Alpine, Texas

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For a town of 5500 in Texas, Alpine has a surprising amount of character, beautiful scenery, and charaterS. From the small bar Harrys, that locals refer to as the Alpine Chamber of Commerce, to the quirky coffee shop, Plaine, featuring anti-border police murals. Alpine definitely has its full share of cool. Theres even a natural foods store, which is strange to see in rural Texas. The large Mexican population lends to some fantastic cheap little restaurants. And the nearby college leads to a variety of people coming through.
Probably the coolest part about Alpine is the fact that its a huge train town. Train riders are always passing through, hanging at Harrys, and lending some more color to the already interesting music and bar scene.

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Alpine has a terrain you wouldnt expect if youve never been to West Texas.

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Not to mention the proximity to Terlingua and Big Bend National Park. Plenty of hot springs, watering holes, and hiking within easy driving distance. The Big Bend Brewery in Alpine is starting to export their tasty beer, so this just may start being available throughout the Southwest, which will be a huge help to the town and also a huge boon to beer drinkers.
For sure worth a visit if youre passing down that way. And if you get a chance to see the Doodlin Hogwallops, take it. That local band puts on a mean show.
I spent about a month in Alpine and then headed back towards Michigan after hearing there was a bumper crop in apples. Time to try my hands at apple picking.

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Seasons end

All good (and bad) things come to an end. I had made friends that would last a lifetime. Learned things about myself, others, and the world that I will forever carry and cherish. And took my first step in an industry that I definitely plan to work within again.

I said my final goodbyes to the puppies

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Took some breathtaking last photos from the helicopter

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And booked my flight to Alpine, Texas for a much needed visit with my sister. Onto the next adventure. Goodbye Alaska!

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Fun, fun, fun! Life in Juneau

Day off!! Earlier I mentioned that every week, we got one day down on the ground (after the bit about sled dogs and helicopters). We were staying in a converted gas station in Juneau, with little more than a kitchen and glorified barracks.
Our day off was spent doing laundry, taking showers, and relaxing. And also competing for the most fun day off!

We went fishing for king salmon

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Went on amazing hikes

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Caught halibut on a charter fishing boat

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Kayaked the bay

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Went whale watching

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Swam in glacial pools

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Watched the fireworks

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And hiked some more

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I was deinitely not the winner of the day off competition, with some of my coworkers ice climbing the toe of the glacier, surfing, and jetskiing next to whales. It was quite the competition. I can safely say, though, that I had my share of the fun.

The Life

We lived on the glacier for six to nine days out of the week. There was no running water, no electricity, no modern conveinience of any kind. Our drinking water was ferried up via helicopter, in small blue containers. Our waste was transported down in large metal barrels. Our trash was helicoptered down double bagged in black bags. The thing that bothered the tourists the most about this arrangement, I found pretty laughable.
“But how do you shower?”
Umm, we don’t.
We lived in canvas huts, white, so as to blend into the landscape as much as possible.

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(The big white huts in the back. The small ones in the front were dog houses).
Each hut had a propane heater that we would use a couple hours before bed to warm up and try in vain to dry our clothes.
We ate some amazing food up there on the glacier. Martha, our cook was fantastic. She always knew what to make to lift everyones spirits. Her and her husband, Dale who was the manager, made a dream team. Him with his helicopter know-how and years of experience with the dogs, and her magic touch with people and food. Martha was everyones favorite person at camp.
I could write a whole blog post on the weather. Up there, exposed to the elements, it was a big deal. We were all extremely affected by it, moods and health plummeted when the weather was bad.
Unfortunately, it usually was. Bad.

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Huge storms would move in and it would rain for days. Literally days. Our clothes would be soaked, even if we had rubber raingear on(as I did). Somehow, I’d still end up damp and soggy at the end of the day. And with all the moisture in the air, even our heaters didnt dry our gear out.
Every now and then, we would have an amazing day. Blue skies, clear views, happy dry dogs. We’d walk around with t-shirts on and smile at one another.

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There were days even more brilliant blue than this, but I was too busy enjoying them.
Towards the end of the season, the weather started wearing on everyone, even the dogs. They had noticebly less tail wag. They had it much worse than us, barely ever drying out. I would take in at least one dog to our hut every night, sometimes even more. Just so they remebered what it felt like to be dry.

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Left to right, Ginger, Ms. Lorena, and Martha Stewart. Some of the owners had a sense of humor with the naming.

It wasn’t all terrible weather and work, though. There were some amazing people up on the glacier! People who were fun just to be around. My roommate was one of these people. Autumn and I played tons of cards! I love playing cards, so this suited me just fine.
We would all get together and have poker games and euchre tournaments (euchre is an amazing midwestern card game. Learn to play it!). We were allowed canned beer up there too, so we would chill and drink beers. Overall, we had a lot of fun, despite nature’s best intentions.
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The Work

Everyones number one most important job was keeping the glacier as clean as we possibly could. We had a contract with the forest service to leave the glacier in pristine condition and that was the only reason we were allowed up there. So this included cleaning up all or most of the bodily waste of us and the dogs, to put it delicately. All that aside, though.

I was the camp jack of all trades, balanced between helping with the tourists and trying my hand as a sled dog handler. I use the term jack of all trades to make myself feel special, but really I was just the team catch-all. Wherever help was needed they sent me, sometimes switching me in and out of positions multiple times a day. But I didnt mind it. At least not at first. It was exciting. I never knew where I would end up working and it kept me on my toes. Towards the end of my glacier career, though, my toes were a little rawer. I will admit to some whining.
The dog handling was my favorite and I think the most interesting, so I’ll elaborate on this the most.

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Everyone in camp was expected to rise every morning at five am and begin the morning chores: feeding, watering, and scooping the puppy dog’s spaces. (One of my coworkers doing morning chores is pictured above). The dogs for their part were always so excited you were awake, they would jump up on you exuberantly and thank you for your existence with barking and screeching whines of adoration. It was a little hard to take at five in the morning.
Then we would eat our breakfast and after that, the tours would begin. A new one every fifteen minutes.
As a dog handler, I was expected to care for the dogs: keeping them watered throughout the day, helping to harness them up for the musher, keeping an eye on them to prevent fights or unwanted mating (dogs will be dogs, as one musher was fond of saying).
In addition to that, my job was to keep the yard looking good. Our dog camp was positioned on about 200 feet of snow that was melting at an increasingly rapid progress. Underneath snow began the glacial ice. 2-3000 feet thick where we were situated.
So, all this means that sometimes the ground became uneven. Especially if the dogs were digging, or pacing, as they were fond of doing. We had large shovel snow fresnos which we would use to completely level the dog yards every few days.

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What’s a dog yard, you ask? Examine the picture above. The large snow alleyways separate the seven rows of five dogs each, totaling 35 dogs per yard. A total of eight mushers, so eight yards, bringing the dog total to 280, give or take a few who had been sent home and include in the puppies. Did I just say puppies? Yep, sure did. Take a gander at those cute furballs, with mama, Turkey, blinking sleepily behind them. Those cute little brats are quite the pawful, shes saying.

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We called them the tourist bait. And this was how we dragged tourists back from their respective tours, to snuggle with our little puffballs. We named them after famous prisons, which was much more ironic when viewing them through their cage bars. This one, my favorite, was named Shawhank. 

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At the end of tours for the day, repeat morning chores, scoop the trail to ensure its cleanliness, and then dinner for the people, and you have officially worked the day as a dog handler.

Meeting the Dogs (oh and the people, them too)

Day one on the job was filled with the usual instructionals, and tricks of the trade. But I also had that feeling like I was caught in a strange tug of war. Which group of friends would I ally with? Who would I end up teaming with, on which side of the glacier? As with any place, this one had cliques, but what made this one better was the lack of ability to strictly enforce them.
When I first got there, the glacier and its rows of huts seemed incredibly small, but once I got to know the place, it became infinitely larger. You could go all week and barely run into another person living right behind you.
I am a dog person, and so this was dieing and going to doggy heaven (little did we all know, its up amongst the clouds of Mendenhall Glacier). 270 dogs and pretty much all of them just want to be your friend.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t try their luck with the newbie. They definitely tried some sneaky shit on my watch, but in the most loving ways possible.
Working with dogs as your coworkers is the best! They are always excited to come to work, always excited to see you. Theres no weird passive agressive tensions. Its possible you might get pissed on by the males, you will probably be covered in dog fur, and reek of dog shit by the end of the day, but your coworkers will shiw their appreciation in their loving eyes and wagging tails.

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This is cub, I called him cub scout. He was a gentle giant and pulled the sled like a beast.
My first day was completely obscured by fog, but once the fog cleared, the views were just another perk of the job.

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First impressions in Alaska

Off the plane, I spent my first few minutes blinking out at the brave new world that would be my home for the next few months. Even the view from the airport is stunning. Then, I soilder my bags and call my new employers. I was picked up from the airport by a young woman. She helped me with my bags and explained to me as much about my new role as she could.
We arrived at the bunkhouse where I’d be staying for my days off. The best description I can come up with is dishevelled, but after a few weeks it becomes home to me. It was a retired gas station, turned pizza place, turned laser tag arena, and now finally a temporary home for 20 plus people with all the signs of their living.
I met my first coworker shortly after the young woman, Faith, had left. He had an interesting story, as did everyone else who worked on the glacier. We got along, taking the two dogs who were down with injuries on walks, and sharing some beers.
The rest of my fellow coworkers filed in, back from a bonfire, but everyone was pretty much looking to get some sleep. So I tried to get a little sleep of my own. Unfortunately my sister didnt agree. She called me every hour that night, ruining my night of sleep and pissing off everyone sharing that room. Whoops!
In the morning, I met my roommate, her and another batch of my coworkers had just gotten down from the glacier for their day off. They all looked like such badasses. It made me super nervous. I wondered, not for the first tine, if I was going to be able to handle this job.
But as with everything else offhand I do, it turned out for the best.
A short ride to the helicopter station and I was minutes away from being in the air on my way to the glacier where I would be spending the majority of my time for the next few weeks. There were so many butterflies in my stomach, I could have flown there myself. 

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