Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Urban Jewel

Anchorage is really a lovely small city. Nestled in a bowl surrounded by tall mountains, perched on the edge of Cook Inlet, it is a city with stunning landscapes and breathtaking views. To me, there is a feel very similar to Seattle about Anchorage, only smaller; it is about a quarter the size of the bigger metropolis. Anchorage is sometimes referred to as “Seattle’s bedroom” and described as being “not really Alaska, but you can see it from there.” With a population of over a quarter million people (40% of all Alaska residents), it is by far Alaska’s biggest city, and has enough skyscrapers in the downtown skyline and hustle-and-bustle city energy to really feel like a big city on a small scale.

Except for winding Spenard Road, which was originally a moose trail, the city is laid out in a four-square grid that is easy to read on a map and easy to get around in. The city is compact enough that getting across town never takes too long, even with some traffic (compared to, say, Seattle; or—egad—Los Angeles). And no matter where you are, there is the looming presence of the huge Chugach Mountains, like protective shoulders hunched around the city.

One of my favorite spots in Anchorage is Lake Hood, a large municipal lake dedicated solely to float/ski planes. The lake is over a half mile across, and the entire perimeter of the lake is taken up with float plane parking spots. Pilots rent the spots and moor their planes there. Many of the sites have small gear “shacks”—some as elaborate as small log cabins—and tiny docks next to the mooring hardware sunk in the lake bottom. But there are no homes on the lake. And no boats of any kind, and no swimming allowed. The lake is completely restricted as an aerodrome, and signage peppers the lakeshore conveying that message.

There is a large and lovely hotel, the Millennium, located on one part of the lake shore, but no other businesses. The Millennium is one of Anchorage’s nicest hotels, and serves each year as headquarters for the Iditarod. The location on Lake Hood makes it very convenient for the many small planes—collectively known as “the Iditarod Air Force”—which support the race.

About half of the lake has a well-maintained bike/walking trail along the shore, which is well used year ‘round, with occasional benches where one can sit and watch the planes land and take off on the lake. Lake Hood is not far from Anchorage International Airport, and is one of my favorite spots for killing a little time when I am ahead of schedule for check-in.

This past weekend Dutch and I were back in Anchorage for two days. My hip continued to be quite painful since the trip over in April to see the orthopedist and get the MRI which diagnosed a labral tear of the acetabulum. I decided to go with the next step and get the steroid injection.

For this the orthopedist referred me to an interventional radiologist. With fluoroscopy guidance, he inserted a 3 inch long needle (22 gauge) into the hip joint. Once he removed the lidocaine-bearing syringe, leaving the needle in place, there was an eruption of fluid from a good-sized joint effusion. He said he expected there to be some after a month of irritation in the joint, but he was surprised at how much was there. I was surprised because I had had no sensation of fullness or pressure or anything to suggest a fluid collection. He aspirated some into a syringe and it was clear and light yellow—a very good sign. No blood and no pus. He then injected triamcinolone and depo-medrol into the joint, along with marcaine.

The whole procedure took perhaps thirty minutes, and I had immediate and substantial pain relief. Just removing the effusion allowed me to extend the hip (i.e., lie flat on my back) for the first time in over a month. I was still limping, but not nearly as much as before. The radiologist said to expect continued improvement for up to two weeks.

When I made the plane reservations for this trip, I wasn’t sure how much recovery time would be needed after the procedure. Not wanting to push myself, I made the return trip for the following evening. We could have simply gone to the airport and gotten on the next flight to Bethel, but trips to the city are costly and generally infrequent, so we decided to stay as planned and enjoy ourselves. Dinner and a movie might not seem like much to get excited about, but it is when you are from Bethel, where we have no movie theaters and few restaurants.

The next day we decided to forgo shopping (having been in town only three weeks earlier) and take a drive down to Alyeska, Alaska’s only major ski resort. It is about 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway which runs along the edge of Cook Inlet, the northernmost reach of the Pacific Ocean.

The resort is still operating its upper slopes, where the snow is reasonably fresh for spring skiing. Dutch and I hopped on the tram at the base of the mountain and rode up to the top. The view was beautiful. Alyeska has the lowest elevation of any ski resort in America—under 4,000 feet. But considering that the base of the mountain is not much above sea level, there are some nice long runs between top and bottom. Alyeska is also the only ski resort in America where you can see the ocean from the top of the lift.

It was nice to get out and drive a little, something I miss living in Bethel. We returned to Anchorage with a couple of hours to spare before our flight out, so we spent the extra time at Hood Lake watching the planes and enjoying each other’s company. The lake may be closed to human swimmers, but there were a number of ducks and waterfowl on the lake. And a beautiful bald eagle flew right over our heads as we sat on one of the park benches, being chased by a raven who complained loudly at the raptor’s presence.

When we got to the airport for the flight home, we ran into quite a few people from Bethel that we know; that is usually the case, and the waiting area at the gate for any Bethel flight often resembles a party as people are chatting and visiting. Living out here at the edge of civilization on what is essentially an island surrounded by an ocean of trackless land draws us together in a unique way. Anchorage is a nice place to visit...and most of us really like going home.

Photo of Anchorage by unknown photographer, from Wikipedia article. All other photos by The Tundra PA.



Anonymous ozziedoc the 4th yr med student said...

I do so enjoy reading about your life!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

oz--haven't heard from you in a while; glad you are still lurking around. My sitemeter shows no visitors from England since I posted this entry; have you moved? Thanks for leaving me a comment...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say hi.......I emailed you right after your started the blog; I am the PA from Northern Michigan. I enjoy your blog immensely, have missed no posts, and want to spend a year in Alaska sometime. You do make the city sound a bit more alluring than Bethel, though! (Bethel in the summer, winter in the big city?)


Tuesday, May 15, 2007 2:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still in England!

I'm concentrating on my studies at the moment, so am only lurking rather than taking the time to comment.

Hope that the hip is still pain-free.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Wyatt said...

Sounds like you had quite the fulfilling trip to the city! Being from Fairbanks, I was always jealous of Anchorage for its close-up and beautiful view of the mountains. Mostly I loved to hate the city, though, as we tried to beat it in soccer, basketball, ice hockey, and anything else possible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Al said...

On my whirlwind trip to Alaska a couple of years ago, I spent a couple of days in Anchorage. I was surprised that with a population of 250,000+ there were no traffic jams. The most traffic I saw was as I was returning to Anchorage from Seward. All the cars were headed south...the salmon were in! It looks like a great place to live and work.

I visited Lake Hood too. It was great.

Anchorage was your reward for having a needle jab into you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 5:11:00 PM  
Blogger Pete & Mary said...

I'm glad you're finally getting some relief (though too bad things didn't resolve on their own.) I'll have to find Lake Hood next time I head for the Big City. It sounds nice. Thanks for visiting NFSC. I'm a big fan of your blog - it's giving us both a hankering to make a move deeper into the state. Keep healing!

Thursday, May 17, 2007 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger The MSILF said...

Hi, haven't said hi in a while. I just love your blog and this post and the post about the prom were great! I love seeing how people live in other places. And now I need to take a big Alaskan tour!

Monday, May 21, 2007 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tear of the acetabular labrum? Mine was caused by impingement; the repair (and osteoplasty, to prevent recurrence) was done arthroscopically (outpatient surgery). I am told that there aren't that many surgeons doing this procedure arthroscopically yet -- mine was Dr. Bruckner, in Bellevue on Seattle's Eastside. I wish all my surgeries had been as pleasant!


Saturday, June 09, 2007 10:57:00 PM  

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