Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tyvek Camper--Strange Things in Homer

Every so often I see things that, even 7 years after moving here, I think, "That is so Homer!" or "That is so Alaska!" 

Driving through Barb's Video parking lot the other week, even the kids said, "You should blog about that, mom!" when they saw the Tyvekked camper. So here it is--just a picture of one of those weird things you might not see just anywhere!

Had to chuckle at this

Jakolof Revisted and Biking to Seldovia

A friend from Anchorage was coming down to visit for Labor Day weekend so I thought it would be fun to stay at the Wharf Cottage across the bay in Jakolof, and maybe pick some berries, and do some tidepooling. I had the bright idea of taking the bikes and biking to Seldovia from Jakolof. I wanted to load my friend up with memories and adventures, and I think that is just what happened. Here's how it worked out.

The Wharf Cottage just off the dock at Jakolof Bay
The weather dawned gorgeous--sunny and about as calm as it ever gets so we were stoked. With Mako's Water Taxi we got to ride a landing craft since they were dropping a lot of folks on beaches. It had plenty of room for our bikes, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was no extra charge for.

The Wharf Cottage was just about the same as it was last year Labor Day weekend when I was there last (this made 3 years in a row I stayed there Labor Day weekend!), though it had a new carpet and electric heater, and the stovepipe had been taken out (to go back in, I later learned).

We ate a quick lunch of sandwiches, got geared up and hopped on our bikes to ride to Seldovia, which for some reason I thought was 8 miles and which a friend had told me was curvy but pretty flat. Ha! We found out quite soon that the road was not flat, though the curvy part was right. We were off our bikes walking them up hills regularly, partly because my friend hadn't ridden a bike in years and was out of biking shape and partly because some of the hills were quite long.

The road from Jakolof to Seldovia is a typical gravel road in good shape
What surprised me most about the road was how many cars were parked along it. The road roughly follows the water and there are many cottages and homes all along the water and then off the water, higher up to catch a view. So many of the cars were for the folks who have homes here. It was interesting thinking that some of these people live here year-round. When I think of "across the bay" I think of no roads, but folks were quite mobile over there:  we were passed by cars, trucks, 4-wheelers and other cyclists during our 3 hours of biking.

One view from the road of a spit near Jakolof Bay, looking towards Homer
What also surprised me was how many for sale signs there were. There is that show about Alaska real estate, which we happened to see on TV once, and all of the properties featured were across the bay somewhere, some which we passed. There are some really nice houses over there, and then there are some really rough homes/cabins as well.

Turns out the road to Seldovia is actually 11 miles from Jakolof, and we did it in 1 1/2 hours. Coming into town the sound of chainsaws was the most distinctive feature as the chainsaw carving contest was going on, along with the many tourists meandering along the streets.

Annual chain saw carving contest in Seldovia
We wandered about the town absorbing all the sights. In the SVT Visitors Center I chatted with a recent high school graduate from Susan B. English School in Seldovia about her plans to continue to live locally and find work in the village, and her hopes to work with youth who have drug or alcohol problems or are suicidal. I also ran into some folks I know from Kenai and we caught up on how the kids are doing in their cross-country races (theirs were in Kodiak for a race and would be coming through Seldovia on the ferry the next day).

Here are some of the sights in Seldovia:

A relic from a past chain saw carving contest: a fish with saddle!

The local grocery store with a restaurant across the street

The Seldovia Harbor where the Alaska State Ferry comes in as it heads to Kodiak, and also the Seldovia Fast Ferry runs daily in the summer

The historic boardwalk is quaint and old
It would have taken a really high tide to beach this boat on the hillside by this house!

I appreciated seeing Winslow, Arizona on this sign as I once lived there
Seldovia is an Alaskan Native village, as are the neighboring Nanwalek and Port Graham (which my husband had applied at when we moved to Alaska), so there is a lot of Native land around Seldovia.  They advertise blueberry picking as being only 1 1/2 miles from town, and one needs to purchase a permit to pick them. Black bear permits are only $150 while brown bear permits are $2000, according to a flyer at the visitor's center.

Eventually we'd seen all we wanted so we got on our bikes and headed back up the road. A mile out of town we contemplated biking down the road to the local campground that is tucked in by a beach, but opted not to add miles to our ride. The trek back was uneventful besides seeing blueberries hanging on the bushes along the road. We did get some blueberry picking in, getting 3 gallons in 3 hours. 

Next morning our posteriors were sore from biking and our muscles tired, so we opted to go for a walk on the beach. I've tidepooled plenty of times, but there were some unique features this time.  

The jellyfish were prolific, but at first all we noticed were the big ones. In this video, you'll notice the big orange one pulsing around, but then look at the shadows in the water. Those little shadows are tiny jellyfish--thousands or millions of them, about the size of dimes or nickels, all pulsing about in the water. It was stunning. And they were not confined to one small area, but all along the beach where we were walking.  Then I saw a dead jellyfish with a hermit crab eating it. Fascinating! But it was also sad because I've heard that the increase of jellyfish is a sign of the increasing water temperatures and a side effect of global warming, and that they will affect the ecosystem in negative ways. When I told my son about the jellies he said the same thing.

It never occurred to me what might eat a dead jellyfish, but a hermit crab wasn't what I pictured!
It was peaceful and beautiful out there, with the oyster farm buoys shining across the bay and smoke puffing out of a boat, sea otters surfacing occasionally and then diving, and a lone kayak skimming across the glassy water. It was sunny, calm and warm; an amazing treat as far as weather goes and that I felt deeply blessed to have.

Peaceful beach in the morning
Soon enough it was time to head back to the cabin to pack and clean up. We headed down to the dock early to sun ourselves, and a stream of folks I knew came by, including one gal who'd already biked the 4 miles up the road towards Red Mountain, ditched her bike and clambered through the canyon which is where the road once was, and hiked up and then climbed Red Mountain and now was already back at the dock ready to meet friends and head out on another adventure. The owners of the Wharf Cottage came by, bringing some friends over for a few days. I hadn't met the husband before, and he said, "Oh, you're the blog writer." I didn't know who he was at first when he said that, and I was trying to figure out how a random person on the dock in Jakolof would know I'm a blog writer. He then explained who he was and that he'd come across my blog, so it made more sense and wasn't quite so random.

The water taxi cruised in right on time at 1:00. We loaded up and headed out for a quick 30 minute ride back to Homer. It is always a little sad leaving as it is so beautiful over there and not knowing how long till I'll be back. I don't think I would want to live over there year-round, but it has its charm that I get a taste of once a year.

Good-bye, Jakolof! Till next time!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grace Ridge Revisited 2014

I hiked the Grace Ridge trail 4 years ago with a friend and blogged about it, but thought I'd post some beautiful pictures from our Labor Day trip over there. I had told the kids we would go over there as a family sometime this summer, but either someone was gone or working, or it was rainy, so we didn't make it over. A sunny forecast for Labor Day clinched it: we were going to do it!! Enjoy the scenery.

The tip of Grace Ridge is bathed in early-morning sunshine at 7 a.m. Within a half hour, though there was not another cloud in the sky, a cloud had formed, enveloping the peak of the ridge (and nothing else!)

The water taxi leaving after dropping us at Grace Ridge South trailhead

It is a mini-temperate rain forest at the head of Tutka Bay at one end of the Grace Ridge Trail

Uprooted trees rearranged where the trail wound. The trailwork of cutting downed trees seemed to be quite recent as the cuttings were fragrant pine

A view looking out past Kachemak Bay to Cook Inlet from about halfway up Grace Ridge

The trail heading up...

These crowberries up near the top were sweet and juicy.  Further down the other side they were bitter and seedy

Dramatic view of the ridge as we climb up it, looking down with the head of Tutka Bay in upper right corner

Just beautiful, with some interesting landforms. I had to wonder how the ridges were formed on this ridge!

And then a cloud appeared out of nowhere and socked us in. We could see sunshine on the bays to each side of us, Tutka and Sadie, but up and ahead of us was nothing but cloud, which was a bit disconcerting.

View towards Sadie Cove

Look--more crowberries! A carpet of them!

And the trail heading down, towards our Kayak Beach rendezevous

Looking towards Cook Inlet and Mt. Illiamna, with a cairn marking the trail

The Trail signs are helpful for the folks who are up snowboarding, downhill skiing and telemarking the bowl on Grace Ridge in the winter, so they can find their way back down

Looking back, up toward the Ridge we were about to climb. This is the bowl area that winter recreation enthusiasts enjoy, sometimes into the summer

The video is of Kayak Beach where we were picked up. Mako's sent a landing craft to get us (and 4 others who also hiked the trail that day) as it is easier to load onto than the catamarran when the waves are large like these were. We were a couple hours early so we just laid on the beach and sunned ourselves (no tropical beach, here! I might have had a little bit of my face exposed to the sun, but I had all my layers on!).

The last time I did this hike I noticed steep dropoffs and was more tired (I was also carrying a partially loaded full backpack as I was training for a backpacking trip), but we all agreed this was a pleasant, fairly easy 8-9 mile hike. However, two different people have told me in the past few weeks that they did this hike and it practically did them in, so I think that says more about our conditioning level than the trail!

Overall it was a nice hike, though we all turned into icicles when we stopped for lunch. As long as we were moving we stayed warm, but when we sat down to eat my fingers got so numb I could hardly pick the berries I was sitting by (on!). Getting down 500-800 feet off the top the wind was noticeably warmer and we were able to start shedding layers.

It is a pricey hike at $80 per person for the water taxi, but as a special occasion, it is worth it!