Friday, July 25, 1997

What we did on summer vacation.

Subject: "What we did on summer vacation."
Date: July 25, 1997 9:54:12 PM PDT

We moved to Alaska.

{Author's note: I generally detest form letters. However, this may be of general interest to many. Pardon the non-personal nature of this note. }

Just after graduation from vet school, Cindy turned her attention to finding a job. I thought this kind of cute, actually, since I have been looking for about two years, and had absolutely no success in landing anything law-related. We are members of different professions, and it is clear the world needs more vets than lawyers {insert lawyer joke here}. I have sent out about 150 resumes and letters, and have gotten only one call and a wad of "flushers," many of which contained questionable grammar. { begin reading this email looking for grammatical mistakes now.} Cindy sent out about a dozen, and within a few days, the phone was ringing off the hook for "Dr. Glover." "Which one?" I would ask, being very proud of my Juris Doctorate (cum laude), and not about to be out done by a mere female, even if she is my wife.

One of those calls to the More In Demand Dr. Glover was from the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic, in Juneau AK. They were responding to a letter from Cindy (in response to an ad I pointed out to her in one of her vet magazines) enclosing a resume and asking for an interview, and they were inviting her to come visit. After booking her on the red-eyes to several cities enroute to Juneau, Cindy arrived and worked in the clinic for a few days. One of her patients was an American Bald Eagle, and she was impressed with the operation and the proprietors of, the clinic. After returning to Texas, we discussed the situation {insert speculation about how a Vet and a Lawyer discuss anything rationally) and decided to relocate to Juneau.

One of the first things that was evident was the amount of (no dodging the point) crap we had collected over the years. And this was not just the Ordinary Household Crap you have in your place: this included a *big wad* of both Law books and Medical Texts. It was soon apparent just how much this was all going to weigh. { see below under "Overloaded Uhaul(tm) truck"} The really appetizing part of this venture was the pleasant task of loading a household full of Really Heavy Boxes and Other Objects into a Uhaul(tm) truck in Texas in the middle of July. I haven't any metrics to prove it {see NASA/ Rockwell/USA TQM policies} , but I highly suspect that the amount of sweat deposited in the yard between the front door and the back of the truck was about equal to the amount of goods loaded.

The trailer house in Texas was sold (at a significantly reduced price due to the newly discovered reluctance of the landlord who owned the real estate the trailer sat upon to continue to lease the property to the new trailer owner) as well as Cindy's 86 Blazer. We carted my p/u behind the Uhaul(tm) and started off, with Dakota (The dog. The Really Large Collie Dog With Lots of Shedding Fur) in the center seat. (Well, not in the seat. The seat was actually "modified" by yours truly to prove that I can still actually properly engineer something after being subjected to law school, a bar exam review, and observing a whole string of really bad examples of how the government "engineers" things at NASA.)

First stop was Santa Rosa NM. We *really* wanted to get out of Texas the first day, so we got an early start. If you are not familiar with Texas, go take a peek at a road map. Note that the scale used for Texas maps is usually smaller than that for, say, Michigan. Texas is *really wide*. It takes forever to get out of it. It did not take long to discover that through a combination of my scientific loading procedures and the nature of this particular Overloaded Uhaul(tm) would result in the need to apply a continuous left turning force to the steering wheel of about 4 pounds to make the vehicle track straight. This may not seem like much, but this vehicle was about to be driven 2300 miles to Seattle, the boarding point for the Alaska Ferry, which would take us to Juneau. My left arm is now slightly larger than my right. {insert off color joke here.}

After a short stay in NM, we headed NW toward UT. Those of you who have never been to UT should consider visiting. It is beautiful. We drove through Moab to a town called Price, and the canyon lands there are very spectacular. You need not get too far out of College Station for things to look good (but they really improve once Lubbock Is In Your Rear View Mirror), but this was quite extreme. Observing a spectacular sunset on a red cliff north of Green River UT, I remarked to Cindy, "and it does that *every day*."

After another short stop, we headed NW again, through Salt Lake City, and over the Wasatch mountains. This was the first test of the 7.4 liter diesel engine that was pulling the Overloaded Uhaul(tm) truck we were in. Actually, it performed well, but a note to those considering moving. Decide which size moving van you need, then select the one two sizes up. We proceeded through Boise to Pendelton OR. A note to travelers: OR law prohibits self-serve gas stations. They get real testy if you try to do it yourself, as I did out of habit. We did, however, manage to get all the way through ID without spending any money there. I felt real good about that for some reason.

From Pendelton, we headed to Seattle the next day. We stayed with our friends Kathy and Judy there for a few days. (Not knowing just what problems might be encountered on 2300 mile drive with an Overloaded Uhal(tm) rented truck carrying a dog who never has traveled much, we decided to leave a few extra days to handle contingencies, since the ferry only leaves Bellingham once a week. Besides, if you had your choice to stay in Texas or to visit Seattle for a few days, which would you choose? I thought so...) Kathy and Judy have 2 felines, and this was sort of a field test for Dakota. Fortunately, Dakota takes things much more in stride than the people he owns do, and there were no casualties on either side.

Pets are allowed on the Alaska Ferries, but they must remain on the vehicle deck for the voyage. As the time from Bellingham to Ketchikan is about 36 hours, and the only time (we were told) to let the animals out was in port, we decided to ship Dakota to Juneau via Alaska Airlines. Cindy's employer picked him up from the airport (which is right across the street) and he stayed with them until we arrived on the boat 3 days later. He requested first class, but all that was available was cargo class. No peanuts, only kibble. {insert Southwest Airlines joke here}

The Alaska Marine Highway is a pretty nice way to travel. I was very impressed with the vessel design: it will accommodate various modes of travel. We were on m/v Columbia, the largest of the fleet, considered to be the flagship. It is 425 long and about 85 feet of beam. (The AK flag logo on the smokestack is *very* cool) It has a solarium deck, where passengers can stretch out in a sleeping bag under a protective awning, an aft deck to pitch a tent on (which is how we traveled - more about this below under "first time campers discover the unpleasantness of 'leaky tent meets southeast Alaska monsoons'") as well as a fairly comfortable observation lounge forward. For those willing to pay a bit more, staterooms are available, but you may have to share, and reservations need to be made in December. All in all, you can travel as Spartan, or as luxuriously as you like. There is a cafeteria for "cheap" (i.e. $5.75 for a heat lamped burger) food, or a nice dining service in the aft of the vessel.

On the voyage, we left Bellingham on Friday at 6:00pm. Up the inside passage we went, with the first port of call Ketchikan early Sunday. The weather when we left was great, and there was a nice view of Mt. Baker as we left Bellingham Harbor. We pitched a tent on the back deck, and as Friday night had nice weather, the evening passed uneventfully, and reasonably comfortably. {foreshadowing-a mark of fine literature...} The weather Saturday was still nice, and we began to see some ocean swells in parts of the passage. A note to future travelers-visit the head before open water passage. The least amount of motion will drive many passengers green with motion sickness, and while the vessel is generally clean and well maintained, there were a few hours where the heads were full of heads. {ark.} Fortunately, both of us are immune to this malady; but for the grace of god go we.

Saturday evening brought a trade off. It commenced raining, making things less comfortable by the taffrail, but the sights began to be quite interesting. We began seeing whales, a pod of Orcas, and a few porpoises as well. Bald eagles appeared on the trees on shore, and it is apparent the population has made a remarkable comeback. Bald Eagles are quite common in these parts, and they present a difficult dilemma for Darwinists like me: the white feathers are *very* evident in the green trees. They cannot really hide. But then, other than man, what enemies would they have? Flight is an excellent defense, and these guys are experts at that mode of travel.

We discovered Saturday night that the tent was less than waterproof, and like all new experiences, there is a steep learning curve. We were a tad unprepared for this type of camping-you need something waterproof to place between the floor of the tent and your sleeping surface, and the foam pads we had were inadequate. The deck is steel, and it does not breathe well. (See? I learned my engineering from NASA.) An air mattress would do better. They we not for sale in the gift shop on board, although if it was permitted, I would make a hefty profit from opening a small store on board with such equipment. {reference Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.} Waking up Sunday morning (sun rises about 4:30 am) was unpleasant, as a wet sleeping bag and an OAT of 45 degrees is a bad combination, trust me. We decided that we would lay out the camping gear on the vehicles on the vehicle deck when we were allowed to them in Ketchikan. This was a good plan, as they dried out well during the day. (The vehicle deck is well ventilated. Something about explosive vapors mingling in increasing mixture ratios of oxygen necessitates this.) {Reference TWA800}

The stay in Ketchikan was short, and it rained continuously. Was interesting to watch a Beaver on floats (note: a beaver is a Canadian manufacture single engine aircraft widely used in these parts, as well as a furry aquatic mammal. Is easy to tell the difference.) take off into the rain "VFR" with the visibility about 500 yards, and the ceiling about 100 feet. I suppose having that water runway under you continuously is a great confidence builder. Next port was Wrangell a few hours later, and another short stay. That evening we arrived in Petersburg, where we retrieved dry stuff from the vehicle deck. It was still raining, but fortunately, or neighbor camper had some extra tarps to waterproof the tent. Sunday night was much better. The last stop before Juneau was Sitka, and we were there from 2:00am to 5:00am Monday. Neither of us saw it.

Around this time, we also found out about the dispute between the British Columbian fishermen and the vessel m/v Malaspina. The Malaspina is another of the Alaska Ferries, and it was blockaded in Price Rupert, the only Canadian port of call for the Alaska Ferry system, by many Canadian fishermen angry with the policy of Alaskan fishermen taking salmon that was produced in BC hatcheries. So naturally, they took an American flagged vessel with American citizens on board hostage for 3 days. (One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist.) My first though was to wonder where the hell the marines were, but I guess all they do these days is sing about Halls in Montezuma and Shores in Tripoli. {insert Clinton joke here} Fortunately, we avoided this debacle, even though we gave passing thought while planning this voyage to getting on the ferry in Price Rupert, but this would entail driving that Overloaded Uhaul(tm) another 1000 miles, something not real appealing. Had we decided on that course, we would have probably not been hostages, but merely unable to embark. Oh well.

We arrived in Juneau Monday afternoon, and proceeded to the clinic. As it turns out, part of the offer they made Cindy was rental of a small apartment over the clinic at a very reasonable rate. It is a nice place, and since housing is both scarce and expensive (over $1000/ month for a 1 BR apt.) we were glad to have it. The only drawback is that it is up 14 stairs (counted many times) and now all that stuff in that Overloaded Uhaul(tm) had to be traipsed up each of them. Who needs a damn health club at this rate?

Juneau is a nice town. It is the state capitol, and there is much government employment here, as well as tourism and fishing. The town is at the base of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau on the Gasteneau Channel, which is at the end of the Lynn Canal. At the top of the Lynn Canal is Haines and Skagway, two gold rush towns. (It took me exactly 100 years to get here to find the gold, but by god, I made it.) Juneau is about 30,000 people, and it just increased by 2. A 5-minute drive from the clinic is the face of Mendenhall glacier, a river of flowing ice that extends from the Juneau ice field to the tidewater. It is very impressive, and the ice has been mineralized to a very unearthly blue color that really sparkes in the sunlight. (I have plans to test what a combination 20-year-old scotch will make with 10,000-year-old ice. I will let you know.) Heaven on earth, for now, but I understand the winter is rather trying. Right now it is nearly 9:00pm and we have another hour of daylight left, and the sun came up around 4:30a this morning. Of course, all this will change as the planet moves about its parent star, and in December, that star appears to rise around 9:00 am, and set around 3:30p. Paybacks are hell.

Cindy has applied for a temporary vet license in AK, and as soon as that arrives, she goes to work by walking down a few flights. Then she has a test to take in December for a permanent license. I am scheduled to take the patent bar exam at the end of August, and I have a lot of studying to do. Then I have to take the AK bar exam in February, and hopefully by then, the flow of outgoing resumes will turn up something for me. If not, well, there are a lot of fish here that need catching. Those of you who have not sampled fresh halibut or fresh salmon are missing a real treat.

So, what did *you* do for vacation? This email address will remain available indefinitely, so write if convenient. Lawyer jokes cheerfully ignored. ;-)

-RAG

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