This collection of photos was originally part of a Facebook photo journal of Alaska. I've fleshed out the comments a little in moving them from Facebook to this blog, but the majority of the material is as originally presented. It's my desire that this be available here as I work to consolidate the many different journals and blogs I've had into one place which I, very importantly, own, and because it helps tell my story; however, it's also my desire to keep living that story, rather than bogging myself down trying to collect it all. So my apologies if the words are sparser, we'll just have to make due with bigger pictures!


Doing some packing. This is approximately 2AM and most of the stuff is ready to go in bags. A pennywhistle and recorder are present. This is also the very first picture with my new Canon A720IS; which, by the way, is working wonderfully with its 8 megapixels and 6x optical zoom.

It's my intention to use those girl scout cookies (bought from my cousin) to make friends up there, to geocache with that old GPS, write notes in that journal, finish reading A Sand County Almanac, spend some quality time with James Harriot, look dashing in my leather cap, avoid expensive Amtrak meals with freeze-dried camp food, and it all in that big backpack.

A year later I'll spend a whole summer tripping about Europe in a backpack a third that size. I'm learning, albeit slowly.

I think I finally went to bed around 4AM… the train leaves Grand Forks around seven.


Sunrise of Grand Forks from the Amtrak station.


The Amtrak, coming from Chicago to pick me up. This time it's only about 2.5 hours late.

When I was younger Mom and I would have to drive along the rails in order for me to better see trains. I had pictures of them cut out of calendars and hung all about the ceilings of my room. Trains, I feel, are an epic expression of the human spirit. They represent freedom, power, and grandness. And, in this case, adventure.


Dad and I.

Those sunglasses I'm wearing? I'm going to lose them. I always do. They'll disappear in Alaska. The black coat I'll lose in Hudson, WI a few years later doing a WFR course. The hat will end up being returned because, put simply, it's just too big. The backpack and the tie-dye (which I bought with Dad out in DC) will, however, live on.


Mom and I. This isn't the best hat, but it's ridiculously large, so I'll take it with. I did get at least two hours of sleep, so my hair's still wet from the shower.

Having never been on glaciers we're not sure what sort of gear one needs, really. Big hats make it on to the list, along with sunglasses. I'm also leaving with a ridiculously expensive pair of UnderArmour pants. The price seems wasteful to me and owning them is somewhat embarassing, though I will discover that the claims the company makes are valid - it's good clothing. I don't end up with more of this aristocratic clothing over the next few years, but I'm glad of the stuff I do have.


My lovely parents


This is eastern North Dakota.

It's at this point in the trip, shortly after the vehicle (bus, train, plain, boat, but rarely, if ever, a car) pulls away and I've settled down that I invariably find myself staring out a window thinking about things. This journey, being on this train, this train itself (in a sense), and so much of what I'm about to encounter are the raw expression of my will and desires. They represent a self-determination that simply isn't present in the sort of cereal I decide to have for breakfast.


This is western North Dakota on the Missouri River.

It reminds me of something more equatorial - winding, trackless rivers and reeds.


More western North Dakota.


She's also going to Alaska and has a handy guidebook she's preparing with. Can anyone ever truly be prepared for Alaska? I generally avoid these books myself, prefering to try to figure out what's worth seeing from the people who are already there.

My roommate Beth and I will later discuss Lonely Planet guidebooks. I make a point in life of avoiding guides. I might miss out on some things, but, without them, I'm open to experiencing places in my own way and have to make do with talking to people and finding local directions. Canning places into books (or blogs?) is somehow criminal. Beth's thought is that the books she's used mostly directed her to overly touristed places, but that they're bloody useful for finding hotels and hostels.


Getting into the Badlands.


They'll be working at an art camp near Fairbanks doing a lot of sculpture.

Towards evening we approach Glacier National Park. The previous summer, while trying to escape the "urban hell" I'd created for myself I made plans to hike Glacier. These never came through and I ended up soloing the Superior Hiking Trail, which, all told was better. Superior freed me for introspection and was sufficiently close to civilisation that I could resupply and get to and from the trail via hitchhiking. I recently tossed out my somewhat dated maps and pictures of Glacier, but not the dream of going here.


Stupid train window blocks a good picture.

Now that's a road!


Curses, again.


The Buddhist monk and our vegetarian supper. She's going to a monestary in Oregon - sold all her stuff in Minneapolis and shalln't be returning.

And now she's enjoying supper with me. As we eat the train winds through Glacier. I keep wishing that the cars had bigger windows. I mean, the windows are already genersouly huge, but, at least from the dining car, you can't see upwards and that's where so much of the action is! The tracks are cut right into the side of towering mountains with vistas of peaks and winding rivers. At times we dive through wooden tunnels constructed to stave off landslides and prevent inundation by snow.

Can we make a quick tangent?

Okay, thanks. When I first put together all this Alaska stuff it was through Facebook albums. It was a photojournalistic enterprise and I had to choose pictures carefully. But, with this blog, I'm able to tell a much better story and put the photos I take to better use. Thus, let me show you a few more pictures of this train trip. They're not carefully selected, and sometimes taken through the train window, which muddies them up a bit, but you'll get the idea.

I've loved trains since my childhood and far prefer them to flying for reasons I've probably stated elsewhere. Simply put: to fly is not to travel - it is to teleport.

Okay, thanks, let's get back to the story.

Somewhere west of Glacier the train stops and I get out for a "smoke break". I have a secret love affair with smokers. Gross as they are, they've set a standard for breaks. Every so often, they have to get up and get outside in order to continue to function. Every so often, I need to do this. I am one person, smokers are many. Their habit helps ensure my well-being as I run along the train, jump around, and stretch. I take time to call Allison Jonjak (todo) so she can let her friend Montana know that I am in Montana.

Later in the evening I'll play pennywhistle alone in the observation car for a while and then wander the train in search of companionship. I come across an Irish fiddler and an American guitarist. The two are conversing and invite me to join them, but it's clear they've developed a rapport. A few minutes later, he offers me a try on his fiddle and continues talking with her. I'm happy to have something "shiney" to play with and won't realize until I think about it a year or more later the true effectiveness of his strategy.

However, the chance encounter proves fruitful. The next morning I wake up and watch Washington go by. It's all beautiful forested hills where the trees are anchoring the drizzling clouds to the earth. We roll along the seaside towards Seattle as I munch on raisins and canned ham (life is good!), and this is a wonderful place to put a train track. In Seattle I find myself getting off the train with the Irish fiddler and we get to discussing cameras. My camera, he says, can be hacked to give it superpowers, and, as I find out, he's right.

I stash my bags at the station and head out into downtown Seattle where the trees have big leaves that I'll still be speaking about, for no good reason, years later.


The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and a depiction of what would probably be a bad day on the road.


The Anarchist Book Shop in which I tarried and the Jason Webley look alike who played the Piano Man.

The bookshop was special because I picked up a copy of Neal Stephenson's Zodiac - an eco-thriller in which the main character battles no-good polluters from his Zodiac boat. This, in addition to providing vital reading material for the rest of my journey North, led to my very much wanting to ride a Zodiac myself.

Another thing which stood out was that the male staff of the store was all dour, tattooed, pierced, Goth-type, while the female staff (of one), was pleasant, smiling, and wearing a pink dress.


A very large maple tree.

This is the oldest park in the city, and a good place for lunch, in my opinion.


The Space Needle and I. Pictures have greatly exaggerated its sizes, but now both you and I are in on the secret. (Self-portrait using delayed photo setting and my hat as a tripod.)


Yoda and I at the Science Fiction Museum.

This is after wandering past the legs of the Space Needle and discovering that it cost ~$18 to go to the top. As is my way, it's not a charge I'm willing to pay.


This is a single tree decomposing and the wealth of life that's growing as a result. Alaskan forests (at least by Juneau) are made up of millions of trees like this. The ground is a hodgepodge of mounds which were and are trees.

To help "keep it real", they've laid a tarp on the ground where the tree was and, a couple of times a year, they collect it all and sprinkle everything that's fallen on the tarp onto this log.

After some delicious chocolate milk and a stop by Lark in the Morning to look at some disturbingly expensive pennywhistles, I find myself running back to the depot for my bags. Whereafter, I grab a bus to SeaTac airport.


The Chilean - Magdalenha - with whom I flew; there was a bit of a language barrier, but she had red hair, so it was okay.

One day, I too will dye my hair red.


This is a mountain, possibly Reiner. I haven't yet climbed to its top, only its flank.


This is another mountain.

Planes running up the coast to Juneau act a lot like buses: every half-hour or so, you land, people get off, people get on, and you take off again. The number of take-offs we accumulated in that flight was remarkable.


A plane wing!


Flying into Juneau…


This is MY glacier! It's beating a hasty retreat into the mountains trying to hide from global warming, but, alas, hasn't been terribly successful.

What I don't yet know, but will find out, is that glaciers are each shaped uniquely. I can now identify every glacier in the Juneau area by sight, sometimes by looking at only the terrain around it. Mendenhall's distinctive "shelves" make it even more recognisable. To me, the shape of Mendenhall is, in some sense, the shape of home.

Looking out the window, through the rain clouds which shroud Juneau, this is my first view of Mendenhall. My first view of Juneau.

The plane slides in for a smooth touch-down. The flight stedwardess comes in over the intercom as we're coasting in towards the terminal, "That was a pretty good landing. Three out of five isn't bad." We applaud. She's been providing a running commentary on the pilots landing ability the whole way up and, whereas for a regular plane, that might mean only one landing, this flight has had many.

In the airport, I blend in, hiding in plain sight as the rest of the group I'll work with congregates. When they reach the point of asking where I am specifically, I'm able to step forward a foot and say, "Here I am."

Matt Heavner, my prof, drives me to our housing in Auke Bay where I'm offered a choice between a windowless room to myself or sharing a windowed room with Kevin upstairs. The choice is obvious.

That first night, and for many nights thereafter, we need to close the thickthick curtains to keep out light from a sun which refuses to set. I close my eyes and open them, finding that they've adjusted to the room's darkness. All around the perimeter above my head, someone has wrote Latin-esque words in glow in the dark paint. Creepy.




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