Monday, July 12, 2010

Alaska Day Fourteen and Fifteen

So...yesterday I finally got to climb a glacier here. Problem: there was still 18 feet of snow on top of the glacier, so the glacier was invisible. It was basically a three hour uphill "snow hike" and not a "glacier hike" but it was remote and strange and wonderful...and here's a two pictures (sorry, cellphone camera!):




A few of you have emailed me to say, "Are you enjoying this vacation? I can't tell!"
That question needs a longish answr -- but now I have to hurry up and check out of here or they're going to charge me for another day, so that one will have to wait until Delta delays my flights again and I have scads of time to kill in either ANC or MSP before getting on the plane to LGA!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Alaska Days Twelve and Thirteen...





Yep, THE MOUNTAIN was out yesterday. First time in six weeks THE MOUNTAIN was out, and let me tell you, when THE MOUNTAIN comes out, Alaskans make as big a deal out of it as the New York Times did when Jim McGreevey came out. Fortunately, I was there to see THE MOUNTAIN come out. Just as fortunately, I wasn't there when Jim McGreevey did, as that whole scene was kinda creepy, with his wife smiling and nodding behind him and all. I suppose she was thinking about her book deal.

And yes, that's what people up here call it. THE MOUNTAIN. Perhaps that's because it's name has been in dispute since it was christened Mt. McKinley in...um...well, sometime before Grover McKinley or William McKinley or Chester Arthur McKinley (or whatever President McKinley's first name was) was assassinated (which I remember from the musical Ragtime). In any event, THE MOUNTAIN is officially named Mt. McKinley, unofficially named Denali (as that's what the natives call it), and always called THE MOUNTAIN to avoid the problem altogether. Ironically, "Denali" means "High One" in Aleut, so the Natives have basically called it THE MOUNTAIN since time immemorial.

Some more about THE MOUNTAIN. One of those pictures was taken from Talkeetna, about 60 miles from THE MOUNTAIN, while the other was taken from the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, about 40 miles from THE MOUNTAIN. (You can't get very close to THE MOUNTAIN by road - even the Denali National Park Road is more than 20 miles away from THE MOUNTAIN at its nearest point). You can of course fly to THE MOUNTAIN and even land on THE MOUNTAIN in one of these:



...which, if you know my love of them newfangled flying machines, tells you everything you need to know about why I didn't fly to THE MOUNTAIN.

A little perspective: those itty-bitty foothills you see in front of THE MOUNTAIN? They're 8,000 - 10,000 feet tall themselves. THE MOUNTAIN itself is 20,320 feet tall, and there are currently 202 idiots...er...climbers...trying to summit it. Apparently Hollis French, whom you may have seen me refer to in an earlier blog here as he's my law school classmate running for governor of Alaska, has summitted THE MOUNTAIN twice. (Thanks, Hollis, for making me feel more inferior by the day up here...) They took one guy off THE MOUNTAIN yesterday as he was running around naked at the camp at 14,000 feet and saying that he was going to paraglide off THE MOUNTAIN. To the best of my knowledge, it was not Hollis, just someone they say had "altitude sickness." Funny, down home we call that "DRUNK." But it's handy information for those of you who want an excuse for drunken behavior. Next time you puke on yourself while dancing on a table with a lampshade on your head, just call it "altitude sickness."

Today, THE MOUNTAIN was doing what it usually does -- being invisible. I can't show you a picture of that because, well, you can't photograph invisible things, and also because I left my camera up at the Lodge. D'oh! It's cellphone pictures from here on out, folks (but that's just one more day).

One last thought for the day: Alaska is supposed to be slow-paced and stress-free. It's hard to be "stress-free" when every hotel you stay in has this combination of:



STRESS INDUCING HOTEL BROCHURE "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" INFORMATION, TAKE ONE


STRESS INDUCING HOTEL BROCHOURE EMERGENCY INFORMATION, TAKE TWO

AND

UBER-CHEESY HOTEL ROOM DECOR DESIGNED TO MAKE YOU DREAM ABOUT THAT WHICH THEY WANT YOU TO AVOID!!!!!










Thursday, July 8, 2010

Oh, One More Thing: We Need These...

I guess this is an addendum to the thought that there's a lot of eating...and a lot of alcohol drinking...that goes on in Alaska.

There's also a lot of coffee-drinking. This, friends, is something I can get behind entirely.

And having these things:




on every corner is change you can REALLY believe in. These are espresso huts, and they're EVERYWHERE. There must be a couple of hundred of them just in the city (and yes, Anchorage is rife with drive-thru Starbucks as well). But these little guys -- you can drive right up and order your triple-venti-half-caf-no-foam-skinny-latte without even getting out of your car. I think I'm a little in love with them.

Alaska Day Ten and Eleven (Wednesday and Thursday)

Ok, Alaska, I have a bone to pick with you. I've been trying to schedule a backcountry ATV tour or the last few days, because it sounds like a whole lot of fun. I'm even willing to pay your outlandish prices for such a tour, even though I could use that same money and book a Travelocity last minute weekend in Orlando nearly any time than what these ATV tours cost. But the problem here, Alaska, is that you won't let me book a tour unless I'm booking for at least two people.

Forgive me, 49th State, but I'm single. I'm sure this state of affairs actually bothers me more than it bothers you, although I've encountered several really unruly small children in the last few weeks, and I've also just read that New Yorker mag article on how study after study shows that people without children are happier than people with children, so part of me lately has been saying, "HAHAHA! I'm single, suckers!," but I digress...

Here's the thing: Over 50% of Americans are now single. That means there's a lot of us who are going to be travelling alone. That means you're going to have to pony up to reality and let individuals, and not just "groups of two or more," book your ATV tours or you're going to have a lot of empty ATVs sitting in Wasilla, you know? And although there's enough eating going on in this state to make me feel like I'm an amoeba about to undergo binary fission, last I looked in the mirror I'm still just one homo sapien, not two protista.

Speaking of eating in Alaska, factoid of the day: Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state in the US. Studies are ongoing to see if they eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere in the world (your tax dollars at work!).

What the why?

"Hey, Barney, it's 25 below zero out there, and I really got a hankering for some Baskin-Robbins. Wanna get the ATVs out and go? Heck, there's two of us...it's not like I was gonna do something crazy, like try to book an ATV tour when I'm single...I was just gonna go out through this raging blizzard and get me a Double Scoop of Quarterback Crunch!"

Weird place, this is.

'Nuff said. Tomorrow I'm headed up to what everyone calls "The Mountain." We'll see if The Mountain is amenable to groups of one or if The Mountain also only turns up for groups of two or more...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Alaska Day Nine (Tuesday)

Where the rich folks live:



Now THAT doesn't suck...

The rich folks' view:



That doesn't suck either...

After leaving the "Bel Air of Los Anchorage" neighborhood in the hills, spent some time at what's likely to become my favorite place in the Anchorage area: Point Woronzof. They say in the guidebooks that you can skip it, because it's a "favorite hangout of teenagers at night." The guidebooks were, in fact, downright snooty and dismissive, which meant that Contrarian Me had to check it out.

So, maybe it does turn into Inspiration Point (10 points if you remember what tv show that's from) after dark...oh, wait, it doesn't GET dark so I guess it's only Inspiration Point all winter long, when Anchorage gets five and a half hours of daylight. In any event, I didn't see any teenagers here, just locals with their families. It's a great place to bring a book and enjoy the scenery.






Unfortunately, you have to be very careful if you want to go down to the water, which a lot of folks do, as there is a rocky area at the bottom of the point where you can go safely, but there are also:

MUDFLATS.OF.DOOM.



Oh, and one more thing about Woronzof Point? Planes land right over your head. Pretty neat, IMHO. This isn't the gargantuan 757 that came over while I was arriving, but it still made me grin stupidly as it flew over.



I guess I should admit here that the first time I saw an Air Alaska plane, I wondered, "What in the heck is Che Guevara doing on that plane's tail?" Upon closer and more reasonable inspection, no, that's not Che Guevara. It's an Eskimo.

Which brings me to my political point du jour: It's very strange to be in a place where "race relations issues" means not black and white, but black and white versus Native. There's a big problem here regarding Natives -- and, specifically, Native alcoholism and homelessness. I noticed it myself the first few days I was here when, in my inimitable fashion, I first thought, "wow, there's a lot of liquor stores here," then, "boy, there's a lot of really chubby Asian people here," then, "and the Asians here drink A LOT." And then my brain woke up from its blonde nap and I realized, "They're not Asians, doofus. They're Native Alaskans, and you're a brunette, so snap out of it." There are a lot of liquor stores here because smaller towns up north have banned liquor sales, so people come down to stores in Anchorage that advertise "bush service" and fly the liquor back up north. (I know, there's a joke dying to be made here about alcohol and bush service, but I will leave that to each of you for your own private gutter mind joke moment).

Anyway, I was listening to the radio yesterday and people were calling in and complaining about the serious Native homeless/alcohol problem in Anchorage and excoriating the Anchorage City Council for its new plan of opening a few homeless camps where the homeless Natives can pitch a tent and live. I'm not sure why they don't see the irony and political incorrectness of encouraging Natives to "pitch a tent," but in the few cities where this has been tried, it's been a disaster for crime and disease. Anchorage seems committed to trying it anyway. From what I've seen -- and from what I heard on the radio yesterday, but have not seen about drunken behavior downtown -- they need to try something, but a few Hoovervilles of homeless alcoholics doesn't strike me as a genius plan in a town where the average January high temperature is twenty-five degrees, as I don't think these folks buy winterized tents and sleeping bags at The Sports Authority.

Ok, end of political talk.

So, as a final thought today, Anchorage is really not all that small:



See it, right there?



No, come on, I mean right there. In the middle of the picture!

Ok, I kid. That picture is actually where Mount McKinley would be. See that area in the picture where big, marshmallow-like white clouds strech poofily to the ground? That's where the mountain is. Hopefully, when I'm up there on Friday/Saturday, Eeyore will not be the mountain's homeboy as well, and the sun will be out.

Here's Anchorage.



It's really not that small. It's got everything a typical American city of its size would have with the added benefit of a somewhat unique race relations problem.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Alaska Day Seven and Eight...Ok, So I Missed a Day

Let's see now...what have I learned since I last blogged?

1. Reindeer Sausage is not for everyone. They say you have to try the local delicacies, right? Check. I took a bite out of Rudolph and, well, let's just say that if you've ever had an overwhelming desire to eat a gamey tasting hot dog for your breakfast, reindeer sausage is the food of your dreams. If, like me, you've never really had that desire, you can pass on it.

2. Alaska: It's Great for Mancations. A few friends have emailed me since I've been up here saying that Alaska is where their husbands take their mancations and, yes, I can see this as a great place for a mancation. Plenty of opportunities to hunt, fish, camp, drink local beers, and burp and fart the woods without having to pin it on the nearest bear. Which brings me to my problem: despite my fantastically gender-neutral first name, I enjoy being a girl, making a few weeks in Alaska alone a bit of a problem. I could happily do all these mancation things (maybe even the farting in the woods, depending upon how many reindeer sausages had been consumed) were I with a male of the species who could teach me how to live like the Unabomber, but alone...Admission: only time I've ever fished, I was about ten, and Kristin and I were fishing off the dock of my uncle's summer house. I cried when the fish Kristin caught was bleeding, because I felt so bad for the poor fish. WHAT AM I DOING IN ALASKA? AND WHY DID I TAKE A BITE OUT OF RUDOLPH????

3. "Everybear has its own personal space." That's what they say up here. I have to take issue with that. Everybear may have its own ursinal space, but not its own personal space. (I love it - a ba-dum-dum joke that may require a quick dictionary look-up!)

4. Extreme sports, Alaska Style:



Dang, and I really wanted to pick up that thing that looked like a rocket and bring it home on the plane.

5. If it hits 60 degrees, you want to go to the lake to cool down:



6. Palmer, Alaska was founded by a group of transplanted midwestern farmers who wanted to preserve the character of the midwest in their town. The mountains don't exactly say "midwest" to me, but you have to love the Iowa-style water tower:



7. I Don't Have the Right Sensibility for Alaska: I think I am supposed to look at a mountain like this and think, "Wow! How amazing! The grandeur of nature! The beauty of the unspoiled land!"



What AM I thinking?
WORLD'S. LONGEST. FASTEST. ALPINE. SLIDE.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Alaska Day Six

Unless you want to see pictures of the hotel room, gym, whirpool, and Starbucks, I got nuthin'. It's raining, I'm curled up in my room with my scripts, I'm happy.

But I have to get off my arse and do something tomorrow...or do I?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Alaska Day Five, Wherein Carter Acts Like a Typical New Yorker...

...and trots off to spend the Fourth of July weekend at a swanky hotel in the mountains. I admit that I'm more than a little ashamed that I am typing this blog post from a schmancy ski lodge 30 miles outside of Anchorage in beautiful downtown Girdwood, but all I can do is prostrate myself at all of your feet and beg your pity on me, dear readers, for I have been without any form of television for one full week, without decent television for two, and I am going through some serious Weather Channel withdrawal. Have the DTs and all.

Those of you who have known me for many years, and especially those of you who have dormed with me (Jennifer Miller, I'm looking at you!), know that asking me to live without the Weather Channel for more than three days is cruel and unusal punishment, because I can be endlessly entertained by the pop-up tornado warning boxes in places like Tipton, Iowa and Aline, Oklahoma. It has been two weeks since I have seen my beloved WC as...

There is no tv in my dorm.

When I was up in Maine with the play, there was a tv...but it got about 5 broadcast channels, CNN, and a bunch of Encore movie channels...sans Weather Channel.

There is a TV in the small workout room near my dorm, but that room is only upon from 8am to 11am. Apparently college-aged Alaskans exercise in the morning only. Which makes sense to me, given that they're REALLY exercising between noon and 3pm, and their clocks are just ALL WRONG here. And I've also found they don't like watching the Weather Channel while they exercise.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. It's not that there's a spa at this hotel, or that I'll be able to watch the Wimbledon finals, or that there's a guided hike down the mountain or there was a great, great deal on the rooms (Seriously. Like Red Roof Inn-great deal) as Alaskans do not make like New Yorkers and head for their much-more-impressive version of the Catskills on July 4th. It's all about needing a Weather Channel fix.

Oh, and Wimbledon finals in bed.

God, I'm such a New Yorker. Pathetic.

Alaska By Night

Anchorage at 9pm




Anchorage at 10pm



Anchorage at 11pm



Anchorage at midnight



Anchorage at 3am



It's a rough town for Fourth of July Fireworks...

Alaska Day Four

I've got to tell you, I'm getting a little scenery'ed out. Went on a boat tour today, a "26 Glaciers Tour" and yes, we sat on the boat for 5 hours and saw 26 glaciers. Y'all know that I'm an active kind of girl, and sitting on a boat for 5 hours...well, that was rough. I filled out my suggestion card at the end of the trip with the following: "Have you ever considered a 2 hour, 12 Glacier tour?"

In any event, some scenery:



Yes, that's a whale. He's diving. He didn't do the whole Prudential or Mutual Life or whatever it is "whale-jumps-out-of-the-water-and-splashes" thing for us. I think he needs to be sent to Sea World and trained up for us touristy folks.



Sea Otter. He was a show-offy little guy and posed for us.



This is "Surprise Glacier." Have to tell you, it's not a name I care for when I'm in a boat that's speeding up to a glacier. If it were called "Harmless Glacier,"...then we'd be talking. By the way, we were about 5 miles away from it at this point, just to give you some perspective.



Here, we were 1000 feet away from it. Surprise!



When you get close to a glacier...you tend to have a lot of these things in the water. Julie McCoy, our cruise director, told us not to worry though, because the boat's pontoons were "ice reinforced, so when we bump into the icebergs, even though 85% of their ice is under water, we're perfectly safe."

Hmm...where have I heard that before? Isn't that something Victor Garber said to Billy Zane in: