Ketchikan, AK: All Trails Lead to Gold

On the way back from Los Angeles to Sitka, I had an 8-hour layover in Ketchikan. I did a little bit of research before I arrived, so I knew that I had to take a ferry from Gravina Island, where the airport is located, to get into town.* The booth to purchase tickets ($6 roundtrip) was right outside the airport, and five minutes after getting off the plane, I was being transported to Revillagigedo Island. Since the loss of my dear bicycle (I still have hope in humanity, and pray that it will be returned!), walking has played an increasingly important part of my life. At first, I would always think about how much faster I could get around on a bike. But now, given that I can’t make my beloved two-wheeled vehicle magically appear, I try to be more deliberate about strolling and sauntering. To pass the time, I listen to podcasts sometimes. But more often, I find myself walking in silence. I am trying to be more aware of the things around me.

The ferry stop is approximately 4 miles away from downtown Ketchikan, so I turned right when I hit the road and began walking at an eager pace. Surprised by the sight of a Safeway, I stopped in to fill up on water and purchased a couple of snacks for the day while I was there. After another half hour of walking, I was in town, taking in the distinct buildings, the empty boardwalk, and the dark waters. Ketchikan Map

I stopped by at the visitor’s center, but it was closed. I suppose the first week of January is not exactly high-season for tourists in Southeast Alaska. Visitor's Center This positive take on rainy season (which apparently occurs year-round) in Alaska made me smile. Liquid Sun Gauge Continuing my stroll, I began walking towards Deer Mountain. My internet research told me that DM trail would be a challenge, but totally worthwhile. Plus, its proximity to downtown made it accessible and possible to do in a few hours. I walked past the Totem Heritage and City Park areas, and when I hit Ketchikan Lakes Road, the pavement started going uphill. A little bit of wandering led me to the trailhead (turn left before the potholes and gravel roads!). Deer Mountain was heavily wooded, and the trail was clear and easy to follow. Average 850 ft gain per mile, but I only walked up to the snow line, about 2 miles up the trail, before turning around and heading back down.** Deer Mt Map It was Sunday, and several other parties were hiking as well, but I found plenty of time and space to be alone. I later googled views from Deer Mountain’s peak, and they are spectacular. Unfortunately, my eyes could not penetrate the thick fog that had enveloped the area. I would love to come back when it is less cloudy, and make it up to see the lakes and the cabin. When I was back in town, I had a couple more hours so I walked through Ketchikan’s own Totem Park, and stumbled across some gold. I found it strange that this precious metal would just be left there in the ground with a metal pole sticking out of it, self-proclaiming that it is, in fact, the “World’s Largest Gold Nugget”. But this is Alaska, and standard rules need not apply. I snapped a picture.

The solitary walk around town and on the trail reminded me of why I’m so fortunate to live in a place like Southeast Alaska. In Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka, I get to experience such a rich sense of the place and, even as an outsider, feel a deep sense of belonging. And in the past few weeks without my bike, I’ve learned that, in an increasingly fast-paced and frantic society, walking is a rebellious yet innocuous way to slow down and simplify our lives. It’s a more intimate way to get to know a place and see the impact that humans have on the lands we inhabit. I’ve found that walking, though sometimes slow and inefficient, is truly a wonderful way to get to know Alaska. This is not to say that I am abandoning my love for speeding around town on a bicycle. I’m just learning to appreciate a new speed until I am, once again, reunited with my two-wheeled companion. I’ve never put a quote on this blog before, but I want to end this post with one from Dickens:

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.” DM Trail Scratch that, I want to end with this one (also Dickens). “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”

*I later read up on the controversial history surrounding a proposed project to build a bridge from Gravina Island to Ketchikan. Apparently, the issue began in 2005 when a senator from Oklahoma offered an amendment to divert funds for the Gravina Island Bridge to rebuild a bridge that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. It became a point of contention for the 2006 senate candidates, and a 2008 presidential campaign issue. **Approximately 2.5 miles from trailhead to summit.

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moving towards minimalism

I’ve always talked about wanting to reduce the quantity of my physical possessions. And though I’ve never been one to make New Years’ Resolutions, I decided to make “the first day of January in the year two-thousand and fifteen” the arbitrary date to start simplifying my life. Yesterday, before flying out of Sitka to spend a week with my parents and grandparents in California, I packed up all the things that I haven’t been using and took a little inventory of the things I had left in my room.

The number of things that I now own in Alaska:

Clothing: 65

Shoes: 8 (pairs)

Equipment/instruments: 14

Electronics: 3

That’s a total of 90 items.

But I’m kinda cheating. I didn’t count toiletries, and although I didn’t bring any cosmetics to Alaska, I do have quite a few body washes, facial cleansers, toners, serums, lotions and masks, thanks to my mother. I also received some jewelry from friends for Christmas. However, knowing my habits and history with small pretty things, these are bound to be worn, enjoyed for a short while, and lost. I did not count my bedding. I didn’t count all the books I have either. Many of these were borrowed–from people, from work, or from the library. The several books that are mine, I intend to give away as soon as I finish them.

Books

(I promise I read more than just childrens’ poetry)

I didn’t count the clutter of CDs in my room either. Some are borrowed, others were brought back home to California.

CDs

And of course, I’m also cheating because I basically have a warehouse of items in my room back in California. These are the books, stuffed animals, old clothes, sports medals, homecoming mums, and banners that my mom has been hoarding for me since I was a kid.

So even if I’m not letting go of everything but the absolutely necessary things in my life, I can distance myself from most of the clutter. My general goal over the next year (and the one after that…) is to only acquire a new item if I can convince myself to exchange it for two things I already own. It already sounds challenging to me. To get myself pumped up and in the mood, I’m even listening to the music of John Adams and other minimalist composers as I write up this post.

I hope that having fewer “things” will allow me to focus my time and efforts on the things are really important, like improving my personal and professional relationships, reading, blogging, hiking, traveling, and playing the piano, ukulele, and harmonica. You know, all that hippie good stuff about accumulating the intangible but invaluable things in life.

So, hello 2015! The year of the sheep, the year of thinking big and seeing much. The year of living light and going far. I wish you all good health and genuine happiness.

Weekend in Juneau

At 6 PM on Christmas Eve, I set out on my first solo trip in several months. At the ferry terminal, I loaded Jessica’s bicycle onto the ship. Unfortunately, my bike had been stolen the previous afternoon. I left Sitka, and arrived in Juneau, in complete darkness. Pleasantly rolled up in my sleeping bag, I slept through most of the 9-hour ferry ride.

The first day in Juneau was a rainy, typical Southeast Alaskan day. Because I arrived early on Christmas morning, I rode from the ferry terminal into town in the dark. With my headlamp bound to my bike helmet, I slowly found my way to my host’s home. After an early morning nap, I set out to explore Juneau. I quickly found an icy path, and rode Jess’s bike to the Mendenhall Glacier, which was way more beautiful than the image I had drawn in my head based on descriptions from the Internet.

Juneau, though a city of only 30,000, felt huge and a little overwhelming. I realized how much I had grown accustomed to the small-town life in Sitka. In this new city, I knew that there was no way I could bike from one end of the road to the other in an afternoon. However, my nervousness soon turned into excitement as I admired the new landscape around me. On the second day, I biked to the end of Thane Road. I was hoping to catch a beautiful sunrise, but only saw the heavily-clouded sky get lighter. After recharging at a coffee shop with some delicious cocoa, I found my way to Roberts Mountain and began a 1500-feet hike up the mountain. It was pretty cloudy throughout the hike, but there were still some amazing views.

So beautiful, but so cold! Luckily, my walks on Sitka’s trails had prepared me to go up snowy slopes. After the hike, I biked back with freezing slush in my socks and a big smile on my face.

On my last day in Juneau, I was out the door before dawn. I rode out to Mendenhall Glacier again, this time under clear skies. The air felt thin and rarefied. I hiked out to the tongue of ice, and watched the sun rise in the east, casting its light onto the glittering ice.

I found my way over to Nugget falls, which is this loud and powerful waterfall right next to the glacier.

Nugget Falls

In the afternoon, I rode about 15 miles on the bike path back into downtown Juneau. After some wandering, I found Perseverance Trail and began a slow walk in the snow. This trail was much easier, but even more breathtaking. All around me, ranges of smooth but serrated mountains stood out against a clear blue sky. I felt a light breeze push me along the winding trail.

That night, I hopped back on the ferry and set off for Sitka at midnight. This time, after 8 hours in my sleeping bag, I was lucky enough to be on the ferry after dawn. I woke up in the morning to a beautiful sunrise on the water.

It was an exhausting trip, and it felt wonderful to come home to Sitka feeling both completely spent and totally rejuvenated.

10897058_10152619047882423_6276007097900445255_nHappy New Year, everyone. Here’s to more adventures in 2015!

The Story Continues!

I am currently layover-ing at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, fresh off the plane from Los Angeles. Going west was cool, but living in the Alaskan wilderness is the real, unsanitized frontier experience. Just kidding. In a few hours, I will board a northwest-bound airplane to a quaint, but “burgeoning”, city in Southeast Alaska. For the next four to nine months, I will be working with the Sitka Conservation Society as a service fellow.

I hope to continue posting updates and photos to share with my family and friends. The blog has been refit for that purpose–hope you continue to enjoy my posts!

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