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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Alaskan Adventure (Day 3)

Alaska Adventure Day 1
Aurora Adventure Night 1
Chena Lodge Day 2
Aurora Adventure Night 2

Another really long, cold night, another day to sleep in late. Because we had gotten a late start yesterday, we needed (Or rather - I needed) to head back up to Chena Lodge to finish out all the things to do up there.

That day, I had resolved to ride in a dog sled. It hadn't been on my list when I was originally planning, but I quickly thought about how unique it was to this region and it would probably be my only chance. So I had to do it. No matter what. #Determined

Mom was pretty much drained at this point, though. In fact, all she wanted to do was sleep in the car while I did my Chena exploration. I was pretty disappointed, and I tried to convince her that this would be her only opportunity, but she had refused so I let it go. I went into the Lodge to sign up for the dog sled rides, but it turns out that guests get first priority and the only available spot wasn't until 4:30 that afternoon. It was already past 11 and I didn't want to wait that long, so I left dejected. However, my next stop was to check out the Chena Hot Springs.

I had brought my bathing suit with me and had every intention of getting in. It was the perfect day to do so - bright and sunny, (which it had been the whole trip - I get so lucky with these things) and probably 10 degrees outside (you wouldn't think that would be a plus, but in this case it definitely was).

After paying their fee and changing in the changing room (using a bathroom stall of course [horrible high school flashbacks]) I was already pretty warm because the changing room was humid as all get-out. It actually felt good to get out of that humidity and make my way down the ramp and into the water.

It was hot. Like, too hot. Not scalding-my-skin hot, but as the heat warmed my core, even the part of me out of the water was unbothered by the cold. I was to the point where I had to find a bit of shade from a rock outcropping and raise my arms above the water to cool off. I hadn't put on any sunscreen, and I knew just standing there in the sun with the reflection from the snow would burn me to a crisp if given the chance. That didn't give me much opportunity to enjoy the springs because there was really no where to sit. The water was chest deep when walking, and I didn't want to wet my hair because then I'd be really cold afterwards. So in the end, I probably only stayed in there for about 15-20 minutes, and I was way too hot to enjoy it much longer anyway.

After changing back into my clothes (which was the most insufferable part, because my core was burning up and I had to put on 20 layers for the temps outside) I woke mom up and we started to drive back. I was still determined to get in a dog sled ride however, so we needed to find something today. I cursed my lack of internet service out here. Alaska had Verizon towers (while I had T-mobile), and Mom had Verizon, but not a smartphone. Curses! We knew, though, that we had passed a number of private dog sled places on the way up here, so we kept our eyes open for those signs coming back down.

The first one we saw, we turned into. I don't even know if it had a name. We just drove to these people's house, and saw all the outside kennels. (By the way, the dogs really do hang out on the roof of their huts!) Mom chose to stay in the truck again as I went in to see if I could procure a ride.[You could tell I was a tourist because of how careful I was on the icy ground. Of course, I also had an unprotected camera around my neck.]

I was in extreme luck. Turns out, they had a spot for a single rider right that moment, and it wasn't even as expensive as I'd feared - I think $60, which was a lot cheaper than Chena. He told me about Chena's dog sleds too, how they run them all day long every day. To run them often was good, but not to the amount that those guys did. So it made me happy that I hadn't signed up for that.

Pics of the ride:

The dogs were young, and we were probably only going about 7 mph, but it was a pretty good clip. A few times she stopped to correct the dogs, and the signals and words they knew were astounding. I think that was my favorite part - just how well trained they were, even so young. 

This video is just the informative bits while we were talking. Good facts about sledding! 

It was probably a good idea mom hadn't joined me, because it was pretty uncomfortable, and every time we went over a snow bump and the sled became airborne, it was a hard landing for sure. This was where the good advice of Jason (the tour guide) came in when he said that no one really needed more than a 30 minute ride on a dog sled. I'm glad I heeded that advice!

When that was all said and done, we made our way back to town and got ready for our last night in Alaska. Fairbanks was known for the World Ice Sculpting Championships being held there, and we were just in time to see some of the results, which will be in the next post!

Aurora Adventure (Night 2)

Alaska Adventure Day 1
Aurora Adventure Night 1
Chena Lodge Day 2

After that, it was time for the Aurora tour. 
The way they do it is they have these snowcats(they call them snow coaches. A very... loose term) that climb up the valley. At the top there were yerts to huddle in and to wait for the Aurora to appear.

I got to ride shotgun with the driver; there were only 3 extra seats in the driving coach and everyone else got to sit in the back sans real windows. I'm very glad I didn't have to do that because I might have gotten ill. The ride up was kind of scary; I wasn't sure if we were purposely moving back and forth to get traction, or if we were sliding from side to side. Either way, it made me a bit uneasy.

We made it to the top, and it was the most disappointing thing you could imagine. It was freezing. Like, maybe -1 freezing, and the yert still had to be heated up with the wood stove. There were only plastic chairs inside, no tables, no couches, no electricity, no WINDOWS. 
Granted, the driver started up a propane tank and heated some water and offered hot chocolate and coffee and cup noodles and oatmeal. That was nice. And I almost decided on some coffee but first I had to use their restroom (yes I went before we took off I'm not an idiot). Turns out the ground is too cold to dig a proper outhouse so instead of a nice big hole, there's a garbage bag. Yes, you heard me. A garbage bag. Thank god I was the first one to use it. At that point I decided against any liquids. 

I could only stand outside for maybe 10 minutes at a time. My fingers started to freeze off. I was doing okay with the parka I'd bought with the snow pants, but I bought my gloves on my ability to articulate my fingers in relation to my camera, so they weren't very efficient. 

While I was waiting for the Aurora, I took some shots of the stars and also tried to capture the Milky Way.

Look! A baby aurora that surprised me, as it wasn't visible with eyesight alone

The Aurora hadn't shown up almost all night. I stayed inside most of the time, relying on others to let everyone know when the Aurora came out. And at almost 2am, when the tour was going to be over, it decided to show itself.

Again, it was very light, barely visible just by watching. It looked much cooler with a 20-second exposure.

I feel extremely lucky to not only have seen the Aurora twice, but to experience each one so drastically different. What was to turn out as an utterly horrible night (never do this tour, I beg you. Alaska Aurora Tours is a much better option), became quite wonderful in the end.

The next day would prove to be yet another great adventure!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

My Whole30 Journey

As some of you may be aware, I've been struggling with weight my entire life. As a child, I was always more overweight than all the other children; I couldn't participate in many activities. As an adult, I ballooned up to over 300 lbs. Not even my own wedding could convince me to get off my ass and lose some weight before the big day. My self worth and self esteem were in shambles. I've documented my argument for hCG here. And using it, I lost over 100 lbs. But, it's an extremely hard diet, and kind of expensive, and technically not legal.

However, thanks to hCG I've (mostly) been able to keep my weight down. I'm now at 185 lbs. I've been trying to eat healthy; making my own food and documenting what I eat in myfitnesspal, along with seeing a nutritionist every month. Whole grains, lean protein, lots of water, etc, and I've started to exercise. But after about 4 months of my scale not budging an inch, I began to get very frustrated. How is it that my body burns 1680 calories a day just by being alive, and I eat less than that an exercise, but the weight doesn't come off? (True, sometimes I'd go nuts in the break room and have treats. It's always been my downfall.)

And then I read the article about The Biggest Loser (found here). Basically the jist of the article says that after extreme weight loss, your metabolism PERMANENTLY slows, and now the contestants barely eat enough to stay alive, exercise, and gain weight. Even though learning the information about their metabolism may have been liberating for them, it was depressing for me. What if, because of hCG, I was stuck in this too? What if the scale my nutritionist uses to calculate how many calories my body burns in a day is off, and it's actually less? And I am over-eating every day and the exercise just burns that and helps me maintain? I needed to do something, and no - more exercise was not the answer for me. 

Then, my co-worker Beverly told me that her doctor recommended The Whole30 to her. At first, I scoffed. Cut out dairy, grains, and sugar? Dairy is where I get most of my protein from in the form of babybell cheeses and greek yogurts. And I knew from experience that eating carbs in the morning (in the form of my healthy breakfast bar) keeps me full better than protein does. But as I was reading the book, I saw the science in what they were saying. Mainly, The Whole30 is an elimination diet. Get rid of the foods that might be causing inflammation in your body, or irritation, swelling, tiredness, sleeplessness, what-have-you, for 30 days. And when you're all clean, slowly re-introduce them back into your life and try to get a feel of how the foods treat you. 

That's not the main reason I wanted to do this, though. It's technically a "side effect" to lose weight on this diet. By eliminating all the sugars and added sugars from the foods and drinks we consume, it forces your body to use fat as its main source of fuel. Thus, the weight comes off. Artificial sweeteners are my weakness. I remember, after doing hCG and then eating out, how fracking sweet sweets were, and how damn salty all the packaged foods have become. I still hold that sensitivity to salts, but my sweet tooth needs to be reset. And I'm hoping to keep Splenda completely eliminated from my at-home diet even when this is all said and done. I've dropped putting crystal light in my water and am now used to drinking it without flavorints. I don't know how coffee will go, though. I'm not addicted to caffeine so quitting the coffee habit was easy. I've tried and failed before to drink it black or with just a splash of milk. So I'll do my 30 days, and see if I can stomach black coffee.

The other thing that intimidated me about this 30-day plan (besides having to cut out artificial sweeteners - this includes mints and gum by the way!!!!!) was the amount of cooking I knew I had to do. And the amount of money I was going to need to spend in order to get it going. It's insane. I don't see anyone living a normal life within this 30 days. I don't want to scare anybody off, though. I'm used to cooking my meals but even this was beyond stressful to me. Here are some facebook posts I made last Sunday about the process:

It was hard work. I didn't want to touch food every again after that day. But, once I got it all prepped, now all I have to do is keep up, and that's quite a bit easier. It sounds totally awesome-tasting though, doesn't it? I already liked sweet potatoes but never really bought them for myself. Now I am in love with my fries and that garlic aioli (which is about the easiest thing in the world to make). That brisket was as amazing as you can get non-smoked, and that was the best tomato sauce I have ever made.

Quitting all the bad stuff wasn't as hard as I'd feared, and probably because I was already eating pretty healthily before this all began. I still want gum. God I want gum. But that's about it. I also miss drinking my crystal light lemonade. But, I've learned to like a couple of green and oolong teas without sugar. I think I'm slowly getting more energetic. I feel a lot less lethargic this weekend than I have in the past. I've taken a week off from exercising (YAY!) to allow my body to adjust to the changes, and I'll be back at it come Monday. The last day of my Whole30 is on June 14th, which is, consequently, the same day as my nutrition appointment and that bloody scale. I can't wait to see if this works.

Wish me luck!