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2002-07-24 - 3:48 p.m.

Monster entry. Back from the Far North

Warning: this is a long and extremely image-heavy entry. Proceed at your own risk.


We're back.

The trip was good. We had smooth travel, great weather (better than predicted), low-stress family bonding (no major disagreements and in fact very few minor disagreements), fun with friends, and some outdoor activity. I think the easiest way to break it down is to go day-by-day.



Wednesday was a travel day. We had a 4-hour drive from our apartment to the airport we left from (which only took 3 hours and 35 minutes because I drove for half of it) because we bought our tickets before we moved and didn't want to pay for the additional flight. We stopped for takeout at our favorite casual restaurant and took it over to my aunt and uncle's house for an early dinner. We would be receiving absolutely no food (unless you count a tiny bag of pretzels) on any of our flights, so eating something yummy before we left was a priority. My aunt and uncle (A & T) let us leave our car at their house while we were gone and my uncle drove us to the airport after we finished eating (we bought them dinner as well and left it for them to eat at a more normal hour).

Our first flight was delayed but once we left it went smoothly. We had a row of three to ourselves and read and slept in relative comfort for coach class. We had 20 minutes between flights in Salt Lake City (welcome to Delta Airlines) and grabbed a sandwich to share at an airport deli the boarded the plane. I realized once we sat down that I had left my fleece jacket (layers are Important in the Far North) on our previous plane. I was all for leaving it and buying a new one at REI once we got there, but The Scientist (being more thriftily minded) got off the plane and had an airline rep go look for it. Evidently it was already in the lost and found and was therefore easy to find. She returned it to him and he got back on the plane just as I was starting to worry. I had visions of lunging for the flight attendant button, pushing it frantically and yelling "Stop the plane, my husband's not here!"

The flight from Salt Lake City to Anchorage was fine (again we had a row of three to ourselves and we pretty much slept the entire flight) and we arrived in Anchorage at 1:15 a.m. Thursday morning. My mom and youngest brother (JR) picked us up from the airport. After a short wait for luggage, we drove to my parents' house. The Scientist was amazed by how light it was. The last time we were in the Far North it was August and the difference between the North and the Midwest wasn't so extreme. When we got to my parents' house we both crashed around 2:00 a.m.



Best Traffic Sign EverEven though we went to bed late and had traveled all day Wednesday, we both woke up at 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning because that was 10:00 a.m. according to our bodies. We put the morning to good use being incredibly leisurely about eating breakfast, showering, etc. and then going grocery shopping with my mom. The store we went to also carried housewares, so we bought some throw pillows for my parents' new sofa and loveseat. Of course, the red of the pillows didn't match the red of the family room rug, so I went back and forth returning and buying two more times before I finally got the right color and the right number of pillows.

Eventually we ventured out, going to my favorite antique place, the Pack Rat Mall. It's one of those antique marts where each vendor gets a booth/space but there's one main cash register for the whole place. We escaped relatively unscathed, only spending $40. I bought an apron, a funky red cotton housedress (which The Scientist said reminded him of "an old Italian housewife doing laundry" when I wore it), and two books, English Fairy Tales, edited by Paul Hamlyn (which I can't find online anywhere) and Fairy Tales from Many Lands, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The Scientist bought two records, Sunshine Superman (Donovan) and a Tim Buckley album.

While we were out we also saw the Best Traffic Sign Ever. Seriously. The town where we live has nothing like this. I drive around in a world of No U-Turns Ever and No Turn on Red. This was beautiful. U turn here! Right here! Don't be afraid! Flip a U-ey! The best thing is that there are a number of these signs around Anchorage. We ran into two in our five days and I'm sure there are more.

After shopping, coffee at Kaladi Bros. (my favorite coffee place of all time and also a very successful local business), and a nap we met a high school friend of mine, J., and her boyfriend C. for pizza and beer. Yum. It was good to catch up with J. and get to know C. better. I had only met him once before (at our wedding). They had to go to work the next day (by this time it was 10:30 p.m.) so after dinner they went home and The Scientist and I drove up to the Flattop Mountain trailhead parking lot.

view of Flattop and trailFlattop is one of the mountains in the Chugach Range, the mountain range directly east of Anchorage. Expensive homes are built into the foothills of the mountains (we call it The Hillside) and my high school was at the very bottom of them. As I drove to school I could sometimes see the sun go back down behind the mountains as I got closer, then peek back up again.

Although it was certainly light enough to hike at 10:30 p.m., I was wearing a skirt and unsuitable shoes so we just enjoyed the view. That's me off to the right in the photo below. And yes, it really is 10:30 at night in these photos. You can see how high the sun is and how blue the sky is. Beautiful.

view from Flattop with me on right side

I drove us home a different way and as we rounded a corner going down the hillside we came upon a mama and baby moose on the side of the road. The Scientist had seen a moose from the distance when we were in Anchorage two years ago, but these two were close up and totally cute. They let us watch them for a long time. I saw the mama shake herself and a cloud of insects (mosquitoes and gnats most likely) rise up from her body, then settle back down. I've read that if you look at a caribou or moose hide (after it's been removed) it's perforated with holes from all the insects boring into it. Seeing this made that easy to believe. We called it a day after seeing the moose and went home to bed.

mama and baby moose on De Armoun Road


The rest of the family started to arrive Thursday night and throughout Friday. My parents, younger brother JR, and grandma were all up there already (it's my brother's last summer home before starting college and my grandma was up for an extended visit since the end of May) but my aunt and uncle (A. & T., the same ones who let us leave our car at their house), dad's oldest brother (Uncle K.), dad's middle older brother (Uncle J.), Uncle J.'s girlfriend A., and my other brother JK were all arriving at various times. Our day pretty much revolved around picking people up from the airport, shopping for groceries (again), eating, picking more people up from the airport, and eating again.

My mom and I did most of the shopping--we went to the regular grocery store, the warehouse grocery store, the florist (there was a mixup regarding the flowers for Saturday's ceremony), and to Nordstrom to buy my mom something to wear to the ceremony. She got a basic black suit (no alterations necessary!), three shells to go with it, and a pair of black pumps. Since I was being The Daughter Most Supportive (otherwise known as The Only Daughter), I scored a black v-neck t-shirt (yes, I needed another black t-shirt) and a pair of dangly Venus Williams-esque silver earrings.

Friday night we grilled out and drank wine. For having so many family members there, it was actually pretty relaxing.



Saturday was the day my dad became The Guy In Charge at his work. We had to get up really early to be there by 8:15. Coordinating 12 people in the shower (well, two showers) is no small feat. Not to mention the "who drives whom" dilemma. You wouldn't think there would be so many combinations of potential drivers and passengers. In the end, The Scientist and I were in charge of driving my two brothers. Just how we like it. It's like the kids' table at Thanksgiving. Except it's a Jeep. And it's more fun. I'll have you know that despite leaving after everyone else, we were exactly on time. I don't think this is a function of my driving, but rather that everyone else was early. I much prefer being on time. Not late, not early, right on time.

my dadThe ceremony went really well. There were a few mix-ups with the seating (the usher led my Uncle J. and his girlfriend across the hanger instead of seating them with the family--but they came back across and found their proper seats) and it was sometimes hard to hear (hangers aren't known for their acoustics especially when there are planes flying around outside) but overall everything went really well. The speeches were short, but moving. There were flags and lots of troops in camo. I welled up, but not too noticeably and didn't actually cry. These patriotic events always get to me, even though I'm not a super patriotic military supporter in general. I guess it's because it was my dad's achievement of his long-time dream and he was so happy (stressed, but happy). My dad actually had to work the rest of the day (and Sunday as well) so the rest of us went home for lunch and then off to do various things.

new rugThe Scientist and I went driving around and shopping. He was on a mission to find record stores, but Anchorage doesn't seem to have any except one which is a DJ-style store. Stuff for sampling, beats, and other DJ stuff but nothing else. I told him we could get some start-up money, go on a few record-buying trips, and he could open a record store in Anchorage. A niche market! He said that in most places if a market exists, someone's already filled it and since there weren't any record stores he thought it meant there wasn't a good record market. In a city of 250,000? I don't know. Plus, he thought owning a record store and having to focus on the business aspects would make him view records like any other commodity and would take the fun out of it. Perhaps. Anyone out there own a record store and want to tell me about it?

After the unsuccessful record shopping, we went downtown and walked around the 5th Avenue Mall and the Saturday Market. We ended up buying only one thing (out of several I wanted to buy, including a really cute kitten) and it was a new rag rug. The rug itself is only marginally useful right now (it's sitting at the bottom of the stairs in our weird little entry area) but it spoke to me. It has all the colors with which I want to decorate our eventual living room (once we're in a house where we can paint things and where the dining room and living room don't share the same space). It even brings together our big new purple sofa with our small old salmon/burnt orange sofa while added in the dark rusts and yellows that neither have. Right now I'm envisioning something with a Tuscany feel--dark gold walls, warm wood, purple sofa, big pillows that pick up all the colors, some vineyard prints or funky Italian artwork on the walls. I hope it all comes together like I see it in my head. Right now we have a purple and sage green thing going on which is ok, but not nearly bold enough.

Simon & SeafortsSaturday night we had dinner at the best fine-dining restaurant in Anchorage (for my money). Unfortunately, they were not on the top of their game for us that night. My mom had made reservations back in April or May. Yes, months in advance. We had sixteen people, but we had reservations! The Scientist, my brothers, and I were again in a car to ourselves and were running a little late already and then I couldn't find a place to park. We finally got there about 15 minutes late to find everyone in the bar. Now, our reservations were for 8, so it's now 8:15. We had a drink. Some people had another drink. 8:30. We start asking more and more pointed questions to the waitstaff. Another drink. 8:45. My mom goes to the manager to discuss the situation. She is told that it's two customers who won't leave a big table when the rest of their party has already left. The manager assures my mom that he will encourage the people to be reseated in the bar so our table can be prepped and we can eat. 9:00. We get another story that they are working "really hard" to get our table together. 9:15. I go back and forth leaving messages for J. from my mom's cell phone telling her we'll be delayed in our plans to meet up with her and C. at a bar after dinner.

Finally some of us are seated at a big table while four people (my brothers and aunt and uncle, A & T) are seated at another table half a room away. My mom (usually the nicest, most mild-mannered person in the world) is irate at this point. It is clear that in fact it was not two people holding up our table, it was an entire table of people and that the restaurant royally fucked up their bookings. Not only did they fuck up their bookings, but they also seated a large party of men with reservations after us at a table that could have easily been combined with (empty) adjoining tables to make a table big enough for us. Let me repeat. The party full of men (oil execs, we think) had reservations after us but were seated before us. I think it was because they knew we would make less of a fuss. I felt like pulling a Seinfeld and yelling about how reservations were meant to reserve the table so it would be ready when we got there. We had reservations!

We are brought free appetizers. My mom says, "It's a start, but I'm NOT happy about this," to our waiter. I note that while we got some free appetizers the restaurant did not volunteer to pay for the (very large) bar bill we acquired while waiting hungrily. Everyone is somewhat tipsy and pissed. We mow down the appetizers and go through several rounds of bread.

Gradually we become calmer and not so irate. The food helps. My brothers and A & T are finally brought to the big table after the other people leave. We order. Food arrives quite quickly. Amazingly quickly, in fact. Much gluttony. I order the macadamia-encrusted crab-stuffed halibut. It is divine. The Scientist orders the fresh seafood sampler. Also divine. We share two desserts around the entire table because everyone is too stuffed for more than one bite. Or at least, we'll admit to wanting only one bite. Some of us want more but vow to go back later in the trip for dessert.

The Scientist, my brother JK, and I walk around a park for a little while, then hit the bar to meet up with J. and C. We got to a bar I used to spend quality time in over summer break (after I was 21) and the atmosphere is totally different. Instead of a Jewel-wannabe folk singer there's a DJ. Random people are trying to bump and grind on the teeny dance floor. I see a fine example of the Alaskan Mullet, but The Scientist doesn't turn around in time and misses it. My brother runs into someone he knows. We have beer. J. and C. arrive and we finish our beers, then walk to a different bar about 6 blocks away. The second place is usually crowded but low-key and suitably trashy. Not this Saturday night. Evidently an entire wedding reception has moved from a nearby hotel to the bar. We try to play pool for a while. My brother runs into more people he knows. The bride and groom show up at the bar. Much cheering. Turns out the guy getting married is the brother of a former soccer teammate of my brother and their other brother is there too. I recognize all three brothers from soccer events. Small, small world. We continue our pool game. The Scientist and I lose to my brother and the guy who had the table before us. He was nice and clearly uncomfortable with the drunken wedding guests. J. is really quiet all night and I'm wondering if something's wrong, if she's just tired, if the whole moving from bar-to-bar thing is annoying her, or if our friendship is growing apart (melodrama much?). We finally give up and agree to meet up one more time before The Scientist and I leave. Home to bed.



We did not go to church on Sunday. Thank goodness. My parents are regular churchgoers, but they're sane about it. In contrast to this, when we went to The Scientist's parents' house for his grandmother's memorial service we were supposed to go to church three times in four days. Once for regular church, once for the memorial service (on Sunday, a few hours after regular church), and then again for (two days later) Christmas Eve. Ok, I get going for the last two, but all three put together was a little much. We escaped the first one by being delayed in Detroit overnight (hmmm...church or massive flight delays in Detroit and getting up at 4a.m. to catch a 6a.m. flight? I might have taken church...) but The Scientist's sister and her husband had to participate in all three.

Anyway, Sunday. I'm having a hard time remembering Sunday. I think that's because I napped and read novels most of the day. Uncle J. and his girlfriend A. left for a whirlwind tour of Seward, etc. so we didn't see them on Sunday. My mom, A & T, and The Scientist went to Portage Glacier and then to Whittier. I spent quality time in Whittier as a high school student getting my open-water SCUBA diving certification. Yes, open water. In Alaska. In April. I had no desire to go back to Whittier. There's a new tunnel through the mountains and I guess it was cool. I enjoyed my napping and novels.

iceberg in Portage (glacier) Lake

After more napping when The Scientist returned and dinner (leftovers), we went back to the Infamous Restaurant for dessert. They make an extremely good key lime pie and it's a tradition of mine to go there for a piece whenever I'm home. This time we sat in the bar, our drinks arrived immediately, and our dessert arrived shortly after that. The Scientist ordered a molten chocolate cake with vanilla icecream (the cake was warm and drowned in homemade chocolate sauce) which I tasted. Divine. Key lime pie was excellent as usual. All in all, a much more satisfactory experience than the night before. We went straight back to the 'rents and the rest of the night was family bonding, talking, etc. I watched Step Mom on TNT with my grandma and cried when Susan Sarandon was dying. Which is pretty much the last third of the movie. We played Trivial Pursuit (Baby Boomer Edition) against A & T (who actually are baby boomers) and ended the game tied with four pie pieces each.



Monday was our last day in Anchorage. We packed and relaxed in the morning, had lunch, and then headed out to climb a mountain. It's fun to say that! We were on a mission to climb Flattop. We had been to the trailhead parking lot but that's not the same as climbing up it. Uncle K. decided to come with us. The hike was fun. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't terrible either. I was worried that K. would pass out, though. He's 62 and while not overweight hasn't done anything physically strenuous like that in years. He was wheezing pretty badly, but we took frequent breaks and I think he enjoyed himself. The Scientist was charging ahead energetically and I was in the middle (trying to keep the group together) while my uncle lagged behind. The last 100 feet are a scramble up a cliff face. That was the best part of the whole thing for me. I like climbing up rocks.

view from Flattop of Powerline Pass

View of "Powerline Pass" from the top of Flattop. I'm not sure if it has a (different) official name or not, but that's what I've always heard it called. It's basically a trail that follows the power lines into the mountains. It's been improved enough that you can ride bikes on it (although it's not paved). The trail is the snakey light brown bit just above the dark shadowed mountain in the right foreground. The Scientist and I want to go camping from this trail the next time we're in Anchorage. It's local and accessible, but still wild (not wilderness, but significantly more wild than car camping).

view of Anchorage from Flattop

View of Anchorage from Flattop. You can see people hiking up the trail in the lower right corner of the picture.

view of Anchorage and Flattop trail from top of Flattop

View of Anchorage from Flattop. This time you can see the trail we hiked snaking up the mountainside.

it has a flat top

The top of the mountain is really flat like a mesa you'd see in the Southwest. It's rocky but there are plants and flowers. In fact, the flowers are some of my favorite pictures I took the entire trip. It's too bad I don't know what any of their proper names are.

purple flowers

yellow flowers

red flowers

We decided to take a different trail on the hike back down. Not the greatest idea. It turned out to be the unimproved old trail (the trail we hiked up is new in the last 5 years or so and has been improved in places with railroad tie steps and erosion barriers). We basically slid three quarters of the way down the mountain on a dusty, rocky, slippery slope. It was faster, though. When we reached the bottom level I was (or rather my legs were) glad of the relatively flat trail. Going down was more difficult for me. It put a lot more pressure on my knees and the loose gravel was really bad for my weak ankles. I am still surprised I didn't sprain something.

After hiking Flattop we were starving and dirty. We went home for food, laundry, and packing. And I think another nap. My family was having leftovers for the second time (leftovers twice means that this was the third time eating the same meal) and The Scientist and I just couldn't handle that. Luckily we had a reason to escape--we were supposed to meet J. and C. one last time. We took my brother JR along and had dinner at Carlos, a great Mexican restaurant nearby. Mmmm...Negra Modelo...enchaladas...fajitas...chiles rellenos...margaritas... Of course JR, The Pickiest Eater in All the World, had a hamburger. I think he does it now for the ham-it-up value. He likes being able to say he goes to a great Mexican restaurant and orders a hamburger. I'm trying to train him out of it, but it's been ten years now at least.

We went home and spent some time visiting with the fam before leaving for the airport. Our flight was at 12:30 a.m. We got to the airport at 11:30 p.m., boarded on time, and were soon on our way.



We arrived in Salt Lake City on time at 7:10 a.m. My college roommate M. was there to meet us on the other side of security. She drove us around SLC and we had breakfast at Denny's. Mmmmm...pancakes. We then drove around SLC looking at the sights. It's a really clean city, which seems like damning it with faint praise, but it was more interesting than I had expected. By the end of driving around I was in a complete zoned out state and about to fall asleep. I kept trying to be perky because I don't know when I'll get to see M. next, but it was so hard. Unless I'm driving cars make me sleepy even when I'm well rested. When I've just flown overnight, experienced a 2-hour time change, eaten a big breakfast, and it's really hot, forget it. M. dropped us back at the airport and we said our goodbyes. I would have been more sad except I was numb with exhaustion.

Security was a breeze and we settled down at our gate. At this point I stretched out on the floor to read for a while. My back and ass were tired of sitting. As I settled in I looked around for my fleece to use as pad for my elbows. No fleece. I ask The Scientist if he's seen my fleece. I could have sworn I gave it to him to hold as I was getting my bag out of M's car. He doesn't remember it. Eventually my sleep-deprived brain realizes that I've lost my fleece. The same fleece The Scientist left the plane to retrieve the last time we were on a layover in Salt Lake City six days earlier. Clearly, my fleece had some unfinished business it had to take care of in Salt Lake. I hope it got it all taken care of. I've emailed M. to see if I left it in her car but haven't heard back from her yet. At this point I'm all about buying a new fleece.

Our flight was late leaving Salt Lake. When we finally got to board we entered what I thought would be the jetway only to find that we were in a long, hot, unairconditioned, cement-floored, glassed-in hallway with doors every so often leading to airplanes parked on the tarmac. Airplanes that had stairs up to them. The people on our flight obediently walked...and walked...and walked (probably the equivalent of two city blocks) to the very end of the hallway where our plane was waiting. Waiting being the key word. Then we obediently queued up in line. And waited. And waited. We finally boarded the plane, but it wasn't a good thing. The plane was even hotter than the hallway had been and we had no pilot or co-pilot. Just one lone flight attendant who looked a little frantic and apologetic. The pilots were doing some training thing (just what you want to hear about your pilots) and were "on their way." They were "on their way" for over thirty minutes. The flight attendant passed out water and finally someone from maintenance turned on the plane and the air conditioning, but it was brutal.

One man had to go up front and ask to get his seat changed because he was claustrophobic. He looked terrible and when he mentioned feeling "sick" I thought we were in for the worst. The guy who had the bulkhead aisle seat was a total asshole about switching with the claustrophobic man. The flight attendant explained the situation and the claustrophobic man was right there (looking terrible--pasty white and sweaty). The guy formerly in the bulkhead seat made angry noises and yelled, "Fine!" and stomped off, but he did switch seats. He was very tall and had clearly reserved that seat so he would have extra legroom, but that didn't excuse his rudeness. The Scientist said he should have either said yes gracefully or said no (and maybe given some excuse--true or false--that he had a bad knee) and the flight attendant would have asked another person in the front row. By saying no nicely he would have come off as less of an asshole than saying yes the way he did.

Have I mentioned how small this plane was? It was small. Flying from Salt Lake to the Midwest, one expects a large plane. Or at least a plane with three seats on each side. This plane had two seats on each side, a tiny aisle, and one bathroom. There were probably only 40 seats on the entire plane, which seems small for a fairly long distance. When the pilots finally arrived everyone applauded (well everyone but us--I'm sort of anti-clapping and I think The Scientist was dozing). It wasn't the smoothest of flights. The pilot took a really long time to turn off the fasten seatbelt sign. At a certain point I decided that the bathroom was no longer just wanted, it was needed so I went back to it even though the flight attendant said she couldn't tell me it was all right to get up because the sign was still on. It didn't go off for at least 20 minutes so I'm glad I didn't wait around like a good little sheep. Baaa. I'm getting punchy just remembering this part of the trip.

Read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, napped, landed, got luggage (quickly), took cab to A & T's house where our car was, went into their house. Ahhh, sweet air conditioning. A & T weren't coming back from AK until Tuesday night late so we had the run of their house for a few hours. I showered while The Scientist napped and then we switched. Unfortunately, when I fell asleep I Feel Asleep and was down for the count. The Scientist tried to gently wake me up once, but I didn't want to get up. He tried again a few minutes later and I reluctantly left the bed so we could hit the road. We grabbed some dinner and headed out. I drove the first leg, through hellacious exiting-St-Paul traffic. I thought rush hour would be over by almost 7p.m., but evidently not. I resisted The Scientist's attempts to get me to take side roads (repeating "the traffic will thin out eventually") and just as I was losing hope, poof, there we were with a clear road.

We switched driver's at some point and although I tried to stay awake, as soon as it got fully dark I was asleep. We arrived home at 10:00 p.m. to find a very hot apartment and upset cats. One of our cats decided at about the 4th day to stop using the litterbox for a critical function. I think it was the male, R., as he's the people cat and can be fussy about things. So The Scientist had to clean up yucky cat presents left in numerous places (kitchen floor, rugs in kitchen, bathmat, next to the litterbox). Evidently R. now has a very clean colon. At last we were able to sleep in our own bed and recover from the Night and Day of Travel. About time.

And with that, it's about time this entry was over. It's only taken me a week to write!

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