Becoming an Outdoors Woman

In the midst of getting ready for summer cruising, I had the opportunity to go with friends to a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) weekend up in Juneau. BOW is an international program, and many US states and Canadian provinces offer programs – and you can attend one in any place you want. A friend has gone to one of these before, in the Alaska interior, and she recommended it very highly. BOW is a chance to get away and take some short classes on various outdoors topics ranging from wild foraging to deer hunting, fly fishing, boat trailering, chainsaw use, pack rafting, shooting, field dressing game, as well as pickling and smoking your meat or catch. We each got to choose four classes our of the 24 offered for the weekend retreat, which was held at a camp north of Juneau. We camped in small cabins with bunk beds, no electricity, and a small wood stove for heat, but there were two bath houses with flush toilets and plenty of hot water.

About 90 women gathered in a parking lot for the bus ride north, and we were dropped off at a boat launch ramp. A tractor towing a big trailer was there to take our gear to camp, but we had to hike the 2.5 miles in. Luckily it was low tide so we could cut some corners… and now you see why we always hike in our tall brown boots. (I apologize for the photos – I only had my phone for a camera.

After a little get-to-know-you session and lunch, we were all off to our various classes. I started with a gun safety class, which was part lecture and part practice with .22 rifles. We got to see examples of blown-out gun barrels from overloading, and we learned good, safe habits. And we had FUN plinking at targets. Some gals had never held a gun before, so it was gratifying to see them get a little comfortable and hit some targets.

Before dinner the Dutch Oven Techniques students treated us to their afternoon’s efforts – yum!

After dinner we heard a lecture about foraging – learning how many things in the forest and on the beach are edible, and how best to prepare them. It was a very interesting talk… and it makes it easier to grab a handy snack out on the trail. The first evening wrapped up with a bonfire on the beach and s’mores… classic!

For me, the next day started with a ride on the flatbed trailer (like a hayride, without the hay) to the range for the shotgun class.

We learned to shoot trap and to handle the different types of shotguns, and everyone managed to break some clays during the 3.5 hour session.

My afternoon class was pack rafting – I wanted to learn more about these highly portable, lightweight boats. We loaded up packs with paddles, life jackets and 4 lb. boats for a hike along the creek. We learned about reading rapids, snacked on edible plants along the way, and finally got to our put-in point.

The boats are fun – there’s a neat little nylon bag you can use to help inflate it, so the whole process goes fairly quickly.

More learning… more FUN! In the evening we had an hour to visit various skill sessions such as fire starting (a cotton ball dipped in Vaseline or coated with candle wax, or a bit of steel wool and a 9v battery works wonders!)…

…spin casting, knot tying, and scat id.

The front sample is from a moose – you definitely want to know if one of those grumpy guys is around!

The sun is setting around 9pm these days, so I stopped to get a photo before I fell into my sleeping bag. What a gorgeous setting!

The final morning session for me was a survival class. It wasn’t intended to teach us how to survive for a week; it was geared towards day hiking where you have to spend a night or two in the field unexpectedly. Among other things, we learned to identify good shelter spots and how to find materials to start a fire, even in the rain (we live in a rainforest, after all). We built kits to carry in a day pack for such emergencies, and we got the chance to put some of our skills into practice. We each started a fire with limited materials, and you can see that some people were pretty proud of their accomplishment!

All in all, everyone had a wonderful time, learned a lot, and gained some confidence with new hands-on skills and practice. I would go again in a heartbeat. Next time, I’m definitely taking the chainsaw class!

“Cruising” on the Hard

“On the hard” is what boaters call it when we have the boat hauled out of the water and blocked up on the land. We were due for our every-three-years bottom maintenance – not our favorite thing, but important to do. We cruised 40 miles down to the town of Wrangell, which has a big boat yard and two large travel lifts: 150 tons and 300 tons. The consolation prize for the disruption and hard work was that we could spend some time with our Wrangell friends (which was wonderful).

We cruised ADVENTURES into the lift well, and this giant frame (a travel lift) loomed over us while workers positioned the straps under the boat. This lift has a 150 ton capacity, which means that it doesn’t have to work very hard to lift our 32 tons.

Once we were up and out we had a hired guy power wash the slime and marine growth off the bottom paint, and the pad we’re suspended over collected all the barnacles and bottom paint residue for proper disposal. It takes every bit of 90 minutes to get the bottom clean, including bringing in a beefy diesel-powered washer to get the barnacles off the running gear (props, shafts, struts and rudders).

You can see lots of small barnacles on the rudders and the center of the props, and some mussels on top of the rudders and tops of the struts. I didn’t dive on the boat in the fall to clean the gear as I normally do, knowing that we would haul out this spring. Overall the boat’s bottom was in pretty good shape after three years!

We had a crew do the bottom painting – they can do it much faster than we can, but we do all the rest of the work. They had some really cool toys – I want one of these! Can you imagine how much easier it would be to work on the higher spots on the boat with this tracked scissor lift?

We both worked for about a day and a half removing all the old paint and coatings off the shafts, struts, rudders and props. I’m sure Jim is smiling under his mask…

…and I (the painting department) installed all new zincs and applied the various special coatings to keep the growth off the running gear.

Our last big chore was to replace the seals on our stabilizer fins. The fins have a 2″ shaft that sticks out from the boat on each side, with a 6 sq. ft. fin on each. Inside the boat a gyro controls an engine-driven hydraulic pump to move the fins to counteract roll. They give us a nice ride in lumpy seas, and we wouldn’t want to go out in big water without them!

The fins are very heavy (almost 100 lbs. each), and they’re pressed onto a tapered shaft. To remove them, Jim took the retaining bolt out and replaced it with a hydraulic fitting. The little video shows how he blew one of the fins off.

He checked over the shafts and replaced the two seals that keep the ocean on the outside of the boat…

…and then he used a very long wrench with a torque adapter to re-install the fin onto its tapered shaft.

We still live aboard whenever we’re “on the hard”, which means that we can’t shower or wash dishes since those things drain out the side of the boat and would make a mess on the ground. It’s a good way to stay in shape, since we have to climb a ladder to get up to the boat a gazillion times a day, and it’s a good walk to the yard’s bathroom or over to the local laundromat where we can buy a shower for $3. No matter how many old rugs and mats I put around, it’s impossible not to track grit and dirt all around the boat. Life is hard, on the hard… but that keeps us motivated to work hard and get it over with!

The happy moment comes when the travel lift starts heading over to get us and put us back in the water. As soon as we were afloat and got the engines started, we cruised back home to Petersburg. Enjoy the ride!

Art, and Life Back on the Island

Before we flew back home we took a day to visit Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. There are exhibit halls as well as a working “hot shop” where you can watch glass art being made by the Museum’s team or by visiting artists from around the world. The day we visited there was a Swedish artist working in the shop, making a large teardrop shape incorporating lots of glass canes. It’s really neat to watch the process throughout the day.

One of the galleries was closed while they changed exhibits, but the glass art in the hallways was just as fun to see.

The various galleries are always changing, featuring a particular artist or style of glass art. The range of things that can be created in glass boggles the mind! We stepped into the open gallery to find an artist that we’re familiar with – Preston Singletary – a Tlingit whose work we’ve admired many times. Wow!

This is all GLASS… sometimes with a matte finish, sometimes opaque combined with translucent elements. The small items were beautiful, but the canoe and collection of busts were amazing.

It was a great way to wrap up our trip “down south”, and the day after we got home we had the chance to see another kind of art show. Our local radio station, KFSK, had a “Wearable Art Show” fundraiser – and we always try to support the station. Many of the pieces created by local people highlighted the problem of plastic trash impacting our planet…

…and the pieces below showed how to use objects from nature and natural dyes to decorate clothing – done by a local botanist.

Mother Nature got in on the artistic theme with a dusting of frost on the muskeg in the early mornings, and geometric patterns as ice started to form in the kettle ponds… only to thaw in the sunlight and repeat the process overnight.

We really miss our town when we’re away, especially the strong sense of community. Everyone sticks together and helps one another, which is important when you live on an island. During the ridiculously long Federal government shut-down, many businesses and groups in town stepped up to help people impacted by it, particularly our Forest Service and Coast Guard contingents. And after it was all over, those groups took out ads in the paper to say “thank you” and posted this nice sign on the message board outside of the Forest Service office.

Classy. It’s just another example of why we love it here. And we know how to have fun too! April is the annual fundraiser for the Humane Society where you can have a flock of plastic pink flamingos installed in someone’s yard for a day. A donation will get someone “flocked”, and the “flock-ee” makes a donation to get the birds removed. Or you can buy “anti-flock” insurance. We flocked some friends (who can’t retaliate since the flamingos can’t come down to the harbor!), and they sent photos.

Karen loves all animals so she offered the visiting birds some peanuts, but reported that they didn’t like them. I said I hoped they didn’t make too much mess in their yard and Don replied, “flamingo poop everywhere.” Oh well, it’s all for charity!

The deer are wandering around town, starting to nibble on the skunk cabbage shoots as soon as they appear, and I’m sure they’re eating any flowers they can find. I spotted a male orca cruising up the Narrows while walking one morning, and people’s chickens are starting to wander around – sometimes disappearing when a lucky goshawk or eagle stops by.
You just never know what you’ll see!

Final Desert Adventures

We managed to pack a few more adventures into the last of our road trip, starting with the state park where we camped near Petrified Forest. Homolovi State Park was established to protect Hopi ancestral burial and archaeological sites from vandalism, destruction and theft. Prior to becoming a protected area, artifact hunters actually brought a backhoe into this area to dig for illegal treasures. Horrible! At least this area is now more secure, though many other native ancestral sites continue to be violated.

Visitors can not remove anything from these sites, but they are allowed to place pot shards in groupings like these to make it easier for others to see.

The native people who lived here did so from 620-1400 AD, coming and going as the nearby river periodically flooded.

Homolovi isn’t a very big place in terms of archaeological sites to see, but it was interesting to see the culture and history, and learn about the shocking extent of theft.

Now it was time to start heading back west, so we checked out the area around Lake Havasu at the Arizona-California border for a little while. The hiking trail we chose was just okay – through a series of dry washes that gradually became dry waterfalls eventually blocked by high water. Once the scrambling and climbing got too vertical, I voted to turn back!

The next day we spotted a sign for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) information office, and they suggested we check out the Turtle Mountain area on the California side. This is part of the Mojave Desert – with a little different feel than the Sonoran Desert where we spent much of the past few weeks. It was 20 miles down a back road, then another 15 or so on a dirt road (note the long strand heading to the mountains) that was a lot more comfortable in 4WD. While Jim was locking the wheel hubs …

…I spotted some ocotillo that were in full leaf and flower. Remember back when we were in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and I talked about the ocotillo shrub/tree that adapts to dry spells by losing all its leaves? It looks like a cluster of dead sticks until there’s rain – then it will suddenly sprout little leaves all over its branches, and produce a red flower at the ends. Pretty neat.

At the far end of that long dirt road we found remnants of the Lost Arch Mine, including the main shaft that was capped with a structure that allows bats and other wildlife to move in and out.

The Turtle Mountains were right in front of us, and we decided to hike the trail up and around this cluster of eroded volcanic peaks.

As we came up the ridge we spotted this huge depression crater to the north. I’d love to know more about its story. We learn things when we hike, but often leave with more questions than answers.

Mystery crater

The mountain sides were covered in carpets of wildflowers, especially on the west face, and the view stretched for many miles.

Coming around the back side of the peaks and looking back the way we came, this was the vista…

…and the little red circle is where our truck is. The trail here is not used very often – it was rather faint and we had to back-track a few times to find the easier way down.

What a fabulous set of adventures! But it was time to point the truck north and head for home. Spring is upon us, and now it’s time to get the boat ready for cruising. And more adventures.