Sep 162017

Caroline Wise holding a basket made of Yucca fiber at Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona

A rare Saturday mini-roadtrip took us north to Tuzigoot National Monument in Clarkdale, Arizona. We’ve visited Tuzigoot previously but never before for a talk. The subject that interested Caroline enough to ask me to accompany her was a presentation by archaeologist Zack Curcija about the use of Yucca fibers among indigenous people of the southwest. As happens so often when I’m reluctant about something I’m not sure I’ll have an interest in, it turns out that listening to just about anyone who is passionate about something is enough to draw me in and start wishing I knew more or wonder when their next talk is scheduled.

Aug 272017

Itay and Rotem in Arizona making shakshuka

Meet Itay and Rotem – newlyweds. I met Itay nearly two years ago due to my VR project that he was drawn to. A student at Arizona State University at the time he had hard limits on how he could help us, but talk about VR we did and more than a few times at his favorite coffee shop in Tempe, Echo. Along the way we learned of his fiance Rotem, but it would be a while until we met this smart and beautiful woman in person and before we knew it they were planning on getting married. Then, upon his graduation, Itay took up a gig in Los Angeles. Just before they drove out west they invited us over for a favorite of ours: shakshuka. This typical Middle Eastern dish is rather simple with eggs cooked atop a tomato base, but enjoyed in the company of these two it is and will remain one of our favorite dishes. Itay and Rotem now live in West Hollywood, California – hopefully soon we’ll take a drive out there way and maybe convince Rotem to make us some of her amazing eggplant that she made us the first time they invited us for a meal at their place. Miss these two.

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Jul 162017

Roads and rivers we've traveled in Alaska

Anchorage leaves a lot to be desired and so does Fairbanks, but there’s big nature between the two so those less-than-ideal realities will have to be endured. To be fair, their lackluster impression probably has more to do with our budget than with a totality of blanket statements that cast aspersions upon the aesthetics and services either of these cities have on offer. We did after all have an amazing dinner riverside in Fairbanks that will stand out as an enduring memory, but the lodgings one is offered for under $200 a night are deplorable. So let’s move past these temporary stopovers and get on with why we came up here.

We came up this far north for a number of reasons: one was because Alaska, two, Denali, and three, to add to our map of America, more specifically the map where we track which roads we’ve traveled throughout the United States. While we’d had a brief stay in Anchorage on our previous trip into Alaska all we did was grab a rental car for a few hours to head in the general direction of Seward; we didn’t have time to see anything else. That trip was at the tail end of a rafting adventure that saw us rafting the Alsek River between Haines Junction and Yakutat, Alaska. This time we are once again here to raft the Alsek, but we left Phoenix early to get a couple of days in some unexplored territory before we hit the river.

Caroline and John Wise at Denali National Park in Alaska

Because Anchorage is right on the coast it turns out they get their fair share of cloud coverage, as we came in under clouds so shall we go. Our drive out of town went north on Highway 1 towards Denali National Park and Preserve and with gray skies there wasn’t much on the horizon for the first few hours of the drive.

Sometimes the legend and myths surrounding a thing can make that thing much larger than it truly is and with that magic of the unknown dreams cascade in ways that no reality will ever compare to. Then again reality sets into motion an entirely new sense of knowledge that replaces the fantasy with experience that often have the affect of drawing us back in for return visits and creating the fertile ground for new dreams.

Denali National Park is one of those places whose scale and reputation comes with some big expectations. First of all it’s not as remote as our imaginations had already plotted on the map. From Anchorage where we landed the day before it’s a mere 237 miles to the park. Next, based on other anecdotal stories we approached this place with the idea that the crowds would be on par with Disneyland on Thanksgiving, fortunately for us that is hardly the situation.

On the Roadside Trail in Danali National Park

First stop had to be at the visitor center, as a trip to a National Park wouldn’t be complete without Caroline working to get her Junior Ranger badge. While kids can get by doing an activity or two from the workbook, Caroline tries to answer every question and complete as much as possible from the tasks to at least show some serious effort. Seeing we didn’t have all day to spend in the park, she’d have to limit herself and chose to do the Sled Dog Demo. I didn’t come to Alaska to spend even one minute on a bus that could take us there, so we get on the Roadside Trail for the nearly two-mile hike to the kennels.

The forested trail is a nice introduction to the flora of the area though the fauna is either in hiding or has already suffered the sixth great extinction. We make it to the kennel minutes before the demo with enough time to get a quick pull of water from the hose nearest to the dogs. As I’m drinking from it I’m simultaneously wondering if any of the dogs lifted a leg on this thing?

Alaskan Huskies in Danali National Park during a demonstration of sledding, summer style.

These Alaskan Huskies are a beautiful spirited breed of dogs with the pack instinct fully intact. They appear to love moving as a unit and dragging the wheeled training cart around the track that has been set up just for the purposes. The skilled handlers take pride in showing us visitors the working life of these dogs that we learn are most comfortable when chilling on a ten degree below zero winter day.

Caroline snuggling up with one of the huskies in Danali National Park

With ranger autograph in hand that proves Caroline attended a ranger-led program we take the Rock Creek trail back to the Visitor Center and at 2.9 miles long we relish the idea of our creek side return. So it turns out that the Rock Creek trail is not aptly named as there is no sight of the creek, though we do hear it twice on our hike back to the visitors center. Regarding that aforementioned extinction we do learn it’s not complete yet as we pass a couple of squirrels and the shiny berry infused scat of a bear.

Squirrel in the wilds of Alaska

Back at the Visitor Center Caroline is ready for swearing in though we are reminded that it is actually a pledging to maintain a code of behavior and giving good example to helping be a steward while visiting our public lands. Win of wins for being here today as Caroline is leaving with a commemorative centennial wood badge that sadly would be lost by the time we got back to Arizona.

Caroline Wise earning her Junior Ranger badge at Danali National Park in Alaska

One more thing to do before leaving is head up the road to Savage River which for this trip to Denali will be the end of the road for us. Going beyond this point requires the visitor to sign up for a bus trip to one of several points along the 83 mile long gravel road. The longest journey into the park takes 13 hours or about 12 hours we don’t have right now. Reaching the bridge over the not-so-Savage river we have not yet gleaned a view of the mountain formerly known as Mt. McKinley now known by its native name Denali and have every reason to come back at a future date to see more of this enormous park and preserve.

Savage River at Danali National Park in AlaskaOn the way to Fairbanks, Alaska

By the time we reach Fairbanks we are hungry and head directly to the Pump House which seems to be the most popular place in the area. Rightfully so as it’s in a National Historically Registered building right on the Chena River and the food is perfect from the fresh seafood appetizer to the rhubarb cobbler. As a matter of fact it is so perfect we will talk of the meal from the Pump House months from our fantastic meal.

Seafood tower at the Pump House in Fairbanks, Alaska

At 10:30 p.m. the sun is shining bright as though it were maybe 5:00 p.m. back home in Arizona, this is unsettling. It’s not even sunset and everything is closed. Some people say it is the endless night of January that is disturbing but for me here right now this apparent still early part of the day demands that people should still be active doing normal day time stuff. I think I might have the opposite issue with this long day if I were living here, as the long night would be perfect for long runs at making music, crafting, reading, and doing all the other stuff that requires hours of mindful focus for extended periods of time.

Our hotel is an abomination and lends a pallor to the entire idea of what Fairbanks is. The state of Alaska would be well served to create a board of standards of how quality and service is managed when a typical visitor spending a couple hundred dollars for a room probably has an expectation that exceeds the type of room on offer that would cost $10 a night at a flop house on Skid Row anywhere else. I have to remind myself that we are not in Alaska for the accommodations but for the expansive nature and beauty that surrounds us outside of the city limits.

Jul 152017

The sun setting on the western edge of America

What is the purpose of a vacation? Adventure, restoration, discovery, learning, escape, and sharing are some of the things that come to my mind. Vacations nearly always seem to happen at key moments, when the elixir of their magic can prove the most effective, unless they are obligatory chores used for collecting marks on the trophy wall, of which I’ve met many people who could be wearing that mantle. To the idea that these ventures into new experiences outside of normal living situations are able to maintain their novelty is in large part measured by the amount of discovery that is found along the way. Even those places I have visited before often hold an untold number of secrets that either escaped my purview on the first visit or maybe I wasn’t ready to see and understand them. Then there is the discovery of things within ourselves that can also be had.

The very trip that almost didn’t happen for which this writing exercise is being undertaken was our upcoming expedition into the remotes of the Yukon and Alaska. The reason behind the near cancellation was the grim situation where the company I founded ran out of money which dictated that I lay off the entire staff en masse on July 5th. Our departure was scheduled for just 10 days from that bleak day. Canceling with less than 90 days notice would have meant a forfeiture of the entire cost of the journey, a substantial amount of money that trip insurance would not have covered seeing that my personal mental trauma did not constitute a physical emergency or death of myself or close family member.

Finally with mere moments to go our payroll situation was resolved and our staff was paid what was owed them. With the assurance from my business partner that we were on the path of repairing things and that we’d be able to hold on to a skeleton crew to maintain minimal operations, Caroline and I after weeks of discussing our options to the point of ad nauseam it was decided that the cost of not going would be too great. Not the cost of the money lost, but the impact on our happiness due to the burden of crushing weight watching a 27 year dream that had accrued over three years of work and constant toil approaching the juncture of failure.

A glimmer on the horizon for me was that the nature of our vacation meant we would be fully off-grid, dampening my ability to dwell on or respond to the myriad issues that occur due to the messy nature of layoffs, bruised egos, pissed investors, and creditors who want to know your next step. For that respite from the fury that was upon us I am forever indebted to my business partner for shouldering that burden.

The forensic examination of what went “wrong” is not ready for a telling, especially in light of the fact that the tombstone for our company has not yet been erected. Sadly we lost some very talented staff who rightfully were hurt by the perceived sudden situation that apparently caught them off-guard though the rumor mill was rife with back-chatter from those who’d read our public financial filings half-a-year prior.

With all of this in mind and my confidence approaching an all time low, creeping depression, and near overwhelming anxiety I am trying my best to put a stoic face forward and take the next step needed to begin the process of allowing a vacation to do the work it can be so effective at: healing.

Jul 042017

Piano Keyboard

Today is the first time in my life that I played piano, of course saying I played piano is relative to the fact that I’m just coming to grips with the idea of where the notes are. Regardless of how poor of ability I am, I still was able to identify the keys, play the chords and strike the notes for a tune nearly anyone could recognize. Whole notes, half and quarter notes, measures, bars, tempo, keys, chords, these are my Lego’s that I’m trying to fit together.

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