the animal's journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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theanimal
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by theanimal » Sat Mar 24, 2018 4:25 pm

The last year and a half has been eye opening for me. I discovered ERE and the concept of early retirement during my sophomore year in college. At the time, I wanted nothing to do with the track that many of my peers found themselves on towards the corporate world. I saw work as an evil and in my mind, ERE was the solution. I'd only have to work 5 years, less if I went hardcore, and never have to work again. I went up to the Arctic to work but the job wasn't high paying. Sure enough, as I've mentioned previously here, I became burned out and sought the cabin lifestyle. Once again, I went to the extreme and pursued an option of no work. This has held true for most of that time period, I have volunteered/worked with the research group off and on (mainly last summer) but much of this time has been my own. What have I found?

To start, as I've stated elsewhere, I enjoy human company and conversation much more than I thought I did. It's not just being around people either, it's engaging in meaningful conversations and interactions with people that are close to me (i.e. friends and family). That fulfillment doesn't come from hanging around a coffee shop making small talk or interacting with my neighbors. This was meaningful lesson number one. The second major lesson is that I need something to stimulate me and make me feel productive. Try as I may, I do not have the same mentality or mindset as someone like Lin Yutang. I take joy in creating things (like writing), working towards a goal and helping others. It turns out jobs are a really good way to achieve this.

I have tried over this time period to solve both of those issues on my own. The first by trying to engage regularly with friends and family members (via phone, email or other message system) and being proactive about setting up times to hang out/do stuff with those in my immediate environment. I've found that for 1. About half are terrible at responding to communication (voicemail, texts, messages). It's ironic how hard it is to communicate with some now that it is easier than ever to reach others. 2. This is useful, but others have their work schedules and busyness which can often limit interactions. I still put these two practices to use and find they work well for the most part at facilitating meaningful and continuous interaction.

I've found it hard to create meaning on my own. I've done a good bit of writing (mainly medium-long form essays), but that is only something that I enjoy doing for a few hours each day at most. Not fulfilling over the long term. All that time did end up proving to be a boon for my health. Health has always been of #1 importance for me but it was taken to a whole higher level with increased time. This has involved increasing my workout routine and following an even stricter diet than before. I'm approaching the 1 year mark on following the ketogenic diet. All has been well on that front. Exercise wise has been the major difference for me since I wasn't eating much junk before. For a while, I was seriously considering trying out for a spot in special forces in the military. In order to get myself up to the physical ability I thought was necessary, I followed the SEALFit training program for something like 6 months. I went from being a lean dude with minimal muscle mass to being somewhat ripped. My max pushups went from ~75 to 130. Dead hang pull ups from 16 to 25. The last 100 burpees (official w/ push up) was in ~6 minutes. Being this fit is AWESOME!!! I'm now following the Naval Special Warfare Program as listed on the official website, which incorporates a lot more swimming, running and core work than SEALFit. Almost all of my male friends have commented on my physique over that time. Some females too. The best is when I catch girls taking a second glance/staring at my abs. That satiates my vanity quite nicely. :D

So a result of all this is a lingering feeling of anxiety. What's next? What do I do now? I'm not sure if I've fully solved the answer to that question but its becoming somewhat more clear, and I have a better idea of what NOT to do.

Anyways, I've been spending most of the past few months in town. In February I started working for my old company as a tour guide doing tours up to the Arctic Circle. This is a booming time for the tourism industry in Alaska as many Chinese nationals come over to see the aurora. The guests on my trips were all from China and I'd often have a guide along who spoke mandarin. This meant I just had to drive, which is pretty boring for the length involved (400+ miles round trip, 18 hour days...) but I often popped in an earbud and listened to podcasts and audiobooks. I ended up doing only about half of the tours they scheduled me for, which was somewhat disappointing, but it is decent money nonetheless. I made roughly $450 per tour and worked 1-2 times a week.

Next week I'm doing the same winter ski race that I did last year. I got new ski boots in the fall and have experienced no issues with blisters. I'm also in much better shape than last year so I'm hoping all will go well. This year I'll be skiing through ANWR instead of the Park. After that the plan is to work with the researchers again, helping them catch lynx, find owl nests and chase bunnies. Should be a fun month.

I found work for the summer. I'm going to be working as a forestry technician doing remote forest inventory analysis in different sections of the state. The pay is good, $20/hr and lots of overtime. It is an intermittent schedule so should give me plenty of time to get out and do other stuff throughout the summer. The plan is to stash as much cash as possible so that I can pursue obtaining my pilot's license in the fall and start building up hours.

Longer term, I am thinking of heading to graduate school. I have heard in the past that you can have companies pay for your graduate school or you can obtain scholarships but I never knew you could get paid to go to graduate school. At least that's the case in the biology department up here. My friends are making roughly $26k during the school year. They still have opportunities to work during that time and in the summer/winter breaks. Not bad. There is a professor who is doing some really interesting multi-disciplinary work centered around wildlife ecology. I think it would fit into my web of goals nicely.

I have been writing off and on over the past few months, cranking out essays that can could potentially be published in a magazine. My first essay will be published next month. I have a few under review and many other proposals. I'm hoping they accept more. It's fun and good money.

I've done a few short trips with friends. Skiing out to remote cabins and hot springs. Those have been really enjoyable experiences that I hadn't been able to experience living alone further north.

I have also been working on a podcast centered around Alaska. It's wide ranging, featuring people, the land, history, businesses, and pretty much whatever satiates my curiosity. The project started in the fall but I dropped it and have picked it back up in earnest. The first episode is coming out this upcoming week.

Well, that was more rambly than I intended but that's what's going on now and what I'm thinking about.

Feedback, criticisms and comments welcome as always. Thanks for reading.

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Fishwheel frozen in place for winter

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People call this the "Enchanted Forest." Near the Yukon River. The river takes a while to freeze in early winter so there is still lots of moisture in the air. Water accumulates on these spruce trees and they get covered in snow/ice. It's like this all winter.

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My mom and sister came to visit. We stayed at my cabin. This is the tail end of an aurora display that we stayed out and watched.

jacob
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by jacob » Sat Mar 24, 2018 4:53 pm

STEM gradstudents get paid. 25k/year is about normal. That's what I got too. It's a pretty good deal for the university to hire MSc's at that rate (1/3 of industry pay) given how you will TA a class or two per semester while your research will hopefully result in a handful of papers(*) during the course. Other fields like humanities, business, and law typically pay their own way/get insulting stipends. OTOH, they're not expected to treat it as a full-overtime job either and are allowed years to finish. As with anyone contemplating grad school, I always recommend/insist you read through http://phdcomics.com/ from the 1st post to the last.

(*) Thus keeping the professor's grant going/preparing for the next grant. That's what's paying for the grad students. Postdocs are more expensive (35-45k) but they also tend to be more productive, so ...

PS: I guess I'm not challenging you to another burpee competition. I'm still struggling with Asylum and Asylum 2.

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Seppia
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by Seppia » Sat Mar 24, 2018 6:03 pm

Please keep us posted on the podcast, can't wait.

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Viktor K
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by Viktor K » Sat Mar 24, 2018 6:28 pm

Started out like it was going to be a depressing post where I'd feel bad for you and offer comforting words and then it 180'd and left me impressed and wanting to offer congratulatory words.

trailblazer
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by trailblazer » Sat Mar 24, 2018 7:18 pm

Wow. But curious why not pursue special forces? You are already doing their training in your free time for fun. In many ways it would be the opposite of total freedom, but you seem like an ideal candidate. They would throw you into the most unique problem-solving situations imaginable and bring lots of the meaningful human camaraderie you are seeking.

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theanimal
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by theanimal » Sat Mar 24, 2018 8:49 pm

@Jacob- I'll check that link out. Most of my friends now are in or have recently completed similar programs to what I'm interested in doing. I think that has given me a decent insight of what to expect. You may still win the burpee competition. My endurance is up but speed is not much different than what it was before. A few weeks ago I did 1 min max expecting to crush my numbers and come on here and brag about it. I did less than what I did in my last post... :oops:

@Seppia-Will do!

@Victor- Yes a bit more introspective when I intended. But all is good on the home front!

@trailblazer- It's still on the table. However, my swimming ability isn't where it needs to be to pass/be competitive in screening tests. I've been working on that intensely this winter. My parents made me do swim team when I was a kid, but I hated it. I wasn't any good and was somewhat scared of the water. So I knew how to swim, but I sucked, both technique and endurance wise. A year ago I was in top shape but out of breath after swimming 100 meters. That's changed big time. Now I'm up to 2500+ in one go. No breathing issues. But I'm still too damn slow...Otherwise everything else is where it needs to be. We'll see. I'm running up against some time limits (age) too, so if I want to do this it needs to happen relatively soon (within 3 years).

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theanimal
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by theanimal » Sun May 13, 2018 3:29 pm

April was indeed as fun as I thought it would be. The month started off with the ski race. Nerves were heightened at the start due to a deep snow year and nasty conditions. 20 started and I trailed behind the trio in front for the first couple days. Towards the end of the second day, I was descending from a pass when I crashed, triggering a small avalanche. As I floundered in the snow trying to move out of its path, I heard a large boom echo from higher above. The large face above had opened up about 300 yards wide and came roaring down. There was nothing for me to do but wait and see if I'd be caught in its path. Thankfully, its path veered below my position, filling the gully about 50 yards distant from where I sat. If I was in its path, its unlikely I'd be writing these words here today. The three out front came up to meet me from the valley below, fearing the worst. I was a bit shaken up and the incident plus conditions were enough to persuade everyone to change their route and head back to the road or a different finishing point. Instead of racing, I skiied the 60 miles or so back to the road with a group of 8. Outside of the avalanche, it was a very enjoyable experience. I wrote a post on my blog if anyone is interested in reading more. There are also more pictures there.

After the race I hung around my cabin, venturing off on the various winter trails throughout the area with my fatbike. I had a blast travelling through familiar areas via different means. I was able to see a lot of country in a little time. After a few days of this I joined two good friends of mine who were performing field work in the area. We spent the rest of the month chasing bunnies and great horned owls. The great landscape paired with even better company arguably made for the highlight of my year to date.

I started my new forestry job this past week. We have 3 weeks of training before heading off into the field. So far it has been just the fun stuff: shotgun training, wilderness first aid, bear safety, and helicopter safety. We transition into botanical info/data collection practices this upcoming week.

I bought a car yesterday. A 2000 Subaru Outback for $4k. The car has a new engine as of a few years ago and other new parts where these models are known to fail later on. The car is in remarkably good condition. I don't even feel like I have to add the qualifier "for it's age."

I spoke with a professor at the University this past week about graduate school and he was telling me of some of his projects that were in the works. Most of it I found very appealing. Two examples are figuring out how wildlife responds to drones and seeing how animals respond to human/industrial soundscapes in areas that may see change (like ANWR). As of now, I think this is a path that I will pursue.

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The avalanche. Picture taken by someone else and the panorma distorts it so I'm not sure what's where. But the big avalanche is apparent. I was somewhere to the right side of it.

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About to bike through a canyon on a local river

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Travelling along a slough in search of a trail camera

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Kriegsspiel
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by Kriegsspiel » Sun May 13, 2018 4:44 pm

It's cool you didn't die in an avalanche.

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Re: the animal's journal

Post by 2Birds1Stone » Sun May 13, 2018 5:50 pm

Glad you made it out of that alive. I recently found your blog(s) and I have to say, Alaska is now one of my top places to visit for an extended period of time.

If someone were to hypothetically want to spend 8-10 weeks up there exploring the state, is there a route/areas you would suggest specifically? Part of my ERE plans involve pulling a small camper or a slide in camper on a pickup and exploring most of North America.

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theanimal
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Re: the animal's journal

Post by theanimal » Sun May 13, 2018 6:42 pm

@2B1S

Yes. Here's a rough outline of what I'd do. Presuming you are driving up…

Enter AK/US and head towards Tok. From Tok, take the Tok Cutoff towards Gakona. This route will take you through a section of the Alaska Range. You’ll be driving through narrow valleys with the Delta Mountains on one side and the Wrangells/ Wrangell St. Elias National Park on the other. Before reaching Gakona, you’ll pass the Nabesna Road which is a gravel road that goes some 40 miles into Wrangell St Elias NP. There are plenty of options for camping, hiking, fishing and more along the road. There are also a few Park cabins available not too far off the road.

From Gakona, I’d head north to Paxson, where you’d hang a left and hop on the Denali Highway. This is a ~130 mi gravel road that travels parallel to the Alaska Range. Big wilderness and recreational opportunities abound. You could probably spend a week or more just on this section.
Upon reaching the other side you are about 30 miles south of Denali NP. Outside the park is very touristy, catering mainly to cruise ship passengers and their ilk.

You could head north from Denali into Fairbanks. For visitors, Alaska’s cities don’t offer many attractive options and most don't seem to enjoy the cities. The cities are planned poorly, leading to massive sprawl and congestion (a problem mainly found in Anchorage). If you like museums, I would highly recommend visiting the Museum of the North at UAF. Creamer’s Field is a nice spot to watch for migrating birds and offers a nice array of trails. There are also plenty of hiking trails located just outside of town.

I would highly recommend going north of Fairbanks to the Brooks Range. Very few Alaskan residents travel north of Fairbanks and even fewer visitors. Most don’t see the northern half of the state, but it is just as beautiful as elsewhere. It is a decent drive to the beginning of the mountains ~6 hours. From there, the road travels 100 miles through the mountains before emptying out onto the North Slope and the Arctic Coastal Plain. There is a good chance of seeing caribou and musk ox if you head north of the mountains.

There’s only one road through the north, so you return how you arrived. Heading back to Fairbanks. From there, I would head down to Valdez. The north side of the Alaska Range will be in view for the first half if the weather is clear. You’ll go through the Alaska Range once more and find yourself where you entered the Denali Highway. 3 more hours brings you down into Valdez. The town receives A LOT of precipitation but if the weather is clear, it’s hard to find a more beautiful spot. Big mountains, glaciers and the open ocean tower above the town. You’ll likely see more wildlife in this area, both on land and sea.

On your way in or out of Valdez, you could head east to McCarthy and travel the McCarthy Road. Like the Nabesna Road, this is a gravel road that travels through the heart of Wrangell St. Elias NP. You'll see big mountains, old mining equipment, the Copper River, glaciers and more..

Depending on timing and how much driving you wanted to do, you could head west from there towards Anchorage and venture south to the Kenai Peninsula. There you’ll find more glaciers, mountains and wildlife. I haven’t spent much time down there, only travelling as far as Seward. Homer sounds like an Alaskan utopia from what I’ve heard.

You’ll have traveled about 2,000 miles around the state, spent a couple months and will have hardly seen any of it :P If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. Let me know if you come up. It’d be great to meet up.

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