Archive for the ‘#alaska’ Tag

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.

 

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“Let” Us?   Leave a comment

Image result for image of fairbanks alaska snow wind stormBrad couldn’t sleep last night (worried about our dog who just had surgery, I think), so he got up really early and checked out some friends on Facebook. He graduated high school in Chappaqua, New York, but he lived all over New England as a kid and still has family there, as well as spending several years in Texas where he also has family.

So he was talking with someone (a friend) who lives back east and telling him how two weeks ago, the temperatures here were 30 below zero, but it’s 30 above now and we got over a half-foot of snow last night. He’d decided I was driving his Jeep to work this morning.

The conversation went from there.

Brad – My wife is driving the Jeep to work this morning so I can fix what caused her car not to work last week during the 30 below.

Of course, Facebook is a “public” forum, so a friend of his friend responded.

Friend Once Removed – I’m surprised they let you drive in that.

  • Friend – Drive in what? Which?

  • Friend Once Removed – Either. It’s dangerous. They should close the roads.

  • Friend – He lives in Alaska. If they did that, they’d spend all winter trapped at home. And they’re used to it.

Brad (responding to “surprised they let you drive in that”) – Let us? There’s no “let” involved. We drive if we darned well want to and accept the risk.

  • Friend Once Removed – The police should arrest anyone who doesn’t obey the law. You don’t have a right to endanger yourselves.

  • Brad – Fella, we live in Alaska, where freedom is a higher priority than being protected by the government.

  • Friend Once Removed – You people are what’s wrong with this country. You endanger all of us with your callous disregard for safety.

At this point, I asked Brad what he was muttering swear words about and he showed me the exchange.

Me – Yeah, I have conversations like that all the time under my Lela account.

Brad – What do you do about it?

Me – Sometimes I embrace the debate in hopes that someone will learn something from it and sometimes I refuse to pick up the rope. Surprisingly, others have started doing that and it feels good to know that people are thinking about liberty issues.

Brad – What should I do about this?

Me – Can I pretend to be you?

Lela Pretending to be Brad – I’m not sure how my driving a 4×4 Jeep through 6 inches of snow in Alaska endangers you when you live in New Jersey. Can’t we both live our lives without trying to control the other?

Friend Once Removed – No, because your “freedom” gives people ideas and those ideas put them in danger.

Me to Brad in the Real World – Leave the rope right there and stop this conversation right now. You can’t win this argument and if you continue he’ll be calling his Congressman insisting that Alaskans be stopped from driving in “dangerous conditions.” Now I’m going to go put on my winter gear over my office clothes and drive that 25-year-old Jeep through the “dangerous conditions” so I can field phone calls from the public who want to know when the roads will be plowed. Fun times!

Which, actually, it was. I LOVE driving that Jeep through snow and the wind just added another flavor – a wild primordial feel that a day of ordinary weather just doesn’t give you.

Posted February 23, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska, Uncategorized

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Electric Car Math   5 comments

These are Fairbanks, Alaska figures.

According to Plug In America, a quality electric car (a Tesla) uses 32 kwh to go 100 miles. For the record, 100 miles is less than one-third of the way to the nearest city in Alaska. I am so looking forward to stopping overnight on my way to Anchorage since the Tesla only has a 300 mile range.

Coincidentally, my car needs to be filled about every 300 miles. $2.38 a gallon for gasoline. I know, we produce the oil, so why is gasoline so expensive here. Nobody can give us an adequate answer. Economies of scale are the explanation given, but we produce the oil, so you’d think we’d get a break on reduced shipping, but apparently not.

Image result for image of tesla carElectricity is 27 cents a kilowatt hour in Fairbanks. So to travel 300 miles in a Tesla would cost me $26.00.

My car holds 18 gallons and can take me 300 miles. That’ll set me back $43. Oh, the cost is half, so get an electric car. But ….

BUT … I need a heater or I’ll die in Alaska’s frigid temperatures. Running a heater in a gasoline engine hardly reduces the gas mileage because it’s excess heat off the engine. Running a heater in a Tesla does reduce the range … by 50%. If I wanted to drive to Anchorage, 380 miles away, I’d have to stop for gasoline in Wasilla. That would take 15 minutes (half an hour if I decide to grab some food and use the facilities) and I’d be on the road again. I would not stop to sleep along the way as it only takes about seven hours to drive 380 miles.

Image result for image 2005 ford taurus covered in snowIf I was driving a Tesla in the winter, with only 150 mile range, I’d have to stop in Healey and Wasilla and sleep overnight – $120 per night for the hotel, $60 a day for meals, and two nights of my time since it takes a Tesla 9.5 hours to achieve a full charge (assuming it can do that when it’s -30 out). So what I save in gasoline over driving electric, I more than make up in other costs.

A $400 trip to Anchorage (round-trip – gasoline, meals and assuming a decent hotel) would become a $1300 trip in an electric car, plus add four days onto my trip.

So please stop telling me about how much money I would save with an electric car versus my gasoline car. Yes, commuting to and from work in a warm climate saves you money, but those savings evaporate in a cold climate and become a liability if you need to travel any distance.

 

Posted February 8, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in economics, Uncategorized

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Northern Adventures   11 comments

January 15, 2018 – Share a recent travel experience or anecdote.

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I heard recently that about 40% of Americans have never traveled outside of the United States and about 11% have never left the state they were born in. Wow! When you live in Alaska, which has no land connection to the contiguous 48-states, travel is sort of required to live.

The OP for this blog hop, however, says a recent travel experience. I flew down to Seattle a couple of months ago, but Seattle is just a gateway city for Alaska where my mother’s family happens to live. Kind of boring – Pike’s Market is only super exciting if you live in the vegetable-deprived northland, although I really do want to explore the Puget Sound area more thoroughly when I have time and a car and no relatives suggesting sights within Seattle’s urban environs. The west side of Puget Sound looks cool to me … a mystery that must be explored.

Alaska, however — most everybody thinks that’s sexy. So, digging back into our summer travels -we drove the Dalton Highway this summer.

I do say that living in Alaska is the adventure of a lifetime. Even our Sunday drives can be exciting. We realized that our son had never driven the Dalton, so we decided it was time. Brad has driven it many times as an electrician on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but I hadn’t been above Yukon River Bridge for several years. Not a lot has changed since the days when we called it “the haul road” (because the Legislature took decades to name it), but memories fade and I was excited to renew an old acquaintance.

We got up early on Friday morning of the four-day weekend we had planned. It’s 400 miles one direction and this is not a road to be driven quickly, so we were prepared for it to take all four days. At 6:30 in the morning, the June air was crisp and clean and the sun was already up over the roofs to the east, having barely dipped below the horizon from midnight to 2 am the night before. It was sunny and the Jeep was packed. Really, all we had to do was put our toiletries kit and cooler in the car, let the dog and 18-year-old into the back seat and stop for breakfast. I always make a thermos and pack at least one meal before we go because there are not a lot of services outside of Fairbanks, but by tradition, we stop for mochas and something to eat on the way out of town. It’s like a final hurrah to civilization, even if we’re just taking the paved Parks Highway to Anchorage. We had filled up with gas the night before and Brad had checked all the tires, including the spare, and the fluids. We rubbed each other down with sunscreen in anticipation of the day and we made sure we had plenty of water and food. In case you’re wondering, our dog eats dry kibbles off the ground on road trips. As a final step, even though it was June, I checked 511 for the road conditions. You just never know with Alaska roads. A previously planned trip the year before had been canceled when the Dalton washed out at spring breakup.

The first 84 miles of the trip is technically not on the Dalton, which doesn’t start until you get to the mining community of Livengood. It’s a lovely drive on paved highway through alpine regions and we stopped in Livengood for an early lunch/late breakfast from the cooler at which point Brad decided he wanted a nap, so I became the driver with Keirnan shot-gun and the yellow Lab sitting on the floor in the backseat with her chin on Brad’s stomach.

Image result for image of yukon river bridgeThe highway parallels the pipeline for the most part. It’s one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the corridor and fuel stops are few. The road is mostly gravel. Still, despite its remoteness, the Dalton carries a fair amount of truck traffic, about 160 trucks a day in summer and twice that in winter. Trucks have the right of way and I’m not about to argue with them about it. I signaled every truck that pulled up behind me to let them pass and pulled over whenever I could to make their lives easier.

I have seen the TAPS plenty of times and so has Keirnan, so we didn’t stop until we reached Yukon River Bridge. We went into the visitors center so Keirnan, who is a budding engineer could view the pipeline’s attachment to the bridge and I could use the port-a-pots. Goldeneyes took a dip in the river and Brad woke up. It was too early in the season to pick blueberries, but they were in full pink flower, scenting the air with their candy-like fragrance. We walked down the trail to the viewing deck to take some photos. Then we lost our minds at that point and decided to splurge on lunch at the Hot Spot Cafe. Great burgers, fresh salads, and homemade desserts. By this time, it was midday and we decided to let Keirnan drive since he has a learners permit and needs the practice.

Image result for image of finger mountain wayside alaskaIt’s boreal forest on both sides of the highway, some of which was devastated by forest fires in 2005 and 2006. There’s a lot of new-growth brush with charcoal trees standing above, like wicks in a tub candle. We saw a lot of scraggly black spruce, several moose, a fox, a lot of snowshoe hares, and a family of black bears. After a truck scared the daylights out of Keirnan, we pulled over at Finger Mountain Wayside and hiked the trail to the summit. We dawdled taking photographs and then we stopped and hiked to a small lake to fish for our 5-fish limit of arctic grayling. We stopped for the night (though it was pretty early) at the Arctic Circle. This is an undeveloped campground with a nearby viewing deck and picnic area. There’s no water, but there was an outhouse and trash containers.  We cooked the foil-wrapped grayling over a campfire with pan-fried potatoes on the side. Because this is bear country, we pitched our tent a good distance from where we ate and locked up all food in the car.

Related imageWe didn’t rush to get up in the morning. The sun never really went down, which isn’t a problem if you’re used to it. So we lazed about in the tent until the sun began to warm the air. Then we had eggs scrambled with cheese and thick slices of homemade bread slathered with butter and reloaded the Jeep for our second day of travel. We ate grapes during our morning drive.

We stopped at Gobblers Knob because Brad confessed he never had. I’d swear we stopped there once a long time ago, but he is apparently a victim of memory wipe. He had also never stopped (or more accurately, never gotten out of the truck) at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center. It is such a quintessential tourist stop I just had to do it and we did learn about a fishing stream he hadn’t known about before.

Coldfoot was established as Slate Creek in 1898 by miners. In 1902 it was a toddling little town with two roadhouses, two stores, seven saloons, a gambling house and a post office. By 1912, it was a ghost town. The town revived for a short while during the 1970s during the TAPS construction and then faded. But in 1981, Iditarod musher, Dick Mackey set up a hamburger stand for truck drivers and now it’s an important stop along the highway, but since we’d blown our first day’s food budget at the Hot Spot, we just topped off with very expensive gas and ate sandwiches from the cooler instead. It’s on our return itinerary.

Image result for image of black jeep cherokee along dalton highwayWe stopped for photos and some short hikes along the way, finally pulling into Wiseman, which has about 20 people living in it these days. Most of Coldfoot’s buildings were sledged to Wiseman after the town died, so it’s still a lot of fun to poke around there. I do have some friends who live up in the mountains west of Wiseman, but the Jeep, which a great wilderness vehicle, is not a truly off-road one, so we decided not to attempt a visit. It would have taken us all the rest of the day to travel that far anyway.

We stopped at Sukakpak Mountain. Brad and I climbed it years ago and wanted to give Keirnan, an accomplished rock-climber a shot at it. I made dinner while they climbed and then Goldeneyes and I did a little bouldering while the fish simmered over a low fire. The mountain is an incredible limestone deposition of absolutely gorgeous marble.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe didn’t camp at Sukakpak because the mosquitos were a little heavy – marshy land surrounds the mountain — but also because it was still way too early to stop for the night. We continued northward to Atigun Pass, which is the Continental Divide of Northern Alaska, a narrow wind slot through the awe-inspiring Brooks Range.  Just south of there we passed the last tree on the Dalton Highway. That’s sort of a misnomer. North of there, the tundra doesn’t support tall trees, so trees you and I might know – birch and willow for example, only grow to knee height or so. The mountains to either side of the road are austere, beautiful in a lonely kind of way. Not far past Atigun, just at the start of the Arctic North Slope, is Galbraith Lake where another undeveloped campground with spectacular views of the Brooks Range awaited. We slept there. It was lovely ….

Sometimes during the night, the dog asked to come into the tent because she was afraid of dying of hypothermia. Keirnan had to towel ice off her fur before we could all go back to sleep. It was cold and rainy when we woke up the next morning. Not taking off our shorts and tank tops, we layered on our polar fleece and rain gear. We spent a good bit of the morning hiking around and didn’t leave until mid-morning.

The North Slope is a broad, mostly flat, treeless plain that tilts north from the Brooks to the Arctic Ocean. It’s a subtle place – a land of browns and tans and shifting shadows. Fog glittered around us when we woke up and then the sun peeked through the clouds, sending rainbows dancing.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe arrived at Franklin Bluffs by the Sagavanirktok River (we just call it the Sag). The east bank of the Sag is this rich yellow-tan-orange hue from heavy iron deposits. While I was utilizing nature for a natural activity, I spotted the young lady to my right. It’s not safe to interact with Arctic fox because rabies is endemic, but she was willing to pose for a photo.

Brad has been this way many times, so has more photos from more trips. Here are some of the sights he has seen along the Sag. Those are caribou, not reindeer and they were just a few feet off the highway when he snapped the photo.

Image result for sagavanirktok

But Keirnan got this picture while hiking away from our camp.

Related image

Yes, that’s a muskox. He was farther away than it seems. Keirnan has a telephoto. And we was also part of a herd of about five. No doubt there were more that Keirnan didn’t see.

By design we made Deadhorse in the early afternoon. You can go further north if you pay for a tour that will allow you to see the Arctic Ocean and we did – but I might want to use that tour of the oil fields some other time. The public road ends here. We had lunch at Brower’s Restaurant (the sweet tea was really good and we took soft serve ice cream with us).

And then we turned south and drove all the way to Coldfoot where we had two rooms rented for the night. The rooms are very pipeline man camp-ish and the only reason Brad wanted to stay there is that he can’t stand baby wipe baths for more than two nights. Keirnan and I have dry, curly hair, so it doesn’t bother us, but Brad likes to shower. The breakfast was GREAT and it was so lovely to wake up on the sunny side of the Brooks Range.

Related imageIt was now Monday morning and I needed to be back to work the next day, so we drove pretty steadily back south, taking turns behind the wheel, but stopping for photos from time to time and to get the dog wet. She is happiest when her fur is damp. We stopped at that fishing stream near the Interagency Visitors Center. It was a bust for fishing, but a pleasant place to picnic.

Technically, it’s not on the Dalton, but on the Elliott, but we stopped at Hilltop Restaurant and Truck Stop for dinner. Their pies are to die for – unfortunately, Brad and I are reaching the age where we do need to watch our calories. The sun was still above the trees to the west when we turned back onto the New Steese Highway for the last 10 miles to home.

“So what do you think, Keirnan?” I asked, as I was driving and he was my copilot (Brad having climbed into the back with the dog cuddled to his chest this time).

“The state just got bigger, Mom. I’m sort of use to the idea of it taking seven hours to drive to Anchorage and six hours to drive to Chitina (where we go salmon fishing), but now — wow.”

You can live in that state your whole life and never see all of it, which I guess is as good excuse as any for living here your whole life. I love to travel out and away, but there is something about the road untraveled in Alaska … I can just imagine what it must have been like for the early pioneers seeing it for the first time and smelling the blueberries in bloom and thinking “This is heaven.”

Heaven with the capacity to bite you on the bum anyway.

Posted January 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Cold Weather Prepping   4 comments

October 23, 2017 – How to post. Pick something and explain how to do it. It can be writing related, craft related, garden related – just share how you do it.

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I thought long and hard about this post and finally decided not to share a craft or something writing related and my garden has been frozen for a few weeks at least. Which is kind of my point. So I decided to post on preparing for winter.

Alaska has really COLD weather, so we actually have a season for prepping for it. Pretty much everything stops right after moose season while we turn toward getting our houses and cars ready for winter. Our cars especially need some TLC to be ready for the icebox.

Image result for image of head bolt heater cordOur garage was built by people who apparently owned toy cars. We can pull in, but we can’t open the doors of either car … and heating our garage would be prohibitively expensive because it was incorrectly insulated, so … well, it’s an unheated attached tool shed that we can, if needed, pull a car into if we are prepared to climb out of the trunk to exit the car.

First order of business? Change the oil. You can, of course, do this at Jiffy Lube, but I like knowing it’s done right, so we usually do it ourselves. We have a special tub for catching the oil (and our local solid waste collection site accepts fluids like oil.) We buy a new filter, five quarts of 5W30-50 (depends on the car; we use 10W whatever in the summer) and a replacement fuel filter. While we’re changing the oil, we check to make sure all the lights are working and that the battery is doing well. Being an electrician, Brad has meters for that. We also check the coolant in the radiator, which also requires a meter. While most people can get away with premixed coolant, here in Alaska we have to make sure the antifreeze can go down to at least 40 below, so we usually mix it ourselves. We check our tire treads in the spring to give us time to buy new tires if needed, but we check them again now just to be compulsive. This year we have a tire that needs repair as it has a slow leak. That could easily become a big leak as the cold hardens the rubber in the tires.

Then we check the engine heating devices. Because it gets so cold here, whenever your car is parked, you have to plug it into a headbolt heater. Mechanics insert a heating element into the engine through the headbolt. We also warm our oil pans with a glue-on heating pad. While not absolutely necessary, it can be helpful to also put the battery on a battery-warming plate. (I am personally not a fan of battery blankets, probably because my stepfather the mechanic had no use for them).

These devices usually run to a central cord that hangs out of the grill of the car. You plug it into an extension cord that runs to an outside outlet that, ideally, is connected to a timer so that it only comes on for a couple of hours before you leave. Ours comes on at 5 am. We also have an override so we can give the cars some heat before going to pick up kids in the evening. Of course, we have two of these timed plugins because we have two cars. At one time, we had three cars, so one person had to plug in inside the garage – by running a cord under the door and actually get up two hours before departure to manually plug her car into that outlet. She was young and overslept a lot, so her mom often did it for her.

To check the headbolt apparatus, I plug in the car when it’s still warm outside and check to see if the engine compartment gets warm within a half-hour. If it does, we’re probably good to go. Brad checks the industrial Arctic-grade extension cords for cracks annually and replaces the ends about once every two years. We check the timers to make sure they’re working, still keeping time, etc. We run the 20-foot extension cords behind the garbage cans because, should we forget to unplug the car, the cans will fall over as the extension cords uncoil. This acts as a warning that prevents us from dragging the cords down the street — which often results in destroying the cords, or in getting them wrapped around an axle, which can seriously damage the car.

A final step in prepping the engine involves wiring a piece of cardboard to the backside of the grill, blocking about three-quarters of the airflow. This keeps the engine from being too cold, allowing the interior heater to actually warm us up. Brad’s Jeep has a bra, but my car needs the cardboard.

We squirt graphite-based deicer in the locks, clean the windows, smear this anti-fog stuff on the inside to try to prevent frosting (it’s debatable if that actually works), cover the backseat with a blanket so the dog can enjoy car rides without getting frost-bitten, fill an auxiliary gas can with gas and put it in the trunk along with some survival gear (most especially jumper cables) and a couple of bottles of oil. We move the ice scraper with attached brush from the trunk to the back seat (we’re going to need it).

Starting right about now (mid-October), we’ll warm the car for about a half-hour before starting the engine and then we’ll let it run for a couple of minutes before backing out of the driveway. When true winter (defined as colder than 0 F) arrives (around Thanksgiving, but sometimes as early as Halloween), we’ll warm it for an hour and run it for five minutes before departure. When it drops to 20 below, we go to an hour-and-half or two hours of warming. I only usually let the car warm up for five or 10 minutes, although there are people who let their cars run until they’re warm inside. That wastes a lot of fuel, I am not convinced it is easier on the engine, and it sure adds a lot of pollutants to our atmosphere. I also wear clothes that suit the weather.

When I get to work, there is another extension cord waiting for me to plug into because that’s what’s needed to keep the car going around here. Brad carries one with him in his vehicle so that he can use clients’ plugins so his vehicle doesn’t freeze when he’s inside. It’s not uncommon when you visit friends for them to tell you where the extra plugin is, but if they don’t have one, you have to go outside about every two hours to run the car for a few minutes (10, 15) to keep the oil loose. There is a big move here to encourage employers and businesses to provide outlets. That would be nice for those times when you go to the movies or out to eat and you know you have to take care of the car every two hours or pay the consequences.

So, there you go. One piece of a larger puzzle for winter time prep here in Alaska.

Learning From History   3 comments

September 25, 2017 – Tell us your biggest business lesson learned. If you were to start your writing career all over again, what would you do differently?

Image result for image of adventure canoeingHere in Alaska’s Interior, some rivers meander through gently rolling hills, occasionally changing their courses, creating slow-moving sloughs with a trickle of water flow that eventually become oxbow lakes stranded from the main channel. Other rivers run through the broad, mostly flat Tanana River valley in miles-wide multi-channeled braids, occasionally divorcing sloughs that might only have water in them every decade or so. When you’re canoeing or riverboating, sometimes you end up going down a slow-moving slough and get stopped by a big logjam or gigantic beaver dam, so you have to turn around and paddle back upstream to take another route. What does this have to do with our OP? It’s a metaphor.

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My writing career has been long and varied and I’ve learned a lot from the many mistakes and writing sloughs I have taken. I started out as a creative writer, scribbling for my own pleasure in elementary school and junior high and then submitting to school literary publications in high school. But I knew that I couldn’t make a living doing that, so I majored in journalism in college. Newspaper reporting was fun, low-pay and frustrating as the politics of the editorial staff began to dictate what facts were allowed to be reported. Throughout the rest of my career, I’ve done a lot of technical writing – editing grant documents, producing newsletters and excelling at desktop publishing. Different kinds of writing are useful in different parts of my life, so I can’t call any of them “sloughs” or “mistakes.”

Image result for image of alaska braided riverThroughout all of it, I’ve always written for my own amazement and I am now mining my back catalog of tales written for myself to publish.

I have no regrets writing-wise, although if I had to do it all over again …

  • I’d have jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon sooner. It doesn’t mean my books are lesser quality. It just means I have a smaller advertising budget.
  • I’d have embraced Facebook and Twitter for marketing sooner.
  • I’d have started socking small amounts of cash into my Pay Pal account earlier so that I would have a larger cash-flow stream now.
  • I’d have paid closer attention in art class to improve my book covers now.
  • I’d have worked harder at teaching myself to write Alaskana – it sells, but I struggle with it (which is why I haven’t published any … yet).
  • I’d have not taken a 25-year hiatus from writing short stories. They’re a great marketing tool for the novels if you can get them into good anthologies.

Overriding lesson – write for your own amazement and you might find other people enjoy it as much as you do, but also do things sooner, don’t be so slow to adopt great ideas … be adventurous. You’d think an Alaskan would already know that lesson about adventure.

 

Posted September 25, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Actions Speak Louder Than Twitter Storms   Leave a comment

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I’ve taken some heat for complaining about some of President Trump’s actions and I’ve taken some heat for applauding some of his actions. I don’t care about his Twitter flurries. Those are not governance. Honestly, I find it refreshing that a politician says what’s on his mind before convening a focus group to find out what should be on his mind.

By and large, I was at least half-pleased with President Trump’s cabinet picks. I know lots of people disagree, but they would have disagreed if Trump had allowed Hillary Clinton to pick his cabinet for him. And, no, that’s not a joke. Some people seem to be unfamiliar with how the Constitutional election system works. Donald Trump won the presidency completely by the rules. Maybe your candidate should have not played fast and loose with state secrets on her unsecured private email server and bit her tongue before declaring that 40% of the country’s voters were irredeemable racists she would consign to a “deplorables” basket where she wouldn’t have to take their concerns seriously. You don’t have to be a Donald Trump fan to recognize that she was declaring she would be president for only some Americans. We’re lucky she didn’t win, which does not mean we are blessed that Trump did.

Image result for image secretary elaine chao in alaska

Alaska swung pretty hard to Donald Trump. They didn’t need my help and they didn’t get it, but a lot of people here think they made a right decision because of the Trump administration’s behavior toward Alaska. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, Alaska has been the host to at least three federal department chiefs — Secretaries Rex Tillerson (State), Ryan Zinke (Interior) and Elaine Chao (Transportation). Zinke and Chao came to Alaska at the behest of Alaska’s Congressional delegation. two come quickly to mind, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was here a couple of weeks ago.

Both Zinke and Chao toured the state and talked to all walks of Alaskans and then said they hoped to be able to work with the State of Alaska and Alaska residents to develop infrastructure and allow reasonable resource development. Contrast this to the Obama’s administration’s cabinet visits. Antony Foxx (Transportation) and Sally Jewell (Interior) both visited Alaska, but they met only with Native groups, appeared to be hostile to the State government and announced they would further tighten regulations on the state so as to prevent development of infrastructure and further restrict resource development, hobbling our economy even more than the Jones Act and previous environmental regulations already do.

Last week Chao spoke with transportation officials and industry leaders in Alaska, coming to the conclusion that the federal government will more quickly advance projects, which have been delayed, often for decades, by a burdensome regulatory process.

This is no small matter for Alaska, which receives about $500 million annually for its transportation projects through the Federal Highway Administration. Southeast and Southwest Alaska benefit from federal highway funds through limited road projects, but federal funds are used to build Alaska Marine Highway System ships. Like all other states, Alaska matches federal dollars with a 10-percent contribution.

Toward alleviating project delays, Chao noted that Alaska has become only the seventh state to acquire an agreement with the federal government that allows it to conduct environmental reviews for state and federal highway projects. The agreement, which is under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is expected to be signed in October, according to Chao.

Environmental protections will remain and the federal government will monitor the state’s reviews, but projects should be able to move forward more efficiently.

Actions speak louder than Twitter storms, disapproving pundits and shouting, rock-throwing protesters. There’s been considerable noise coming out of Washington, D.C. since Trump’s inauguration. It’s often difficult to know what’s true and what isn’t, because politicians and pundits present points of view favorable to their preferences, often ignoring the needs of states and even those of the nation.

I’m still not a Donald Trump fan. I doubt I’ll vote for him in 2020, but he’s doing some things right and it’s been a long time since Alaska has seen that coming out of the Oval Office. Alaskans, lets focus on what’s actually being accomplished for Alaska and tune out the rest of the nonsense.

Posted September 12, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in politics

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