Only in Alaska….

June 29, 2007

Coming soon to a streetcorner near you?
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Alaska Wrap-Up

June 29, 2007

I’m homeward bound, sitting in the Juneau airport waiting for the redeye to take me back east.  I spent the last two days in Anchorage, which was underwhelming.  That’s no slight against the city; apart from my business meetings and meals, I was a slave to my laptop and didn’t get out of the hotel. (Contrary to popular opinion, or at least the opinion of my family and friends, I really did have work to do in Alaska).

Maybe my aspirations of getting up to see Denali were a bit unrealistic, but I did hope to see some of the backcountry. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with a population of over a quarter million, but I wasn’t really interested in sampling the culture or nightlife of the big (relatively speaking) city. The Alaska that I was interested in seeing was the Jack London Alaska.

Next trip.  For now I’ll have to savor the memory of my Mt. Roberts Trail adventure. I can also look back on the photos of the amazing mountains and glaciers that I took on the flight from Juneau to Anchorage, and imagine what it would be like to be down there….
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Mt. Roberts Trail – Juneau AK

June 28, 2007

I almost bit off more than I could chew.

I had arrived at the Mt. Roberts trailhead full of anticipation, but without much of a clue about what I was getting myself into. 
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Had I known, I probably would have started up the trail at a hiking pace, rather than at a run. Nevertheless, I set off, eager for adventure and exercise, and basking in the joy of having shed my business suit and donned my running gear.

At first, the trail wasn’t too different from what we have to offer in central Virginia.
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Before long, the trail got steep, and and my run soon turned into a hike. Every now and then I’d get a break in the trees and gain some perspective on the elevation change.
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The cruise ships didn’t look so big anymore.
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While I wanted to keep moving, I couldn’t help stopping from time to time to soak in the scenery.
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A few miles miles in, I came to this sign:
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I didn’t have water, and that concerned me a bit.  I resolved to knock my pace back, and kept going.

How could I not?  The views were breathtaking, and each one was better than the next.  I had to make it to the top.
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I pushed on, but I was getting dehydrated and was starting to fade. I came upon two hikers who were sprawled out in a grassy area, soaking up the rare Juneau sun. I noted their backpacks, gaiters, trekking poles, and other gear, and felt woefully unprepared. Some Eagle Scout I am. One of them, apparently reading my mind, said “Hey, you’re traveling light. That’s the way to go. Until you need water. Or food.” I mustered up a laugh and told them that I was going farther than I had originally intended, but that I was fine and wouldn’t do anything dumb. Their silence told me that they thought I already had.

I rounded the next bend and, making sure I was out of sight of the hikers, scooped up a handful of snow to eat. I kept heading up.
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Before too long, the trail forked and I was at a literal and figurative crossroads. To the right was my intended destination – Gastineau Peak.
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Or, I could go left, to Gold Ridge.
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I turned left. The line between seeking a challenge and being foolhardy is sometimes a blurry one, but I felt pretty sure that tackling that snowy ridge in running shoes wasn’t a risk that I ought to be taking.

I headed up to Gold Ridge. Here’s the view from the top:

Definitely a good afternoon.


Seaplanes

June 27, 2007

The downside of traveling on business is that I have to leave my family at home.  My 4-year-old son Will would love these seaplanes. 
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Juneau

June 27, 2007

Work has taken me to a number of cities that I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise.  Frankfort, Kentucky.  Springfield, Illinois.  Little Rock, Arkansas.  The list goes on.  These are all nice enough places, but they are not exactly vacation destinations.  This week, however, goes a long way toward making up for my stays in the flyover states.  Work has provided me with an expenses-paid trip to Alaska. 

I arrived in Juneau on Monday afternoon. It was a long trip – I left Charlottesville at 6:45 a.m., and arrived in Juneau some 12 hours later.  It was, however, nothing compared to the 70+ hours that Mapquest said it would take to drive it!

I’ve never been to a town like Juneau.  While it is the state capital, it really is a town, with a population of only 30,000.  It’s a town, however, that happens to have a constantly rotating collection of massive cruise ships docked in its harbor during the summer months.  
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The cruise ships are something to behold, but the lifeboats are impressive in their own right.
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If you’re going to abandon ship, you might as well do it in style.

Tourism is the heart and soul of Juneau.  The ships dock and thousands – thousands – of passengers disembark to comb through the downtown district and spend their money on everything from jewelry and furs to “My parents went to Alaska and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirts.
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While some of the tourists may come for the souveniers, I’d wager that most come out of an appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation.  There is certainly a lot of it to appreciate.  Juneau is fronted by water on one side,
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and backed by mountains to the rear.
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I was destined to get up close and personal with those mountains, but that will have to wait for another post….


On Writing

June 23, 2007

I am not sure why I do not write for a living. 

That statement sounds presumptuous, but it is not meant to be – I am making no claims as to talent.  In fact, it’s probably fair to say that the only thing that I have in common with Faulkner and Grisham is that we all live(d) in Charlottesville.  I make it simply because out of all of the career options that I have explored or can imagine, writing is the only one that doesn’t seem like work.

I have always enjoyed writing, and I have always done a lot of it.  Again making no claim as to talent, I do find that I write more coherently than I speak.  I have never been much of an extemporaneous speaker.  Any public talk that I give, be it a business presentation, closing argument, or church invocation, can generally be found written out word-for-word somewhere.  This practice doesn’t just apply to public speaking, either – some of my most serious discussions with my wife have been in written form.  If I am not able to see (and consider and revise) what I am going to say and how I am going to say it, what I wind up saying will invariably be less effective than it could be.

I was an English major in college, which was perfect for me.  Many of my classes were exam-free, with papers being the only graded work.  In a few of my upper-level courses, we were simply required to turn in 50 pages’ worth of written work by the end of the semester – it was up to us to determine topic, format, and schedule.  While this approach gave me a dangerous license to procrastinate, I loved the freedom, flexibility and creativity it afforded.  I never found the writing onerous, even when I had a lot of pages left to write and little semester left in which to write them.  Indeed, I’ve often found that deadline-induced adrenaline does much to inspire the muse!    

Outside of class, I wrote for the college newspaper, and later, for my law school alumni magazine.  I had no illusions of being, or aspirations to be, a journalist.  Far from being a Woodward or Bernstein in the making, I wrote soft public interest-type articles – a retrospective on the retirement of a professor here, a publicity piece on the start-up of a new student club there.  I wasn’t writing to make news, or even to report it – I was writing simply to write, and to be read.  I did it because it was fun.   

I used to be a rather prolific letter writer as well, before the demands of career and family started to eat up every waking moment.  My mother saved many of those letters, and at some point I hope to go back through them.  Despite an introspective bent, I have never been much of a diarist or journal writer, but a fairly sizable and significant chunk of my life is documented in those letters.   

The technology of the last several years has been a mixed blessing as far as my writing goes.  The advent of email has all but ended letter writing.  Blogging, however, has opened up a tremendous new world of possibilities and opportunities.  The fact that I am able to sit here and write, and have what I am writing be accessible to anyone who wants to seek it out or happens to stumble across it, is mind-boggling.    

If only I could make a living at it. 


LBJ Library

June 20, 2007

When I was in Austin on business recently, I planned my appointments to allow time for a visit to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. This was my third presidential library visit – I have previously reported on my visits to the Carter and Clinton libraries.

I have long been intrigued by LBJ.  I’ll confess that one of the main reasons has nothing to do with politics or history – the fact is, LBJ has always reminded me of my Granddaddy W.  That comparison was enhanced by one of the exhibits in the museum, which was a life-sized, moving and talking figure of LBJ telling stories.  I sat entranced in front of it for 10 minutes, half-expecting the figure to launch into one of Granddaddy’s tales about life on the farm in North Carolina. 

LBJ animatron aside, I found the LBJ museum to be a bit underwhelming, at least in comparison to the Carter and Clinton museums.  To a large extent that’s no criticism of the LBJ museum itself.  I had been moved by the Carter museum in Atlanta largely because I felt a connection to the man and the time.  Carter was in office when I first started developing an interest in politics; I remember making posters for his re-election campaign with the Teen Democrats club in high school.  (I guess we should have made a few more).  By contrast, I was only 5 when LBJ left office, so I don’t have any firsthand recollection of him as President.  As a result, I found it difficult to feel that same sense of personal connection as I strolled through the LBJ exhibits.

Similarly, the relative recency of the Clinton presidency afforded the Clinton museum a sense of immediacy and relevancy that I found lacking at the LBJ museum.  Beyond that, though, I think that anyone would find the Little Rock museum impressive if for nothing other than its sheer size and number of exhibits.  For better or worse, Clinton’s presidency seemed larger than life in many ways, and the Clinton museum reflects that. 

By contrast, the LBJ museum is relatively small and sparse.  Even the Oval Office replica has been reduced to 7/8 size.  I found this disappointing and somewhat incongruous with the man himself.  LBJ was a big man, from a big state, with a big agenda.  Indeed, how could anything be larger than the goal of the establishment of a Great Society?

In retrospect, though, perhaps the downsized museum was a fitting monument. Despite his significant domestic successes, LBJ was in many ways a tragic figure. He first assumed the office due to the tragedy of Kennedy’s assassination, and after completing his first elected term declined to run again, having been rendered politically impotent by the tragedy of the war in Vietnam. I left the museum sobered and somewhat somber, and that may well be the best way to look at 1963-1969.