Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Random Monday Updates

 ...on a *ahem* Tuesday. Oh, well, I've dropped the blogging ball so many times, it's like dribbling a basketball. Anyhooo...what's up with Fam Och, you say???

-This is the start of the first full week of summer vacation for the kids.  Although I am meaning to keep them gainfully active during these next couple of months, I confess to taking advantage of opting out of bedtime struggles, early morning wake-ups, and structured meals. Just these last few days, anyway.

-Constant sunlight is here. The bud break has happened (as evidenced by the frequency of birch pollen induced sneezing), and the grass is starting to green up. This means a trip to the nursery is inevitable to plant flowers that will bloom and bloom and bloom in the bright Alaska summer sunshine. (They say after Memorial Day is the best time to put them in.)

-We've geared up for adventures! We've put those bicycles to good use...spinning around the base and down the Anchorage coastal trail. We have found a perfect activity that every one of us enjoys that doesn't require much planning at all. Score!

-I've accumulated a page-long list of home decorating/organizing to-do's. But I'm reluctant to dedicate time to them, since this daylight is constantly beckoning the fam to venture out.  I suppose it's okay to leave the digs looking a bit shabby right now.  Indoor work should be saved for the winter time, right?

-Dylan will be confirmed in the Catholic church in two days. He's worked hard throughout the year in his CCD classes. To say the Mister and I are proud is a gross understatement.

-I'll have more activity-specific posts coming up soon!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pause 101, Concentrate on AK must-do's

I wrote this a couple of months back, but didn't post...

 Last year around this time, during a ferocious windstorm that kept the fam indoors for the weekend, I decided to redirect my restlessness and come up with the adventures/experiences I want us to have while here in this great state of Alaska. Weird, I never once put it up here on the blog. Perhaps it's because my 101 list was sitting on its separate page, ignored and neglected, that I felt too guilty coming up with yet another list. There's Missus Och again unable to see things through. Well, after reviewing the 101 list and realizing I had completed 41 tasks already (almost half!), and having the best Alaska adventure to date yesterday, I made the decision to put the first bucket list on hold to an extent. Instead, we will focus on our Alaska Must-Do's while here.

 I found the list I wrote last year with notes of what we've done so far:

  1. Ride on a Prince William Sound Glacier Cruise
  2. H2oasis Water Park -- been twice
  3. Rent an RV and camp at Denali National Park -- July 2012
  4. Climb Flattop Mountain
  5. Hike and go blueberry picking -- Found our secret blueberry patch! (8/2011)
  6. Cross Winner Creek via hand tram above the gorge -- July 2012
  7. Hike on Matanuska Glacier
  8. Go four-wheeling (ATV) -- Summer 2011 @ Sutton
  9. Kayak to the end of Eklutna Lake and back
  10. See a bear -- and the Mister almost offered himself up as its lunch
  11. See moose -- they are everywhere. We now know to drive through Kincaid Park when visitors arrive in town to get that off the checklist right from the start of the visit.
  12. Snowshoe 
  13. Gold panning in Crow Creek Mine
  14. Alaska Zoo -- a family mbrship is a great deal and I've taken the kids several times over the summer break
  15. Anchorage Museum/Imaginarium -- we also purchased an annual mbrship!
  16. Witness the bore tide come in Turnagain Arm
  17. Hike to Thunderbird Falls -- Summer 2011
  18. Ride the Alaska Railroad -- July 2011, Princess Rail Tour ride from ANC to Talkeetna
  19. Take the whistle stop train to Spencer Glacier
  20. See the Northern Lights! -- March 2012 on Highland Drive, Eagle River
  21. Soak in Chena Hot Springs
  22. Dip toes into Arctic Ocean
  23. See Mt. McKinley -- July 2011, Denali peeked out behind the clouds for a full 30 min
  24. Beachcomb on the Homer Spit
  25. Fly to Lake Clark or Katmai National Preserve to see bears
  26. Sea kayak 
  27. Ride wildlife viewing cruise -- April 2011, short 4 hr tour of Resurrection Bay
  28. Take pictures amongst the irises in Palmer Hay Flats -- June 2012
  29. Watch Iditarod Race start in downtown Anchorage
  30. Attend Fur Rendezvous -- February 2011
  31. Attend Summer Solstice Festival in Anchorage -- July 2011
  32. Alaska State Fair -- August 2011
  33. River raft trip -- July 2011, float trip from Talkeetna
  34. Scale Mount Healy -- July 2012
  35. Cast a line out on the Russian River
  36. Take the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry to the Inside Passage
  37. Explore Hatcher Pass/Independence Mine -- July 2011
  38. Take children to North Pole, Alaska
  39. Go on a dog mushing ride -- February 2012
  40. Visit Williams Reindeer Farm --  October 2011
  41.  Hike at Eagle River Nature Center -- Summer 2011
  42. Alaska Native Heritage Museum
  43. Ride the ferry from Homer to Seldovia
  44. Dig for clams at Clam Gulch on the Kenai Peninsula
  45. Go dip netting...net dipping...whatever that is
  46. Tube Arctic Valley
  47. Explore Peterson Bay Field Station
  48. Attend a family camp at Kachemak Bay with the CACS
  49. Try cross-country skiing
  50. Learn to snowboard

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gearing Up! Camping in the Backcountry with Fam Och

 I've recently raved about our upcoming outdoor adventure plans for this summer. There are those I've spoken with who have inquired on the necessary supplies we usually use on these trips.  I can honestly say that for car camping families (drive-in campgrounds in which you pitch your tent on the clearing next to your vehicle), anything goes just as long as you can fit it in the car. There is no need to worry about how bulky, heavy, perhaps unnecessary it may be. If it fits, take it, right? And of course, there's the convenience of loading up in the car and driving back to fetch a forgotten item.

Backcountry camping requires a bit more forethought and much more planning, especially if you have children with you, and more importantly if one is prone to allergic reactions like my youngest is. We've been car camping numerous times, but this summer will be a first to venture out away from the security blanket of our car.

In a couple of weeks, we are staying for two nights and three days at this public-use cabin:
The Yuditna Creek Cabin alongside the gorgeous Eklutna Lake is pretty bare bones.  There are simple wooden sleeping platforms on which to lay our sleeping pads and bags, and a small wood burning stove. That's about the amenities it can boast of. Well, if you don't count the outhouse pit toilet a hundred feet away.

 If you look below at the map, the trailhead and the parking lot are to the top left. Three miles in is the Yuditna Creek Cabin.
After a bit of discussion as to the method to take to reach the place we settled on this:
  1. Hiking in is out of the question since we had sleeping bags and other gear to haul there, plus a just recently turned five-year-old who has a habit of inducing a collapse claiming she cannot possibly walk any longer as her legs do not work anymore.
  2. Kayaking would have been a fun way to reach the cabin...except for the fact we've never kayaked with the children before (the Mister and I have sea kayaked off KeyWest before), and especially not in glacier-fed waters.
  3. We had recently outfitted the family with bicycles, and after a few test runs around the immediate vicinity, it was apparent that the children could handle this better. Plus, hauling gear via bicycle was much more promising. Biking there it is.

Although Little Livy has a tiny bike with training wheels, she is still as lazy as ever and seems to be bewildered at the fact that her pedals don't turn themselves. This Weehoo iGo Bike Trailer is the perfect solution for her.
As for the gear, we are simply renting a trailer (there is an outfitter at the trailhead) much like this one to stow our sleeping bags and other gear.

 Okay, on with the gear. You all know I love organization. This Kelty Binto Hauler is perfect for my OCD tendencies. For this particular trip, however, we are only bringing two of the compartments as space is at a premium. One bin holds cooking and water essentials, the other holds extra clothing (as in, wool socks, sleepwear, extra hand warmers, etc.).

 Can you tell I love Kelty? Our food (and no, it won't be stuffed with the junk depicted below) will be held in this Kelty Picnick Pak. The bottom compartment is a waterproof/tight that will hold anything we need to keep cold. Dylan will wear this as a backpack.

 Backcountry camping, of course, won't have safe water readily available. Thankfully, the cabin sits right where the Yuditna Creek empties into Eklutna Lake (Anchorage's main water supply). Still, for safety reasons, filtering the water gathered from the creek is a good idea. (Note: although it would be easier to simply scoop up water from the lake, it is a glacier-fed lake, which means it is silty, and therefore would shorten the life of our filter faster)

I am a fan of the Platypus Gravityworks Filter.  It filters rapidly, and holds a lot of water. Plus, you can simply roll it up when not in use.  It doesn't take a lot of space, and is light as a feather.

When car camping, we bring a filled 5 gallon water container. But again, space and weight is a premium when you have to travel a bit to your camping site.  Another great Platypus product is this collapsible jug we empty the filtered water into. When empty and not in use, it rolls up and takes up hardly any space. (You can purchase any collapsible water jug for much less $$.)

On to cooking supplies. I'm a gear-aholic.  I love nifty products that either have multi-uses or are configured in a way to minimize space.  The GSI Bugaboo Set (we got this previous year's model on sale for 30% off...yes!) is just really cool. It has pots, pans, lids with strainers built-in, plates, bowls, cups with sipping lids, all in this stackable configuration.  Everything fits into that big pot at the bottom.

Plus, its carrier (below) doubles as a sink.

Now, I know you're asking...'why don't they just bring paper plates?' Well, we used to. But our Miss Sophie is very environmentally conscious (she takes things learned at school very very seriously...as she should) and we agree that Fam Och should try to lessen our impact. So washable reusable tableware it is. (Plus, we would need to pack out our trash at this campsite. Less trash, the better. I can just imagine the epic argument over who has to haul the trash bag three miles while riding a bike.)

Other things of note: as the Mister is an expert in fire building (survival skills he learned from work), it is still a good idea to bring a couple of these Duraflame logs. Restarting a fire in the cabin's wood stove at 3am is not a fun thing. And the other log will serve as an instant flame when starting the campfire outside in the morning. The evening campfires are Dylan's responsibility to build from scratch.

Useful tool to have...axe and saw. This one has a saw that fits nicely into the axe's handle. Space savers are just awesome.

There are many outfitters to purchase supplies from. Our favorite is REI. As a member, we receive a dividend the following year based on the amount we spend. When that dividend check comes in, we'll head over and see what neat things they have in stock. I've also found great deals on Amazon and eBay. It's taken us several years to figure out what gear really works for us, so it's taken some time to get our supplies to where we really want them. Don't feel pressured to purchase everything at once (unless your checking account is a bottomless pit, ours isn't). If anything, check out places that rent out gear for a good price, or better yet, borrow from your friends for free!

There really isn't an excuse not to bring your kids out and enjoy the outdoors. It just needs a bit of planning. Imagine the stories they will tell as grownups about the adventures they had as a child.