Thursday, June 30, 2011

le Tour le Talk

Yessirree Bob...it's THAT time of year AGAIN! What time would that be you might ask?

TOUR TIME!

Oh YEAH! The time of year that I drive Jeannie CRAZY as she must somehow endure listening to Phil and Paul EVERY SINGLE DAY! Oh, the AGONY you are thinking to yourselves. Nay nay bunny rabbit I say. I have been in P&P withdrawal all year long! Just this week I FINALLY got a quick fix....the Pre-Tour show. And speaking of that show, just who is the primary voice/announcer this year? It surely didn't sound like Hummer...has he been replaced? WHO will be on the prime-time slot with Bobke?

OK, OK....I know some of you out there are less than enthused by some of the uhm, er....contestants this year, but I personally think it might very well be one of the most exciting tours in ages (of course, I say that EVERY year).

First off, we must acknowledge the reigning champion: Alberto Contador. Pretty much the most dominating and powerful climber on the planet. He just proved that AGAIN in the most ridiculous (as in STUPID HARD) Giro's ever. And he flat out CRUSHED all comers. He was so far ahead that they would have been within their rights to give him first AND second place on the final podium.

Sure, sure, there is some dilemma right now as to whether or not he should even be allowed to race. I can make arguments for both sides on that one quite honestly. IF he was a resident of pretty much any other country than Spain he would most likely be sitting out for the next 2 years. But he IS a resident of Spain, and his national federation has cleared him to race like it or not. He is doing nothing wrong at this point.

However, I offer this: he is 'accused' of doping with Clenbuterol...which showed up suddenly on the rest day in his sample. Successive samples showed it metabolizing out of his system in the expected amounts, proving that he indeed got it on that day. HOW he got it is the issue. By the draconian letter of the UCI law, ANY amount whatsoever is a failed test and you are guilty no matter what. But in recent years athletes have been challenging that ridicilous rule and are beating it. Also the UCI's own rules have many loopholes and contradicting rules in them, allowing for such. It all depends on which rule is being enforced when they either hammer you or let you off. The big question is DID HE CHEAT? The amount detected was SO VERY SMALL that everybody agrees would have done him no good whatsoever. The only forseeable way that that tiny amount got into his system for any benefit would appear to be if he transfused his own blood taken when he had been using larger amounts. IF this is the case then he obviously cheated and should be taking a 2 year break. HOWEVER, if he did not cheat, then the miniscule amount could very well have come from food, as other athletes across the globe are proving is possible. And if he got it in food, then he gets a pass. You CAN NOT hold athletes accountable for eating food. So he either transfused or got contaminated food. IF it can't be proven that he transfused, then he MUST be given a free pass on this one. That is my two cents on it. And yes, there are many many athletes in the past that have NOT been given the benefit of the doubt, but maybe it's time we set a precedent here that others in similar situations will be able to cite. Innocent until proven guilty. It's time WADA and the UCI play by that rule, which they have not in the past. Enough on that...he is racing, and for the moment it's totally fair. Move on.

The Protagonist: Andy Schleck. If they both show up in exactly the same shape as last year, then I would give the nod to Andy. HAD Frank not been injured and dropped out after his crash in the cobbles last year, then chain-drop or not I think Andy would have won. Alberto might be climbing on par with Andy, and TT'ing a bit better, (ok, quite a bit better) but having Frank to tag-team Alberto would have made a world of difference. Even without Frank, they were quite honestly dead even, the only difference being the infamous chain-drop. And we will never know how much time Andy might have gotten over Alberto if his chain hadn't dropped, because he had just dropped him and was going to sprint over the summit. I'm convinced that in some parallel universe there is an Andy who won that tour. Alberto was VERY LUCKY last year.

However, what remains to be seen is what condition Andy is actually in. Has he been sandbagging these last few months? I think so. But it's hard to tell for sure. I would have thought he would have come out and shown his TRUE form in recent races, just to let the world know he's ready to win. But maybe this is his way to leave all the pressure to Alberto. I think he is holding his cards VERY close to his chest and won't show them until he needs to. I hope this is the case anyway. Frank will be there, and Fabian, and Jens...so they have the firepower available. I look forward to seeing Fabian and Jens on the front setting a ludicrous tempo, fracturing the already devastated peleton and shaking out all but the very few contenders. FOUR mountaintop finishes this year....FOUR! Holy schmoley that will be AWESOME! On each and every one of those, every wanna-be contender had best be on his "A" game and holding station at the very front. Any moves by any of them must be matched...and very quickly it will come down to just those special few as all the domestiques will have been dropped off, only hoping the can survive inside the time-cutoff.

IF Andy is indeed hiding his true form, then I would suspect they will be on the top two spots of the podium. As much as I would like some of the other contenders to be able to hang, I don't think they can. A lot will depend on how much Alberto's dominance in Italy took out of him...will he be rested enough? He raced the Giro because he was expecting the CAS to announce their decision prior to the Tour, and he was hedging his bet that he might not race the Tour this year. By the postponement of their decision (however LAME they are to do that)...how freaking much time do they NEED after all?) I believe they surprised him. But now he has a chance to make history by winning the Giro and the Tour in the same year, which hasn't been done in a while. And I also add this on Alberto: IF he is racing clean this year, then I have to ask "why would he cheat last year"? IF he is indeed this good, then it would appear everybody else is playing catchup to that one in a million athletes who just are that good. He obviously has had the bejeebers tested out of him this year, and after his Giro performance, well, if THAT was fair and square, then GO Alberto!

OK...who else? Obviously I"m biased towards Chris Horner. I think if he were given total team commitments he is quite capable of making top 5. But he won't have that, at least not right away...Radio Shack is going in with FOUR co-captains. That is a lot. A lot of pressure too, knowing that how you do every single day will determine if you get your shot or not. Horner has shown grace under pressure though and he seems to thrive on it. I expect a great showing from him. Father time is calling him, but like Jens, he seems capable of beating time. I really look forward to him uncorking an amazing tour. Top ten for sure. Top five? I sure hope so (he is one of my top 3 fav riders, so I'm QUITE biased I admit).

Levi. In the Tour of California, Chris was better. But Levi just showed some of HIS cards in the Tour de Suissie...that come from behind TT he did on the final day was pure magic. The stuff of legends. Side by side with Chris, Levi will beat him in the TT's...but this year there is only ONE individual TT, which will favor both Andy and Chris over Alberto and Levi. So for Levi it all comes down to just how good are his climbing legs? I like Levi a LOT, but he has never shown he is capable of keeping up with Alberto and Andy. But he will have his chance. I would expect Radio Shack to really hammer away at the front on the big climbing days. With their 4 'contenders', they should really be able to play a lot of cards.

CVV. Two years ago he showed real glimpses of greatness, but has had some pretty bad luck since. IF he can stay healthy I'd love to see just what he can do up front with the big guns.

Tejay Van Garderen...I'd say he is the young dark horse here. He might be where Alberto was a few years back, when he was still somewhat of a 'nobody' yet all of a sudden there he was holding a VERY high GC placing. But he lacks the big Grand Tour experience, and I think that is vital here. The TDF is so much more than just a bike race. It is the grandest show of the sport on the planet. The pressure is immeasurable. It will be interesing to see how he does. I'd say he will certainly be top ten overall.

Cadel Evans. He is always a mystery to me. He has had moments of greatness, but somehow seems to be his own worst enemy. He has been plagued by injury in recent years and I'm not sure just when exactly he has been at 100% for a tour. I think he is surely a top contender if healthy, but he might be getting nipped by father time. I look forward to him showing me he is as tough as I think he can be.

Ivan Basso. He also seems to just underwhelm me more often than not. I know he is a fabulous climber, and has won the Giro a few times so knows what it takes to win a Grand Tour. But every time I get to rooting for him he just seems to fall away into nowhere. I would like to see him have a great Tour and be in the top ten.

Tom Danielson. He has waited LONG for his chance to go to le Tour. But he has a few teammates that will be taking the limelight from him, so his really has his work cut out for him.

Ryder Hesjedal. I have liked him for a long time. He used to be a world-class mt biker and I knew his name there (so did Cadel Evans by the way). I like to see Mt bikers coming over to the road. I think they develop bike handling skills that are superior to pure road riders, and it seems easier to go from dirt to road than from road to dirt. Totally different skill set. Ryder has shown he has potential for greatness....so I look for him to step up and be top ten also.

Sammy Sanchez. He is always a tough smart rider and I would expect he will be hunting for a top ten finish. Can he step up his game and make top five? That is the big question. I will be watching him for sure.

Phillipe Gilbert, Robert Gesink, Andreas Kloden, Bradley Wiggens, Sylvian Chavanel...all names we will be seeing I suspect. I think any one of them are capable of stepping up and delivering a top ten performance.

Oh..and GEORGE! Gosh, I almost forgot BIG GEORGE! My FAV! He is SO the MAN! Of course, like Horner, he is getting up there in age. And I'd be kidding if at this point in time I thought he could do real well overall (as in top 5).....a few years back (after Lance retired) I was really rooting for him to do just that. But he just seems to be the kind of guy who is there to help others. He's GREAT at it, and I long for him to win one more Tour stage. I still smile HUGE when I think of that shot of him crossing the line on the queen stage, and putting his arms up and then almost crying..as he had never before seen the clock at 0:00:00 before, realizing the magnitude of what he did that day. It is one of my top tour moments. Could he go top ten? I think he might very well have it in him. I'd LOVE to see it. Come on GEORGE!!!

So there, I've picked about 60 guys who I think can go top ten. OK, not quite 60, but a lot. I am pleased that they have a Team Time Trial this year....it's always a favorite day of mine. For some reason I just LOVE to watch the teams as they blaze along, and the teams that finish together are the most impressive. It brings me back to the BLUE TRAIN days...when SIR LANCE ruled the peleton with an iron fist, and his Tour TT squad was just the most impressive thing you'll ever see in a Team TT. And then I'm sure everybody remembers the year that Dave Zabriskie crashed out wearing yellow, and was left to his own...that one always makes me wince. I loved seeing DZ in yellow...much like when I see Fabian in Yellow, yet still out FRONT setting tempo for Andy, knowing the Yellow is soon to be gone. He's just such a classy rider. Oh, and speaking of the Z man, boy is Garmin loaded this year or WHAT! They surely need to win a few stages this time around...they are due and they have the firepower. I'd love to see Tyler nip Cav in a bunch sprint. I think this year we will see that. In fact, yes, I am indeed predicting that. Tyler wins his first TDF stage, beating out Cav. Yes, I see it in my crystal ball.

And so...my overall GC predictions. I just don't see anybody stopping Andy and Alberto, except for fate. If either of them has bad luck it could all come crashing down quickly. If they ride smart and have good luck, I see them one/two on the final podium. I just hope this year it's Andy in yellow in Paris. Who will be number three though? THAT is the 64 $ question. And like it or not, I'm afraid the race for 3rd will be just as interesting (or more so?) than the race for 1st. There are a LOT of guys who can take that third spot. And I honestly can't seem to come up with anybody who I see having better chances than many of the other guys. Levi? Chris? Ivan? Tejay? CVV? Cadel? Ryder? Bradley? Sylvian? I think all the guys I talked about could very well unleash a top tour and take that third spot. But just who steps up is the question. And it's not entirely inconceivable that Andy and Alberto will not be quite so dominating as I think...and if that is the case then the top 5 could really be a gunfight to the bitter end. I would very much prefer that sort of Tour. I harbor no ill will towards Alberto, and just want to see another amazing Tour. A GRAND Tour.

Game ON!

Monday, June 27, 2011

It is done.

Well, I survived my eye surgery this morning (removal of a Basal Cell Carcinoma that grew on my lower left eyelid). Turns out, the surgery (my part of it anyway) was a piece of cake. But I'm thinking that the recovery won't be quite so much fun...at least day 1 hasn't very fun so far. It hurts, and I'm thankful that I had some Tylenol 3's left over from when I was seeing a Dr. over the border in Mexico for my neck a few years back. I just popped one of those a bit ago and hopefully it will tone down the pain. I'm home from work all today, and I'm supposed to just lie around (you can see how good at that I am, as I'm here on the computer already). Unless there is some reason not to, I'm cleared to go into work tomorrow. I do need to see my Dr. at 9:10 am tomorrow (Tues) morning so he can remove the 'special' stitch...he put in a wild 'loop' stitch that is supposed to hold up my lower eyelid (it's a loop that goes thru a small part of my lower eyelid and then goes up above my eyebrow where it's taped down....not very comfortable at ALL I must say...every time I blink it hurts, and it itches too).

As to the procedure itsself: I reported to the surgery center at about 6:30 this morning...Jeanie dropped me off and went into work (there was no reason for her to stay except to make me MORE nervous, and they will call here when I go into recovery afterwards to come and get me), and they were already quite busy. But they were VERY organized, and before I knew it I was lying in a bed with an EKG and IV hooked up and being wheeled into the operating room. My Dr. had already been by my bed checking on things, and made a joke about not sure which eye he was supposed to be working on....I told him I thought I was there for a foot operation and he chuckled.

Once in the operating room it was down to business...the anesthesiologist (spell THAT twice real fast!) had already also checked in with me at my bed as they were prepping me (he was making sure I was hooked up and ready to go). The operating room was pretty busy...and LOTS of lights (I think I was looking into the surface of the sun or a UFO trying to land). I don't really know when they pumped in 'the good stuff', but quick as a bunny the Dr. is doing his stuff. Thankfully I DIDN'T hear the snipping as he lopped off the tumor part, but there was absolutely no pain at all and I was awake the entire time, chatting here and there (trying not to move so he wouldn't put a stitch into my eyeball or something). It went quite fast for my part and next thing I know I'm in the recovery room. I asked the nurse if she could just pour a cup of coffee into my IV before she removed it (as I haven't had so-much as a glass of water since dinner last night). My tapeworm was getting rather angry and I was quite thirsty too.

On the way home Jeannie swung thru a Carls Jr. drive-thru and I ordered breakfast. She dropped me off at home and made sure I was comfy and then headed back to work (she is in the middle of a crisis period and has SO much to do).  I ate that and fell asleep for a while with two of the babies curled up with me on the couch...then I was wide awake with my eye really hurting...so I got up and gently peeled away the eye-patch they put on (it was REALLY hurting eye every time I blinked under the patch)....I was careful to leave the loop-stitch thing alone but the patch had to go. My vision is quite blurry in that eye right now, and I'm dabbing up little blobs of bloody discharge now and then, but the papers they sent me home with say that's normal. I also have special ointment that I'm to put on it every now and then...just did my first blob a bit ago (when I removed the eye patch).

 Here is the BEFORE picture that I took just this morning before I left. 

You really can't see much in this picture, as the biopsy removed almost all of the 'blob'.  However the Dr. says "it has to go" or it will come back and the area to be removed will just get larger. Rats.


Here's the same shot with my photoshop enhancements showing what he will do in surgery.

And this is the AFTER shot.... just after I removed the patch.

We'll see how it looks tomorrow. I'm just glad it's over is all I can say. And I'm thankfull it wasn't a scary 'kill me' kind of cancer. So as always, I have a LOT to be thankful for.

OK...on with my busy day...not sure just how much lying around I will be able to do...as I said, just don't seem to be very good at that. They sent me home with a large set of sunglasses that will fit over an eye-patch, I might just put a patch of some sort back on and take the doggies over to the park...we shall see...it's unusually sunny out today. Where is the marine layer when you need it?

Oh, I also updated my Dish Network package YESTERDAY morning...so I now have VS!!! Woo-HOO! I already recorded their Pre-tour special (and watched it already, right after I took off the stupid eye-patch). NOW I'm getting jazzed for this years race! It's gonna be a GREAT ONE! 
That's all I have for now...GAME ON!


UPDATE Tues 6-27


Here's what it looks like tonight...approx. 36 hours after surgery. The Dr. removed that pesky loop stitch (the purpose was to keep the stretched eyelid from flipping in he said...all I know is that it was remarkably uncomfortable and I'm SO glad it's out!) The color is hard to see but it looks like I have a nice black eye. Everybody at work keeps asking if I crashed my bike. 
And on VS tonight (right now I mean) they are showing the movie American Flyers! Woo-HOO! No other cycling movie gets me jazzed to ride like that one. Gotta run...they are in the 2nd of the 3 stages and Marcus is just having his 'problem' as I type...later gaters!



Saturday, June 25, 2011

The final Alaska post: Juneau and Ketchikan and Vancouver

First things first before I jump into talking about Alaska.

WOW for Levi and the Tour de Suissie!. He must have really had the TT of his life, which should be a really great thing for him going into the TDF. Confidence is a huge thing...and you can't buy it.  I'm pretty excited about this years TDF, as it really should be a total gunfight for the podium in Paris. I'm hoping both Levi and Chris Horner have the races of their lives! And George too! I don't know what to make of Andy...IS he sandbagging lately? I think so. I think he will come out with guns-a-blazing in France. As will Contador.

OK, back to the great white north. I noticed that I missed a 'ship day' early on, so my numbering of the days is off by one (we left Whittier and it took 2 days to get to Glacier Bay, not 1). So...That would actually make Skagway day 4. OOPS.

Whereas Skagway was a nice long in-port day, Juneau and Ketchikan weren't. We didn't get off the ship until around 9am, and had to be back aboard by 3:30pm for both. In Juneau we took a city tour on a bus, and quite honestly I could have done without our 'tour operator'. I won't go into detail but suffice to say that her sense of what was appropriate to talk about was rather on the trailer-trash side of things. Our tour ended up at Mendenhall Glacier, where we hiked out to the vista point near an awesome water-fall crashing into the bay. I've seen this glacier before, albeit by air. LONG ago when I was a young Navy lad I flew in/out of Juneau on my way to Anchorage a time or two, and recall seeing it out the window and was quite impressed...it was the first 'tidewater' glacier I had ever seen (tidewater glaciers are ones that end up in the ocean).


The gang at the base of the waterfall, Mendenhall Glacier in the left background

Our little hiking trip out to the vista point took a tiny bit longer than usual and darn it if we didn't miss OUR bus home, and had to catch the next one (our tour company has busses every  half hour, if you miss one you just catch the next one thankfully). Juneau is a beautiful city, and there are bald eagles flying/sitting around all over the place. After the tour we took the tram up Mt. Roberts, high above the ship docks. Had we more time I would have loved to hike the summit (about 3 miles, 3500' of climbing). But time was something we didn't have so back to the ship we went.

Our ship the Coral Princess as seen from theTram


The ship pulled out of Juneau on schedule and by the next morning we were pulling into Ketchikan just after breakfast. By this time we were all feeling pretty beat quite honestly, and we did go ashore to wander around the shops and such, but not much else was planned. Jim and I were thinking about going ziplining, but they wanted almost $200 each, and that was a bit pricey we both thought. So we both ended up buying ourselves new Tilley hats instead, quite the bargain actually! This will replace my old backpacking / outdoors hat. It's a really nice hat, and even though I don't consider myself a 'hat guy', I really like this one!

 Jim and I sporting our new Tilley's, AND our tasty Alaskan Beer Samplers!

Those Tilley Girls! Jackie and Jeannie tryng on our new hats.


We had lunch at a nice pub style place, and they had the "Alaskan" beer sample platter which Jim and I both had to try. The other family had planned a float-plane trip for this city, and they had taken off early to make it on time. We met back up after our lunch and their plane ride, and we went back to another pub for their lunch and those of us who just ate had beer instead. Always room for more tasty beer. After that we wandered our way back to the ship, and our shore excursions were now over. Tomorrow (Saturday) we arrive in Vancouver and disembark, cruise over. The only real shame of this entire cruise was that half of the time the ship was steaming along, it was thru some awesomely scenic areas and unless you can just sit outside the entire cruise, you miss SO MUCH. But by the 6th day you are immune to the beautiful scenery and just want to rest. That night you had to be packed up, and before we leave for our dinner we had to put our 'checked' luggage out in the passageway with our name-tags on them. It is all gathered up and staged for loading ashore first thing upon arrival.

We arrived in Vancouver the next morning and after breakfast, and went back to the room one final time. We packed up our carry-on luggage and gathered in our designated disembarkation assembly points. We were the 2nd to last group to go ashore, our time was 9:20am. We were in no real hurry so let most of the other passengers go before us. It was a good plan and I had a wonderful breakfast one more time. I'm going to miss this dining I can tell you with absolute certainty. It was like we were royalty for a week. Overall I don't think I've ever had better food, and this was every meal, every day. Our waiting staff was just out of this world, and I would consider looking up our head-waiter someday if we were to ever go on another cruise to find out which ship he's on. Sebastian was his name, and he made dinner a truly special meal every night.

In Vancouver we had rooms in the downtown Sheraton (which was AWESOME!) Turns out Vancouver is a really nice city. Just a few days before we arrived (Weds to be exact) the Vancouver Cannucks lost the Stanley Cup Finals to Boston, and some of the disgruntled fans rioted. They did millions in damage to the city, and the Canadians in general were mortified. People were volunteering to help rebuild..paint, put up plywood, whatever they could do to help. The riot area was not very far from us...probably around 10 or 12 blocks. We had a really nice dinner that night, and EVERYBODY was so very friendly. The next day was our last of the trip, and Jeannie and I had tickets to the Broadway show WICKED...the story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Jeannie showing off her own super-pointy WICKED shoes

 Here we are at the show (I got yelled at for having the picture taken..apparently that's taboo!)

The show was PHENOMENAL, and we were seated in row 2, almost in the middle! I must now buy the book, as the story was just great! I'd recommend it to all...if you want to find out all the pre-story to the Wizard of Oz (such as: just WHO WAS the Wicked Witch, how did she become WICKED, who was Glenda the Good and how she became that, who was the Cowardly Lion/Tin Man/Scarecrow were and how they came to be there, how the flying monkeys came to be able to fly, stuff like that). The casting was what you would expect from a Broadway play...the girl playing the Wicked Witch was just out of this world, as was Glenda. All in all, a great way to end our trip.

But alas, the play was over and it was time for a final dinner and bed. We flew home the next morning and drove home from LAX, and that was that. But the babies were SO very excited! As Dorothy said, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home".

And finally, there's the rest of the story. Here is the headline:

Matt has a genuine superpower.

Yes, it's true. I have suspected it for years, and many others have had glimmers of it here and there, but it has NEVER before been tested like on this cruise. You see, I weighed myself before we left. 154lbs. And then, I went CRAZY on the ship for SEVEN DAYS. Crazy in that I ate EVERYTHING. I was obsessed...I'd order BOTH breakfast entrees, and other stuff too. Full lunch a few hours later. Afternoon meal ( of pizza and beer some something similar) around 3pm due to our dinner being the 'late' seating @ 7:45pm, happy hour every day around 5 or 6pm with wine and snacks, and finally dinner in the formal dining room. After the very first night I got over the weirdness about ordering BOTH dinner entrees, dual appetizers, soup, and at least 3 desserts. I think I should have been wearing a big cape when I sauntered into the dining room, and people should have applauded the performance they were about to see. And after all the carnage, I weighed myself Tuesday morning before I went back to work, and NOT A POUND was gained. In fact, I actually dropped a tiny bit (153.7lbs to be exact). And this included NOT A SINGLE foray into the gym for working out (I did wander in once to look at the equipment, and also to check out the spin class room, but it was DURING breakfast, and that just wouldn't do). The only thing I did that you could consider any kind of exercise was I walked all over the ship, and I never took the elevator.

I guess all that walking was enough for someone with a bona-fide superpower, because it worked! I should be studied, and interviewed on Oprah AND Larry King at the very least. Maybe a guest spot on Letterman or Conan, something like that. But alas, it is my fate to live with this most amazing of all superpowers in relative obscurity. Kind of like Aqua Man (he had a great superpower but was pretty much ostracized by his super-hero peers and the public in general). I mean, come ON! He could swim underwater WITHOUT scuba tanks.... FOREVER! AND..... he could talk to all the marine creatures with his sonar-like communication powers! THOSE are some serious superpowers I'd trade even my own for! Though flying thru the eair would be cool too. But in the grand scheme of things, maybe it's not quite as amazing as eating whatever you want whenever you want with no weight gain. Superman, eat your heart out. And Batman, what does HE have? Gadgets. That's it. Underneath it all, I bet he works out like a madman in the gym to fit in that outfit every day. Not a very good superpower at all if you ask me.

And so...our vacation is over and we are back to the grind of daily life. The TDF is coming up SO VERY FAST! I will pick up the VS channel around the beginning of the month, and will relish the days listening to P&P (while Jeanie will HATE those days). But she is scheduled to fly on a work trip and will only have to put up with the first week or so of the race. Also my LIVESTRONG DAVIS is fast approaching! Fatty has finally jumped firmly on-board and is promoting it...and our team is winning by a landslide over all the other teams. I've had a so-so year of fundraising as we've been SO very busy at work...but that's ok. It's very tiring to say the least, but I have gotten into the habit of going in 45minutes early every day and putting out muffins and bagels at 2 of our buildings. I've make over $1000 doing this, and that's not too shabby! As to what will happen to LIVESTRONG when the "Get LANCE" show finally has some kind of ending I can't say, but it would be a travesty if this is greatly affected. Fatty has also embraced the World Bicycle Relief fund, and has made another 'Team Fatty'. This one you sign up (for FREE) and then simply enter any kind of workout you do...all of it gets you "Kudos", and so many kudos gets some kid in Zambia a free bike. This one is sponsored by SRAM, and I have to admit I'm impressed. Today I entered ALL my bike rides for this year, all the way back to January. So far I have over 3200 Kudos, which equates to almost half a bike (they can bike a bike for $150 ea). Team Fatty is really zinging along in this charity, and it's another great way Fatty has found to make a difference.

OK...enough on this. Time to start ramping up for the TDF...I'm fast getting TOUR FEVER! I think it will strike hard later in the week. Oh, and Monday is my eye surgery (where the Dr. will cut out my little tumor on my eyelid). I'm sure it will go fine as he is THE MAN. I must take a 'before' picture, as I really like my eyelid as it is...and no matter how I try, I'm still a little freaked that he's gonna chop out about a quarter of it. But in the grand scheme of things, this is NOTHING. By late next week I'll be riding the bikes like nothing ever happened.

Happy Sunday! Get out there and do something FUN! I sure will! (Today was road bike day, tomorrow is Mt bike day). Woo-HOO!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 3, Skagway

I actually wrote almost all of this post on the ship, but was unsuccessful in posting it. The internet link was VERY slow, and crashed twice as I was trying (AND using up my precious minutes that I had to purchase ahead of time)…so I gave up. However, here in Vancouver I have a nice link in the hotel. AND, it’s early Sunday morning, AND I’m wide awake. I’ve already been on a walk downtown scouting a lunch place. Today (Sunday) Jeannie and I see the early showing of “Wicked”…which we are both eagerly anticipating. As we wandered around downtown Vancouver yesterday afternoon and evening we found out that on Wednesday evening (after the loss to Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals) there were many distraught fans here in Vancouver who rioted. Stores were looted, cars burned, and it was a horrid situation. The local news is showing many of the ‘heros’ who stood up to the rioters, some getting beaten within an inch of their lives. I beleive the majority of the Canadians and Vancouverians (??) are embarrassed beyond measure by this….and they are quick to point out the honest folk trying to protect the stores and people before the police could respond. Overall my opinion of everybody we meet is just super friendly and quick to point us in the right direction. I LOVE the Canadians…they are just SOOOO friendly! (I could live here…seriously! Thou I’d be alone...Jeannie is more of a ‘tropical’ person).

But without further adieu, here is my post from day 3 of the cruise (the rest of the days swill follow as I collect and jot down my thoughts).

Day 3, Skagway (or as my brother Greg calls it: Skagtown...he did one summer working up here in his college days).

Holy cats, time has blown by in a whirlwind! I haven’t hardly had a chance to catch my breath, let alone go thru all my pictures AND attempt to post. But today (Friday) is a ship-day, and our LAST day on the ship. We pull into Vancouver BC tomorrow, sleep late, get up and disembark. That will be our morning. We won’t even be able to eat anything (boo-hoo!). No coffee either…THAT will be the most traumatic event of our morning.

Looking back I was most intrigued by Skagway of all our ports of call. We just don’t get enough history lessons in school, but I guess there is just too much to go into any detail on it all. I would assume Alaska students get an excellent education on their past (if you have any questions on the Montana gold rush, give me a shout).  In particular, the gold rush into the Yukon caught my fancy.  In short, once gold was discovered there around 1896, all hell broke loose and it seems everybody who was anybody came zooming up to get rich. You paid 10 times what it was worth to get from Seattle to Skagway (one of two boom-towns  that was the gateway to the Yukon Territory). Once you were there, it had been determined that the Yukon was such a harsh environment that there was no way to survive in the interior without supplies, thus you were required to bring a years worth of provisions WITH you. There were two trails: the Chilikoot that went up and around to the west that left from the town of Dyea, and the White Pass Trail that went directly out of Skagway. Both these towns were vying for the title of “best trail” to get you into the Yukon. However, a quote from one miner who had done both trails was quoted as saying “which ever way you go, you’ll wish you had gone the other”.

The crux of the situation was that TON of supplies you were required to have with you for entry into the Yukon by the Canadian Mounties. If you were on foot, you had to move this ton of supplies all by yourself. You’d pack up about 50 lbs and grind 5 miles up the trail (along with a NON-STOP parade of other hikers), put down your load and go back for the next load. It was said that to get all your goods the 600 MILES to Dawson, you had hiked well over 2500 miles (the majority of those miles were actually by boat), AFTER you had packed your gear up over the pass of whichever trail you chose and finally made it to Lake Lindeman (where the 2 trails joined) you built yourself a boat from the remaining trees. IF you had the money you bought horses for the White Pass trail, or hired porters for the Chilikoot trail. But the horses that were available in Skagway weren’t good pack-horses. No, they were horses that bright (unscrupulous) entrepreneurs had rescued FROM the glue-factories knowing that prospective miners would buy them if they were still breathing. So if you needed 2 horses, you bought 6. The average prospector had no knowledge of horses…how to pack them, how to care for them, etc. So the entire ton of goods was loaded onto the first 2 horses and they whipped and prodded and beat them until they had walked as far as they could and fell over dead. THEN the prospector would quickly shift the load to the next horse right there on the trail and continue, leaving the dead / dying horse where it fell, where it would eventually be “ground into porridge" by the nonstop onslaught of desperate men trying to get into the Yukon. 

 Looking at the White Pass Trail (the railroad now follows the original route).

Front view of prospector and his required survival goods

Here's 2/3rds of the list of required provisions

The rest of the story

The trail was horrific and it is told that some horses actually committed suicide by jumping off the trail fully loaded to their death far below. The trail was a mere 2 feet wide in many places with sheer rock wall on one side and sheer drop-off to the river far below on the other. It was also said that very few horses made it alive over this trail. Over 3000 horses perished on this section in 1898 alone in what was called “the trail of the dead horses”. There are black and white pictures of some of this, and it is too horrifying to comprehend.

Over on the Chilikoot trail things weren’t much better. That trail was made for sleds, and most were human powered, unless you were one of the lucky few with sled-dogs. In the winter both trails were at their best for actually having a chance to survive, as the snow covered the sharp rocks and allowed steps to be cut into the snow. There is a postcard / picture of the Chilikoot trail in winter showing the line of men climbing up the pass. There is literally no room for more in this trail. If you faltered or slowed you were pushed out of the line to your fate. Over on the White Pass trail if you slowed or stopped (you could occasionally step out of line and lean against the rock wall to rest) you might have to wait up to half a day to get a spot back in line.

I just can’t fathom what desperation in your life would make you take up this kind of endeavor. I will have to buy some books on the gold rush into the Yukon and further read up on this. It was so fascinating!

We did a guided auto tour (in a nice touring van) up over White Pass and into Canada. This road was only completed in 1978, before that the railroad, ship or plane was the only way in and out of Skagway.

 One of 2 suspension bridges on the road to White Horse. My brother Greg recalls learning to rappel from this bridge during his summer in Skagtown.

Our guide was Tim, and he was a pleasure to listen to. He is a retired teacher, and his kids all worked as summer help in Skagway to earn money for college. He has been coming up to work summers for many years, and his knowledge and delivery were just phenomenal. I wish I could have done an audio recording of his tour (funny how the hindsight thing works).

On the Canadian side of White Pass, looking into the Yukon Territory

 Looking back into Alaska towards Skagway. Note: the trees you see (about 2 or maybe 3 feet high) are OLD GROWTH. They could be as much as 75-100 years old. The winter on the pass is SO HARSH that they grow a few centimeters each year. Some of them actually grow sideways as they have SO MUCH snow on them that the few months a year they are uncovered can't overcome the weight of snow they've borne over 6 to 8 months of winter.

The continental divide atop White Pass. Water that goes to the left (bottom of the picture) goes into the Pacific. Water that goes to the right ends up in the Bearing Sea.

Yours truly at the entrance back into Alaska.

After the tour we met up with the girls and kids (who had NO interest in leaving the ship early) for shopping and lunch at the Red Onion bar and Salon. It is an icon in Skagway, however the food is horrible and quite expensive. AND our waitress (they were all dressed up in costume as ‘ladies of the night’, which is what the upper floor of the place was up into the 1950’s) failed to ‘mention’ that the tip was included into the price (18% mind you), thus we tipped her AGAIN (she ended up with about a 38% tip) and she is probably still chuckling. And so we, much like the prospectors of old, were also ripped off in Skagway. I guess it goes with the territory...welcome to Alaska (that's probably not fair to the rest of the state, sorry rest of the state!)

After lunch us guy'z hiked up to lower Dewey lake for something a little different. It was a rather serious uphill with many rocky/rooty switchbacks. There was a twin-steel water line going straight down the mountain that we crossed or follwed most of the way up. Greg told me that it provides power for a turbine at the bottom of the hill, and part of his job was for him (or one of the other 2 guys he worked with that summer) to hike that hill inspecting the line all the way to the upper lake EVERY DAY. 
 Looking across Lower Dewey Lake (from the far side) high above Skagway.

After we got back on ship it was happy hour time (again). We ALL brought bottles of wine onboard, and the girls would go down to the pitch and dive (buffet) and load up plates with sushi, cheeses, etc...and bring them back to Jackie & Jim's room for our little daily toast of life. Their room was designated 'party central'. I know Jeannie and Jackie watched the view of Glacier Bay from safety of this room, not daring to venture out into the cold, harsh environment of Alaska.

Bob, Terry, Jim, Jackie and Jeannie living the good life of Happy Hour(s). Both Bob/Terry and Jim/Jackie's rooms had balcony's. THAT is the good life on a cruise ship. Jeannie and I were in a stowage closet or something like it...ie: an 'interior' room. But I have to say this: it got DARK in that tiny room when you turned off the lights. Except for that orange laser-beam from coming from the TV standby light...I ended up putting a triple-folded napkin over it and taping it into place...it was like a spaceship landing beacon in the dark.

Ahhhh...DINNERTIME!

Our little band of happy vacationers in the formal dining room. Starting at the front center and going around the table clockwise we have: Hannah, Rebecca (Becca), Bob, Terry, Jeannie, Matt (he of the incredible stomach), Jackie, Jim, Matthew, and Rachel.


Dessert!

This picture shows the vacuum effect as desserts were SUCKED towards my intake orifice. Keep your hands and feet clear kids! Yes, there are SIX desserts in this photo awaiting their doom at the teeth of my MOST impressive tapeworm. I believe my picture is up down in the kitchen as a true modern-day super-hero. I have no doubt that I ate WAY MORE than the cost of my ticket in food! Every single breakfast I typically had BOTH entrees, along with a few other items. Lunch: more of the same. Dinner: I had 2 entrees most nights, along with at least 2 appetizers and one soup. Yes, my superpower is REAL my friends! I am truly a force of nature, a freak if you will. And yes, I have to admit, after the entire 7 days, at least one of my pairs of pants appears to have shrunk just a tiny bit. Stupid washing machine/dryer...I HATE IT when that happens!

And so ends another ship-day. The other days posts will likely be shorter with less photos as the trip (not to mention the phenomenal amount of AWESOME food) took their toll. I  can tell you that my tapeworm put up the white 'surrender' flag after this meal, realizing that he has met his match.... that I called his bluff  (that he can eat anything). Yes, even ginormous taperworms have their limit, and I found mine. I've never before heard him cry UNCLE.

I WIN!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 1 & 2: Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Natnl. Park/Margerie Glacier

Sunday, 12 June

Wow, the last 2 days have just been a whirlwind. To make a very short-summary of the life onboard the Coral Princess, it’s pretty much eating every time you turn around. And eating GOOD. Breakfast in the formal dining room around 8:30, mid morning snacks of whatever delicious food you decide upon at any of the many eating establishments onboard, lunch either formal or informal, afternoon snack, then the formal dinner. Looking around the dining room, I’m just flabbergasted by how many people are scurrying about serving us. In fact, that goes for every facet of the ship. Everything is clean, fresh, stocked or whatever it is supposed to be. It feels like there must be 2 or 3 staff for every passenger, though that can’t possibly be true. 

And so, on with the adventure. Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon we were scheduled to pull into Yakatut Bay for a viewing of Hubbard glacier. Lunch was such boring foods as New Zealand Green mussels, broiled red snapper, and multiple amazing desserts such as cinnamon rice pudding and fruit tartlets (I had both). I’m going to be RUINED when we get back, having to eat such mundane foods as frozen chicken pot pie, frozen pizza and such. How will I ever survive?

 Jeannie and I were signed up for a wine-tasting at 3pm, which also turned out to be when the ship was pulling up near the glacier. BAD TIMING for sure! The testing was nice but I was antsy to get out of there. By the time we got out on deck we had gone from just heading towards the glacier to BEING there. There was a huge ice-field floating in front of the glacier and the Captain pulled the ship as close as he dare: they announced that it was about 6 miles. However, Hubbard Glacier is HUGE…about 6 miles across (although we could only see 2.5 miles of it as the right side was blocked from view by a jutting peninsula). The business end also towers about 400 feet above the water. To say that it’s a colossal work of nature would be a huge understatement. The ship sat broadside for well over an hour, and we didn’t witness any calving at all, darn it.

Self photo at Hubbard Glacier

Dinner was the formal ‘Captains Dinner’, where you are supposed to dress up…and we did. We certainly don’t do THAT very often. I wore my new suit and Jeannie a nice black dress with her ‘cockroach killers’ (shoes so very pointy that there is no possible corner that a bug could hide that she couldn’t squish it). Dinner was awesome as usual, and I’ve honestly gotten over being embarrassed by ordering so MUCH food. I have even given up taking pictures of the mundane soups and appetizers, as they are so numerous. Dinner was a nice piece of Halibut and was a work of art as all the meals are.

Alaskan baked halibut

And last night I even had THREE deserts! (I couldn’t just have ONE). I HAD to have the NY cheesecake again, and also the caramelized pear in some kind of baked pastry shell, and then finally the Banana Fosters FlambĂ©. It would normally be aflame when they bring it, but they apparently don’t take kindly to flames on a ship. I will say that it tasted like it would burn very easily! And it was MOST delicious, as were the other 2 deserts.
I'm SUCH a piglet!

At least we weren’t the LAST group at the dinner last night (as we were the night before)…there were TWO other tables of extremely uncouth and in general QUITE uncivilized people who were still there when we left. Those senior ladies…I tell you! (anybody who is still there after us is quite obviously uncivilized, as we have self-appointed ourselves as the judges of civility…in case you were wondering). We strolled about the city for a bit (which is what it appears to be) before stopping for a quick Kodak moment in our ‘gussied up duds’.

Jeannie & I all gussied up

After that everybody went their chosen way. Jeannie and Terry headed to the casino (I escorted her there and left so-as not to steal her luck) and I headed to the room. All this eating is wearing me out and I was beat. I fell asleep with the TV on around midnight. Jeannie finally wobbled into our stateroom about 1:30am with her casino winnings (same as last night…you GO girl!). And another day bites the dust.

Monday, June 13th

Breakfast in the dining room: Eggs Florentine (BURIED in Swiss cheese), bacon, pancakes, fruit plate, and fresh papaya (yummy!). Boy was I starving…not sure how I made it from midnight to 8:30am! By the time we get done with breakfast we have entered the waters of Glacier National Park. It’s the 2nd largest park in the world, only Antarctica is larger. 2 Park Rangers came aboard around the time we were eating and I went to a talk-show at 10:15 from one of them about the park. I had NO IDEA that a mere 261 years ago glaciers totally covered this ENTIRE park out to the sea. Prior to that it had advancing so rapidly that native Indian populations that abandoned villages to escape it were quoted as saying it moved “faster than a running dog”. Hard to believe that since 1750 the glaciers have retreated and gouged valley over a thousand feet deep in what is now an amazingly huge waterway that we are sailing on! The primary glacier of this park was the Grand Pacific, and it is still around today only it has receded away from the water and is barely visible as we make our approach up the fjord. The well known naturalist John Muir fell in love with Alaska and there are photo’s of him in the late 1800’s in this very park. One is at an aptly named “Muir Point” with glacier ice all around him. That part is totally under water today.

The ship proceeded to the very end of the park and we stopped broadside to the Margerie Glacier. It stands only about 250 feet above the water and is probably less than a mile across, but it is VERY active. For whatever reason the floating ice-field is nothing like that at Hubbard, and the ship gets within about a half mile I’m guessing. So close that you can’t take a single picture covering the total glacier face.


Almost the entire passenger complement stands with camera’s at the ready, hoping and praying for a massive calving. Now and then you hear what sounds like the crack of thunder, and you quickly scan the glacier face for the action. If you are lucky you can get your camera up and get a shot of massive chunks sliding away and into the water. When I said it sounds like thunder, you can’t even imagine how loud it was. It was just an awesome display of raw power.

calving 1

calving 2

calving 3

At the half-way point of our viewing the captain pivoted the ship around 180 degrees so all the people on the other side of the ship (the lucky exterior room passengers with windows and balconies) get their time to sit in comfort watching the show from their rooms. It’s hard to express how incredible a sight this was. I can only say if you EVER get the chance, you should not pass it up and go see it for yourself. I stood on deck (wearing a hoodie and a jacket over that) most of the day, not wanting it to end.

starting to pull away

But end it does, and the ship starts back down the straight but then makes a hard right turn for a few more glacier viewings. They don’t compare to the Margerie Glacier either in size or activity, and at this point we are almost immune. Oh look, another majestic peak or glacier….ho hum. We did see a few bald eagles here and there, which are always an awesome sight. They hang out on icebergs sometimes, always on the lookout out for fish .

Somewhere in the middle of viewing we stopped for a deckside seafood buffet, and then again later for tasty pizza slices. Good thing I eat massive quantities of food every 3 to 4 hours…I wouldn’t want to go hungry! OH wait, speaking of food, I’m missing HAPPY HOUR as I type. It starts out down in the covered pool deck (feels like a sauna in there) and ends down in Jim and Jackie’s room (they have a balcony and an awesome view and are just down the passageway from us).
At the very front of the pool area is where the happy times are happening

There are 2 other couples that booked this cruise with us, and each person was able to bring a bottle of wine aboard (they x-rayed luggage to make sure you don’t cheat).
Happy hour begins Terry, Jeannie & Jackie
The other couples both have kids with them, and they sneakily brought bottles for them too. So each afternoon we uncorking at least 1 bottle and getting cheese and sushi and such from the 24 hour buffet’s. I had 3 slices of pizza though a bit ago and am trying to get ready for dinner in less than 2 hours (I think I can manage).

Our dinner gang

Dinner time FINALLY arrives, thank GOODNESS! I’m FAMISHED! Lets see, various amazing appetizers, 2 types of soup and FINALLY my surf and turf (filet mignon and shrimp).

Dinner!
And then dessert time…ahhhh!

After dinner us guys had to run to make the 10:15 comedy show…the last 2 nights we have been in the dining room so long we’ve been missing the shows. We’ll change that tonight. The ladies don’t have any interest and go their separate ways. Jeannie again heads to the casino, and after the comedy show I swing by and escort her (AND her winnings) home. She just has the midas touch. WINNER WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!

Well, tomorrow morning after we eat breakfast we will be IN the port of Skagway. We don’t have a lot of plans for activities though. Jeannie and the other ladies want to just go walking and shopping around. The guys and I want to take some kind of guided tour to the top of White Pass, so we get a verbal history of the place along with the scenic splendor of the area. After that I guess we meet up in town somewhere and do whatever there is to do. Lunch will be ashore, and dinner will be back on the ship as we rest up from a busy day.

OK, this is Internet Boy, signing off …(we brought 6 walkie-talkies to communicate with each other as to our whereabouts on the ship, and that’s my new nickname apparently….as I’m always taking pictures or typing on my …along with checking in on the doggie-cams now and then using the wireless. Gotta run…bed time, and breakfast is only 7 hours away! Woo-HOO!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 0

Boy oh BOY is time moving fast. I’m going to be playing catchup it seems…posting yesterdays Adventures In Eating (AIE), along with whatever inane events strike my fancy.

And so, away we go. Saturday was our wakeup in Anchorage, breakfast in the hotel, and then just hanging out until we caught the shuttle to Whittier.


King Crab Benedict. And YES, it WAS as tasty as it looks!

Dan the MAN was our driver, and he was a very nice man. He talked about the history of the area and pointed out any noteworthy facts as we drove along the northern edge of the Kenai Peninsula. Turns out they have the 3rd largest tides in the world here…approx 35 feet. We stopped at “Beluga Point” for a quick viewing (no Beluga’s just yet..it’s a bit early for them to move in this far). Apparently Beluga’s have adapted that they can live out of water for extended periods. They will chase their prey out into the extreme shallows, and sometimes get caught by quickly receding tides. They can lie on the mud and wait it out, The inlet we were following was called “TurnAgain Inlet” (named during the Capt. Cook voyage seeking the fabled Northwest Passage). It’s a valley that has been totally filled in by glacial silt, and during low tide there’s almost no water, just gazillions of tons of mud. The stream alongside the road is a milky blue color…also from the glacial silt. After the silt hits the saltwater is when it finally comes out of suspension and thus the mud flats.

Along the way we stopped at a wildlife conservatory. The only animals they have are rescues. They have a Bald Eagle that was shot by some evil-doer, and in his rescue they had to take the wing. So he lives in a large compound, and flaps his one wing and jumps around. Still a most majestic creature, but I can’t help but feel sorry for him (or her). A bird of prey, relegated to the ground. There’s just something inherently wrong with that. Among the other animals: 2 brown bears and a grizzly (in an 18 acre wooded enclosure, all orphaned cubs), Musk Oxen, Caribou, Moose, porcupines, Great Horned owls, and 2 Kodiak bear cubs (they were SUPER cute….playing like little kids). As I said, these are all rescue creatures, and it has been deemed that they probably would not survive in the wild. Thus they live on in quite large habitats, living as naturally as is possible. Much better than any zoo I’ve ever seen. While we were watching the bear enclosure (the grizzly female was lying in the grass about 100 yards off), the brown male just wandered out of the woods and mosey’d right up to the fence and watched the tourists (a distance of about 3 feet!). Gosh, he was huge, and his claws….that measly fence wouldn’t do much good if he got angry I think. I’m not sure if  he was pondering how tasty we would be, or if he enjoys watching us as much as we do him. He was really beautiful, but I wouldn’t think so if this were to happen in the wild. I would probably scare him away when I ‘inked’ and ran (octopus reference).

After the animals we continued our journey to Whittier. We have to pass UNDER a mountain it seems. The army dug a one-lane tunnel (for the railroad) back in the 50’s. Then in the 90’s it was modified to allow car traffic. However, it’s one-way (it is VERY narrow!). You go thru and pay a toll and are assigned a lane. You then wait for the tunnel to open for your direction. When it opens, it’s slow slow slow inside….speed limit is 25, and I believe Dan said it’s a 2.5 mile tunnel. Once you come out of the tunnel, well…you are in Whittier. And there is the ship: the Coral Princess. Pretty huge by my standards, but people with us say it’s small by cruise line standards. We unloaded our baggage and said our goodbyes to Dan the MAN, and it was off to the land of cruising. Inside the gigantic tent we filled out health forms (they want to make sure we’re not carrying any horrific diseases) and then we get our ‘cruise cards’…a little Princess credit-card thing that is your lifeline to everything. Of course it’s now 4pm in the afternoon, and I haven’t had lunch yet. We find pizza on deck 14 up near the bow, and it is GOOD pizza! The slices are huge, and I devour a slice and a half (limit myself cuz dinner is in just 2 or 3 hours).


We continue our wandering and I find the ice cream place. So I have a swirl cone…mmm. Boy, food everywhere you go, and free. I LIKE THIS PLACE! Our investigation of the ship continues as we take it all in. It’s a floating city, and a very nice one at that. It seems there’s almost as many crew as tourists. An hour or so later we met the other parties of our group who are now aboard, and immediately had more food. Pizza and beer. NICE!



Somehow this little gathering takes us right up to live-vest drill, which is done just prior to the ship leaving port. That seems an exercise in futility…how many times must the poor man say the same things? Seems the cattle (I mean people) are somewhat slow in the learning curve. Eventually all the info has been imparted, and everybody has proven that in a span of 10 minutes or so they MIGHT be able to actually don their life jacket. Sheesh…good luck people if we ever DO abandon ship.

I"m ready to jump if need be. Lets hope it never comes to that!

I finish unpacking our stuff after that and eventually work my way down the passageway to Jackie and Jim’s room. They got upgraded and have a balcony. And we are moving! It was so smooth that I had no idea. The view from the balcony is spectacular! The mountains are partially snow covered. It’s more like the fjords of Norway is what I’m thinking. Finally it’s dinner time, around 8pm. Our little merry band gathers and are seated in what I would consider a very fine (and very large) restaurant. The waiting staff is all around, and it’s a buzz of activity. It feels like we have our very own personal crew of 3 or 4 guys, tending to our every need. NICE! Appetizers: lobster pate’, shrimp cocktails among other things. Some awesome mushroom soup, and then dinner: pan fried Burrumundi perch (whatever that is). It’s a white-fish, and it was accompanied with grilled egg plant and red pepper. TASTY!

 
Then it’s dessert time. I’m not usually a dessert guy, but this trip I’ll make an exception. I start off with the New York cheesecake (with strawberries) and it’s the best cheesecake I’ve EVER had! So smooth and light…just melts in your mouth. Jim and Bob get some kind of flouta thing the punch a hole in and put some kind of vanilla sauce on. MMMMM…I MUST have one of these! So I DO! Yes, it’s gonna be THAT kind of trip! Livin’ large and in charge! I could get used to this!


We sat in the dining room until somehow around 11:30pm we were the last ones there. They were kindly waiting for us to leave…which we did and they locked the doors behind us. We then hung out in Jim and Jackies room (with the balcony) watching the land go by (still light out by the way at quarter to midnight!)…and taking pictures and enjoying life. It was chilly out but not exceptionally so. Finally we decided to call it a night around midnight…and I’m actually glad our room is on the inside of the ship (NOT with a window or balcony). I don’t think it will get very dark and that is strange to sleep in. OUR room however turns black when we turn off the lights. Excpet for the laser-spotlight beam from the TV (standby mode), AND the flashing lights on the phone (can’t get them to go away), AND the laptop in standby mode. I get up and cover all these lights, and it’s now blissfully dark. Sleep falls up on us, and it is good.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Anchorage

Well...we are HERE. Seems like a nice city...we walked nearly all of it today I think. Jeannie is up taking a nap (we got in quite late/early and it's been a busy day). We WERE going to get a rental car for the day, but the lowly $40 compact turns into nearly $100 after all the fees and taxes....so no (AND we had to pay to park it here at the hotel too). I figure the walking is good for us anyway....even though I'm paying for my food thus far, I've already put my tapeworm on notice that he'd best be on his "A" game. Breakfast was a Belgian waffle, slathered with strawberries, whip creme AND real maple syrup....MMMMMMMM! Man was that tasty! I licked my plate when nobody was looking.

By the time I was done with Breakfast Jeannie was ready, and we started our walking tour of the city. We found an awesome place for Lunch,,.Simon and Siefort...it's a HIGHLY rated seafood place right on the water (Cook Inlet). Just beautiful views looking south (I think)...everywhere you look is mountains still snow-covered. The city is green and it was pretty nice walking. I had their fresh cod fish n chips, and I have to tell you, I've had a LOT of fish n chips in my life (I've spend some time in England/Scotland), and had it all over the country, and THIS was the absolute hands-down best ever! The fish was almost creamy it was so good....not a HINT of fishy taste (which you get in England a lot...whether it's older fish, or not well cleaned, whatever). It was so good I'm glad I got a picture!
OK...I had rotated the picture with Photoshop (my laptop) before I loaded it onto the USB thumb drive to load via the public lobby hotel pc...and it's still sideways...I don't get it. I'll have to have Jeannie STOP taking pictures the long way..something deep in the code that I can't find to fix. Anyway, THIS is what the best fish and chips looks like! And a tasty draft Alaskan Amber beer (it's international law that you MUST have beer with Fish n chips).
After lunch we wandered around more and found the Anchorage Museum. Pretty awesome place. They have so many displays of how life has been here for many hundreds (thousands?) of years. Looking at the weapons used to hunt/kill sea otters,seals,walrus and whales, I can't imagine how the average life span wasn't something like 18 years old. Even the arrows...hand-carved tips of bone or ivory...same for the harpoons (all sizes...from sea otter to whale). And their littel skin-covered kayaks (can't spell the real Alaskan name)....open ocean stuff....and apparently the did lose a fair amount at sea.

And they have a special exhibit wing open right now: Mastadons and Mammoths...(who knew that they ARE NOT predecessors to the elephants of today? They are all three distinct species....they came off the same family tree and branched out seperatly and went from there). The mastadons have the long tusks that had a curve but not a crazy one...and the mammoths have the super-curvy tusks...and who knew this: the Pygmy mammoth lived in the Califorina Channel Islands! I was stationed on one of them and had never heard that! They were on Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and one more I can't remember....it said they probably swam out and then stayed....they are little mammoths...a bit smaller than elephants of today. How cool! And that Wooly Mammoths we always think of them being in cold and snow, but in fact they were all over the place. It's just that the cold places preserved the bodies much more often so that's where we find them usually....the warmer places they just decayed away.

Here is Jeannie with a Columbian Mastadon life-size reproduction:
That thing is even MORE impressive when you are standing next to it...those tusks must be 10 feet long. Gosh what a beast!

And here's me with a Glacier Bear (some relation to Kodiaks of now I believe)

Again, Jeannie took the pic w/ the camera sideways...anyway, I'm doing my best Glacier Bear impression...scary face and all.

After the museum we walked another 97 miles or so and FINALLY found a grocery store (we were wondering if they eat FOOD up here). Jeannie needed a few things, and we also found a liquor store...she wanted to smuggle some Irish Creme onboard (if that is possible...I hear they x-ray your luggage looking for booze). We got 2 small bottles, I plan to put them in our coat pockets and see if we make it...they're for 'FUN COFFEE' in the mornings...vacation coffee I call it.

Well...I guess I'll go walk around some more, see what kind of trouble I can get into while Jeannie naps before dinner...I'm not much on nappin'. I did see bike rental places, but now it's after 5pm...I figure I could cover a lot of area...but oh well..too late now. I suspect tomorrow morning will be a quiet one, as we catch the shuttle to Whittier at 12:30 pm right here at the hotel. The shuttle stops at some wildlife preserve and one other stop on the way...so we have more fun on the way.

And I have no idea what we will do for dinner...but I already have tomorrow's breakfast planned out...we got a gift coupon for the hotel, and they have King Crab Eggs Benedict....I've been drooling over that since I spied it this morning...(it was a bit pricey, but we just got the coupon this afternoon so it's now in my sights).

Signing off for now...(however I can always just edit the post and put in more pics n stuff, so be sure to check the bottom now and then if I don't do a full new post).

Later gaters!

UPDATE Fri 9:10pm
Just got back from dinner...it was a GRAND time. WE went to a microbrewery...Glacier Brewers. I had TWO Beers (a LOT for  me)...the first was the house CASK conditioned ale...it was an IPA.....VERY tasty! (I'm a beer guy). Then with dinner I had the regular IPA (a bit colder, not quite so 'smooth' or creamy...but veyr good nevertheless). Here's me with my IPA and a fire-baked pizza:
While there (we were at the bar, as there was over an HOUR wait for a table) we had 3 different sets of people at our table.The first couple was nice, but kind'a to themselves. The next was 2 ladies who will be on our cruise...we will have to say hi if we see them again. The next 2 were a couple of guys...Herb and Phil...we had a BLAST! I can't believe I didn't get our picture with them...we chatted for over an hour...

Just outside the restaurant was a horse-drawn carriage. Jeannie is a HORSE Girl from the get-go. She immediatly swooped upon the horse...he was very calm....I'm sure shewould bring him home if she could. His name is Bob.

She appears to like Bob. And he seemed very taken by Jeannie too. Should I be jealous?
After dinner we wandered back to the hotel...and I saw THIS in a shop:
It's a fake stuffed moose. His name is Rob. (I just named him). You don't think Jeannie would notice it if I bring Rob home, do you? He would only cost like a THOUSAND dollars! I could put him in our living room. He would be TOTALLY inconspicuous I think. And he doesn't shed or need a vet. EVER. I think Rob would be the perfect house-companion. Except he doesn't snuggle too well. Kind'a a bed-hog I bet. Like Sydney would put up with THAT.\

OK..it's almost 9:30 somehow! And it's still QUITE light out! I forgot that part. It doesn't really get very dark here in the summer. When we flew in last night, as the plane was slowly descending to land, we were on the lef tside of the plane (as you walk towards the back)...which would be the NORTH side as it was flying. Anyway...there was a total cloud coverage, and the moon was out and it was quite light out anyway...kind'a about what we get a half-hour after sunset. And to the north was a huge peak sticking up out of the clouds. Mt Mckinley. All by its-self...I've seen it before, a lifetime ago in a few of my trips thru Anchorage. So beautiful...so lonely. Anyway...tonight is no exception to the light at night thing. We have to close the curtains to sleep, as it looks like it's about 2pm right now. BONUS if you are an outdoor'sey person. When I was stationed in Adak Alaska ages ago,  we'd be fishing after work and next thing you know it was midnight...still quite light. I really loved that part of Alaska. Land of the midnight sun.

OK..enough on this update...tomorrow we head south to catch the ship.

Signing off.

UPDATE Saturday morning
It's a casual morning...I just came back from breakfast and copious amounts of coffee. King Crab Benedict...
It was as tasty as it looks. Sheesh...I'm not even on the ship yet and I'm living the high life! Thankfully we had a coupon for $5 off...that made it about the same price as yesterday's belgian waffle.

I don't see much else on the agenda for this morning...need to repack the bags. Apparently we have special luggage tags, and I need to move one of the bottles of wine into a different suitcase (you are allowed ONE bottle for each person, but the bottle must be in a bag tagged to that person). Details, details, details. I figure our formal clothes have now been packed since Wednesday evening...I pack pretty carefully but most likely we will look like we slept in them. Maybe I can hang them in the shower and blaze it on super-hot for a few minutes...give them a good steaming.

Okey-dokey. I've peeked in at the baby-cams...same the same. No evidence whatsoever of a big dobbie-poker game...maybe they play at NIGHT when I'm not looking? That's still a possiblity. I will have to get an IR cam (InfraRed)...they have IR emitters that let the camera see in the dark, without actually flooding the room with visible light (we have some of those at work...pretty cool!). I wonder if dogs can see in the IR wavelength? If so, they would be pretty annoyed with them....I'll have to research this. Have a GREAT DAY!