Purpose for my blog:



Friday, May 25, 2012

Nature:  Therapy for your soul?

Have you ever experienced the natural high that one can achieve simply by escaping the hustle and bustle of the city?  For some it might mean standing on top of a mountain, but for others it can be as simple as a walk in the park.  It’s a feeling of freedom and contentment and if you’ve never experienced that feeling before, I challenge you to make an attempt.  It is real, and it’s powerful, but like so many of the good things in life, you must search for it, not only in the forests or on top of a mountain, but also within yourself. 

“To the dull mind nature is leaden; to the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just like Ralph Waldo Emerson, many other influential writers, philosophers and naturalists throughout time have promoted the significance of nature in their work.  Here, I will incorporate several well-known quotes, as they can often do wonders at putting my own thoughts into words. 

Growing up as a lover of almost everything outdoors, I built a firm appreciation for nature from an early age.  My father took me camping, fishing, and hunting and I was always naturally drawn to its peacefulness and serenity.  I can hear my mother now, saying; “he’ll just sit out there all day long and not even catch a thing”, and that’s true, but I’ll still enjoy every minute of it.  Later in life I realized why I was able to do that and it comes down to one simple word, or lesson that nature taught me; patience.

  “Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.” 

The society we live in today is built around instant gratification. Think about how that affects our wants, needs, and desire for satisfaction immediately.  In many ways, we've lost a great deal of our patience and ability to slow down, use our imagination, and simply be content with anything simple.  Many children grow up so close to a television or computer that they rarely even consider where it came from and what effect it may have on them. If you don’t like the show you’re watching on tv, just turn the channel.  If you’re not satisfied with the current web page, game, or social network you are spending hours on, you just simply “click” the mouse.  It may seem normal to you now, but think about how things used to be.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by a person from my parent’s generation, or older, that they used to have to use their imagination in play.  Instead of playing X-Box, or Wi, they made up their own games and it often took place outdoors.  Though I may not have understood it then, I’m sure glad my mother didn’t let me sit around the house all day as a child.  If I had a friend over to visit, you best believe we would be outdoors exploring, and of course, out of her hair.

If you look back even further, to other civilizations, the connection between humans and “nature” was much more personal.  You got your water from a stream, rather than a faucet.  You hunted for, or grew your own food, instead of purchasing it with money at the supermarket, and the rhythm of life was determined more by Mother Nature than time and money.  Life was much different then, and I can’t help but question the true value of many of the things we consider “progress” today.

Throughout my life, the experiences I’ve had in the wilderness have played a major role in shaping the person I am today.  I’m not sure exactly where my adventurous spirit came from, but there’s no doubt it’s there.  During the past 10 years, I’ve traveled to 16 countries and many places around the U.S.  Most of my destinations were chosen not to visit a big city, though I do love the culture (and food!), but to see the wonders of nature in different parts of the world.  It wasn’t just a “vacation” for me, but a much more meaningful experience.  When you set out to climb a mountain, or hike a trail for days on end, with nothing but the contents of your backpack, it’s all up to you to survive.  That’s when you really experience the power and wonders of the wilderness.  You realize that it can provide you with everything you need to live, but also take your life in an instant.  There were times when I was pushed to the point of exhaustion, both physically and mentally.  During those moments, you might question why you even put yourself in such a position, then, you realize that ultimately you have no choice but to move forward if you want to live.  Nature is certainly unforgiving, but the rewards you find within yourself when you reach that summit, or ending point of a trail are much more powerful than words can express.  From those experiences, you gain a huge sense of achievement, which is an essential part of growing stronger as a person.  It gives us confidence and a sense that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.  You learn that you can survive and that you can push yourself farther than you ever even imagined.  Once you’ve realized that, those strengths translate into all aspects of your life.
My brother, Shane and I.   Tetons, Wyoming.

There have been several research studies done recently to determine how outdoor recreation can do things like help reduce stress, speed recovery from surgery, or increase work performance and morale. 
Today, we often overlook the importance of nature in our everyday lives.  Perhaps that’s why one might prefer the office with a view, rather than an enclosed cubicle, or to take a walk during lunch rather than stay indoors? A simple breath of fresh air can be enough to improve your day.  In nature, you witness how thousands of different species coexist without intervention and realize that humans are an essential part of that “web of life.” For many, including myself, it brings a sense of purpose and belonging.  It can also help people gain a refreshing new sense of awareness by realizing that they too are part of something much bigger.
"Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.   -Chief Seattle-
During the past several years of my life I have traveled as much as I could, not just in search of a new place, but also to learn and grow as a human being without making assumptions from afar.  Through those many days of adventure, discovery, and solitude, I experienced several realizations about life, and it helped me put things into perspective.  Those memories constantly remind me in my day-to-day life, of where my priorities should truly lie.  There is no doubt that the time I spent alone in the wilderness has enriched my life to a point past any explanation.  It is all something you have to see for yourself to truly understand. Now, I am eager to share my experiences, help others discover the many opportunities that they might not otherwise, and promote a positive, healthy lifestyle. 

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."
-John Burroughs

Nature is real.  It does not deceive us, hold prejudice against us, or judge us, but it gives us everything we need.  It gives us life.  Only when we take these things for granted do we feel that nature has neglected us.  After all, nature is not just a place we visit.  It is our home!

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
-John Muir

As summer approaches, I encourage you all to get out and put a little nature into your life.  If you’ve never understood why people love hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity, maybe its time you give it a chance.  Just make sure when you open your door to step outside, you also open your mind and let nature in!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Surfing in Yakutat, AK

Most people don't really think of Alaska when they imagine a great place to surf, so it might come as a surprise to know that Yakutat can be home to some of the best surfing in the U.S. at certain times.  When you add the backdrop of Mt. St. Elias to the picture, I find it hard to believe you can beat it in most other parts of the world. 
Fortunately, I was able to get out quite a lot this summer.  My friend/coworker, Freddie, let me borrow one of his boards and I also found a wetsuit I could borrow for the season.  I had learned to surf for the first time in Australia a few years ago, where the waves were perfect for a learner.  Here, it can be a bit of a different story.  There are certain times when you can find really nice, clean waves, but for a large part of the time its a battle.  You have to be quite strong just to paddle out through the breakers and that's just the first part of it all.  I have a gained a lot of respect for any experienced surfer.  It takes a lot of time and hard work to get good!  I'd say this sport is not for the faint of heart!
The water temperature is right around 52-53 F.

The Alaskan IPA label is modeled after a real picture of a surfer here in Yakutat,
with Mt. St. Elias in the background.

Nice calm day out at "Sandy's"

 Freddie riding one

Clayton with his signature style

The waves weren't big this day, but still fun to ride since it was not so chaotic, as it often is.

Later in the summer there are Coho Salmon jumping everywhere. 
Sometimes you wonder if you might even get hit by a flying Salmon, but they aren't nearly as intimidating as the 2,000+ lb Sea Lions that like to pop up right near you and take a curious look.  You just have to experience that for yourself to truly understand.  They are huuuge! 

On this day Freddie watched from his surf board as his little dog "Luna" chased a bear around on the beach.  Its a good thing she's quick, because there was nothing to do but watch from the waves.


Nate and I on our way out to Khantaak Island in his skiff.  I think every single time we went out there this summer, it was pouring down the rain.  That's the norm for Yakutat though.  Doesn't bother us a bit.

Nate anchors the boat, then paddles over to the shore with his board.

Its just a short hike to the other side of the Island, which is exposed to Yakutat Bay/Gulf of Alaska. 

The swell was around 12.5 ft on this day. 
One of the first things you'll learn in surfing is that it's always bigger than it looks from the beach.
After getting crushed a few times, and finally riding one, I came in a little early to catch Nate on this nice ride!

Nate's brother, Matt, earlier in the season.  It must run in the family.

Gotta go before it gets too dark.  No fun trying to navigate through shallow waters in the skiff, at night, in the cold rain.  You don't want to get stuck out there.  There's no cell service in Yakutat.

Cruisin back

I stood on a rock and looked at this for about 10 minutes, wondering if I should go for it because I didn't have any of my surfing friends with me, and its a pretty sketchy area.  It's not very often that you have a chance to get a photo with the mountains in the background.  

I had to paddle hard just to get into the right position. 

This is the first one I was able to catch. 
Though I'm not exactly in the barrel, like the guy on the IPA label, this was good enough for me!

There was a really strong rip current, pulling down the beach after I rode the first one in.  I was able to paddle back out and catch one more, but after that, the current was just too strong, and I eventually had to commit, and somehow make my way back in through the rocks.
The water was rushing back and forth as the waves came in and went back out.  I waited for the right moment and dove off with the board.  I just had to ride the wave in, steering around of the rocks.  There was certainly a little luck involved as well!

I was quite relieved to be back on the shore!

After about 20 minutes of pure adrenaline rush, there was nothing left to do but sit and watch the Alpenglow on the mountains. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tsiu River

There are lots of sport fishermen who fly out to the Tsiu River every September for the Coho run.  I was lucky last year to hitch a ride out with Hans in his Otter.  This year I happened to meet the pilot of this Super DC-3, Robert, and he offered to let me ride along on one of his runs.  They were hauling big totes of fish from the Tsiu, back to Yakutat, then, the fishermen ship it home, or the commercial fishermen sell it to Yakutat Seafoods. 
It just happened to be a perfect, bluebird day.  Just like last year.  I was excited to ride in this plane.  They were built for the military back in the 40's and over 400 are still in use today.  Robert knew everything about them, and was actually a mechanic/maintenance person for the company.  It was really interesting learning about the history of the planes, and of course, riding along as he flew!
 I never know what I will end up doing out here.  You just happen to meet the right person, and the next day you're flying to the Tsiu in this bad boy!

 Beautiful mountains along the coast.  Just East of Icy Bay.
We passed Hans in the Otter on the way. 
Mt. St. Elias and the Libbey/Agassiz Glaciers in the background.

 It was a super smooth ride along the coast.
 Approaching the Tsiu. 
The fish totes.  From Yakutat full of Ice, To Yakutat full of fish.
Touchdown on the beach in some of the most pristine wilderness on Earth!

 Hans arrived shortly after. 
This is a sight to see in such a remote and beautiful place.
Darin loads the totes into the planes with a Bobcat.
 Hans is loaded and on his way back to Yakutat in the Otter.  The Otter has lots of power, quick take-offs, and is considered the best bush plane by some pilots.
 Such a beautiful place
 Brown Bear tracks along the river
After a few hours of just hiking around, I saw the DC-3 coming back into view.

 Robert did a quick fly-by, so I could get some good photos.

 It was a perfect day for me, but the weather gets rough here quite often.  Gary, and the guys who load the fish told me they had a storm with 100+ mph winds just a few weeks before.  They spend several weeks there, staying in a small hut, and working each day the weather allows the fishermen in.  There were many rainy days lately, so they were certainly taking advantage of a day like this.

Mt St. Elias over Icy Bay. 
The native Tlingit name for the 2nd highest mountain in the U.S. is Yaas'éit'aa Shaa, meaning
 "Mountain that rises behind Icy Bay."

 As we approached the airport in Yakutat, I could see a different view of St. Elias, from the SE.