Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Clothing update

Now that my full-time job is done until Labor Day and we are almost in June, the trip is becoming even more of a reality.   I received the new camera lens and I am happy with it.  It seems sharper than the 50-200mm zoom I've been using for years, and I've been having fun photographing Earnest and his Little League teammates.

I started purchasing "Alaska clothing" in October, but took a fairly long hiatus once the initial rush had passed.  Over Memorial Day weekend, we (all five of us) made a concerted effort to shop together.  This is what I am planning for each of us as special "Alaska clothing" that we wouldn't normally take on a vacation.

  • Hiking boots--Only Chretien had these.  We purchased mine in October from Timberland during a Columbus Day sale, and I finally took them out to start breaking them in on our marathon shopping expedition this past weekend.  We got Earnest a pair from REI on clearance, and we ordered Trust and Imp theirs from Backcountry.  (And we learned that Trust and Imp, 4.5 years apart, have the same size 5 foot, which amused me.  The boys are catching up!)
  • Binoculars--the kids each received a pair for Christmas from my sister. I have my new lens, so I will probably view a lot of the wildlife and glaciers through that.  My parents have given us two pairs of binoculars that they no longer have a need for, so Chretien may use one of those.
  • Rain coat--Trust and I each have a Columbia rain jacket which I bought on deep clearance last Labor Day (right before we bought the tickets to Alaska), since we needed rain jackets anyway.  I bought the two boys Marmot PreCip rain jackets on Ebay in October.  Chretien bought a rain jacket at Columbia on Monday.  
  • Rain pants--None of us had these.  Chretien and I found ours on Amazon.  I got the three kids theirs on Ebay (including one seller from Alaska!)  My parents gave us these for Christmas.
  • Heavy wool socks--Chretien and the kids have some from skiing.  I bought a bunch of pairs for me and the kids at Target on deep discount on Good Friday.  I think we will each have about 2-3 pairs.  I figure, we won't need them every day, so we should be OK.
  • Base layers--Chretien has many sets of Hot Chillys he uses for skiing.  Earnest has two sets of kids Cuddl Duds tops and bottoms (Climatesmart) for skiing, which I didn't realize until I started pulling things out last week.  Imp has one set of kids Cuddl Duds, so I got him another from Ebay.   I bought Trust a "Thermal" set of Cuddl Duds on Ebay and a black pair of pants from REI.  I am still looking for one more base layer shirt for her.  For myself, I bought a Cuddl Duds Climatesmart shirt on Amazon and some pants at REI.  I also bought myself a set of 32 Degrees Heat base layer on Ebay.  
  •  Hiking pants--Chretien bought two pairs of convertible hiking pants at Columbia.  Trust and I each scored one pair of convertible pants and another slightly heavier pair which are not convertible but will probably be fine when we do something near glaciers on one of the day trips on the boats.  I want us each to have one more pair, so I am stalking Ebay right now.  For Earnest, I have one pair I won on Ebay and am looking for another, and Imp still needs two pair.
  • Tights--Before I thought it through regarding base layers, I bought Trust and I some heavy tights.  Turns out that they run small, so they are sort of useless anyway.  Thankfully, I only spent $10 for the three pairs on Ebay.  
Although I am doing fairly well at not spending a ton on these items, because there are five of us, the costs are going to add up.  Still, though, we want to be warm and comfortable, because we aren't the type who normally stop for rainy days.

Monday, May 15, 2017

New camera lens

If you've taken a look at the earlier posts in this blog, you know I dabble in photography as a hobby.  I've been taking a photo a day since 1/1/2011, which is a lot of photos.  I have a DSLR and I know how to use it.  😉  More or less.

For months now, I've been thinking about a better lens for my Pentax.   I have 50-200mm, but that won't nearly be enough to zoom when we're in Denali or on the day cruises.   I really was coveting this lens:

but with a pricetag of roughly $1000 to $1100 which never really dips below $1000, except briefly around Christmas when it was $995, it was a no.   It's a 300mm prime lens, and gets great reviews, but no...especially since I've never needed such a lens in regular life before...although Chretien argued that I might start finding reasons to use it.

Then I thought maybe I'd rent it.  I looked around and both Camera Lens Rentals and Lens Rental
had it for about $200 for the time I'd need it.  Lens Rental had an insurance policy which covered just about every possible situation...including bear attacks. 

And then I started thinking...what if I didn't get the prime lens, and went with a lesser lens--the 55-300mm zoom?

There are actually several versions of this lens.  There is one that is not whether sealed.  I figured that was a no-no, since if there is any place I would be likely to need weather sealing (e.g. from rain!) it might be in Alaska.

There is also a newer model, whose focus is supposed to be a lot quieter.  However, the mount will not work with my Kiis model camera, and will force the aperture to stay wide open all the time...and given that it's about $100+ more right now, I figured I'd go with the one that would work with my older model Pentax.  I figure, some day I might regret it when I upgrade the camera, but that day isn't now, and now I want to be able to control the F-stop.

So this baby is headed my way.  I can't wait to get it on Wednesday and see how much better it is over my current zoom.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Pre-trip Planning: Day 14--Girdwood/Anchorage --> Home

This is our last day in Alaska (Sob!)  As I've mentioned, we don't leave until after dinner, so we still have some hours to do something fun!

I listed quite a few items for Day 13.  My guess is that we might still have something left on the list...or maybe we might want to head back to Anchorage to do something that looked interesting back on Day 1.  My feeling is that by mid-afternoon, we need to start finishing up and thinking about heading to the airport, returning the minivan, etc.

Writing this all out has helped me firm up some of the days.  My guess is I'll probably continue to tweak this until the actual trip.  I am also going to have some posts about what we are bringing with us, and that'll be good to have to then compare to what we actually used.

We arrive home on the morning of Day 15, exactly two weeks after we left. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pre-trip Planning: Day 13: Girdwood area

This is our last full day in Alaska.  Our flight does not leave Anchorage on Day 14 until after dinner, so we have a lot of hours on Day 14 as well;we could stay in Girdwood or just go back to Anchorage--it might come down to doing something that we filed away for "later".  There are a LOT of activities in the Girdwood area that I think my family would enjoy.  We probably won't have time for all of them, but I'm going to put them all here (and probably add to them) and it might help me get my priorities set.


  • Crow Creek--I mentioned this earlier, and this is where we'll probably mine for gold, if we haven't already.
  •  Alyeska Tram--If we can fit it in...this might be something we all enjoy
  • Alaska  Wildlife Conservation Center--Earnest really wants to see bears, and if we haven't seen them in the wild yet, this might be our last/only chance.  I'm viewing this as a must do.
  • Byron Glacier
  • Portage Glacier--I don't know if either of these are a must, after all the other things we'll have seen. 
  •  Williwaw Fish Platform--Might be interesting, even though we will have already watched fish.  This is close to Portage and Byron Glaciers 
  • Begich Boggs Visitor Center
  •  Bird Point--heard this was fun for kids.  Maybe good views? 
  •  Winner Creek Hand Tram--Although this sounds cool and I know some of my family would like it, I'm not sure if we all would...and would we be able to fit one parent with two kids?  Edited to add:  I have done a little more research and watched a few videos.  I'm not sure that this would actually work with my family of 5, since I doubt the kids would actually help at all, and I don't know if I am strong enough to cart two of us across...and would Chretien have to go twice to get two of the kids across?  I've moved this to the end of my list, and think I might just let it go.  We'll see.  Maybe sticking to Alyeska Tram might be better for us.

Pre-trip Planning: Day 12--Seward --> Girdwood

We have the 7.5 hour Major Marine tour today.  I am very much looking forward to this.

I debated back and forth about Kenai Fjords and Major Marine.  I was all set to book a 6 hour tour with Kenai Fjords, because that tour leaves around 8 AM and it would free up our day to be done around 2 PM.  The 7.5 hour MM tour doesn't depart until 10 AM, so we won't be back on land until 5:30 PM.  It pretty much eats up the entire day.

However, I kept hearing that "longer is better", so that affected my decision.

And, when the 40% off Cyber Monday sale rolled around for Major Marine, the decision was made...especially since one of our kids is considered an adult on this cruise.

There is an optional lunch which is available.  We will likely add that to our fare, since that can be our big meal for the day.

So...when we are done, we need to get to Girdwood.  It would be nice if we could swing by Exit Glacier on the way out of town, but we'll have to see.  There are a lot of activities to pursue in the Girdwood area, and like I said, Seward is hosting a special event and the hotel prices were crazy high for the night of our Major Marine trip.  It's about a 2 hour drive, but that won't be too bad.  I don't think we are going to be up for much more touring at that point.

Our last two nights will be in a motel which has two full beds and a rollaway.  No kitchen facilities, no breakfast, but we'll make do.  We've already paid for this lodging, so that helps with the final bill.

Pre-trip Planning: Day 11--Mat-Su Valley to Seward

This day I am still uncertain about.  There are a lot of activities we could potentially do as we drive to Seward.  Because there are so many activities, doing the glacier hike on Day 10 would be preferable.

The things I've noted, and I'll probably add to this, include the following:

  • Reindeer Farm in Palmer
  • Musk Ox Farm in Palmer

Both of these sound interesting.  If we go to the Large Animal Research Facility in Fairbanks, we might skip these.  But we'll see.

  • Knik Glacier--I have this on our list, but I doubt we'll do it, given the limitations on our time and the additional expense when we have other somewhat pricey activities
  •   Cooper Landing--This would be a bit of a detour, but the Russian River Falls sound like they have the potential to be really cool.  Depending on how we feel on Day 12, this could get bumped to that day...but I doubt it
  • Exit Glacier--I am not sure if we can fit this in or not, but I'm putting it here as well as on Day 12.  
  • Alaska Sea Life Center--I am thinking of this as a "must see".  It's open until 9 PM, so we should be good to get a few hours in after dinner.  

 Typing this out has helped me sort my priorities.  After I had booked our plane tickets, I learned that there are two major events in Seward during our time frame.  One I knew about already, but the second one was a complete surprise...so I had to rearrange a few things in order to get a hotel room that would not break the bank.  Because I could only get one night in Seward at that hotel, we will only be in Seward that one night.  That hotel does have a full kitchen, so again, we might be eating in.   We've paid for half of the lodging costs for this hotel.

Pre-trip Planning: Day 10--Valdez--> Mat-Su Valley

This day is essentially a travel day.  We have nothing planned, so we can visit some of the things we missed on the way down.  We have reservations at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier.  The cabin will have a full kitchen, so we could re-stock groceries in Glenallen and eat in the cabin.  We have a $50 deposit paid for this lodging.

I am not certain if we will pay for a walk on Matanuska Glacier.  I have read such terrific things about it.  However, the price is a concern, as well as the condition of the road to access the glacier.   I think if we do it, I would probably want to hire a guide to be safe, so that compounds my concerns.  Imp is not the most coordinated kid to begin with, and I don't think I want to have to worry about him (or me!) on this...but we'll see.

If we decide to do Matanuska, it would probably be better to do it on this day, rather than Day 11.