Monday, October 29, 2007

Weekend at Hutlinana Hot Springs

Hutlinana Hot Springs bubbles up from the gravels below the Hutlinana River. A group of us skied out to the springs northwest of Fairbanks over the weekend. The warm water is contained by a rock wall built up along the river. The spring is a toasty 105º F (40º C).

The trail to Hutlinana begins about a half mile east of where the Elliot Hwy crosses Hutlinana Cr. It was a very bumpy 6.5 mile ski up the trail to the springs. This was an early season trip so the snow cover was still rather thin and the trail was really bony.

Dean and Vladka get their gear together for the ski out to the springs. There is a pull-in to park just west of the trail head.

This was Anna's first winter camping experience. Kristen hauled her out to the springs in this Chariot sled. She bounced over the uneven trail and surprisingly tipped only 3 times--and slept soundly the entire time.

The Hutlinana River was still freezing up and we had to cross a precarious ice bridge. I presume Anna got a little nervous when she peered out to either side and saw running water. It was actually quite safe because there was a log support under the ice.

Baby Anna survived her first night of winter camping at 0º F (-18º C). Kristen kept her wrapped up in cozy down sleeping bag.

Sunlight sets fire to the boreal forest (Vladka photo)

Zach and Vladka wait for boiled water to make breakfast on a chilly Sunday morning. Vladka is visiting from Slovakia and is making the most of her time in Alaska doing odd jobs and playing in the wilderness.

A dried out stem wears a cloak of hoar frost (Vladka photo)

The moon rises above the Sawtooth Mountains on the drive home

Denali (20, 320 ft) looms over the southern horizon from a viewpoint along the Elliot Hwy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back in the Pack

With the ski season in full swing I decided its time to start wearing my favorite skiing accessory - the golden GoLite Pack.

I went out with Kristen this afternoon on the UAF trails and she subtly made fun of me for carrying the pack. Why? ...because I had about 10 lbs of weights and a few other misc items. She commented that I am taking on characteristics of our friend Andy--who has been known to mow his lawn with 40 lbs on his back and 5 lb weights strapped to his ankles.
Kristen and I are training again for the 100 mile Susitna 100 race in February and any other long ski adventures that materialize this winter. I have found that carrying a weighted down pack is great for balance especially when skate skiing. The Susitna requires racers to carry all essential survival gear which ends up being about 25 to 30 lbs. So I intend to gradually add more weight and in another month or so shouldn't even notice that I have the pack on. Buckling the waist strap feels as natural as putting on my seat belt and the pack gives me a sense of security because its loaded down with food and warm clothes. Without it tightly wrapped around my torso I have this sense of uneasiness like I am somehow flirting with death.
Anna enjoys my spicy chili. Kristen lives right on the trails so we finished up the afternoon at her cabin eating some hot food.
Its a mini Ned...only a little cuter

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Sure Sign of Winter

A sure sign of winter - plugged in cars, squeaky snow under each step, frosted eyelashes, frozen fingers, puffy down coats. Subzero temperatures this morning and its only mid-October.

It warmed up to a chilly +5º F (-15º C) early this afternoon but quite beautiful with frosted trees and ice crystals floating outside the window at the office.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back in the White North

A blanket of white pleasure rests on the frozen surface of Smith Lake

Its nice to be home to the stillness of the frozen boreal forest. Snow is on the ground, the ski season has begun, the daylight is slowly trickling away, and the temperatures are gradually falling. I am settling back into my life in Fairbanks and looking forward to the winter...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

теперь, я могу говорить небольшого русского

теперь, я могу говорить небольшого русского. (Translation: Now I can speak a little Russian.) I certainly can read and understand more Russian than I can actually speak. I am hoping that Lena and others in Fairbanks will help me preserve some of the Russian that I did absorb during my submersion (or drowning) here in Odessa.

Today is my last full day in Odessa. Tomorrow I am headed to Budapest for a night...and then back to FAI on Tue. I really miss everyone back at home and I cant wait to ski my ass off the next 6 months. Let it snow!!!

I will add a few remaining pics from Odessa after I get back. Спасибо. До свидания!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Last Day of Class

Lidia presents me with my diploma on the last day of class

Today was the last day of class. Man...3 weeks just flew by. My brain has been completely full the past few days and I feel like most information was dripping out through my ears and flowing away. I am sure some of my last few lessons stuck though...but it make take some time to soak in.

The teachers were fascinated about Alaska and wanted me to give a presentation about Alaska in Russian.

Overall all this experience has been really fun despite the ups/downs. I am finding Russian an extremely challenging and demanding language to learn, especially at an accelerated rate. I knew this would be hard--but nothing like this. I worked my ass off 12+ hours a day. This was definitely not a leisure trip and I really feel like I need a vacation before jumping right back into work. Unfortunately I didn't schedule any downtime after returning home. I have to admit though, that I really enjoyed grinding away most of the time. There was something pleasurable about this in an S/M sort of way.

Here is the map I drew of Alaska during my presentation--на русском языке - конечно!

The teachers here were unbelievably motivated and dedicated to each student. They were also extremely thorough and personable--much better in all aspects than I could have ever anticipated. I will really miss my teacher (Natasha) from the past 2 weeks. She was like a mother and was absolutely intrigued by what she considered my exotic life back in Alaska.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Odessan Beaches

Arkadia beach promenade--the most popular and by far the best maintained in Odessa. This is the lovely path down to the beach.

The Odessan beaches are nothing to write home about -- so I will keep this short. I wouldn't recommend booking your next holiday by the sea here unless you enjoy combing your toes through grains of sand, glass, a variety of trash. Or relaxing among broken slabs of concrete and dilapidated sanatoriums (formerly exclusive soviet relaxation resorts), crumbling sea walls and rundown cafes. I think I forgot to mention the large cat size rats that move amongst the concrete rubble. Irregardless of the state of the beaches it seems that most people head down to the sea on warm days and strip off their street clothes and sunbathe in their underwear (or less) and peacefully soak up the sun.
Sewer water..I believe...pours out onto the beach. But there is an inviting fountain nearby to distract you from this.

I sat on a crumbling wall at the beach with the intentions of doing my homework the other day. It was warm and the place was packed, so I ended up just people watching. The scene that unfolded in front of me was quite interesting: handfuls of people sunbathing, others swimming, some fishing from the breakwater, people relaxing in the cafes overlooking the beach, 2 girls on mtn bikes rode up, took off all of their clothing (except sunglasses) and relaxed near the rocks right in front of the outdoor cafes, an old man walking his dog, lots of folks strolling along the seaside walkways, a young couple comes down to sit on the seawall, they completely remove each others tops and proceed to heavily make out and grope each other, meanwhile a small child about 5 ft away plays in the was quite an random scene of people minding their own business.

Arkadia is by far the cleanest and most popular beach with relatively clean sand, nice outdoor cafes--and apparently in the summer some outrageously sleazy open air clubs with thumping music until dawn. They are closed for the winter now though...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Some Scenes from Odessa

I thought I would just post some random pics I took over the past couple of weeks from wanderings around the city. I came across this memorial tucked away in one of the parks which is dedicated to the soldiers that died during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

This trash bin was burning in front of the University--many people walked by but not a single person even looked at it or batted an eyelash.

This looks like a building but its actually a giant curtain which is hiding scaffolding and construction. You would only see this sort of disguise in the city center. Elsewhere the city is dilapidated and falling apart.

The chameleon opera house--it would progressively change colors over a period of about 5 minutes. It is quite beautiful and currently the talk of the town. The opera house been covered in scaffolding for the past 10 yrs because of a renovation project that ran out of funding. It just opened last week.

The thriving port of Odessa buzzes with activity. Ships cross the Black Sea via Istanbul en route to the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

Urban drainage problems. Last week I was caught in a downpour downtown and many streets flooded along with some of the nice restaurants along Odessa's main pedestrian street.

Very pointy breasted woman hitching a ride with a dolphin.

A building in the city center...I forget what is though.

This burning pile of trash was in my hood. Why put it in the dumpster and haul it away when you can torch it right on the spot?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Dogs of Odessa

A common site on the streets of Odessa...

The dogs move through the streets in packs...although you do see the occasional stray wandering alone. They are along every boulevard, in every alley and relaxing in all the parks. They never appear to be aggressive and seem to go about their daily business just as the other Odessans commute to/from work or go for an evening stroll. They cross the street between breaks in the traffic and I have only seen a few cars slam on their breaks to avoid them. I rarely see a minor brawl or scuffle or dog shit lying on the sidewalk. Nobody even seems to notice them... Odessa certainly has a stray dog problem but no one seems to care.

Intellectual dogs in front of my neighborhood bookstore

An afternoon siesta

And so...Odessa lets the sleeping dogs lie....

Friday, October 5, 2007

Students Depart...

James, Anett and Simone receive their diplomas. They have all been here for 4 weeks doing individual Russian language studies. I went to Kiev with them last week. You can see the pics at: Weekend in Kiev I will miss these guys next week.

Every Friday students depart. New students arrive on Mondays. This time of the year things are relatively quiet but I hear that during the summer months there are 20-30 students around each week and the school offers group lessons along with individual lessons. Five students are leaving this there will only be four of us next week.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why am I here?

This is what I wanted to do for a vacation? I spend about 5 hours at school and then another 5 hrs (or more sometimes) doing homework in the evening. What was I thinking??

The past few days I have been asking myself--why am I here? I think I lost some of my optimism because I was physically feeling crappy from the demons that took over my body for 36 hours and that my mental patience was pushed to the limit with the Swede (by the way--he is a 60 yr old retired guy) that invaded my living space and has tried to suck me into his cult (see the previous posts for details).

I have quickly learned that it is not physically possible to even get a grasp of the Russian language only after a few weeks of immersion. I was hoping I would get farther along than I am right now. This language is grammatically complex. Some other students here that speak 4-5 other European languages agree that it is the most difficult by far BUT not impossible. It just takes time. Now that I have come to terms with this I am excited to see how much I can soak up in the next week or so before working my way back to Alaska.

Natasha is my teacher for the last 2 weeks here. She is the ultimate optimist. Each day she tells me to say that I can learn the language. She tells me that ever morning she gets up, looks in the mirror, and says she is a beautiful woman and she is going to have a great day. I really like her...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Ukrainian Devil

The dingy squat toilets at the University--fortunately I didn't have to hover over these when my body was taken over by demons.

Well the devil arrived the other morning. I woke up with a bit of gurgling in my stomach. I thought it just might be a little indigestion so I continued with my morning and went to class. As I made my way to school (which takes about 1/2 hour via foot/tram) I began to feel progressively worse. I thought of turning back but I didn't want to just leave Natasha (my new teacher this week) waiting for me. So I briefly met with her and the nausea and uncomfortable feeling of a diarrhoea explosion began to overtake my body. I immediately left school and hoped to make it home before my body began to release fluids. I really didn't want to lean over and stare down into the fowl smelling squat toilets at the university.

I barely made it out of the school before I started to vomit along the street. Totally embarrassing but i didn't care as i puked into the ivy lining the sidewalk as beautiful Ukrainian woman dressed in their miniskirts and high heels strolled by. Fortunately I caught a tram (which is hot and annoyingly crowded even when i feel good) back towards home during the brief feeling of euphoria (if you can call it that) after vomiting. I barely made it off of the tram before I heaved again--this time on the flowers in front of the my house.

Anyway--36 hours later the diarrhoea and vomiting ceased and i was able to eat/drink again. I am still recovering though...