Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 31, 2012

First Impressions

This is an excerpt of my first email to my mom after we arrived. I always like to save early descriptions of a new place. You’ll never have that fresh, uninfluenced perspective again.

Hi, Mom!

I’m really going to have to get used to this time change. I keep starting to call you and then realizing it’s two hours later there and I will wake you up! Beyond the time being different, my body time is messed up too. I’m more awake at two a.m. than I am at two p.m. Blah.

Anyway, things are moving along here. We are staying in the extra bedroom of the special ed teacher’s house until our house is built. The foundation for our house is laid, but the materials to build it aren’t here yet. Apparently that will all happen very quickly, and the story is still Sept. 1 for us to be able to move in. I can’t wait.

The barge still hasn’t arrived with our stuff on it, but it should come tomorrow. I made the mistake of packing our rain pants and Henry’s rain coat in the barge, and it rained quite a bit today. It wasn’t miserable by any means. It actually would have been pleasant if I’d just had Henry’s rain coat and he wasn’t soaked every time we let him out to pee. It just shows how much of an outsider I am that I say that, though. The kids are wearing shorts!

We went to the school today so Tim could get his keys and start to get his bearings and meet other faculty. Everyone is so nice. Everyone waves when we walk by, even the kids. When we went got our P.O. box, the lady took her glove off to shake our hands and welcome us to Metlakatla.

The other new teachers are nice too. Kaydee and William are from Colorado, Megan and Erich are from Washington, and Austin is from Montana. They’re all friendly, young, and eager. We had dinner tonight with Carrie and Jason. Carrie is the one who Tim went to grad school with, and she’s been here for a year. They’re really nice too, and they showed us where all the great places to hike are and who they learned to fish from. I think we’re the oldest of the “young” staff. We’ve definitely noticed the age difference, but I don’t think it’s so much that we won’t fit in fine with them. Carrie is especially open and caring, wanting to make sure I join the book club and get started in the craft club with her and some other women.

The school is pretty dang fancy. All the kids get laptops and iPads. They have a nearly-Olympic-sized swimming pool, a full basketball court, and two weight rooms. Pretty much all the coaching positions are open right now, though. It seems so many teachers come in with great projects and big ideas, and then something happens and none of it is ever really developed.

Everyone is encouraging me to sub. I guess it’s a good way to get in with the community here, and I’d like that. I don’t want to look back afterward and wish I’d done more to get in with the community. I asked if kids are into writing, and they said that several kids were hoping there would be a creative writing club last year, but no one set it up for them. I’ll see if there’s still interest.

We’re both trying to shift back into small-town mentality–remembering to wave at everyone and also remembering that people gossip and you don’t always have the chance to set the story straight, so it’s best to avoid anything that might be whispered about at all. It definitely seems like we’re the most liberal people, at least of the people we’ve met–which is a shock coming from Portland, where I’m considered moderate! We’ll figure it out, though.

It’s all just information overload at the moment. We were both having a bit of culture shock last night, and then when we sat down to dinner with our host, her first questions were, “Will you stay? Will Alaska be your home?” Wow! We hadn’t even been on the island for two hours yet! I go through phases of having energy and trying to get errands run or some work done, and then feeling exhausted and having to take a two-hour nap.

Soon things will settle down a little as Tim gets started with work.

Anyway, I’ll talk to you soon, I promise! I love you!


Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 31, 2012


As some of you know, I was a cross-country fanatic back in the day. When I learned that the coaching position was open here, I was tempted to apply, but I have to miss half the season for Sledgehammer (of which I am also a fanatic). But I jumped at the invitation to help the new coach, and it’s been fantastic.

We have four girls and five boys, and we’re just finishing up our second week. The first week was full of “My knees hurt!,” “I don’t know if I want to stay on the team,” and “Can we walk?” Then this Monday rolled around, and we had the team run overdistance–a minimum of six miles. After they hit the six-mile mark, they could keep running until we picked them up in the van. One kid ran 7.8 miles! The van on the ride home was filled with comments like “Man, I feel like I could keep running forever” and “That was awesome. Can we do that again?”

Yesterday, I replicated one of the hardest practices I remember from my cross-country career: suicide hills. Basically, you find a steep hill that’s between an quarter mile and a half mile long and spread out five cones up it. The runners go as hard as they can to the first cone and then jog back to the bottom. Then as hard as they can to the second cone and jog back to the bottom…all the way up to five and then all the way back down to one. You know what happened? Not a single complaint. What’s more, the kids ran their warm-up and cool-down as a pack–without the coaches directing them to–and they slapped high fives every time they ran back down the hill. As they were running their last cone, a bald eagle flew over their heads. After practice, they were completely spent, but did they complain or split for home as fast as possible? No, they sat down in the halls at school and were still chatting when I left for home. There’s nothing like team camaraderie, but no matter how much you hope for it as a coach or leader of any other sort, you can’t force that. The kids have to decide they want it, and these kids do.

Three of our girls are competing in our first meet tomorrow. We’ve run into some travel delays, though. We were supposed to take off in a float plane this morning and then get on a jet in Ketchikan to take us to Petersburg. The fog was too thick for the float plane to come, though, and the flight to Petersburg has already left for the day. Not to worry, though. We’ll take the afternoon ferry to Ketchikan, stay the night, and get on tomorrow morning’s jet. The meet coordinators have bumped the race times back slightly so we can still make it. I’m bummed we won’t get to do a float plane this time, but I can’t wait to see the girls run. I’m already so proud of them!

Next weekend, we’ll take ten runners to the meet in Craig. Then I’ll miss the next two meets. It breaks my heart a little, but I just can’t be in two places at once. I have to cheer the Sledgehammer competitors on during that time! The fourth meet is regionals and will be the last meet for most, maybe even all, of the runners. Not many runners make it to state from Metlakatla. Most of the runners are doing just to get in shape for basketball–the real heart of the community. But I’m still hoping a couple will qualify so I can have one last hurrah with them before the end of the season. They seem to have picked up on the fact that I love running, and in my opinion, there is no sport better than cross-country. I don’t expect them to adopt that same perspective, but I hope they love the sport a little more now than they did before the season. Based on yesterday’s practice, I think we’re already there.

Wish us luck!

Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 31, 2012


ImageLast week was a tough one for the community. There were three funerals and, from my understanding, at least two of them were elders. The house we’re staying in is just up the hill behind the church, so we can hear the organ music playing whenever church is in session. When I got home from Ketchikan last Thursday, the organ was loud and mournful. I stopped unloading the car for a moment and looked over the trees at the two cross-topped spires that mark the church. One bald eagle was perched on each spire. I wasn’t able to get a picture because they flew away about five seconds later, but I was overcome with a feeling of respect for this deceased woman I never even knew and for the many mourners in the church. It seemed nature was feeling the same way.
I’m still getting a feel for exactly what it means to be an elder here. Certainly, elders are older people who have been in the community for a long time and act as a sort of governing body for the town. The school board is made up largely of elders, so they definitely have an influence there.

It makes for an interesting mix of perspectives. For many years, Annette Island was a dry island. No alcohol was permitted. Only within the last few years has that law changed to allow people to own and drink alcohol but not to buy it or sell it. It’s called a damp island. You have to bring whatever you want to drink over from Ketchikan or other towns you visit. The elders seem to be unhappy about this change, and school staff who drink are very careful never to do so where other people can see them. For one thing, the town is so small and people walk so many places that it would be easy for students to see staff drinking if they’re not careful. That doesn’t make for a very positive role model. But beyond that, there’s a fear that the elders will find out and fire people even though the law now allows drinking.

From what I can tell so far, people hold a lot of respect for the elders here. Honestly, that seems to extend all around–people are just respectful, even if they sometimes disagree. It’s refreshing.

Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 29, 2012

First Hike up Yellow Hill

Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 28, 2012

Yellow Hill & Point D

On our second day here, Carrie and Jason Pipkin headed up a hike up Yellow Hill with all the new teachers.

First, let me relate my understanding of the geography here. There are two parts to the island. The first is the bigger part, and it’s really mountainous. One peak is 3,000 feet–that’s starting from sea level! The rocks there are gray and steep, and the trees get pretty thin toward the top of the mountains. The other part of the island is relatively flat and marshy, and it’s where the town is. There’s also an abandoned Canadian Air Force airport on this part of the island. The rocks on this part of the island have a yellowish color, and the trees (outside of town) are pretty short–almost shrub-like. I’ve been told that the island has two parts because there’s a fault line at the divide. The mountainous part was carved by glaciers, and the flatter part was pushed up from earthquakes.

So Yellow Hill is called that because it’s one of the bigger hills on the flatter side of the island, and the rocks are kind of yellow. The trail is actually a boardwalk with stairs because the ground is pretty swampy. Once you get to the top, though, it’s a great view of town and other parts of the island. We were really lucky to have beautiful weather (and lots of visibility) that day too! Check out all the mountains across the water. There are so many islands here, sometimes it feels more like we’re looking at a lake than an ocean.

After the Yellow Hill hike, we all went out to the airport. Now sometimes people use it as an unofficial drag strip. The runway is a mile and a half long, so you can get going pretty fast!

Finally, we went to Point D, the south point of the flat part of the island. There’s an old turret, which I think is left over from WWI. There’s also a great little beach, perfect for a fire,  hot dog roasting, and some off-leash time for Henry Dog. :o)

Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 23, 2012

How to Move to Alaska: Ali Style

1. New Year’s: Write a resolution to live in another city for at least two months.

2. January 8: Have a great first date with a new guy who is about to graduate with a master’s degree in school counseling.

3. End of January: When he texts you that he knows about a job offer in Alaska and asks, “Want to move to Alaska?” think he’s joking. Laugh. Text back lamely, “Um, I have family there.”

3. April: Realize that there are very few school counseling job options in the Portland area and it’s very likely that your great new guy will have to move. New guy will interview with Annette Island School District from Metlakatla, Alaska.

4. Early May: Discuss long-distance options. Agree that neither of you likes that option. Entertain the idea of moving to Alaska for a year (or a few) so your boyfriend can launch his career. After all, you’re a freelancer and you can work from anywhere. Decide on four criteria: you have to be able to work, you have to have access to a literary community, you have to be able to take your pets, and you won’t live in a place with much snow in the winter. Call the bookstore owner in Ketchikan, Alaska, to learn that nearby Metlakatla meets all these criteria.

5. Late May: Take a picture of him when he signs his contract. Feel terrified and exhilarated at the same time. You’re moving to Alaska!

6. June and July: Overanalyze everything you might need to buy to move to Alaska. Get an Alaska Airlines credit card–balk at the 14.7% interest rate, but do the math at how quickly you’ll accumulate free airline tickets. Resolve not to carry a balance.

Research as much as you can about your new home. Find that Wikipedia has the most information. Take it with a grain of salt. Except the rain–several sources back up the fact that annual rainfall in Metlakatla is nearly three times as much as in Portland. Buy your dog a raincoat.

Buy ferry tickets to go from Bellingham, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska–a total of 36 hours on a boat. Spend $1,275 on this.

Road trip to Idaho, Montana, and Washington to visit family before you move away. Leave yourself four days to come back to Portland and pack to move to Alaska. Kick yourself for not leaving yourself more time. Have a going away party at your house the night before you leave. When you get up early the next morning and realize you need to clean the house and load everything into the UHaul, kick yourself again.

7. Early August: Go to Seattle for a week for boyfriend’s training. Work in the bed and breakfast during the day. Take the dog on long walks whenever the staff needs to clean the room and when the plumber needs to work on the tub for two hours. Have seafood for your birthday dinner. Stress about your deadlines. Unload the UHaul into a barge container to be shipped to Metlakatla.

8. August 10: Squeak in barely under the wire for your deadlines. Get on a ferry and lose all cell signal and internet access. See a whale. Laugh at a German guy who is certain he sees a bear that no one else can see. Watch movies. Read. Meet some other new teachers on their way to Metlakatla. Look at the Canadian mountains as the sweep by the side of the boat. When the ship’s purser allows–every six to eight hours, even at night–go down to the vehicle hold to let your dog out of the car so he can walk and go to the bathroom. Laugh when you learn that one of the other teachers has a dog named Henry too. Feel sorry for your Henry when he is confused about going to the bathroom on the floor of the vehicle hold and doesn’t want to get back in the car after just fifteen minutes. Get rushed by the ship staff to hurry up. Vow never to take your dog on such a long ferry again.

9. August 12, early morning: Arrive in Ketchikan, Alaska. Buy some groceries. Visit the bookstore. Go see a movie. Metlakatla will not have cheap groceries, bookstores, or movie theaters.

10. August 12, afternoon: Get on the ferry to Metlakatla. Meet the superintendent and several other teachers at the ferry dock in Metlakatla. Learn that your house is scheduled to be completed by September 1 and in the meantime you’ll be staying with another teacher. Hope there’s a bed. There is. Sleep. Kick yourself for traveling for three weeks before the move when you now have to continue living out of your bags for another two weeks.

11. August 14: Learn that your house actually won’t be done until September 15. Sigh. Smile. Realize you like the stuff in your bags. And you really like the guy you’re with. 🙂

12. Randomly remember that New Year’s resolution.

Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 23, 2012

A Note on Writing Style

I am an editor, and I am a perfectionist.

Both of these traits make it very difficult for me to get in the habit of jotting down notes in this travelogue at the end of the day or week. I hate to think of people reading my writing when it’s really just scribbled stream of consciousness.

But the idea that I need to come up with polished, witty writing for every post is just keeping me from posting, so I am now resolving to push past it, to post my notes, to fill in this travelogue. I hope to someday come back to these notes and write something more polished from them, but for now, we–I as the writer and you as the readers–will just have to settle for what is here. If I wait for the time and energy to write what I expect of myself, there will never be anything to read.

Thanks for your understanding and patience. And hey, if the note style is driving you nuts, just look at the pictures!



Posted by: aliaskaadventures | August 14, 2012

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for almost two months now, but I kept putting it off to wait for the perfect name. When a friend suggested Aliaska, it seemed a fitting title for someone named Ali to write about moving to Alaska. But I knew some people would think it was a little cheesy. Readers who know me will know that I’m well aware of the level of cheesiness in the name Aliaska and would choose to use that name for fun. Other readers might think I consider myself clever in a sickening way. So I kept putting off starting the blog and waiting for the perfect name.

When I was on the ferry from Bellingham to Ketchikan, this predicament came up, and a woman laughed so hard at me, I thought she might fall out of her chair. She could just see me ten years down the road having never written anything because I couldn’t think of a name for my blog! I agreed–it was time to stop making excuses and start writing.

So here it is: Alaska Adventures. It’s all for fun. Sometimes that’s easy to remember, and sometimes I have to remind myself of it. I’m constantly learning not to take myself too seriously, so I hope you don’t read too much into what I write either. These are just some simple notes about our move to Alaska, and I hope you enjoy them!


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