Final Photos and VA Irony

First off, our awesome jeep tour guide took a few photos of us on his phone and then emailed them to us. They are what he calls “Alaska postcard photos” so we are pretty small but the mountain range behind us aren’t! Also a photo of us with what he called the skittles jeeps…because from the air, we look like scattered skittles on the dirt road.

As for the VA….you know I had a horrible experience with them when I was trying to get vaccinated earlier in the year. I was turned away from a patient empty clinic with 20 free spots to be vaccinated…even though I had my separation orders in hand with the history of my service. They turned me away because I didn’t meet their criteria. Simply serving my country and getting an honorable discharge did not count enough for them. I am still a little salty about that. Well, while I was in Alaska, the VA sent me a letter. Actually I have been getting mail from them almost every week saying that they can loan me money to buy a house, car, etc. So not only did they turn me away, because I filled out their paperwork, I am on their spam mailing list. Wonderful. This letter was different though. It called for me to once again serve my nation and be a responsible citizen and get vaccinated!! Really? Argh. The irony. They want me to contact them if I have been vaccinated outside the VA system so they can keep track of me….even if I am not allowed to be seen by them. Grrrrrr.

Fort Collins, Colorado Trip

We returned from Alaska on Thursday, close to midnight. I took Friday and Saturday to try and catch up on paperwork for the store and laundry and loving on Tallinn, who was pretty excited to see us.

On Sunday, I took off a bit before 0700 to make the 8.5 hour drive to Fort Collins, Colorado, to see Tim. I arrived in the afternoon and we proceeded to get all his worldly possessions packed up and in his living room. My Godson and youngest first cousin, Auggie Neitzke, lives in Fort Collins with his wife and their 4 month old son, also named Auggie. We met them for dinner after Tim and I took a short walk around Old Town Fort Collins. It was so nice to catch up. I hadn’t seen them since their wedding in Texas several years ago. Their son, Little Aug, is adorable and loves to look at everything. It has been a long time since I have been spit up on. I didn’t mind one little bit. It was great to see them.

After dinner, Tim and I carefully tetrised (that is the term we use for tightly packing) our two cars with his possessions. The next morning we turned around and drove back to Omaha to rest and relax for three days. We will be leaving Friday (tomorrow) to head to Morgantown, West Virginia, for Tim’s new adventure. He was accepted for a prestigious internship at UVW for the school year. This will not only help him accomplish the requirements he needs to finish his master’s degree in strength and conditioning coaching, but will also allow him to get a high level accreditation which will hopefully land him in a good job for next school year at a college somewhere….. I know Tim loves Colorado…but for the year he was there, he was in lockdown over COVID, and had major wildfires last summer keeping him inside. I am guessing he’ll be back again somewhere in Colorado…but for now, he is on to other adventures!

Last Few Photos from Alaska

My last set of photos are from the train ride from Denali down to Anchorage (about 7.5 hrs) and then a few early morning photos of Lake Hood, the busiest seaplane port in the world…before it got going for the day. All in all, we had a fabulous time in Alaska. It was everything I expected and more. I fell in love with Talkeetna and would love to go back there in the late fall/early winter to see what it is like with the 800 natives versus the 5000 guests. If you get a chance to go…you should!

A Trip into Denali National Park

Sorry folks! I have been crazy busy trying to catch up at home and even put a short trip in to Colorado…but that’s for another post! Our last full day in Denali was spent on a 13 hour bus tour that took us 92 miles into Denali National Park. It is the furthest you can go on a tour bus and it did not disappoint! I know what you are thinking….how can a 13 hour day on a bus seem like any fun at all? Well, I have to say that God was certainly shining on us that day…not that He doesn’t everyday…but this day was extra special. First off, it wasn’t a school bus. You may laugh but 13 hours on bumpy roads on a school bus sounds kinda miserable to me. We had bucket seats in a school bus shell. Second of all, we had a fabulous driver! His name was Erik. He is originally from Washington state, but lives his winters in Colorado…near the mountains in the cities of Breckenridge, Telluride, etc. Swanky ski towns. During those winters he drives school buses for the local elementary school kids. He had a shirt on that simply said, “Listen to Erik” It was his only rule for the day. Of course a lot of rules can stem from that simple concept – this was not lost on me. I would say that Erik was in his 30’s, and man, does he love his job. First, he told us about his job as a school bus driver in Colorado. He knows each of his student riders by name. He goes to their sporting events and goes to their music concerts. They, in return, sounded like they were enamored with him Erik”. They would organize days where the whole bus would wear their shirts and he would come in and eat lunch in the school cafeteria with them. He had a long school bus-esque rectangular rearview mirror to keep an eye on all of us. We, in turn, could see his face as well. There was a time when we were all ogling at a big grizzly bear that was only a few yards from our bus and he said what was even better than watching the bear was watching all of our faces as WE watched the bear. Erik spends his summers driving tour buses in Denali National Park and he really knows his stuff. He was able to talk about the flora and fauna of Alaska, history, the wildlife, rock and mountain formations, and hiking techniques for those who try to summit Denali. (About 5 years ago they changed the name of Mt. McKinley back to Denali-meaning the ‘great one’). He has climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington state in the hopes of someday getting a chance to hike Denali. So Erik was enthusiastic about what he was sharing with us and he went the extra distance to help each side of the bus get good photos and opportunities to see scenery and wildlife. We were very fortunate that we were able to see Denali that day. The smoke from wildfires were in the air much of the time we were in Alaska, but we had a couple of clear days that we got to see Denali, so we are in the 30% club….because that’s about the percentage of people who get to see her when they come…30%. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some pretty scary roads we had to traverse in order to get to the lodge at the end of the road. After 15 miles into the park, the farthest you can go in a personal vehicle with a park pass, the road becomes a gravel/dirt road and the further you go, the skinnier it gets. When there are only tour buses and a few park rangers/scientists/road workers, it gets a little dicey…especially if you are doing hairpin turns around the sides of mountains. I was very very very impressed with Erik’s ability to drive that bus, even if my stomach dropped to my knees a few times when I was sitting on a ledge that was a sheer cliff drop off.

If you have been following along with our Alaskan adventure, you know that we haven’t seen a ton of wildlife. We saw a moose that was 1/2 a mile away whilst on the train. We saw a porcupine (that I thought was a large, wide cat) about 20 yards away – it was dusk….and I figured it out before I went to pet it, a couple of eagles seen from the train, a very industrious beaver couple building a dam across the river from our hotel, and a lynx slinking on the same side of the river as the beaver couple, which caused them to disappear for awhile. So really, it was nothing real close (except for the porcupine – which was I think an oddity all the way around for Alaska). We weren’t seeing Moose walking down Main Street or bears munching on blue berries. (another 2 weeks and the blue berries would have been ripe and maybe it would have been different). Remember way back when on TV there was a show called Northern Exposure? I loved that show! Anyhow, we weren’t seeing the animals I thought we would see frequently. Locals talked about them, but it was just too warm for them to be out and about for us to see. Even Rich, who has been to Alaska several times, was shocked at the lack of wildlife. However, our luck changed on our bus ride. We saw 7 moose, 6 arctic ground squirrels (which Erik called “bear burritos”), about a dozen caribou, 4 dahl sheep (although they were very far away), a whole brood of ptarmigan, and 8 grizzly bears….including a momma and her cub. We got to see a grizzly bear and a caribou up close and personal because they walked around our bus as it was pulled over on the side of the road. I had my nice camera with me and have not had time to go through those photos yet. These will be all the ones from my phone. But they aren’t too bad!

At the end of the road, there is a lodge and we had a nice lunch there and then had the option of taking a class on botany, panning for gold, or a few other informative hikes about legends from the area. Lily and Rich decided to pan for gold. They listened to a briefing and then set to work shoveling and sifting. Rich found a pretty impressive little chunk of gold colored rock that he was really excited about. His hopes were dashed when the nature guide did the thumbnail check on it and it exploded to dust. Lily, however, found a couple of flakes that were real gold. They laminated them on a card for her. They got some massive mosquito bites until I dusted them with Alaskan cologne….aka deet. They had a good time though! Watching them, I often take a step back and think that maybe they will be okay when I am gone. That they will have each other and they won’t need me to be the glue to connect them. As sad as it makes me to think I won’t watch her become a mom or a wife…it makes my heart feel good that Rich and Lily will look after each other.

Denali Jeep Ride

I don’t know when I will have the opportunity to post again before we leave…hopefully I will, but perhaps not. I wanted to put our photos from this morning out for you to look at. We went on a jeep tour of old Denali highway. This is not in the park itself, but a dirt road that runs alongside the Nenana River. Our guide, Jeff, was originally from Brainerd, MN and really had a lot to teach us about the area. It was a full morning! Our only issue was that didn’t see any wildlife at all! Fingers crossed for tomorrow on the 13 hour bus tour of Denali National Park! So there were several different colored jeeps with our guide in the front. He talked over the CB radio to us and we stopped several places along the way to get photos. We got several family photos but they are either on my good camera or on Jeff’s phone…who will email them to us later today. Tonight we will be going on an ATV ride through a creek bed. Should be fun! Tomorrow, as I said, we are riding in a bus for 13 hours deep into Denali. The next day we ride the train most of the day back to Anchorage to head home and back to reality on Thursday. Thanks for following our journey with us!

Train Ride to Denali

On Sunday, we got on board the Alaskan railway system and headed north for Denali National Park. We are staying in the canyon just inside the park and we have a river flowing right behind the back of our building. It is beautiful. We have been to the “boardwalk” which is the part of “town” that has the shops and restaurants. This area was hit very hard by COVID-19 in that many places have closed and stayed that way. Princess cruise lines has several buildings and restaurants that are all closed for the second year in a row. Others just can’t find servers to work there. We highly recommend Prospector’s Pizzeria, but the wait is almost 2 hours to eat. You can get seated after a 30 minute wait, but then it is an hour wait for the pizza to be made. We ordered sandwiches last night to spend things up but I have to admit I was looking longingly at those with pizzas on their table! Most of these photos were taken on the train. The one of Lily and Rich sleeping….she bobs her head forward, and he leans his head backwards. They made me smile. There are a few last Talkeetna Lodge photos….and a photo of Curry, Alaska….which is no more. It was a 5 star resort back 70 years ago…but it burned to the ground and they never rebuilt it.

Devil’s Canyon Adventure on Water

We went on a jet boat adventure tour today on Devil’s Canyon. We were on the water for about 5 hours. Now before you get all excited that Lily, Rich, and I had paddles and dry suits and stuff like that on as we paddled our way down class 4 and 5 white water….let me burst your bubble a bit. We were actually on jet boats. They looked kinda like pontoon boats with really big engine power. They were enclosed with windows that opened (thank goodness, because it was 83 here today!). We did go to class 5 water in Devil’s Canyon though. It was amazing. The only wildlife we saw along the way were several bald eagles that were quite far off in the distance. Our boat captain was named Israel and he had quite a lot of great stories to tell along the way. There was also a naturalist with him, Abby, who was also a lot of fun. Both of them were born and raised in Talkeetna. Here are a couple of random facts I learned today I thought were really interesting: 1.) Alaska and Louisiana are the only two states who don’t use the county system. Louisiana has parishes. (this I knew since I graduated from high school in Louisiana) Alaska has boroughs. This I didn’t know. 2.) The Susitna River (the one we were on today) is the 15th longest in the U.S. at 314 miles long. It only has one town along it – Talkeetna. The rest of it is very remote and no one has built alongside it. There are some fresh water that comes into the water filled with glacier silt….you can see them in the pictures where the water is brown and then a line where the fresh blue water comes in. That is where the salmon come in as well. When the river freezes over during the winter, the ice is typically 5 feet thick. There are awful ice jams in the spring as the ice starts to break up and they build up and scrape the trees along the banks. On our way back to Talkeetna, we stopped at an area that has been set up as a reproduction of what a trapper’s camp would look like at the turn of the century. Our naturalist guide, Abby, took her 9 gauge shotgun with her as we made a 1/4 mile walk into the woods….just in case. It was very interesting. All in all, we had a really great time on the water today. We also learned a bit about the vegetation. There were a lot of fireweed flowers in the woods. She said that the jelly, jams, syrups, and ice cream are a true taste of Alaska. There were also some really talk stalks of what looked like Queen Anne’s lace. However, we were told it was actually called cow’s parsnip…which has an oily substance on it that when you get in the sun will give you chemical burns. Good to know!

When we returned to the town of Talkeetna, we walked around downtown for a bit and had an early dinner. We passed a store that had a woman in her 60’s sitting at a table in front of the building. She had a sign saying she had burrito bunny therapy going on. Well….that sounded interesting! We meandered over and got to hold some of her rabbits. She said that a years ago she lost her 42 year old son to a massive heart attack. She needed some form of therapy to manage her grief and this was it. Now she shares it with others. Anyhow…that is the reason for the bunny photos!

Tomorrow we will head onto the train again and head into Denali National Park for the last leg of our trip. I am really looking forward to it! I have loved Talkeetna. It is a charming little town that gets run over by tourists this time of year. I am holding out hope to come back up here again during the late fall or winter time. I think it would be magical with snow and not so many people and mosquitoes!

Hazy Almost Sunset

I was up way too late last night…up too early this morning…It is time for me to get to bed and get some rest for tomorrow’s adventures. I just wanted to share with you what the inside of our great room in our lodge looks like. There are a row of about a dozen leather and wood rocking chairs that face out of some large windows facing the Alaskan mountain range. This has been my go-to place to hang out and read messages on Facebook and doing my daily Bible study. I bet it is gorgeous in the winter time when it is snowing! Yesterday you could see everything pretty well, but today it was hazy over the mountains and not very clear. I took a few pictures in the fireweed flowers…now that I know what they are called. On to the weekend!

Land Mushing in Talkeetna

This morning we were fortunate enough to go out to the kennels of Dallas Seavey, a five time Iditarod champion and current reigning champion. He has about 130 dogs in totally, but about 85 were out today. He has some that stay on a glacier part of the year to train. He also has this big trailer that is air conditioned that has a huge treadmill to run a 14 dog mushing group. Isn’t that crazy? His trainers worked with us. They were fantastic. Some live there all year round and others, like Chloe, a 20 year old vet student from Minnesota, comes up for the summer for an internship. All of them are mushers and want to learn from the magic of Dallas. We got to meet Gamble, the dog that has been one of the most decorated dogs ever. They had a pen of eight puppies that were 7 weeks old and full of energy. They had the howling down pat. They made land carts to mimic dog sleds to use through the forest on his property. They have two sided hand brakes so Lily rode on my sled the whole time while I drove. We had a blast with the dogs. I wasn’t so sure at first about how the dogs lived…on 30-40 foot runs with a dog house…all on gravel. However, they were really well taken care of and I was really impressed with these trainers and the whole process involved in training for the Iditarod. Afterwards, we went into town and had lunch at the Talkeetna Brewery and Pub, then Lily and Rich had some fireweed ice cream cones. Fireweed is a purple flower that grows wild all over the play around here. It is in the vase next to Lily in the picture with her eating pink ice cream. Lily said that if pink were a flavor, it would taste like fireweed ice cream! Shirley, the owner, moved to Alaska from Arkansas 39 years ago. She is quite a character and sounds like she left Arkansas yesterday! We also had some spinach bread….sooooo good!

Leiomyosarcoma Awareness Day – July 15th

Well, I made it to another LMS Awareness Day. Yes, even my brand of crazy rare cancer has a day of awareness attached to it. Our color is purple, so I wore purple today. Purple was always my favorite color growing up. I have always loved the color green, but purple is a close second. I was kind of hoping the color would be some color I didn’t like…because I don’t like this cancer. Why did it have to be associated with one of my favorite colors? You know what else is a “sign” of LMS besides the color purple? Sunflowers. Gah! I LOVE sunflowers and taking photos in sunflower fields. So this disease seems to fit me. Sigh. I am doing okay. It is nice to not be on chemotherapy right now. However, this anastrozole is not a picnic. I am literally moving like an 80 year old until I get going. The joint pain and stiffness is not enjoyable. It slows me down. It makes me move in ways I don’t want to. But how can I complain when I am still here and still able to take care of myself and do wonderful things like check off some bucket list items? So today I thought of my friend, Hollie, who didn’t make it one year with her diagnosis. I prayed for her…for her family…for all those who are suffering with this awful, unpredictable form of cancer. Then I put it aside and didn’t think about it all day. Until I saw all the purple flowers at our lodge. Until I was put in the purple group at the flight seeing tour. It was like God was reminding me that He was thinking of me too today. That gives me pause to think of how fortunate I am to be his beloved daughter.

Here is a few signs being sent out amongst our LMS community globally I wanted to share: