lifebeyondexaggeration

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

Missing the Mountains April 30, 2016

It’s that time of year again. The seasonal workers are heading back up north to Alaska. But this time I’m not going with them. With two important weddings to attend on the east coast, going back to the land of the Midnight Sun just wasn’t a possibility.

My first summer in Denali, people talked about how the mountains got into your blood. How the fresh air is addictive and everything else feels suffocating. I didn’t really believe them. I missed getting to go to the mall when I needed new boots and running to Walmart when I ran out of snacks. You can’t do that in Denali. The nearest city is about three hours IF you don’t hit the roadwork that seems to never end. I wanted to go to the new movies and go to a real grocery store.

But the next summer I knew what was coming. I knew better how to hike in the mountains with the braided rivers as my landmarks. I had learned to love weekly poker at a local establishment as a time to check in with friends. And the Midnight Sun wasn’t a nuisance that kept me awake all night; it was a time to savor midnight hikes while awaiting the northern lights. I had learned the wonders of Amazon free super saver shipping. I knew what to buy on my few trips to the city.

Last year, I was brave enough to hike further off the beaten path with a topographical map and compass. We found brilliant hikes and even a way to have fresh organic produce delivered to us. We went to Seward and saw whales and camped by the bay. And it was brilliant.

Now my friends are posting pictures of the mountains, and it hurts my heart. It hurts that I’m not in the fresh, clean air worrying about if the rain or snow will get me. It hurts that I’m not making a list of hikes I want to do this season, knowing that it would take a miracle for time and weather to permit them all.

I love my job. I love my friends. I love my Disney annual pass.

But seeing the smiling faces surrounded by snowy peaks, I feel the pull of the mountains. It’s in my blood.

 

Love and Adventure February 16, 2016

Happy late Valentine’s Day! I know, I know. The time for lovers has passed, and the time for discount chocolate is upon us. I love cheap chocolate. I really do. But I had an amazing Valentine’s Day.

The husband took me to Disney, ‘cause season passes are the best, and it was crowded as all get out. But I got to see the new baby gorilla, a bunch of really cool Star Wars things, including my favorite Star Wars character, BB-8.

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And we ran around like little kids before having dinner at Belle’s castle.

But the best part was when, while trying to pass the wait times, we decided to try and figure out what the best adventure we had ever had was.

I had a hard time choosing. I’m split between watching the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia, Maine, the hammock in Thailand, a night in Venice, fjords in Alaska, and of course the fountain show in Versailles. (more…)

 

Dumpster Diving in Alaska October 5, 2015

Hi. Chris here again. Megan wanted me to talk to you all today about the up and coming sport of dumpster diving. Now, I know that dumpster diving isn’t exactly new, but it’s coming back into fashion.

I say this because while we were working in Alaska this summer, one of my friends, slightly foolishly, tossed a bag into the trash that had been left on the table by a customer. The bag did only appear to have rocks in it (there was an assay station on our property where kids and kids-at-heart could “mine” for minerals from a purchased bag of dirt for only $4.99). Well, the mother of the child who left behind the bag of rocks came back to the restaurant in a panic because her daughter had left a bag that had gold earrings in it.

My friend looked a little taken aback. He told the lady that he had searched the bag and only found rocks, so he tossed it. She swore that the earrings were in there. The problem was, the trash had already been taken to the dumpster. She didn’t care. She was going to brave the dumpster and rescue her daughter’s earrings.

I had to explain to her that, no. She could not be allowed to go into the dumpster because if something were to happen to her, she wouldn’t be covered by any kind of insurance. I then explained to her that I would be covered, so I would go into the dumpster for her. And I did. (more…)

 

No Selfie Sticks Allowed September 5, 2015

This summer, I’ve been privileged enough to live and work right outside of Denali National Park. It’s beautiful and amazing, and because of the company I work for, I get six free bus rides into the park.  So at least every other week, I ride the bus into the park with the tourists to see the animals and hopefully catch a glimpse of the mountain. I usually jump off and backcountry hike with my husband, but we’re always on the bus for the rules section.

A lot of the rules make sense, such as be quiet at wildlife sightings. And don’t eat at the rest stops. I mean, people still don’t follow the rules, but it’s easy to see where they come from. But this year there’s been a new rule. Don’t shove your selfie stick out the window at wildlife sightings.

What?

I mean, I get the rule. But did someone really shove a selfie stick out the window at a wild animal? Did the animal bite the selfie stick? I need to know what happened! And I can’t find a damn person who knows the origin of the rule!

And it’s not just Denali that’s killing the selfie stick. Disney has recently banned selfie sticks due to safety concerns in the park. Did someone try to selfie on Splash Mountain? Did some idiot almost become the thousandth ghost at the Haunted Mansion?

I need to know the reason for the rule! It’s driving me crazy!

 

Stuck Between a Bear and Some Sharp Teeth August 20, 2015

So… Megan and I (yeah, she’s letting me write this one. She’s afraid it’ll get blown even more out of proportion by her than it was by the fact that it actually freakin’ happened!) took a hike in the park yesterday. We went early, which is why we’re posting today as opposed to the regularly scheduled Wednesday post. Anyway, we decided that we wanted to hike Cathedral Mountain again. Do you remember that one? That’s where I half-ran after the retreating caribou last year, trying to capture the perfect shot, which eluded me despite my attempts. Have we not told you that story? We’ll save that for another time.

Well, this time, the creek that you have to cross before you get to the actual social trail around the mountain was too high to cross without submerging our hiking boots in freezing cold water (keep in mind that most rivers and streams in Denali are glacially fed, so I mean freezing). We tried for about an hour to find a way to cross, but it was to no avail. So, dejected, we decided to head up to Park Road and decide what to do from there. We had heard that hiking along the actual Park Road was supposed to be lovely, so we chose to hike back towards the park entrance along the narrow dirt road.

We were actually having a lovely time for a while. Seeing the park from that perspective was fascinating. We heard the rumbling of a bus far behind us and turned to see it, stopped with its flashers on, in the spot we had been not five minutes ago.

“What are they looking at?” Megan asked.

We both searched for a few seconds before she spotted this:

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You may have to click on the image and zoom in to see what we were seeing.

I took that photo and zoomed in to see a four-legged canine-looking creature. We were certain that a wolf had just wandered onto the road, and it was walking toward us. We decided it was time to keep heading east toward the park entrance.

We walked along for another ten minutes or so, looking behind frequently to see where the wolf had gone, and then we saw more buses stopped, this time ahead of us.

“What now?” I asked, feeling more than a little apprehensive.

And then we saw it. Less than 200 yards away from us, a grizzly was foraging for berries on the mountain that we had just tried to circumnavigate.

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We didn’t know what to do. There was a wolf behind and a bear in front. We walked back the way we had come, hoping that the bear hadn’t spotted us and hoping that the wolf wasn’t too close. We anxiously awaited a green bus to pull up. We didn’t care which direction it was going, we just needed to get out of the open.

A driver going into the park pulled up, and I flagged him down, telling him that I knew it wasn’t the practice of the park buses to pick up people going into the park but that there was a wolf behind us and a bear in front and we needed on now!

We got on, and not ten seconds later, this came gallivanting around the corner:

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So, it wasn’t a wolf. It was a coyote. Of course we should have known that, because, as one of the incredibly astute passengers next to Megan said, “Wolves never travel alone.” *insert facepalm here* I didn’t care what the hell it was, to be frank. I’m just glad we got on the bus in time to avoid contact with it.

We took the bus up just a little bit and then hitched a ride back to the park entrance on an outbound bus. Upon our exit of the park, we discovered that had we somehow made it past the first bear, there would have been a second grizzly awaiting us just a half-a-mile down the road, so I guess our predicament could have been much worse.

Here’s to the next hike being a bit less eventful. Cheers!

 

The End of Denali as We Know It August 8, 2015

It’s the Denali apocalypse! No, really, I think it truly might be!

I went hiking in Denali National Park on Wednesday, and we summited Mount Margaret. It was glorious! Most hikes around here you spend hours busting your butt to climb to the top of something, which really turns out to be a sketchy ridge that’s overrun with bugs. You stay long enough to take a triumphant picture and get a cliff bar out of your pack, then skirt your butt back down the mountain before you’re eaten alive or fall to your death.

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But on top of Margaret was a beautiful field! There were neat rock formations, Dall sheep, ptarmigan, and ice that never thaws.

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We walked through flowers, found a cave. It was fantastic. Then we crossed the ridge line, frolicking through the field to hike down the other side of the mountain. I looked back and saw something funny off in the distance. At first, I thought it was a part of the outline of Mount McKinley (Denali), which is often covered in clouds. But then I looked back a minute later, and it had moved.

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Funnel Cloud on Top of Mountain (Look really closely)

“Hey, that cloud looks like a tornado!” I said, pointing at the pretty thing. Luckily, I was with two people from Tennessee, who both immediately recognized it as a funnel cloud! A funnel cloud in the middle of Denali, touching a mountain ridge in the distance. And it was like a really, really far way away, so naturally, I sat down and had a snack while watching the cloud until it disappeared.

Then I stood up, saying what a neat hike it was. Then thunder shook everything. So the nice walk on the mountain became a game of get off the mountain as quickly as possible pretty darn quick. It involved bushwhacking and a lot of rain. My face bled a little, but we made it to the bus out of the park. We got on the bus, and an emergency radio call came in.

There had been a landslide on park road. Now, for those of you who don’t know, there is only one ninety-two-mile-long road that goes into Denali park. It that road is blocked, it’s either a helicopter or walking to get out of the park.

Luckily, we were far away from the landslide and really close to the park entrance, so our bus was unaffected. But still, I’ll give it a modest estimate that hundreds of park visitors were stuck on the far side of the landslide. I would have hated to be one of their bus drivers, trying to entertain bored tourists, but I’m sure everyone was fine.

I thought the strangeness in Denali was over until I woke up Thursday morning to smoke everywhere. There was a fire on the other side of the park entrance from us. You couldn’t see anything outside. At this point, we are just some raining frogs away from the end of Denali as we know it, people.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

A Monumental Moose July 29, 2015

Filed under: Animal Antics — meganorussell @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Remember that time my husband got a bunch of strangers chased by a moose? Oh you don’t? That’s fine, I do. ‘Cause it was yesterday.

There was a big storm predicted for the area, so rather than go on one of our epic adventures we decided to stay closer to home. It’ll be fine, we thought. Much safer, we thought.

We did a little hike where we found a cute little pika and were turned back by a closure for bear activity. And then we went down to the good old lake trail. The one where the elderly tourist go because it’s safe. On our way down, the people going up kept telling us excitedly about how there was a moose at the bottom. We kept responding with how we would be very careful, trying to emphasize to the tourists that moose can be cool, but they can also kill you. A mama moose is the most dangerous animal in Denali Park after all.

We were almost to the bottom when we saw the little moose cross the trail. We backed off to a respectable distance and waited for the mama to follow so we could continue on our way. We kept hiking around the loop. We saw two beavers pulling trees through the lake and then, low and behold, we saw that same mama moose in the water, just chompin’ away at the weird grass at the bottom of the lake.

We had to keep circling the lake to get out, and the plan was to pass quickly and quietly behind the mama and the baby.

But when we got to the other side of the lake, there was a lady videoing the mama and the baby. So then my husband had to get a better picture. This picture: (more…)