Friday, July 20, 2007

Dipnetting and Alaskan-Style Bonding: The Chitina Way

Last year I described dipnetting for salmon on the Copper River, which seemed to be a rite of passage to become a 'real Alaskan', a step toward Sourdoughood. My second year was even more fun and productive, but I still have a long way to go to be called a Sourdough. A co-worker informed me that that there are three ways to be labeled a Sourdough: 1) live in Alaska continuously for 25 years, 2) take a pee in the Yukon River, 3) make love to an Alaskan Native (he said a woman, but I presume of the opposite sex). You have to do two of the three, so I'm likely in for a long wait. Nevertheless, I'll be a grizzled 71 when I reach the 25 year milestone. Sounds about right.

This year's journey was another epic. I went down with my family again, and our neighbor Rose. After a flurry of last minute packing (the original plan was to leave next week) we arrived at Chitina late on a warm Monday afternoon. The word was that the dipnetting was hot, but the line to the single charter was long because one of the boats was down for repairs. We decided to arrive at O'Brien Creek at the unsavory hour of 3:30. Although I got to bed early, I hardly slept because other campers started arriving late and they were still making a racket well past midnight. Who, in their right mind, chops wood, pounds tent stakes, and allows thier kids to run around at 12:30 AM? Only in Alaska. I got in maybe two or three hours of fitful and oft interrupted sleep.

We arrived at 3:30, thinking that we'd be near the top of the line, only to find out that due to extenuating circumstances, the unwritten rules had been changed, and that people were allowed to leave their gear 'in line' the night before. So even though only two or three other people were ahead of us, the stacks of nets and coolers indicated that we'd have 20 or 30 people ahead of us. A long wait. And wait we did. But it actually went fast as people wandered in. Standing out there on the Copper in the wind and dust turned out to be a bonding experience--you soon find that here there is maybe one or two degrees of separation. Everybody knows someone you know.

At about 5, a grizzled gentleman wandered by with a beer bottle. Okay...they drink early here, I thought. He must have noticed many wondering the eyes upon him, because he announced that "this isn't beer, my wife forgot to pack the coffee mugs!"

Finally, at 7:30 it was our turn. Hem's Charter took us downriver about 3 or 4 miles, and we got set up as quickly as we could. The first thing I did was tie myself to a tree with a 50 ft. strand of rope. And I made sure my life vest was on. If you fall into the Copper without someone in a boat to pick you up you will likely drown, if not from the cold water, then from being sucked down the rapid current (the Copper is reputed to be the fastest flowing river in North America) or an undertow. If you’re tied down you should at least be able to pull yourself back onto the rocky perch which is your fishing home for that day.

The next five hours was blur of activity. We rarely had the net in the water for more than three or four minutes before catching a fish, Copper River red salmon, ranging from about 6 to 12 pounds. Sometimes we'd catch several within five minutes. There was no time for both of us to be fishing. We were bringing them in so fast that there was only time for on would catch them while the other would have to go over to the other side of our rock outcrop to put them on stringers and process them.

Midmorning, I was just stringing up a couple, when Rose called out for help. I scrambled up the rocky ledge to see her battling a thrashing king salmon at her feet. The leviathan was as large as my leg, only stronger and heavier, probably 45-60 pounds of dark/purple fish. I helped her from sliding into the water--the biggest risk on this very dangerous river--and then went after the fish. I'd heard a lot of king's breaking nets and that was my biggest concern. So I was trying to get a handle on the fish before it broke through. Suddenly it leaped out of the net and slid toward the water. I got a hand on it, and thought about taking a lunge. But this was how I almost drowned as a six year old (diving for my brother's fishing rod which had slipped into cold water on a Colorado lake). The fish landed on the lowest ledge, slipped into the water. A big one that got away.

At the end of the day (12:45 for us), we were just one shy below our combined personal use limit of 79 fish (higher than normal this year due to a supplemental harvest).

We spent a couple of hours filleting the fish, and packing the rest on ice for the long trip home. Now we have a freezer full of famous Copper River red salmon, high in Omega 3 oils in addition to protein, calcium, and other nutrients.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Forum Sampler

Here's a sampling of thread topics from LetsRun. Could it get any more hilarious? I think the infamous Flagpole Willy (a 5'3" self-important self-promoter who goes to great lengths to make sure that as many threads as possible end up being about him and his opinions). But then several times a week, you'll come across some really great and insightful posts from the likes of former US mile great Jim Spivey or coach Jack Daniels, or 80s marathoners Benji Durden, Patti Dillon, and on and on.

Could Alan Webb bowl the perfect game? - i <3 webb 7/12/2007 1:40PM 6
Bush Isn't Stupid - Here it Comes! 7/12/2007 1:40PM 85
How far could Alan Webb hit a baseball? - hmm....... 7/12/2007 1:39PM 7
Bekele vs. . . . . . . . Summerside?????????? - but but 7/12/2007 1:39PM 8
Peak Oil - impending economic collapse? - Joel G 7/12/2007 1:39PM 25
Most IU assistants not retained - bloomington 7/12/2007 1:39PM 29
Internet coverage of Osaka? - TMI 7/12/2007 1:38PM 3
Hope you're all enjoying Wall Street's HUGE day - Flagpole Willy 7/12/2007 1:38PM 6
Underwear Under Running Shorts? - Not Enough CTC 7/12/2007 1:38PM 32
How fast could Alan Webb run the 100m?? - captain retarded 7/12/2007 1:37PM 13
Geb's latest record is akin to Dean Karnazes' 24-hour crap - Alex de Large 7/12/2007 1:36PM 59
Describe Your Running Today - Skuj 7/12/2007 1:36PM 610
the song "hey there delilah" is about a former columbia u runner - 444444444 7/12/2007 1:32PM 24
Central Florida assistant coaches? - Mr. Grendel 7/12/2007 1:32PM 12
Leeds United - giles norton 7/12/2007 1:30PM 1
Ethiopians Pull out of Rome - Ethio Boy 7/12/2007 1:30PM 5
Alan Webb vs. Chuck Norris ? - i <3 Webb 7/12/2007 1:30PM 4
Major Civil War in Mexico: How long? - I love peeps 7/12/2007 1:29PM 21
NRR: Simpsons' News--Springfield, VT - pre841 7/12/2007 1:29PM 19
Attacked by dog and yelled at by owner! - Flabbergasted 7/12/2007 1:29PM 35
$impsons - they took our jobs 7/12/2007 1:29PM 5
Mystery Injury - Former Runner 7/12/2007 1:26PM 15
How far could Alan Webb throw a tennis ball? - dizzy-dub 7/12/2007 1:25PM 4
dating a chick with a kid - your thoughts? 7/12/2007 1:24PM 70
Could Alan Webb kick a fifty yard field goal? - TonkyHonk 7/12/2007 1:24PM 6
How many free throws in a row could Webb make - Enough of Alan Webb 7/12/2007 1:23PM 9
Tour De France...Disappointed with letsrun - LlLl 7/12/2007 1:23PM 30
Track workout shoes - Bobby Digital 7/12/2007 1:22PM 2
Flagpole Willy : Since you swore off "Smarter Than a Fifth Grader", are you on board with "Don't Forget the L - Do you like pina coladas 7/12/2007 1:22PM 4
Patriot League XC - tony the tiger 7/12/2007 1:18PM 10
DEAN KARNAZES - the wall 7/12/2007 1:15PM 85
oliptical training is feminine? - hohum 7/12/2007 1:14PM 7
labral tear in hip - is it worth it? 7/12/2007 1:12PM 16
does the speed really matter? - Base Phase question 7/12/2007 1:11PM 15
Relocation Prank - Mose wrestles 7/12/2007 1:09PM 12
Coaching jobs that have been open for a long time now - Wassa Holdup? 7/12/2007 1:09PM 2
Roommate Question - PBR 7/12/2007 1:07PM 15
summer racing in France/Germany - Duisburg? - weltlaufer 7/12/2007 1:04PM 3
Tour de France 2007 - myboyblue 7/12/2007 1:03PM 70
Heart Rate question - polar runner 7/12/2007 1:01PM 12
Income Generating Real Estate - New Real Estate Investor 7/12/2007 12:58PM 9
Work, letsrun, summer grand prix meets. - confessions of a teenage troll 7/12/2007 12:57PM 13
Top DII Recruits - Whew DII 7/12/2007 12:57PM 20
American 2 mile time - Just Run 7/12/2007 12:57PM 5
Hard Luck Runners in the Olympics - runmad 7/12/2007 12:56PM 49
If Alan Webb were to race the Flash who would win? - Enough of Alan Webb 7/12/2007 12:55PM 1
Runs for charity? - math teacher 7/12/2007 12:54PM 1
Nike Kennedys! - Spikes! 7/12/2007 12:53PM 24
How long would Alan Webb last in a UFC fight? - Enough of Alan Webb 7/12/2007 12:53PM 1
Nice piece on Webb - morphcat

Monday, July 09, 2007

Here is the un-annual, once in a blue-moon, review of running websites, and most importantly chatrooms, where you can get the latest and greatest on running and racing.

The Biggies. Bigger is not always better, but if you want to be up to date on the latest articles, news, and trends in the sport, you have to be in tune with these sites, such as Runnersworld, LetsRun, or Coolrunning.

Let's start with the best and go from there:
- Okay so the journalism can be shoddy and the forum is downright and childish and jaded. They're famous for poorly written and misspelled headlines and captions, the software is very mid-1990s, and sometimes the articles are sketchy, but the Brother's Johnson (Weldon and Robert) are also tireless promoters of the sport. They don't seem to be into for the money, but for the love of running. They get it. If there is a big race coming up, LetsRun is the place to look the best links and updates--often in real time or as close as you can get online.

The forum? Ha! Talk about a living and breathing contradiction. Once again, for updates on current events, it is often the best place. You can get some great advice from some of the current or former top runners, or just chat with them about some of their career highlights. Several leading coaches of the world also drop in frequently. That's the good part. The bad?

On a bad day, and there are many, the virtual sports world doesn't get any worse than the LetsRun forum. They'll laud a runner or coach one day, and then spend weeks tearing them down. The site is largely un-moderated (unless something really offensive goes up) so you get bucket loads of bad karma in there. Often, LetsRun kind of brings out the worst in everyone. However, you take the trolls and miscreants with a grain of salt, and put on an extra layer of your thickest hide, LetRun is a great resource. Coolrunning is also somewhat mixed. Coolrunning is also somewhat mixed. Its links to running news are decent, but it pales in comparison to LetsRun. They do provide a fairly substantial link to recent and past race results, dating back about 10 years now. The emphasis is on the Northeast and New England. Their own journalism is fair at best. I rarely read their articles or columns.

Coolrunning forums--Coolrunning offers more than 20 forums within 7 broader categories, ranging from newbies, to racing, to niches such as clydedales and athenas (heavy runners) and nutrition. Divide and conquer, perhaps. Some of these are very very active forums, with thousands of posts and dozens of threads a day, while others are relatively slow, with maybe just a few new threads a week. Discussions can range from the banal, to intense cuddle parties, to raging flame wars. In general, the Coolrunning crowd seems to be loyal to one another, although it's hard to generalize because it really is a virtual city.
ahh, the Evil Empire! For decades now, Runners World has dominated the popular side of running. To the purist at least, they have trashed that responsibility by promoting lowest-common denominator running, with monthly credos like "Do your best marathon at 8 miles a week!" Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but if you read the John 'The Penguin' Bingham or Jeff Galloway, the former Olympian who promotes walk breaks to running a faster, more enjoyable, recreational marathon, you get the point.

Nevertheless, their journalism is often good. They offer relevant and up to date interviews and articles. I, for one, have boycotted Runnersworld for years now. I was a pretty regular viewer (daily or close) until 2002 or 2003, when they sicced their lawyers onto the LetsRun website for "deep linking" an article. The Brojos had a front page link to a Runnersworld article, but the link went to the article, not the Runnersworld main page where a viewer would see all the ads and be compelled to buy all that ancillary crap that the magazine wants to promote. They were serious and were threatening to sue, shut down Letsrun, and were being overall whiney piss ants about the whole thing. An impasse lasted for weeks, and LetsRun agreed to stop the deep linking. From that moment on, I knew that Runnersworld was and is the Evil Empire. Amby Burfoot, you may have won Boston, and you are a decent writer, but you sold out decades ago; Galloway, you may be a nice guy, and kudos for a 1972 Olympic berth, but you are the running antichrist—you sold your soul to the devil; Penguin, you may be laughing all the way to the bank, but you suck. Other regular writers, editors, publishers. You are RunnersWorld, and you are guilty by association.

Forums--The Runnersworld forums are like Coolruning on steroids. Since I boycott them I rarely go over there. Generally, for running information, they're pretty weak.

Other biggies deserving honorable mention, Track and Field News and Running Times also have web pages and forums, but I'll leave the review to you:

Next Up: The smaller forums, looking for diamonds in the rough.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Of Airboats and an Aborted Camping Trip

I have the perfect camping formula for today’s hurried families—time to market the aborted camping trip. We've had a busy June with soccer, kids' camps, more soccer, visiting relatives, my bad back, and a few races to run or coach. Last Friday the edict from the family was delivered--we're going camping! No getting out of this one.

Got home at 4:30 and we hadn't even begun packing! Everybody ran around the house yelling and getting stuff together, and somehow we made it out the door by 6:30, on our way to Granite Tors campground, on the Chena Hot Springs Road. Saw a moose along the way but hardly any traffic, so event though it was Friday there little need to worry about reservations. The kids immediately set up the tent and we fixed a camp meal of potatoes, turkey ham, and vegetables thrown into aluminum foil and into the coals of a campfire. After cleaning up, we even had time to fish for grayling on the Chena River.

"Dad," one of the kids asked. "do they have airboats on this river."

"Nah," I replied, looking at the pristine looking water and steep hillsides, "not up this far."

A few minutes later we heard the telltale roar of an airboat--which are usually 12-15 foot flat bottomed skiffs equipped with an airplane engine and propeller. The airboat was parked next to some RVs stationed on a gravel bar a couple hundred yards upstream from the official recreation area campsite.

These machines are great for navigating shallow water. And they can be useful on waterways such as the heavily braided, sometimes a mile wide, Tanana River, or on corridors in vast wetlands of the Tanana Flats, situated between Fairbanks and the Alaska Range. However, airboats if not used properly can be ecologically destructive, and can an utter annoyance to anything else within a mile, especially in a relatively quiet canyon in the upper reaches of the Chena. The engine revved a few times and the boat sped off, to our relief.

Although we got skunked fishing, we saw lots of grayling, and pondered the upcoming salmon migration. One kid even had a couple bites. We headed back to the campsite, and I was glad to be out there. It was quiet and peaceful.

After some fuss getting everyone settled, I closed my eyes at about 10:45 and quickly fell asleep. I was aware of some commotion within the tent but was out.

Then at 11:20, Tamara said, "He has another bloody nose..."

Groggily I looked around and saw that indeed my son was experiencing his second nosebleed of the day. I was wrong again, because actually it was his third because I had slept through a brief one that they had stopped only 15 minutes earlier while I was enjoying my 30 minutes of sleep.

We kept providing him with tissues hand having holding his nose. Looking around the tent, however, I could see that he was already covered in blood.

RRRRRORORORORORORORORO! The airboats came ripping back. It was 11:30 and they're yukking it up on the river around like it's NASCAR day at Talledega speedway. What a bunch of complete freakin' idiots! So I’m call out to the Interior Alaska Airboating Association. These guys probably belong to your organization, so you may well be guilty by association.

Let's see if they hear. Yes, that's you: you support a bunch of mindless buffoons who have the collective intelligence of a stringer full of pithed burbot. Not only that, your mama's are probably ugly.

Then, from the modern day tin can version of Hooverville (i.e., motorhead Alaskans on vacation) came the rattle and buzz of fireworks. It's 11:45 at night and we're at the purportedly quiet camp ground in a major recreation area, and these morons, who no doubt have wives, girlfriends, and sisters of questionable morals are letting off strings of fireworks and revving they're airboats. Obviously they are testosterone driven. Some sort of mating dance no doubt.

Meanwhile, beyond this outrage, my son's nose continued to bleed. This could go on all night, not to mention that the kid is fast signaling delectability to an active population of grizzly bears. The bruins have been particularly ornery this year, and there have been seven bear killings in defense of life and property in this area over just the past month, not to mention an unreported tent mauling within a days march for an able grizzly bear.

We're outta there! Our bug-out took about 20 minutes to complete while we parked the bleeding kid on the picnic bench, amidst the continued intermittent RROROWAARRERRRRR! of the airboats and fireworks.

Some Alaskans. They go crazy between the Summer Solstice and 4th of July when any cerebral mediation between pineal and gonads is shunted to the fastest possible hormonal pathway.

By the time we got the car packed he had about 20 bloody tissues in the fire pit, and my younger son and I spent a good 5 minutes trying to burn those so as not to attract any bears after we left. Not to mention that it was an unsightly mess. However, the tissues were just damp enough not to burn, not to mention matches were scarce so we used the camp stove to light twigs that burned out upon tissue contact. Oy! Eventually we got most of them before the campground host came around to see what was going on.

We're going home! that's what. I didn't want to spend a lot of time explaining the issues. He could hear the airboats so we just pointed to the kid, who by now was getting lightheaded.

Once in the car I could focus on helping him stop the bleeding. Basically pinching his nose like one of those awfully mean-19th or early 20th century teachers--or maybe Mo of the Stooges might--or how his snarky little kid-disliking principal in Fairbanks would have liked to--not letting go for a good 10 minutes, hoping upon hope that my wife wouldn't hit a wandering moose, lest I go flying out the front windshield ass first into the midnight’s setting sun.

The bleeding stopped at about 10 or 15 minutes down the raod, and I could sit facing forward to enjoy our quiet trip back to town. The sun was behind the Chena hills, but it provided an effervescent orange-blue glow the entire way home.

We get our months of dark, but this light, you can't beat it. Got home a little after 1 AM.

It was ever quiet in the woods at home. No traffic, no airhead in loud boats, or any machinery of any kind. We whrew the kid in the shower and enjoyed a wonderful few hours of sleep before the sun woke me up again by 6 AM.

Let’s see, pack, drive, set up camp, eat camp food including roasted marshmellows, fish, clean up, sleep, and return, all within 9 hours. Priceless! Let’s tell Madison Avenue, or at least the Visit Alaska tourist promoters in Anchorage that we’re onto something.