So unfortunately, until my fingerprints and official background check get cleared, I can't use any of the computers at the visitors' center. So again I will have to give you a post without any pictures. I promise - amazing, breathtaking, wish-you-were-here photographs will be coming soon.
I have had an absolutely exhilarating time here in Alaska since May 18th. I'm not sure if I mentioned this in a previous post...but since I arrived here nearly two weeks ago, all that we have been doing is training. We get three weeks of training...and then I think we start officially working. So this week was filled with classroom sit-ins, staring at powerpoint screens for four hours at a time...and getting sprayed with bear spray. Monday of this week was bear safety training - where we learned bear behavior, what to do in a confrontation, and how to prepare for it. While one of the wildlife biologists (John) was explaining the benefits of using bear spray (a spray made from red peppers), one of the law enforcement officers thought it'd be funny to spray an inert bottle in the act of handing over the spray to John. Little did he know (or did know actually, and just didn't read the bottle correctly), the bottle actually said "Interp" on it, which is short for "Interpretation" --- meaning, it was a bottle of pepper spray for Interp staff. So lo and behold, out gushed the red pepper fumes and out rushed all of the people in the room. John was absolutely drenched in it...arms glistening and all. All of us were coughing and spluttering with eyes watering. Despite the immense pain I was in, it was extremely funny.
Later that night, Sam and I went with Dan and Scott (another fisheries fellow) to Cook's Inlet on the Kenai and walked a good 3 miles on the beach. Though it was nearly 11 pm by the time we got home, the Alaska sun was bright and shining at the top of the sky. One of these days I'm getting a sunset picture. I'll just have to stay up until midnight out at the beach and take pictures like mad.
We learned the 5 species of salmon that pile in on the Kenai River every summer. The secret to knowing them is by looking at your hand: your pinky finger stands for the "Pink" salmon; your ring finger...which has the potential of having a silver ring on it - is for the "Silver" salmon; your middle finger - which might be used for varied purposes like say, I don't know...flicking someone off - i.e. the "King" of all the fingers - is for the "King" salmon; your pointer finger - which might be used to poke somone's eye - is for the "Sockeye" salmon; and last but not least, your thumb - is the "Chum" salmon. Those two just rhyme. It works. Anyway, say that out loud -- and I promise you'll remember it forever. Now I can seem somewhat intelligent when visitors ask me what kinds of salmon we see here.
Tuesday was oodles of fun. That day, we got a briefing of our weekend - which is a 3-day canoeing trip around the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe routes. As a little preview of what this weekend will entail, we practiced portaging a canoe around a parking lot. Each of us carried a tandem canoe on our backs by ourselves. (Michael - this doesn't mean next time we go canoeing I carry it.) It was extremely heavy and I'm pretty sure I'm going to die this weekend. You'll know for sure if I post after Tuesday.
That night, we went to Dan's house for "Taco and Tequila Tuesday." Got to taste moose and caribou for the first time - and my, were they tasty. There was also halibut and various other scrumptious delights. It was great fun - with Michael Jackson singing "Thriller" in the background and jokes all around.
Wednesday was probably the most grueling day of all. I wasn't able to get much sleep and so woke up at 4:30 in the morning. I took a nice hour and a half walk down the main drag of the refuge. It was really beautiful getting to enjoy such stillness. The only sounds I heard were the whistles and tinkles of thrushes and robins amongst the trees. I probably saw about ten snowshoe hares, but that was the extent of the wildlife I saw. Around 11 am, the 3 SCAs and I drove down to the shooting range, where I LEARNED HOW TO SHOOT A SHOTGUN. Yes. For the first time in my life, I shot a firearm. Repeatedly.
Although it was really exciting, it was also really hard and physically tiring. The guns are heavy - and since I have short arms (I'll admit it) the shotgun was hard to hold. Three hours into it one of the instructors finally realized I should have a shorter gun and so I finally got one that I could semi -handle. I can't count how many shots I did - but I shot buck shots, slugs, and another one I can't remember. I got to keep a slug as a souvenir. Every shot was pointed at a board that had a picture of a snarling bear plastered on it. As the final exam to the training, we had to shoot at a "running bear" - which was a model of a bear that sped towards you at the pace of a running human. Needless to say....I failed miserably. But that's okay. There are plenty of people (including three of my roomies - they proved to be impeccable shooters) that are around to protect me in case a grizzly tries to charge me.
Three days after the shooting range, my arms are still killing me. And tomorrow I have to portage a canoe by myself for who knows how many hours. Wish me good luck.