘real’). I don’t get to have very many people who like me grumpy first thing in the morning – let lone find it endearing while giving me coffee.

It’s all about the People you meet along the Journey, and if you never go, you’ll never meet them ~ J