Badass Eagle

Seen today on Lowell Point road when leaving our Nest to head back to Anchorage. I inched the car closer and closer fully expecting she’d fly off, but no, she would not surrender the rigatoni (or whatever) easily. Go find your own is what her look said to me. Only when the front wheel was in line with her did she fly off, but not far, and when I passed I saw in the rear view mirror she was back at it. Happy Wife was especially taken with her “leggings.”

Phone: Pixel 4 XL, Telephoto 2X.

Intrepid Six – Part I

Here we were, two days from the end, somewhere along the Potomac River, living the dream

But two days after this, on the last of nine straight days of cycling, boy did it rain. All 37.54 miles from Leesburg, MD to Washington D.C.. And not a light rain. And if it reached 60° I missed it. By then I’d donned every stitch of bike clothes I’d brought, never expecting I’d need it when the six of us departed Anchorage over a week earlier. Arm warmers, leg warmers, shoe covers, long finger gloves – everything I’d brought along I was wearing that last day, all of it mud-caked and sopping wet by the time we made it to D.C. Which itself was a weird experience, the six of us looking like we just crawled out of a fetid swamp, suddenly thrust into a congested city. We walked our bikes as we elbowed our way along sidewalks through a crush of D.C. denizens, past glam boutiques and high-end furniture galleries, in search of our hotel, which turned out to be over four miles from where we’d exited the trail. What a ghastly site we must’ve been.

Here we were (sans me) about 6 miles earlier, just north of D.C beneath a busy overpass lamenting the last of Skip’s tire flats, six in all!

Our tour began nine days earlier in Pittsburgh. The night before the cycling started we were treated to a fabulous multi-course dinner at Frances restaurant in Pittsburgh ShadySide, now owned and operated by close family friends of Happy Wife.

Upstairs above the restaurant is Franks bar, which was booked solid the following night for a drag queen party. Some of us ventured up there after dinner for a night cap or three (big shout out to Sue (left) for pickin’ up the tab on the Lemon Drops!)

Recommend!

The following morning we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel, tended to various bike matters, then courageously set out on the 150-mile long Great Allegheny Passage Trail (aka The GAP), an abandoned railroad corridor turned off-road bike path. We being myself and Happy Wife, our friends Lindy & Scott, and their friends, Marcia and Skip, soon to become ours. Once we were out of the big city, the rest of the time we pedaled about 35-45 miles per day on a hard-packed trail with a gentle up-grade (2%?). We passed lots of other bikers on this portion, many more than we saw on the second half (aka the C&O trail). We stayed at cozy little Inns along the way arranged by the tour outfitter

Our bags were shuttled from Inn to Inn by van/truck – some days they even arrived on time! (Can’t recommend the shuttle company, which I won’t name). One night, the six of us stuffed ourselves into a four-seat Uber to travel to an Oktoberfest celebration at an unlikely castle-like venue in the middle of nowhere. The Pierogies and bratwurst were excellent (at least I thought so). Even the wine tasting was surprisingly good, for Pennsylvania that is. Turns out the grapes were sourced from, and the wine made in, California. After about glass #4 none of us really cared.

The GAP trail ended with a delicious 20-mile descent from the top of the eastern continental divide…

… all the way into Cumberland, MD. It was glorious day for cycling – the sun was beaming, the trees were just starting to show their Fall color, and the trail was dry and without peril with the wind at our back the entire way into Cumberland. Once we arrived, the six of us encircled the Mile Zero marker where the GAP trail ends and the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) begins (see previous post).

Along the GAP trail we’d heard from other cyclists that the C&O was not as friendly as the GAP, especially when wet. Sure enough, the very next day, our first day of what would be 180 miles to the end (Washington D.C.), it rained. From Cumberland to Little Orleans, all 44.07 miles, it rained. Some fun! By the time we rolled into Bill’s Place drenched and muddy from dodging rain-filled holes on the C&O, we were kindly dis-invited from sitting at the bar, asked to leave our mud-caked crap outside and to confine our dripping, stinky selves to one of the tables in the dining area (such as it was). Other than the barkeep, two good ‘ol boys at the bar, and the kitchen service, Bill’s was empty. Was it rednecky? Pretty much. But any contempt they may have had for us dissolved into welcome when they heard we were from Alaska. “Alaska! – you hunt and fish up dare do ya?!” Wanting to win their approval, I played up our celebrity status. “Yessir,” I said, “that is when we’re not runnin’ with the Palins and keepin’ a wary eye on Russia for y’all!” Backslapping and guffawing ensued. Friends for life. After 45 miles of rain, mud and 55°, beef burgers and Pabst never tasted so good.

Stay tuned for part 2…more from the C&O!

Mile 0

The Intrepid Six.

Dappled sunlight. Fetid canals. Wild turkeys. Whitetail deer. Your occasional snake. We overcame all of it to arrive at mile zero. Which in a way was only the beginning.

August Already?

Out on a walk today with Black Dog near our Nest in Seward. Spotted this where the trail forks

Okay, GOT IT.

Not exactly Thoreau at Walden I’m guessing. Note there’s more space on the board for additional signs. Think I’ll make one and staple it up there next time I pass by – Sunday Service begins at 9 am, come one come all!

Happy Wife and girlfriends packed in to a remote cabin last night, same one she and I packed in to a couple years ago. She called this morning to say she slept outside on the deck (see photo at the link). Too hot inside she said, plus every time she turned or rolled over her sleeping mat made noise. Weird. It’s one of those high-quality mats you wouldn’t think would make noise. They’re packing up this morning and hiking out, all down hill except a few uphill parts. Her ring is back on! We got it back from the jeweler a couple weeks ago, in a brand new platinum setting, sparkling brighter than a star in the night sky

Spotted the Celebrity Millennium leaving the harbor last night after dinner (click to embiggen)

Port of registry is Malta. That’s a big ship, carries up to 2100 passengers and 800-900 crew. You could fit the entire population of Seward (~ 2800) on that ship with a lean crew. Beautiful night it was. The weather has returned to being crazy warm and dry, especially for this time of year. Nearly eighty degrees here yesterday, copy/paste today, and the forecast calls for at least another seven days of this. I’m enjoying the unseasonable warmth; Happy Wife not so much. I bet the window washers in downtown Anchorage enjoy it. You wouldn’t get me up there, and not because I’m especially afraid of heights. With my luck I’d probably see something untoward going on inside one of those offices and wouldn’t be able to keep it to myself

Peace.

Upheaval

If you haven’t noticed, the state of Alaska is experiencing an upheaval. Upheaval’s probably not the right word, since it denotes change or disruption that is “sudden.” There’s nothing sudden about what we’re experiencing, I blogged about the warning signs nearly three years ago. Since then the state legislature and former governor effectively twiddled their thumbs while the State’s coffers were drained. What’s the cause of the upheaval? Very simply the state has run out of money to pay for its obligations.

Well, sort of.

You see, we don’t have a state income tax in Alaska. We also don’t have a state sales tax. The State’s primary source of revenue is taxes, fees, royalties etc. on the oil and gas companies who produce the oil and send it to market. That accounts for about 85% of the state’s revenue. The rest of its revenue comes from federal funding, taxes and fees on other smaller industries (tourism, fishing, retail, etc), and the interest on a Big Pot of Money (keep reading). When times were good – when a barrel of oil went for $100 or more – there were no worries. That’s because the amount of money flowing into state coffers is (roughly) proportional to the price of a barrel of oil. Unfortunately, for the state of Alaska, the party came to a sudden end around 2014. The price for a barrel of Alaska crude dropped faster than a dress on prom night. Since then the hangover in Juneau has grown increasingly unpleasant

But wait. Doesn’t Alaska have this thing called the Permanent Fund (PF) now valued at over 60 Billion dollars? Why doesn’t the government just make a withdrawal from that fund to make up for the budgetary shortfall? Sounds good except 1) the fund’s principal is constitutionally protected, and 2) the fund’s annual earnings, while legally available to pay for government obligations, have been used (since 1980) to pay each and every eligible Alaskan an annual dividend. Last year our dividend was $1200.00. Multiplied by the number of eligible Alaskans, that equals one Billion dollars. That’s one Billion dollars not available to the government to use to pay for its obligations.

Wait a minute, can’t the governor and/or legislature just pass a law that suspends or reduces the amount of the dividend so there’s more to use to pay for government obligations? In fact, that happened last year. That $1200 we all got, it was supposed to be much larger but the former governor, by executive veto, reduced it so more of the earnings reserve could be used to pay for government obligations. Of course that pissed off a lot of Alaskans who have grown fond of free money* over the past forty years, but the state supreme court concluded he could legally do it.

Fast forward to our current governor, a republican duly elected by ThePeople® of the great state of Alaska. He was one of the Alaskans pissed off by the former governor’s veto. Resolved to right a wrong, he promised to return the calculation of the dividend to the old formula based in law. He won by a wide margin. Had the old formula been used in 2018, instead of $1200, each of us would have gotten over $2000 (or something like that). Not only did the new governor want to restore the old formula going forward, he also proposed more money be added to our 2019 dividend to make up for the difference between the $1200 we got, and what we would have got under the old formula. Ok, so how much is that you ask?

Wait for it…. $3000 $6700! Update: $3000 is the estimate of the 2019 dividend under the old formula. Adding in the 2018 makeup would raise it to an eye-popping $6700.

So, you’re thinking, let me get this straight – no state income tax, no state sales tax, oil revenue has tanked. The only source of revenue left for the government to use to pay for its obligations is the earnings reserve of this thing called the Permanent Fund. And yet the governor wants to use that to pay a 2019 dividend of $3000 (maybe even $6700!!) to each and every eligible Alaskan (~$3 Billion), and thus reduce how much is available to pay for government obligations?!

That’s correct.

Call me callous for ignoring marginal utility, for taking a devil-may-care attitude, but Happy Wife and I see no reason to overact to the current upheaval and institute an austerity program of our own. If the governor insists on sending us $6000 in October, what else is there to say except, Cheers.

* One could quibble that the annual dividend is not really “free money,” since by law Alaska is an owner state, which, among other things, has been interpreted to mean the citizens of Alaska have an ownership right in the natural resources (e.g. oil), and as such should be expected to demand a dividend on the value of their asset.