Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Day Six and Seven: The One Where We Go Home

Tuesday saw another early start, as we had plans to be at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The reason we had to leave so early is that the road to Chena is 56 miles long, with ice everywhere and moose too. As the shotgun seat resident for the majority of the trip, moose alert was my job. We were all looking forward to this part of the trip, so it was well worth the hair-raising conditions.

We started out at the spring itself, with 17 of us going swimming, while the other three went to the ice museum. The spring is natural, and is fed through a man-made filter before being piped into a natural style pool, with gravel floor and natural rocks all around. The best part about this is that it is outside, so that you are being snowed on (but not really because there is so much steam coming off of the water), while in the water. We took some cute pictures, and some people got icicles and pretended to be wizards! I did not go into the ice museum, but from pictures it seemed to be a pretty neat experience.

After the spring, it was time for lunch. Because our insides had basically been boiled in the spring, it took us quite a while to feel the cold around us. I know at least for me and one other person, a parka and hat were not necessary for the walk in the snow (it was also actively snowing) to the lunch hall. After eating a great meal, we had a few options. The one I chose was to visit the sled dogs for the resort. While we weren’t able to pet them, we did start a howl which was pretty great. There was also a puppy that jumped its fence and came over to see us but don’t tell anyone about that. After getting some hot chocolate since we cooled off walking to the pups, we went on a tour of the geothermal power plant and greenhouse that makes Chena famous. The entire place is run off the grid, with the geothermal power plant providing most of the power during the winter, and pretty much all of it in the summer. They only use backup generators when there is a shortage of power coming from the geothermal plant.

We then got to see the greenhouse where they grow lettuce, tomatoes, and mushrooms for their restaurant. The tomatoes had all just been pulled, but it was cool to see the room. The lettuce and tomatoes are grown with an aquaponics system, with the water being temperature controlled separately from the water that the geothermal system heats.

After getting back from our daytrip, we had some time to get cleaned up and nap before our last nigh in Fairbanks. We had dinner at a great little place called Gambardello’s. If you didn’t think you could get good Italian food in Alaska, you would be mistaken. It was great to get some time to kick back, relax, and just have some time all together. The forecast called for level five auroras, but it was cloudy all around and outside of Fairbanks, so there was no chance to see them. Personally, I’m glad we didn’t go out because 1) after the night before, it would have been very difficult to top the show the lights put on and 2) we had to leave bright and early to drive back to Anchorage to go home. We also had to pack our bags in the manner in which they were when we flew out so that was a Thing.
The next morning, we were all up, dressed, fed, and out the door by 8am, which was the goal. We had a six-and-a-half-hour minimum drive to Anchorage, but that did not include stops for bathroom breaks, the South observation point, snow plows, or just traffic once we got to Anchorage. All told, it took about eight hours to get to the city. Along the way, we listened to everything from epic adventure music from the Star Wars, Episode VII score, to country.

The most impressive thing about the drive was the way the sky cleared and the mountains all around were visible, including Denali! I had seen the mountain while on my mushing adventure, but it was still not very clear and only the very top of the mountain was visible. On this day, the sky was clear and the only thing obscured was the very top, due to the fact that Denali is so tall that it makes its own weather. Lenticular clouds were the name of the game. The lucky part about this spot is that there were tire tracks in the knee deep snow (I am serious about this, it was crazy) so that we could walk without getting too much snow all over us. One thing I have to say about the snow is that it is nice for skiing and snowboarding because it’s like powder, but at the same time if you don’t have any experience with this kind of snow, you could walk on a beach with powdery sand (think Fort Walton Beach or Panama City Beach before Ivan) in boots and get almost the same leg workout.

After our stop for pictures, it was time for the final push to Anchorage, as there is not much between Anchorage and Denali National Park except for moose and a Subway. When we got to Anchorage, we headed downtown as some people still needed to buy gifts for their family and friends. While there, we found a small park that had some Christmas lights in the trees, and decided to take a picture as a car. The Manners Moc Mobile really bonded on this trip, and while I will miss the company, I will not miss being crammed into a Suburban with them all.

With the trip coming to a close, we met some alumni for dinner, and then made our way to the airport. We had about three hours to kill, so we explored the airport, braided each other’s hair (literally), and waited for patiently for our (slightly delayed) boarding call. The flight was quite miserable, in that there wasn’t much turbulence but the plane constantly felt like it was bouncing. Me being me, of course I didn’t feel great when we landed in Denver. None of us were really feeling up to snuff for it to be 7am in Denver, and 9am at home, so we took a good long nap on the floor at our gate while waiting for our (again, delayed) flight. The thing with these flights that are just delayed due to the planes arriving at the gate a few minutes behind schedule is that with the right pilot, you might just make it to your destination early, 15 minutes early to be exact. Getting off the plane, it was weird walking on the jet bridge because it felt like a sauna compared to Anchorage and Denver. When we had gotten our bags and were waiting outside for the buses, we were reveling in the fact that it was not dark outside. However, once on the buses, we all just wanted air conditioning.

Arriving back at campus was bittersweet. While I was excited to see my family, I very much did not want to leave the beauty of Alaska behind so quickly. As I write this, it’s been about 48 hours since we left Anchorage, and it is starting to feel like a beautiful dream. Long story short, Alaska is a 10/10 would recommend experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially seeing the Northern Lights. If you get a random chance like I did, jump on it and don’t let anything stand in the way of it.

That’s all for now; I’m not sure when or where I’ll be traveling next, but you’ll be the first to hear about it. Signing off!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Day Four and Five: The Place Where the Lights Touch the Earth

Sunday saw us traveling into the interior, officially, across a bridge with a slightly foreboding name: The Bridge to the Interior. It doesn’t carry the same horrific connotation as something like Stampede Road (which is where the mushing company I went out with is located), but it was still really neat to cross the bridge to our final destination: Fairbanks.

On the way to Fairbanks, we passed through Nenana, of Iditarod and Balto fame. There is a statue of a sled dog in Central Park (New York) dedicated to sled dogs, because of a diphtheria crisis that happened in Nome, Alaska in 1925. The town desperately needed anti-toxin, and they were on the verge of a 100% mortality rate for this outbreak, and the only way to get it was by sled dog. They tried sea and air before putting the medicine on a train to Nenana, and having the team drive down from Nome to get it and deliver it. Today, the Iditarod is run in honor of this event, and if you want to watch a really great children’s movie about it, Balto is great.

After Nenana, we drove on to North Pole, which is about 10 miles outside of Fairbanks to mail our postcards. We also had lunch at Pagoda, a Chinese restaurant that was actually on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Then, we went to the best place to see the Alaska oil pipeline. Some facts: it runs from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and is raised above the ground because it is actually heated, and if it wasn’t raised, it would melt the permafrost under it. Some of the piles it sits on have heat exchanges on top, again so that the heat goes up and not down to melt the permafrost. Something that really interested me is that you can actually go up to the start of the Dalton Highway that runs 400 miles to Prudhoe Bay where the ice road truckers run supplies. This highway is gravel, and freezes in the winter. Because the drivers are going 70 mph, they have to have a good distance to be able to stop for things like moose in the road. To do this, they have three sets of lights: normal, bright, and then two flood lights on the top of their cab that lets them see up to a mile ahead of them. You see a lot of these guys on the road, and they usually turn the flood and bright lights off, but you can definitely see that they are approaching. Another fun fact is that when you rent a car in Alaska, you sign a contract saying that you won’t drive on the Dalton Highway, and that if something happens it’s on you; this is due to the fact that you are almost guaranteed to have your windshield shattered by a rock kicked up by one of the truckers.

After seeing the pipeline, we drove back to the hotel, took naps, ate dinner, and got ready for aurora watching. The auroras last night were still only level two, maybe level three auroras, but we all managed to capture better photos because it was also a much larger aurora. I think what I love most about the actual watching is not taking pictures, but getting to soak in the elements and experience the majestic place I get to see like never before. One of my favorite pictures I have taken has an illuminated snow bank, thanks to an ice road trucker having his flood lights on. 

On Monday, we had our adventures at University of Alaska Fairbanks. The day started a little later and we visited the northernmost Denny’s for breakfast, which like Paris is always a good idea. After, we headed off to UAF for a visit to the museum of the north, and the reindeer farm. The reindeer is a livestock animal, much like a cow in the lower 48 states. They are raised for meat and are amazingly well adapted for the cold. I always love hearing about how adaptation and evolution has led to an animal being able to fit into its niche just absolutely perfectly.

After the reindeer, we went to a talk on the auroras, and what makes them actually happen. This was so interesting, as I knew the general premise, but never knew just how much goes into making an aurora happen. There’s a lot that happens, but basically the sun puts of bursts of energy that interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, causing collisions that produce the colors. Something neat is that auroras may be happening in the daytime, but it’s just so bright that you can’t see them!

Between our UAF time and night time activity, we went to the grocery store across the street for dinner supplies. While there, we spent some time goofing off in the souvenir aisle. As luck would have it, I managed to lose my hat there! Luckily for me, there was another group that was going a couple hours later. Thanks to them, my hat was found safely on a shelf where someone had put it on a shelf, possibly thinking that it was a piece of merchandise. That’s how nice the hat is by the way, my Oma is amazing. I’m just thankful for the people that found it! 

With this talk, it was only appropriate that we go aurora watching on a cold, clear night with forecasted level 4 auroras. This was the best night of auroras this entire trip, except for maybe what we see from the plane Wednesday night on the way home. The sky lit up beautifully, and the lights danced across the sky in a manner that brought many of us to tears, in awe at the beauty and majesty of the place we are in and the world around us. After the first time of them dancing, one car decided to go back to the hotel, and the rest of us headed to the very top of the hill we were watching from, and there we found the place where the lights touch the Earth. It was so awe inspiring to see the auroras right overhead, looking like they were going to come down and touch the ground. The best part of this night, was that in these pictures, the vibrant green you see and the occasional splash of pink was what you could actually see with the naked eye. The thing I wish I could convey with these pictures is just how much they moved. 

That’s all for this entry; I will post about two days again about our day at Chena hot springs after getting back to Orlando Thursday afternoon. Thank you for following this adventure, and I hope that this entry makes up for missing a couple days; it is difficult to keep up when you are getting home at 2:30 in the morning from watching the Northern Lights. I hope you will check back Thursday for my final entry! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day Three: Moose Crossing

Moose Count: 14
Arctic Hare Count: 1

What a day! It was an exciting one, that saw us start our day at 7:30am, and saw it end at 2:30am (last night as I write this). I’ll be honest and say that I would have written up this post yesterday, if not for the fact that I was absolutely exhausted from the day’s activities.

After a great breakfast at the Denali Dome Home (10/10 would recommend), we headed off to Denali National Park for a morning hiking and visiting with the Denali sled dogs. These pups were bigger than the ones the day before, and the puppies that were born over the summer weren’t there because they were out training with the sleds! We went back just before sunset to see if they were back, and they were! They like for people to come and socialize with the pups, so we spent a good 30 minutes each visit petting them and playing,

After our first trip to the pups, we went walking on the snow covered road to sight see and take pictures, because that’s what college students on a trip do. As luck would have it, we all learned that it is very easy to overheat when you are hiking with lots of clothes on. We also, however, learned that the best way to cool off when that happens is to flop down and make a snow angel, obviously. A small tip: don’t drop your phone in the snow, it will make your life difficult when your hands are cold and don’t work well enough to be able to get your phone case off.

After the people who went mushing were done with their adventure, we all met up at Rose’s CafĂ© for lunch, which was great. The food tasted great and the amount of it was a little insane. But, that’s been par for the course since we’ve been here. The price of the food is a little shocking when you first see it, but everything is more expensive, simply because it has to be shipped an extra 4000 miles. According to our trip leader, it is a safe bet to budget about twice the normal amount of money for groceries.

After lunch and a second trip to the dog kennels, it was back to the bed and breakfast for some R&R before dinner. After a good dinner, we sat down in front of the fire to watch a movie and wait for favorable aurora conditions. They were forecasted to be out around midnight, right when the weather changed from cloudy to partly cloudy, which makes for good viewing. At a quarter to midnight, we rolled out and drove to good place to watch for them. We took in the scenery and waited for our eyes to adjust to the moonlight for a good thirty minutes until the clouds on the northern horizon cleared out. After a few minutes those of us who hadn’t seen auroras before looked to the sky and all had the same sort of ‘is that just a cloud, or is that the beginning of an aurora?’ kind of mumblings.

It was indeed the beginnings of an aurora.

It was very faint, to the point where you couldn’t see that it was green until you took a photo with a 15 or 20 second exposure time, but it was there. As the night went on, the aurora waxed and waned, and we actually got to see curtains with them, which is what you want. Finally, the sky seemed to go to sleep again around 2am, as expected. However, on the way back to the B&B I noticed what I wasn’t sure was an aurora but it looked like a strange cloud, which apparently means aurora. It was a large aurora, that extended across the sky. It strengthened some as we were pulling in, and made for a great view. It was a bit chilly, so I headed inside, pulled pictures off the camera, and went to sleep.

These are two of my pictures from the beginning (top) and end (bottom) of the aurora. 

As luck would have it, our professor takes great photos, and shares them with us. 
Aurora Borealis over Denali Dome Home, Photo by Dr. Malcolm Manners

The most hair raising thing about the day was the fact that we were all on moose alert on the way back and it actually came in handy; there was a large moose calf in the road. It was dark so no pictures, but it was there!

As I write this, we are on our way to Fairbanks. The views are spectacular, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the day holds. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Day Two: Am I Ready for the Iditarod Yet?

Moose Count: 9
Caribou Count: 20

Today was a great day. Because half of the people who elected to go dog mushing had to be at Healy at noon (or around that time). Surprise: I was in this group (which really shouldn't surprise anyone). After having breakfast at our hotel in Wasilla, we turned north toward Denali at about 8am. Because it's winter, the sun doesn't come up until around 10am, so we drove in the dark for quite some time. Last night, it started snowing and when we walked out to the cars, it still hadn't stopped. This made for some interesting road conditions; they weren't particularly bad but the semi trucks heading south really added some fun to the visibility. 

I had the shotgun seat, so it was my job to keep a watch out for moose near the roadway. Along the way, we saw 6 moose, including a mom and her calf. We also wanted to keep watch for other assorted wildlife, like caribou and bald eagles. As luck would have it, any time the cars even started to slow, the moose would run away. 

I feel a bit like a Yeti hunter posting a picture like this but like I said, the moose was running away. One thing that was easy to take pictures of were the mountains and neat patterns of snow on the road. 

 Our trip stopped for a break in Kantwell and we managed to have some fun in the snow that is too dry for snowballs and snowmen but is perfect for snow angels.

After a quick stop, we made our way into Denali National Park. Breathtaking views, some sunshine, and dog sledding were on the docket. 

The rest of this trip has a lot to live up to after my dog mushing expedition. The dogs are just great, and I loved learning about everything that goes into keeping up with a team of working dogs. Fun fact for the day: a husky will never get cold, as long as you feed him/her enough food. The guide at this kennel does three day expeditions in extremely cold conditions; the dogs get several pounds of pure lard every day. They aren't able to metabolize glucose fast enough to stay warm, so fat is a must. I guess you could say that being able to tie what I know about biochemistry to my trip is a plus. 

The guides made sure that we were warm enough on the sleds, obviously. It isn't that cold out up here, but it does get a bit breezy on the trails, and I'm a Florida born and bred kind of person, so having some extra gear was helpful. I didn't even need my parka in the sled with me. Right as we were heading out, we hit a bump on an uneven part of the road and I ended up outside the sled, but I didn't get hurt so that's fun!

I also got to drive today which was the most incredible experience, and was above and beyond anything I could have wished for. 
After our (15.8 mile) trip, we also got to pet some of the newest additions to the kennel. The pup I'm hanging out with is Ganymede; he was the runt of the litter so they named him after Jupiter's largest moon. What better way to end the day than puppy kisses? This made me miss my own puppy so very much. 

I could not have asked for a better first full day in Alaska, now we just need to see some auroras! We have one more full day in Denali, then we move on to Fairbanks.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Day One: No Sleep Crew

There comes a time in everyone's life when they learn how to sleep in an upright position on an airplane. For me, that day came today. I knew that it was going to be a long day spent mostly in the air, and with a 4am wake-up call, not sleeping the night before traveling made the most sense. Because we just recently had dead week and finals, staying up all hours of the night wasn't really that difficult, and gave me a chance to catch up on some TV I have missed through the semester.

On our connecting flight from Denver to Anchorage, you had to pay just to watch the flight information screen where you see where you are in relation to your destination. So, we all just switched between sleeping and watching the scenery (and clouds, lots of clouds) outside our windows; there is something to be said about seeing the Rocky Mountains from 36,000 feet. When we broke through the clouds in Anchorage, it was a bit disconcerting to all of a sudden be over icy coastal waters, but it was beautiful nonetheless. 
After landing, collecting our luggage, and playing a game of Tetris with the bags, we drove to Wasilla for the night. We had dinner and when we got back in the cars it was snowing! This is not my first experience with snow, and I had forgotten how much I love it. Tomorrow is both a travel day to Healy, and our first day of activities. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I just packed a swimsuit for Alaska, what did you do today?

12 Hours Until Departure

You read the headline, yes I did indeed just throw a swimsuit into my suitcase for a trip close to the Arctic Circle. Tomorrow morning I will be embarking on my newest adventure to Alaska with my school. As a Florida Southern student, I was guaranteed a study abroad experience after completing 4 semesters here. Because I've been to Europe before, and don't really enjoy the idea of going overseas with nothing but a carry on bag, I chose a domestic trip; I'm going to Alaska in December. 

This sounds like a daunting thing, but it's really not. The most current forecast says that it will not go below zero degrees the whole time we are there, there being Wasilla, Healy, and Fairbanks. I had to invest in good boots, warm clothes, and a parka, but I do intend to live up north one day so it's really not a waste that I own all this winter gear. If nothing else it gives a nice exercise in juxtaposition within my wardrobe with all the shorts and tank tops I own. 

Oh! Maybe I should mention the reason behind the swimsuit. We are planning to take a day trip to Chena hot springs where we will get to swim in the spring.

More on what's happening when and where tomorrow after a travel day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Summer Camp for College Students

Yesterday, the orientation group I am in for this extravaganza came up with the idea that orientation is essentially summer camp, in that every second of our day, and almost all of it is compulsory. Granted it is very fun, but we are herded from one place to the other without stopping. However, it is extremely fun! There have been quite a few interesting experiences, including an entertaining game of Ninja and a debate about whether one thing can stop a revolution.

Oh. The whole premise behind orientation, and part of the reason that we all started calling it summer camp, was that we were all separated into districts, Hunger Games style. Yours truly was a part of District One! Whoo! I had quite a few friends in the group with me, and also a pretty cool O-leader. I actually think I want to be one either next year or the year after.
Just kindly ignore the fact that I look a bit odd with a bandana. It took me about an hour the next day to finally get it figured out. Too much curly hair does not a bandana wearer make. I felt kind of like one of those strange people on tv with the bandanas on because of the hair. I turned it into a headband for the rest of the night. 

The next day was meant for basically whatever we wanted to as it was advising day. I wore my human ingredient shirt, because I'm a nerd like that. Here's the view I get as I walk to my dorm in the morning from the tech center. 
And here is my new home, aka the science building. Graduating in three years with a degree in biochemistry means I get to legit live here for the next three years. 
What with all our free time, we decided it might not be a bad idea to wander around looking for our classes. Here's a look at all the wandering we did. 
Oh yeah. Fun stuff. After an afternoon of just chilling in the lounge, we went to glo-ball. Oh yeah, dodge ball under black lights. It was great. I'm not very good at dodge ball, but I had fun so ya know there's that. 

On the final day of orientation, we all got into our districts and went off the activities we picked to compete against a each other. I picked trivia, and I did awesome. My group loved me, as I have a great memory when it comes to book trivia believe it or not. Oh right I did get my hair to not look weird with a bandana on!! 
Oh yeah. Side braids are awesome. Sometimes. Most of the time. Anytime it's really hot. After we got done, a couple of us went for a walk around the lake to check out our new hometown and met some adorable mallards! 
Ducks are pretty cool when they're being nice. Then, we decided it was time to attempt laundry. Yeah, no. Until we get new dryers laundry is going to be a long day. No fun. To compensate, we all decided to get super cute for Blastoff, aka the activities fair. I found so many clubs I'm interested in, and just need to pick less than the ones I talked to. Also, I got my stereotypical picture with Mocsie because, ya know, it's not college without a picture with your mascot. 

My hair was somewhat misbehaving, but ya know whatcha gonna do, this is Lakeland, it is hot, and that room was also hot. 

In conclusion, college is going to be awesome, classes start today, and I can't wait to get involved. Isn't that what living in a dorm is all about? 

Day Six and Seven: The One Where We Go Home

Tuesday saw another early start, as we had plans to be at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The reason we had to leave so early is that the road to...