Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Weird Sports

During the 3 years we've lived near Homer I've seen so many 'sports' that I'd never seen or even dreamed of before, and certainly not sports I would think of doing in the winter. Here's a sampling, most which I've seen just in the past couple months:

Winter ocean kayaking: The waves were huge on Bishop's Beach yesterday and I was surprised not to see kayakers out there. When the tide is right and the waves are large, which only seems to happen in the winter, kayakers can often be seen riding the waves near shore. Their kayaks are tiny and they are encased in suits and it looks almost like a sitting up version of body surfing. In addition to challenging it looks chilling.

Paragliding: There are a couple of people who have been launching off Beluga Lake and paragliding around the area a few times a week. It has become a common sight to see the glider hovering over the ridge above Homer and cruising along just above the town. Seems like it would be a bit cold! Pictured here is a guy parasailing with rollerblades down the spit trail.

Wind surfers: I have also seen wind surfers with something like the paraglider sails, except they put on skis? ice skates? and get pulled along the surface of the ice on Beluga Lake. It takes a nice, strong wind for that!

Skijoring: I read about skijoring races in the Alaska Cross-Country Ski Magazine, so I knew it had something to do with skis, but wasn't quite sure what it was. While skiing up at McNeil Canyon trails this winter, I met skijorers on the trail several times. It is basically dogs pulling the skiers. Since there are so many dogsled dogs around here that are already trained in the art of pulling, it is no surprise to see skijorers on the trails. I can see the conflict, though, since dogs can rip up nicely groomed trails. The McNeil trails are dog friendly, which would explain why the skijorers end up there.

Mountain biking the cross-country ski trails: While cross-country skiing on the Roger's Loop trail earlier this winter I came across a guy on a mountain bike biking the ski trails. Huh? Why not, I suppose? The bike had super-fat tires, like maybe 3 times fatter than your normal mountain bike tires, so I suppose the frame had to be a little different to handle the fat tires. Other than that, it was a normal bike. Gee, why didn't I think of doing that??

Ice racing: Once Beluga Lake freezes over in the fall the ice racing begins. Lanes get plowed in a big oval and souped up junker cars race around every weekend. I've seen as many as 30 or more cars parked around the arena filled with people watching the drivers' skill on ice. Last year we went during the Snow Rondi winter festival and actually found it quite entertaining.

The sports that I considered somewhat risque in Michigan are pretty blase here: rock climbing, ice climbing, dog sledding, telemarking, float plane flying. I read about a 100 mile cross-country ski race through the interior of Alaska, with the description making it sound like a Survivor show. A drive through Turnagain Pass makes it clear winter sports are the rage as people strap on skins and ski up mountains for the joy of skiing down them, and deaths from avalanches are regular occurrences as people snowboard and snowmobile mountain peaks and slopes.

Some people think we were pretty daring to move to Alaska and actually live here. We feel like we have a nice life here, but it is pretty boring compared to the adrenaline junkies of this state.

Thanks to wikipedia for the skijoring picture. Every time I see these things I want to pull out my camera and get a picture, but most times I am not carrying my camera when I'm out skiing, nor taking pictures while I'm driving. Darn!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Winter Scenes

I am always entertained by the number of people around Homer who 1) do not have driveways or 2) do not have driveways in the winter and have to walk, snowshoe, snowmachine or ski to get to their homes.

The area by Lookout Mountain on Ohlson Mountain Road is one great example (and where all of these pictures were taken on a recent weekend).

Near the cross-country ski trails the pictured sign is posted, requesting that people please not park along the road, as that is their "driveway!" The cross-country ski trails weave in and out and around some of these homes. They are what I consider truly Alaskan homes: cabins, log, old, and a bit crazy perhaps. Most have outhouses, many are tiny, and all have lots of character.
Some are quite a ways from the main road, and I wonder what kind of person would want to live so far away from people and put up with the extra challenges of getting to their home during the winter (and during spring break-up too, as the mud would be more challenging than the snow).

Some people actually do try to have driveways, and the result is what you see in the above picture--a narrow alley between walls of snow that probably gets blown over every day. Some of these people must be recluses, because a vehicle will get buried in the snow and not get dug out for a week or more.

There are homes all over the area that don't have driveways to the house, including our next door neighbor who has to walk by our house, across a bridge, down a hill, and across another bridge to get to her house! She has been hauling stuff all that ways for 15 years now! It just makes me shake my head. I am not going to say I would "never" do that, because it seems like every time I do I end up doing what I said I would "never" do! I might! ( :

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cochlear Implant Technology in Alaska

When I moved to Alaska I didn't really think about the availability of medical resources. One friend I know, though, has had to fly to Seattle to see an arthritis specialist until last year when one finally came to Anchorage. Cancer treatment means a trip to Anchorage as well, and going to doctor appointments is one of the common reasons people from all over the state visit Anchorage.

My audiologist had suggested that I might be a cochlear implant candidate a few years ago, but I pooh-poohed her suggestion, not realizing what a cochlear implant really was. When I was helping at a ski race a few months ago a stranger came up to me, pulled off what looked a hearing aid and said, "This is my cochlear implant and you need to get one!" I was taken aback but intrigued. Come to find out it was the mother of the Homer Women's Nordic Ski Team coach which I belong to. I had mentioned my hearing impairment to my coach and she had pointed me out to her mom, so she knew who I was. A day standing at the finish line of the race chatting opened my eyes to a whole different world.

I had pretty much not even considered getting a cochlear implant since moving to Alaska since I figured I would have to fly to Seattle for all pre- and post-testing. As I found out, there are audiologists in Anchorage who do all the pre-testing, the 2-3 hour surgery happens in Seattle, and then all the post-op support and rehab happen in Anchorage. Though Anchorage is a 4-5 hour drive, that is short compared to flying to Seattle. I got in touch with the audiologist, found out I am a candidate, and am now waiting for insurance approval. A visit to an ear, nose & throat specialist will be next on the list, and then a pre-op physical. A non-profit in California will fly my husband and I down to Seattle at no charge for the surgery. We'll be there 2 or 3 days, fly back to Anchorage, the implant will be 'turned on' and then the serious work begins.

When an implant is turned on, if a person can hear any sounds or understand any words at all they are doing incredible. Most people, though, get their implant turned on and might not even be able to hear the microwave ding. The sounds are now electrical impulses rather than acoustical, so the brain has to re-learn how to hear sounds. On the other hand, everyone is different. Sonja, who got her implant 2 years ago, was able to hear almost perfectly when she was 'turned on.' That is the exception. Since there are no auditory rehab specialists in Homer, my rehab will be done with computer programs. There could be up to 6 trips up to Anchorage needed for follow-ups, tweaking the programs in the implant to sound more like I want them to sound.

Northern Hearing Services, where I went, has helped over 200 people in Alaska get cochlear implants, many of them infants or children. They work closely with the cochlear implant companies to provide good follow-up service. When a person has learned to hear with an implant, their hearing often becomes equivalent to a normal person's hearing. Many people, having gotten one implant, often want their other ear done as well. They figure it couldn't be much better than getting the first one, but many are stunned with the incredible quality of sound of bilateral cochlear implants, and the second is as amazing as the first.

The lesson I learned here is not to assume that just because I'm in Alaska doesn't mean services aren't offered. All it takes is the right doctor or specialist to want to live in Alaska and open an office to make a service available to all Alaskans.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Snow Day!

Friday morning dawned like any other snowy morning--there was just a lot more snow than usual, all of which had fallen during the night. Since snow days are non-existent here (volcano days are more common), it wasn't even on Doug's radar as he headed up East End Road. However, when he got to McNeil Canyon School and the plowed road ended, he figured there must not be school. Upon turning on the radio he discovered that was the case, and a call to the superintendent confirmed it.

In 25 years of McNeil Canyon Elementary School's history, they have not once had a snow day. I'm still surprised a foot plus of snow overnight would cancel school for all of Homer plus the Old Believer schools at the end of the road. It wasn't blowing and visibility was fine, but I think that amount of snow maxed out the small squadron of plows (read: dozers and graders).

Now it is Monday night and we have a blizzard warning for tonight, which means winds 25-35 mph and gusts up to 50. We've already had a foot-ish of snow today and shoveled our driveway twice. I think my husband is not happy I talked him into not getting a snowblower! But I would hope he enjoys the workout as much as I do! Ahhhhhh. Fresh air! How invigorating!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


When we were in Michigan we had a family ritual that went like this: every time we saw cows my husband or I would call out, "Say hi to the cows!" We would all chime in "Moooooooooo!" Then, "Say good-bye to the cows!" "Moooooooooooo!"

Since we never see cows here, our new mantra is "Moooooooooose!" whenever we see a moose. Lately, that has been one, two or even three times during a few mile drive to town. Yesterday as I headed to the Bay Club down Kachemak Drive I saw two people walking on the snowy road ahead of me. I thought it unusual for anyone to be out walking on such messy roads, but as I got closer I discovered it was the back end of a mommy moose and a baby moose, trotting side by side down the road. They veered off the road as I neared, with junior taking the lead.

Then I got to the club and settled on the exercise bike and lo and behold! A moose was kneeling on the lawn eating grass, gazing benevolently at the building (now why didn't I think to take my camera to the Bay Club with me??!!). The entire hour I was on the bike he traveled only a few feet in one direction or another and finally darkness hid him from sight. No one else was paying any attention to him; it is just like watching a horse or cow graze--and just how long can you do that?!

Seeing lots of moose this winter has been a blessing. For a good eight months before that I hardly saw a single moose and I was afraid they were gone. While it is neat to see them in our yard, it is also a little disconcerting since they can be very aggressive and unpredictable and I don't always want to have to think about them every time I run outside. Mostly though, I would rather have them around than not, and I have been happy saying "mooooooooose!" a lot lately!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Home Visits for Sick Cars!

House calls for cars? What a treat!

Last week I called our mechanic who used to 'live across the canyon' from us way up near the end of East End Road (see my blog post in November 2007 about 'Picking Up My Car!'). Now that we live near town getting oil changes has been more of a mish-mash of getting it done wherever we happen to be. But I was in need of the oil change as well as getting some other things looked at so I'd called up Steve from Turbo's Way. My schedule last week was crazy as I was constantly shuttling kids to swimming and other practices so it didn't happen. I was delighted when Steve pulled into my driveway this morning and offered to change my oil on the spot. Whoooo-weee! So I got to get dinner ready (I usually prep dinner at lunchtime) while my car got oiled, fixed and checked over. Somehow I feel kind of spoiled.