Canada

Monday morning saw a return to school for those who go to learn or to teach. Liesel and I stayed indoors chatting with Pat for longer than intended before we set off for Canada.

The I-5 in Washington becomes the BC-99 at the border, just 15 miles or so north of Ferndale.

The first moment of excitement was when I managed to connect my phone to the car’s audio system via Bluetooth. So we had music: our own music.

Welcome to a windy Canada

Crossing the border was OK: my electronic visa worked even though I had a minor panic when I read the confirmation email and it said I could enter Canada by air.

The Canadian border official asked if we were carrying any firearms.

With a totally different set of priorities, the US border official, on our return later in the day, asked whether we were carrying any clothing.

Very soon, we were welcomed to Surrey, followed soon after for signs to Westminster and Richmond. You know, just in case we were getting homesick.

Welcome to a wet and rainy Surrey

We drove to Vancouver and specifically, to Stanley Park, as recommended by Holly and her family. The weather was a bit dodgy, so we thought we’d hang out in a location where we could take cover if necessary.

The Vancouver skyline

The aquarium suited us very well, some interesting animals there, including a dolphin named Helen.

Looking up at a turtle
A very small tree frog
Helen the acrobatic dolphin
Am emerald tree boa (real, I think)

Hmm, we were in two minds but I think on balance, we’re glad the only killer whale we saw was this bronze sculpture by Bill Reid.

Killer Whale by Bill Reid

There were many large ships in the sea, and just one little kayak making slow progress towrds the beach.

Ships ahoy

We attempted a selfie with a nice background and this is as good as it gets. Selfies is for young people, obvs.

Selfie, Mick and Liesel and a pretty background

In the city, there were many flags telling us about Vancouver Pride, but we still don’t know when that takes place. We did like the rainbow pedestrian crossings: almost as cool as the pedestrian crossing lights at Trafalgar Square!

Rainbow pedestrian crossing

Yes, it rained on and off, but we missed it, either being in the car, or inside at the aquarium. Mission accomplished. The drive home was easy (for me).

Later in the evening, Kira was in her own little world playing Minecraft. She showed me her chickens and her cat, a skeleton horse and a zombie horse. She navigated the world that she’d built herself: Kira’s fingers were a blur on the controller.

One thing I thought I’d never say out loud: “You can’t feed raw fish to a horse”. Kira did ride a real horse: well, real in the Minecraft world! And she confirmed that yes, the donkey is stuck inside the wall.

Meanwhile, the grown-ups were watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, catching up on events in the real world. It’s a tough call, but I think I know which world is safer and more peaceful.

Ferndale and Bellingham

It was a dark and stormy night.

The first thing you learn at a writing class is never to start a story with that particular cliché. The second thing you’re told is to write what you know. Well, I know, it really was dark as we drove north on the I-5 from Seattle and the rain became harder and heavier as we drove on. The windscreen wipers could barely keep up.

I say ‘we’, but it was Liesel driving a strange rental car in a strange place in these horrible conditions. The GPS in the car was fairly intuitive but its first instruction always seems to be ‘drive to the highlighted route’. Well, if we knew how to get there, we wouldn’t need a GPS, would we?

We wanted to stop for something to eat but every time I tracked down a nearby branch of Panera Bread, we’d already passed it. So, 5 Guys it was. Nothing special, but we hadn’t eaten since the surprisingly decent snack on the flight.

We finally got phone reception as we passed through Everett. I’m on T-Mobile, even though when I’d tried to connect to this provider earlier, they’d blown a raspberry.

We arrived at Ferndale to be greeted by our old friend Holly, her Mom Pat, and her four children Felix, Kira, Jaxon and Malin.

Holly
Kira

The sleeping arrangements were fun but complicated. When the music stopped, Malin moved to join Holly, Pat moved to Malin’s bed in the room with Kira and so Liesel and I ended up in Pat’s room. What a big house. I was worried I’d get lost on one of my nighttime walks.

The following day, we explored Bellingham, especially the Farmers’ Market where some edible purchases were made.

Very colourful Farmers Market

Pat showed us round the city, showing us some of her old haunts.

A mural in Bellingham
Pat’s old house is behind the bushes, somewhere
Another mural

Later on in the day, Holly and I went for a walk around the local neighbourhood in Ferndale, seeing the school where she works and a rainbow.

Electric pylon free with every rainbow

On the way back, we walked across a field where Penny chased a couple of bunnies. The bear poop by the gate to their back garden had cherry stones in it. Yes, there’s a bear round here too.

Back at their house, Kira proudly showed us the house she’d made from 1,050 Lego bricks! She gave Liesel and me an ice pop each, which was unexpected and delightful!

On Sunday, we went to Fairhaven. I enjoyed a walk along the boardwalk to Boulevard Park and beyond. Liesel, Holly and Pat stayed in town to do some window shopping.

Yet another mural, this time in Fairhaven
Pat, Holly and Liesel

On the wander back to meet them, I supported the local coffee shop, Woods Coffee. Of course.

Old industry
Fairhaven railroad and sea
The boardwalk
Well-marked boundaries with a story

And apologies to the happy couple couple whose wedding I may have photobombed as I reached the end of the boardwalk!

Taking shelter from the drizzle

Back in town, we had a late lunch at Colophon Café.

In the evening, Kira proudly showed me her collection of coral and told me all about how it had broken off in the strong sea currents.

The house is full of animals too: four cats, Penny the dog and two guinea pigs.. Liesel decided she wants a guinea pig, mainly because we can speak their language, something between a chirp and a whistle. And yes, they are cute!

Anchorage to Seattle

Liesel and I both had a long lie-in. Neither of us wanted to be the first to get up. Our goal was to be in Anchorage at midday. But a few more minutes reading in bed wouldn’t hurt. We managed to time our visit perfectly.

We met up with Monica for a lunchtime walk. Or, we met Monica for a lunchtime walk. It was another pleasant day and we were limited only by the fact that Monica had to get back to work, at the museum. We’re still planning to visit the museum of course, but we’re waiting for a cold or wet or otherwise unpleasant day outside. But today, we had a nice wander around the park.

The Inlet from the City
On the way back to the car, Liesel and I walked through the Federal Court. A little intimidating, to me. A little bit scary, even. Yes, we were security-checked but the officers were very friendly. This art work inside was intiguing: trompe-l’œil, it really is flat.
Tlingit – Robert Hudson 1980
In the evening, we went round to Monica’s house for a home-made pizza. Liesel pointed out the peacock outside the front door. Neha was doing some homework, Gregg arrived home from work and a work-out. The pizza was great and the broccoli salad that Liesel made was terrific too!

In the evening, I received a message from Jyoti. She’d captured a picture of a dragonfly that landed on the book she was reading. I’m still hoping to see such a thing myself, but meanwhile, I’ll enjoy other people’s photos of dragonflies.

Jyoti’s dragonfly
On Friday, while Liesel was back at the physio for another dry needling session, I packed for our trip. I left a shoe-box full of stuff behind, to be sorted more thoroughly later, but we both took our backpacks with us, with approximately a week’s worth of clothing.

So far, neither of us have bought enough new stuff to warrant taking an extra bag with us on our travels. Liesel has started a collection of things to take back to Manchester, but whether this is posted, couriered, or we come back to Alaska to take it back in person, we’ll have to see. The items include new clothes, old clothes that have been replaced by new ones coming with us and some of Liesel’s old stuff from her parents’ house. Things such as the big brown donut we’re still thinking about!

Klaus took us all to the airport, me, Liesel and her sore derrière. She didn’t fancy sitting for too long so of course, we boarded the plane on time, sat, waited, and finally took off more than half an hour late.

The third seat in our little row was occupied by a sportsman. I didn’t recognise him, of course. He texted his wife, though. I know that becaue the name that came up on his phone was ‘Wife’. He asked the attendant for a scotch and water and she asked to see his id. She obviously recognised his name and asked if he’d played this weekend. He had. He didn’t look big enough to be an American football player, nor tall enough to be a basketball player so I wonder if his game is baseball? I didn’t ask. I guess I’ll never know.

Seattle was a little cooler than Anchorage and a little damper. We had checked no bags, so nothing to pick up and no customs to go through. To me, it felt weird being allowed to walk out of an airport withough having somebody give us permission.

It was a bus ride to the car hire place. While Liesel sorted that out, I tried to get my phone to work. None of the providers wanted to give me service. In fact, two of them said that my phone wasn’t suitable for their service. So again I recalled the definition of ‘technology’: stuff that doesn’t work properly yet.

Because neither of our phones were working, we couldn’t use Google Maps. So, we needed a GPS in the car. We could hire a stand-alone GPS at an extortionate rate, or, we could hire a car with a built-in GPS. One that is much larger than we’d planned for and more expensive, of course.

We’d started out with a notional daily budget when we left home, and I think we’re a few weeks ahead already. Oh well!

It’s a comfortable car though, and easy to drive. While Liesel drove, I tried to get the GPS to work, the radio and connect my phone by bluetooth. Two out of three ain’t bad. We knew where we were going, and we listened to jazz on NPR. But the music on my phone stayed there.

It was very noticeable how much earlier and quicker the Sun set here, fourteen degrees south of Anchorage.

Oh, here’s a good idea from Anchorage: if the bin’s full, tell someone. Not like Kingston: if the bin’s full, just leave your rubbish on the ground nearby.

Bear Bells

Monday was Labor Day, the first of three relatively quiet days. We did go for a walk in Kincaid Park, it’s the closest place to home and there are many trails there. The sky was blue, the Sun was out, the temperature was perfect.

Jyoti performs all her own stunts

On one of our walks, I was encouraged, nay, forced, to wear bear bells. The consensus is that I don’t talk enough and the others have to keep talking to let the bears know we’re here and to stay away. Maybe bears stay away because they don’t like GBH of the ear’ole any more than I do! On the other hand, I need bells to act as a deterrent. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but if it makes you happy… Well, as time and the miles passed, I got used to the dinging and donging and clanging that accompanied my every move. In the end, I liked it so much that I decided to take up morris dancing when I get back home.

This is the lake where we got married. It was great to see it being enjoyed by so many people on their day off work.

Little Campbell Lake aka Beercan Lake

One very popular dish in this group of family and friends is sauerbraten, a German meat stew. Liesel made a batch to take to Jyoti’s for our evening meal. Well, not mine. Jyoti made me more dahl! Which went very well with the roast potatoes that Monica brought. There were eleven people altogether and yes, they all talked more than I did. Monica’s husband Gregg came along too, it was the first time we’d seen him on this trip.

Wednesday, we went into the city centre with Jyoti and Morgan (Mo) (whom we met briefly in Talkeetna) and we went for a walk on the coastal trail with Una. The Sun was out, the sky was blue, the temperature was perfect. Given that we had a couple of weeks of really horrible weather, I think we’re all happy to get out whenever the weather is this good. Some roadside signs give you the temperature and it varies a lot: 64° on one side of the road and 69° on the other side! Degrees Fahrenheit of course, we’re in America, after all.

And you can tell we’re in a different country by some of the unusal street signs.

Sign of the times

And by the totem poles outside the courthouse where Una works.

Totem poles

The coastal path is separated from the water by a wide beach, mud flats.

Sign of the times

The view of the mountains to the north is stunning. They look snow-covered to me, real postcard imagery.

Not sure what mountain range this is

A train passed by so I decided to take a quick video. Quick? I thought it would never end! I counted 75 cars being pulled and pushed by a pair of diesel engines.

We saw more evidence of Autumn coming in fast.

Autumn colours

I didn’t have my bear-bells on today. Which is probably why we were accosted by this chap.

Bear. Brown, black or fibreglass?

In the evening, we met up with another friend from many years ago: Amrit. We met at a Thai restaurant but not the one originally planned becsue that one was being refurbished!

It was lovely to see Liesel and Amrit chatting away: they just picked up from where they left off all those years ago. The restaurant officially closed at 9pm but we were still sitting at our table for a good half hour afterwards. Maybe we should have offered to help with the washing up.

Liesel and Amrit

On Tuesday, both Mick and Liesel visited medics. Viewers of a nervous disposition should look away now.

You were warned.

Liesel went back to the physical therapist and because there had been no significant change in her condition, she received some treatment: dry needling. This entailed a couple of needles being thrust into her bottom and moved around until they hit the trigger points. This triggered loud screams of agony, I believe. She’s going back on Friday for a follow-up. But as I write, I can report that she has been pain-free at times but in some discomfort on our walk earlier.

Meanwhile, I had a session with the oral hygienist recommended by Leslie. Shannon was very friendly and chatty and she did a good job as far as I can tell. She pointed out my worst areas, the same ones that my hygienist at home draws my attention to, but on the whole, she was happy with my homecare. I held the hose that sucks out water and blood, doing the nurses’s job! I took painkillers afterwards, walked a short distance and realised that I wouldn’t manage a long walk at all, so went home and had a short nap which turned into a long nap. My evening meal consisted of soup kindly made by Una and a pouch of apple sauce. My teeth said I could go back to real food the next day.

OK, not as bloody and gory as I’d anticipated. Sorry if your expectations were not met!

Alaska State Fair

“Well, that’s embarrassing.”

Thus spake Leslie when she arrived home from work that night to see the sign and the balloon at the bottom of the drive. But the happy couple were delighted to pose for a photo. Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary, Leslie and Klaus!

Leslie and Klaus, 50 golden years

On the day itself, we were all busy getting stuff ready for the Garage Sale. Liesel took me on an adventure into the crawlspace under the house. She’d left a lot of old things there when she moved to England, 13 years ago, and it’s now time to decide: keep or discard?

Busy, yes, but not too busy to decline the offer of a quick walk in Kincaid Park. One path was blocked by a female moose, but we just turned and went a different way. And, maybe I’m becoming Alaskan, but I didn’t even bother to take a picture of her.

Then, a few minutes later, we found a few people taking pictures of a big bull moose. They were standing a lot closer than I would have found comfortable.

People and a moose

And, no, I’m not too much of an Alaskan to take this picture. He wasn’t bothered by the people, his ears were twitching away flies and he was eating: he was a happy bunny!

What a guy!

We found an old, thankfully unoccupied, wasp nest too. Fascinating.

Wasps’ nest

In the middle of the night, I was woken by Liesel. Preparation for the first day of the Garage Sale and Liesel needed help. 6am. I’d forgotten that such a time even existed.

It was a slow morning’s business. And cold. The coldest I’ve been since we came. I think advertising on Craigslist and one other listings site with just two days notice wasn’t good enough. Plus, it’s Labor Day weekend and many people may have gone camping.

I went with Klaus to buy and set up a couple more signs pointing people in the direction of the sale.

It was good to see some friends drop by, and we made plans to visit the Alaska State Fair. I wanted to go because it’s such a big event. Disappointingly, though, the monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and herding sheep weren’t here this year.

Six of us went in Jyoti’s car with Monica driving. The setting is below Pioneer Peak in the Chugach mountains on a huge site which really becomes a small town for the duration of the Fair.

Floral display
Yesss! This is our philosophy!!

We walked miles and ate loads. It became cooler as the Sun set, but still not as cold as it had been sitting in the garage, first thing in the morning.

We saw some funny sights too:

Mick’s next haircut
Giant pumpkin

I thought, if I can’t get a nice, close-up photo of a dragonfly, I’d borrow somebody else’s! This was one of the prize-winning photographs at the Fair. Thanks to Jonathan Snead.

Dragonfly close-up

Before you ask, it was not me who tampered with this rabbit’s reason for winning…

Prize-winning rabbit
Five lovely ladies in front of the lovely Pioneer Peak

There were fireworks at about 10pm, just as we were leaving. Fireworks, even though it was still fairly light. The girls commented on the fact that they just don’t see fireworks in Anchorage in Summer, it’s just too light.

But the days are getting shorter. When we first arrived at the beginning of August, we had 17 hours of daylight. Now, it’s a mere 14 hours. And we’ll lose another 5 hours or more by the time we leave.

Fireworks

After dropping everyone off, Liesel and I picked up our car from Jyoti’s. By now, it was proper nighttime. I walked to the bluff, away from the city lights and, for the first time since we’ve been here, I saw stars in the sky. Nighttime and no clouds. A dark sky. I would love to have stayed stargazing for longer, but it had been a long, exciting and exhausting day so we went home.

Sunday was day two of the Garage Sale. We decided to put some items up for sale on eBay, so I prepared the descriptions and we’ll do that in a couple of weeks.

Old, old, old National Geographic magazines

Again, very few people showed up. We packed up and when Monica arrived, she, Liesel and I walked up the road to collect our Garage Sale signs. We walked to Kaladi Bros where we met up with Jyoti and Una. They’d been on a long hike while the rest of us were slaving over a not-so-hot Garage Sale.

At Jyoti’s, we sat outside, drank tea or coffee, ate cookies and scones and I nodded off while the ladies talked several hind legs off a donkey.

We walked up to the bluff, looked out over the water, looked for sand cranes and just absorbed as much heat from the Sun as we could.

Another beautiful view
A noisy raven

Postmen in the UK and mailmen in the USA deliver all kinds of crap. And the mooses know where to deliver their crap too:

Moose poop

La Vuelta continues and a Brit, Simon Yates is now in the lead, rule Brittania! He’s leading by one second.

Update from Liesel

So, has anyone wondered what I’ve been up to while Mick’s been out hiking, walking and generally sightseeing?

The majority of my time has been spent catching up with friends and family, sorting, and deciding what to do with, my childhood belongings, putting together a couple surprises to make my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary special, and addressing my back injury.

In my opinion, you know you have a good friend, or even brother for that matter, when you can just pick up where you left off the last time you saw them. Sure I’d like to know the ins and outs of their daily lives but that just isn’t how life works when you live so far away from your loved ones. We all have busy lives and no one has the time or inclination to talk or FaceTime for hours at a time. The thought exhausts me. However, I can spend hours, in person, and never tire but come away with a fulfilled feeling.

Thank you:

Mom for taking off work while I’m here, Dad for letting me disrupt his routine.

Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon for allowing my invasion back into their lives/activities as if I’d never left.

Jyoti, Una, Monica and Pam for your unbelievable support, kindnesses, passion, food and time. . . It’s been such fun, so far!

My childhood belongings have been lovingly stored in my parents house for decades. Some stuff has been easy to get rid of e.g. old books and records to the 2nd hand book/record store. Other stuff not so easy, e.g. blankets knitted by my paternal grandmother, or beanbag and angel handmade by my maternal grandmother.

Liesel in her donut

As I was already in every nook and cranny (crawl space included) of the family home, my parents utilised the opportunity, to go through all of their stuff. We now have enough for a very large garage sale. Now all we need are people willing to buy all this stuff or take it away! This may take several weekends as this weekend is a long holiday weekend and most Alaskans are taking advantage of the sunshine to go camping, hiking, fishing, State Fair, etc and as a result we have had little traffic. We also missed the deadline for the local paper so we’ve only advertised online. . . If you read this please come and buy some of our ‘lovely stuff’.

Loads of stuff for sale

My parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary on 31 August. To be honest, it hadn’t crossed my mind to do anything but go out to dinner as a family (all 8 of us!).

Eight of us at Orso

What do you do for a couple who have too much of everything? You certainly don’t buy them more stuff! In the end Aaron and I arranged: dinner out as family, a homemade sign for the front garden, two tiered (my parents have completely opposite tastes) wedding cake (they eloped to Reno and never had a wedding cake), and boutonnières for the five guys and corsages for us three ladies. It was a lovely evening enjoying each others’ company and sharing my parents special day with them. Very different than my memories of my paternal grandparents 50th party, held at the village hall with a live band and a hundred friends and family.

Leslie, Klaus and a two-tiered cake

Lastly, I’ve been dealing with my back and piriformis muscle problems. Two years ago I started having sciatic nerve problems with pain shooting down my right leg. This lead to the discovery of a slipped disk in my lower back, which inflamed the nerve, which inflamed my piriformis muscle, which inflamed my sciatic nerve. Typing all that makes me want sing about the old lady who swallowed the fly, oh my! Anyway up till now the suggestion has been to loose weight, exercise more, and treat the piriformis. Last week I’d had enough with pain and the fact I’m being left behind by my friends and husband who are going on hikes I can’t. So at a friend’s recommendation (thank you Melanie) and another friend’s nagging (Jyoti!), I made an appointment to see a physio here in Anchorage.

The physio here has recommended we start at the source, the slipped disc. Strengthening the area around the disc so that the surrounding areas do not get inflamed trying to protect the injured area. So, a new set of exercises to do, instructions to stop exercising when the pain starts (no more pushing through the pain), stick to short, off-road walking or hiking, cycling, and weights that I can do sitting or lying down. So basically completely different than what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years, which clearly was not working anyway. It seems for the immediate future Mick will continue to go on amazing hikes with my friends but hopefully I’ll be in a better place to towards the end of our stay in Alaska and ready to hike in Japan.

Lost Lake Traverse

Jyoti picked me up at 8am. It was an early start to what would be a long day.

What to expect – a long, long, long climb

We were planning to start at the southerm trailhead, walk to the peak, and back again. Doing the whole traverse would involve having two cars and a bit more organisation. We were taking the slightly less steep route upwards.

We were joined by friends of Jyoti’s, Gretchen, who we picked up, Lisa, who we’d met yesterday and her friend Angus, a young man from England who’s been in Alaska for a month.

The drive south towards Seward was the first drive Liesel took me on, all those years ago. Then, it was December, everything looked white and forbidding to this Englishman so used to seeing less than half an inch of snow once in a while. Today, the sky was blue, the Sun was out and we were going to have a good time.

Missed the mist when the road turned

We saw banks of mist on the inlet, smoke on the water and we saw some beluga whales in the water. Up on the mountains there were dall sheep, but I missed them.

We stopped at a ‘donut’ place for coffee and hot doughnuts, though I could only manage to eat one. This is where we met up with Lisa and Angus.

View from the road

The views from the road were spectacular. Even the locals were gushing in praise of the local landscapes.

We stopped just a couple times more on the long drive. I was in the front passenger seat the whole way and no-one took me up on my (half-hearted) offers of swapping places.

On arrival at the trailhead, we prepared for the hike itself. Bear spray, water, walking poles, back packs all sorted. I was carrying my ‘manbag’ full of water, snacks, spare clothes, phone, money and notebook. It was heavy, man.

I’m not a big talker at the best of times, and when exercising, getting slightly out of breath, I’m even less inclined to talk at the same time. But this is bear country, you’re supposed to make a lot of noise just to let the bears know you’re there. Luckily, Jyoti can talk and talk. The two of us often found ourselves dropping behind the rest. The trail was mostly uphill, unrelenting at times. On my own, I would have stopped more frequently to catch my breath, but not here.

I learned about someone whose job seemed to be waxing the skis of an Olympic ski champion. What a very specialised job, I thought. But there are several kinds of wax, each used for a different temperature, different kinds of snow, different slopes, different skis.

As we walked higher and higher, the view changed. Lower down, we were looking through the trees, but suddenly I realised, we were above the tree line. That meant one thing: put on the hat to protect my head from the Sun! Actually, it also meant unobstructed views of the slopes, the mountains, the glaciers, the valleys. All larger-than-life postcard images.

Mick crossing a stream
Moss on the trees
Scree on the hills
Gretchen, Lisa, Angus on the stream
Wow, a stunning, early view

I was glad that the path wasn’t maintained perfectly. It is cleared of overgrown vegetation each year for the race along the whole Traverse. But because of all the tree roots, rocks and other obstacles, I was very conscious of picking my feet up more while walking than I would usually do on a residential pavement, for instance.

On the other hand, some parts of the trail had a precipitous drop to one side that I was wary of. I probably wouldn’t fall far if I slipped off because of all the trees and plants growing there, but I did tend to keep to the other side of the track, while my sweaty palms dried out.

Not a bad safety net, really

As time went on, I had to stop more and more frequently. I started to feel angry. Angry about my inability to catch my breath, about my inability to keep up with the others, about having to watch every footstep to avoid tripping over rather than looking at the view, about the walk being too long and steep, about the medical profession for giving me drugs that seem to have messed up everything in my body (Note 1). Ah, angry, cross, irritated. That usually means I need food. I’m glad I brought so many snacks. I needed sugar. And carbs.

Cotton grass
The very patient St Jyoti
Michaelmas daisies
The source of Donald Trump’s hair

The cotton grass was pretty as were the Michaelmas daisies. And Resurrection Bay way over there!

Resurrection Bay in the distance

As we neared the summit, I had to stop more and more often. We caught up with Lisa, Gretchen and Angus but I needed to eat again. The three of them went ahead, while Jyoti stayed with me, deciding not to go all the way down to the lake itself. I’d decided I needed to minimise my exersions so if I could miss out the 3 extra miles to the lake and, worse, back up again, I’d be happy.

We picked and ate blueberries as we’ll as salmonberries, which look like yellow raspberries but they’re not as sweet.

Despite my mood, I loved the views. Jyoti pointed out the hill in the distance that was to be the end of our hike. It looked miles away, the small objects on top were, apparently, people. So much more uphill to go. I need bigger and faster acting lungs.

Jyoti has the patience of a saint, though. She let me walk in front, so I was going at my own pace. I realised it was slightly slower than Jyoti’s, and that one of the reasons I kept getting out of puff was because I was going too fast, trying to keep up with someone else.

We passed and were passed by many other people on mountain bikes and on foot and they all looked like they were having a wonderful time, and here I was, feeling that I was struggling to make it to the top of the longest hike in the world, ever.

In fact, I think I heard myself tell St Jyoti at one point that I never wanted to do another walk like this, ever again, ever.

But I conquered Mount Everest eventually and one of the first things I did was to lie down and have a stretch!

Mick having a rest and a stretch – Jyoti’s photo

The 360° view was stunning, beautiful: mountains, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls, the sea, Seward and of course, why we were here: Lost Lake, at the bottom of the hill. Next time, I will go down to the lake, but now, today, I didn’t want to push things too far. On the summit, Jyoti and I ate a mix of cheese, breadsticks with cheese, nuts, craisins, pop tarts, bread, chocolate. All the while, looking around and gaping at the view, enjoying the blue skies. Having a nice rest while I reset my brain to get rid of the negativity.

Mountains and glaciers
Lost Lake
Deep grooves with waterfalls

Looking to the south, we could see 11 or 12 glaciers up in the mountains. There were small patches of snow still on the higher slopes. There were signs of many landslides too on the upper slopes. We could see and hear water running down the ravines, but it must have been disappearing into the ground because there was no sign of water where you’d expect to see it at the bottom.

I crouched down to take a picture of the ground cover, where the leaves are changing colour from green to red. When I stood up, the world went black, I heard water rushing, and all I could think was, you’re having a dizzy spell, don’t drop the phone and oh no, there’s nothing to lean against. That was my first dizzy spell for many months (Note 1).

Autumn colours at ground level

The others walked down to the lake which, I must admit, did look inviting. Angus had a dip in the water while Lisa and Gretchen went in up to their ankles.

They re-joined us at the top of the hill and, feeling revived, I braced myself for the long walk back. I expected it to be mostly downhill but I remember from long bike rides that you don’t always notice the easy parts on the way out but they sure bite you on the way back. Today, however, it really was downhill pretty much all the way. In places, I was able to keep up with Angus and we left the girls a long way back.

We again went past the crew who are repairing a part of the trail. On the way up, they’d been having a nice rest, but they were now working as we passed them again on the way down. It would be a terrific commute, walking several miles before doing a day’s work, but they were in fact camping nearby.

Trail maintenance crew accommodation

We stopped and ate more blueberries on the way down and despite being already weighed down, I picked some to take back for Liesel.

The hardest part for me was crossing a couple of streams using haphazard stepping stones that I just hoped wouldn’t give way or move.

I survived. Yes, I got all the way down without falling over, without getting my feet wet and apart from a couple of skeeter stings, no injuries. Plus, bonus, I only had to pee once in the bushes all day. I commend my bladder.

It was nearly dinner time, and we decided to drive the few miles into Seward for a meal and a drink. I didn’t recognise the town itself, I’d not seen it without snow and ice everywhere. We went to the Seward Brewing Company where I had cauliflower tempura with a spicy shoyu sauce plus a glass of stout, which was served not ice cold, unusual in America. Whoever wrote the menu has a great sense of humour:

The menu
The view from upstairs that we only found after we’d eaten downstairs

It was a long drive back to Anchorage and I’m so grateful to Jyoti for driving. We had to stop at the doughnut shop again where Lisa had left her car.

No, we didn’t, we just parked up for a moment

What a fantastic day, a wonderful hike, great company, superlative views and an enormous sense of well-being.

If you’re not a Fitbit nerd, look away now: go straight to the next paragraph, do not collect £200! I think today’s hike was the longest I’ve done since the day I walked from home in Chessington into London. It was certainly much harder due to the terrain. When I got back home today, I was pleased to see that I’d walked over 30,000 steps, about 14 miles. And I still had to walk upstairs to bed! During the day, I took my 16,000,000th step since I started using the Fitbit soon after my 60th birthday. I fully expect to receive a useless pretend badge from Fitbit soon, it makes all this walking worthwhile.

I felt pretty good when Jyoti dropped me off at home, a bit tired, but no real aches and pains. I stretched all the leg muscles, took a preventative anti-inflammatory, had a shower, a long, hot shower and climbed into bed and chatted with Liesel for a bit. I expected to fall asleep more or less straightaway, but my mind was all over the place, mainly punching the air mentally, thinking what a great day it had been, and, despite what I may have said earlier, I’m really looking forward to the next challenging hike.

Note 1: A recap on my medical condition. I had a ‘free healthcheck’ when I turned 59 and was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This is a bad thing as it can lead to strokes and heart attacks. I was given medication. Very quickly, I realised that I had no energy, no stamina. From completing a 100-mile bike ride, I could barely ride 10 miles without becoming breathless. The GP prescribed a different drug but I was still unable to do as much exercise. I was feeling ridiculously tired after a day at work (I was a postman). I was told that because I was so active, I was aware of these changes to my body. Most patients with high blood pressure are sedentary and can’t tell the difference.

I followed the advice to cut down on salt and caffeine intake and little by little, my BP came down.

But something else was happening too. Now, if I stood up suddenly, or if I ran up the stairs after sitting down for a while, I would feel dizzy. My head would go all mushy and I would have to fight myself very hard not to fall over. I held on to whatever was close at hand, a wall, a tree, a person, until I came back to normal.

This is the sign of low blood pressure, which the GP confirmed is as bad as, if not worse than, high BP. I said, well, can I come off the drugs, then? Not straightaway, she said, but the dosage was halved.

A few months later, after a number of ‘normal’ BP readings, I came off the drugs completely. I thought that I would soon be as fit as I was before. I thought my strength and stamina would return.

And to be fair, it has improved a lot since I came off the medication. But I can’t say I am back to normal. The fact that today, I couldn’t catch my breath for long periods at a time while walking up a long hill and that I had couple of dizzy episodes tells me that my body chemistry is still messed up from the blood pressure medication.

I don’t mind getting out of breath and I don’t mind having limited stamina, but I know what my body used to be capable of, and it’s just not as good as it used to be. And I certainly never used to have dizzy spells. I had two today, the first in many months.

I said as soon as things started going wrong that I was much better off when I had ‘high blood pressure’ but just didn’t know about it. And I still feel that way.

I have a theory that my BP might be ‘high’ by some standard or other, but it’s ‘normal’ for me. And that what is considered ‘normal’ is too low for me. Plus, now, something’s been messed up by the medication, maybe permanently.

Still, it was a good, long, hard day today and I’m glad I did it. I think I learned a lot, and one thing is, I have to tell people if I can’t keep up. They’ll just have to slow down a bit, or at least allow me more frequent stops so I can catch my breath.

This is the background to why I got a bit cross a few times on this hike. And why, despite everything, I’m not going to let this experience put me off doing things.