Monthly Archives: January 2012

Trials of the trail — Mushers will tackle new T200 route

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A lone dog team trains in the Caribou Hills recently, but dozens of dog teams will take to the trail this weekend for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.

Redoubt Reporter

As the 28th running of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race prepares to get under way this weekend, it is shaping up to be a race of champions, with five past T200 champs signed up to run. But with the race taking an entirely new trail this year, not even past winners have an experience advantage.

“I think we’re on track for a great race,” said Tami Murray, T200 executive director.

Signed up so far are numerous past victors of the T200, including the defending champion Dee Dee Jonrowe, of Willow, 2005 and 2006 champion Jessica Hendricks, of Two Rivers, 2000, 2001 and 2010 champion Jeff King, of Denali Park, 2004 and 2009 winner Cim Smyth, of Big Lake, and hometown favorite Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, who won in 1996 and 1997.

“I’m really happy with the field so far,” Murray said “It’s a really strong field with so many having already won it, but there’s some other really talented mushers signed up, too.”

In addition to all the past T200 champions, there are also several winners of other mid-distance races around the state, including Colleen Robertia, of Kasilof, the 2010 winner of the Gin Gin 200, Dan Kaduce, of Chatanika, who won the Solstice 100 near Fairbanks earlier this season, and Jodi Bailey, of Chatanika, who won the Gin Gin 200 in 2007 and 2008.

“It’s a race we have not done, but have always heard good things about, so we wanted to come down and check it out,” Bailey said.

Living north of Fairbanks, Bailey has been training in temperatures that hovered at minus 40 for months, so she said she is looking forward to the milder weather of the Kenai Peninsula.

“We made the decision to go down long before the cold snap in the Interior, so weather was not really a factor then. Now, it is appealing to be running somewhere that should be a little warmer than our current temps,” Bailey said.

The T200 has the moniker of being “the toughest 200 miles in the state.” Bailey said her team is no stranger to hills but, that being said, she plans on using the T200 as training for a bigger race in March. Continue reading


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T200 volunteers take to the trail

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Tustumena 200 race organizers and volunteers meet at Tustumena Elementary School on Monday to go over the roles everyone will play in putting on the event.

Redoubt Reporter

For Kasilof resident James Banks, being a volunteer for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race seems more like fate than a choice. Growing up in Michigan, dogs were a part of his daily life for as long as he can remember, but these were family pets or bird dogs used for hunting, not the powerful pulling huskies of the north.

“I’ve always had dogs since I was born. When I was four, my parents used to find me outside, sleeping in the doghouse with our St. Bernard,” he said. “But when I got here I knew nothing about mushing or sled dogs.”

Moving to Kasilof, it is tough not to bump into someone who has or had sled dogs, or who doesn’t take part in the T200 in some capacity, as the race annually relies on dozens of volunteers.

“The T200 starts right in Kasilof, not far from where I live, so right away I started hearing about it from locals,” Banks said. “They started telling me about it, and how they volunteer for it. They told me to come to a volunteer meeting to check it out, so I did, but none of them were there.”

Rather than being stood up, Banks figured out on race day when he saw the folks who had told him about the meeting, that some volunteers have been doing it so long they just show up for the event to do the volunteer jobs they always have done.

“They were all there doing something,” he said.

Banks talked with race organizers and found out what he could do to help. His love of dogs drew him to trying to help with the canine athletes, assisting teams as they moved up to the starting chute, and lending a hand however else he could. After seeing that first team blast from the starting line, he knew he was hooked.

“Seeing all those dogs working together and working so hard pulling their musher down the trail. I had never seen anything like it. I had never seen anything so amazing. I knew I wanted to do more,” he said.

That was back in 2006, and Banks has helped every year since, and was recently voted onto the T200 board of directors. He also has started acquiring his own sled dogs and is up to 11. He hopes to run them himself in the T100 next season.

“Now you can’t tear me away from all of this,” he said. Continue reading

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Pike take a hike — Fish and Game applies to treat Stormy Lake with Rotenone

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Alaska Department of Fish and Game provided examples of pike specimens at public meetings last spring regarding plans to eradicate pike from Stormy Lake in Nikiski.

Redoubt Reporter

Invasive northern pike have been served with an eviction notice at Stormy Lake north of Nikiski, to be enforced this fall if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s application for a pesticide use permit is approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Once pike are gone, native fish species will be invited back home.

The permit is up for public comment through 4 p.m. Feb. 23. Comments may be submitted by mail to Rebecca Colvin, 555 Cordova St., Anchorage, AK 99501. To view the application, visit For more information, call 269-7802 or email

Fish and Game has prepared an environmental assessment on the Stormy Lake project, as well. To view that document, visit Comments on the environmental assessment may be submitted be email to, by mail at 43961 K-Beach Road, Suite B Soldotna, AK 99669, or by calling Robert Massengill, fishery biologist, at 262‐9368.

If approved, Fish and Game plans to treat Stormy Lake with the pesticide Rotenone sometime in August or September. The lake would be closed to public access during the treatment and the following cleanup period, with signage warning people away from the water.

“Once treatment is completed, we would discourage drinking the water or swimming until the Rotenone fully deactivates, we’re anticipating two to six weeks after the treatment,” said Robert Massengill, fishery biologist with Fish and Game.

Pike are native to much of Alaska and many areas of the Lower 48, and as big, active, tough fish, they’re a lot of fun to catch. Anglers’ affinity for pike is thought to be the way they spread from their native range into Southcentral Alaska. Pike penetrated into Alaska from Russia when the state was still glaciated. They settled into regions north and west of the Alaska Range, where they don’t cause many problems. They evolved along with other fish species. The other species developed predator-avoidance abilities.

Pike are notoriously voracious eaters, preferring soft-finned salmonids, like salmon, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout, but also eat sticklebacks, leeches, insects or most anything else they can get their sharp, tooth-laden jaws around. They live in shallow, still, weedy water. In Bristol Bay, and other regions with native pike populations, the lakes tend to be large and deep. Pike stick close to shore while other fish, especially pike’s preferred meal of juvenile salmonids, can rear in deeper water. Continue reading

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Dealing with freeze-up — of the brain

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

I graduated from high school. I swear. And college. With those fancy tasseled ropes and everything. I bought a house. I’ve read Ayn Rand. I can hold my own in pinochle.


I put that out there to get whatever mileage from it I can while I still can, because by the end of this, no one is going to believe I can tie my own shoes, much less achieve anything requiring an IQ higher than Shoe Goo.

During the recent stretch of minus 20 degrees, apparently both my house and I suffered a temporary freeze — the house in the plumbing, me in my brain.

I was taking a shower and noticed it was turning into a bath as the water deepened, rather than drained, around my feet.

Uh, oh.

It doesn’t take much impetus for me to launch into homeowner hypochondria, especially since I have an overactive imagination and tend toward a glass-half-empty-and-what’s-left-is-probably-vinegar-anyway mentality. For instance, shortly after moving into my house I woke one night to an unidentifiable sound above me.

“Oh great,” I thought, “a colony of mutant squirrels have evolved the capability to conduct chemistry and have set up an illicit meth lab in my roof.” Continue reading

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Straw’s hats, fuzzy feelings — Teacher creates warm connection with students

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Weekly Wild Wolf students in Shaya Straw’s class at Soldotna Elementary School show off the hats Straw made. By the end of the school year she will make a hat for each of her students. Clockwise from bottom are Austin Adlam, Marissa Griffin, Tyler Johnson, Nate Downs, Josh Pieh and Crystle Tapia.

Redoubt Reporter

Shaya Straw, a third-grade teacher at Soldotna Elementary School, spends her workdays trying to fill her students’ heads with math skills, vocabulary, science concepts, proper spelling, good behavior and the like.

“It’s great. They’re a fun age. They’re still excited about learning and seeing new things and not too cool for school,” Straw said.

When she embarked on her teaching career, Straw decided she would not only strive to fill those heads, but keep them insulated, too, and began a project hand-making a winter hat for each and every one of her students. Now in her fourth year teaching, she’s got 21 hats to make this year, and is nearing her 100th hat overall.

“It’s fun. It’s a hobby I enjoy, and I like to bring it into the classroom as my way of giving them something from me,” Straw said. “I’ve made hats for my whole family, and friends, and I sell them at the Birch Tree Gallery, but this takes over priority of my hat-making during the school year.”

Straw and her husband moved to Soldotna from an area not requiring much in the way of warm winter gear — Flagstaff, Ariz.

“I could use a little bit of Arizona weather right about now,” she joked last week, as the central Kenai Peninsula was in the grips of a prolonged minus subzero cold snap. Continue reading

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Old Duck Hunter: Derby a chance to reel in a good time

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

“I think maybe this year I’ll focus on just one species.” This is a quote from my fishing partner/Trustworthy Ice Fishing Derby contestant, who, for the previous four years has entered the “Flush” category that entails catching one each of rainbow trout, northern pike, Arctic char, kokanee and lake trout.

Thus far she is the only woman to do it, much less four years in row. Being the supporting cast for her fame and, well, not much fortune, I have broken the trails to remote lakes, pulled the sled loaded with ice fishing equipment and drilled an astonishing number of holes. One would suspect there might be a sigh of relief with that announcement. Sort of.

Truth is, her passion for the derby has taken me places I may not have ever gone in the winter. I can attest that pulling a sled loaded with equipment to Crescent Lake and drilling 16 holes before she found the near trophy-size grayling that would win her first place in that year’s derby was one of those really great experiences even though, at the onset, it showed little promise.

Being in the high country with no one around, wolverine tracks crossing our paths as we made our way, ptarmigan huddled amongst the barely visible willow patches and bright sun that belied the cold temperatures, is normal for ptarmigan hunting with my English setter, but it also made for a pretty darn unique day of ice fishing.

This year, being the first real winter we have had in many years, the going is going to be a bit tougher. The snow cover will make breaking trail into remote areas considerably more difficult than in the recent past. The extended period of cold temperatures is likely to put the fish bite at less than good, and one will have to work a little harder for a trophy fish.

On the other hand, country previously visited is going to look a little different and probably even look more beautiful than it usually does. In spite of the cold temperatures, the snow cover has limited the ice thickness. Of course the deep snow around the hole will require a bit more attention, but nothing one of those small aluminum or plastic snow shovels can’t deal with.

If it remains really cold and one is fishing without benefit of an ice shanty, icing of the line will be a real problem. The various ice lines, our favorite being the Berkley Fireline Fused Micro Ice Crystal, do help with keeping line from icing up. But, make no mistake, they do not eliminate the problem. When it is minus 25 the line ices up, but that does not affect the line’s strength, so just break ice off as it accumulates. Continue reading

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Comedy takes flight — Movie spoof travels highway to the fishing zone

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Randy Daly and Paulene Rizzo rehearse a scene from “Top Chum,” to be performed Friday and Saturday at Mykel’s in Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

When writing a movie parody script, it’s helpful to choose a flick that’s already ridiculous, so the jokes don’t have as far to go to be funny. But as with wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors and nostalgic ’80s music flashbacks, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Like when an actor delivers a painfully cheesy line in a spoof of “Top Gun,” and the entire cast grinds rehearsal to a halt to consider whether the cringe-worthy line, as delivered, was part of the spoof script, or from the actual movie.

“Wait. No, that’s actually what she says in the movie. Wow,” said Carla Jenness, playing the widow of fighter pilot “Goose” in “Top Chum,” Triumvirate Theatre’s annual dinner theater fundraiser.

Of course, in this version of “Top Gun,” Goose doesn’t end up in a watery grave during a fighter jet battle. The hotshots in “Top Chum” are elite fishing guides training to combat tourists illegally snagging salmon on the Kenai River, rather than jet pilots in the Navy sent to protect against enemy aircraft. Goose does succumb to an unfortunate incident of choking on a fish bone. But, not to worry — as is pointed out in a running joke throughout the play, “Nobody dies in a Triumvirate show.”

Although there is usually eye-rolling and groaning and other pained expressions from the audience as the sillier jokes are delivered. Such as the lyrics to a reworking of the “Top Gun” theme song, “Highway to the danger zone”:

“Revvin’ up your outboard, listen to her howlin’ roar. Metal under tension, beggin’ you to snag and go. Highway to the fishing zone! Gonna take a ride into the fishing zone.” Continue reading

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Low-bow comedy — Bass, cello duet inject notes of humor into performances

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Paul Sharpe

Redoubt Reporter

Classical music as it’s usually presented can feel like a test — for the musicians to perform it as perfectly as they can, and for the audience to sit and listen as quietly and respectfully as they can.

What fun is that?

Sure, “classic” classical music has its place — its very large, very foundational, very well-respected-throughout-history place. And it’s a realm that bassist Paul Sharpe and cellist Brooks Whitehouse inhabit in most of their careers as classically trained concert performers and instructors.

But other times, it’s nice to loosen things up a bit. To play, rather than practice, and to laugh while listening.

“What we want is to break down barriers between the audience and performer, and for people to have a lot of fun. I see the comedic possibilities of this group kind of along the line of performing in drag. It’s like, ‘We’re going to sing the soprano line now.’ We’re very fun-loving, unassuming people, and we want to have fun,” Whitehouse said.

It is out of this spirit that Low and Lower, Sharpe and Whitehouse’s duo of bass and cello, formed. As they bill themselves, Low and Lower is, “More fun than just classical, more serious than just comedy, more virtuosic than the instrumentation suggests, and more hip than their training prepared them to be.”

A duet of bass and cello is somewhat unusual to start with. To try and make a comedy act out of it is even more so.

“Bass is, in a certain way, made for comedy, but cello — it’s like making jokes about your mother,” Whitehouse said. “Of all the strings instruments, people come up to you and say, ‘I really want to play the cello sometime. What’s it like to feel that sound up against you? It’s such a human range. It speaks to me of the big questions of life,’ and all these sorts of things. So I thought, in the context of Low and Lower, I could maybe escape that box,” Whitehouse said.

He remembers hearing an interview with Steve Martin that summed up his approach to the duo. Martin was asked why he played the banjo in his comedy routines in the 1970s.

“He said, ‘Because I did all this goofy comedy, so I wanted to do something that was actually really hard and prove I could do it,’” Whitehouse said. “For me, I’m exactly the opposite. I spend all my time learning all this music that is very hard and proving to people I can do it, and I want to be funny.” Continue reading

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Where to sit the seat of government? Borough Building starts from gravelly beginning

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a multipart story about the origin of the Borough Administration Building and the establishment of Soldotna as the seat of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This week’s article reveals, in part, how the Borough Building property became available in the first place.

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger. This 1960 aerial photo of Soldotna shows the “scar” formed by the Soldotna Gravel Pit, where the Borough Administration Building now sits. Other interesting notes: To the left of the gravel pit is a large Quonset hut, which at this time was the Soldotna Theatre. In the lower right corner of the photo is Soldotna Elementary School’s first four classes under construction — the school would open to students in the fall — and, nearby, the barn that once made up part of Joe Faa’s corral, for which Corral Street was later named. Beyond the trees behind the gravel pit, the old Soldotna airstrip can be seen paralleling the Sterling Highway, which leads south to the old girdered bridge spanning the Kenai River.

Redoubt Reporter

At 148 N. Binkley Street, which was just a gravel-covered Soldotna back road in November 1969, construction on the new administration building for the 5-year-old Kenai Peninsula Borough seemed to be progressing well when a setback occurred.

On Nov. 29, a Page 1 headline in the Cheechako News alerted the public: “Borough Building Panels Lost in Storm at Sea.” Although this was certainly the most dramatic event in the borough’s seven-year effort to establish its sense of place, it was far from being the only twist or turn in a tale that dips at least one tentative toe back into the stream of the late 1940s.

In 1947, Howard and Maxine Lee read a Saturday Evening Post article about the homesteading opportunities for military veterans willing to move to the Kenai Peninsula. It sounded simple enough: Go to the Anchorage Land Office, file on a suitable parcel, build a habitable abode, live on the land at least six months and a day out of the year, and clear one-tenth of the total acreage.

Stationed with the Navy in Florida at the time, the Lees headed north in March 1948. Leaving Maxine and their 16-month-old daughter, Karen, in Seattle, Howard arrived in Anchorage only to discover that all the land abutting the new Sterling Highway had already been claimed.

Dispirited at first, Howard then learned of a couple who had gone to the area the year before, spent the winter, and wanted out. The couple had hauled a 60-by-30-foot Quonset hut over the frozen highway, and Howard was told that for $1,000 they would relinquish their site and the Quonset hut to him.

Thus, when Maxine and Karen joined him at their new home in June, the Lees became residents of the fledgling community of Soldotna. Their homestead encompassed the current sites of the Borough Building, Soldotna Elementary School, Soldotna City Hall, Dr. Tom Kobylarz’s dental office and Cad-re Feed west of the Kenai Spur, and to the east much of the low area around the Cottonwood Health Center and Blakeley’s Auction Company.

The Lees, like many homesteaders in those days, led a hardscrabble life, but they began to prosper. In 1949, Maxine became Soldotna’s first postmaster and served in that capacity for two years when, abruptly — or so it seemed to many at the time — she decided she had had enough.

Maxine turned her postmaster duties over to Mickey Faa, and she then took her two children to the Lower 48 and filed for divorce. In the settlement, she and Howard split the homestead, with Howard retaining all of the property west of the Spur Highway. Continue reading

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Filed under Almanac, history, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Soldotna

Plugged In: Stopping the shakes takes good focus

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

If not correctly focused and held steady, the world’s best lens is no better than the bottom of a Coke bottle.

However, visible camera shake is even more common than bad optical focus, although one is often mistaken for the other. So, let’s first take a detour, looking at how to recognize and avoid camera shake.

Used carefully, digital sensors and modern lenses are capable of much higher sharpness than comparable film cameras. As a result, our expectations about what constitutes good image quality have also become higher, and that requires us to use better technique.

When I used large-format, 4-by-5-inch view cameras in the 1970s and 1980s, I was pleased to get a good 16-by-20 enlargement, a mere 4x enlargement of the negative’s image. With top-end lenses and modern, large-sensor digital cameras, like a Pentax K-5 or Olympus E-PL2, it’s now possible to make much larger yet sharper prints, on the order of 18-by-24 and larger, a 32x or greater enlargement of the sensor’s dimensions.

When you’re making these big digital prints from images captured on a smaller digital sensor, you’ll need to be very careful to use good technique when the shutter clicks. Despite the widespread use of image stabilization hardware, camera shake remains the single most important error damaging photo quality.

Luckily, avoiding camera shake is fairly easy to understand and correct, while still critical for several reasons. Image stabilization hardware, although often effective, is not foolproof. Surprisingly, quite a few new, top-end lenses, cameras and interchangeable lenses do not include any image stabilization hardware. If you want to use these top-end cameras and lenses, you’ll need to do it the “old-fashioned way,” avoiding camera shake through good technique.

Continue reading

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Board OKs aerial wolf kills — Peninsula packs will be targeted to boost moose

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Brad Josephs. Wolves on the Kenai Peninsula, such as this one seen in the Homer area, will be targeted for aerial kills as soon as this spring on lands outside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The Board of Game passed predator control proposals Monday for Game Management Units 15A and 15C on the western Kenai Peninsula.

Redoubt Reporter

Starting as early as March of this year, wolves on the Kenai Peninsula will be subject to extermination from above, as the Alaska Board of Game on Monday voted unanimously to approve predator control measures authorizing the aerial killing of wolves in Game Management Units 15A and 15C.

The measures are presented to help boost declining numbers, low bull-to-cow ratios and calf survivability rates in a moose population that has seen better days.

“To me, this is a very clear-cut case. We can either sit, wait and hope, or we can be proactive and try to do something for our moose population,” said Ted Spraker, vice chair of the Board of Game and a retired Kenai-area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

On Monday, Gino Del Frate, Fish and Game management coordinator for Region 2, gave a presentation to the board outlining the proposals and the department’s reasons for recommending their passage — a change in position for Fish and Game, which didn’t used to support aerial wolf control on the peninsula.

Evidence of a struggling moose population has been predicted and noted for decades, particularly in 15A where the population is estimated at about half what it was 30 years ago. The board enacted intensive management plans for both 15A and 15C in 2000. Since then, 15A hasn’t once met the population target, and only one year met the harvest target.

The main problem in 15A has been identified as a lack of quality habitat for moose. Nutritious moose browse is most effectively produced by fire, and 15A hasn’t seen a big wildfire in 40 years. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which covers about 80 percent of the land in 15A, hasn’t conducted any large-scale controlled burns. Doing so is challenging, what with oil and gas development, a busy airspace, expanding human development and a lack of a defensible firebreak between civilization and wilderness.

To add another wrinkle, the refuge has said it does not support aerial wolf control and will not allow it on the refuge, leaving Fish and Game only a small chunk of state- and privately owned land in 15A to possibly conduct an aerial wolf-control program on, if private landowners give their approval now that the board has.

With the limitation of available land on which to conduct aerial wolf kills, and

Photo courtesy of Brad Josephs. Wolves congregate in a pack near Homer.

the evidence that poor habitat is the biggest hindrance to a robust moose population in 15A, Fish and Game has been reluctant to pursue wolf predator control in the past. But declining moose harvest numbers has prompted the department to proceed, with the idea that killing wolves will free up moose for human hunters.

“In the past we have elected not to go ahead with an intensive management program up until about four years ago, and four years ago we started saying, ‘Well, let’s put it on the books, let’s talk about habitat, let’s talk about intensive management. That’s kind of where we are today. Successful wolf control alone is not going to increase the moose populations to objective levels. There’s going to need to be some habitat enhancement, and we are hopeful that that will happen,” Del Frate said. “However, wolf removal may allow for the reallocation of some moose to harvest by humans.” Continue reading

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Remission, not submission — Soldotna girl gets good news of bone marrow match in cancer fight

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Cheyenne Stettler. Soldotna’s Cheyenne Stettler is looking forward to a bone marrow transplant in February in the hope that she’ll be able to return home this summer.

Redoubt Reporter

A year ago, a bad hair day was something for Cheyenne Stettler to complain about. Today, even a no-hair day — having lost her long, lustrous blond locks to chemotherapy — isn’t worth getting worked up about.

“Being a teenager and what not, the only thing I was worried about, of course, was losing my hair. But after being in the hospital for the first time while I was getting chemo, that was not my concern at all. That was the last thing I cared about,” Stettler said.

Before being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and being medevacked to Seattle Children’s Hospital on June 24, just a few weeks after graduating from Soldotna High School, Stettler would have counted simple things, like hanging out with her friends and boyfriend, or going four-wheeling or camping, as reasons to be happy.

After the roller coaster of a summer she’s had — waking up from a coma, making progress toward walking unassisted and, most recently, the news that a donor match for a bone marrow transplant has been found — she’s got big, life-and-death reasons for excitement.

And yet, even though the magnitude of these improvements in her health would seem to dwarf her standard of happiness before cancer derailed her world, it’s only served to magnify what she found important before. Today, she’s appreciative of everything in her life — from the big things, like getting out of the hospital and the possibility of coming home and going back to school, to the little things, like phone calls from friends and even the prospect of having homework again.

“I’m hoping I’ll be back for the summer. I want to do everything I possibly can — camping, fishing, all things I haven’t been able to do. I miss Alaska. I just miss everything,” she said. “You don’t realize. There’s a lot of people in town that just want to get out of the small town, but when you have it taken away from you so fast, without any warning, it really makes you appreciate everything. I’m sick of being in a city. I never want to leave Soldotna ever again.” Continue reading


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