Excitement..trepidation..nerves..impatience..I went through the gauntlet of all emotions on our drive to Dr. TT’s office, the day of the ultrasound appointment.
We had been back from Alaska a few days. Nausea, morning sickness (and evening sickness for that matter) were at full swing. Smell of eggs cooking could make me throw up in a heartbeat (Not too fond of them so no big loss)..eating blueberries (I heart them) was another trigger..sigh..they were difficult to give up.. 😦 and then some internal clock said its 4:00 in the evening..time to empty your stomach..thankfully we stay 5 mins drive from work so I would rush home just in time to heave everything out..imagine doing that at work..oh the horror..
Anyway back to the drive..My though process went something like..Yay, Yay, Yay we get to see the baby..Please, Please, Please let there be a heartbeat (a friend had recently had a fetus without a heartbeat)..Wonder what the baby will look like..Let everything be all right, fingers crossed..Hope they can see the baby from the probe device on the stomach and not have to use the stick..man I hate the stick..Yay we get to see the baby..and on and on in a loop..
Finally after the customary 45 mins wait in the reception area (why do they always run late 😦 ) in we were called for the ultrasound..stomach bared..some goop like thing spread on the stomach..probe placed on the stomach..and..and there on the monitor was the baby in black and white. The smile on D and my face was instantaneous..our baby 🙂
A thorough check was done. The head, arm, foot pointed out. And then the technician pointed out to the little flicker on the screen said that’s the baby heart. Imagine looking at a tiny dot on the screen and actually see the precious heartbeat.
We were asked if we would like to hear the heartbeat. Of course no question about it. So a few switched fiddled and super super fast..dub..dub..dub..dub.. 165 beats per min..sounded quite like multiple horses running. And cliché as it might be, I cried (not wet eyes but big tears) as soon as I heard the heartbeat and would not stop for good min or so.
The baby was healthy, everything was looking good, it was time to tell close family our little secret. The grin on our face lasted at least a couple of days.
PS: Listening to the baby heartbeat stayed the best part of all my doctor’s appointments. Love..Love..Love hearing that sound..
– Empty: Alaska is huge and uninhabited..one can drive miles and miles and not see another human..human habitat..car..house..nothing.
– Nice cops: Even when stopped speeding (doing 90 miles/hr on a 55 miles/hr posted sign) you are left off with a warning, no persuasion required. At least we were. Have not seen this happen anywhere else.
– Wildlife: If you visit Alaska and don’t see any wildlife you really are unlucky. You don’t even have to make an effort to see them, they are all over the place.
– Hunting: All over Alaska are signs saying hunting is allowed beyond this point. We saw this Moose right after we say one such highway sign. If it was anyone else, this Moose was dead.
– Bullet holes: All highway signs all over Alaska seem to have been used for target practice.
– Junk: You see junk everywhere. Scrapped cars, abandoned buildings, firecracker remains, broken down boats..
– Toilets: No public flush toilets anywhere in Alaska..pit toilets is the way to go..and man do they stinck..and when you are pregnant and nauseated all the time..God help you..
– Packing your rucksack and the tent in pouring rain at 5:30 in the morning when the bus is about the leave is just no fun.
– Fox does not care to give way when it’s on its way home after catching breakfast..even if there’s a bus behind it. We followed this fox for at least 5 mins before he moved aside to let the bus pass.
– Watching the caribou herd skittishly run off to protect its young on hearing the bus engine and break noise in the early morning rain and mist is a wonderful experience even if you can’t capture it on the camera.
– Camping at an empty campground when you haven’t seen another human for the past hour while on the road is scary. Don’t know what I was more scared of..a wild animal on the prowl or some rowdy human stopping by..to find two helpless people. Loneliness and your vulnerability never hits you as it hits you when there is no human presence..no noise..just silence. I think I jumped at every single wind whistle through the night.
– The Trans-Alaska pipeline is something you cannot miss while driving from Fairbanks to Valdez. Sometimes running parallel to the road and sometimes cutting the road it is often times the only reminder of human presence in the Alaskan wilderness.
– Salmon really do swim upstream. They jump, swim and then rest for a while before starting the process again.
– Bald eagle mate for life. Saw this pair. Every time we tried to get close to get a picture they would fly off in different directions and then perch together someplace else.
– Never assume that since you are about a mile off the residential area you will not see any wildlife. We were hiking the most popular trail in Valdez (its wide enough that you can take your four-wheel drive on the trail) when I saw something big and black a little far off. I was so hoping this was a big black dog (D still laughs at me for this 😦 ). The bear was standing on the rocks and jumped to hide behind them when he saw us. While I reached for the bear spray, D reached for the camera. The bear kept peeking from behind the rocks to check if we were still around and then left through the bushes behind.
– 20 mile one way detour for lunch is worth every mile when this is the view you sit down to have lunch along.
– Matanuska glacier is truly a river of ice. Facts states it stretches 27 miles. Easy to believe as you see it meandering along the mountains.
– Not finding a campsite is sometimes blessing in disguise..Dinner cooked and gobbled down while sitting all alone at Portage Lake watching sun set on Portage glacier..camping out all by yourself in the RV turn around..unlimited hot water shower in the RV site
– Homer is beyond beautiful. The strip was a fun experience. Find a place to pitch your tent on the beach..in between eating joints, bar, boats, RVs..surrounded by the sea, dwarfed by the snow-capped mountains on three sides.
Day 2 was all about walking through DNP..enjoying the beauty of the place..take frequent stops..relax..and enjoy the quite..
We started the day bushwhacking through bushes (what else) from our camp site, heading towards the river flowing about a mile from the campground (DNP is known for its very few trails. You just hike through the bushes, as there are no tall trees so you can see for miles, making way to where you want to go). But after a while we hit a marshy area which was too dangerous (and the mosquitoes got the better of us) so we turned around after posing for a few pictures.
Eielson visitor center has the most number of hikes going through the DNP, is one of the most scenic area in DNP and does not have the mosquitoes of Wonder Lake, so we caught a bus to Eielson. Getting down off we were hiking through the various trails. The plan was to head down to the valley floor and then bush-whack around taking breaks as required.
Alas there was no trail to head down and scrambling down the too steep sides was not something I wanted to do. So after hiking as close to the edge we could, we turned back to walk along the road in order to get down to the valley where the grade of the slope lessened. Once we got close to the valley floor I spied a movement and saw the Mama bear we had seen the previous day and her cubs. We found a comfortable spot, took out the bear spray, the warning bells and sat down to enjoy the watching these wild animals in their natural habitat..no cage, no force feeding, no tricks for the humans..this was their playground and humans were the ones who had to be carefull not to get hurt. We moved around the bears a bit but for most part just sat watching them explore, play, eat, sleep, play some more for better part of 2 hours. It was exhilarating to watch the little ones run after each other, one cub (curious George) set of to explore, stand on his hind legs when he did find something, run back to Mommy, plunk on Maa’s back for a nap once she sat down and then run off again after the nap was done.
Finally the time came to head back and look what we found..a Fox on the hunt.
In between predictions of rain and being feed up with the mosquitoes (my hands were completely swollen. I counted 9 bites on one finger. Gave up counting after that) we decided to head out of DNP next morning catching the first bus out at 6:30 rather than spend another day as was the original plan.
Leaving you with a view of the tents at the Campground.
While driving to the visitor center just before our bear sighting the driver of the bus suddenly laughed with joy and said ‘People today is your luck day. Denali is out of the clouds’. For those who don’t know Denali is mostly covered by clouds and visible one in three days during the summer months. And very rarely or not at all in the months that follow. So everyone keeps their fingers crossed during summer while on a trip to Alaska for a glimpse of the elusive mountain. The bus stopped and everyone raced with their cameras in the direction where the driver was pointing. And saw a small hill covered with clouds. ‘This was Denali, the highest mountain in North America’??!!?? The driver laughed and said ‘Look again, look higher’. So higher we looked and higher still and more than twice the height of the hill we initially saw was Denali, beautiful, stunning, covered with snow and clocked in clouds..Denali. I called the trip to Alaska a huge success right then and there. 🙂
I was too tired to stay awake. D sat capturing the mountain with the sun going down. This picture was taken around 11:15 after which the long day and mosquitoes got the better of him. We were told the sun finally set at around 1:00 in the morning and Denali was absolutely gorgeous.
Imagine getting up in the morning and having breakfast to this view.
This was the end of the Alaska trip with friends. AsA, SA and kids had left really early in the morning for Denali National Park (DNP) as they were making a day trip and then heading back home the next day. AmA, PA, PG and CG were taking an easy day making the trip to the outskirts of Denali by end of day and then heading inside the National Park the next day for a day trip and back home. NG, SG and M were heading home that evening. D and I were spending 3 nights inside the national park camping at Wonder Lake campground which is the last place inside the DNP that you can camp.
Cars are not allowed beyond a certain point inside DNP. There are buses that run inside DNP that we had a booking for. Since our bus was to leave at 2:00 in the afternoon we packed all the stuff we were taking to Wonder Lake in our rucksack and heading out at 9:00 in the morning to make the 3 hours drive to DNP. It was an uneventful drive with stops for gas, restroom breaks (those were for me, pregnancy makes such breaks a must) and to click pictures.
We got to DNP well in time for the bus so we checked in and then went to find a place to grab a bite to eat. Sandwich, fries and soup later we headed to the parking lot to park the car for the upcoming three days and then walked with all our gear to the bus stop. The bus came in and about 10 or so people got in. Once we had boarded the bus we were told that there were 5 official stops that the bus would make at various campgrounds and visitor centers but we could ask the bus to stop anytime if we spotted any wild life or if we wanted to hike or were backpacking to some remote part of the park. And once done could flag any bus going back and forth. Our tickets were valid inside the park for multiple days so we were not bound to this one bus. But there was only one bus after this going to Wonder Lake so needed to be on time for that if Wonder Lake was our destination. D and I quickly decided to stick to this bus for the day (backpack and all, did not want to risk not getting to Wonder Lake).
So off we went. And almost immediately the bus was stopped because there was a Moose eating on the side of the road. The driver told us that this was a young male moose looking at its size, height etc.
After much excitement, cheering and photographs we started out again and soon spotted another Moose. More cheer when suddenly saw four ears peeping from the greenery. A few seconds later saw two little faces as well. Oh what a sight. Everyone was grinning ear to ear. What a beginning to the four and half hour trip.
Things were quite after that. About 45 mins after we started and a couple of stops later we were passing through small hill on both sides when the driver told us that this was Dal sheep habitat and to keep our eyes out for them. Dal sheep stay up high in the mountains, feeding on small grass that grow on that elevation, where the bears cannot reach. Their small hoof feet allow them to move even further up swiftly if they sense danger. So they generally are just specs of white and need an expert eye to spot. But spot one we did.
Finally we got to a visitor center where we had a 15 min break to stretch our legs. Once out of the bus, there was this small mound where we though the view would be nice, so walked up the stairs and then took this little trail to click some pictures of the view around. While walking on the trail we saw a few people super excited pointing towards something, so of we went to investigate. Saw a Caribou grazing a little further along. D, being the brave soul he is, swiftly took to the path for a closer shoot of the wild beast. He was soon followed by more brave ones. Me not so brave one stood at a distance just watching in wonder.
15 mins up we got into the bus and started onwards. We were soon flagged down why two hikers who had just spotted a bear some distance away, so we kept our eyes out for them. We finally saw this bear way out in the distance. You could make it out but just about and that too with binoculars and lot of pointing. We would take it as a sighting if that was all we were getting. Not great but it was what it was. Suddenly another 1o mins into a bus ride the driver braked hard. We were asked to be real quite. There was a bear on the road and human noise is suppose to be kept to a minimum. The things is, if while hiking you encounter a bear you are suppose to increase your size as much as you can (raise you hand up, puff your chest etc.) and make a lot of noise, but if the bears get use to human noise in normal situations like when everyone is safe inside a bus and not fear the sound when out in the wild, it would cause a lot of human injury and death in the park. So we kept super quite and clicked pictures as the bear came off the road and on to the side actually hunting for food. A lot of other buses stopped there as well.
As we moved slowly past the stopped buses around the next bend we spotted something moving again. Lo and behold a Mama bear and her two cubs. Mama busy eating berries or whatever it was and the little ones generally playing around. This was the best thing ever. One cub was name ‘Curious George’ as he would run off investigating and then would find something and come running back to Mama. The other one stuck close to Mama for most parts.
After about 10 mins watching the cubs and their mama we headed out to stop at the next visitor center for a 15 mins break. We were stretching our legs and clicking pictures when we met AsA, SA and the kids on their way back on their break as well. It was good 15 mins spend telling each other about the animals we saw. Our bus number was called so we slowly got in for the last leg of our trip inside the park. Everyone was quite, tired after all the wild life we had seen. And then as we took a turn D and another guy on the bus spotted something. A call out and the bus was stopped. We saw this lone wolf in the valley below, which is surprising because wolves generally are seen in packs and can’t survive by themselves for long.
After that no stops were made. We made our way to Wonder Lake. Got out of the bus to be welcomed by swamps of mosquitoes. Thankfully we knew about them so had come prepared. Out came the net hats and the repellent. My OBGYN had asked me to avoid the repellent if I could because of the chemicals in it can harm the baby so I stuck to stuffing my hands inside my waterproof jackets (these mosquitoes can bite through normal cloth so gloves would not work). We quickly set up our tent, cooked dinner (Maggi what else?), ate dinner (you can’t eat inside your tent for the fear of the smell attracting wild animals so there is special place to cook, eat and store all food stuff) and I crashed for the day (tent being the best mosquito net ever) while D sat clicking pictures of Mount Denali in the setting sun.
For those who are waiting for any mention and pictures of Mount Denali..well wait for the next post.
A must do when in Alaska (after Denali National Park of course) is to do a glacier cruise. Go of in the boat close to the glacier and watch them meet the sea. We were taking a boat from Whitter which is again a small fishing town some 60 miles from Anchorage. The most interesting part about getting to Whitter is the approach to the town. A small tunnel was dug way back when through the mountain to let a train pass. So imagine a single rail track and as per schedule automobile traffic from one end enters the tunnel, then some 15 mins later automobile traffic from the other side of the tunnel is allowed to pass through. Then train from one end is allowed, followed by train from the other end and so the cycle goes. Everyone getting in and out of town through one small about a mile long tunnel. What fun. But this makes for timing your approach to Whitter just perfect so that you don’t have to stand in line of traffic for too long but don’t miss the window to pass through the tunnel. We did time our getting to Whitter perfectly thanks to AsA.
Once we got to town there was another 30 or so mins wait for the ferry to start. Once on the ferrywords don’t do justice to the sights but then neither do pictures. The day started out cloudy but cleared out half way through the ride.
And we had awesome BBQ burgers and corn once we got back home while enjoying the setting colours of the sun.
It was a lazy morning. By the time I was up and made my way to the dinning room D was in the shower, AsA and M had been to the grocery store (hence the kitchen and the fridge were stocked with fruits, milk, eggs, waffles, reads, juice, cola, wine, beer and other grocery items), CG and PA where making breakfast, few people were ready dressed for the day and the kids were running all over the place.
Finally with everyone pitching in breakfast was eaten, munchies packed, people got ready, a photo session of all of us together completed, so we got into our cars for a drive around Alaska. The turning point was set as Seward about 3 hours non stop drive from Anchorage. But took our time, we did for breaks for pictures and other attractions.
The official break was at a wildlife preserve where animals hurt in the wild are kept till they recover (glorified Zoo is what D called it). It was a halt made for the kids (and for adults if they did not see any other wild life).
We finally got to Seward, which is a small little fishing town. Nothing much to do there but for the gorgeous scenery. So we had lunch is small little cafe and enjoyed hanging out at the peaceful place.
After a while we headed to the final destination for the day, Exit Glacier, which is about 20 miles off Seward. Here you can see the glacier from a distance but there is a 2 mile hike that you can do which will get to the very base of the glacier. After donning hiking shoes and warm jackets we started on the hike. The hike is a loop where you can go up one end and come down the other side if you wanted to do the loop or go up and come down from any side. Everyone had an opinion on which side was the easiest and hence people split up in groups going from different approach points. D, M and I headed from one end and got to the glacier point without any issues. Once there D and M decided to go off the trail to actually go touch the glacier. In deference to being pregnant, I stayed behind. The others caught up with us while those two where making their way to the glacier.
Once everyone was done clicking pictures and D, M were back we started on our way down. And here is what we found. Ptarmigan walking in front of us. And the best part was when they spread their wings you saw this brilliant red colour (same as the one of their eyes) featears. Wish we could capture a picture but they don’t fly too much.
Once we got down we hit the road to get back to the house with a few stops for pictures
OK lets meet the players. All 13 of them. Someone is keeping a count right?
– AsA & SA and their two kids AyA & TA:
AsA is the planner of the group. He is the know it all guy and the Mr Enthu of the group. Activities of the first two days are planned by him.
SA is perfect for Mr Enthu ready to be led into any adventure but these days spends most of her time running after the two little ones and catering to their various whims.
AyA is the badda bhaiya who does not let any opportunity go to hit the chota bhiya without getting caught. He is almost 3.
TA at 1 and few months follows and mimics every thing AyA does without fear and he knows how to shove for any push that comes his way.
– AmA & PA :
AmA is the soft spoken one of the group. Also the one with the most brains (this is, of course as per all the guys in our friends circle, DR2 and all that).
PA is again the perfect match for AmA. She is the talkative one. Loves to talk, loves to shop, loves order, loves cleanliness. Also a suspect between D and I as a fellow mother to be. How do we suspect? The extra care AmA is bestowing on her..how else? 🙂
– PG & CG
PG is the perfect husband. He always cleans while she does the cooking. How awesome is that? He gets CG flowers and presents for various occasions even if he has to make a midnight run for them, so that it’s a surprise for her. Always laughing, always cracking jokes.
CG is the only one in the group who does not work in the same company as all of us (except for M who does not even live on the same coast as us). In fact her field of work is totally different for any one of us. She works with children with disabilities and I have a whole lot of respect for what she does. Caring, compassionate, always ready to help thats CG for you.
– NG & SG
SG has a naivety about her. She just looks at the world with such wide eyes. And then she asks her questions. Everything from ‘Did you straighten your hair’ to ‘Why does the glacier snow look that colour of blue’ to ‘Are you not scared of wild animals to camp in the wild’ to ‘When do you plan to have children’, to ‘You have a OBGYN? Why?’.
NG is absolutely without a doubt perfect for SG. He answers all her questions with a smile on his face (D would probably have thrown me under a bus long ago if I spoke in Q&A form all day). NG, let me tell you also takes forever to get ready. This we realized on our trip (NG & SG are always the last people to arrive any time we all are getting together and now we know why).
is D’s friend from school. Not really langotia yaar but close. They then went to the same college as well. M’s wife and kids were in India and hence he made this trip with us. Looking back at the pics of the first part of the trip D & M have more pictures together than D & me.
Looking at all these people let me give you some history.
All the guys except for PG did there undergraduate studies from the same college, passing out in the same batch. So they have long standing history together.
All of us (but for CG and M) work for the same company so we have a lot of common there as well.
All the girls are about the same age, got married about the same time, left our families and jobs behind, struggled to set up house, learned to cook, struggled with our post marriage identity. All about the same time and get nagged by random people to have kids all the time, so we have a real good understanding of what the other has gone through and is going through.
In short with being different people and the differences that come from that, we are still a family. A unit away from our families back home.
There are a lot more people in the saga that is our life and part of our family here in this land but for now the Alaska trip characters have been enumerated.
What about tit bits about D and me you ask? hmm..well this entire blog is dedicated to that..who needs one line character introductions 🙂
As all long weekends go, planing on what to do starts way in advance. So the next upcoming national holiday got everyone talking about taking a vacation. D and I had talked about heading to Alaska for quite some time and when we made the suggestion over dinner with friends at a Thai place people jumped on it. It is kind of surprising the number of friends who agreed to the plan. 10 adults 2 kids. Alaska is huge with a lot that you can see, so based on how many days people could take off a plan was made. A few friends could take only one extra day off work, a few could take two extra days off, D and I were taking the entire week off.
Tickets were booked and a house booked for 3 nights and then everyone made different arrangements for accommodation based on when they were getting back. A week before we were to leave one of D’s old school friend, M, called (he lives on the other side of the country and the two of them had not met since 1999) and realized we were heading to Alaska for the long weekend. He had his tickets booked within an hour :).
We were flying Thursday evening so came back from work around 4, loaded all our bags and headed to the airport. 12 friends getting together at the airport, checking-in baggage, grabbing a bite to eat. It was picnic at the airport, load of fun. Everyone settled down once the plane took off. Books, music player came out. zzzzz’s caught up with most of us as well (what would you expect in a 4 hrs. flight at the end of a long week and hectic day).
Landed in Anchorage at 11:10. M met us at baggage claim since he had landed 20 mins before us. Having grabbed our luggage we headed to the car rental place to pick up our cars. The type of car we had booked were all out so were given an upgrade to a Subaru SUV and not extra cost which was super cool :). 13 people loaded all their stuff in 3 cars and headed out to the rental place. 5 engineers, 2 GPS, 1 print out of directions to the rental place, 2 cars in front of us and we still managed to get lost. Thankfully we corrected our course quickly and were not too late getting to the house.
Oh the House. It was magnificent. The view beyond words (at 1:00 at night). Let see..the house was three stories. The main level had the living room, dining room, kitchen, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom. The upper level had 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom and a loft. The lower level had 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Now the view..the main level had floor to ceiling windows where you could see the pitch black sky and specs of glowing red of the setting sun way out in the horizon. We sat there soaking in the view and eating (everyone was hungry having had something to eat at 6:00 before boarding the plane and you get nothing in flight these days) what the house hostess had left us for breakfast the next day (they were to provide us with breakfast the first day as part of the rent to the place). We saw the sky go all black and then some 15 mins later while we were still talking and eating on the other side of the window we saw another set of red hues coming of the rising sun. This was way too awesome, something we had never seen before.
We were all too tired to get out cameras out and were sure nothing would catch the beauty of the place so just sat there feasting our eyes. Finally amidst murmurs and yawns we hit the sac.