Archive for August, 2007

False Outer Point, Outer Point, and Bluff Trail – Douglas Island, Alaska

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

date hiked: July 28, 2007
distance: 3 miles
highest elevation: unknown
elevation gain: unknown
time: approximately 1.5 hours

False Outer Pt Trail

One of the things I loved about hiking in Juneau is that you were always near the water. These three trails are on Douglas Island (included in the borough of Juneau) and can be walked together in a kind of loop. This is our last day in the area and I’m filled with excitement about what may come next.

Tyler walked this trail with me because there were rocks he could climb. I thought they were sharp and slippery. He thought they were fun. Go figure.

Tyler on rocks 

On Our Way Again

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

I had hoped to post all of our Alaska adventure before leaving again…but I didn’t make it. Tyler and I are off in the morning to Mount Rainier National Park for four days of camping and hiking. So, upon return…I shall continue posting about the Alaska trip (I still have so much more) AND post about this trip. Woohoo!

Bubble Netting

Friday, August 10th, 2007

July 27, 2007 – Juneau, Alaska (more specifically – Stephens Passage)

Tyler and I have this joke. I’ve already explained my intense fascination with all things watery. What I failed to mention was my numerous previous attempt to find whales. I’ve even been on a boat, in the Pacific Ocean, during the migration season…and had everyone on the boat see a whale. Except me. I missed it. Needless to say it became the source of much comedy in our household…especially when planning the whale watching trip.

We booked a whale watching trip with Orca Enterprises. While doing my research I found that they saw humpback whales on every trip and orcas on one in every five trips during the summer. They quoted a 99.9% success rate.

Tyler, of course, insisted that by being on their boat, I would ruin their average.

The day we left for our whale watching trip, I had already seen humpback whales while traveling through the inside passage…so I figured, anything is good. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like Alice Walker in her essay, Looking for Zora. In the story, Alice is looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s unmarked grave. The cemetery is no longer used and has been extremely neglected. Alice is standing in waist-high weeds, her feet in sand, with unseen snakes and ants all around. Desperate, she starts to yell, “Zora!”. I love that story. Although it seems odd (and probably wrong to most people), there’s a quiet desperation in my heart. I can imagine it. Standing at the bow of the boat, shouting, “Whales! Where are you? Show yourselves! Please!!!”

It turns out. I didn’t have to yell. However, I did decide that I was the luckiest woman on earth.

I should note before I go any further that I didn’t manage to take any pictures. I was too busy being shocked. Literally. Lucky for me, Tyler thinks he might want to be a photographer, so he was able to keep his camera rolling.

Humpback whales

Bubble netting or bubble net feeding is unique to humpback whales. It also doesn’t happen in all places. The Alaska Whale Foundation has a great page that explains it in detail. Humpback whales are individual animals. They don’t travel in groups. Yet, with bubble netting, a group of humpbacks will come together to feed. The whales blow bubbles to form a “net” to force a school of fish together. The whales then rise together with their mouths open to catch the fish. (That is the lay version of bubble net feeding.)


On the boat, we were watching this process from a distance. Then all of a sudden, right next to the boat, the water started bubbling. And the whales came too.


I cried. I know it’s silly…but it was so amazing. I felt so honored that I was able to witness it. Tyler has admitted that I’m probably not cursed anymore. Oh…and we also saw eagles and sea lions.

sea lions and eagle


Nugget Falls – Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, Alaska

Friday, August 10th, 2007

date hiked: July 26, 2007
distance: 1 mile
highest elevation: unknown
elevation gain: unknown
time: approximately 1 hour


Tyler has decided that he doesn’t hate all hiking. In fact, he loved the hike to Nugget Falls. Somehow, instead of being thrilled, I’m filled with apprehension. It figures.

Nugget Falls sits just next to Mendenhall Glacier roaring down into Mendenhall Lake. You can get to the bottom of the falls from the visitor center, by walking along the beach of the lake. Kind of. When you leave the visitor center to make your way along the beach, you come upon several signs. “Going to Nugget Falls is not a trail! You may have to wade in water. There is a recent rock avalanche to climb! Every week people need to be rescued! It will take over an hour to reach you! This is not a trail!”

I look to Tyler. I ask, “You want to go?” He says, full of excitement, “Yeah, absolutely!” So off we go. Inside, I secretly wonder if this is one of those things I’m going to be kicking myself about later. I mean…neither one of us could be considered very graceful. I’m pretty sure I have an affinity for hazardous situations. Throw my equally accident prone awkward teen in the mix…and you could have a SAR. Yet, here we are, hiking on a non-trail to a waterfall a half-mile away.

The first challenge we came to was a choice: climb a rock wall or cross the water. I let Tyler choose. He chose the water.

Tyler crossing water  

Tyler thought it was great. Water up to my knees (he’s taller than me). We both thought it was freezing! We had to cross the water three more times (although since Tyler was leading and he liked it so much, it could have been on purpose). After that, we walked along the beach for a while. Then we came to the rock avalanche. It was massive. We climbed huge boulders, over and over, slowly making our way across. I looked back at Tyler and he was smiling so big. My heart leapt. We were having so much fun. After the rock avalanche, we made it to the falls.

Tyler at Nugget Falls

Nugget Falls is amazing. You are so close; the spray soaks you with freezing cold water. Sitting right next to the falls, is the glacier. The icebergs are floating so large and massive in the lake. Tyler and I had to yell at each other over the roar of the falls, even then we could barely hear.

Heading back, we climbed the boulders, crossed the water…and laughed a lot. Tyler says he’d hike like this anytime. I said…okay we’ll just have to keeping finding trails that aren’t there.

Moraine Ecology Trail – Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, Alaska

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

date hiked: July 26, 2007
distance: 1.5 miles
highest elevation: 100 feet
elevation gain: 10 feet
time: 1 hour

Mendenhall Glacier

The Moraine Ecology Trail at first gives you an amazing view of Mendenhall Glacier from a beach. Soon after, the trail winds its way into forest covered in moss, streams crossing constantly, and evidence of a glacier-carved landscape abounds. There is an active beaver colony and although I find the beaver fascinating, locals say the amount of beaver activity here is a problem. The beavers are changing the water flow constantly. The salmon are here too…and that means there are bear too. Damn bear.

I share my bearanoia with Rebecca, our hotel clerk. I expect her to tell me it’s ridiculous to be afraid of running into a bear. Instead, she says, “Yeah, I would be afraid. I don’t blame you one bit.” I imagine that is her idea of camaraderie. Instead, my bearanoia is validated. Damn bear.

I don’t see any bear on this trail. In fact, I don’t spend much time thinking about seeing bears. It’s quite populated here.

I didn’t realize how wet things would be. I don’t know what I thought, but I didn’t imagine that things would be so full of water. The meadows look amazing, then you realize they are more like swamps…they’re covered in water. Not that it makes them less amazing.

Moraine Ecology trail

The green also amazes me. It seems different. It’s like there are a million shades of green and they are all right here. How can there be so many different greens? I wish I could capture them all. The Moraine trail loops back to the beginning and Tyler and I are off to Nugget Falls.

Saving the Salmon

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

July 25, 2007 – Juneau, Alaska

After dinner, we decided to walk along the beach and came to a creek with a large number of eagles and other birds around. Walking up to the creek, it turns out, the salmon runs had begun. Locals had told us the town goes a little haywire when the salmon starts running. For some of the local population, it is their livelihood. The others, it seems, just try to get out of the way. Juneau also receives 800,000 tourists from (mostly) cruise ships that dock in their harbor. And yes, they want salmon too.

Salmon run

The whole concept of the salmon run gets to me. Male and female fish swimming against all odds (fisherman, bears, birds, etc.) to reproduce. Then they die.

Tyler thinks if humans had to reproduce that way there wouldn’t be any children. “Mom, why do they even do it? Why not just swim in the ocean and enjoy life?”

I tried to explain the idea of purpose. “This is what salmon are supposed to do. They don’t think the way you and I do. They are meant to swim and reproduce this way.”

Tyler says, “It shouldn’t be that hard.”

Somewhere inside, something stirs. I sit, watching all of the activity around me. Fascinated (and weirdly, honored) by what I am witnessing. Suddenly Tyler is taking off his shoes and socks. “Mom, those two are stuck! They’re going to die if I don’t help them.” He rolls up his pants, grabs a stick, walks into the water and shoves the salmon into deeper water. He’s thrilled that he’s saved two salmon.

Tyler and salmon   

I’m secretly touched. He proudly talks about his “salmon saving” for quite awhile. In the midst of his blabbering (and Tyler does blab), I hear him say, “I know they will die anyway, but maybe I have helped them reach their purpose.”

Now, sitting in a hotel, writing in my journal, I cry. Tears of joy. Tears of happiness.

Maybe some parents are confident in their relationship with their children. Maybe some parents are positive that their children are okay. Maybe some parents never question whether they are a good mom or dad. Not me. Things have been hard for Tyler and I. That’s a fact. If I didn’t acknowledge that, I’d be an idiot. Most of the time, through all of the hardness, we’ve had a great relationship. In the last few years, some things changed. I was married and then divorced. Tyler blamed me. He was angry. He sided with my ex. For a long time, we struggled to connect. I began to question whether or not we could heal.

I also started to worry about the kind of man I wanted Tyler to be. Was he going to grow up to be a good man? If we couldn’t find our way back, how could I help him be that man? Slowly, over time, we began to reconnect. We began to heal. We talked again, we laughed again, we went to the movies, took trips, and had birthday parties where I tried to pretend I was cool (which I’m not).

And here today I find a nugget. Is Tyler going to grow up to be a good man? Well…if he helps them reach their purpose.

Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, Alaska

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Mendenhall Glacier 

July 25, 2007

We are definitely in the land of the midnight sun. The fact that it doesn’t become dark until after midnight gives us much more time to explore. Mendenhall Glacier is part of the Juneau Icefield. It is 12 miles long and up to 1.5 miles wide. Since 1750, the glacier has been receding. It is retreating at approximately 150 feet per year. Its calving icebergs enter Mendenhall Lake. There are many trails in the area and we are coming back tomorrow to hike some. Tyler even said he’d join me.

Tyler on trail

    Tyler on one of the trails at Mendenhall.


Exploring and the Labyrinth

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

July 25, 2007

Juneau, Alaska

Today has been a day of contrasts. I set out to explore Juneau. Luckily for me, that began as a straight-forward task. Egan Drive is the main highway that runs through town. (Although calling it a highway is a major stretch.) It heads approximately forty miles north from downtown and then dead-ends. Pretty straight-forward. I had forty miles of scenery to explore.

Drive to Echo Cove

At about mile 23 we came upon the Shrine of St. Therese, a Catholic chapel built in 1939. We had heard this was a not-to-miss spot and it was easy to see why. The small, cobblestone chapel was built on an island connected to the mainland by a 400-foot causeway. The island was completed secluded and the chapel was invisible until you walked across the causeway and came upon it. It was beautiful, whether or not you are Catholic.

But my favorite part? There was a prayer labyrinth! Suddenly the explorations of the day were no longer straight-forward. Things were curvy. If I walked the labyrinth, what problem would I seek to settle? What question can I gnaw at? What struggle am I willing to wrestle with?


Is there a God? Does Jesus exist? How do you make yourself believe something? Is saying it enough?

The truth is, I’m not a believer. I used to be. Some days, I want to be. Most days, if I search myself, I can drum up fear. I want to believe on the off chance that I might live in hell for the rest of eternity. Then, if I search deeper, I find…it’s not there. The other truth…my biggest fear…I don’t want to live forever. No matter where it is.

I had a therapist once who said if you repeat something to yourself enough you will believe it. Should I wake up every morning and tell myself I believe in Jesus? Why?

The labyrinth didn’t provide any answers for me. So I continue to explore.

Mt. Roberts – Juneau, Alaska

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

date hiked: July 24, 2007
distance: 2.7 miles
highest elevation: 2030 feet
elevation gain: 2030 feet
time: 1 hours 10 minutes

Mt. Roberts Trail

They have a name for people like me in Alaska. I’m ashamed to admit it. There are signs describing me. I’m sure it may eventually be included in the DSM-V and there will be a medication. What’s wrong with me? I am suffering from bearanoia. It’s true. I’m terrified of bears. It’s amazing how fast you hike up a mountain when you are are suffering from an irrational fear of a big, scary monster that is capable of eating you.

The Mt. Roberts trail was actually pretty cool. I chose it because Tyler was able to ride the tram to the 1800 feet level instead of hiking and I met him at the tram station. The trail leads through a rainforest…and I became quite muddy, which was fun. I spent a lot of time trying to overcome my bear anxiety…and I think I finally managed to gain a rational perspective. Then, I enjoyed myself. I only saw one other person hiking up the trail, but once you reach the tram station it becomes a busy place. There’s a restaurant, gift shop, theater, art gallery, and raptor center. Tyler and I met up, walked around some of the trails, and bought some art. The Mt. Roberts trail continues up the mountain to its’ peak at 3019 feet, but we didn’t go all the way to the top. We explored, overlooking Juneau far below, and rode the tram down the mountain.

Waiting for the whales

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

The strong, bold bluffs of the interior passages now give way to gentler elevations along the Pacific seaboard, but the country gradually rises from the coast until but a few miles back the same old cloud-capped, snow-covered peaks recur, and as we stand well out to sea they look as abrupt as ever. – Frederick Schwatka “The Inside Passage” 1886

humpback whale

July 21, 2007

I’m on the ferry now. Traveling through the inside passage, with a couple hundred other people on a boat, I feel odd. I can’t quite figure out what it is.

July 22, 2007

Yesterday, I saw a whale. My first whale. It was a humpback whale…breaching repeatedly as if welcoming me to it’s home. It was so close I could feel the splash on my face. People around me were snapping pictures, but I couldn’t. I was too stunned, too mesmerized. I know it sounds silly.

There were more whales yesterday. Over and over, they would reveal themselves by the spray from their blowhole visible from a mile away. I was in heaven.

So as I sit here, perched at the ready, waiting for the whales…my thoughts wonder. I am in my element. This is what I wanted my life to be like. I was going to be a marine biologist and live on boat, working with whales or dolphins. But I’m not. I became pregnant. I had a baby by myself instead. I became a teacher so I could be a mom. Am I okay with it? Do I have regrets?

For a moment, I’m afraid of the answer. I search inside, crawling through the dark recesses. I turn over the ugly spots. I sit with that odd, weird feeling. It doesn’t take as long as I anticipate. I thought it was a harder question. I am okay. I have no regrets. 

Hearing Tyler next to me, ” Mom, I have to go to the bathroom, but if I leave I might miss another whale.” I laugh. We’ve both refused to eat or leave our perch. We’re afraid to miss anything. This is my element. I’m a mom. Sharing moment after moment with her son, while the whales dance by.