Month: October 2009

First look

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..

Alaska – Impressions

OK one final post on Alaska..over all impressions..and things that don’t fit in anywhere else.

– Beautiful: Nature untouched..beyond words..amazingly beautiful..That’s Alaska

Mountains, snow, clouds

House with a view

– 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.

Moose sighting on route to Valdez

– Bullet holes: All highway signs all over Alaska seem to have been used for target practice.

Target practice

Bullets from the other side

– Junk: You see junk everywhere. Scrapped cars, abandoned buildings, firecracker remains, broken down boats..

Cars ready to trashed

Boats left to rust

– 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..

Alaska – Rest of the trip – A quick log

– 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.

This fox walked in front of our bus for atleast 5 mins before going on side of the bus to let us pass
Fox after catching its breakfast

– 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.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), includes the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, 11 pump stations, several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal
One of the many views of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

– Salmon really do swim upstream. They jump, swim and then rest for a while before starting the process again.

Salmon resting before swimming upstream
Salmon in a river

– 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.

Bald Eagle mate for life until the death of one mate
Bald Eagle pair..always together

– 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.

Black Bear on a hikking trail in Valdez
Black Bear checking us out on a hike in Valdez

– 20 mile one way detour for lunch is worth every mile when this is the view you sit down to have lunch along.

20 mile detour to Lake Louise for lunch
Lake Louise

– 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.

Matanuska Glacier stretches 27 miles long
Matanuska Glacier as seen from the road

– 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

Portage Glacier - Maggie for dinner and pitch a tent
Portage Glacier - Maggie for dinner and sunset for view

– 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.

Homer - We camped on the strip
Homer strip and the view from there

Alaska – Denali National Park – Day 2

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.

View from a hike
View from a hike

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.

Looking into the valley
Looking into the valley

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.

Mama Bear and her cubs
Mama Bear and her cubs
Curious George looking for something
Curious George looking for something

Finally the time came to head back and look what we found..a Fox on the hunt.

Fox
Fox

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.

Tents at Wonder Lake
Tents at Wonder Lake

Alaska – Mount McKinley (aka Denali)

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. 🙂

First look
First look
Denali and the mountain in between
Denali and the mountain in between
Zooming in
Zooming in
Almost at Wonder Lake
Almost at Wonder Lake
Our tent and view from there
Our tent and view from 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.

Denali with setting sun
Denali with setting sun

Imagine getting up in the morning and having breakfast to this view.

Close up
Close up
Denali
Denali

Alaska – Denali National Park – Day 1

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.

Moose youngling
Moose youngling

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.

Mama Moose with her two little ones
Mama Moose with her two little ones

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.

Dal sheep
Dal sheep

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.

Carab
Caribou

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.

Finally proper bear sighting
Finally proper bear sighting
I spy something
I spy something
Mad dash
Mad dash
Done eatting. On to next thing
Done eating. On to next thing

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.

Mama bear with her two cubs
Mama bear with her two cubs

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.

Lone wolf
Lone wolf

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.

Alaska – Glacier Cruise

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.

Enjoy the pictures.

Starting out
Starting out
Glacier river meeting the ocean
Glacier river meeting the ocean – College Fjord
Sea Otters
Sea Otters
Glacier ice falling into the sea
Glacier ice falling into the sea
Glacer Icefield
Glacier Icefield
More sea otters
More sea otters
Seals
Seals
Glacier view
Glacier view
Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat
On the way back
On the way back
Birds
Birds
Waterfall on the way back
Waterfall on the way back
Town of Whitter
Town of Whitter
Anchorage view from the house
Anchorage view from the house