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Summer In March

March 23, 2015

Variable wind 10 knots. Seas 2 feet. Some passing clouds, but mostly sunny. Highs in the mid-40’s, lows in the mid-20’s. High aurora activity.

Wow! What a weekend! Other than the sub-freezing chill at night and the high aurora forecast, the weather was basically analogous to summer. Gone were the fierce, cold north winds, the freezing spray, and sleet that usually occupy March. Instead we had endless sunshine, feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces once again. What a perfect weekend to start the sailing season.

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Wow, what a weekend!

The first night out is always a little shaky. We have taken Carpe Ventos out on day trips since February, so using the boat wasn’t much of an issue; it was the food planning that we messed up. We thought we put the staples like rice, pasta, and nori and other necessities, like maple syrup, back on the boat in February. Only after we moved Carpe Ventos over to F-dock to flush and fill the water tanks did we realize what we were missing. Luckily Krystin had brought tons of canned foods from home like smoked and unsmoked salmon, moose, and some dried items made in our dehydrator. It wasn’t a total loss, but a hot breakfast would’ve been nice (we forgot the eggs, too).

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Food planning on this trip was poor, so we ate a lot of cold things like this.

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Except for the night we had salmon. Oh, salmon, always the best meal!

Flushing and filling the water tanks took forever as usual. We had to move our boat over to the transient dock which is the only dock with water in the off season. We double flushed our tank and filled up the water just as the pleasant north wind died. A downwind sail to Thumb Cove would’ve been nice, but instead our engine got its first decent workout of the year.

We dropped anchor in Thumb Cove in glassy water. A few jet skiers were playing around in the cove, one of which was towing a surfer behind. Mostly, we spent the afternoon absorbing the heat from the sun before heading out to shore. We watched an mountain goat nanny and kid walk along the beach from one steep mountain to the next.

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Krystin looks out at Carpe Ventos anchored in Thumb Cove on a very low tide.

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This tree has been stranded on the beach here for years and it always makes for great pictures.

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Sunset on the north beach at Thumb Cove. Early season sailing is the only time we experience darkness aboard the boat.

Our first stop was the usual beach with the two state park cabins. The park service had a busy winter putting up signs for the outhouses on the beach and renovating the cabins. One cabin was vacant while the other was full of some local kids who had run out tons of gear on their jet skis. They invited us in for a friendly drink and we found out that the majority of them lived in our neighborhood. One of them, who was a bit over-served, announced VERY LOUDLY his name. He also VERY LOUDLY figured out where we live. “YOU GUYS HAVE THE BIG RED TRUCK, RIGHT?” We had a good laugh. Though they invited us to play around on their jet skis the next day, we decided to head to another cove the following morning.

Before heading out, we went to shore to explore. There was a small swell still rolling through from a passing storm. The beaches were littered with the usual marine debris. We noticed an increase in dead starfish probably due to the same, mysterious starfish die-off happening along the West Coast. We also noticed a plethora of fire rings on the beaches. Perhaps the lack of snow hadn’t flattened out or destroyed last summer’s crop of fire rings, but it appears that people had been camping virtually everywhere. People also think that metals like aluminum foil burn, so each ring was littered with foil and beer caps. After witnessing the destruction of our local public use cabins, we grabbed a trash bag and started cleaning up some of the beaches and brought back a bag full of camping filth. In the process, we stored two like-new tarps off a beach in Thumb Cove.

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Looking south out Resurrection Bay. The water was clear and glassy it seemed unreal.

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A winter’s worth of storms and lack of snow cover downed many trees along the beach.

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Coming soon, Boat, Beaches, and Bears 4, now with more Bixler!

With a bag of trash and two tarps richer, we left Thumb and headed to Bulldog near Bear Glacier. This exposed stretch of coastline is open to the Gulf of Alaska swell which was still rolling through steadily from the southeast. In Krystin’s opinion, Bulldog appeared too swelly to anchor in. In Bixler’s opinion, it would be fine. After much marital strife, we ended up in Sunny Cove not talking to one another. Honestly, what do other couples fight about?

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A thick, cold cloud sits over Bear Glacier.

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Krystin sips a beer while bundled up en route to Bulldog Cove.

When we settled down and Bixler as usual realized Krystin was right about Bulldog, we headed to the beach. Sunny Cove has a wonderful long stretch of beach great for walking on. There are several private cabins that dot the cove and lots of beach combing. Sunny Cove doesn’t collect as much trash, but there were plenty of dead starfish.

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The Sunny Cove beach walk.

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Walking towards the sun at the end of Sunny Cove.

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We found this small cave with a frozen icicle down the middle of it.

We climbed to an old cabin we found years ago only to find it had finally collapsed. The dead deer we found under the cabin whose skull sits on our bookshelf is now a mere pile of bones. We remarked that it is amazing how time flies.

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The abandoned cabin flattened by a tree.

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The few remains of the deer. The skull sits on our bookshelf.

Sunny is known for being sunny, except in March when you anchor too far to the south for the sun reach the boat. We watch the sun completely miss us and set behind the mountains. However, the sun was quickly replaced by a clear night sky with loads of beautiful stars. A few clouds settled over the cove, but from the warmth and safety of our boat, we were able to see the aurora borealis through the clouds. Unfortunately, it was high tide and thus too rocky to shoot a decent picture.

The next morning, a cold north wind blew into the cove. Though sailing season had started, we were quickly reminded how cold it is to sail in March. Our Dickinson stove was doing the trick at night (though we filled it too full one night and glowed red hot), but mornings were brisk. We hid behind Fox Island trying to fish and wait for the wind to die. By the time we rounded the spit, the seas were glassy once again.

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Carpe Ventos precariously anchored near the spit on Fox Island.

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Oh really?

Visiting the spit at Fox Island is no easy task. There is no protected anchorage and the beach is so steep that anchoring in 100 ft of water puts you a few yards off shore. Without the usual boat traffic and with perfect weather, we dropped anchor and explored the spit.

The spit is ring of cobbles and rocks that surround a lagoon. There are numerous dead trees from the 1964 earthquake which subsided some of the land. A harbor seal was following us from the lagoon while we circumnavigated the spit.

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The lagoon on the Fox Island spit surrounded by dead, but still standing, trees.

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A harbor seal, barely seen in this pictures, pokes its head up as it follows us around.

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Ah! What is this? Green grass!

Bixler found two giant buoys and two 5-gallon buckets (a form of currency in Alaska) and cached them so we could continue our hike. Unfortunately, when we returned to our cache, another local family had decided to picnic right near our pile. Their kids were playing on our buoy and we apologized profusely when we grabbed our find. They didn’t seem to mind, though. In talking, Bixler mentioned that Krystin is an engineer and one of the little girls went up to her and said, “you’re an engineer?” to which Krystin replied, “yes.” Her eyes grew wide like a cat and she mentioned that she liked “tech and math” before running down the beach. Cute.

We grabbed our treasures and pulled anchor, motoring back on glassy seas to Seward. A little more wind would’ve been helpful on the way back, but in the end it was the perfect weekend to kick off the summer sailing season.


Chaga: The Medicinal Mushroom

March 14, 2015

Chaga. It’s medicinal, man.

No, seriously, it is.

A few posts ago we made a brief reference to the mushroom chaga (Inonotus Obliquus). Introduced to us by some friends, we were immediately skeptical because there is so much hype about this mushroom all over the Internet. Chaga cures cancer! It is a wonder drug! You can buy it processed for $60/lb! Hmm…. As we sifted through the usual crap, we found two things: 1) Chaga is not widely studied in the US, though it is growing in popularity, and 2) the Russians and Chinese know more about it than we do – in fact Chaga is a Russian word.

Chaga is first referenced in thousand-year-old Chinese texts and was also used throughout Siberia to cure common stomach ailments and to prevent cancer. Apparently, the mushroom is high in anti-oxidants and possesses immune boosters. Chaga is found primarily on birch trees, growing very slowly over the course of many years. The birch tries to fight the chaga off by sending everything is has to it and the chaga merely absorbs it, hence the immune booster claim. That’s one theory anyway. If we could read Russian, we would be able to learn more. Apparently the Soviets used to prescribe chaga to their athletes. Yeah, it’s that good.

It turns out that because chaga grows on birch, you can find it just about anywhere here down the road where the birch line starts. We have a few spots that are a chaga meccas. Just keep an eye open and you should be able to spot the black, crumbly-looking mushrooms sticking out a birch tree. In our winter of no snow, lack of decent ptarmigan hunting, thin ice for fishing, and no more room for firewood on our property, the hunt for chaga has kept our resource extraction going year-round.


Raw, unprocessed chaga.


Finding and Processing

Finding chaga is the easy part. Step 1: Find birch grove. Step 2: Look around said birch grove. Done.

Removing it can be kind of a pain. A hammer and chisel or a thick-bladed knife is best to pry the chaga off. Eventually, it will pop off with enough leverage. It takes about 6 years for a chaga to grow back, so no real harm in removing it. Just don’t dig into the tree itself (i.e., leave a little left).


A repeat picture from a different post, you know, back when we had snow. Bixler uses a Leatherman to try to pry a chaga off a birch tree. We later switched to the hammer and chisel method or carry a stout knife if we want to save space.

Hippies will tell you that all you need to to do is put the chaga behind a woodstove or heater to dry it out, but for it to store properly it needs to be bone dry. We chop the mushroom up and use our dehydrator to dry out the mushroom. 125 degrees F at 24 hours does the trick. Store it in mason jars for that homestead feel.


If you are spending big money on chaga pills that are simply ground up mushroom, just stop right there. All you are doing is exercising your digestive system. Chaga supposedly contains many benefits surrounded by thick cell walls that we as humans cannot digest. Instead, you must extract the compounds. Okay everyone, time for a science lesson!

The compounds in chaga exist in two forms: polar and non-polar. Polar compounds are reactive with water (since water itself is polar) while non-polar compounds are not and need something else that’s non-polar to break them apart, like say ethanol (also known as your everyday drinking alcohol). Think mixing oil (non-polar) with water (polar). Yeah, they hate each other. Ideally, both the polar and non-polar compounds should be extracted from the chaga to receive the full benefit. However, most people use the single decoction to extra the polar compounds in the form of a tea.

Single Decoction

To make a chaga tea, take about a pint jar’s worth of chaga and coarsely chop in a food processor. Add the chaga to a crock pot and fill to maximum. Cook on low for 12 hours. Using the same chaga, you can repeat the process to continue the extraction. Chaga should only be used a few times before tossing it.

There is another method for boiling the chaga, but any chemist will tell you that this risks denaturing the compounds at high temperature. Whether or not that is the case, the crockpot method is good for lazy people like us who don’t want to watch a boiling pot of water for two hours.

Either way, the process produces a concentrate that must be cut with water (or in our case, coffee). So far it stores well in a cool room and tastes great in our morning cup o’ joe. Add a shot or so. Or, for a tea, add a shot or two and top with hot water.

Double Decoction

Say you are huge nerds like we are and after pushing your glasses back up on your nose you decide that you also need those beneficial non-polar compounds. Enter the double decoction method.

To start the tincture, go to your local liquor store and buy the cheapest, bottom-shelf vodka you can get your hands on. Take a pint of chaga and grind it as fine as you can in a food processor (note: grinding chaga in a food processor creates a brown chaga ring in your food processor). Put the ground chaga in a quart jar and top off with vodka. Let sit for two months, shaking periodically.

After two months, strain the chaga, keeping both the chaga and the alcohol decoction. Take that chaga and put in a crock pot on low, filled to the max with water. Instead of just letting it sit, you will want to reduce the chaga and water mix by cracking the lid on the crockpot to reduce the water. When the water is reduced to about halfway, chuck the chaga and keep the water extraction. Combine the water extraction with the alcohol extraction.

We have a giant crock pot, so our ratio of water to alcohol was somewhere in the 4:1 range, diluting it to about 10% alcohol. We also store this in mason jars. While the single decoction is simply called “Chaga Tea Concentrate,” the double decoction has the long-winded name of “Nimble Maarit Elixir of Life Longevity Tonic,” named after our chef-friend Maarit who happens to be very nimble on icy trails and who enjoys witty titles.

Taste and Recipes

So how does it all taste? Awesome. The chaga tea has a mild birch syrup flavor. The alcohol decoction without blending with the chaga tea has a strong bitter taste that fades with the mixing of the tea. We put the straight chaga tea in our coffee to add a mild birch note.

The double decoction tonic is a little bit more difficult to work with because of the hint of bitterness. We had our friend Samm over for a hot tub and while she was showering after she had a shower epiphany: chaga root beer. The rich brown color is excellent for a mock root beer. We have a Soda Stream to make our own non-alcoholic fizzy water, but you can use bottled carbonated water for this recipe:

Chaga Root Beer

Combine 1 oz tincture, 2 oz chaga tea concentrate, 1 tbsp Torani vanilla syrup (or vanilla extract with sugar or honey to taste). Fill with fizzy water, ice,  and top off with half and half if you desire a creamier taste. Stir well.

Tastes a lot like rootbeer, we swear by it!


Dried chaga, chaga tea and tincture, and chaga root bear. Yum!


Does it work?

Good question. We aren’t sure if it is psychosomatic, but drinking a chaga rootbeer everyday or having a bit in our coffee sure makes us feel pretty darn good. That and the returning sunlight!

Ice Fishing and Sailing – All in the Same Week!

February 26, 2015

For the month of February, we’ve been busy. Aside from our day jobs, here’s how we’ve been occupying our downtime:

  • Krystin has been heavily studying to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam in April. If you don’t know what that is, you should look it up. You get a stamp with your name on it, among other things. Apparently, her studying has been causing the blog to go quiet for a few months, so don’t expect updates as frequent as before until after April 17th.
  • Bixler randomly googled “Boat, Beaches, and Bears” and found a heated discussion about our first movie on the UK-based Yachting and Boating World Forum. Naturally, he joined the discussion and noticed a direct relationship between passion about protecting bears and meanness of insults. Apparently someone who feels bears should be elevated into some magical realm where they are better than other animals also hopes our boat sinks. Now we see why the American colonies rebelled from England in the 1770’s. You can read the entire transcript here.

When the weather isn’t pouring rain, we’ve been hitting up some more remote lakes for ice fishing.

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We convinced a friend of ours to tow our gas-powered auger to a remote lake. What an ordeal! The trail hardly had any ice or snow on it, so it made the tow up to the lake interesting.

The highway-side lakes get hit hard because your average fisherman can simply park and walk to the lake. We’ve started venturing further to increase our fishing success. One lake involves a complete bushwhack to get to, one has a long trail, and the other involves a fairly steep climb up an icy trial. All lakes are still well-iced and the fishing has been hot! Thanks to the warming temperatures, our holes don’t freeze over at night, so that’s less work on the manual ice auger for us!

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Krystin works hard to drill a hole in a remote lake. Bixler can drill a hole in half of the time.

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Warming temperatures created slushy conditions, but that didn’t stop us!

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Success! Krystin holds up her catch of the day!

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The harder the hike, the better the trout. Here are two nice-sized trout from a stocked lake. The biggest one was over 15 inches in length. Note the flask for scale.

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A typical day’s catch: several pounds of trout. Some real fat ones in there, too!

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Finished trout cooked in a salt dome. Delicious!

Somewhere in between all of this, Bixler was out running errands in Seward when he noticed that a) the ambient temperature was above 35 degrees F and b) the wind was mild. He called up Krystin and said “let’s go sailing!” We gathered our friend Samm (who noted that her name’s is in fact spelled with two “m’s”), a newly minted Alaskan, and headed out on Carpe Ventos for a romp around the bay – in February, the earliest we’ve ever taken her out.

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This is February?

There wasn’t much wind for sailing, but Bixler did pull up a nice yelloweye rockfish for dinner and we introduced Samm to Dall’s Porpoises, who enjoy riding Carpe Ventos’ bow wave.

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The first yelloweye rockfish of the season!

We had some very light sailing and enjoyed the scenery.

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Not much sailing in these parts. We rode a few zephyrs back to Seward.

There is a complete lack of snow once again, except for the mountain tops, making the scenery look more like April than February. It felt great to be back out on the water. Everything worked fine and soon we’ll be back to our usual antics aboard our boat.

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Soon we’ll be back to our usual boat antics!

Spring is coming early this year!

Ice Fishing: Filling that Fishing Void in the Dead of Winter

February 12, 2015

Fishing. It is probably our favorite form of resource extraction. Over the last several years, we’ve become pretty darn good at ocean fishing and are slowly figuring out the intricacies of fly fishing. However, ocean fishing and fly fishing can only be done in the short time period defined as summer. In Alaska, we have long winters. People always remark that December 21st is the first day of winter, but our winter begins long before that. Ice up in October, ice out in May. Rain in between sometimes.

During that long period, we often dream of fishing, thinking it is not possible. Yet, right here under our noses, people are still fishing. How? Ice fishing.


A goldenfin flash freezing on the ice. Goldenfins are landlocked Dolly Varden that have, well, golden fins.

Ice fishing is not common on our side of the peninsula where mountains separate the best lakes and heavy snow usually accumulates. This year’s low-snow year has locals scratching their heads on what to do outside that doesn’t involve skiing, snowmachining, and the like. Most people have written off this winter as a terrible one. Some, like us, have invested in ice fishing gear to take advantage of the situation. Lakes normally covered in feet of snow are now accessible. The fishing potential is enormous.

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A summary of our ice fishing setup. We fished this lake all the way until dark!

How we made the jump to buy gear is a mystery. One weekend during our spell of cold weather, we drove to Soldotna and invested in a full set of gear, minus the shanty. We drilled a few holes and realized that a local lake close to our house is full of Dolly Varden and large rainbows that didn’t seem to take our lures. We could see them amassing down the hole, interested, but skeptical. Eager for bigger fish, we started exploring out the road. And then our power auger broke.

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The power auger is an essential tool for the roadside lake. Bixler drills a few holes on a beautiful, albeit very cold, day.

First the pull start snapped while we were sitting in -5F weather trying to figure out how to rewind the spring inside of it. Once we figured that out, we headed out to another lake the following day only to have the entire transmission fail on us. Back to Soldotna. Luckily for us, Soldotna has a large ice fishing community and it was Superbowl Sunday. We didn’t have to argue with the guys at Sportsman’s Warehouse because the manager was too busy watching the game and let us exchange it. During the auger exchange, the helpful employee offered all of his tips for fishing. We were finding that the few living souls that we encountered on some of the local lakes were more willing to share tips than the ocean fisherman around Seward. During the height of the salmon season, when the silvers run to shore and people line the beach to snag them, every asshole around seems to be fishing.

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The view is totally worth the cold. Also, note to self: beer on ice means a beer slushy…

Despite the hangups with the old auger, we started to get a bit more successful. We pulled a few Dolly Varden out of that nearby lake. We headed out the road and caught Goldenfin (landlocked Dolly Varden) and our first sizable trout. Our fishing is usually limited by how cold we get, sans-shanty. Since we are both constantly on the move, we’ve taken a more active approach to ice fishing. Another Sewardite who had been fishing another lake we tried since the ’70’s does this same approach. He pulled a 6 lb trout out of that lake once.

Friendly people? Excellent fishing access? Refunds on broken augers? There must a few downsides to the sport! And there are: the cold, and the weird sounds the ice makes when a car drives by on it.

One thing to note: check your regulations! Your visibility of standing on the ice with a sled, auger, and fishing rods makes you an easy target for the Troopers. At the same lake where the local pulled a 6-lb trout out of, a Trooper showed up to question us. He was nice, asked to see our licenses, and was convinced there were no fish in this lake, but said if we caught anything he’d like to see it.

We’ve had some decent success on roadside lakes, but with a recent investment in a hand auger, we will start trying more remote lakes. Hopefully we can pull some big fish at our secret lakes!

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The potential down this hole is enormous. Also, that’s spilled beer along side the hole for those of you with nasty minds.


Winter Happens.

January 27, 2015

Remember when we were complaining about above-freezing temperatures and rain? Well, that changed abruptly. It is 10 F (-12 C) in Seward and hovering around -50 F (-45 C) in parts of the Interior. The entire state had a sudden, dramatic temperatures swing as January progressed. We’re used to that. That’s how life works in Alaska.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have an adequate blanket of snow on the Kenai Peninsula to do our usual sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Instead we rigged up the fatbikes and headed out to find the perfect biking spots.

Another Day, Another Bike Ride Around a Frozen Lake

Saturday was a bit snowy from the brief snow storm that left a whopping one inch of snow on our deck. In our usual Saturday morning fashion, we awoke way too late to do anything meaningful. Here at the end of January the sunrise is still around 9:30 in the morning, so it is really difficult to get going early in the morning, especially after a night of continuing our 23-movie James Bond marathon.


Our destination: Upper Trail Lake, a winter playground for everyone in the Seward/Moose Pass area!

When we finally got moving, we loaded up our bikes and headed out to Upper Trail Lake in Moose Pass to ride the circumference.


Oh look, a rock stack.


You know how we feel about rock stacks!



The ride would’ve been quick since the circumference is only 8.5 miles if you cut out the overflow and chunky ice places, but Bixler stopped at every birch tree to check for chaga.


Bixler chips a chaga off a birch tree on the other side of the lake.

What is chaga? Chaga, or rather Inonotus Obliquus is a slow-growing fungus found on birch trees in cold climates. Not much is known about it, but this weird-looking fungus is an old Siberian folk remedy for anti-anything: anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-intestinal worms (which we probably have) – you name it. Chaga has been gaining popularity in the US for the past few years and Alaska seems to have an abundance of it. So you want to buy Chaga? Processed chaga will set you back about $100/pound. You can’t just eat it; it must be boiled in water and/or infused in alcohol to extract the goodness. More on that to come soon!

A few pounds of chaga richer and slightly colder from the dropping temperatures, we completed our circumnavigation and headed to the Trail Lake Lodge for a beer and some bar food. The Trail Lake Lodge was the place to be in Moose Pass (population 219), encompassing a tenth of the population. Sometime during our stay, the lodge owner’s daughter came over and our conversation went something like this:

Owner’s Daughter: Is that your beautiful red sled outside? Pointing to our truck.

Bixler: Yes.

Owner’s Daughter: That’s a nice F-350.

Bixler: Thanks.

Owner’s Daughter: Next time park farther back so people can walk in front. I’m a bitch, I know.

She then proceeded to talk something about how they purchased new snow machines from the lesbians across the street that were wrecked by a hairy Mexican and a hipster, all the while touching Bixler during this conversation. We weren’t really sure for the reason for such a tangent but it was entertaining nonetheless, especially because it made Bixler hopelessly uncomfortable. More people arrived mid-conversation and parked their trucks further back. Ah, now we get it. Gotta love small town Alaska!

Third Time’s the Charm

Fueled by the cooler temperatures and sunshine, we actually made an effort to wake up early enough to do something meaningful.


Something meaningful!

Our destination: the mysterious Mystery Creek Road that the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge only opens but once a year for hunters. We loaded up our beautiful red sled and drove west.

For those of you in cold climates, have you ever noticed that big diesel trucks always have a cover on the radiator intake in the front? Well, we discovered that there is a viable reason for that. As we approached Moose Pass, the temperature dropped below zero and our big truck, despite being 8,000 lbs of awesomeness, could hardly keep us warm traveling at highway speeds. Only when we slowed down to go through Moose Pass did we experience precious heat in the vehicle. The last time we experienced this issue was driving back from Fairbanks at -55 F in our Element (may it rest in peace) where we had to don snow pants to keep warm inside the vehicle.

We approached Mystery Creek Road and rigged up our bikes only to discover that Mystery Creek Road doesn’t allow bike traffic when the road is closed, which is most of the year.

We aborted and tried again at Skilak Lake Road. Skilak Lake Road is an 18-mile bypass off the highway that has little maintenance in the winter, so we thought it would be viable for biking. Not so. The road is steep. We huffed to the top and froze on the way back down. Check that one off the list.

Our third and final stop was the Russian River Campground, located at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers. This area is famous for its fishing and is a zoo in the summer. Thankfully, the campground is closed during the winter months and usually turned into a skier’s paradise.


The nearly-frozen Russian River nestled in a very cold valley.

A few weeks ago we tried to bike along the Russian River trail to the Russian River falls and back along the river. That nearly ended in divorce because that section of the trail along the river is not maintained. This time, we headed further into the campground, rode around the loops, and headed down to the river. All along the Russian River there is a sketchy boardwalk that is probably for walking only and also probably level in the summer when the world isn’t an ice cube.


Bixler bikes along the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers.


Hmm…probably shouldn’t be riding on this…

We were a bit disgusted by the amount of development along this beautiful stretch of river. Unfortunately, a common management policy is to have a few “sacrificial spots” to send the bulk of the tourists to keep other beautiful places virtually unvisited.


We weren’t too thrilled by the amount of development along this river…

Cold and tired, we returned to the truck and headed back to Seward, skipping the single-scoop at Wildman’s for today. Somewhere during our trek we spotted a few people ice fishing on lakes. Hmm…

Installing New Beckson Ports

January 22, 2015

Alaskans tend to spend their Permanent Fund Dividend several times over and one iteration we bought with Krystin’s share were new opening ports for Carpe Ventos’ aging, cracked ports. At 36 years of age, the old ports were nearing the end of their useful life. They still technically worked since they weren’t leaking from the physical port itself, but three leaked from the gasket and the fourth was sealed shut since the lens broke off. Wouldn’t it be nice to a) have two opening ports in the head especially after Mexican night and b) have some more light in the boat on those cold, Alaskan summer days?


Notice anything different? Check out those new ports! Damn, that looks nice!

Newfound Metals vs. Beckson

So finally we initiated the dreaded port replacement project. It took years of procrastination and research to select the correct port for the boat. The runner up were the stainless steel ports from Newfound Metals because they are shiny and beautiful. The drag with these are the expense and additional time needed to reshape the holes for the new ports. Additionally, Seward is a wet climate and having something that both attracts moisture and potentially rusts on our boat can be a problem. However, there are several Cal 34 out there with Newfound Metal ports and they look awesome! Kudos to those owners!

Instead, Krystin selected Beckson ports as the replacement. Beckson is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for the Cal 34 Mark III ports (we think) and has refined the plastic port over the past 36 years. If you are looking to do any boat projects and you want the easiest possible installation, look for “OEM.” Honestly, these ports literally fit in the same hole.

Yes, the Beckson ports are plastic and many people these days upturn their noses on plastic, especially in Alaska with the plethora of steel boats and wooden boat enthusiasts. Remember: the old Beckson ports lasted 36 years. In Alaska we often use the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with regards to trying to find a different replacement. Maybe that’s why people tend to collect junk cars on their lawns….

Beckson Port Installation

Beckson provides a fairly wordy installation guide that includes various scenarios ranging from new port installation to hole-too-small to hole-too-big to general troubleshooting. There are also two ways to install the ports: standard thru-bolting and flush mount.

According to Beckson, the hardware should be easy to find at any marine chandlery. Yeah, uh huh. The only thing we discovered on our quest to find hardware was that the local Ace Hardware store has a cat named Mufasa that lives in the store to control the shrew population. When you aren’t looking, he follows you and bats at your Xtratufs, then runs away playfully. Honestly, we’re pretty sure business has skyrocketed there. In the end, we ordered both the ports and the hardware off of Defender.

In the end, we ordered the hardware to flush mount the ports versus thru-bolt. Flush mounting has its advantages though it is a bit more difficult to install. The flush mount allows no bolts to be exposed to the elements since they are encased by the trim ring. We imagine this way if there was a leak it would be easier to fix since the trim ring can be popped off and re-sealed without the pain of unbolting everything. Also, it looks damn sharp on the boat.

For the flush mount installation, you will need the following tools and equipment:

  • 10 flush mount barrel nuts per port
  • Two tubes of marine silicone and a caulk gun
  • 3/16″ and 17/64 drill bits and drill
  • 1/2″ countersink drill bit
  • Two c-clamps
  • Paint scraper
  • Pointed awl
  • Hammer
  • Tape
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Acetone and loads of paper towels
  • Various screwdrivers
  • One husband
  • Patience and a beer

Here the simplified steps for installing Beckson ports on a Cal 34 Mk III:

  1. Unbolt the old port. Give the husband a beer and a screwdriver and have him stand inside while you unbolt the port from the outside. On the outside, you will have basic bolts which can be reused for this project. The husband will have barrel nuts which can be discarded which you can push out into the cabin with the pointed awl. Once unbolted, send the husband away before he complains about what a waste of a weekend this project is. You may need to give him an activity book at this point.
  2. Remove the old port. Ports of this age are brittle and more easily removed by breaking the port. Use the paint scraper and hammer to remove the trim ring on the outside. It will likely break off in pieces. Next use the paint scraper to scrape off some of the sealant between the remaining port and cabin. Go inside and start hammering in the awl around the port to separate it from the deck. The more you use the awl, the greater the chance a portion of the port will break off and you can start removing pieces. Note: this is incredibly frustrating and will take 60% of the time.
  3. Remove the old sealant. A combination of acetone, a paint scraper, and patience will help you slowly remove the old sealant. This takes about 30% of the total project time. Once you finish removing the sealant, lightly sand the area with 220-grit sandpaper and clean up with acetone.
  4. Center and clamp the new port in place. The Beckson ports come fully assembled, so you will need to remove the gasket and pop out the screen (screens are a must in Alaska). The easiest way to “center” the new port is to align the new holes with as many existing holes as possible. We found that the bottom holes of the old port aligned the best for some reason. Next, clamp the port in place with c-clamps and tape up the border. We chose to only tape the inside because the tape is really hard to remove if it rains.
  5. Drill and countersink new holes. With the port still clamped in place, use the 3/16″ drill bit and drill out the new holes on the inside through the port. You will notice that the drill bit will favor going into the existing holes. That’s okay. Just try to widen out the old holes. The new port will fit most of the existing holes from the old port. Next, remove the port and switch to the 17/64″ drill bit and redrill the holes from the outside. The Beckson instructions talk about drilling these holes only 3/8″ deep. However, the deck on a Cal 34 at this part is only 3/8″ thick, so you don’t need to worry about the depth. Next, while still outside, countersink the holes. We found that counting to two (you know, “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”) provides enough countersink for the flush mount barrel nuts, but is wise to check.
  6. Do a dry run before you goop up your port. If you aren’t confident in your drilling abilities, you may want to bolt down the port before applying the sealant. This requires a husband and a screwdriver. We only tried this on the first port because there was much complaining from the husband about this step.
  7. Seal and bolt down the new port. If you have extra holes, first shoot some sealant into those holes. Next seal all surfaces of the port and the contact surface on the hull. Press the port in place. The sealant should hold it in place, but if you aren’t sure you can re-clamp the window down. Dabble a bit of sealant on each screw and place them into the holes. This will help align the window. Gather up the husband and give him a screwdriver and a pair of gloves (to protect his precious hands) and repeat outside with the barrel nuts. Bolt the window in place hand tight, to allow for expansion. Next, goop up the trim ring and press it into place. Do not clamp. Silicone needs some space for expansion for those rare warm days. Clean up excess sealant with acetone. You may want to cover the ports with plastic at this point to avoid rain.

The finished product still taped up in the head. We went with clear lenses versus smoked lenses for added light.

The entire project took about 4 hours per port done over two days. Day one it poured rain so we did it all under a tarp. Day two was nicer, but the temperature dropped some 30 degrees which made for a very cold installation. In the end, Carpe Ventos looks awesome with her new ports. We can’t wait to try them out on one of those ridiculously warm winter days! Oh, and we dewinterized the boat (minus the anti-freeze) just in case.


A closeup of the finished ports on a particularly icy day.

Alaskans Visit the Biggest City in the Pacific Northwest

January 14, 2015

How do you throw a bunch of Alaskans out of their comfort zones? Send them to a big city, any big city beyond the limits of Anchorage. Like, say, Seattle.

Seattle, at 3.5 million people (or five times the population of the state of Alaska) is the largest US metropolitan area near our home town of Seward with a population greater than 1 million souls. Anchorage, at 300,000 people, looks like a one-horse town in the eyes of Seattle.

So how did we end up in Seattle? That’s a good question. We don’t usually go out of our way to visit large cities. With our Xtratufs, lack of apparent style, and openness to things like carrying firearms (Alaska does not have a concealed carry law), we don’t exactly fit into the city life. However, our friend Jesse over at Empiricus Embarks and his now-wife Samantha, a Canadian, decided to have their wedding in Seattle to break up the travel for those coming from all parts of the world. Of course we would attend. What better way to spend time in a big city than with all of your best friends from Seward?

Ray Day

Our adventure started earlier than usual due to a freezing rain advisory. We jetted up to the airport in Anchorage, a quiet, uneventful 120-mile drive and spent the night at the airport. And by spending the night, we mean watching the guy on the cleaning mobile wax the same section of floor for hours on end. Ever wonder how those floors at the Anchorage airport stay so shiny? That’s how.

Our flight was uneventful, and as usual everyone with their goddamn rolly bags held up those of us with more efficient luggage getting off the airplane. Tired, with only three hours of sleep behind us, we stood on the curb in sweatpants and Xtratufs, squinting at the sun, and sticking out like a sore thumb. Our overnight flight was full of women dressed in the latest in Pacific Northwest fashion that we would see everywhere: drab colors, leggings, useless faux-leather boots.

Seattle 7

Doth thine eyes deceive thee? Is that a kilt? Yep, a utilikilt…

Our internal fuel tanks were running on empty until Ray showed up. Ray is a local Seattlite and member of the band Gertrude’s Hearse, providing rock and roll undertaking to the Seattle area since 2005. He and band-member Keith work in the sailboat industry and come up to Seward once a year in May to rig boats for when the rest of the harbor starts the sailing season. When we told him we were going to Seattle for the weekend, he literally cleared his entire schedule. He showed up in his minivan, the White Knight, and with his seemingly boundless energy, took us to the local brewery in his neighborhood, the Fremont-Ballard area, and on a driving tour of the Lake Union locks and some of the local sailing scene.

Seattle 1

The number of sailboats in Seattle alone was astounding. Seward’s harbor is tiny by comparison.

We ended the evening by taking a personalized tour on Lake Union on Ray’s sailboat Wilson. Lake Union is the opposite of a typical Alaska lake: the waters are controlled by locks, the shorelines are crammed with marinas, float houses, and plenty of gentrified buildings. Much to Ray’s chagrin, Seattle is undergoing a massive gentrification due to the ever-growing online store Amazon which is housed in Seattle. Neat little homes and that old boatyard feel are being displaced by gaudy, overpriced condos. Soon Seattle will be another San Francisco.

Seattle 2

The most difficult part of sailing in this area would be figuring out the lock system!

Lake Union has a 7 mph speed limit. You can’t anchor because your hook might break the clay cap that keeps the pollution from a nearby EPA Superfund site from seeping into the lake. Ray insists it is safe to swim in the lake, as long as you don’t leave from shore as to not drag any pollution in the lake. Multimillion dollar yachts line the lake. The skyline is incredible: the lights of the city contrast with Mt. Rainier peaking the background, like something out of a postcard. Traffic rings the lake in all directions. The most daunting thing about sailing here is going through the Lake Union locks. We both remarked at how easy it must be to sail in this area. Something goes wrong and you can hop off your boat and simply ask for help.

Seattle 3

Krystin remarks at the skyline along Lake Union on a rare clear day.

Seattle 5

We motored by how the other half lives, in float homes on the lake with a million-dollar view.

Seattle 4

Our tour guide and friend Ray in his winter plumage.


Ray dropped us off at our hotel remarking at how excited he and the rest of his band were to play at Jesse’s wedding, but he noted Jesse planned his wedding at the same time as a major Seattle Seahawks game, for which none of us Alaskans cared. We relayed that information to Jesse, who laughed about it, and as friends from Seward, other parts of Alaska, and Canada started to amass, we wreaked havoc on the hotel lobby.

Seattle 6

This sunset over the skyline is a very different view than what we are used to.

Beer Day

All of us split up in the morning to explore the local area around South Lake Union. Bixler headed off for a straight shave and a hair cut at a high-end hipster barbershop. Krystin walked around trying to understand more about the area. The area completely lacks trees, has hills like San Francisco, and is almost entirely new buildings. Busy business people doing busy business stuff jetted around between spin classes and entering Whole Foods with their dogs. Overwhelmed by the city life, we later hooked up with friends at a restaurant who shared our same feelings. The city wasn’t for us, but we might as well make the best of it.

We headed out for a day of beer tasting and sampling fine cuisine. After sitting in traffic and taking 50 minutes to move 4 miles, we finally visited Two Beers Brewing, our favorite summertime beer for our sailing trip. After that we ended up at Pike Place Market, where after numerous more rounds of beers, the five of us managed to consume eight dozen oysters. Eight dozen oysters. Apparently that was a new record for the restaurant.

Seattle 8

Beer! The reason why the Pacific Northwest exists in the modern era.

Seattle 9

Why have two dozen oysters when you can have eight dozen!?

Seattle 11

A strange large man photobombs Krystin at the bubble gum alley near Pike Place Market.

We wondered out of Pike Place Market in the night hours only to be accosted by Seattle’s homeless population. Bixler almost instigated a fight with a woman who insisted that we give her spare change, even after turning out our pockets and a string of expletives. Seattle is not the place to be at night.

Seattle 10

At least he didn’t accost us for spare change…

Wedding Day

Our return to the Pike Place Market during the daylight hours was far more enjoyable. As usual we bought interesting wall art to furnish our house, mostly Alaska-based since that seems to be theme around Seattle. Despite it being the day of his wedding, Jesse did not have a shirt to wear (way to wait until the last minute, Jesse), so we dropped into Macy’s nearby. When we reached the Men’s Department we rolled around with laughter realizing that Jesse’s son was dressed exactly like the mannequins in the store.

Seattle 12

Hmm…Jesse’s son would fit right in here in Seattle…He was actually offered a modeling job at the mall!

After a walking tour back to our hotel, we began to help Jesse prepare for the wedding. He insisted on doing his own food, so we pulled out our salmon and began the prep process along with helping with a whole host of other activities. Krystin was also the official videographer and Bixler did all the wedding photography. He was even hired as Gertrude’s Hearse’s photographer for the event.

Seattle 13

Jesse and Sam’s wedding was at the Center for Wooden Boats, which ironically featured many wooden longliners that make their home in Seward.

Seattle 14

Despite the drizzly night, we enjoyed browsing some awesome wood sailboats.

The wedding was a blast. The best way to describe it is combine crazy, partying Alaskans with quiet, reserved Canadians. Throw in some break dancing as well. Awesome. We’ll leave Jesse to explain the details if he so chooses on his blog!

Seattle 16

Our friends Ray and Keith (saxophone) and their band really put on a high energy, wonderful show for Jesse, Sam, and their guests.

Sick Day

You would think that the next day would be fun, wondering around Seattle with a slight hangover waiting for your evening flight back to Anchorage. Boy, were wrong. Krystin came down with norovirus in the middle of the night and proceeded to re-experience the build-your-own-salmon sushi. Somewhere between suffering from chills and the impending doom, she sat on the couch in the hotel room listening to the sweet sounds of gunshots being fired nearby. By the time the daylight hours had rolled around, Bixler checked out and dragged Krystin into Ray’s van where we all headed to the Elysian Brewery. Krystin spent most of the day sleeping in the car when parked and turning green when Ray drove around.

You know those movies where the driver never watches the road and talks to the passengers? That’s how Ray drives while dodging Seattle traffic. Sights the Space Needle were a blur and somehow we made it through security at the airport, dying to get home. Our flight was late. We sat on the tarmac for an hour waiting for the next flight crew. Krystin was stuck in the middle seat between a hypochondriacal Bixler and a woman with the ass the size of an elephant. The flight was hot and miserable, but after a long drive home we crashed in bed.

Seattle 15

A rare picture of us together forced outside of our comfort zone.

The upside to this trip? We hung out with great people, heard ALL o the members of Gertrude’s Hearse live, and brought back 54 pounds of some of the best microbrewery beer in the Pacific Northwest and a new-found appreciation for why we don’t live in a large city like Seattle.


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