Archive for the ‘#alaska’ Tag

Alaska is Weird   8 comments

What’s the most unusual expense you’ve had?

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Well, let’s start by saying I’m ducking the finer point of this assignment. My most unique expense is not for public consumption. I’m a pretty honest person as a rule, but there are some aspects of my life that I don’t want to share and they involve other people and I’m choosing not to invade their privacy. Anonymity has its purposes and I choose to exercise them on this topic.

But —

Alaska is a weird, weird place, so a lot of our activities are probably unusual to folks in the Lower 48.

Typically, our summer spray-on insect repellent bill runs about $50.

We spend about $70 on ice when we catch our annual quota of salmon in Chitina.

I don’t know how many people buy sap taps and berry buckets – snow sleds with Kevlar glides for towing behind a snow machine – an electric chainsaw for cutting up moose – an Army poncho circa 1970 — saddlebags for our dog.

I own a personal body alarm. Not to scare away rapists – I have firearms for that — but to scare away bears. If you shoot a bear, you disrupt territory, which means you end up starting all over with a new bear that doesn’t know you’re scary. So, instead, we use the personal body alarm to convince the bear who hangs out on our cabin site that he doesn’t want to get too close. And once he’s learned that lesson, we want him to live a long and bearly happy life because training a bear to fear you is something you don’t want to do that often.

According to the IRS, an unusual expense might include a one-time charge for something – like the patent filing fee I paid for my husband’s utility patent on his advance in the art of heating.

Posted April 29, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Don’t Complain   6 comments

Many of us wax poetic at the end of winter and the return of spring. Let’s swap that around. What’s the one thing about spring that you can’t stand?

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It’s considered a sign of mental illness, the equivalent of a “red flag” situation, to complain about spring in Alaska. We have six months of winter. Snow fell in October and in April. Some of those six months the temperature never rises about 0’F.

So, when the sun finally gets high enough in the sky (March) for the snow to start melting and for you to feel some warmth when you lift your face skyward – you’ve got NOTHING to complain about. You survived another winter and soon the days will be 22 hours long and everything will be green and growing.

But that’s not the blog assignment, so ….

At the risk of my neighbors deciding to call the mental health center to report a seriously unhinged individual –

I hate mud and spring in Alaska is mud season. Our mud isn’t normal mud. Our soils are very fine and they don’t have a lot of organics in them, so they cling to everything. You WILL track it into the house where it WILL dry on the floor and get sucked up by the heating system, which WILL circulate it throughout the house, so that you WILL be dusting it for the next six months.

There! Complaint made. That said, shhh, it’ll hear you and decide it ought to be winter again. Snow in May sucks worse than mud in April.

Posted April 22, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Scent of Childhood   9 comments

March 18, 2019

If your childhood had a smell, what would it be?


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Cyrill Connelly famously stated that “The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.”

I have to start out by saying that I am not a person who lives through my nose. My sense of smell is the weakest of my senses, so this article took some thought.

I grew up in Alaska, where homes are closed up against the winter for 6-8 months out of a year. You can’t even open the doors to air things out once a week. When I think of the smell of my childhood, I think of coming home from school and smelling the closed-up house – diesel heating fuel mixed with cigarette smoke mixed with damp-dog smell mixed with good food on the stove and coffee on the perk. Yeah, not all that appetizing and certainly not how my kids remember our house.

Our daughter, who does live through her sense of smell, says she always thinks of Pine Sol, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and lavender potpourri
mixed with the Asian spices of the stirfries that are my go-to weekday meal when she thinks of home.

But there’s another smell that came to my mind immediately when I read this topic. The smell of cold icy ground and new green growing things. There’s a bite to the Alaskan air just before the melt starts. Our trees, the great lungs of the atmosphere, take an ice nap from October through April, so there’s a natural build-up of nitrogen and CO2 in our winter air. You can feel it if you’re active outside in the spring, even when you’re a long way from human habitation. You get the slightest headache because your body knows it’s not quite right. And, when the snow starts to melt, there’s this delicious cold flavor to everything. It’s like ice cubes with just the barest hint of salicin (you know that as aspirin) from the willow trees that are the first to wake up. I love to stand at the head of a hiking trail, just far enough from my car that I can’t smell the heat from the engine and pause … take in a deep breath … launch into the Alaskan wilderness. In a couple of weeks, the snow will be gone and the plants will suck in all that extra CO2 and burst into a spring that is so fast you’d think it was part of a Nature channel documentary.

Yeah, I’m feeling nostalgic because that incredible state of being is about 2-4 weeks away. We’ve survived another winter and our house windows will be open all summer because I prefer the smell of rain, sun, growing things, and freshly mowed grass over what I grew up smelling. Not every childhood memory is worthy of nostalgia.

Now let’s check out what my fellow bloggers have to say about their childhood scent memories.

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Mountain Musings

Stevie Turner

Blue Honor Blog

Lydell Williams

Posted March 18, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Alaska   Leave a comment

Posted January 11, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Practical in All Ways   8 comments

What’s the best purchase you ever made and why?

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ponchoI’ve bought a lot of things in my five decades of living from cheap $1 items to a house now inexplicably worth nearly a quarter-million dollars.  It’s hard to inventory all the purchases of my life and come down to “the best” and for what reason. Some things just give me joy. I like the look or feel of them. Other things are practical or were a great investment with a good return on value. It would take a great deal of soul-searching to narrow that most-worthy item down from the thousands of purchases I’ve made in my life. In fact, I am overwhelmed at the prospect because Brad and I are known among our friends as not being very consumer-oriented. Most of our “stuff” is second-hand and we are frequently asked if we ever plan to put furniture in our family room. Maybe … someday … if some neighbor in our garage-friendly neighborhood is looking to sell a sofa for cheap. Does a family room really need furniture beyond a bunch of bookcases and some cushions on the floor?

But not answering the question would be disingenuous, I suppose. Let me tell you a story.

Thirty years ago this summer Brad and I were working for a company that thought it needed our undivided attention, but we needed our annual salmon catch, so when they let us go for three days for the 4th of July holiday, we scrambled to load what we needed into the car and get headed on the 600-mile journey to Chitina Alaska and the red gold that are Copper River salmon. And, I couldn’t find my raincoat. I determined I would do it in a sweatshirt if necessary, even though I knew that would mean a miserable wet weekend.

Brad stopped on our way out of town to buy Meals Ready to Eat — military-issue rations that often find their way into the local military surplus stores. While he was deciding which of the menus to buy this time, I spied a shelf of Army ponchos. Jokingly, I said “These would make great tents.” Brad thought I was serious and he grabbed one and threw it on top of the box. Cost? $10.

The closer we got to Chitina, the darker the sky got. O’Brien Creek was running so hard we decided not to risk driving over it. I donned the poncho before we headed out. Except for the hood, which consisted of a Velcro closure under the chin to keep the rain out and a bill over my forehead to shed it to either side of my face, it fell shapeless to the tops of my Xtra-Tufs. The sides could be left open or there were grommets to hook together by any means desired. I had run lengths of 550 cord through them to form some sort of closure. It was so large on my tiny frame that I put it over my backpack to keep it dry.

We hiked in 2 1/2 miles to “the glory hole” and we caught 45 salmon in 2 1/2 hours. By pulling the 550 cord this way and that, I configured the poncho so that it kept my clothes dry while I clubbed fish to death as Brad was catching them two at a time. And meanwhile, it poured buckets of icy rain from the sky, flung sideways by the glacier wind out of the Wrangell-St. Elias ice fields.

When the fish had been caught, Brad began to load them into his “moose bag” backpack and it quickly became clear that he could only take half the load. I weighed less than the remaining fish. I would have to stay behind with them while Brad hiked the first half to the car.

It was dark and growing darker and I didn’t really feel that brave out there in the forbidding wilderness, but I told him I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. We both knew it would take two hours for him to hike out, at least a half-hour to pack the fish in the ice in the coolers in the back of the car and another hour to hike back to me. A part of being an Alaskan woman is not turning into a clingy suburbanite when your husband suggests he leave you in the rain-soaked forest beside one of the deadliest rivers in the world with 20 salmon and, possibly, grizzlies in the forest. Nope, I’d be fine. I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. I watched his Helly Hansen fisherman’s coat disappear into the darkness and didn’t ask him to come back.

Despite the monsoon-like ice bath occurring in the outside world, it was dry under my poncho. I could do this.

As anyone knows who has ever spent time in the woods, the key to building a fire is dry wood. Did I mention it was pouring and had been for several hours? I hiked around the cluster of wind-tough cottonwood trees, looking for twigs and leaves that weren’t soaked and I found some. Under a cut-bank near the river, I found a sheltered cluster of roots that I could hack off with my knife. Up in the forest, I found a spot sheltered among three trees that was less wet than the surrounding forest. I piled up my fire-starting treasure, sat down on the ground with my back against one of the trees and pulled my legs up into the sheltering tarp that was my poncho, protecting my treasure hoard from the deluge.

Rain dripped off the bill of my poncho, dropping onto my covered knees and rolled out into the wet ground. I dozed, buying time. Occasionally, the tree behind me would bend, groaning in the wind, and I’d be pelted with icy droplets, but my poncho didn’t move and my hoard stayed dry, warmed by the heat of my body. Time passed and stood still. My watch told me two hours had passed. Time to act.

I tied one end of my poncho to one of the three trees, pulled my head out of the hood and tied the other end to my back pack, creating a slanting roof. I knelt under the shelter to scrape sand together into a makeshift firepit and create a little nest of grass and leaves. Using strike-anywhere matches from the chest pocket of my poncho, I started a little fire, feeding dried twigs into it until it wouldn’t blow out at the faintest gust of watery wind. I warmed my hands over its tenacious warm. Smoke rose up to slap into the underside of my poncho and then seep away into the night. I filled the little tea kettle with rainwater as it ran off the edge. I sat with my knees drawn up to my chest, watching for steam to rise and listening to the steady drum of rain on the makeshift roof. Time passed and stood still while my socks dried above the little fire in the shelter of my poncho.

I was kneeling by the fire, preparing two cups of tea when I heard boots scraping on gravel near the trail. I was alone, a woman in the wilderness on the edge of one of the most deadly rivers in the world, guarding 20 salmon in grizzly country. I held my breath until Brad emerged out of the gray dawn, water pouring off his Helly Hansen coat.

“I have tea ready, just as I said.”

We sat on opposite sides of the fire, my poncho as our roof, sipping our hot beverage and eating a breakfast of pilotbread slathered with butter. While Brad caught an hour’s nap with his back against my tree, the weather broke, the rain stopped and sunlight spilled from heaven like liquid gold, sparkling through the wind-tough trees and casting the world in watercolor hues. I knocked the rain off my poncho and bundled it up loosely on top of my backpack. Brad stretched and groaned. I carried the camping gear and he carried the salmon and we turned toward our car that was 2 1/2 miles away, both of us dry and comfortable … because of my poncho.

That chance purchase 30 years ago still lives in my outdoor wardrobe. It is a constant companion, always packed for every expedition, though used only when necessary — as a coat, as a tent, as a tarp, sometimes a blanket to sit on. Once we bundled one of the kids in it on a canoe trip when she got cold. It’s kept backpacks dry, provided some protection from the damp dog that insisted she join us in the tent and been used as a bellows for building a bonfire. It still doesn’t leak and the only maintenance it’s required is replacing the 550 cord closures occasionally. And, thus it is the most useful $10 I’ve ever spent.

 

Not All That Star Struck   5 comments

Have you ever spoken to a celebrity you really like? one you hated? tell us about the encounters.

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Image result for image of ted nugentLiving in Alaska, you might think I wouldn’t have had a lot of opportunities to meet celebrities, but that’s really not true. So many people want to come to Alaska for the adventure of it all and I used to work for a local concert venue, plus our Baptist Student Union used to participate in bringing Christian artists and speakers to Fairbanks, so I’ve met a few “celebrities”.

Let’s get the one I hated out of the way right from the start. The Judds played Carlson Center while I worked there. My association with Wynona Judd was brief. I was asked to deliver water to the stage for the sound crew and she screamed at me for interrupting the sound check, which wasn’t going well. The sound tech apologized and told me I hadn’t actually been interrupting. You could tell, he was having a really rough day. I gladly went back to selling tickets to people who hadn’t met her in the real.

The “celebrity” I met that I liked the most was Sarah Palin, but she wasn’t a celebrity yet … just mayor of Wasilla and then later a gubernatorial candidate. I first met her at her church during a statewide youth function and she was introduced as the wife of a friend’s North Slope roommate. That would be Todd Palin. She was helping us get things set up for this youth function and it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. She said she worked in “city administration.” It was only after she left that our friend explained she was the mayor of the town. That is a really Alaskan way of being, by the way. I met her again when she was running for governor and once when she was governor. It was just after the magazine article touting her as the next great conservative to watch and before John McCain tapped her as his running mate. Every time I met her, she was just people. She remembered me from that earlier meeting and the encounters were pleasant. She was also a great governor, taking care of some things Alaskans had wanted and needed to be addressed for a long time … including widespread corruption in our legislature and Frank Murkowski’s ill-conceived giveaway to the oil companies (which Palin’s successor Sean Parnell got the legislature to reinstitute). I can’t explain why she went off the cliff after that. Our common friend believes it was initially media distortion and then, after being unfairly cast as an incompetent evil-doer, she allowed herself to be distracted by fame and sucked into the co-opting of the tea party movement. Being 100% consistent before the world isn’t easy, not for anyone, and when you’ve got reporters following your family around and looking for dirt to dig, it’s a foregone conclusion they will find some.

I met Mohammed Ali when he was here for a fight in the 1970s. I was a maid for a hotel and I was asked to run some extra blankets and towels up to the suite of rooms his crew was in. I was surprised when he opened the door. He was polite as he took the linens. I answered some question he had and then I was on my way. It could have been a meeting with any hotel guest.

IImage result for image of bryan duncan spent 45 minutes with Ted Nugent when he was here doing a concert. I was a ticket seller. The afternoon before the concert, Ted wanted to meet some real Alaskans and our events coordinator set out to fulfill his wish, coming to find me because he knew I’d been born in Alaska (that’s actually pretty rare. Lots of Alaskans are from somewhere else originally). I was not a Ted Nugent fan (in fact, that concert might have been the first time I’d ever listened to him as more than a song on the radio as I was driving). I went down to the green room and met two of the most-down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. He asked me about hunting in Alaska and his wife offered me half of her sandwich because I was giving up my lunch break to talk to them. She seemed amused by how excited her husband was to meet a “real” Alaskan. Tony Knowles was out governor then and Ted asked me what I thought of him (Idiot!) and he seemed to agree with me. I didn’t know about his politics then. Then during the concert, he talked about meeting real Alaskans and how he appreciated “us” for answering his geeky questions and not acting like he was some big celebrity they needed to be awed by, so I guess I made an impression too.

You may not have heard of them, but the Alaska Gold Panners are a National League baseball team that acts as an incubator for future major-league players while they’re in college. When I was growing up, there were a lot of Gold Panners who I had met who went on to be major league players – most notably Tom Seavers, who used to bag my family’s groceries at the local Safeway. He married a local girl and they would come back to visit. Again, just a regular guy with an extraordinary sports talent. We also knew the Boone brothers and Olgiby McDowell.

Christian artists come to Fairbanks only with a lot of community effort and our Baptist Student Union used to do a lot of work in that area. As a campus organization, they could get cheap rates for on-campus venues and then we students would act as roadies since the artists couldn’t afford to bring their full entourage up with them. My husband and I continued in BSU as adult lay-ministers and I would sometimes give the artists tours of our area. I was tour guide to Kim Hill, Randy Stonehill, Michael Card, Bryan Duncan, Steve Camp, Wayne Watson, and Twyla Paris. The only ones that stand out are Bryan Duncan and Michael Card because they both, separately, experienced the fun and joy of Alaska volcanoes.

Michael Card’s encounter was fairly sedate. He did the concert and then learned that his flight had been canceled on account of volcanic ash near Anchorage. He and his accompanyist were just going to kick back in the hotel, but in talking with a friend of ours about it, I got roped in with driving them around for the afternoon. It was winter, so they got a little different experience from ordinary tourists. Michael is a deep spiritual thinker and that’s the part I remembered best, that we had some weighty conversation about the Bible.

Bryan Duncan impressed me the most with his great attitude in his encounter with the volcano (there’s a couple of pesky ones outside of Anchorage that can shut down the entire state from time to time). Bryan got to Anchorage and his flight to Fairbanks was canceled. All the group could offer was to drive him to Fairbanks. No problem, he said. He was doing this concert solo to keep costs down, just stick him in a vehicle and let’s go.  His gear had made an earlier flight before the airport was closed. The first car made it as far as Wasilla and broke down because of ash aspiration (yes, that’s a thing). And then the second truck blew its tranny near Talkeetna and Bryan actually had to hitchhike for a while to get to help. Then a third vehicle had a malfunction coming into Nenana. So I got in my car and broke several speed records to pick up this total stranger in a tiny town 50 miles from Fairbanks. His hair was wild,  he needed a shower, he’d been in the air or traveling on the highway for over 24 hours and yet he was joking and in good spirits as I was blazing toward Fairbanks along winding mountain roads. And he gave a GREAT concert — still in his road clothes and not having had time to comb his hair or even do a sound check because I got him there with 30 minutes to spare. He will forever be my favorite Christian artist just because of his great attitude.

So, that’s about it unless you count having actually met our state’s Congressional delegation (including the late Senator Ted Stevens and the current scandal Representative Don Young) and several Alaska governors (including eating egg salad sandwiches sitting on the floor with Walter Hickel – former Secretary of State and twice governor of Alaska).

Hiking Essentials   2 comments

May 28, 2018
With the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, the season of cookouts and camping has arrived. What are your “must haves” for these events?

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Living in Alaska, Memorial Day weekend is really the first weekend of the year when you can camp out without risking frostbite … although there are people here who use four- season tents with heaters called Arctic Ovens, who do camp out in the winter.

But even in summer, Alaska posed camping challenges.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the camping trip is canceled. With only about 20 weeks of good outdoor weather, we can’t be shy about camping in inclement weather. Besides, Alaska is a big state, so while it may be raining in Fairbanks, it might not be raining in Paxson … or vice versa. It could be beautiful at my house and snowing in the mountains. You just never know. And, so, here are a few of my must-haves for any camping trip in Alaska.

By the way, most of our camping trips involve leaving our car and hiking into the wilderness. Brad and I have it down to about 50 pounds of gear shared between the two of us.

TentBug Spray – mosquitoes in Alaska are everywhere. The Interior is pretty boggy for a semi-desert, but the worse mosquitoes we ever encountered were on Mount Prindle, which is at altitude. This is because much of our ground is overlain with permafrost, so water has nowhere to go. Mosquitoes breed in water. Therefore … bug spray. A tourist back when I worked in the industry asked me why Alaskan women all seemed to have an evergreen perfume. My reply was “We call it au de Cutters.” If you say it with a French accent, it like a high-end item.

Sunscreen – yes, we have sun – 22 hours of it in June. And you can actually get a bad sunburn on cloudy days and a worse sunburn on snow. So we always carry a bottle of sunscreen, even after we develop our summer tans because … sun.

Tent – did I mention the mosquitoes? And that we never know when a rain squall will catch up to us … or snow at altitude? Even on an 80-degree day, the weather can change dramatically and suddenly you’re dealing with hypothermic conditions. We have three tents. The backpacking tent goes with us always, even on day hikes … just in case. Three of us and the dog have crawled into that thing made for two very friendly people, but hey … better crowded than frozen. We also have a mid-sized tent which we often set up for several days at a base camp and we still have a family-sized tent for car camping. That’s the only one you can stand up in.

Sleeping bag – The good news is that the sun doesn’t go down at night from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, so it doesn’t cool off much … normally. But then there’s the abnormal weather – snow at altitude, thundershowers — and the fact that our ground is underlain with permafrost. It can be sweating hot and the minute you lay down on the ground, you feel your body heat ebbing away. Each of us has a three-part military surplus bivouac bag that we don’t always need, but it has come in handy at times. You can throw the bivy sack under you to help insulate from the cold ground. Once when I was visiting Brad on our land, I decided to stay the night on a lark and he let me have one of his two inner bags. It was hot out, so that was all either of us needed.

Tent2Ridge Rest – closed-cell camping pad that rolls up into a tiny roll and is impervious to water. It eases the rock under your shoulder and it insulates you from the cold hard ground. When we used to take the kids with us, we’d turn four Ridgerests sideway so we couldn’t roll off them when rolling over. We still carry three today for just that reason. We upgraded a few years ago and got the ones that can be folded and braced with straps to make camping chairs. Love the back support!

Water filter – the bugs are not just in the air. Giardia is a thing here – beavers inhabit almost every waterway and … well, they ain’t house-broke, if you know what I mean. Plus there’s lots of minerals and debris in our streams, so we filter all of our water, just in case.

A water container – I cannot tell you how useless a water filter is when you have nothing to pump the water into.

Cookstove – this is not a Coleman two-burner outfit, but a Jetboil single propane rocket that will boil water in under a minute. It means we can travel light and still have warm beverages … a must if you get caught in snow at altitude.

MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – military issue surplus. Once you’ve eaten these, Mountain House just seems so inadequate. There’s about 4,000 calories in each meal kit, so Brad and I usually share one or we eat the entrees and save the extras for another meal. The beauty of these is that you don’t need a cook stove to warm them … they come with carbon dioxide heaters that just need a little water to activate them. Also, when sealed, they don’t appear to give off a smell. The dogs aren’t interested until you open them, so it’s unlikely they’ll attract a bear.

jetboilBaby wipes – you can buy body wipes, or whatever they’re marketed as now, in the camping section of most mega-marts or hardware stores, but for half the price you can buy baby wipes and get the same effect. We put them in a 1-gallon freezer bag so they don’t take up much room. It just feels so good after a day of hiking in the hot sun with bug spray and sunscreen coating your skin to wipe off before hitting the sleeping bag.

Powdered potatoes, powdered milk, tea bags, coffee bags, chocolate bars and pilot bread – These are our emergency supplies – the just-in-case-we-turn-the-wrong-way-and-end-up-lost. Well, the coffee bags (like tea bags and way better than instant) are for breakfasts, but we always bring some extra, just in case. Often we eat a chocolate bar or two on our drive home in celebration of a successful outing, but we don’t eat them until we’re off the trail because we’ve had the experience of needing that final burst of calories to finish a trek and were so glad to have forgotten a candy bar in the bottom of the tuck sack.

A knife – until you’ve tried to open an MRE meal kit with your teeth, you really can’t know what a necessity this is. We also carry a multi-tool now after we had a dog get mixed up with a porcupine. It sure would have been nice to have scissors and a pair of pliers to pull those out ourselves rather than backtrack to take the idiot to the vet. And, yes, we have since spent an evening by a campfire pulling quills out of a dog’s face. Her name was Black Dog and she was certain she would one day beat the porcupine. The black Lab in the photo below also had an encounter with a porcupine, but she learned from the experience as did the yellow Lab. Huskies — convinced next time will have a different outcome.

Baggie of shortening – not only can you cook with it, but it’s great coating for chaped hands, feet and lips.

Baggie with soaped kitchen sponge – to be honest, I let the dog take care of the worst of what’s on the cooking implements, but then I wash the germs off with soap. It’s mostly to assure there’s no giardia left on the surface.

Lab backpackA gun – if you know me, you knew this was going to be on the list. The world in general is a dangerous place, but in Alaska there are large animals to contend with. About 20 people were attacked by bears last year in Alaska. Bear spray can be effective, but only if you’re far closer to the bear than is sensible and only if the wind cooperates and doesn’t send the pepper powder back into your face. Plus grizzly bears will ignore pain when they’re pissed off and hikers who have hit them full in the face with an entire can of bear spray will attest it didn’t stop them. There’s also moose, wolverine, wolves, coyote, and fisher who can pose threats to human life here. And, if we do get lost and start to run out of emergency supplies, hunting with a 357 is not the easiest thing in the world, but I have taken grouse and rabbit with mine. And finally, I’ve had a couple of encounters with humans in remote areas where I think, had I not been armed, something might have happened that would have made me wish I was armed.  In a huge state of deep wilderness, cops are always hours away when seconds count. When we’re prepared, we just don’t know what might have happened had we not been prepared. I would go so far as to say that living the way we do in Alaska would not be sensible without guns to protect ourselves from large carnivores and poor decision-makers.

Screamer – otherwise known as a personal body alarm. If we can get away without killing the wildlife, we prefer to just deafen them and it has discouraged bear and moose — sometimes. Wildlife is not always predictable.

First aid kit – again dangerous world, plenty of things that can hurt you. Our kit is a 1-gallon freezer bag because it fits where ever there’s room in the packs and it’s customizable. I once sewed up a friend who sunk a fish hook in his thigh. It allowed him to continue the trek. Brad’s allergic to bee stings so we always carry Benadryl. We include first aid items for the dog. You just can’t buy that with one of those kits from Walmart.

Extra socks – you never know when you’re going to sink into muskeg to your ankles and need dry socks. Plus, all day with your feet sweating in hiking boots … you don’t want to wear those socks tomorrow.

Windbreaker, sweatshirt, rain poncho, baseball cap and stocking cap. I hike in a pair of rip-stop pants that can be rolled up into shorts and (usually) a tank-top or t-shirt. I layer as the weather changes. Sometimes I’ve needed all of these items and sometimes they’ve just been extra weight, but if you don’t bring them, you will need them and it’s better to be prepared when you encounter winter in the middle of a 90-degree day.

Safety shades – Sunglasses that can take a licking and still be unscratched. Alaska forests are not groomed and I am not tall. I got tired of getting poked in the eye by branches. And, hey, the sun is bright at this latitude and it never goes down in the summer. You can buy $100 hiking sunglasses or spend $10 for a pair of dark safety glasses – you choose.

Gloves – I have office worker hands, but Brad brings a pair too. You never know when you’re going to need to saw up a tree limb to make a warming fire or scrabble up or down a scree slope and then there’s the wild-rose bushes. It cuts down on busted knuckles and spending time digging slivers out of your palms.

A fold-saw and matches – Again, you might not need these, but if you do, you really will kick yourself for not carrying the extra half-pound.

Camera – this is Alaska. It demands to be recorded.

You might have noticed what I didn’t include on the list. Extra clothes are a luxury when hiking. I do usually carry a clean pair of panties and my hiking sandals as camp shoes or for crossing rivers and creeks (I have wimpy feet), but I leave those if we’re getting overweight. There is usually a notepad and pen in my gear, but I leave them if we’re overweight. We don’t bother with GPS because a lot of Alaska is not digitally mapped yet. We usually carry a geodetic map of the area we’re hiking. We leave a duplicate in the car marked with our intended route and our estimated return time, in case someone needs to come looking for us. We don’t waste the weight of a cell phone because you usually can’t get a signal, although we do have our eyes on a new texting satellite phone that also act as GPS. One of those might be worth the extra weight. The dog carries her own food, blanket, booties (for rough terrain) and a frisbee (good for both play and a water dish) in saddle bags. We don’t bother with flashlights or lanterns because it never gets dark enough to not be able to see.

Now, if we are car-camping, there’s a lot more luxury involved — better food, changes of clothes, camp chairs, books, fishing poles — but that’s a whole different experience and I chose to tell you about one type of camping, not any of the others.

 

Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author

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