Sailing Away, Alaska Style

Mark Twain said it best: "Throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover."

What I've noticed from my years of living in the Last Froniter is that exploring, dreaming, and discovering are the cornerstones of many Alaskans' lives.  Take my friend, Captain Louis Hoock, for example.  He's got a zest for adventure that's infectious, so much so that he owns and operates Alaska Adventure Sailing, a charter company based in Alaska's capital city. 

There are three things you need to know about Captain Hoock:

  1. Louie served active duty sea service as a NOAA Corps Commissioned Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette where he explored the farthest reaches of the sea.
  2. His whistle is so loud, it could rival Guinness World records.
  3. In 2010, Captain Hoock founded Coastal Footprint, a nonprofit environmental/scientific research organization.  That same year, he sailed The Jolly Roger from Alaska to Panama - almost 5,000 miles away - teaching more than 40 people to sail while simultaneously removing more trash from the shoreline than the entire NOAA Marine Debris Program accomplished in 2010.

In May, I took a day sailing trip with Louie and his friends.  It was the adventure of a lifetime.  Aboard his well-appointed and comfortable 54' sailing vessel, the S/V Arcturus, we were in very capable hands for our day of exploration.  Departing from the Douglas Island harbor, we traveled south of Juneau down the Gastineau Channel and tucked into Taku Inlet.  It was a sunny, picture-perfect day for sailing around Southeast Alaska.  There was also a bit of stand up paddleboard skiing, too - which was an absolute riot to watch from the dry deck.  All-in-all, what a terrific experience that's now got me hooked on Alaska even more! 

Check out Captain Hoock's website - Alaska Adventure Sailing - for your own adventure on the water.

[Click the photos below to expand] 

Adventure Packed

I never thought I'd set foot in a packraft.  Frankly, I hadn't even heard the term "packraft" until I moved to Alaska.  And even then, I thought it was fantasy land - an adventure you only read about in books.  At this month's Becoming an Outdoors-Woman weekend event, I learned exactly what it means to packraft - and I had the time of my time.

Packrafts are small, portable, and inflatable boats, designed to be light enough to be carried long distances.  Along with eight other adventurous souls, we explored the edges of Echo Cove and the boundaries of Berner's Bay, a pristine location about 40 miles north of Juneau.

Starting out, we hiked for about half an hour across the warm Cowee meadows with our packrafts and paddles in tow.  It was a pleasant hike, but we quickly found ourselves shedding layers with the unseasonably warm climate.  It was 72 degrees and brought back memories of Alabama humidity.  Before too long, we found a nice rocky beach, a perfect spot to put our pack rafts in to the chilled waters of the Cowee Creek.

Floating down the waterway, we practiced our ferrying technique, learned more about reading water, and worked to steer clear of boulders as we negotiated the creek.  I had a blast with the group as we learned new skills together in a beautiful and breathtaking environment. 

The whole packrafting experience was something I'm anxious to experience again soon.  Next adventure on the water?  Maybe I'll try my hand at fishing or crabbing from a packraft!  Stranger things have happened, so stay tuned!

Iditarod's Sweetheart

She’s an Ironwoman and a cancer survivor.  She's Alaska's sweetheart and a fan favorite of the Iditarod.  Of course by she I mean DeeDee Jonrowe, the one and only.  And in 2015, she’s competing her 33rd time in the Last Great Race on Earth. 

Known as the pink-clad musher who's succeeded in one of the world's toughest male-dominated sports, she’s an inspiration to folks across the globe, including me.  It's always a treat to see DeeDee and watch her brightly-attired self interact with her pink-bootied pups.

I hope you enjoy the photos below of DeeDee and her team at the Iditarod Ceremonial Start in Anchorage on March 7, 2015.  At the time of this blog post, the Iditarod is still on-going, and DeeDee has already suffered six frostbitten fingers after braving 40-below temperatures in Huslia, the halfway point in the race. 

Check out the video below from Kyle Hopkins with KTUU.  It definitely gives a glimpse into the sheer exhaustion that comes with mushing life.  We're rooting for you, DeeDee!

Running of the Reindeer

Over 500 loads of snow were trucked in to downtown Anchorage to prepare for the Ceremonial Start of the 2015 Iditarod and the Running of the Reindeer – two long-awaited and eagerly anticipated events of Fur Rendezvous, the largest winter festival in North America. It's uncommon for Anchorage to have a drought of snow in the winter months, but these past few months have proven especially difficult for dog mushers and other winter athletes who usually revel in the winter climate this time of year.  Regardless, from February 27 to March 8, thousands of Alaskans and visitors from around the world converged on downtown Anchorage for a sight to behold: eager and energetic sled dogs, Alaskan celebrity sightings, and more fur hats than you can count.

I spontaneously flew on a mileage ticket to Anchorage for this year's festivities.  March 7 was an unseasonably warm March day with no snow despite earlier weather reports of 6+ inches of new snow accumulation.  Bright and warm sun rays came out during the Iditarod Ceremonial Start, and the scent of reindeer sausage wafted all around.  Super friendly folks and loud laughter was around every corner, and there was a real spirit in the air - the spirit of the best of Alaska. 

I registered for the infamous Running of the Reindeer, which is sort of a play on Spain’s Running of the Bulls, but less intense or fatal.  Then I donned the same St. Pauli's Girl dress I wore to welcome my friend, James Volek, across Nome's Iditarod finish line in 2013.  This year's running event brought back bittersweet memories.  The last time I ran with reindeer in 2012, I was about 60 pounds heavier and had zero cardiovascular endurance.  This year?  I literally ran with reindeer and was toward the front of the pack in the "Gals Herd."  Once finished, I then got such a runner's high (first time ever, by the way) that I snuck into the "Groups Herd" and ran a second time!  Addictive, I tell ya.

Mucho thanks to my friends, Cyndi and Michael, for rolling out the red carpet and being such terrific hosts.  You know it’s been an epic weekend when friends in Bama say they've spotted you on the local FOX News channel.

"Running of the Reindeer" photos below courtesy of Michael Oliver.  Thanks for capturing the moment, Michael!