Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Bering Strait: gateway to the Arctic Ocean

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm


-Mike, our ice guide takes us to the edge of the shorefast ice in Wales, Alaska –

You will find few places left on earth where people remain so intimately dependent on their environment. The native communities along Bering Strait do not hunt for sport, but they hunt for meat to supplement their diets particularly when the small bush planes stop bringing in outside food as winter weather sets in. You eat what you can hunt and what you have left in storage. No last minute trips to the grocery store here.

In case you were wondering, Bering Strait is a fairly narrow channel that connects the Bering Sea to the Arctic, and Wales, Alaska is so close to the Russian coast that you can see it across the strait on a fair day.

It has been an amazing experience to visit with villages of Wales and Shishmaref in Alaska where my boss, colleague and I went to talk to students in the schools and conduct some research on the sea ice. The smaller community in Wales has a runway accessible by snow machine, and strong winds frequently change the availability of open leads in the ice. People have noticed changes in snowfall patterns and thickness of the ice, as confirmed by our most recent ice core measurements. The ice is thinner in Wales this year. Whalers are readying their crews in hopes of catching another bowhead whale this year – hopes buoyed by seeing a few beluga whales a few days ago. We also saw some bearded, ringed and ribbon seals out on the ice and our ice guides referred to them half-jokingly as juicy steaks.

The changing Arctic affects these communities in a very real way that is hard to imagine as an outsider. Shishmaref is facing erosion problems as waves batter their coast, no longer protected by ice. Changing sea ice affects animal migrations and can sometimes shorten hunting seasons, as described by some hunters we talked to. However, in a world where elementary school students continue with their ski meets in 30 to 40 mph winds in freezing temperatures with bear guards on the lookout for polar bears during the event – it struck me that people here are tough, and they live with an interesting dichotomy of resources. For example, most people do not have running water, but almost everyone has a cell phone and are internet-savvy. Despite the strong relationship to their environment here, I get the feeling that not too many students have ambitions to study this fascinating ecosystem that they live in. Doubtless, the resilient spirit of the communities will continue to adapt to changes from natural and human-based impacts, but as a biologist I feel that I’m no longer just interested in what the walrus are doing – but also in how the people adapt.


A girl and her dog – journey 4150 miles in 8.5 days to Alaska

In dogs, life, travel, Uncategorized on October 29, 2012 at 3:29 am

It has been a while – but Connor and I are currently in Alaska. We made the trek together in late August/September and it was quite an adventure. I am a pretty wimpy driver. Before attempting the drive from northern Virginia to Fairbanks, Alaska the furthest solo drive I made was only 4 hours long. Needless to say, this road trip was beyond my tested endurance levels, so I planned to cover no more than 550 miles a day, with 8 hours on the road.

Planning is key when setting daily goals. It also helps to set up pet-friendly hotel bookings in advance so that you have no surprises on your trip about whether your puppy would be welcome in your room. When traveling alone, I highly recommend bringing your puppy with you. Connor is no mean guard dog, but he’s big enough to make someone think twice about approaching me.

You cannot plan for every possible situation on such a long trip, but here is a check-list that may be helpful for future Alaska-bound travelers:

– Have a valid passport (and in visa/ green card) for border crossings

– Have a health certificate and rabies certificate for your dog completed within 30 days of travel

– Have roaming enabled for your cell phone for calls (I disabled data roaming services)

– Inform your credit card company that you will be traveling to Canada

– Join AAA (great for hotel discounts and car emergencies!)

– Check tires (including spare), carry a can of tire inflation slime in case of punctures

– Check all fluids (I carried spare windshield fluid, and engine oil)

– Have some windex and paper towels/ rag to clean your car as needed (I tried to wipe off the bugs from the bumper and windshield each night)

– Book hotels (especially important to ensure pets are welcome at your nightly stops)

– Have cash on hand (some gas stations in remote areas don’t accept cards)

– Have snacks and drinks packed (also for your dog)

– Enable satellite radio (I had a free trial subscription to SiriusXM) or have a good selection of CDs or music on your Ipod available. Satellite radio worked well all through the drive until I got to Tok, Alaska – at which point I had to change to cds/ my Ipod

– Have a good GPS (I had the one that came with the car and a GARMIN portable GPS – the car’s GPS worked reliably in rain or shine; unfortunately my GARMIN lost signal at inopportune times so I gave up using it after the first day)

– Carry something for self defense (just in case – I had easy access to several self-defense ‘tools’)

– Carry a first aid kit, and sleeping bag

– Have a copy of the Milepost. Incredible resource for navigating the Alaska Highway.

Here’s Connor at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Boy did we have a drive ahead of us!

Finally, there are a few things I learned during our trip:

  • Road trips are better when you have company – even if he sleeps through most of it.
  • Make frequent stops to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery. You may never be back in the same place again.

  • Yes, you can make it through bumpy rough roads and scary fog. If you quit in the middle, you’re simply stuck in the middle of nowhere. Just take a deep breath and carry on.
  • Be prepared for good and bad things to happen. Sometimes you just have to roll with it
  • Don’t pass up an opportunity to stop for food, ask for directions or take a bathroom break – especially the further north you get. Sometime opportunities are few and far between.
  • Keep a camera in easy reach, and take lots of pictures! Pictures can help you remember  what you’ve done and how far you came.

Inspiring Alaska

In crafts, Etsy, travel, wrinkled sea dog on February 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Alaskan field research gear is typically not very flattering. Particularly if you’re only 5′ 1″ and everything is made to fit bigger people. Here’s Connor demonstrating some of my Alaskan gear – although he sure looks a lot cuter in it.Alaska ready dog

After spending three whole summers in a tent in bush-county Alaska, I am now seriously considering living there full-time. True, most of my time in Alaska has been in the summer AND I spent a significant portion of my time there in a boat – but, I think we’re ready for this change.

The greater part of my idyllic Alaskan adventures involved stalking these critters.

Oh sea otter, how incredibly cute you are with your fluffy fur coat. That coat has the most hairs per square inch of any marine mammal, and self-grooming helps to keep air trapped in their coats for insulation. When resting in the water, the hair on their heads and paws dry out – and otters will do their BEST to keep their paws dry until they absolutely have to dive. I have seen many an otter perform  contortionist worthy feats while rolling in the water in order to keep their paws dry in the air. However, that air-trapping ability of their fur is completely lost if an otter’s fur gets oiled. A well-groomed sea otter is perfectly happy in the frigid Alaskan waters, but an oiled otter risks hypothermia.

Another great quality of sea otters is that they are incredibly photogenic, and they inspire countless pieces of art, which now includes this addition to my Etsy shop. Here’s hoping that the increased oil extraction activities off Alaska’s coasts does not leave otters seeking warmth in the future.

Road trip:North Carolina

In Food, travel on February 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm

This weekend, my pilot husband needed to pick up a turbine engine for his helicopter from Salisbury, North Carolina – some 300+ miles or 6 hours away. Not terribly exciting, but an adventure nevertheless. Lucky for the dogs we have a Suburban which seats seven comfortably, or two dogs in relative luxury. See how they sprawl out on their blankie in the back.

True to most adventures, there were mishaps along the way, and we suffered some engine problems on the way there. Luckily, I have a handy husband who made hasty repairs in the parking lot of an auto shop despite cursing the crappy tools he had to use, and working in freezing windchill.

After picking up the engine we stopped for dinner at Sonic. Drive-In restaurants are GREAT for traveling with pets, and we miss having a Sonic near our home. As usual, the dogs were entitled to some of our chilli cheese Coney dogs. 

As luck would have it, we found out that all the Salisbury hotels were full because a conference was in town. A few phone calls later without luck finding a room, we decided to head towards home. We stopped at a Quality Inn in Lexington, NC which did not charge an exorbitant pet fee (a flat rate of $20 for BOTH dogs) – AND they offered a hot breakfast in the morning. 

Chloe and Connor LOVE hotels, and proceeded to jump between the beds and wrestle.  Playtime done with, they settled down between the pillows and called it a night.

The following morning, the dogs ran around the field adjacent to the hotel – it was a great way to burn some energy before the long drive back.

We made a couple of stops at the rest areas on the way home and took a detour to visit the Bass Pro Shop. Incidentally, Bass Pro Shops are puppy-friendly and we met 5 dogs in the store when we were there. Next time we will take our dogs inside the store with us.