Greetings from Alaska

Yes, we are still alive. A few people wanted us to let them know that.

We have done much. We arrived on Friday the 18th. We spent Friday in Anchorage with Karen (Jen’s college friend) and enjoyed a fresh “wild caught” Red Salmon dinner which we purchased at Sam’s Club. If you don’t have time to catch it yourself, just stop by your local supermarket and pick up fresh Salmon (assuming it’s the right time of the year).

Saturday we picked up our rental car and headed towards Homer. We didn’t make it 15 minutes before spotting a Dall Sheep grazing on a bluff above Turnagain Arm.

Homer is a little fishing village at the end of the Kenai Peninsula known for its Halibut fishing. We drove “the spit”, found the Eagle Lady’s abode, and then headed back North to the Deep Creek campground. We had a fantastic campsite on the Sound where we watched 6 bald eagles (2 mating pairs, 2 juveniles) circle, fish, and steal fish from lesser birds.

Jen has some of her Dad’s “fish fever”. You should have heard her squeals of delight as hundreds of salmon danced in the water right in front of us. The salmon are in a feeding frenzy as they prepare to head up the spawning streams.

The next day we found an old fellow with some clamming gear and rented a couple buckets, shovels, and a clam gun. We tried the shovels a couple times and realized that would be a LOT of work to catch our limit (60 each) with shovels. So, then I gave the clam gun a try and after crushing a couple, got the hang of it and we extracted a few dozen razor clams.

We put our clams in a disposable cooler and then cruised on over to Seward to spend the night. After setting up campe, we spent a few hours cleaning clams. It’s an experience that everyone should have. Once. 🙂 I can only describe it by saying that Jen was no longer disappointed that we didn’t both collect our limit.

I fired up the trusty MSR Whisperlite (stove) and sauteed our clams in generous portions of melted butter and we ate a razor clam feast for dinner. They were excellent. Afterwards, we scraped up $2.00 worth of quarters so that we could use the showers to wash the clam fragrance from us and our clothes.

The next day we cruised up to Exit Glacier park. On the way in we had to wait for a black bear cub to stop playing in the road. We hiked up a hardy mountain trail a few thousand feet, above treeline, and finally into snowfields to a nice rock outcropping. From there we could see the Harding Ice Field (120+ square miles of ice) and a great views of Exit Glacier. Jen has now seen a glacier. I’ve seen dozens, and I agree with a comment we heard from another hiker: “once you’ve seen one glacier, you’ve seen them all”.

We had dinner at The Salmon Bake (just outside of Seward) and contrary to the slogan on their sign, the food was excellent. We spent the night at Bertha Creek campground, where we were formally introduced to Alaskan mosquitoes. Myths suggest that the size of the mosquitoes are “Alaskan” but that isn’t the case, they’re the same size as our mid-western mosquitoes. Where they really stand out is in their quantity, intensity, and ferocity.

We could not get into the car without a few getting in. We could not unzip the tent door without them getting in. We took absurd measures. We’d unzip the rain fly, rush inside, and zip it back up. Then unzip the tent, crawl inside, zip up, and then pause for a 3 minute shakedown. As the inevitable mosquito (or three) appeared, we’d squash it. Then we could resume “normal” tent life.

Before getting out of the tent, we’d put on at least two layers (long sleeved base layer + mid-weight) on our entire bodies and then headnets. The only exposed skin left was our hands which got deet. We were mosquito-proof but only comfortable when the temperature (or wind) made it comfortable to wear two (thin) layers.

The following day we mosied up to Whittier. There is nothing to see there. It’s just a community of 185 persons, surviving in an old military outpost. We cruised though and caught the ferry to Valdez and spent the rest of the day cruising across the sound. The captain took the ferry into the Columbia Bay, right up to the edge of the ice floe (as close to the glacier edge as a boat can get).

After arriving in Valdez, we cruised around down town for a few minutes and then headed out of town up to Thompson Pass and spent the night at the Blueberry Lake campground. The views getting to and from the campground were absolutely fantastic but it was here that we cemented our plans to send a bill to the Alaskan governer for feeding his mosquitos.

… to be continued.

Life isn’t fair

Sometimes you just have to take what life dishes out. Today, I got up and made crepes for Ricardo and I. After breakfast, the sun came out so a command decision needed to be made. This was the warm sunny day we were waiting for so we loaded up the truck and headed for the dock.

We put the boat in the water and puttered around the smooth as glass Puget Sound for a few hours, suffering intensely in the warm mid-day sun. Many others apparently felt the need to suffer as we did for there were quite a few other boats heading in and out.

After spending a good part of the day out on the water, we headed back in. A local fisherman had a sign out on the marina advertising his shrimp so we just had to stop and pick up some fresh shimp. It was quite fortunate as we had been terribly concerned about what our next meal might be.

I’ve posted a few pictures.

I’m stepping out of Point and Shoot

I’m selling my beloved Nikon Coolpix 995, so if you know of someone that’s interested in a good deal on a great little camera, have them take a look here. This is the camera that I’ve been carrying around for the last two years and enjoy so much. Why would I sell such a great camera?

As you may know, I forsook film long ago and will not ever again touch it. Not because it’s not good, because results can be achieved with film that will likely take at least 5 more years to accomplish with digital cameras. However, I’m a computer guy, so I want my photos to all end up on the computer, and I’m more than satisified with the performance of digital versus 35mm film.

In the digital camera world, there’s two classes of camera: P/S (point and shoot) and SLR (single lens reflex). Point and shoot digicams are ones that do nearly everything for you. You point them at something, push the shutter button and wait while it captures a good picture. SLR are the “pro” cameras. They’re big, heavy, require seperate lenses, and are terribly expensive (thousands of $). You do most of the work, push the button and it instantly captures what you are looking at.

The lower end of the digicam P/S market (~ $200) are selling like hotcakes and you seem then everywhere. They’re cheap, the photo quality is good for the price, but if you ever want to do anything with the photos, like say, print them, you will almost certainly be disappointed in the results. It’s generally accepted that quality is closely related to price.

The midrange of the market is the “sweet spot”. For $300-500 you can get a fantastic P/S camera that takes great pictures, even in the hands of a novice. The 8×10 prints are every bit as good as a 35mm enlargement. That’s the class my Coolpix 995 lives in, a great camera that makes it easy for photography amatuers like myself to take great shots you can print and share.

The high end of the P/S market pushes from $700-1000 and includes some excellent cameras that take fantastic photos. For the last couple years, I’ve patiently watched these cameras rapidly evolve, anticipating an upgrade when a camera significantly better than mine arrived. This would have been the next logical step in my photography growth.

However, something outside the Point and Shoot world finally happened that changed the rules. In the DSLR (digital SLR) world, the price point finally crossed the high end of the P/S market. Now, instead of spending close to a $1,000 on a high end P/S, I can buy a Canon EOS-300D or Nikon D70 for that same money. These new SLR cameras have nearly all the functionality (and more in cases) of a $3,000 DSLR camera a year or two ago.

What this means is that instead of packing along two pounds and a tiny bag of camera gear on my trips, I’ll be toting along a substantially bigger bag that weights more. I used to shake my head at pro photographers packing 10-15 pounds of photo gear into the outback. To get a photo you can blow up to hang on the wall, that’s the price you had to pay. Fortunately, the newer DSLR cameras are quite a bit lighter and so are the lenses so it won’t be quite so bad.

So, can you expect to see better quality photos on my web site soon? Not because of the camera upgrade. 😉 The 995 is more than capable of capturing excellent photos for that purpose. The studying that I’ll be doing, the books I’m reading, and the time I spend practicing my photography skills will make that difference and my skills will continue to improve.

The difference moving up to the D70 will make is in what I can do with the photos. I have several “Wow, I show those?” photos in my library that are of sufficient quality that I’d like to blow them up and put them on my wall. However, the quality they were captured at is insufficient for this purpose. By stepping up to the D70, the capabilities are enhanced significantly beyond even the most expensive of the P/S cameras.

Skiing Weather!

The skiing weather in Northern Michigan is currently at its finest. We’ve been having lots of snowfall lately and the temperatures are very skiier friendly. Martha and I went out yesterday and had a great day on the slopes. I still haven’t learned how to ski deep powder well, but that’s another story in itself.