My current work/travel gig finds me 30 miles north of the Arctic circle, in the town of Kotzebue, Alaska (pop.3100), and it is considered the big city in the Northwest borough of this wild and scenic state. Robin and I flew in 2 weeks ago and settled into a totally upgraded housing unit after spending the first night in a shared trailer in a towel-free, cramped single bed with a community bathroom with a trash bag for a shower curtain. After that less than stellar first impression, I started the mind numbing 8 day process of redundant credentialing and paperwork that included a dozen online courses, a reintroduction to dental management software that was a distant memory from 3 years ago in the Aleutian islands, and a drug prescribing process that makes the James Webb telescope operating instructions look like a Dr. Suess story.
I finally started seeing patients last week, and that has been a highlight of interesting local folks that require a mix of dental procedures. The dental office and scheduling is a study in head scratching inefficiency and miscommunication, like when the folks at the front desk don’t think of telling the dental staff that a patient checked in 90 minutes ago?? So I’m being paid handsomely to see an average of 1-2 patients a day with a lot of down time to surf the net and write stories like this.
In the good news category, we’ve enjoyed the best that Kotzebue has to offer, including hikes to pick tundra blueberries, some kayaking in the bay, hauling in a gill net loaded with salmon, biking around town and participating in the fall festival that including Robin placing first in the women’s division of the half marathon for a medal and some cold cash with me biking alongside as moral support. I also brought pickleball equipment, including some donated high end paddles for the high school kids and taught the game to a couple of gym classes last week that seemed well received. Plus last night we were rewarded with a great Northern Lights show at 1AM under clear and cool skies on the edge of town, which was an amazing display of galactic art. We’re here for 4 more days, and then on to Anchorage to see the sights of the really big city before heading home to Colorado and the beauty of our home state. Hope your summer is going well and I look forward to some news from the lower 48 and beyond.
It’s been a full 5 weeks since I retired from my dental practice, and so far so good. There have been parties, trips near and far, and plenty of family time with Robin and her kids and grandkids. Close to home we had an encounter with a mother bobcat who hung out for 3 days until her 2 babies figured out how to climb down from the neighbor’s pine tree, and some moose cooling off in a nearby stream until the wildlife folks tranquilized them to relocate them to a more remote part of the state. A family trip to Mexico provided plenty of beach time along with flooding rains, but everyone got along with the benefit of cooling drinks and seafood by the pool. Other trips to kitesurf, windsurf, bike and hike have kept the muscles moving and our brain functioning at a level to keep us out of the nursing home or memory care units for now. A dinner meeting and lunch next day with a Medicare broker are sobering reminders of our age, but we’re in full denial as long as we can jump out of bed with a smile and only a few aches and pains every morning. A trip to Tucson to meet Robin’s dad and other family members went well despite the 100+ heat everyday, and we managed to hit Oregon’s hottest week of the summer as well. That should be balanced out by an upcoming contract I’ve signed to work a few weeks in Kotzebue, Alaska, which I had to look up and discover is 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Robin is coming along for the ride on that one too and no doubt will run the streets in the early morning hours while I prepare to do some dentistry in a new setting.
Back in February some friends convinced me that a visit to a Mexican central highlands town called San Miguel de Allende was worth a visit, so Robin and I hopped a plane south for a week. It’s a beautiful old Spanish colonial city of about 175,000 folks, with cobblestone streets, an impressive central church and square, and plenty of restaurants serving up tasty food and fresh margaritas. One of the draws for the visit was that monarch butterflies from North America migrate every year in the millions to a pine forest a few hours away. We rode horses up a trail and then hiked to a spot in the middle of the forest to immerse ourselves in the magic of thousands of butterflies flittering around. Of course there was also pickleball, wine tours and a local music festival, so it made for a memorable trip. We returned home for a few weeks before heading back to FL to celebrate my mom’s 95th birthday, and I’m hoping I have her genes to keep on living independently at that age with good mental and physical traits in a nice setting. The big news from home is that I sent a letter to my patients announcing that after 40 years as a dentist I’m retiring from my practice in Colorado at the end of June. It’s been a great run, from the South Pole to Alaska and lots of interesting places in between, and I may continue to do some part time work in remote settings if the mood is right. Of course not many folks ever called me a workaholic, so I don’t think the transition will be too traumatic. Robin announced her retirement as well, so we’re all set to be spontaneous and hit the road whenever the mood strikes. Hope that spring is in the air for you and summer not far behind. Send some news from home and raise a toast to retirement.
I ended up with more time on the water than in the office this summer which seemed to work out just fine, and only ended up with a few new scars for the effort. First was a week in Hood River, Oregon, and a few days with Monte, a dentist with a 42 foot sailboat and a passion for working in remote settings like islands in the South Pacific and is crazy enough to want to work in Antarctica as well. I sailed with him for a few afternoons on his boat with his partner, Acasia, and then shifted to some windsurfing for a high speed fix on the Columbia River for the rest of the week.
Back in Colorado in early August I put in 4 days of work before joining 7 friends to raft down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for 18 days with our own equipment and no guides. Keith had gotten the coveted permit, and when he called me a few months ago to offer me to join the trip there was no way I could say no. He’s been 8 times before and the rest of the crew were well seasoned river rafters and rock climbers, so I was the least experienced of the group in both categories, which put me out of my comfort zone on an almost daily basis.
It was an amazing trip of extremes like blistering hot weather over 105F most days contrasted with icy cold water released from the bottom of Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon dam. Spectacular scenery 24/7 of canyon walls thousands of feet above us on both sides, with numerous slot canyon hikes with water sculpted contoured walls within a few feet of each other. Beautiful camp sites of sandy beaches with biting flies and an occasional scorpion to keep you vigilant, plus fine sand and dirt on you and everything you brought along, with the opportunity to scrub yourself clean a few times from a half dozen pummeling waterfall hikes. And of course over 200 rapids along the 280 miles we covered that were at times both exhilarating and terrifying in their power to flip your boat and send you and your belongings for a tumbling ride. But no one flipped and we had only a few people tossed from their rafts for a few seconds before they were able to climb back aboard.
We ate like kings and slept like babies under the stars, with only an occasional rain storm to make us put tents up as shelter. Overall an amazing place to experience with friends to go “off the grid” for a few weeks, since there’s no cell service or internet once you enter the canyon. It’s good to be home for now and enjoy the comforts of a daily shower and a luxurious king sized bed. Hope your Labor Day weekend was pleasant.
My dental locums work ended yesterday after 4 weeks of working on interesting patients in a practice with a wonderful staff, and I think we all learned some new skills along the way. At the same time my last guests left earlier in the week following a seafood fest of home cooked dinners of salmon, king crab, halibut, shrimp and scallops with fresh picked berry cobbler for dessert. One afternoon a friend dropped off freshly caught salmon with her home baked sourdough bread, left in the kitchen while I was at work since the house is left unlocked as most places are in Sitka. The extra pounds from all this indulgence was balanced with hiking, biking , kayaking and Pickleball so no need for an additional notch on the belt yet.
Randy and Gary from Colorado Springs enjoyed their visit and even saw a bear on one of their bike rides to add to their tales of Alaska. However I couldn’t convince them to go to the Independence Day 11:30PM fireworks since that was when it was finally dark, but otherwise they took advantage of their “all inclusive” package at the house we all shared.
An eagle on the shore feasting on salmon and jellyfish just below the surface of the water were unexpected sights on my kayak run after work a few nights ago, so there are still surprises when you head outdoors here. I’m heading back to Colorado tomorrow morning to enjoy some time at home and hope your summer is going well too.
Lauren and her boyfriend Zane departed last Tuesday after a fun filled week and I had just enough time to get the beds made for Rod and Cindys arrival that evening. The weather has cooperated enough to get out and enjoy the abundance of Alaska’s natural beauty in sunshine most days around my work schedule, and now I have a solid 3 days off to take advantage of the 20 hours of daylight.
We’ve had some super meals from fresh eggs provided by the chickens on the side of the house to King Salmon that Rod caught yesterday from his 5 AM fishing excursion with Brandon the retired coast guard dental receptionist. Rod and I then hiked the epic 6 mile Harbor Mountain-Gavin trail in brilliant sunshine with panoramic views of spectacular scenery.
To compliment my sore legs from the hike yesterday with sore arms we kayaked for a few hours this morning after Rod spotted humpback whales in the bay in front of the house. We were rewarded with getting fairly close to the leviathans as they lead us towards the open ocean. All that earned us a good afternoon nap and quiet evening at home before tomorrow’s 4th of July activities in town.
A few months ago a dentist in Sitka, Alaska contacted me and asked if I would consider keeping his office open while he went on vacation for a month with his family to his favorite fishing cabin in a remote part of the state. He said he’d fly me up, I could live in his house facing a beautiful bay and he’d pay me to work in his office. As you can imagine it didn’t take me long to say “of course” and last week I flew to Sitka to start my working vacation.
Ross the dentist and I had a few days of overlap to help me orient to a new setting and then he left me on my own as he and his wife, 2 kids and an energetic dog flew out to Bristol Bay. His staff is wonderful, the house comes with bikes and kayaks and a killer view with bald eagles flying around and I’ve already played pickleball a few times with the locals.
Lauren and her partner Zane arrived a few days ago as the first of three sets of guests that have planned to visit, and thanks to my mom, who considers herself to be a good weather witch, we’ve had some glorious sunny days to get out and about in the stunning scenery. Zane and I kayaked yesterday in search of whales, but settled for just a nice afternoon on the water without encountering any spouting behemoths, but we may have better luck tomorrow with a boat ride offered by the dental receptionist who is a retired coast guard fellow. It’s been a great start to the summer and hope yours is going well too.
On the second day of the citywide lockdown of Auckland, much to our relief, they let our plane fly out, (or maybe they threw us out) and sent us back to the US. Since I have a United Airlines credit card, it comes with a few United Club lounge passes that I rarely get to use, but figured it would be a good place to hang out in the Los Angeles airport for my 6 hour layover. I found the lounge and settled in with the meager pickings of an apple, some dried fruit and juice. The place was all but deserted, but a lady who reminded me of one of our managed isolation guards came over to admonish me to wear a mask while I was in the lounge. I looked up and told her I would put my mask back on as soon as I was done eating, but she instructed me that the policy was even if I was eating that it was necessary to wear a mask in between bites! I then asked if it was necessary to put it on between breathes as well, at which point she realized I was one of those non-compliant types and that I would have to leave if I did not follow her directives. So I finished my snack and left the lounge to spend the rest of the time in the terminal with the unwashed masses. I then filed a complaint at the customer service desk, knowing that she would probably be rewarded for getting rid of another trouble maker that was not helping the airline return to profitability.
The last flight to Denver was uneventful except when the pilot announced it was zero degrees outside and we should be prepared for extreme conditions on the ground. That brought a laugh from two guys in my group since they were in shorts and a few weeks ago we were at the South Pole and it was -60F.
I stayed with my buddy Ron that night and he graciously drove me home to Colorado Springs the next morning. I’ve been home a few days now and it’s been a wonderful return to all the comforts. I got a call the next day to get the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and since I had a few weeks off but was unable to travel the next best thing the day after was prostate surgery to deal with an ongoing benign condition. It’s a right of passage if you’re male and live long enough to experience an enlarging prostate, so the post surgical catheter has been an interesting experience. Hopefully that will end tomorrow and I can enjoy a few weeks of relaxation before returning to work.
Hope your heat and hot water are running smoothly.
After 2 days of traveling around Christchurch with no restrictions, the hammer came down last night after we arrived in Auckland in hopes of boarding our flight to Los Angeles. All the mobile phones of the airport workers went off at once in an Amber alert tone, signaling that a city wide lockdown was now in effect because three people had tested positive for the virus in the city. Compare this to the US bragging that their daily rate had just dropped to ONLY 80,000 cases. As a result, our flight was cancelled, and after only a few hours we were bussed to a hotel for safekeeping. We got rooms and were fed a late dinner, and are now waiting to see if we need to check out or stay indefinitely as the government sorts out the details of this new outbreak. Certainly there are worst places to be stuck, but sitting in a hotel room was not my idea of a post season excursion.
I splurged on eggs Benedict for breakfast, and I have my usual survival jar of peanut butter that could last a few days if needed, so it’s now a waiting game of airline cancellations and hotel shuffling as the story unfolds. Hope you are healthy and warm as the polar vortex descends on the homeland.
I made it back from the South Pole last Saturday, and have had a full dental schedule for the past few days. I finished everyone and had a half day yesterday to pack and get ready to depart, plus some good pickleball after dinner last night. I just found out the plane from New Zealand took off an hour ago, so in 4 hours it should be here, and a few hours later it will be taking us to warm weather and sunshine in Christchurch. Then we have a few days of freedom to play tourist before getting on the flight back to the US, which is scheduled for Sunday.
Another good adventure about to come to an end, and I’m ready to pick up life back in Colorado. Time to get the vaccine, get back to work, and learn about life with the virus as I adjust to the real world again, including fresh fruits and vegetables! Hope you are well and looking forward to seeing many of you down the road.