Monday, December 11, 2017

Grow Old With You

As you may have noticed, Micah has written the blog for the past year and I have been on a sabbatical. Well, my sabbatical has come to an end as I am now the one with some free time and Micah is bringing home the bacon. A lot has happened in the past 4+ months, and I would love to get you caught up- forgive any dust in my writing, it's been awhile.

When planning our route home from Alaska to Oregon, we had a lot more local insight than on our journey a few months previous. Recommendations of others who had done this drive before helped shape our itinerary and as much as we didn't believe it was possible, the different route for our drive home was as beautiful as our drive there.

Luck was on our side at the beginning of our journey as we were offered seats on the fast ferry from Juneau to Haines despite having booked tickets on the slow ferry, cutting our water travel time in half. The annual SE Alaska fair was taking place in Haines that weekend and we had hoped to partake in this very local tradition, but the gates weren't yet open and we decided to continue on our way. We spent our first night at a B&B in Whitehorse and Micah toured one of the local disc golf courses.

After weaving back and forth across the border and passing herds of bison, we landed at Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park for night #2. This was the spot that multiple people recommended we make sure to visit and after spending some time there, we will now recommend it to anyone also- one of the most unique places we've seen. We also got to use our camping equipment that we had been hauling around for the past 3 months without seeing the light of day so in a very small way, were able to justify our packing choices. Liard Hot Springs is the 2nd largest hot spring in Canada and the hot spring itself is natural, with facilities that include a changing house and composting toilet built nearby. To get to the hot spring, there is a mile long boardwalk floating over a warm water swamp; word on the street is that moose are often seen feeding in the swamp. The entire location is set in a boreal spruce forest, a mystical setting when the trees and spiderwebs are all covered with dew. Oh, and we were the first to spot the grizzly cub just above the hot spring (see picture below where I'm pointing up, she's above the rail of the boardwalk).

The following day was simply mundane driving, heading southeast through British Columbia and finding a place to lay our heads in a random town just across the Alberta border. We did spot some new wildlife on day 3, including a moose grazing next to Muncho Lake and a family of mountain goats along a high pass.

There were a few reasons we chose this slightly longer path for our route home and driving through Jasper National Park was one of them. Micah had wisely requested a Canadian National Parks pass earlier in the year, assuming we'd be able to make good use of it if we made it to AK for the summer. The pass was also free for 2017 in commemoration of Canada's 150th anniversary. We contemplated a short hike in Jasper on our 4th travel day but ended up settling for some quick stops along the way. We got our toes wet in Jasper Lake, followed the water to Athabasca Falls, and awed at the Icefields Parkway (lazily, from our car).

Once through Jasper, we continued south on 93 towards Radium Hot Springs where we had a hotel booked for that evening. After passing just south of Lake Louise, we were rerouted due to road closures from the massive wildfires. We backtracked north adding an extra hour and a half to our day and once we were able to pass through the big horn sheep traffic jam in town, we settled in for the night.

The plan for day 5 and beyond was up in the air. Our goal was to make it to Glacier National Park to snag a backcountry camping permit, throw on our backpacks, and eventually sleep under the stars. Unfortunately the day-of permits were all handed out so we settled for a camping spot near Kintla Lake. Turns out, we did alright. The lake was gorgeous and despite the cool mountain air and chilly glacier lake, we went for a dip. Again, we put our camping equipment to good use, made some warm pasta with a glass of wine, and were up to watch the sunrise the next morning.

One of my best friends from grad school in Missoula had planned to camp in Glacier this same weekend with her family but the thick smoke and campfire restrictions changed their plans. Knowing this, we opted to spend another day in Glacier and hike the 11.4 miles of the Highline Trail. The trail starts at Logan Pass and traverses along a narrow shelf carved out of the cliff, through alpine meadows and eventually to Granite Park Chalet. The descent takes you 4 miles through an old burned forest. Views of McDonald and Logan creek valleys below were breathtaking.

Tired and covered in dirt, we made our way to Missoula after conquering the Highline Trail. The next few days were spent with friends in one of my favorite towns. We did all the good Montana stuff; roamed the Saturday morning farmers market, ate dinner on the back porch and sampled our friends home brewed beer while breathing in smoke from the fires, took their raft out on for an afternoon on the Blackfoot River, and played a few rounds of disc golf.

After initially departing Juneau on July 30th, it was August 8th and we were en-route to Portland (92 miles by ferry, 2800 miles by car). We spent a few days with our parents when we arrived in the PNW and then moved into a house in Lake Oswego that we rented for the month. There was some debate as to whether having a space to call our own was necessary but it turned into craft central and was invaluable as we were prepping for our wedding on September 2nd. Most of the days in August were busy with running errands (typically to Michael's), phone calls and appointments with vendors, and projects involving glue sticks and pictures. There were a few extraordinary days though. My sister and her family (husband Osman and sons Kaiden and Dominic) flew over from Nicaragua less than a week after we arrived home. They stayed with my parents for the majority of the 3 weeks they were here, so we were between Kelso and Lake Oswego frequently. Amidst all the wedding planning, we were able to sneak a day in at the Portland Zoo.

Mid August, our respective wedding parties threw us our Bachelorette and Bachelor Parties. No wild stories to report and come to realize, I have no pictures from Micah's (I'm ok with this), but it was a good time had by all.

A short back story: my brother, Mike, and his fiancé, Ashley, were engaged a few months after we got engaged. They contemplated many options for their wedding but arrived at the decision to get married in Portland, one week before our wedding. They were thoughtful in asking us if we would be bothered by this (absolutely not), and the main reason for their decision was that my sister and her family would be in town and they wanted the entire family to be present. They got married on August 25th at the Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint in the Columbia Gorge. It was a sunny day and their ceremony was intimate and perfect. Following the ceremony, the ~25 in attendance congregated at a bar in downtown Portland to celebrate.

The week leading up to our wedding was really busy with final touches on projects and multiple get togethers. We had all the expected events; rehearsal at the venue on Thursday, boys scramble golf tournament and girls picking flowers on Friday followed by a delectable rehearsal dinner at Warehouse23. Saturday morning, Micah and I were to the venue by 8am. Members from each of our families were there for a majority of the day, helping us set up tables, hang up pictures, climb trees to drape lights on branches. We are forever grateful. Surprisingly, neither of us felt stressed up until that point; despite a lot of warnings for how overwhelming planning a wedding is, we felt like it was smooth sailing. Then about 20 minutes before the ceremony started, there was some stress and anxiety as we were standing in the barn for pictures and just over our photographer's shoulder, we could see all the tables and linens still pushed to the side, not even close to ready for 200 people to eat dinner at. Knowing there was nothing we could do, we just went with it; luckily, our caterer had everything ready by the time it needed to be.

Micah and I talked to each other and to other recently married couples a lot about "the big day." While planning the wedding, it mostly felt like we were throwing a party for 200 of our closest friends, which we were thrilled to be doing. The significance of it for us as a couple wasn't always at the forefront of our minds. We chalked it up to the fact that we'd been together for 4.5 years already and that for the past 2+ years, we had lived in so many places where we knew no one but each other, and had learned to rely solely on each other for all of our needs. We already felt like we were there, committed for life- so maybe that was why, during the planning of the wedding, it didn't feel like this specific day was going to change much. And then the time finally came for the ceremony, and it instantly went from an event for 200 of our friends to a day created only for us. For all I know, no one else was present for the ceremony except Micah and I (and his dad, Mark, who officiated). The day was ideal, everything we had hoped for.... 100 degree atypical PNW weather and all.

If you want to check out a few more (655 more) pictures, feel free to see them here:
(shoutout to the best photographer around, Damian Blacklock!)

Signing off for now, Mr & Mrs. Hoelter.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Weather Systems

Our 12 week stint in Juneau has come to an end. As I write this, we are on the early morning ferry heading up to Haines, where we will begin our road trip back to Portland. There are many things we are looking forward to, but for now we will take a brief look back at our last month in Alaska.   

The weekend my Dad came to visit was one of the worst stretches of weather we have had. That forced us to do more sheltered activities; like museums, the salmon hatchery DIPAC, a historic bar, driving the entire length of the main road, and watching the movie Wonder Woman. We did get lucky on his last day and had a nice 5 hr window of dry weather, during which we rented kayaks and ventured out to the Mendenhall Glacier to play around in the ice caves. Julia and I had hiked to them before but they are constantly changing and seemed even cooler than last time. Just being able to get that close to a massive glacier is an awesome experience.

After my Dad left, the countdown began with only 3 full weekends left to cross things off our Juneau to-do list. First up was ascending one of the peaks on Douglas Island. With some low clouds, we opted for the easier hike starting at Eagle Crest ski area. We followed the access road along the chairlifts until they ended. From there it was a nice trek along the ridge to High East peak. The low clouds prevented us from seeing further east, which was the goal, but the view down the valley was nice. 

The following weekend we had to move out of our scenic apartment on Douglas Island, due to our host having visitors. The last 2 weeks of our stay was in a place we found on Airbnb in the Mendenhall Valley area. It is a clean side apartment, attached to a fairly new house with bikes and a bbq. Before I start talking about those last 14 days, I will show you one last picture of the main thing we will miss about our old place; the sunset view. 

One of the hikes on our to-do list was Mt Juneau, the end point of a large ridge that looms above downtown. We were running out of days so we hiked amongst the low clouds. It was a good hike, up through a thick forest to start before breaking out into a lush open meadow hillside with multiple waterfall crossings. The top was very cold and visibility was only about 80 ft, but we got some nice cloud breaks, and views of the city and cruise ships below during our descent.    

Now onto our last full weekend in Juneau. We had so much to do and so little sunshine, thus we did some things that don't require blue skies. The Salmon Creek Reservoir hike, with it's great blueberry picking and low altitude scenery, was perfect. We got some exercise, saw a large body of water, and ate some fruit.

Afterwards, we drove across the highway to the mouth of the creek to watch hundreds of Salmon fight their way up stream during low tide. It was actually a sad scene. So many of the Salmon get stuck on the shore as the tide goes out, and all that remains is the part of the carcass the birds don't want to eat. It also smells little, but I still walked around and took a bunch of photos. 

Julia's goal all summer has been to catch some fish in Alaska and conveniently her friend Nani is a boat captain for a fishing charter company. We had been checking their Facebook page daily for a last minute deal and we were fortunate to land one on our last Monday in town. Nani's boat was full, but we went with her boyfriend Wyatt on a 4hr Salmon trip. It was a blast to be out on the water and the weather was basically perfect. Julia reeled in 2 Silvers (or Cohos) and I caught a pair of nice little Pinks (or Humpys). Wyatt really knew what he was doing and it was fun to watch him work.

Back on dry land, we hit Costco on the way home to buy a vacuum sealer, and began the process of getting our 15 lbs of fillets to Portland. Luckily, one of Julia's coworkers was flying into PDX 2 days later, so we packed our goods in a flexible cooler with some gel packs and arranged a meet with my Dad. All went smooth and we are excited to feast on Alaskan salmon for the month we are home.  

Speaking of catching salmon; one of the afternoons Julia was at work, I walked down to Mendenhall Glacier to get a final glimpse. As I was strolling a boardwalk area, a ranger informed me that a momma black bear was with her 2 cubs up ahead, and that I should be aware. I soon saw a group of 20 people crowding the railings, trying to get the perfect photo. The bears took turns eating a salmon the mom had caught earlier, before she was off again to the creek trying to catch another. As the 3 of them weaved through the woods, all of us gawkers quickly walked along the boardwalk to keep up and stake claim at the next great viewpoint. Julia soon arrived after work, just in time to see the momma send her kids up a tree while she got serious about finding food. Once running under a bridge we sere standing on, chasing a salmon down stream unsuccessfully. But mostly she ate grass. Although we were standing on a protected boardwalk and in no real danger, it was still a cool experience to observe bears in the wild. 

Another thing to note at this time was the filming by BBC/PBS for their Wild Alaska Live show. They had cameras setup all over the Mendenhall area in an attempt to view wildlife in action. I was initially confused by the large cables running through the woods and many British people doing official things, but it all made sense later. Apparently they have about 70 crew members in Juneau working on the broadcast and multiple other filming locations in the surrounding forests. I haven't seen any of the footage but if any of you have and saw the black bears in the photos below, then we were not far out of frame. 

We tried to make the most of our last full day in Juneau. There is another somewhat easily accessible glacier in the area that is not as impressive as Mendenhall, and it's name it Hamilton. The trail is flat and wide, making it perfect for riding bikes the bikes that came with our Airbnb rental. We enjoyed it, and hiked the last mile to a viewpoint on a hill. The glacier view was a little obstructed but all-in-all it was a fun ride.

The rest of the story is that we packed all of our belongings back into our car (minus the TV, which we sold) and drove onto the previously mentioned ferry. The little video below shows the views from the boat. We will miss those views and all the people we met during our time there. I will save the details about everything we did/saw on our road trip back to Portland for another post. All I will tell you is that we took the long way home.