Chilling out in Kotzebue, Alaska

Greetings southerners,         

My current work/travel gig finds me 30 miles north of the Arctic circle, in the town of Kotzebue, Alaska (pop.3100), and it is considered the big city in the Northwest borough of this wild and scenic state. Robin and I flew in 2 weeks ago and settled into a totally upgraded housing unit after spending the first night in a shared trailer in a towel-free, cramped single bed with a community bathroom with a trash bag for a shower curtain. After that less than stellar first impression, I started the mind numbing 8 day process of redundant credentialing and paperwork that included a dozen online courses, a reintroduction to dental management software that was a distant memory from 3 years ago in the Aleutian islands, and a drug prescribing process that makes the James Webb telescope operating instructions look like a Dr. Suess story.    

I finally started seeing patients last week, and that has been a highlight of interesting local folks that require a mix of dental procedures. The dental office and scheduling is a study in head scratching inefficiency and miscommunication, like when the folks at the front desk don’t think of telling the dental staff that a patient checked in 90 minutes ago?? So I’m being paid handsomely to see an average of 1-2 patients a day with a lot of down time to surf the net and write stories like this.        

In the good news category, we’ve enjoyed the best that Kotzebue has to offer, including hikes to pick tundra blueberries, some kayaking in the bay, hauling in a gill net loaded with salmon, biking around town and participating in the fall festival that including Robin placing first in the women’s division of the half marathon for a medal and some cold cash with me biking alongside as moral support. I also brought pickleball equipment, including some donated high end paddles for the high school kids and taught the game to a couple of gym classes last week that seemed well received. Plus last night we were rewarded with a great Northern Lights show at 1AM under clear and cool skies on the edge of town, which was an amazing display of galactic art.     We’re here for 4 more days, and then on to Anchorage to see the sights of the really big city before heading home to Colorado and the beauty of our home state. Hope your summer is going well and I look forward to some news from the lower 48 and beyond.

Cheers,

Arctic Bob

Northern lights along the road out of town
Kotzebue on a clear, sunny day
The shoreline road
Sunset at 11PM
Some of the 40+ salmon pulled in on the gill net
A local has a shack full of salmon drying on the racks
New pickleball players from Kotzebue High School
Kayaking along the shoreline

Local Inupiat dancers perform in the National Park Service office
Prior to the half marathon I came across some hard cider on the road that fell off someone’s truck
Robin crossed the finish line with a smile

First in woman’s class and overall female finisher
Haven’t made much headway with the language of Inupiat
The 17 bed hospital that includes the dental clinic
Clean and modern clinic of 8 ops, but few patients show up
The light show was a show stopper
Northern lights above the town

Retirement is fun and busy

Hola Summer worshipers,   

 It’s been a full 5 weeks since I retired from my dental practice, and so far so good. There have been parties, trips near and far, and plenty of family time with Robin and her kids and grandkids. Close to home we had an encounter with a mother bobcat who hung out for 3 days until her 2 babies figured out how to climb down from the neighbor’s pine tree, and some moose cooling off in a nearby stream until the wildlife folks tranquilized them to relocate them to a more remote part of the state. A family trip to Mexico provided plenty of beach time along with flooding rains, but everyone got along with the benefit of cooling drinks and seafood by the pool. Other trips to kitesurf, windsurf, bike and hike have kept the muscles moving and our brain functioning at a level to keep us out of the nursing home or memory care units for now. A dinner meeting and lunch next day with a Medicare broker are sobering reminders of our age, but we’re in full denial as long as we can jump out of bed with a smile and only a few aches and pains every morning.     A trip to Tucson to meet Robin’s dad and other family members went well despite the 100+ heat everyday, and we managed to hit Oregon’s hottest week of the summer as well. That should be balanced out by an upcoming contract I’ve signed to work a few weeks in Kotzebue, Alaska, which I had to look up and discover is 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Robin is coming along for the ride on that one too and no doubt will run the streets in the early morning hours while I prepare to do some dentistry in a new setting.   

Cheers,   

Retired but not done with teeth yet Bob

Champagne to celebrate my dental practice sale to Paul

Disco party time- the shoes were my favorite

Robin’s grandkids with their Easter Egg hunt prizes
Kite beach on South Padre Island, TX
Robin gets her intro lesson on a windsurfer in Texas
Flooded streets in Isle Mujeres, Mexico
Hiking scenery close to home
Saguaro cactus outside of Tucson
Mother bobcat on the neighbor’s shed

Bull moose cooling off in the stream near our house
The blown out north slope of Mt St Helens
Bike trail overlooking the Columbia River in Oregon
Gopher snake along the bike trail
Robin at the helm on a 42 ft sailboat on the Columbia River
Chef Bob prepping the fire for brats and burgers on a recent night hike

Summer River Running

Morning with the moon on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with towering walls

Hi River fans,     

I ended up with more time on the water than in the office this summer which seemed to work out just fine, and only ended up with a few new scars for the effort. First was a week in Hood River, Oregon, and a few days with Monte, a dentist with a 42 foot sailboat and a passion for working in remote settings like islands in the South Pacific and is crazy enough to want to work in Antarctica as well. I sailed with him for a few afternoons on his boat with his partner, Acasia, and then shifted to some windsurfing for a high speed fix on the Columbia River for the rest of the week.     

Back in Colorado in early August I put in 4 days of work before joining 7 friends to raft down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for 18 days with our own equipment and no guides. Keith had gotten the coveted permit, and when he called me a few months ago to offer me to join the trip there was no way I could say no. He’s been 8 times before and the rest of the crew were well seasoned river rafters and rock climbers, so I was the least experienced of the group in both categories, which put me out of my comfort zone on an almost daily basis.      

It was an amazing trip of extremes like blistering hot weather over 105F most days contrasted with icy cold water released from the bottom of Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon dam. Spectacular scenery 24/7 of canyon walls thousands of feet above us on both sides, with numerous slot canyon hikes with water sculpted contoured walls within a few feet of each other. Beautiful camp sites of sandy beaches with biting flies and an occasional scorpion to keep you vigilant, plus fine sand and dirt on you and everything you brought along, with the opportunity to scrub yourself clean a few times from a half dozen pummeling waterfall hikes. And of course over 200 rapids along the 280 miles we covered that were at times both exhilarating and terrifying in their power to flip your boat and send you and your belongings for a tumbling ride. But no one flipped and we had only a few people tossed from their rafts for a few seconds before they were able to climb back aboard.       

We ate like kings and slept like babies under the stars, with only an occasional rain storm to make us put tents up as shelter. Overall an amazing place to experience with friends to go “off the grid” for a few weeks, since there’s no cell service or internet once you enter the canyon.     It’s good to be home for now and enjoy the comforts of a daily shower and a luxurious king sized bed. Hope your Labor Day weekend was pleasant.

Cheers,

River Rat Bob

Sailing on the Columbia River with Monte
Rowing our oar boat in calm waters
Running one of the rapids in our 15 foot rafts
Daily camping on a sandy beach with IMAX like scenery
Hike to a small waterfall with clean, clear water
Sketchy hike high above a slot canyon
Camping under the protection of a cavern eroded by the river
Napping in the shade of the massive Red Wall Cavern
Pool at the base of a canyon artistically worn by water over the centuries
A cleansing shower at the end of a hike
Keith prepares salmon on the grill for our first of many great meals on the river
A curious lizard paid us a visit
Phantom Ranch thermometer at 120F+
A slot canyon hike with narrowing walls and a stream of water at the base
Another side canyon hike with a shower reward at the end
Walls of granite with smooth slots worn by sandy water erosion

No longer a pod cast virgin

Autumn greetings,
      Last month I got to do my first podcast with a dentist named Howard Farran who does a lot on social media, and it was more fun than I had imagined. He called me a while back and set it up with Skype, which meant I had to come up with my password, which is always a challenge for an account that hasn’t been used in a while. The link is below, but be warned it’s over an hour long so it might be a good insomnia treatment.
Dr. Robert Alan Koff DMD, the Frozen Dentist of Antarctica https://youtu.be/GEQkukA8ZFQ
      I have one more short week of work and am then heading down to Chile to board a research icebreaker to work at the research station called Palmer. The vessel is named after Laurence McKinley Gould, an American scientist who had explored both the Arctic and Antarctic. Wikipedia (control/click on this link to read more about the ship). I’ll then return to Chile in late December to goof off for a few weeks before flying to New Zealand in early January to do my usual 6 week contract at McMurdo and the South Pole.
     I’m been enjoying the relative warmth of Colorado for the past few weeks, and appreciating fresh raspberries and bananas among other “freshies” which I’m not likely to see for a few months. I’ll get some home cooked turkey and dressing before some long plane rides and six days at sea. I should have email access most of the time and always appreciate news from home, so sharpen your keyboard.
     Have a great holiday season as we enter the futurist sounding year of 2020.
Cheers,
    Bob the podster

An early Colorado snow made for a scenic hike at 11 Mile Reservoir

Work and Play

Lauren tries on some bling from her grand-ma’s collection

Greetings 2019ers,
   The year is halfway over and life seems to be accelerating along. I’m still gainfully employed 3 days a week when I’m in town, but have been making an effort that when something good comes along to cross off the schedule and go for it. Three trips to FL in the first three months to see my young 92 year old mom and 27 year old Lauren were fun, along with helping my photography buddy Don do a project for the artists known as the Florida Highwaymen before they pass on to that great canvas in the sky. Then a new kitesurfing destination in Mexico with some whale shark swimming and cactus trail bike riding during the low wind days was a good winter break.
     In April I headed back to South Padre Island, TX for some more kiting, and then did a 48 hour turnaround to go north to Sitka, Alaska with my dental assistant, Regine to teach a dental course to hospital folks. Two months later I was back in Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands for a 2 week contract in Sand Point, and enjoyed the July 4th celebration in small town style with a parade of kids on bikes with the police and fire engine escorts.
    Most recently I went to Lake Tahoe to visit friends Steve and Diana who have a summer place there, and did some great biking, hiking and of course pickleball with new found competition on the courts at the Squaw Valley resort. That trip was made even better with my new girlfriend Lynn, who likes outdoor recreation at least as much as I do, and then some. The key seems to be to keep moving but smell the roses along the way too. I’ve signed up for a few more trips for the remainder of the year, including a return to Antarctica in December, so it’s a nice balance of work and play to avoid any issues of dental burnout.
    Hope your summer is humming along to a happy tune. Send some news from home and enjoy the sun and rain.
Cheers,
    Traveling Bob

A good snow day in Colorado for some cross country skiing

My buddy Don setting up for the photo project in FL

1850’s style photo portrait known as wet plate collodion

Biking with George on the Mexican cactus trail

Teaching hospital workers in Sitka some dental skills

July 4th celebration in Sand Point, AK

A giant vacuum hose sucks salmon from the hold of this
boat at the cannery in Sand Point

King Salmon like this are then processed and shipped out

Salmon eggs are collected and sold as caviar

A hike to Sand Dollar Beach in Alaska

Lynn is all smiles when she’s hiking

Biking along the epic Flume trail along Lake Tahoe

Lauren Graduates!

Greetings earth bound friends,

It’s been another enjoyable spring back in the good old USA, starting with Lauren’s graduation with her MBA and continuing to work full time with her non-profit Mind and Melody down in Florida. She’s done a great job jumping into the real world and continues to impress me with her achievements.

I’m still working too, and signed up to go back to Alaska in May to Sitka and then King Cove in the Aleutian Islands. I taught some dentistry to folks who signed up for a Wilderness Advanced Life Support conference in Sitka, and got to attend the rest of the course as well, which was super. Then flew off to King Cove and worked for 3 weeks on the locals. I hiked on the weekends and saw some bears, eagles, hawks, foxes and even a shy porcupine, but managed to walk out alive and smiling.

Back home, the most aggressive animal I’ve had to deal with is a raccoon who chewed through the metal barrier on my chimney and set up housekeeping above my fireplace. My smoky fire evicted most of the family, but it appears I may have roasted one or two evidenced by the cloud of flies in my basement a few weeks later. Yesterday I donned protective gear and scraped and vacuumed all the debris I could reach in the flue, hoping to avoid getting the hanta virus and getting rid of the flies, which seems to have worked out so far.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and hope your home is free of bears, raccoons and other uninvited guests.

Cheers,

Flyless Bob

Graduation in Gainesville, FL

Bald eagle’s nest along the shore in King Cove

A sleepy looking fox in Alaska

The ride out of King Cove on a clear, sunny day

My niece Caroline and Orion came to town
for the beginning of the Colorado concert season

A pesky raccoon ate through my steel cover on the chimney

Ready to scrape out the remains in my fireplace flue

First North for the holidays, then South to the Ice

Whales spouting in the bay in Sitka, Alaska

Hola Holiday Hopefuls,

It’s been a pleasant fall in Colorado, with plenty of sunshine for pickleball and hiking. Don’t forget to purchase AR-15 magazines since they are the best tools of safety for your trip. But, despite all that, Lynn was drawn back to Alaska, where she found a beautiful place to rent on the water in the town of Sitka. The morning whale spouts look like a train choo-chooing in the bay, and a curious sea lion often swims up to the deck. I paid a visit in October and have to admit it’s a pretty spell binding place. We hiked, biked and she demonstrated the awe inspiring sport of paragliding off a local ridge for me one afternoon.

I returned to Colorado, and Lynn joined me for a wonderful long Thanksgiving weekend with friends in Steamboat Springs. The cross country skiing was good and the outdoor hot springs felt glorious for sore muscles afterwards.

A few weeks ago I got to celebrate Lauren’s 25th birthday in Florida,and she’s on her final semester to get her MBA in April. Her non profit Mind and Melody (www.mindandmelody.org) has thrived since getting the advice and guidance of mentors, and she scored a first place $10K prize from a Florida Shark Tank like contest, and another $10K grant from a bridge club foundation a few weeks later. She’ll soon start drawing a full time salary and continue to work with her organization after graduation to support herself which is an amazing accomplishment.

December has flown by and after one more week of work it’s on to the holidays. I’m heading up to Sitka for some celebrating with Lynn, then home for a few days to repack and head south to return to work in Antarctica. Lynn secured a contract for Ascension Island, a tropical oasis in the middle of the Atlantic for a few months, so she’ll probably have a better tan than mine when we get together again in April.

Hope your days get longer soon and you have some family time to enjoy the season.

Cheers,

Traveling Bob

Sea lions crowded on a buoy

The best whale watching is in a kayak

Whales and birds after feasting on krill

Lynn lays out her paraglider on a hillside

A good tug and the wing is airborne

A run down the hill and she’s flying!

Wishful thinking to make flying easier

Cross country skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Lauren is all smiles with a first place finish

Fall tales

Greetings hurricane survivors,

      It’s been a roller coaster ride of trips for the past few months with a lot of smiles and a few tears along the way. I joined Lynn to work in Whittier, Alaska for Labor Day weekend, and it was a beautiful setting in a town accessible by boat or one lane, 2 mile tunnel designed for both trains and cars. Once you get the timing down you’re not going to encounter any oncoming trains inside the tunnel, but it keeps your eyes on the road and no time for texting distractions. We lived and worked in the one 15 story building in town that houses everyone, estimated at 216 the last time the census was taken, so there aren’t many secrets among the locals. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery with hikes with some of Lynn’s old friends on our days off, and the glaciers, waterfalls and blueberries kept your mind off the wandering grizzly bears in the surrounding woods.

A few days later I jumped on a last minute plane to Atlanta since my dad was flown to a hospital there after a hit and run encounter as he walked in a rest stop parking lot while escaping Hurricane Irma in Florida. Initially he was just bruised up, but a heart attack in the hospital proved too much and he died a few days later. He was almost 92 and a crummy way to go, but he had a good run and I was fortunate to have him around for so long. I returned to Florida a few weeks later to clean out his place with the help of my step sister, and it’s all been a reminder of our mortality and the fragility of life. So keep moving and add some love along the way whenever possible.

A wonderful trip to Michigan to meet Lynn’s folks and the rest of her family helped restore the balance, and I’m still enjoying fresh apples and Dutch bakery banket along with the memories of the love and hospitality they shared with me. We rented a beautiful, quiet cabin on Lake Michigan and the fall colors were just starting to appear to add to the scenery. Her folks even invited me back, so I took that as a good sign and hope to see them again before too long.

Back in Colorado, the leaves are falling and the snow has started to blanket the mountains, so I changed the filters and turned the heat on for the season. Hope you’re enjoying the fall and write some news from home.

Cheers,

Still smiling Bob

One lane, car and train 2 mile tunnel to Whittier, Alaska

The 15 story building in Whittier that houses the entire town

Lynn and Sophie demo the bear that left bite marks in the van

Berry picking hike in Whittier along Prince William Sound

Lynn, her folks and sister KJ with Anna at an outdoor concert in MI

Fall hike in Colorado

Backyard view of first snow on Pikes Peak

Wilderness, water and an almost timeless capsule

Greetings summer lovers,

      It’s been warm and sunny for July and August, and we’ve enjoyed the great outdoors in a few different settings. First we tested Lynn’s inflatable kayaks on the Arkansas River just south of Colorado Springs and found them to be a wonderful, lazy way to see the birds along the shores. Then a weekend in Breckenridge with the conference for the Wilderness Medical Society had us teaching a dental workshop to folks who like to do medicine in the woods, and they left hopeful for a dental emergency to test their new skills on someone with a toothache far from civilization.

Next up was a week in Hood River, Oregon for some windsurfing in 100 degree weather, which made the water even more refreshing, and we finished up smiling and bruised. A few days later we were in Galveston, TX, unknowingly a week ahead of Hurricane Harvey to teach some more dentistry to the medical crew heading to Antarctica. I was able to work out a team building exercise of sailboat racing in 22 foot Sonars provided by a local sailing center called the Sea Star Base, and it turned out to be the highlight of the orientation schedule.

We’ve been home 10 days now, and had a chance to view the eclipse through homemade glasses that Lynn was unsure about until her mom said it was OK, which tells you where my credibility rating is pegged. Last weekend we made breakfast for 20 in a hiking group I belong to, and afterwards we found a time capsule that Lauren and I buried 19 years ago with the help if a metal detector, because we  were unable to locate it last summer after a few hours of digging up the backyard. We finished up with a hike and pickleball lesson from a patient of mine who is always promoting the sport, and may have converted a few curmudgeons to courtside athletes.

Hope your getting less rain than Houston and enjoying the sunshine.

Cheers,

Boating Bob

Ready to Kayak the Arkansas River

Lynn shows good form on the river

Lecture to the Wilderness Medical Society

Attempting a jibe on my windsurfer on the Columbia River

Lynn’s got the gear and the right attitude for windsurfing-
note the hammock for tired muscles

Antarctic medical crew gets some dental practice on each other


Lynn’s boat heels to port in the Sonar races

Sailboats race around the orange marker in Galveston

Making homemade eclipse glasses after watching youtube instructions

Time capsule successfully retrieved from the backyard after 19 years

Nancy keeps everyone’s attention on the pickleball court

Canoeing and fireside flossing

Our Kevlar canoe made portaging seem like nothing more than  carrying a piano on your shoulders through a wooded, rocky trail

Our Kevlar canoe made portaging seem like nothing more than
carrying a piano on your shoulders through a wooded, rocky trail

 

Our leader, Ron, leading the way in his solo canoe

Our leader, Ron, leading the way in his solo canoe

 

The height of canoe fashion with waterproof knee high sealskinz socks and Tevas

The height of canoe fashion with waterproof knee high sealskinz socks and Tevas

 

The backcountry never saw such sparkling teeth by the campfire

The backcountry never saw such sparkling teeth by the campfire

Colorado hikers John and Dan ready to hit the watery trail

Colorado hikers John and Dan ready to hit the watery trail

 

One calm afternoon of mirror like reflections on the lake

One calm afternoon of mirror like reflections on the lake

 

Loons called out at night as we sat by the fire

Loons called out at night as we sat by the fire

Hail to canoe fans,

            Recently some of my hiking buddies invited me to join them on a Boundary Waters canoe adventure in the 1700 square mile, 1 million acre area in northern Minnesota that is famous for backcountry wilderness to get in touch with nature and sore shoulders. It was a rolling 2 day drive from Colorado to Ely, Minnesota, gateway to a universe of canoeing. It seemed that every car, truck, restaurant and shop was catering to canoeing and all the accessories you can imagine and some you can’t to make the backcountry experience unforgettable.

            Our hearty group of 6 paddled off for a six day adventure of paddling, portaging between lakes, and paddling some more to find scenic camping spots without the benefit of any signs or recognizable landmarks since the wilderness designation means you’re on your own. Actually the only sign we ever saw was a notice that the forest service was tagging wolves in the area which surprisingly didn’t register high on the safe and secure meter. A few of us tried to get lost in the dense woods but managed to make it back to our campsite before dark thereby denying the wolves a chance to practice their pack hunting tactics on a stray, clueless animal.

            I was even able to put my dental education to use when I convinced the unwashed members of my party to practice good dental hygiene around the campfire, and we flossed nightly before heading to the tents. It was a fitting prelude to a restful night’s sleep on the rocks and roots that somehow grow under the tent after it has been pitched on a seemingly flat, even surface. Overall a great trip with guy bonding 24/7, and the wind, cold and rain didn’t deter our spirits and kept the mosquitoes and black flies at bay. We stayed an extra night in Ely to indulge on the mouth watering walleye and fresh pie served up at the Chocolate Moose restaurant, and I noticed we walked out with an all knowing canoe swagger in our step as survivors of the Boundary Waters. To top it off, Pat joined me in Colorado a few days after my return to share the Indian summer weather with the aspens turning gold in the mountains. Hope your fall is shaping up and you’re ready for the next round.

Cheers,

        Boundary Waters veteran Bob