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alaska

That Darn Hole in my leg

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That Darn Hole in my leg

'That Darn Hole in My Leg'

Every Search and Rescue mission is unique and you head out the door with a loaded backpack and sometimes, an unsettled feeling.  Will we be helping an injured hiker, looking for a lost hunter, recovering a body or....a number of other situations that could be life or death or simple first aid.  

This story involves a hiker who had badly injured his leg, on a hike on Gavan Hill.  Sitka (Alaska) Mountain Rescue had been called to assist in his safe rescue down the mountain.  The Sitka Coast Guard was also involved in transporting the injured hiker to the hospital. 

Transporting the hiker to an area that a helicopter could drop a litter

This tale would also involve me, and the rescue that almost happened.  More about that later.  I did a blog about my year with Sitka Mountain Rescue (and this rescue): 

'That's What We Do'

The rescue crew headed up the Gavan Hill trail.  It is a steep,  gnarly trail that is well decorated with roots, rocks, steps, stair cases, and ruts, lacking the traditional dirt trail element that is found elsewhere.  

The hiker was doing ok, just needed extra assistance since he had torn a meniscus on the way down.  Luckily, he was at the edge of cell phone coverage into town and Sitka Mountain Rescue.

Sitka Coast Guard - Photo by Bill Greer

A Sitka Coast Guard helicopter would be called in due to the difficult trail condition for a carry out.  The rescue group carried him in a litter, to an area that was barely wide enough for the basket drop from the helicopter, whirling above. 

Photo by the Sitka Coast Guard

I walked ahead of the wheeled procession to get to the next technical area, where I could help with the maneuver.  I took a route to the right, off the trail and made my way............hmmm something just entered into my leg.  It did not hurt, but I was

a little perplexed at what had just happened.  

My initial thought was that I had just brushed against something.  I never saw what, exactly, had entered my leg but it had cleanly made a jagged path into and out of my calf.  

Eyes now focused on my leg, I took a breath and took in the current situation.  Well, lucky me, I was a few feet from a group of Search  and Rescue personnel.  

Oddly, my leg did not hurt and was not bleeding, much.  I was probably centimeters from having something cut, torn or punctured.  Extra duty by someone on the team and I had a nicely wrapped leg and would not need the helicopter to make a 2nd trip.

We discussed Dave's 'situation' and I gave a thumbs up on hiking down the mountain and making my way to a hospital.

The team on Gavan Hill was not large enough to send a person down with me.  They were needed in a more serious rescue effort.  

"Are you sure you are ok with hiking down, by yourself?"

"Why yes".  I believe I was asked in different ways as to my ability to have a lovely hole in my leg, and do a prolonged hike to actual safety.

"Of course, no problem" or something like that was my follow-up response.  

I was handed a 2-way radio and I assured myself that my body could be picked up on the way down if I had 'issues'.   

I had a contact when I reached the trail head and my own ambulance service to zoom to the hospital.  Trina, would be my rescue, transportation and would provide some humor along my interesting course that I was now on.  

I gave Trina a call once I reached the trail parking lot.  I would not have been surprised if she had nonchalantly asked if I would like her to take care of a parking lot surgery.  A short time later, in life, she would be helping take out clients on fishing and hunting trips in the rugged Alaskan back country.  This would include mountain goats, brown bear and I could only guess on bagging a possible Sasquatch. 

She would also be one the only person I have heard of to sit in on a surgical procedure and snap photos.  This story just keeps getting more interesting!  I would find myself laughing, while looking down on a horrifying gash across my calf that looked like I would have an incredible tale to tell.  Nope, just dumb luck walking into branch/stick.  

I had a single request of the doctor stitching me together.  "Doc, I have a major trail race in 6 days and I am crazy enough to run it".  His answer would turn the 'like' into a 'plan'.  He  strapped that wound with expertise and an extra knot or 2 and I did run the Alpine Adventure Run.  Up the same Gavan Hill I had just limped down.  I was incredibly fortunate.  I could be writing a story with a far different ending. 

Leg bandaged up at the Alpine Adventure Race

Leg bandaged up at the Alpine Adventure Race

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The Only Highway System That Includes Life Preservers

The Only Highway System That Includes Life Preservers

There are 656,425 square miles of rugged wilderness, scenic beauty and abundant wildlife that make up the Last Frontier, Alaska.  This means traveling in Alaska presents some unique challenges as well as opportunities. Unlike the lower 48, many of the communities are not accessible by a land based road system, making the primary means of travel to them by air or sea. The Alaska Marine Highway makes up a large part of the Alaska 'highway system' and is a route so special it has been designated National Scenic Byway and an All American Road, the only marine route with this designation.

With Sitka, Alaska being my second island home, and my family spending vacation time on a third chunk of rock (Anderson Island, WA), plus recent journeys between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island, I have spent a wealth of time aboard numerous ferry systems.  On a recent  excursion, to Canada, when I had to walk across 36 lanes for vehicle traffic in Nanaimo, British Columbia., I was reminded of the importance and lifeblood of the ferry system. Maybe a lane for each vehicle color?

Aboard the Malaspina Ferry

Last May I was parked  on the Malaspina, amid my life time collection of odds and ends, crammed into every nook and cranny of my bulging Subaru Legacy.  Is there a stronger word to insert, then 'crammed'?  Yes, I attempted to load everytttttttttttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnngggg, that I owned, into that poor, space abused vehicle.  

If you were a gear junkie thief, you could have scored brilliantly. I was forced to abandon much of my belongings, including kitchen wares, books, tools, food and generally much of what it takes to survive on your own.  Here I come Mom and Dad!


somewhere in Canadian waters

My position in Alaska had been dissolved and a job offer in Canada ended as only that.  Poutine for lunch and my hockey dreams will have to wait.  I was now making a beeline  to the Southwest desert, a vastly different terrain and climate than my world of 87 inches of rain a year afforded this drenched soul in the SE Alaska rain forest.  I will get back to the 'beeline' quip.  This journey would be anything but......


A novelty found on some of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries is the Solarium.  On the Malaspina, this is the area that is in the back of the boat, on the highest deck.  Here you will find the traveling crowd that elected not to get a cabin.  One of the beauties of the ferry system is that there are many areas that a person can throw a sleeping bag.  Instinctively, I laid my sleeping bag on a reclining plastic chair in the Solarium, under a heater (the back end of the Solarium is open to the back of the boat/sea).  This trip would slowly cruise to an end in Bellingham, Washington.  Transit time would be 2 days 16 hours, so I would need a worthy place to crash.  With the Solarium bustling, I moved camp to the aft lounge, where I was greeted with  a striking view, fully cushioned seating/bedding area, close to restrooms, and only 1 other camper on the far side of the large room.   

View of ocean and beautiful scenery from the Malaspina

The sailing was a photographers dream.  Not being an actual 'photographer' on an relevant scale, I enjoy capturing the beauty and sometimes oddity around me.  The beauty of Alaska and Canada was like an award winning slide show playing upon my spirit, 24/7.  There would be unknown mountain ranges, bays, light houses, islands, etc.  All breathtaking and worth the 68 million (or so) photos I snapped. It was also a good time to reflect on life, job situation, the ugly financial chaos, wondering if by crazy chance, there are any nice/cute/adventurous  gals in Catalina, Arizona (my future home), the coming road trip and diabetes.

No trails, no gym, and no roads meant close to no exercise and additional challenge to achieving reasonable blood sugars.  I maintained some weak level of sanity with repeated loops around the perimeter of the vessel. The desperately lacking track was open all day and all night.  Perfect for laps at 1am.    

Link below is video of the Malaspina

As we  entered Washington waters I could feel the journey coming to an end.  I was thankful to step aside from the crazy, busy time that I had endured the previous months. Slugging away at the job market, packing, making monumental donations to the Salvation Army and the White Elephant Thrift Stores and watching the $$ side of life take one hit after another.  It was a welcome adventure (other than the staggering cost of floating a vehicle on a long ferry trip).  

 Less than 150 miles after exiting the Malaspina, my once-loved Subaru would break down twice and there was  a additional stirring of the nerves as a tire developed a rather serious and threatening protuberance.  I would live, temporarily, at my daughter's (Deanna) in the Seattle area, plunk down more of my dwindling resources on car repairs and eventually would toss most of my possessions in a storage unit in Seattle and catch Alaska Airlines for a very disrupted and disturbing 'beeline' to Arizona.  So glad for additional blog material!   

Malaspina at the Bellingham dock





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You Must Live in the Present...

"You Must Live in the Present"

picture that Trever gave me after the kayak trip

A large framed picture adorns my cluttered office space. It is the picture above, while three kayak warriors camped at beautiful DeGroff Bay, during our amazing 2010 No Limits Destination Alaska Sea Kayak Expedition. Those who know me, probably know that I plant inspirational and meaningful images in my living and work areas. This surprising gift was compliments of wisdom from Henry David Thoreau and the kind thoughtfulness and checkbook of fellow kayaker, bungee jumper, adventurer and card carrying diabetic, Trever Alters. Trev joined guide Scott Harris (Latitude Adventures) and myself on the kayak journey that took us into some secluded waters of Alaska.

Trev and I had crossed paths, amazingly, through bungee jumping when my casa resided in Boise, Idaho. He understands that people with diabetes can lead incredible and adventurous lives. And he lives and breathes it (scuba diving in Puerto Rico in two weeks is another confirmation!). He was a key component to No Limits and our many unique events. Bungee jump and sky diving fund raisers, an adventure racing team, rock climbing, ultramarathons, it was a grand time. Henry David Thoreau sought to rise above common thought and ideas. He would have smiled at our lifestyles.

While I was stoked to receive a lasting memory of our incredible 4 day kayak journey near Sitka, Alaska, it was the Henry David Thoreau quote that made the gift primo.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your element in each moment".

perfect. Thanks Trev.

Trever in Nakwasina Sound

A very non-scientific ratio that is in my notes from the trip and which I cannot prove or disprove, but I had noted that this year's weather was 234% better than the 09 trip of weather horror. Yes, we survived in 2009 and a bloody well yes, we had a good time but Miss Mother Nature was beasty at times.

This year the animals came out to play. Lots of them. This is Alaska! The critter log:

Grizzly Bears - 4

Eagles - vast quantity

Harbor Seal - at least 1

Mink - 1

Commorants - ok I am not a bird person so don't know the count

Porpoise- 1

Sea Lions - a few of the big guys

Jelly Fish - enough for any horror film

Jelly fish touch contest - many close encounters

Trever explores the Neoga near Hallack Point

I set up the video cam to allow each person an opportunity to share their thoughts on the trip, life, diabetes, current girl fiascos, etc. It was just the cam and their thoughts meeting on the shore as daylight slowly faded.

Much after the trip, life settled a bit and I made way to view the footage collected from an excursion awash with excellent company, stories and many kodak moments.

Before the trip, Trever had shared that he was excited about kayaking and that he had wanted to come visit me and to see the Last Frontier. I knew that he had just returned from a trip from Hawaii and in the back of my mind I was slightly jealous of a summer that included Hawaii and Alaska. Little did I know....

As darkness crept foward and the sea slowly lapping the shoreline of DeGroff Bay, Trev would share his angle on life as a person with diabetes, Alaska, etc. The footage rolled forward but Trev took a left turn from his usual fun, optimistic, humorous mood. He would bare his emotions as he dug deep to share the recent loss of his brother Nate. Nate had been hit by a car on March 18, 2010. Trever had planned on visiting him in Hawaii in May or June but that would never happen. He made the trip despite Nate's passing, as a memorial. He spent most of his time in Hawaii hanging out with Drew, Nate's closest friend. The Alaska trip was good timing for Trev as he had to deal with Nate's death amongst other circumstances that made the year a challenge. It is my guess that Trever did not want to share the tough details of what he was going through so that it would not hover or drag down our trip.

My heart fell.

Photo by Scott Harris

In the 35 miles of sea that we paddled through, we explored a shipwreck, went snorkeling, beachcombing, exploring, ate some incredible feasts created by Scott, our great cook/guide, compiled footage for a future film, saw animals galore, managed to get growled at by a bear, tree climbing and absorbing information on diabetes and the great outdoors, in a classroom called Alaska.

We did our best at living in the present....

launching ourselves on every wave.......

finding our element in each moment..... May it continue for a life time.

Scott and I are working on our the next expedition which will be July 16-19 (with a possible extension to July 21). If you are interested and have diabetes or are involved in diabetes care please consider joining us. Contact me at

runalaska@yahoo.com

.

L to R - me, Scott Harris, Trever Alters at DeGroff Bay ps- Trever is living in the present as he spent this last weekend in remembering Nate. He traveled to Boise, Idaho to unite with family and friends as it was the 1 year anniversary of the accident.

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No Limits Destination Alaska Sea Kayak Expedition


August 14-16 - 2009

Adam Howard, Scott Harris, Kate Petraborg, Amy Chrest and myself loaded our gear onto the Sitka Sound Ocean Adventure transport boat to the Tom Young Cabin about 18 miles from Sitka, Alaska.  The plan was to paddle the area around the cabin, enjoy some great food (always tastes better out in the wild!), soak in the local hot springs the first day.  
Throw in some chatter about diabetes and spend the next 2 days kayaking the outrageously beautiful Alaska coast back to Sitka.  In the meantime, with 3 camcorders, 3 helmet cams and 3 digital slr cameras and a box of somewhat unknown,  yet to be used cam equipment packed into the 4 kayaks for future use we were set on making a film to document and share our adventure.  A true learning and stretching experience.

A story, surely to follow, will be on the prep for this filming  experience.

        Drop off at the Tom Young Cabin

 

We enjoyed the scenic setting as we discussed diabetes, food, the "Amy face", filming, kayaking, Alaska, and of course our infamous brown bears.

That evening we would see a humpback whale from the cabin window and head down to the beach to watch the whale chase food right in front of us.

Adam would reveal his talent at setting things on fire and we would call it a day after lots of conversation.  Some of this would be a little more personal and would detail the challenge of having diabetes how difficult the disease can be.  I know, I live it.  Best advice I can muster up is to keep livin' life as best as possible and to not let it rule your life.  Easily said but not always easily done.  


Amy Chrest - saving us memories via mini dv tapes and memory cards

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Cruisin Alaskan Water

Ethan gazing at Annahootz










"Cruisin' Alaskan Waters"


Touching down in the far outpost of Sitka, Alaska, I exited the plane and snagged one of the two bags from the conveyor belt. The other bag? The one filled with the most vital items for this new adventure? Missing, perhaps sitting idly in the Juneau or Ketchikan airport.


I had approached Sheldon Jackson College (SJC) in Sitka with a proposal to run a kayak trip for people with diabetes. Kayaking was new to me. Unless an adventure involves swimming or riding camels, I am generally game to give it a go.


I was here to ace the kayak route and plot the coming trip. I would be on the water with Ethan Ring from the Sheldon Jackson Outdoor Center. My goal (other than the already mentioned "swimming"), was to absorb knowledge on the fascinating sport of sea kayaking and plan the trip for a group to take place next summer. Ethan would learn all he could about diabetes (I just had to be my usual diabetes self) and what it would take to run a course for people with diabetes. It was a trial run, or shall we say trial paddle.
We would put our minds together during and after the expedition to organize a quality event.


My Perception Eclipse Kayak sat on the shores of Old Sitka a few days later, aimed at the incoming tide of Sitka Sound. The day before had been a scurried one as we shorted gear, filled out paperwork, purchased groceries, discussed plans, and yes, dumped Dave out of the kayak a few times for practice (and laughs). Thank goodness SJC has a pool, as Sitka Sound is on the frigid side.


I pulled the kayak forward and carefully deposited both legs into the bottom of the boat. I had previously done some "bunny slope" kayaking with someone else in a beast of a boat, on a calm lake. This would be different, way different.


I was quite amazed at all the storage the kayak possessed. I should not have been suprised when Ethan pulled out a huge 12-ounce container of Parmesan Cheese. Don't get me wrong, I love Parmesan Cheese, but living with a "lightweight" backpacking mentality, I was thinking more about throwing a couple packets stolen from Pizza Hut than including a 233-day supply.

Ethan had planned a route with some options depending on weather conditions, fatigue and diabetes management. Our first day would cover about 7 miles, the second woud be either 13 or 18, and the third would encompass 4. Sounds like decent mileage if your a strapped into a pair of running shoes, running or hiking or trails, but paddling? With my legs now useless, tucked into the bow of the kayak and unable to save me, I would rely on muscles that I knew about from anatomy and physiology, but had found little use as an athlete involved in leg-dominant activities.

Immersed in the moment and the stunning beauty of the Alaskan wilds, I got into a good rhythm with a dip of the right paddle, stroke, a dip of the left paddle, stroke. Ethan was an excellent teacher and I was feeling comfortable in my new H2O environment.

Our expedition participants were not just limited to both of us. We had a backdrop that provided lots of wildlife. There were numerous bald eagles, along with porpoises, seals, salmon, ravens, crows, cormorants, Sitka black-tailed deer and an occassional load of bear sign.

We pulled into an established site on Magoun Island to finish our first day. The setting was incredible, with a huge bald eagle commandeering a large tree at the entrance to the cove. He was very visible despite being almost 1/2 mile away. Ethan had me so impressed with his mastery of hanging a bear bag, that it became a Kodak moment.

Day 2 would be our day of decision, with two different mileage options, depending on circumstances. We reached Olga Point, a fork in the water, and made the bold choice to go the longer, more scenic route around Hallack Island. It was a glorious day with almost zero signs of civilization. Conditions can change quickly while roaming the sea and today would unveil choppy seas, wind in our faces and at our backs, changing currents and crystal, glassy waters. At the southern end of Hallack Island sits a beautiful kayak campsite. End to a perfect day, Ethan executed another bear bag trick. Dinner was devoured and life was being enjoyed in backwaters Alaska.

Day 3 we slipped out of our idyllic cove and into Sitka Sound. A short but scenic route would complete our loop. As we cruised along the shoreline, admiring the vast life attached to and floating within a few feet of the shore, we stroked past our first kayak-bound travelers. With the sound of pebbles grinding the underside of my vessel, the journey had come to an end. Less than one-half hour after exiting the kayaks,, conditions quickly deteriorated. The safe return of two adventurers and a 230 day supply of Parmesan Cheese.





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