Voyage on the M/V Tustumena: People I Met

I had heard that the M/V Tustumena is a great place for tourists to mix with locals, and it turns out that is actually true. I would say roughly half of the passengers were tourists (international tourists, tourists from the lower 48 states such as myself, and Alaskans who had never been to the southwestern part of the state before) and half were people who live in southwest Alaska. On the boat, there is no internet, there is rarely cell phone service (though people sometimes got cell phone service in bizarre spots), and unless we were docked in port, we were all in the same confined space. Many of the passengers (including me) were on the ferry for multiple days. This encouraged conversation with fellow passengers. For example, I spent quite a bit of time chatting with this group from Anchorage who do a lot of hiking and backpacking, just like me. I also spent a bit of time socializing with some birdwatchers from Juneau.

Some birdwatchers who were on the ferry watched this bird. Perhaps this bird was watching even more birds.

A paraphrased quote from a birdwatcher from Juneau: “When you become a birdwatcher [she had no doubt that I would become a birdwatcher] the very first bird call you learn to recognize by ear will become special to you” (I pointed out that I recognize the calls of some wild birds in San Francisco, and I’ve known them for so long that I don’t remember which one I learned to recognize first).

I met one passenger who was born in Sanak, an island off the coast of the Alaska peninsula which is no longer inhabited by people. She said that she was probably one of the last people ever born on Sanak. The purser’s counter also has an entire book about Unga, another village which lost all of its human population (IIRC, the last people left Unga around 1960). There are many communities on the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands which have been completely depopulated in the 20th century. The U.S. government forced the permanent abandonment of a few villages during the Aleut Evacuation/Incarceration (which I will mention again in this post), and some communities which were the center of military activity during the Cold War were practically abandoned after the fall of the USSR. But for the most part, it seems that these communities lose their people after the local economy collapses (which I guess includes communities whose economies were based on Cold War military activity). Unga’s economy collapsed after both the mine and the fishery stopped being commercially viable. Continue reading


Voyage on the M/V Tustumena: The “Trusty Tusty”

The M/V Tustumena docked in King Cove, Alaska

On June 4, I departed Homer, Alaska on the boat M/V Tustumena, known by the nickname “Trusty Tusty”, as it headed towards Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian archipelago, a journey of about 900 miles (approximately 1400 kilometers) in one direction. The journey to Dutch Harbor took three and a half days, and then I got back on the boat as it turned around for the return voyage. I am sitting on the boat write now, typing the first draft of this blog post.

As I worked on the first draft of this post, I took this picture of the forward lounge (yes, that is my laptop in the foreground).

Where do passengers sleep on the boat? There are staterooms with spartan bunk beds, but they are expensive. Some passengers who did not pay for a stateroom sleep in the forward lounge or side lounge on the promenade deck. Others pitched their tent on the solarium deck.

A couple of tents on the solarium deck.

Continue reading

Does Traveling by Trains / Buses / Ferries Have a Lower Environmental Impact than Traveling by Air?

A picture taken from the boat deck of the M/V Kennicott

Right now I am aboard the M/V Kennicott, a boat, en route to Whittier, Alaska (though, due to the lack of internet in the middle of the Inside Passage, this post is going to be published much later). One of my principles for this trip to Alaska is that I will not board any flying vehicle unless it is urgent. When people hear this, almost all of them start talking about how this type of travel is so environmentally friendly. I’ve already discussed the reasons to travel this way which don’t have anything to do with the environment. So now the question: does this form of travel have a lower environmental impact than flying in a plane?

Let’s start with the boat, since I’m on it as I type this.

When people think ‘environmental impact’ they usually mean ‘carbon footprint of fuel burned’. This is just one type of environmental impact among many, but since this is what is on people’s minds, I’ll start here. I know that boats generally require less fuel to carry the same weight over the same distance compared to land or air transportation. Based on that information, one might assume that this ferry has a lower carbon imprint than trains, buses, and airplanes. However, this ferry also offers many services/amenities that those other forms of transportation typically do not offer like: lots and lots of space to move around, a cafeteria, microwave and unlimited hot water for passenger use, showers for ALL classes of passengers of unlimited length. All of these amenities seems luxurious to someone who is accustomed to train/bus travel, but I am sure they require consuming more fuel. Oh, and this vessel also has stabilizers, which reduce fuel efficiency. Continue reading

How I, As an Asexual, Do Not Decide to Have Sex

In May I read a fantastic book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It is about how and why some people survive extreme situations. The book describes a lot of the psychology of decision-making. It says that linear/logical thinking (associated with the neocortex of the brain) is terrible for making decisions. Instead, people rely on ‘emotional bookmarks’ to make decisions. ‘Emotional bookmarks’ are not just the brain, they involve much of the body. It turns out that ‘my gut tells me to do this’ and ‘my heart tells me to do this’ are not just figurative speech; the digestive organs and/or heart might be literally involved in the decision-making process. Animals with relatively few neurons in their brains can make decisions because it is not just the brain.

There are people with neurological damage who cannot use ‘emotional bookmarks’ or feel ‘gut feelings’ or their ‘heart’. They can still use logical/linear thought processes just fine, yet their ability to make decisions is severely impaired which means, for example, that they cannot schedule appointments.

I’ll give you an example of how I use emotional bookmarks vs. linear thinking. Right now, it is May 22 and I am aboard the M/V Kennicott (yeah, this post is going to be posted way after this is written). I told myself that I was going to start writing this post hours ago, but instead, I ended up working on a jigsaw puzzle. I did not think to myself ‘I am going to play with the jigsaw puzzle instead of turning on my computer and writing a blog post’. I just … played with the jigsaw puzzle. That is because I have an emotional bookmark which says ‘jigsaw puzzle are fun’ and so, when I pass by the area with the jigsaw puzzles, I end up playing with them instead of writing this blog post (though I eventually managed to pull myself away from the jigsaw puzzle and start writing this). Continue reading

Emphasizing Decluttering/Purging Material Stuff Is Also Materialistic

In the past few months, I’ve been reading essays, books, and watching videos about ‘Minimalism’. A common theme is that experiences matter more than material stuff. This is how I often react when this point comes up:

Minimalist: Minimalists choose to value experiences more than stuff.
Me: Okay, I’m like that too.
Minimalist: So that is why we declutter and purge stuff!
Me: Huh?

I think I’ve always valued experiences more than material stuff, not because I think it is a ‘superior’ position in any moral sense, but simply because I just care more about experiences than stuff. And that is why it took me so long to become interested in decluttering/organizing/tidying. I felt that experiences were more important than stuff, so why bother dealing with getting the stuff in my home in order when I could spend my time instead on cool experiences? Choosing what to keep, and then getting what I don’t want to keep out of my home takes time and energy. Time and energy I could spend on something else, like writing a blog post.

It seems a lot of minimalists assume that people are holding onto a lot of material items because they highly value material stuff. That is certainly true in some cases, but in my case, I was holding onto as much as I was not because I valued material stuff so highly, but because I did not consider putting my stuff in order to be worth my time and energy. Continue reading

Departing Denali

Here is my laptop, inside my tent, in Denali National Park, with the first draft of this post on the screen.

I wrote the first draft of this blog post while sitting in my tent at Riley Creek Campground during my last evening in Denali National Park. (I’ve never written a blog post inside my tent before). Tomorrow, I leave the park, and will probably never return in my lifetime.

I arrived in Denali National Park on May 24 and left on May 29. I spent four full days in the park partially because I wanted to sit out Memorial Day weekend and partially because I wanted to maximize my chances of actually seeing Denali, the highest point in North America. I was lucky: I saw Denali on three different days (though on one of those days only the north peak was visible).

This is a photo from the first time I saw Denali (it’s the snowiest mountain).

In addition to seeing Denali itself, my other aspiration was to expose myself to ecological landscapes I have never experienced before: boreal forest and subarctic tundra. Lucky me, I got to do this. Continue reading

I’m a ‘Butterfly’ and a ‘Bee’!

Generally, I don’t take personality quizzes seriously. So I watched “What’s your Organizing Style” from the Clutterbug channel mainly to amuse myself. But then, when I heard Cassandra Aarssen describing ‘Butterflies’ I thought, “that is me!”

I went to the website and took the quiz and the official result was that I was a ‘Bee’. At first I thought ‘this quiz is wrong, I’m totally a butterfly’ but after watching Cas’ videos about ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Bees’ I realized that I also have a lot in common with the ‘Bees’. Thus, I figure I am in between. The main distinction between ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Bees’ is that ‘Butterflies’ favor simple organization systems, whereas ‘Bees’ favor detailed organization systems. I think I favor organization systems which have a medium level of detail.

I am definitely not a Ladybug (like Cas) or a Cricket (like Laura) – Ladybugs and Crickets, y’all don’t make sense to me.

Like many Butterflies, I’ve gone through life believing I was a naturally messy person. Continue reading