Swimmers emerge from Resurrection Bay during Saturday’s Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. (Photo by Erik Hill)
Will Ross made sure an Alaska man ruled the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon on Saturday.
Ross, a 29-year-old from Anchorage, won the second annual race that puts athletes through a 143-mile torture test across Southcentral Alaska.
The race begins in Seward with an open-water swim in Resurrection Bay and ends in Girdwood with two consecutive runs up and down Mount Alyeska.
Ross finished in 11 hours, 33 minutes, 6 seconds. He completed the 2.6-mile swim in 1:06:38, did the 113-mile bike in 5:16:11 and finished the 27.5-mile run in 4:59.52.
"Each sport had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," Ross said by phone after the race.
Among the lows: The early part of his swim in frigid Resurrection Bay, and the back-to-back ascents and descents of Alyeska.
Among the highs: Running on the soft, rolling Winner Creek trail. And reaching the finish line.
A field of 228 racers, 50 of them Alaskans, contended with cold water during the swim, and high temperatures and sunshine for everything else.
Morgan Chaffin of Elkhorn, Nebraska, defended her title in the women's race. She finished in 14:03:20, more than an hour slower than her winning time of 12:47:50 last year.
Amber Stull of Anchorage was second among women in 14:06:36, and Jessica Lukasik of Seattle was third in 14:13.59.
In the men's competition, Heiko Sepp of Oslo, Norway, placed second (12:18:45) and Andrey Esipov of Kenmore, Washington, was third (12:55:14).
Ross was about 15 minutes slower than last year's winner, Andrew Fast of Salt Lake City, who won in 11:18:29. Fast didn't compete Saturday.
"It didn't get too hot on the bike just because you're moving so fast you've got the breeze, but man, the run was hot, and there's no wind in the mountains," Ross said. "There was a slight tail wind a couple times, but a hot tail wind when you're already hot, that's the worst."
Britta Anderson eats and cycles while departing Seward. (Photo by Erik Hill)
Ross is one of Alaska's most seasoned and successful triathletes. He's a nine-time winner of the Hammerman Triathlon at Kincaid Park and he competes professionally in the XTERRA off-road triathlon series. Earlier this month, he claimed fifth place in the July 9 XTERRA triathlon in Victoria, British Columbia.
XTERRA triathlons are typically 25 to 30 miles long, so Saturday's race was a significant chance of pace for Ross.
"This isn't quite my style, but to have such a big event in my backyard — I couldn't miss it," he said. "I had to do it at least once.
"I'm an off-road triathlete and that's where my passion lies and what's fun for me. This had its fun moments, but it also had its not-so-fun moments."
A Mexican flag encourages Yuri Escartin as he begins the cycling portion of his race.(Photo by Erik Hill)
The swim was no fun at the start, he said. It was 50 degrees when the race began at 4:45 a.m. Saturday, and race officials said the water temperature was 56 degrees, although Ross suspects it was lower.
"I've swam in 55 degrees, and this was colder than that," he said.
"For the first 15 minutes, it was almost a panic trying to keep breathing and keep everything functioning properly. But once I got going it was amazing to be out there. The water was so calm, and there were so many spectators."
The best part of the race, he said, was running on the Winner Creek trail and nordic loop. Not only did the trail provide relief after running several miles on pavement, it was packed with spectators.
"Lots of high-5s, lots of support," Ross said.
Competitors transition from swimming to cycling in Seward. (Photo by Erik Hill)
After that came the most painful part of the race — two trips up and down Mount Alyeska.
"The mountain was hard. I was blown away by how hard the second time was," Ross said. "You hear people talk about Mount Marathon, and it's the downhill that ruins people's legs. The first time down (Alyeska) it's almost 3,000 feet, and the second time is 2,000 feet. Back to back. That's a lot."
That's why Ross planned to ride the tram to the top of Alyeska a couple of hours after his race ended so he could cheer for his fiancee, Andrea Kettler.
"I don't want to run anymore," he said.
And he doesn't have to.
He and Kettler are getting married Aug. 4, and they made a deal at the start of the summer: After the Alaskaman, they would take a two-week break from serious training in order to get ready for the wedding.
"I gotta say, a race this big and a wedding in one summer, it's a lot," Ross said. "It's a little overwhelming for both of us. I'm happy to see success in the first one."
The first swimmer out of the water is helped up the ramp from Resurrection Bay. (Photo by Erik Hill)
Two men and a woman face kidnapping charges in Anchorage in connection with a bizarre case involving a stolen vehicle and a man being beaten, tased and doused in bleach, prosecutors say.
Peter Calugan (Photo provided by APD)
Damen Koso, 27, and Bonita Severian, 48, were arrested Friday night. A third man, 34-year-old Peter Calugan, was being sought by police Saturday evening.
Police have accused Koso and Calugan of physically assaulting and kidnapping a man named Jerry Haley. The episode began July 15, when Severian gave Haley her car keys when she was arrested on a series of bench warrants, according to a charging document written by Assistant District Attorney James Klugman. Severian asked Haley to take care of her vehicle, Klugman wrote.
That night, the vehicle was stolen, according to Klugman. Severian was upset she couldn't get the car back and asked people to help her recover it, including Koso and Calugan, according to Klugman. Severian posted pictures on her Facebook page of Haley and her car and promised a reward for both of them being brought to her.
Several days later, close to midnight on July 19, Severian ran into Haley at a store in Muldoon, Klugman wrote in the charges. She eventually brought Haley back to her house, where Koso and Calugan were waiting, the charges say.
Koso and Calugan demanded Haley tell them where the vehicle was, Klugman wrote.
"When Haley said he didn't know, (Koso and Calugan) began beating and kicking him: They then shocked him with a taser, poured bleach on him and made him strip naked," Klugman wrote.
The men told Haley the vehicle contained $10,000 that the men needed to pay a debt, according to Klugman.
Koso and Calugan then forced Haley into Koso's white pickup, threatening to kill him if he didn't go, the charges say.
As they were driving, Haley opened a window and jumped out of the truck at the intersection of Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road. He flagged down a construction worker and contacted police, Klugman wrote. He appeared to be covered in bleach.
Officers searched Severian's home and found Haley's backpack, a large amount of spilled bleach and Haley's clothing, which were drenched in bleach. There was also a substantial amount of drug paraphernalia, Klugman wrote in the charges.
In an interview with police detectives, Koso denied assaulting Haley and said he and Calugan had simply offered Haley a ride home, and that Haley had jumped out of the truck for no reason.
Severian told police detectives she had not participated in the assault on Haley and that she may have had bleach on the counter because she was washing dishes. She also claimed to have washed Haley's clothing because it was dirty.
"I don't understand how I kidnapped anyone, your honor," Severian told the judge at her arraignment Saturday afternoon.
Koso and Severian each face a count of kidnapping and conspiracy. The two being held on a total of $28,000 bail in both cash and corporate bonds.
Calugan had not been found as of Saturday evening. Police had obtained an arrest warrant.
In this image from video provided by KNBC-TV, a man with his hands up walks towards police from a Trader Joe’s supermarket in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles Saturday, July 21, 2018. (KNBC-TV via AP)
LOS ANGELES — A man shot his grandmother and girlfriend Saturday and then led police on a car chase that ended when he crashed into a pole and ran inside a busy supermarket as bullets from officers shattered the front doors. About three hours after he took hostages in the store, the suspect surrendered.
One woman was killed inside the supermarket, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Officers with riot gear, armed with rifles, stood along the side of the Trader Joe's in the Silver Lake area on Saturday afternoon and used mirrors to try to look inside as hostages periodically came out the front door with the hands raised. At least one person was injured but expected to survive.
The suspect walked out with a cluster of four hostages and appeared to be already handcuffed as the group emerged through the front door. Police immediately surrounded the suspect, searched him and then brought him to a waiting ambulance. The man appeared to have blood on his left arm.
Investigators believe the suspect, whose name hasn't been released, had shot his grandmother and girlfriend around 1:30 p.m. in South Los Angeles and then fled in a 2015 Toyota Camry, Sgt. Barry Montgomery, a Los Angeles police spokesman, said.
Officers spotted the suspect's car near Hollywood and tried to pull him over, but the man refused to stop and led officers on a pursuit, he said. During the chase, the suspect shot "multiple rounds" at officers, though no officers were struck by the gunfire, he said.
At least one officer is believed to have returned fire, Montgomery said.
In this image from video provided by KNBC-TV, Los Angeles Police officers remove a passenger from a car that crashed after a pursuit with the driver who ran into a nearby Trader Joe’s supermarket in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles Saturday, July 21, 2018. (KNBC-TV via AP)
The suspect eventually crashed his car outside of the Trader Joe's supermarket and then ran into the store. An Associated Press employee who lives in the area reported seeing a car crashed into a utility pole outside the store.
Don Kohles, 91, was walking into the supermarket when he saw a car being chased police crash into a pole just outside. Police fired at the driver, shattering the store's glass doors and Kohles and others inside took cover and laid on the floor as the suspect ran into the store, he said.
He could hear others around him sobbing as the man ran toward the back of the store and yell at people, but Kohles said he never heard any more gunshots. After about 30 minutes, police came inside and rushed some of the customers out, he said.
People frantically tried to flee from the store and some were seen climbing through windows, jumping down about 8 feet (2.44 meters), and others darted through the back door.
Christian Dunlop, a real estate agent and actor who lives nearby, said he was watching from the corner when he saw four people flee out the front of the store. An employee was dragging an injured woman by the hands out the front door, he said.
One woman who was injured was taken to the hospital in stable condition, according to David Ortiz, a fire department spokesman, though it was unclear how she was injured. Officials said they had 18 ambulances and 100 firefighters staged at the scene.
Montgomery said the situation was still unfolding and hostages were still inside the store.
Officers are "trying to get the suspect to surrender and bring this to a peaceful conclusion," he said.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he is "Watching Los Angeles possible hostage situation very closely" and that Los Angeles police officers were working with federal law enforcement.
The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing more than 20 of their stories.
Tattoo artist Rachel Gonzalez owns Exotic Eye Tattoo on the Homer Spit. She divides her time between Homer and Maui, Hawaii, where she also owns a tattoo studio. (Marc Lester / ADN)
HOMER — When Hawaii-based tattoo artist Rachel Gonzalez decided to open the only tattoo parlor on the Homer Spit about five years ago, she wondered if she would get the same requests over and over.
"I thought I was going to do nothing but bear claws and salmon when I first opened up," she said on a weekday evening, sitting inside the wooden building that houses Exotic Eye Tattoo. A black purse on Gonzalez's lap held her Chihuahua named Conquistadora, who she also calls Muffins and who some people on the Spit also call Eagle Bait.
"She's a riot," Gonzalez said of the tiny, sleepy dog. "She comes everywhere."
Conquistadora, a Chihuahua owned by Rachel Gonzalez, is carried in her bag. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Over their summers here, Gonzalez said her customers have defied her expectations. In a good way.
Sure, she has her share of walk-in customers who want an anchor or a fish or a mermaid. But she also has people who have traveled to Homer with heavy stories. They're scattering ashes, she said, or on a trip that their loved ones never got to do and they want to commemorate it with a tattoo. She sees locals and seasonal workers, too, who book appointments through the summer to complete big pieces. Then there are the ideal customers who give her freedom to create a unique art piece on a large section of their skin.
"People in this town are quite eclectic and very artistic and well-traveled, too," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez has worked as a tattoo artist in Hawaii for about 15 years. She still has a tattoo parlor in Maui. She uproots from the island to run the Homer shop from April to October.
During the long Alaska summer days, she usually tattoos from 10 a.m. until midnight. The night before, she didn't finish until 1 a.m.
So far this year, she said, business is "bonkers." The two most popular tattoo requests? An outline of a mountain range or coordinates of an Alaska town, often Anchorage, Homer or Kodiak.
The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing more than 20 of their stories.
RVs fill hundreds of spots along Seward’s waterfront on June 23, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
SEWARD — This scenic city of about 2,700 year-round residents comes alive in the summer.
Tens of thousands of campers cycle through, transforming seaside campgrounds into tiny, temporary communities with hundreds of tents and RVs. All kinds of people crowd the area, drawn for all kinds of reasons.
Here are some of their stories.
The campground host
Tim Foster has been camping in Seward since he was a child. Now he’s a campground host who stays in an RV with his dogs for several months each year. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Tim Foster's cancer diagnoses changed his priorities.
"That's a real eye-opener," said Foster, a longtime Alaska resident. "When you think you're invincible all your life and then someone tells you you have cancer. You think, 'How can that be?'"
Foster underwent a radical prostatectomy. Then he started spending more time outside. He had retired about 10 years earlier from a 30-year-career at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport where he worked as the chief of airport safety. "I wasn't enjoying Alaska as much as I should have," he said.
Foster decided to return to Seward for the summers. As a child, his parents had taken him to the same shores to fish and camp. When he became a parent himself, he brought his children here to do the same.
Then two years ago, Foster took a job as one of Seward's volunteer campground hosts. He stays in his RV with his two Papillons, Angel and Tré, from May to September. He oversees the 50 or so RV spots in his area.
Seward campground host Tim Foster camps with his two Papillon dogs, Angel and Tré. (Marc Lester / ADN)
"We meet so many nice people," he said. "We get people from Europe, from Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France — you name it, they've come here."
In front of Foster's RV, two handmade benches flank a steel fire pit, just across a walkway from the rocky beaches of Resurrection Bay. He has also set up tall pieces of driftwood with flags for the United States, Canada, Alaska and the Green Bay Packers.
"This is my living room," Foster said. "The whales are here. The sea lions come in."
Tim Foster became a campground host in Seward two years ago. His wife, Mickey, often visits on weekends during the months he camps. Photographed June 23, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Compared to his job in airport management, he said, the gig as a campground host "is a cakewalk." There's no real drama or fights or rowdiness. The biggest commotion he remembers is the time a very large sea otter meandered out of the water, drawing a big crowd.
"This guy would come out like he owned the entire beach," he said. "You never know what you're going to see here."
Gene Smith, from Montara, California, camped in Seward as part of a four-month road trip on June 22, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Gene Smith keeps his plans pretty loose. That's the beauty of having time and an RV, he said.
He might occasionally make a campground reservation a day in advance, but he has a generator and can make do on his own. If he isn't impressed with the RV park or isn't fond of his neighbors, he simply moves along.
"I have a general idea where I want to go, but as far as dates or anything like that? No," he said.
Smith, from Montara, California, retired from a career with Xerox when he was 58. Now 74, he camps as much as possible in a 35-foot fifth-wheel. Last year he circled the Lower 48, with stops in Texas, Maine, Michigan and North Dakota.
He and his wife of 40 years have been working their way north since April, pausing to visit his kids, his grandkids and his great-grandkid. Sometimes they worry about him, but he's got a cellphone with good coverage. He keeps in touch.
Children play by the Resurrection Bay coastline in Seward as the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Radiance of the Seas departs on June 22, 2018. The ship traveled Southeast Alaska toward its destination, Vancouver, B.C.(Marc Lester / ADN)
This is his first visit to Alaska, and the scenery has impressed him. Restaurant costs? Not so much.
"Your RV parks are not bad, but your food prices … You go out to get a hamburger and it starts at $14," he said as he worked on fixing a flat bicycle tire. "Give me a break."
Smith achieved a life goal on this visit to Alaska: He walked on a glacier. In future travels, he wants to experience a technology he thinks might allow older people to retain some independence when the day comes that they no longer drive.
Smith said he'll be happy if he can keep his RV travel up for another six or seven years. His next stop was Homer.
The ironic campers
Julie Morris, left, and Rachel Mulvihill sip wine on an air mattress in the back of an SUV in a Seward campground on June 22, 2018. The friends, from the Seattle area, were on a long weekend trip to Alaska, where Morris grew up. (Marc Lester / ADN)
You could hear them before you could see them.
Julie Morris, 29, and Rachel Mulvihill, 30, erupted into laughter while tucked into the back of an SUV.
The friends, who live in the Seattle area, couldn't find an affordable RV to rent for just one night, so they did the best with what they had: a Ford Escape and the decor from Morris' childhood home in Wasilla.
"We wanted to rent a camper van but there's a three-night minimum, so we turned her car into an ironic camper van," Mulvihill said as she reclined on a partially deflated air mattress.
Morris and Mulvihill were on a five-day trip to Alaska, where Morris grew up. They drove to Seward that morning to hike Mount Marathon, but rain derailed their plans. They went to Exit Glacier instead and now had more time in their makeshift RV that, with its trunk open, had a view of Resurrection Bay.
The women's laughter continued as they gave a tour of their temporary home. The house plant. The warm bottle of white wine in the tall wooden basket. The shelf that doubled as a card table. The sheet that doubled as a curtain. Every throw pillow Morris' parents own.
"We were hoping to find some macrame that we could dangle outside," Mulvihill said. "But this is all we've got."
The Palmer weekenders
Cindy and Larry Judd, from Palmer, and their 3-year-old dog Gizmo camped in an RV in Seward on June 23, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Cindy caught Larry's eye when she worked with his sister. Larry used to come around to visit.
"Maybe I should go over there a little more often," he remembered thinking. Eventually, his sister made the introduction.
"We were at Costco," Cindy said. "I met him by the beef jerky."
On a recent morning, the couple walked through Seward's RV campground together with matching coffee mugs. Larry has been an RV camper for 20 years, he said.
"I was kind of a tent camper until I met him," Cindy said. "Now I kind of like my amenities."
Often strangers stop to chat when they're sitting by a campfire on the Seward beach. Sometimes those strangers become friends when they return night after night to swap stories. The couple from Palmer sold their camper last spring, but it wasn't long before they craved another one.
"We wanted something a little different, a little bigger, to have a couch to socialize with," Larry said.
Ryan Shaver, right, talks with his 3-year-old son, Liam, by the water in Seward at left. Jessica Shaver reaches for 1-year-old Rinette, on June 23, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Ryan Shaver had to wait for it, but he and his family eventually scored what he called the best RV spot in Alaska. They had spent the previous evening farther inland hoping a waterfront spot like this would open up.
"I guess that's why you have an RV," he said. "You can sleep anywhere."
Ryan and Jessica Shaver met in pharmacy school in North Carolina. They bought their RV for their move from Texas to Anchorage so Ryan could take an Air Force job at the hospital on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. They took 30 days to make the trip, winding through Canada on the way.
The Shaver family dogs, Ali Bears, left, and Geppetto, wait by the family’s RV on June 23, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Nowadays, trips in the RV include their kids, Liam, 3, and Rinette, 1, and their two dogs, Geppetto, a Dalmatian, and Ali Bears, a Weimaraner.
Jessica said Liam's ears perk up whenever there's talk of a family RV road trip.
"He knows that he's going to get s'mores at night," she said.
The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Here are some of their stories.
Juliann DiLucchio serves ice cream at Northern Lights Delights, a business owned by her family along the Sterling Highway, on June 21, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
SOLDOTNA — Juliann DiLucchio spends her summers serving ice cream inside a roadside building shaped like a gigantic soft-serve ice cream cone. One of the best parts: She can't eat dairy and the ice cream doesn't make her stomach hurt.
Juliann's grandfather built the shop about 13 years ago with her in mind.
"He set out searching high and low for something that was lactose free," said Heather DiLucchio, Juliann's mom. Heather now owns the business, Northern Lights Delights, and it still dishes up lactose-free ice cream in a lot off the Sterling Highway.
Back when Juliann's grandfather opened the stand, she said, Soldotna only had one other ice cream shop.
"He wanted to bring something that was different than Dairy Queen," Heather said.
He also wanted to serve a product that his granddaughter could eat. Juliann has an issue with dairy — it's a little more than an intolerance and a little less than an allergy.
These days, the DiLucchios keep the ice cream stand open each year from about Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Juliann, an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Soldotna High School, said people will show up on the warmest and sunniest summer days, as well as the coolest and rainiest.
"People just like ice cream, even though it's cold," she said. "It's Alaska."
At Northern Lights Delights, pins in a map show where visitors have come from on June 21, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
The Anchorage skyline is reflected in a puddle as the moon rises above the city in Anchorage, Alaska on Sunday, August 6, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)
It's a refrain echoed by nearly all recent arrivals to Alaska: "Why is everything so expensive here?"
Like many questions, there's an easy answer and a more complete one. The easy answer is that Alaska is big and sparsely populated, access to many places is difficult and it's far from places where goods are manufactured. Shipping is, therefore, expensive, and it drives up the costs of everything from gasoline to lumber to finished consumer goods. Hence, everything is more expensive.
But a closer look at the drivers of Alaska's cost of living reveals more nuance. According to figures recently released by the state Department of Labor, specific types of costs stand out in locations around the state. And although high costs aren't a positive in and of themselves, knowing what they are can be instructive: If Alaska wishes to make its best progress, it can do so by reducing the aspects of life here that cost residents the most.
In Fairbanks, for instance, utility costs — primarily for heating and electricity — are off the charts, standing at 207 percent of the national average. And if you think that's bad, it's actually a marked improvement from last year, when the differential between Fairbanks costs and the national average was almost 16 percent greater.
But as egregious as those utility costs are, they're a spotlight for policymakers with regard to making life easier for Interior residents: Bring down energy costs. One major initiative is already underway — the Interior Energy Project, which would bring an increased supply of Cook Inlet natural gas to Fairbanks and North Pole, stabilizing and reducing costs for home heating and providing new fuel options for electricity cooperative Golden Valley Electric Association.
In rural Alaska, energy costs can be even more of a burden, and infrastructure serving communities is even less robust. Where new energy sources can be found or alternative, more cost-effective solutions implemented for villages, it will go far toward driving down costs for those communities, their residents and the state as a whole.
Here in Anchorage, housing costs were once a significant, expensive outlier, with rental vacancy at 2 percent and costs far above the U.S. average. The cost of renting or buying a home here is still considerably more expensive than the U.S. average — about 39 percent higher — but the gap is shrinking as Alaska experiences a recession and the Lower 48 continues its economic recovery, driving housing demand down here. If Alaska's economy recovers in the near future, however, the price differential may go back up, which would be an opportunity for homebuilders to provide more reasonable options for Alaskans seeking homes.
Across Alaska, one standout item driving up the cost of living no matter where you are is health care. That's no particular surprise: Health care in Alaska has always been expensive here, a fact that has strained residents' pocketbooks, state Medicaid funds and exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. Health care is a complex issue and there is no single action that will bring down Alaska's high costs, but the statewide nature of the issue and the fact that a substantial portion of state spending each year goes toward health care underscores the seriousness of seeking better, more cost-effective solutions.
Alaska's options for overcoming the tyranny of distance will always be somewhat limited. Our state doesn't have the infrastructure to manufacture many of its finished goods, and importing them comes with costs. But a close look at costs of living in communities around the state is instructive: In some aspects of our lives, our cities and our state can make a difference in helping residents live here more affordably, and reducing those costs should be a top priority.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.
Volunteers pull bird cherry to remediate Anchorage park land during summer 2018. (Hans Thompson photo)
I've seen Anchorage grow and change during the past couple decades. I can remember a time biking as a kid, when the streets weren't nearly as busy and the trucks weren't so big. We've gotten more sophisticated, too. A Lycra or Patagonia garment was uncommon to see on the trails, unlike today, when it has replaced work wear commonly worn more casually. Xtra-Tufs are holding on for now and have taken on a new fashion role.
The spike in property crime in the past years has not just hit the "bad" neighborhoods, as it did decades ago. Like a big city, we are all living in it now. This is likely to the misfortune of you, your family and friends. In my neighborhood, walking through the wooded area near Valley of the Moon Park, I've found hundreds of dollars in salvageable items, originally belonging to my neighbors, at abandoned camps. Certainly, this is some of the most out-in-the-open crime we can stop together as a community. To help solve it, we need to remove the walls around the perimeter of the trails of Prunus padus, or European bird cherry. These trees have been unchecked, are not native vegetation and have been choking out ferns and native shrubs.
A core value that distinguishes forests of Anchorage parks from elsewhere is that, except for during the Good Friday earthquake, they have not been disturbed much during a century of history. There is good reason to try to maintain this as a value. However, the attitude that the best way to preserve native ecology is to cordon it off from human use is outdated with respect to our multi-use creek trails. We have already impinged on it by passively introducing this foreign species of bird cherry, and now we need to take the appropriate intervention of eradicating it manually — and in the larger trees, with professionals, using animal-safe herbicides. The parks department has been doing good work to organize volunteer events to pull and cut during the past several years, but we need more volunteers and a bigger strategy. Otherwise, the improvement year to year is only incremental. Although regrowth does occur, removing new growth in subsequent years takes a tenth of the work that removing well-established trees requires.
We should commit to the time and work necessary to clear this trail and the surrounding area of these opportunistic bird cherry trees with the initiative that makes Alaska special. This is a robust and virile alien species that we can control with action, and we can turn back the clock on the 40 years it has been encroaching on the public space. Moving forward, we can start much sooner to stop it from shadowing native flora. This tree can look nice and is manageable when it has been planted ornamentally, but its rugged nature also makes it adaptable to our cool winter conditions.
This is why, with the municipal parks department, I'm organizing a volunteer event to eradicate this species at the western end of the problem on Chester Creek at Valley of the Moon Park that I believe will help restore native ecology and prevent hiding what I think many believe are illegally obtained and fenced property. This will take place on July 28th from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There was a similar event near the crossing of the trail and New Seward Highway earlier this summer that was amazingly successful and transformed and renewed the landscape to how I remember biking around town.
Hans Thompson is an Anchorage resident and member of the South Addition Community Council.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.
Lizzesota Undying (Liz Lyke), right, slams Polly Ester (Alana Bellucci) to the mat. (Marc Lester / ADN)
The Fairbanks Ladies of Wrestling (FLOW) performed at Williwaw Social in downtown Anchorage on Friday evening July 20, 2018. The event featured several pro wrestling-style entertainment bouts that included Polly Ester, Titanaconda, Pandora's Box, Lizzesota Undying, Thunder Thighs, TJ "Rawks" Rivera and more.
TJ “Rawks” Rivera winces during her bout with Pandora’s Box (Sarah States). (Marc Lester / ADN)
Audience members enjoy the performance. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Thunder Thighs (Mary Fagan) holds Titanaconda (Lauren Mishoe) in the air. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Thunder Thighs (Mary Fagan) walks on the backs of men from the audience toward the ring as she enters. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Polly Ester (Alana Bellucci) makes a grand entrance. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Thunder Thighs (Mary Fagan) is caught by the legs of Titanaconda (Lauren Mishoe) in the air. (Marc Lester / ADN)
TJ “Rawks” Rivera, lower, battles Pandora’s Box (Sarah States). (Marc Lester / ADN)
Thunder Thighs (Mary Fagan) holds Titanaconda (Lauren Mishoe) in the air. (Marc Lester / ADN)
TJ “Rawks” Rivera enters the ring. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Lizzesota Undying (Liz Lyke) pins Polly Ester (Alana Bellucci) to the mat. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Thunder Thighs (Mary Fagan) holds Titanaconda (Lauren Mishoe) in the air. (Marc Lester / ADN)
TJ “Rawks” Rivera regroups in a corner of the ring. (Marc Lester / ADN)
In this Nov. 2, 2017, file photo, Carter Page speaks with reporters following a day of questions from the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
ASPEN, Colo. – The Justice Department on Saturday released a previously classified application to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was under suspicion by the FBI of being a Russian agent.
The government had monitored Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the heavily redacted documents were made public after media organizations sued for their release under the Freedom of Information Act.
The release of the document, along with three subsequent applications to renew the surveillance, was extraordinary and historic. In the four decades that FISA has been in effect, it's not clear that any application for surveillance has ever been released. Materials related to FISA operations and legal process are among the most highly classified and closely guarded in the government.
The publication is also sure to fuel the political fight between Republicans and Democrats over the propriety of the surveillance and how it was legally justified.
Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration, which sought the surveillance order in October 2016, of relying on a controversial dossier of then-candidate Donald Trump's alleged connections to Russia to support the surveillance order. The document, compiled by a former British intelligence officer, was used as political opposition research by Democrats. But the author, Christopher Steele, also shared his findings with the FBI because he was concerned that Trump may have been compromised by Russia.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee have sparred for months over the Page surveillance. Republicans, who previously released some details about the application, had accused the FBI of relying too much on the Steele dossier, which they painted as politically motivated and uncorroborated.
But Democrats countered that the FISA application relied on more information than what Steele provided. And they said Steele had been a reliable source of information to the FBI in the past.
The application shows that the FBI portrayed Steele to the court as a trusted source. The FBI also disclosed that his work was on behalf of a client who was likely looking for politically damaging information about Trump. Republicans had accused the bureau of failing to notify the court of the dossier's political origins.
Much of the more than 400 pages of applications is redacted, making it impossible to know all the evidence that the FBI presented to a judge in seeking the wiretap order.
In particular, whole sections in the application detailing the FBI's justification for believing Page was a Russian agent are blacked out. Some of the unredacted material refers to news articles. But FISA applications typically rely on classified and other sensitive information, according to officials with knowledge of the process.
The application identifies Page by name and says that he engaged in "clandestine intelligence activities" on behalf of Russia and had been the target of Russian government recruitment. The application describes Russia as having interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Page has denied that he was a Russian agent.
Nothing, not even the PFD, can last forever
Gov. Bill Walker did the right thing for Alaska when he decided to reduce the Permanent Fund Dividend in 2016. Of course, not everyone agreed then and many still don't. But the Legislature followed his lead the next two years. Which is why it shouldn't ...
David Allgood uses a trail adapted for persons with disabilities to view a scenic overlook of the Green River at Mammoth Cave National Park in Cave City, Ky., Friday, June 22, 2018. National Park Service accessibility chief Jeremy Buzzell says nine parks across the U.S. have received more than $10 million in federal funding to design and build accessibility projects as examples for other parks. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
CAVE CITY, Ky. — David Allgood and Tom Stokes glide up a slight incline to the wooden platform overlooking the Green River at Mammoth Cave National Park. From there, they watch through a glass panel as the Kentucky park's lone ferry carries a Jeep across the water below.
The longtime friends turn their wheelchairs and roll toward the recently improved Echo River Spring Trail, which is wide enough for them to travel side-by-side. Accompanied by the gurgling water and chirping birds, they chat quietly about the trail and the thought that went into the view unobstructed by railings.
"It's probably the best trail I've ever been on as far as accessibility," Stokes said. "It's really scenic. It's awesome to be out here in the trees, the mature forest, and see the sun coming through, and the birds, the nature."
The upgraded trail reopened earlier this year after a $1.1 million transformation from a rolling, rutted gravel footpath to an 8-foot-wide concrete and wood path with little slope. New exhibits include Braille and invite visitors to experience them by touch to make them more meaningful to the visually or cognitively impaired.
The Mammoth Cave project is an early step in a coordinated push by the National Park Service to improve and increase accessibility for people with disabilities. The nationwide effort, launched in 2015 with federal grant money, was aimed at increasing the diversity of park visitors.
Nine parks have received more than $10 million in federal funding to design and build projects as examples for other parks as they work toward making trails, buildings, waterways and camping more accessible, said Jeremy Buzzell, chief of the accessibility and housing program for the National Park Service.
A project at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Alaska focused on making historic buildings more accessible also is complete, and four other parks have projects in the works.
Klondike officials gutted the interior of the park museum in a railway building dating to 1900 and redesigned it to be more accessible. Before renovations, the dimly lit museum consisted primarily of displays best viewed from a standing position, visual information specialist Kira Pontius said.
Now the park has interactive exhibits, displays are at a better height for people in wheelchairs and many have small models that visitors can touch with their hands, Pontius said. Visitors also can use audio devices that describe and give background on every display.
Pontius said the changes have improved the park experience for everyone.
"We have a museum that is much more modern. It's lighter. It really tells the story, beginning to end, of the gold rush," she said.
The director of National Center on Accessibility in Bloomington, Indiana, said parks should highlight their improvements for the nearly 20 percent of Americans who have a disability.
"If you take the time to provide these opportunities, then shout it from the mountaintop, essentially, to let people know, because a lot of times people just assume they can't do something and choose not to go," Sherrill York said.
The center gave Mammoth Cave officials guidance on their changes and reviewed their designs, said Dave Wyrick, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the park.
The Echo River Spring Trail is the second above-ground trail at the park to be made accessible to wheelchair users, but it's the first all-access trail for those with other types of disabilities. The park also offers an accessible cave tour.
"We just wanted a universal trail that talked about Mammoth Cave and how it was formed, the springs and things, that everybody could experience," he said.
Allgood and Stokes, who know each other through a disability resource center in Louisville, traveled about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south to check out the trail, which has added picnic tables that allow them to sit comfortably on the sides instead of awkwardly at either end.
Allgood said he's seen accessibility improve over the 36 years he has used a wheelchair but knows there's a long way to go. He said he visited the trail before the park started working on it and was only able to travel about 150 feet before he was forced to turn back.
"It's fantastic what Mammoth Cave and the National Park System are doing to make it accessible for those of us with disabilities and mobility impairments, because now we're welcome to come and actually see aspects of the park that we were never able to do before," he said.
Wanda and Wayne,
I've been dating an amazing woman for four months and I can already see us together forever. It's crazy because I've never felt this sure about someone or anything before. And the timing has been perfect. How and when we met, we're both mid 20s, we both have great jobs and career paths, solid families, great lives that are even better together.
She feels the same way, but is already moving everything forward. She's started talking about moving in together soon, since we pretty much spend most weekends and many weeknights together anyway. Or even buying a condo together since it's a better investment for our future. She's also talked about how many kids she wants, three, and when she wants to start having them, in five years. And about her dream wedding in wine country, of course, with all of our families and friends. Etc. Etc.
Most of the time I go along with it because it sounds amazing and I want that too. But I also get a knot in my belly because it's scary how fast she wants to move and how determined she is have everything work out exactly how she has it planned in her head. Sometimes I feel like I'm just a piece in her big puzzle or game. I feel lucky of course to have someone I'm totally crazy about and who knows what she wants. Everyone else I've dated is lost and figuring things out or so much different than I am. I feel lost sometimes too, though. So I'm afraid that if I go along with her at this pace that I'll be married with kids and a minivan tomorrow. But if I ask her to slow down or say, "Hey, we've only been dating four months," she'll think I have doubts, or I'm not able to keep up, or I'm not ambitious.
I want it all with her, but it's just going too much, too fast and too soon for me right now. Any advice on how to slow her down or slow my mind down about worrying? Thanks.
It's been a while since I pulled out the old campfire metaphor, so here we go, Alaskans: You build a fire by starting with tiny, dry, easy-to-light pieces of kindling. As the flames catch, you gradually add larger and larger pieces until finally we can toss on those dense but enduring logs. Those first tiny pieces of wood offer up exciting hot sparks and quick burns; the thick hunks of wood are what give us the warmth and longevity for the long haul.
If you threw a giant log on the early nest of flickering kindling, the fire would die. If you didn't add a log, the smaller fuel would eventually burn out too. So what's the lesson here?
Relationships are like campfires. They may start small, and simple but as time goes on, and we connect and share, our investment grows — and essentially, the emotional "logs" we are throwing on the fire increase, as we build a base to support that.
Think about a campfire. The beginning is exciting. Big flames, sizzling heat, wood collapsing and reforming as we add fuel to the fire. This is so much like the start of a relationship. It's exciting, it reforms and reshapes and collapses, it flames and sparkles. We can never get it back, once gone. It should be savored. When the big logs come, the fire changes. It remains warm and nurturing but in a more refined and settled way.
Tell your lady, you recognize this beginning phase of your literal flames is exhilarating, unique and amazing, and you want to savor it. You are all-in for the long haul but you want to enjoy the journey. This isn't pillow talk or glad-handing: You genuinely love this woman, you want to enjoy the time with her, and you want to take your time getting to the next step. Good luck!
But Wanda, this isn't a quaint little Saturday morning-on-the-Homer-Spit campfire with coffee and Two Sisters scones we're talking about here. This is a third of July night in Seward or New Year's Eve in Fairbanks bonfire that satellites can see from space. (Or at least the conspiracy theorists can see from Fox and Ester.) This fire doesn't need no stinking kindling or logs. A pile of 20 or so pallets, a gallon of gas, and a 2-by-4 with a flaming rag stapled to the end will get this party started just fine, thank you. Alcohol may be involved. Someone might get hurt. S'mores will not be served.
Our firestarter will not be a happy camper if she finds her potential partner down at the creek gathering water to throw on her fire.
Look, letter-writer, if she is who you want, don't douse her enthusiasm and ambition. Putting out this fire might also kill her romantic fire and could be something she takes very personally.
Can you handle that potential explosion? Or can you stand up, be honest and then work with her on letting the raging fire simmer down a bit and make a plan to meet halfway? Can you speed things up a little if she slows things down a little?
If you truly want her and she truly wants you and not just her fairy tale fulfilled, you'll both be fine. If you see flames coming from her ears at the mere suggestion of pumping the brakes, stop, drop and roll away from this situation!
A veteran chronicles 12 years spent exploring Gates of the Arctic National Park – and passes along some pointers
Kaluluktok Creek, as pictured in “Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration,” by Joe Wilkins (Photo by Joe Wilkins)
Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration
By Joe Wilkins, Brown Books Publishing Group, 324 pages, 2018. $39.95
Far to the north, even by Alaska standards, the nation's second largest national park is situated entirely north of the Arctic Circle. Remote and difficult to visit without advance planning, Gates of the Arctic National Park encompasses a lengthy stretch of the Brooks Range, the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains. For those who can make it there (and making it there involves chartering a small plane or walking for a very long time), the park offers unparalleled wilderness experiences.
Joe Wilkins is a Vietnam vet, retired professor and backcountry maniac who got his wilderness training in Alaska in the '60s while still in the military. He fell in love with Alaska's Arctic mountains long before they were wrapped into a national park. Since retiring, he's become a regular traveler there, hiking as well as volunteering with Park Service for patrol duties taking him deep into the mountains and rivers strewn through the park's nearly 8 1/2 million acres. There are worse ways to spend one's retirement.
In "Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration," Wilkins recounts some of his many adventures in the park and offers over 300 photographs to illustrate what keeps bringing him back.
Narratively the book is a bit of a mixed bag. It's part guidebook, providing details for those who are considering a trip to the park, part memoir of his own experiences, part introductory work on the geology, climate, flora, and fauna found in the region, and part thank you to those who have helped make Wilkins' Arctic dream come true.
Likely owing to his military background, Wilkins writes with a precision that is crisp and attentive to details, with a careful focus on accuracy. The end result is highly informative, if a bit short on the sort of emotional passion that often fills similar works. But it's still more than enough to encourage readers to follow his footsteps.
This book isn't about the text, though, it's about the pictures. And there Wilkins shines. Open this book to any page and be stunned. Mountains, rivers, lakes, forests and tundra spill out, presenting staggering beauty.
A full-page panorama of the Noatak River passing through a valley in late fall is just one example. The muted brown colors of the tundra foliage, well past their autumn peak, lend a desert-like appearance. The valley curves off to the left toward the top of the photo while mountains capped with termination dust linger in the background. If only one could climb into the picture and head down the valley floor and see where that bend goes.
Valley of Aquarius, as shown in “Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration,” by Joe Wilkins. (Photo by Joe Wilkins)
On another page we see Wilkins relaxed on a rock in a lake in the Valley of Aquarius, a scene that looks ripped out of the European Alps, with the jagged Arrigetch Peaks rising nearby. A better location for lunch would be hard to imagine. Elsewhere a sunrise begins to bleed over a mountain along the Alatna River, lending a mystical glow to the scene below.
A disproportionate number of these photographs were taken in the fall season. Wilkins, deeply familiar with the park and Alaska, knows that no time in those mountains is better. A picture of an unnamed slope finds brown and orange tundra dusted with early season snow. In another photo, two caribou look across from a creekside where the last of the summer's green grass can still be grazed, while autumn on the tundra closes in behind them. Fall in the boreal forest is seen just taking hold along the banks of the John River in a landscape shot with Gunsight Mountain in the background.
Where Wilkins' photography is truly magical, however, is in his wildlife shots. Early on we see a grizzly bear blasting across a creek. It was charging him, yet he took the picture anyway, suspecting (correctly to his good fortune) that it was a bluff charge.
Musk oxen, as pictured in “Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration,” by Joe Wilkins (Photo by Joe Wilkins)
The usual four-legged suspects are here. Bears (both black and grizzly), caribou, moose, Dall sheep. What stands out most, though, are his pictures of the smaller animals and birds. A trio of pictures offer a close-up view of a stoat striking what could pass for deliberate poses. Canada geese are captured along a stream, preparing for migration, and in one picture walking in seeming formation like troops on the march. Best of all are a pair of loons on Ernie Lake, engaged in a water dance. These aren't the megafauna usually seen on Alaska postcards, but through Wilkins' eye they're every bit as charismatic.
In recounting his journeys, Wilkins touches on things many people wouldn't consider. One trip takes him and a researcher to the Lake Agiak region to recover tracking collars from deceased caribou. That such collars are often used to record the movements of wildlife is widely known, but the process of recovering them usually gets overlooked. He then mentions prehistoric tent-ring sites seen on the same trip, as well as inuksuks, rocks turned upright and used as markers centuries ago, a reminder that this land has been traversed by humans for millennia. He also stops by decaying cabins left by more recent visitors that only predate the park's establishment by a few decades.
A grizzly bear, as pictured in “Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration,” by Joe Wilkins (Photo by Joe Wilkins)
Scientific information is also to be had. There's a good section on caribou and their migrations (he's clearly enamored with the animals), and elsewhere a discussion of ice lenses and pingos.
Wilkins returns several times to his experiences in Vietnam, reminding readers that veterans of that conflict still carry those days as a formative part of who they are. For him, visits to the park are part of his lifelong work of understanding that time in his life.
Wilkins' primary goal, however, is to get people out in Gates of the Arctic, and in this he succeeds well. His straightforward approach lets readers know how to start planning and directs them to both those they need to contact and where to consider visiting. Give the book a read and start making plans.
A portion of proceeds from this book are being donated by the author to the Joe Wilkins Veterans Scholarship Fund that assists students at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Shawn Fortune heads to the end of the line with a basket full of action and horror movies he purchased from the Blockbuster store on DeBarr Road on Tuesday. The last two Blockbuster video stores in Alaska, the other in Fairbanks, are closing, leaving only one store remaining in Bend, Oregon. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Blockbuster's video rental business in Alaska has come to an end.
The last two stores standing — one in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks — are in the process of selling off inventory through July and August, before they shut their doors for good. A Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, will be the only one left in the U.S.
Over the last few years, Blockbusters have closed one by one in Alaska, where they outlasted most of the rest of the country. Every time a closure happens, Anchorage Daily News readers comment on Facebook and elsewhere that they're sad to see whichever Blockbuster go.
The nostalgia factor is strong for these once ubiquitous stores. So, we asked Alaskans to share their Blockbuster memories. These are some of the responses we got (edited for length and grammar):
"My ex-husband and I frequented a Blockbuster on Northern Lights. What I remember most vividly is that we rarely agreed on a movie. Eventually, we'd choose something that both of us were lukewarm about.
"My best memory is the time he checked out a favorite of mine, 'Metropolis,' with a rock score by Giorgio Morodor. It's the most fun you can have without being really stoned. Anyway, he pretended he lost it and then paid for it and wrapped it up for me for Christmas! Even though I'm about to give all my VHS tapes away, I'm keeping that one as a souvenir of the good parts of our marriage."
–– Georgeie Reynolds, Portland, Oregon
“My dad would take me every Friday to the (DeBarr) Blockbuster. We always stopped at Carrs to pick up SpaghettiOs first, before going to rent ‘Jem and the Holograms’ episodes and Disney movies. He always took me into Baskin-Robbins to get sherbet before we went home. Some of my very favorite memories with him were those little Blockbuster trips.”
— Tessa Moore, Lawton, Oklahoma
"I had been dating Greg for a couple months, when we had our first Valentine's together. … We decided to go to Blockbuster in Eagle River to see if there were any movies we'd like to see. … We began just wandering the aisles pointing out movies we liked, still not finding anything.
"Until we saw something that just looked so ridiculous we knew we had to rent it. So off we went with 'Zombie Strippers.' The movie was so terrible, but made for a lasting memory. The following year, we were still dating, and Greg surprised me with renting that same awful movie — from the same Blockbuster. This continued each year, and for the fourth year (we had now been married for about 6 months) I decided we should just buy the movie. … Blockbuster definitely gave us a lasting fun memory of our first few years together."
— Elli Morris, Eagle River
Nick Miyasto, Rachel Watts and Jane Blood wait at the front of a long line to purchase movies at the Blockbuster video store on DeBarr Road on Tuesday. (Bill Roth / ADN)
'A parenting partner'
"My late wife Carol died in 2002, leaving me a kindergartner, a first-grader and a fifth-grader. Our family therapy was to load up the minivan after school on Friday, stop at Midtown or Huffman Blockbuster, and go to our cabin in Girdwood.
"Three kids each picked a video, and I was stingy on candy but not on popcorn. Friday lines were atrocious and getting the first-run DVDs we wanted was sometimes a crap shoot, but I look back at my Blockbusters as a parenting partner that helped us hang together as a family.
"It was hard sometimes to inject something educational in the mix but I taught my kids about the Cold War by sneaking 'Fail Safe' and 'Dr. Strangelove' into the mix and of course 'Casablanca' for WWII."
— Mead Treadwell, Anchorage
"Soon after graduating college I landed my first 'real' job managing a campaign for a local candidate. The race went better than you would expect given that this dream team was composed of a first-time candidate and a 21-year-old campaign manager with no knowledge and less experience, and … we ultimately lost the election.
"Losing an election in the winter in Alaska isn't ideal, and I spent the next few weeks on pause, pondering my career and my life. … I ventured out of the house every so often to visit — where else? — the Blockbuster on Northern Lights Boulevard to rent and return season after season of 'The West Wing' as I pondered President Bartlet's often-posed question: 'What's next?' … I burned through anywhere from one to 12 episodes per day.
"When that question — 'what's next?' — could no longer be answered by feeding another DVD into the player I picked up myself and my resume and found out what was next on my own.
"Blockbuster not only provided me with the perfect means of coping with the loss of my first and only campaign, but ensured I had to actually get up and return to the world at least every few days to find out what, in fact, happened next. Blockbuster was an important ingredient in forcing me to answer 'what's next?' for myself, instead of simply allowing me to answer another question, this one much easier but much less encouraging: 'Are you still watching?'"
— Mara Hill, Anchorage
"Back in the early 2000s, I was at the Fairbanks Blockbuster next to the Food Factory when my younger sister and I convinced my mom that the 'unrated' version of 'Old School' meant it was 'unrated' in the same way you would classify a nature documentary.
"We got home, pleased with ourselves, where my dad immediately busted us when he asked our mom why she had rented a film for the kids (14 and 10) that was so unsuitable for children. Needless to say, we didn't get to watch it. However, I am pretty sure he ended up watching the movie."
— Aileen Cole, Anchorage
'We'd just hang around'
"(My sister and I) would head on down to Blockbuster (on DeBarr Road) on Friday nights, hopefully to rent the latest new release. If it wasn't in stock, we'd just hang around the store.
"As soon as we'd see someone walk up to the drop slot outside, we'd ask the employees to check the returned movie, hoping it was the one we were looking for. If it would get late without any luck, we would settle for an 'oldie but goodie': 'Dazed and Confused,' 'Empire Records,' 'The Breakfast Club,' or maybe 'Pretty in Pink.' We'd never leave empty-handed. We'd also be sure to grab a few bags of our favorite candy, Sour Patch Kids. I still can't go to the movies without a bag of them."
— Joseph Lamebull, Portland, Oregon
"My sister and I went to the Kenai Blockbuster for years. We would rent entire seasons of shows, go back again that night and rent more. The employees knew us by name. I was so sad when my wallet was stolen and I lost the Blockbuster member card I've had for over 10 years. It is truly one of the best memories my sister and I have from our childhood."
— Lydia Power, East Bridgewater, Massachusetts
'Do you date?'
"I used to live on Klondike Avenue on the east side. I was a frequent user of the Blockbuster on DeBarr. … One late mid-winter afternoon I got into my car to return some videos to Blockbuster. It was pitch black, no moon and about 20 below.
"I backed out of my driveway. Standing in the middle of Klondike was a woman in a parka. I asked her where she was going and she said 'Carrs on DeBarr.' so I offered her a ride. We got as far as Wonder Park (Elementary) School and she asked me 'Do you date?' I was single at the time and sort of shocked by the question so I stammered out 'Yes, sometimes…' And she said 'Do you want a date NOW?' I had picked up a prostitute.
"So I explained to her that my gallant intentions aimed at keeping her free from hypothermia had been misinterpreted. I don't remember the movie I rented at Blockbuster that night but I will always remember the story. I may have exceeded the speed limit as I drove to the store."
— Wayne Maloney, Alexandria, Virginia
The Blockbuster store on DeBarr Road. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Art of compromise
"When I first moved to Alaska in May of 2007, my now-wife was the first person I met. We had an almost daily ritual. In the evening we'd leave our place(s) in the College Gate/Lake Otis Neighborhood. We'd go to Blockbuster on Northern Lights, sometimes as a couple (or) with friends and pick the night's movie.
"We didn't have cable at the time. There were nights where she and I would learn the art of compromise trying to select one or two movies out of a thousand. You learn a lot about a person browsing movie titles. … It is sad to see places that we spent a lot of time as a young couple slowly become victims of changing times."
— Miles Brookes, Juneau
'Didn't last long'
"We had a great, local video store here in Kodiak called Cross Fox Video. Robert worked there, and knew all about movies. He was really into them. He could make recommendations and provide in-depth conversation about actors, writers, screenplays, and everything else a passionate movie aficionado would be into.
"Cross Fox didn't last long when Blockbuster showed up with their teenage workforce and aisles full of candy and energy drinks. But, then again, Blockbuster didn't last long either, as the whole industry moved towards streaming and online media options."
— Mike Mannelin, Kodiak
A man looks at an idled duck boat in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks Saturday, July 21, 2018 in Branson, Mo. One of the company's duck boats capsized Thursday night resulting in several deaths on Table Rock Lake. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel/)
A private inspector said Saturday that he warned the company operating duck boats on a Missouri lake about design flaws putting the watercraft at greater risk of sinking, less than a year before the accident that killed 17 people during a sudden storm.
Steve Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection service in St. Louis, said he issued a written report for the company in August 2017. It explained why the boats' engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — might fail in inclement weather.
He also told The Associated Press that the tourist boats' canopies make them hard to escape when they sink — a concern raised by regulators after a similar sinking in Arkansas killed 13 people in 1999.
The accident Thursday evening on Table Rock Lake outside the tourist town of Branson also is raising questions about whether storm warnings in the area went unheeded and whether any agency can keep boaters off the water when inclement weather approaches.
"If you have the information that you could have rough waters or a storm coming, why ever put a boat on that water?" Paul said.
A witness' video of the duck boat just before it capsized suggests that its flexible plastic windows might have been closed and could have trapped passengers as the hybrid boat-truck went down. It does not show passengers jumping clear.
"The biggest problem with a duck when it sinks is that canopy," Paul said. "That canopy becomes what I'll call a people catcher, and people can't get out from under that canopy."
A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, the company operating the duck boats in Branson, did not respond Saturday to telephone and email messages seeking comment. Spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala has noted that Thursday's accident was the only one in more than 40 years of operation.
An archived version of Ripley’s website said it operates 20 duck boats in Branson and described them as “built from the ground up under United States Coast Guard (USCG) supervision with the latest in marine safety.”
In central Wisconsin, Original Wisconsin Ducks in the Dells has no plans to change how it operates after 73 years of safe rides, general manager Dan Gavinski said. But his company operates World War I
People pray by a car thought to belong to a victim of Thursday's boating accident before a candlelight vigil in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks Friday, July 20, 2018, in Branson, Mo. One of the company's duck boats capsized Thursday night resulting in over a dozen deaths on Table Rock Lake. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel/)
I-vintage boats, not the modified modern version.
Since 1999, duck boats have been linked to the deaths of more than 40 people, with a troubled safety record on the road and water alike. Their height can obscure cars, pedestrians or bicycles from a driver's view, and maintenance problems can be severe.
Paul said he won't know until the boat that sand is recovered from the lake whether it's one of the two dozen he inspected for Ripley Entertainment in August 2017.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the boat that sank was built in 1944 and had passed an inspection in February, The Kansas City Star reported . But Paul said the boat would have been heavily modified to make it longer so that only part of it dates to World War II. He said it would still have the design flaw he identified in his report.
He declined to share a copy of his report with The Associated Press but said he said he is willing to make it available to authorities.
"I'm sure eventually it will be subpoenaed," he said.
Paul said the duck boats he inspected — which the company had just purchased or repaired — vented exhaust from the motor out front and below the water line. He said in rough conditions, water could get into the exhaust system, and then into the motor, cutting it off. With the motor off, he said, its pump for removing water from the hull would not operate.
"If you watch that video, that water is definitely being slammed up into that exhaust without a doubt," Paul said.
After the deadly sinking in Arkansas in 1999, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended doing away with the canopies and adding more floatation capacity so duck boats could remain upright and keep floating even if they took on water.
The industry took little heed, said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who has represented victims of duck boat crashes. The canopies can protect customers from rain or sun, he noted, and closed windows allow companies to heat the cabins, extending operating hours.
The NTSB called the industry's response to the recommendations disappointing, saying companies cited the cost of engineering and installing additional flotation capacity as prohibitive.
"The duck boat is notoriously unstable and unsuited for what they were attempting to do with it," said Daniel Rose, an attorney whose New York-based law firm has represented victims in several accidents. "It tries to be a boat and a car and does neither, really, except under ideal circumstances."
State officials said the Coast Guard regulates such craft; its officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information. Spokesmen said the Department of Transportation doesn't regulate duck boats because they're amphibious, and the Department of Public Safety doesn't in this case because it's a commercial vessel, as opposed to a recreational one.
It's also not clear that any agency had the authority to keep boats off the lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built it in the late 1950s, but its officials said they don't have such authority.
People pray outside Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator involved in a boating accident on Table Rock Lake, Friday, July 20, 2018 in Branson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel/)
Witnesses have said the weather appeared calm before a storm suddenly whipped up strong waves and spray.
But nearly eight hours earlier, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the western and central Missouri counties.
A severe thunderstorm warning that went out at 6:32 p.m. specifically mentioned Table Rock Lake. The first emergency calls over the accident occurred just after 7 p.m.
Meteorologist Elisa Raffa of KOLR-TV in Springfield said in a phone interview Saturday that her station was forecasting the threat of severe weather all morning.
“This storm didn’t come out of nowhere,” she said. “That is what pains me. I feel like we did everything, at least we tried to do everything, by the book as meteorologists and we still had this horrible tragedy on our hands.”
Nora Carlson, 8, watches caribou from the Fortymile Herd from the bow of a canoe. (Ned Rozell)
Floating down the Fortymile River, we heard the roar of a rapid just ahead. At the same time, we noticed the caribou, about 50 of them, clustered on a cliffside near the water.
It was too late to pull over. I aimed the canoe for the bumps of frothing brown water. As we plunged in, six antlered heads bobbed single-file in front of us. Caribou were swimming across the river at the pinch point.
My neighbor, 8-year-old Nora Carlson, watched from the bow of the canoe as we parted the sea of caribou. As we splashed through, three caribou swam on toward the far bank. Three others saw the red canoe and U-turned back to the rocks from which they had stepped into the water. Nora could have combed the coarse hair of their backs with her paddle.
A few seconds later, we were past the splashy water, and the caribou. We spun into a river eddy and turned to watch the two other boats in our party slip past.
The adult caribou were shedding their hollow winter hair, leaving a dark circle over their vital zones that resembled a target. The calves, born a few weeks ago, were the size of large dogs. Like the adults, the new caribou were good swimmers.
The Fortymile, one of Alaska's 31 herds of caribou living from the Canada border west to Adak Island, is at a modern high number of about 71,400 animals, according to a July 2017 count by biologists for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. When we encountered the creatures in mid-July 2018, they were grouped up, which is typical behavior a few weeks after cows give birth.
A caribou swims across the Fortymile River. (Ned Rozell)
We were fortunate to be in the thick of them. Before dodging gray/black bodies in the rapid, we named a campsite on a forested lobe of land Caribou Crossing. Just downstream, after sniffing the air, caribou swam across in singles, tens and twenties. They shook off water at the far bank. We saw them whenever we pointed the binoculars that way. The parade continued for 10 hours.
Those moments made me think of the incredible expanse of intact tundra hills, forested valleys and graveled river bottoms that enable the presence of such a large gathering of big wild creatures. It is a rare experience, even in Alaska, where caribou outnumber people.
Though the Fortymile Herd is now at the greatest number in anyone's memory, biologists think the herd may have consisted of a quarter-million animals in the 1920s. That's when Fortymile caribou roamed from almost Whitehorse, Yukon, to the village of Tanana, 130 miles west of Fairbanks.
The core country of the herd, occupied even when the herd fell to less than 6,500 animals in 1973, is the wild mountains and creeks surrounding the Fortymile River, which flows from the high country north of Tok to the Yukon River in Canada.
The herd may have reached its peak in the 1920s due to a scarcity of wolves that eat them. On a dogsled trip during the winter of 1922 to 1923, biologist Adolf Murie covered much of the Fortymile country and never saw a wolf track. He guessed wolves might have died in large numbers from canine diseases brought into the territory with miners' dogs.
The nature of caribou herds is to boom when times are good and to bust when the animals overgraze lichen and other foods during the summer. By the 1960s, hunters noticed that caribou with young calves no longer crossed the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, biologists including Rod Boertje and Kalin Kellie noted in a 2012 paper. The herd lost animals and shrunk its range until after the mid-1970s crash, when biologists shortened the name from the Steese-Fortymile Herd to the Fortymile.
Thanks to efforts from wildlife professionals, hunters and government leaders, the Fortymile Herd has grown steadily during the last 40 years. Yukon Territory hunters agreed to kill no animals there and Alaska hunters minded regulations to shoot a small number of bulls. Biologists also think the herd has grown because of programs to remove wolves from the herd's range, good weather conditions since the early 1990s and the herd's spilling out in winter into areas the caribou had not used for decades.
Anchorage police investigate a homicide on North Bliss Street in Anchorage on Friday. (Marc Lester / ADN)
A teenage boy was arrested and accused of fatally shooting another teenage boy on a street in Mountain View, in one of two apparently unrelated fatal shootings Friday evening that rattled residents of the northeast Anchorage neighborhood.
The arrest happened about 10 hours after a fight broke out between a large group of teenagers on the 500 block of North Bliss Street, according to Anchorage police spokesman MJ Thim. Someone called police around 6:20 p.m. to report a shooting.
The call came as police were investigating what was described as the suspicious shooting death of a 20-year-old woman, in an apartment several blocks away.
An investigation found that during the fight, one of teenagers shot the 15-year-old victim in the upper body, Thim said. Thim did not have information on what kind of gun was used or what sparked the fight. Police had previously identified the teen victim as a 16-year-old.
The teen then handed off the gun to an older male, and ran off into an apartment building, Thim said.
The older male, identified as Michael Marquez, 19, was found in the area, questioned by detectives and taken to the Anchorage jail. Marquez faces one count of tampering with physical evidence, according to Thim.
Officers later searched the apartment building and collected evidence. About 4:30 a.m., officers found the teen suspect, according to Thim. He was questioned and then arrested, Thim said.
He is being held at McLaughlin Youth Center. Thim said the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice will decide what charges will be brought.
The teenage victim had not yet been formally identified as of midday Saturday. His body lay in the street for some time Friday as police waited for homicide detectives to arrive and collect evidence.
Hours earlier, police had discovered the body of a 20-year-old woman, lying on the floor of an apartment with a gunshot wound to her upper body. The circumstances were suspicious, according to Thim, and the death was being investigated as a homicide. Police had detained several people in the case, and Thim said police did not believe there was a public safety threat.
The woman had not yet been publicly identified as of midday Saturday and no arrests had yet been made. Thim said police were pursing leads in the case.
The violence came on a sunny, warm night when a lot of people were out on the streets. It shocked neighbors and community advocates in Mountain View, who said there were already discussions swirling about more action on public safety.
Tasha Hotch, a member of the Mountain View Community Council, said she lives just three blocks away from where the teenage boy was shot and killed.
She said she got the alert from police about it, but did not go close to the scene. She said she worries the victim will be someone she knows.
"It's really difficult to see these things happen, and, what can we do to prevent these things?" Hotch said.
Council members have recently talked about ways to help neighbors feel more proactive about crime, Hotch said. The council president, Jasmin Smith, said the idea of a "solutions forum" with police emerged at the last meeting.
Hotch said other ideas revolve around educating neighbors on how to be good witnesses, to make sure to call 911 or the non-emergency line, 311, and building up a phone tree for a more robust neighborhood watch. The neighborhood is also always looking for community patrol volunteers, she said.
"That's one of the reasons why I love this neighborhood," Hotch said. "People are not wanting to just sit back."
A tufted puffin pauses cliffside, looking down at a common murre on St. Paul Island. (Scott McMurren)
My family thinks Anchorage is remote. Still, there's a road to get "Outside." We have a Nordstrom store, daily jet service, bike trails and relatively fast internet. "I'd love to come visit," said one long-lost cousin. "But it's so far away and it's so cold."
My well-meaning relatives would shudder at the idea of flying three hours on a plane from Anchorage outfitted with a special life raft that takes up most of row five. But that's how PenAir configures its Saab 340 aircraft, since it's flying 770 miles to a small outpost in the middle of the Bering Sea: St. Paul Island.
Is St. Paul "remote"? Well, there are no paved roads. There's one store and one hotel. PenAir flies from Anchorage four times a week. The closest community to this town of 480 people is St. George Island, about 45 miles away.
But St. Paul sits in the middle of the freeway for migratory birds. There are a couple of other hubs in Alaska where you can see some of these birds, including Nome and Cold Bay. But because of the winds, the wild weather and the traditional fly-ways for these birds, St. Paul is where "extreme birders" come to fill out their "life lists" of the birds they've seen.
St. Paul also is a sweet spot for crab fishermen during the midwinter season. Trident Seafoods operates the largest crab processing plant in the world in the St. Paul Harbor. During the summer, the cannery handles halibut caught by a fleet of local vessels.
Also, St. Paul Island is "action central" for the northern fur seals that return each summer. There are protected seal rookeries all over the island — and you can hear them barking from almost any point!
The local Alaska Native corporation, Tanadgusix Corporation or "TDX," offers a tour to visit the island. The St. Paul Island Tour is an all-inclusive package. That's helpful, since it would be difficult to put it together on your own. The packages run from three to eight days and line up with PenAir's flights. Airfare is included in the package price, although next year, the tour will offer a "land only" option for folks who want to use their Alaska Air miles on PenAir.
After arriving at the airport, guests check in to the King Eider Hotel, which is attached to the airport building. The hotel is similar to other remote-outpost housing. That means you share your bathroom.
The tour itinerary is geared to the avid wildlife fan, but every visitor gets to see a little bit of the community of St. Paul. That's because all meals are served in the galley at the Trident Seafoods cannery. On the road in from the airport, you'll pass by the town center with the large Russian Orthodox church and the small boat harbor. On the way to lunch, our guide pointed out the wind turbines, the post office, the one gas station for the island, the store and the school.
Because the seals are breeding, there were specific rules about how we could get to the rookeries. At some viewing areas, we were allowed to roll down the windows of the van, but we couldn't get out.
A northern fur seal rests by the side of the road on St. Paul Island. (Photo by Scott McMurren)
To view the most sought-after birds, such as the crested auklet, the tufted puffin or the red-legged kittiwake, no such regulations were necessary. That's because these birds make their homes on the sheer cliffs that surround this volcanic island. It's the best way to avoid the Arctic foxes, which always are on the prowl.
Our guides, Claudia Cavazos and Sulli Gibson, both knew the best trails that would provide good views of both birds and seals.
One thing to know about birders: They love their cameras. Sulli was sporting a fancy Canon camera with a 100-400 mm zoom lens. Because of the mostly misty weather, he had it wrapped in plastic. Both he and Claudia had top-of-the-line Swarovski binoculars and spotting scopes to get up-close views of the birds on the cliffs. I carried my own binoculars, but the spotting scope, mounted on its own tripod, offers the best way to see the birds. None of the folks in our group were hard-core bird photographers, but I've seen birders with huge lenses — and they can get excellent up-close photos. Still, my little point-and-shoot Sony camera worked pretty well.
Even the casual wildlife observer can get caught up in identifying the huge variety of birds. There were the red-faced cormorants, the King Eider ducks, the harlequin ducks, the common murres, the gulls, the sandpipers and other migratory birds. At the seal rookeries, it's amazing to watch the behavior of the dominant males, or "beachmasters," as they preside over their harem of female seals. Of course, the females are tending to their newborns as well. That's just before they get pregnant again and head out to sea in the fall.
All around the island rookeries, you can see the newborns, the 1-year-olds and the adolescents as they jockey for position with the beachmasters. Actually, the younger seals are looking to stay out of the way as the grown-ups are busy with the mating game.
There's a special page on the tour company's website devoted to gear. I never saw the thermometer creep above 50 degrees. It was foggy and wet. So I had long underwear, rain pants, a sturdy raincoat and Xtratuf boots. Even if it's sunny, you'll likely be strolling through tall grass, which can be cold and wet. Plus, you want to be able to get down low to take photos of the beautiful wildflowers.
Wildflowers thrive in the treeless, misty landscape of St. Paul Island. (Photo by Scott McMurren)
The three-day/two-night tour costs $2,495 per person. There's a 25 percent discount for the two-night tour (TDX-300) between now and the end of the 2018 season on Sept. 15. The price includes shared hotel accommodations, flights from Anchorage, three meals per day and full-day guide services. By "full-day" it means they pick you up for breakfast, then take you out all morning, pick you up after lunch and even take you out after dinner if you wish. The hotel also offers free Wi-Fi.
The next time your friends talk about "remote Alaska," you can pull the St. Paul Island card. Even though it's off the grid for big buildings and parking lots, St. Paul Island is in the middle of the action for nature's migration of birds, fish and mammals. And it's a wonder to behold.
The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the peninsula unique. Over the next few days, we'll be publishing more than 20 of their stories.
Lesley Zacharias wears her wedding dress and rides her horse, Maddy, on the beach along the Homer Spit on June 19, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)
HOMER — Don't tell her life partner, but Lesley Zacharias was with her soulmate on the Homer beach (and it wasn't him). She shares a special bond with her 28-year-old horse, Maddy.
Zacharias, dressed in the gown she would soon wear again in her wedding in Washington state, turned heads as she rode Maddy along the waterline of the Homer Spit. They were in town for a two-day riding clinic hosted by the United States Pony Club. Another student encouraged her to bring her dress for photos.
Zacharias said she shares characteristics with the animal.
"She just has a really intricate, complex personality and we click," she said. "She doesn't click with everybody."
The connection is strong with her new husband also. She and Joel Beattie had been together for 11 years before they married June 29. They were roommates before they were partners and have a son together.
"We did everything backwards," she said.
Lesley Zacharias rides with friends. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Zacharias can't pinpoint one moment she realized she wanted to marry Beattie, but she said she appreciates two things that strengthen their relationship: good communication and the support she has for her horse-riding passion.
"He allows me to do the things I love to do," she said.
Zacharias patted Maddy's neck before riding into the shallow water, kicking up spray.