Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is my awesome Alaskan hat.

Foggy mountain

Rainy days aren't so bad

June and Alaska have been said to be the rainiest months in Denali National Park.

Whoever said that wasn't lying, and they should have included July in that as well.  It has been pouring here for days at a time. It's kind of funny to watch my friends from Arizona and California freak out when it gets cold (like it was today), because they are not used to the cold or wet climate. Being from Ohio, I am used to the weather changing at a moment's notice. However, it has been putting me in a damp kind of mood lately, and for that I hope it stops soon.

I have been learning lately that the company I work for has plenty of problems, just like any other mega-corporation. The issue we have been facing lately is lack of water and rather unrealistic budget cuts. The lack of water issue is, as far as I'm concerned, completely unacceptable. They refuse to buy another holding tank for the water, so they just let it drain completely and then fill it back up. One giant holding tank is simply not enough to support an employee community of 500+ people, plus over 3,000 guests everyday. The budget cuts have proven to not be any more favorable. Every department has been forced to dramatically slash their labor hours, and this is proving to be a really excellent way to make sure that the guests leave our property super pissed off. The best part about this entire situation is that it is not uncommon for giant companies like Aramark to make up a budget crisis and do these kinds of things, because that is exactly how they make their profits each year. They demand that fewer employees take on a more laborious workload for the same pay. It's ludicrous, and I am starting to understand why people hate working for mega corporations such as this one. They have been firing people left and right lately, and it's really depressing and frustrating to know that so many of my friends have been fired and have to pack up and go home simply because Aramark "can't afford" to have them on staff anymore. It's completely not true, and the injustice of it really bridles me. However, I will give them no reason to fire me. I am staying.

In other, happier news, even in spite of the recent bullshit, I really do love it here, and I am already thinking about coming back to work (although not in this exact location) next year. There is so much more of Alaska that I have not had the chance to explore yet. Next week, I shall be renting a car and driving down to Seward (near Anchorage) to go whale watching with some friends. I have been looking forward to this for awhile!

Also, I have recently been thinking about more seasonal winter time employment. I attended a job fair today, and I might be going to either Copper Mountain, Colorado, or Alyeska Resort, Alaska. Both of them are ski resorts, and I hear the winters in both of these places are supposed to be quite tremendous. I am sure that many people from back home are wondering if I will ever come back to Ashland, Ohio to live. The answer is probably not. I can't help it. I discovered a few years ago that I absolutely love to be in these kinds of places, and now that I have figured out a way to get paid for it, I'm perfectly happy doing this for awhile. I have learned by being here in Denali that I love traveling more than I love Ashland, Ohio, so until my traveler's thirst has been quenched, I am not settling anywhere. I am also thinking of doing some backpacking in Scotland, England, and Wales this spring. I haven't made up my mind about anything yet, but that is the direction I have been thinking of lately.

I have a theory: when people are doing what they love, and it is good for them, there is a natural joy that comes from deep within, and this joy or passion or whatever you want to call it, allows a person to feel free and healthy. I have lost almost 25 pounds since May 7 because I love wandering around Denali. I talk to interesting people from all over the world, I read great books on my Kindle that I just bought, I save my money, I don't drink anymore, I haven't seen a TV program since the beginning of May,  I see impressive and beautiful mountains everyday, I worship regularly, and my hair and skin are in fantastic condition because the mountain air and water is so good for a body. This atmosphere is good for me. It's good for my soul to be here, doing this stuff. When I am in Ashland, I do not feel so inspired to take such good care of myself, because I sit on my butt all the time, watch TV, and do things that I know aren't good for me, like drink and eat junk food. I am learning that habits really are incredibly important (my Dad has been telling me these for years), and I have also learned that it is easier to develop good habits when I am in  place that promotes them. I am happier here in Denali than I ever have been in my entire life, and that is saying something, because I am a generally happy person. :)

I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I know I am closer to figuring it out than I ever have been before. I feel invigorated and determined and blissful here! I hope everyone gets to find their literal "happy place" at some point in their lives. It makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Simple Things

I can't believe it's been over a month since I updated this blog. For those of you who have been followin my Alaskan Adventure, thanks for hanging in there, and sorry it's been so long.

A lot has happened in the past 6 weeks, and I'm not even sure where to begin. In orer to not yap on and on forever, I will just hit some of the highlights.

First of all, I just don't think I could ever be this happy in a place that is not Alaska in the summertime. It feels like I have been searching for Denali for my entire life, and I feel really blessed and very happy to have found it at such a young age. Every day I wake up and love it more than I did the day before, which is a monumental feat in itself. I'm not sure how to justify this kind of love with the right words, so I will just say that these mountains have grown my heart and filled in with a really powerful sense of peace. Nothing will ever be the same after this summer. I know it will be truly heartbreaking when I have to leave in September. However, I am already thinking about coming back next summer. When you know, you just know. That's all there is to it.

June 21, the Summer Solstice, marked the longest day of the year. For us "Alaskans," that wasn't that impressive because we are basically in a period of 24 hour daylight right now. We decided to celebrate the day, however, and go to a party at a really nice brewery in Healy - about 20 minutes from Denali. The great irony of the situation is that Jun 21 was expected to be filled with sunshine and warmth, but it was pouring rain all day and all night. But, it was ok, because we just laughed and drank good Alaskan beer all night. (NB: Alaska has some really GREAT beer.)

Since the Solstice, we lose 30 minutes of daylight every week. It is only now that we are starting to notice this. A month ago, 4 in the morning looked exactly like 7 in the evening. However, now 4 am looks like a slightly darker version of dusk. By the time September rolls around, we will have normal "Ohio" night times, and by November Alaska will be locke in a state of 24 dusk and darkness. The light messed with my sleeping patterns when I first arrived in May, but now I absolutely love it and I can't sleep if my room is too dark.

June and August are the rainiest months in Denai, and we have certainly received more than our fair share of the rain. It has pretty much been constant until about a week ago, when the sun finally triumphed. I was glad for the rain though, because it dyed the mountains a bright emerald green, and it is really spectacular.  The mountains change colors all the time, depending on their mood. :) When I arrived, everything was snowy white. Then the snow melted and the mountains were sandy brown and black. Now they are the most vibrant, decandent colors I have ever seen in my life. I am in love with them. They surprise me every day. One of my favorite things about the mountains that surround my hotel and dorm is the fact that they attitude. Sometimes, great dark rain clouds full of despair and anger swirl around the mountains in a desperate attempt to destroy our happy Alaskan moods. It feels like nothing can conquer the mountains though, because even with the clingy, swirling mist they still seem impressive and powerful. It's like watching a constant soap opera, but with better acting. The best is when the rain just gives up completely and the sun bursts through in an arrogant and selfish way, making the sky seem more blue and the mountains more green.

A few weeks ago, we were able to enjoy a totally perfect day. Doug, Tim, Analisa, Beth, and I went hiking down by the river. There is a stretch of secluded, sandy beach along the hiking trail in the forest, and we layed around in the bright sunshine all day and had really stimulating conversations. We splashed in the freezing water, pitched our hammocks on the side of the cliff facing the beach, and  ate some delicious gouda cheese pizza afterwards. It was so pleasant and harmonious to get away from the crazy tourists and guests. It was 76 degrees, which is the hottest it has been here in Denali since I've arrived. We are hoping to arrange another beach day soon, but we don't tell anyone about it because we don't want anyone else to know about our spot.

I have been doing a lot of hiking lately, even though it has been raining cats and dogs. I learned from living in Ohio that you just can't let the weather get you down. So I hike, walk everywhere, and generally enjoy every minute of this place as much as I can. I am participating in the biggest loser competition at my office, and so far I have lost 9 pounds - on top of the 15 pounds that I lost before the competition started. So that's 24 pounds. It's amazing how much more energy I have now! I have a long hard road in front of me, but I am off to a really good start. Losing weight here is really easy, because we hike for fun and the employee food SUCKS. (PS - if anyone feels so inclined to randomly send me food, I promise I won't be offended!) I wish i could cook for myself, but unfortunately my room does not have such amenities.

I'm also saving plenty of money, which has turned out to be really easy. I cut hair when I am not working or hiking, and I charge $10 a cut. For all of my friends back home, I bet I know what you are thinking: "Finally! She's actually charging people for hair cuts!" It is actually kind of brilliant here, because there is no one else that cuts hair around here, and since no one wants to walk around looking like a scraggly ridiculous mess, they come to me. Especially the guys, who just need their hair buzzed. It's like taking candy from a baby.

As for now, that's all I've got to add to this post. Check out my facebook page for pictures of Alaska - they can be found in my "mobile uploads" album because I can't upload the memory card from my actual camera. Feel free to call or write anytime! PO Box 784, Denali Park, Alaska 99755. I appreciate every letter and phone call I get, and I will try to be better at staying in contact with people from back home. I hope everyone is doing well with whatever they are up to right now. Stay happy and healthy! Love you all!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Extraordinary Effort

Today, I went hiking for the first time since being in the park. A friendly hiking guide named J.J. needed to do a practice guided-hike with some employees from the park, to help him prepare for the actual customers. After playing several rounds of the card game "Euchre" together, he asked me to come with him. I'm glad I said yes, because it was the perfect day for hiking in the mountains.

We tumbled out of our dorms at the crack of dawn (actually, in Denali there is no such thing as "dawn" because it's pretty much always light outside here right now, but nonetheless, there was tumbling and grumpyness) to begin our hike on one of the 'moderately strenuous' hikes called Rock Creek. We only did about 4 miles total, because J.J. had other stuff to do for work.

I realized something today while huffin and puffin up some of the more difficult sections of the rugged trail: I'm a bit out of shape. This may not come as a shock to those of you who know me well. But trust me, I am. I also realized today that being overweight is holding me back from more than I have ever realized before. As a longstanding member of the "Chub Club," everything I do is harder for me. Hiking is difficult. Stairs are difficult. Anything athletic or physical is difficult. It takes me twice as long to do what normal people can do, as well as twice the effort. Extraordinary Effort, in fact. I could feel my heart hammering away while we went uphill, my lungs squeezing in and out in a fast tempo, my knees and hips screaming in protest. All I really wanted to do was sit down in a sunny spot and take a nap. But I didn't let myself cave in to that temptation, because I knew it wouldn't be good for me. I pshed myself really hard today. I'm sure this hike wasn't that difficult for normal, healthy people. I didn't say anyone else breathing hard. I didn't notice anyone else sweating. I realized that I have become used to putting in more effort than everyone else.

I also realized that enough is enough. I really enjoy hiking. I also enjoy swimming, walking, running occasionally, and being able to keep up with my friends that regularly partake in physical activity. I enjoy those things, and I am sick to death of them being so damn difficult for me to do. As I was hiking, I imagined what the rest of my life would be like if I maintained my current weight. I shuddered to realize that it will only get harder from here on out, unless I am able to put in even more Extraordinary Effort now to fix this problem. I must conquer or be conquered. There is no other choice to be made. I must be constantly vigilant in my weight loss effort from here on out. I must! I must do more physically demanding things on a regular basis, knowing that the more I hike and walk and swim and run, the easier these things will get, and I will be able to do more. I need to kick up my level of Extraordinary Effort now, while I am young and have the drive to do so. I know that this is totally a mental thing: it has nothing to do with the physical part of it at all. It IS mind over matter. I have to push myself further everyday. Every single day. I have to get over this hurdle, this moutain that I have put in my own way. I will conquer. I will NOT be conquered by someting so pathetic. I know that I am stronger than that. I know that I am braver than that. I know that I deserve better than that. And I am ready. It took traveling halfway across the world to make me see the gravity of the situation, but I get it now. The world already has too many lazy, chubby people. I will not contribute to that weak effort. I am capable of extraordinary effort, and I shall prove it.

Starting today.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flightseeing, ATVs, work

It is getting more and more difficult to be able to get online here and post pictures and entries. Part of the reason for that is that the season has officially started, and we are starting to hunker down and get busy with work. Also, the internet connection here is ludicrously slow. Please remember that the best way to get in contact with me is by an actual phone call. I still do not have a mailing address, and I have no way of knowing when I will have one. My number is 419 606 1345, if you miss me and want to call. :)

The other day, I had an amazing experience. I got to go on a fixed-wing flightseeing tour around and over Mount McKinley! To say that it took my breath away is an understatement. The flight lasted about an hour and a half, and it was the most beautiful 90 minutes of my life. The front desk workers get to do a lot of this stuff for free, so we can sell the different tours and activities to the guests of the hotel. That day, our tour guide told us that Mount McKinley was originally a much larger mountain, but because there is a huge fault line that runs down the middle of the park, the mountain was actually ripped in half over time and became two smaller mountains: Mount Deborah and Mount McKinley. I think it is pretty awesome to know that there is a force strong enough on this earth to rip a mountain apart. It kind of blows my mind, actually. At a couple of points during the flight, we were so close to the snow covered mountain that if we were to have thrown a football at it, it would have made contact. There is no other way to describe this than to say it was literally awesome. Mount McKinley is actually the tallest mountain in the world, because Mount Everest is cheating: it sits upon a platform of rock that isn't actually part of the mountain. From the base of each mountain though, McKinley is taller. That's just a fun fact for you. :)

Anyway, the flight actually had a very profound influence on me, and the way I perceive things. It was quiet, except for the roar of the 8-seater airplane engine, and we were surrounded by a perfectly clear, blue sky. We could see the canyons, frozen glaciers, ice so densely packed that it was actually blue, and he numerous peaks of the majestic mountain. It occurred to me how incredibly blessed I am. Some people save up their money for a long time so they can see Mount McKinley like this, and I got to do it for free. I'm also blessed to be in the presence of such staggering beauty. God is the best artist, no contest. He knew that humans would need powerfully beautiful things to look at, so he gave us a world that is not only beautiful, but really dramatic too. I feel that God knows what is in our hearts better than we sometimes do. Right now, I need mountains. I don't need air conditioned buildings, smooth riding and luxurious cars, or even fancy clothes. I need a skyline that makes me understand just how small I am, but challenges me to have a great impact on the world. I need moose and caribou and bears and glacier-fed rivers. These things awaken me, they bring out the best parts of myself. They drive me to learn how to be more instinctual, harder working, and more thoughtful. I feel so blessed, and so thankful, that I get to be in the place where I need to be. It's awesome.

In contrast to all of that seriously thoughtful stuff, here's something that was just freakin' sweet: Yesterday, the front desk staff went on an ATV tour. (ATVs are basically 4-wheelers, for all of my non-outdoorsy friends who may be reading this.) We first took a horse-drawn, covered wagon tour for about 45 minutes, ate a seriously delicious dinner of ribs, salmon, and other good things, and then rode back on ATVs. To say that I had the time of my life is an understatement. I was laughing and screaming entire time. This was the first time I've ever been on an ATV that I actually got to drive myself, and it was INCREDIBLY FUN. The trails we went on wound us through a beautiful tree-filled dry riverbed right next to the mountains themselves. For about an hour, we zoomed all over the Alaskan tundra, spraying mud and water and dirt and rocks. Just when I was really having the time of my life, the trees would break, and we would have the most incredibe view of the mountains below us, or above us, or next to us, or right in front of us. Suddenly, everything was quite as we would all pause to appreciate the magnitude of the mountains. There's not an airplane tour-view in the world that can compete with that. I was literally covered in mud from head to toe when I finally got off the damn thing, and freezing cold on top of it, but it didn't matter. It was gloriously fun. I can't wait to do it again, and I know that I will have no problem selling that tour at the front desk.

Speaking of the front desk, our training has finally ended (Praise Jesus, it was so boring, I couldn't stand another minute). And now, we are in fully fledged work mode. I really enjoy my job and the people I work with. I'm getting better at climbing Bertha everyday, and I'm already losing some weight, which is seriously awesome. Next week wills start our ministry services, and I'm looking forward to that as well.

All in all, my first week in Denali has been amazing. I can't believe I have only been here a week. It feels like I should have been here my entire life, I love it that much. I can't wait to see what else this magical place has in store for me.