Sunday, August 30, 2009

My kingdom for some batteries!

We've got pics for you guys, I swear!! Unfortunately, they're being held hostage in our camera until we can pick up some more AA batteries in town. But we cleared a few more yards and have gotten at least half-way through building our tent platform. That's going slower than expected since two of the batteries for our cordless power tools decided to die on us, leaving us with only one to do all the cuts... that's a two-hour limit on sawing and drilling at the moment. *SIGH* one more thing to remember to buy on our next trip to Home Labyrinth 9along with a generator)!

We extended our stay in the rental cabin by a week since we've had some lumber issues and lots of rain delaying our progress. I can work in the rain for a few hours, but when it's nearly freezing and you can't feel your fingers anymore, using a nail and hammer is a really bad idea. Plus, all that muskeg marshy mossy crap might look dry... but when you step on it, you quickly get engulfed with a few gallons of water. Oh well, it'll all be frozen solid in a month or two and we won't have to worry about it for a few months :)

We decided against building a winter "shack" and are just going to stay in the wall tent. As insurance, we are trading for a cord of seasoned firewood for emergencies, and will have enough spare lumber on site to build a quickie shack if it starts getting a little too cold for comfort. Of course, we can always come back in and rent the cabin since a lot of people leave the village in the winter and it's not really high on the list of winter tourist destinations! Worse comes to worst, we can always wrap the tent in Visqueen (6 mil plastic sheeting) which is the real Alaskan building material next to a myriad of blue plastic tarps! (ok, we have 3 blue tarps, two brown ones and a green one... but they all count!)

We went to the wedding reception for a local couple last night and had a pretty good time. I think we met most of everyone, at least by sight. You know I'm horrible with names! We sampled some local delicacies (salmon "caviar" and moose balls) and I got to do a little boogie-woogie on the dance floor to stay warm. It was nice to be invited and included into the community.

We're back into Fairbanks in the morning. Originally, we were going on Tuesday when the platform was done, but Celine (our fat kitty) seems to be down with something and we have to take her into the vet to get her checked out. Oh well... we can grab a bunch of stuff (like the tent) while we're in town and drop it off at the property. After all, we have plenty of tarps to keep everything dry until we get it all set up. The baby girl's health is more important than our anticipated schedule. Hopefully the weather will clear up a little for the road trip. Would be nice to get just a couple more sunny days so we can get stuff all set up for winter without drowning.

Once the tent is set up, we'll move into that and then go scavenge all the dead standing dry firewood we have on the property (and there is plenty for sure!). And slowly filling our winter water tank 10 gallons at a time (since that's all I can comfortably carry). Chop wood, carry water to the extreme!

The view from our "bedroom" window is the hills to the north, and the view from our "living room" is acres and acres of spruce forest. Ahhhh.... life is good! :D

Monday, August 24, 2009

We hit 100 yards

We don't have photo's though right now.

On Saturday we hit 100 yards of clearance, with room to turn the truck on the driveway, so no more battering ram of the tree's in the property opposite. Which is good for my nerves :)

We borrowed a Billy Goat from Jimmy Dart one of the local entrepreneurs here, for the meager price of clearing some of his 10 acres that he has with similar tundra funk we're dealing with, so we're learning the Billy Goat's idiosyncrasies on our land before spending some time on his, I do expect gas for the goat though, I'm not that happy I got the Goat.

Sunday and today PC and I have taken a couple of days off, I seem to have developed some Rotator Cuff pull or similar, in my left arm so we've taken the time to recover, which has helped it enormously, along with eating right and arnica (homopathy strikes again).

Anyway short post. Hope everyone is doing Ok.

Ciao for now

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Sorry to have disappeared on you all, but we’ve been busy little beavers the past few days. We were actually making better progress for a few days after developing a system of sorts. On Day 5, we’d cleared the trail to a depth of almost 60 feet (width varies between 20 & 12 feet). On Day 7, we’d cleared to a depth of almost 120 feet… definitely an improvement in speed and efficiency!

But now, we’ve hit a clearing/area of tundra that is full of willow & birch thickets and sedge/tussocks that is nearly impossible to clear with the loppers. There are only a few smaller spruces here and there and those are easy to lop off, but the rest of the stuff is just evil. Looks like we’re going to have to break down and purchase ourselves a serious brush machine since we have a really long way to go before we hit forest again. Besides, we’ll need it eventually to clear pastures and whatnot, so better to purchase it than to keep having to go into Fairbanks to rent one on a daily basis or paying for someone else from Manley to come out with a big tractor 5 or 8 times.

So, now we have the main trail almost completely widened enough for Sonja to get through (still a few pinch points here and there), and the driveway is deep enough and wide enough that we can turn her around without having to do a gazillion-point turn while ramming trees out of our way! Gungnir finally took Sonja down the trail… and he now appreciates my off-road driving skills a bit better LOL ! After ramming and running over a few trees trying to turn her around and back her into the driveway to load brush, he finally got frustrated enough to ask me to do it. It’s a rare day when our G-man admits I might be better equipped to handle a “manly skill”… so there was much rejoicing (on my part anyway, he skulked off and peed on some bushes… of course, he’s enjoying the new “wilderness” ability to just pee wherever he wants to… must be a guy thing, marking territory and all that).

We did hike in to the center marker of our property from the head of our driveway the other day, so we have a pretty good idea where we’ll put up the tent for the winter. We briefly contemplated building a quickie cabin for the winter, but all the locals think that we’ll be fine in the tent and we should save our time and money for the proper house in the spring. Makes sense to me. It’s about 10 degrees warmer up where we’re at than in Manley, so if people think we shouldn’t have too many really cold days, I think we’ll risk it. We have plenty of dry trees that we need to billet and split, so we should have enough firewood to keep us warm; and we can always insulate the tent if it starts getting too chilly for the tent stove to handle. It’s the cats we’re worried about more than ourselves… wonder if they make sweaters for cats, and if our pampered princesses would tolerate wearing one LOL!

We also found a really great spot almost in the center that has some HUGE trees and it looks like there may also be a natural spring that we can pound a pipe into for our well, or at least put in a shallow dug well for water that we don’t have to haul in from the community well 20 miles away. There’s some higher ground in that area that might be perfect for the cabin and barn, so it will be interesting to see what it does during winter and (more importantly) during Breakup in the spring. Until then it’s just going to be lots of brush clearing and chopping firewood.

I’ll end this installment by praising muck boots… nothing beats them for slogging around in the backwoods during monsoon season. You have a tendency to trip a lot because your feet feel like Frankenstein, but gosh-darn-it your piggies sure stay warm and dry. The rest of you might be completely drenched, but you’re dry as a bone from the shins down. And ours have steel toes too… which come in real handy when you need a solid fulcrum for the loppers and you’re knee deep in soggy, spongy tundra sedges (weird stuff, kinda like sphagnum or peat moss, but with shrubby stalks that like to trip you) or three inches deep in slippery gray mud. Ahhhh… life is good :D

Long time no post...

So PC and I have been a little slow in getting the blog updated now, I think it's been 10 whole days. Well with the work, running around to Fairbanks and back, getting water, washing, laundry, the last thing on our minds at times is to go by the Town Council building and check mail.

So for those of you who were worried about us, we're fine, we're just busy and don't have immediate access to a phone or the internet. We haven't died or disappeared or been abducted by aliens or angry Grizzlies, we just have a heavy work schedule and priorities for getting things done that sometimes deprioritizes other things, like updating the Blog as frequently or sending mails to our friends and families. I do apologize if this upsets some of those people, but get over it, we're busy, and out of normal contact channels, running to the phone is not reaching over and picking it up from the table, nor do we have cell coverage, nor internet on tap like many of you reading this do, we have a phone (public access) 10 minutes drive up the road from us, along with public access internet, and cell phone coverage comes up after about a 2 hour drive.

Anyway so on to other things, like finding a brushcutter that will deal with our stuff and not leave us severely out of pocket or underpowered, that's one of my tasks online today.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Should I just get my gun out and shoot the truck?!"

Yes folks, this is exactly what my darling husband said to me after I made the kamikaze mission driving Sonja down the trail. Willow had a bit of an issue (ruptured hydraulics of some sort that we can't exactly identify) and there was no way I was hiking in all the gear we'd brought with us that day... so I slapped Red Sonja into 4WD and battered my merry way down the ATV trail. Piece of Cake :)

So I had to push over a few small trees (less than 9 inches in diameter) in a couple of places, and get a little creative around some of the larger trees. And wiggle my way around, over and through some gnarly stumps. And so what if I cracked the back of the rear plastic mud guard? (How that happened when I was going FORWARD I have no clue) And the forest ate our antenna... there's not much in way of radio out here anyway. Seriously, I have no idea what he was so all fired up about... the trail is mostly cleared and just wide enough 90% of the way; and our driveway was almost cleared enough to make an easy turn around. Ok, we did have to move the woodpile and murder a few of our neighbors trees to make the swing, but it's all good.

It was kinda funny watching the G-Man turn several shades of even whiter, hanging on to the "oh shit" handle while we were bouncing around like popcorn. But, see, he had some reservations about hurting a pretty truck. I, on the other hand, have no such qualms... we bought her for working on rough off-road conditions and, by golly, she was going to do her job. I take full responsibility for giving her first blood :) All Gungnir's objections and concerns were, of course, duly noted... even though he wouldn't have dreamed of taking a fully armored Land Rover down that trail, I knew Sonja and I could do it.

Sonja's momma's good girl. Oh yes she is :D

(PS - we did hike down the trail with the chainsaw today clearing out some of the tight spots... next time will be a breeze)

Chop Wood, Carry Water

It's the end of the first week, and all I have to say is I thought I was reasonably fit, not marathon runner fit, but generally fit, you know run the lawnmower around the yard, maybe go on a five mile hike, move house in one day type fit. Man oh man, that is way not fit enough for the stuff we've been doing this week. Cutting trail, in the Alaska bush, easy you'd think, get a couple of chainsaws, get cracking, except for the undergrowth and brush that builds up in the lower layers that needs clearing too, oh and the fire dead fall from back in 2000 or so.

So here are some pics for your deliction

Ok so at a guess that's about 40-50 yards, which seems not too far (maybe I'm being a little hard on us). Once we break through those tree's at the end you can see (about 10 more yards) there's a nice clearing where we can put up that Big Ol' wall tent, which should make things considerably easier.

Anyway from an issue stand point here's how you clear trail.
Get the Brush out of the way (otherwise you can fall over with the Chainsaw and that isn't the best idea). It also lets you just cut the tree's you need the Chainsaw for, which uses less gas, and fewer chains.

Look at the tree to see where it's likely to fall, and notch it, then cut in from the opposite direction and hopefully it falls where you want it to.

Then drag it and cut it up into shorter lengths for that pile you see to my left in the picture above. This isn't always easy, since it's tangled in other tree's in crap on the ground, you, your spouse, etc. etc.

Joy's of lumberjacking. Oh and then there is the Smoke from the Minto Flats fires, and the skeeters, deer and horse flies, no-see-ums and midges. Which surround you as soon as you stop doing anything and are attracted by heat and carbon dioxide, everything a growing and working boy creates.

Speaking of smoke here's another picture of the Sun through the Smoke from Manley on Wednesday.

This was noon...

I hurt a lot mainly in every major muscle group. The Hot Springs Baths are great though and help ease out some of the muscle soreness. While playing with power tools is on my list of great things to do, having to do this full time is pretty hard going, making sure I keep up my calories and hydration levels is hard too, because by the time that you feel the need you're already behind your hydration or nutrition curves. It also doesn't help that my wife has differing work style, hydration and nutrition needs, so it's not like she's feeling a bit dry and we can stop and drink. So pay attention and eat about every hour, just something that's smallish and high energy or high protein either works well, and get in about a half pint of water and you do fine.

So I'm married to Mark Twain

Thursday we headed into Fairbanks to get Willow (our Arctic Cat ATV) serviced and winterized, as well as to run various and sundry other errands. Of course, as luck would have it, we got a decent amount of rain the previous night and the low cloud layer trapped the smoke from the forest fires in the area. On the way out, the smoke in several areas was so thick that you could barely see the road, but those areas were only a few hundred feet and mostly at the highest elevations. We’d been following a Maintenance and Operations truck out of the village, and when we turned out to empty Gungnir’s walnut bladder, we actually saw the M&O guy give up and turn back… maybe we should have clued in! Oh well, it sucked, but we dealt with it.

Unfortunately, we 1) got a later start than we wanted because we forgot to fill up Sonja (our Dodge pickup) at the Trading Post before Bob and Sabie closed up for the night so had to wait until almost 10 to get enough gas to make it back into Fairbanks, 2) the smoke always seemed to be worse on the windiest parts of the road so we made slower time getting into town than normal; and 3) it seems you can’t do anything in Fairbanks in less than an hour (so 6 errands = 6 hours). Adding all that up, and a short visit with Kari & Eric and a diner dinner at Hilltop before heading back out, we didn’t actually get started back properly until almost 9 pm.

Keeping in mind that the sun doesn’t really set up here until midnight or so this time of year, I had plenty of light to drive through the smoky parts for the first leg of the trip (ok, I’m one of those evil people who sees quite well in the dark, so I cut off my headlights in smoke and fog to avoid the horrible refraction that blinds most people). But it was kissing midnight by the time that we made it to the highest ridge outside Minto, where the worst of the fires is burning. Boy howdy, but the smoke was thick and almost solid white even with the headlights off and just running the amber fog lights. We’d already reached the point of no return when it got really bad so we either had to continue through it, or find a pull off (not easy when you can’t see squat) to sleep a few hours until dawn hoping the conditions cleared up. Needless to say, we pushed on.

I was driving, so Gungnir rolled his window down, stuck his head out and basically marked twain for a good 30 miles. For anyone not familiar with “marking twain,” it’s a riverboat term for checking water depth and locating sandbars, often used to navigate rivers at night or during inclement weather. And that’s basically what the G-man was doing… letting me know how close I was to the right-hand ditch (or drop off – yikes!) by calling out “a little to me” or “a little to you”. Sometimes this was easier because I could see a foot or so beyond the nose of the truck or at least enough to tell where the left-hand ditch or drop-off was or I could feel that road was climbing, falling or curving through the steering wheel or back tires.

Yes, of course, the worst of the smoke was on the worst part of the road… the steep and windy bit that is mostly gravel which had been rutted by previous travel during the rain by vehicles with a much narrower wheel base than Sonja’s. It’s not easy controlling her under those conditions when you can see, even more of a thrill when you’re blind. Luckily, we had Willow in the back so the added weight kept her from being too squirrelly in the ass-end like empty pickups are known to be.

We made it home alive and in one piece. We never went off the road, or got stuck in a ditch, and certainly didn’t pull a Thelma and Louise off a cliff somewhere into the night… although the Mama & Baby Moose running up out of the smoke in front of us was a definite Sphincter Factor Zero. It took us about 2 hours longer than normal to get home and we were frazzled and grumpy toward the end. But we survived and worked fairly well during that little team-building exercise… just so long as G-man remembered not to say “right” or “left” and use “to me” and “to you” instead (seriously folks, I suck at the right and left thing under duress!). I’m not sure if that was a totally boneheaded cheechako (greenhorn, tenderfoot, newbie) stunt, or a major feat of prowess that earned us a hole-punch in our Becoming a Sourdough ticket… but the main thing is that we made it home alive and sound! Life is good :D

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Week One - Happy Trails

Well folks, after a bit of a late start and a few cat accidents (and the obligatory wayward tarp), we finally made it down to Manley and rented ourselves a nice little guest cabin for the month of August while we (hopefully) get a trail cleared on our property. We just missed one of our neighbors, Tom, who's a UAF student that came down to look over his property. We passed his rental car on the way in, but by the time we'd unloaded and got the cats settled so we could head back, they'd already cleared out. Hopefully my instructions and GPS coordinates got him to at least one of his corner markers. The brush is really thick, so he might not have been able to get to all of them unless he found another way in from the east.

The cabin is very nice, and we do have electricity even if we don't have running water. We've been out to the land fill and the community well, and are generally figuring out where everything is and who has what equipment we might need sometime later. The outhouse is a unique experience, complete with blue board styrofoam toilet seat, and since it is on a hill and backs the road there is nothing like having a 4-wheeler buzz past you while you're taking your morning constitutional... especially since the plywood door is only held marginally closed with a frayed bungee and a few nails :)

Hauling water and using it in the dry cabin takes a little getting used to (remembering on my part and learning on Gungnir's part). G-man now realizes why "cleaniness is next to godliness" because maintaining cleaniness in an environment where water is not freely available requires a certain degree of godliness :). Something as simple as washing your hands takes on a new level of complexity... after all, you don't want to get your water jug all soapy trying to rinse one hand and then transfer the soap back to the clean hand when you switch. You also learn to never ever waste your water, especially not if you just used fuel to warm it up on the stove. Luckily, we aren't relying entirely on bucket baths since Mrs. Gladys Dart includes an hour daily in the hot springs baths with the cabin rental. We enjoyed a lovely soak in the "cool" tub last night, and I might just brave the "warm" tub at some point... but I'd like to keep my skin, so I'll stay out of the "hot" tub!

We're still getting used to the dry air up here, and the smoke from the forest fires has been pretty thick; but otherwise we're starting to adjust. As usual, there is the little bit of tummy issues switching to new water, but nothing major. We just have to remember that it's not a race to get the property cleared and we need to give ourselves some time to get used to everything and recover from the moving and driving. No sense going out and playing with chainsaws and falling trees when you're exhausted, injured or not feeling 100%.

We have gone out to the property twice so far and have gotten a good 50-75 feet of trail cut in and widened. Of course, we had to start in right at the corner that has a huge section of dead fall, so we're kind of stuck wading through that treacherousness at the moment; but once that's cleared out of the way I think we'll start making a little faster progress. It's amazing how much time and effort goes in to what looks like so little progress on the surface. Our goal is to clear a walking trail of at least 50 feet a day, then come back the following day and widen it enough for the ATV (at least) and cut up the trees we felled and clear out all the brush and flotsam. Eventually, we're going to have to brave the main trail with the truck to make sure it can actually get back down to our property, but we wanted to make sure that we'd cleared enough of our "driveway apron" to be able to turn around if we could squeeze down. There are a couple of nasty little berms/hillocks on the main path that we'll probably need to grade down a little since they nearly killed us on the ATV... don't think the truck would like them much either!

So, right now, our life consists of mosquitos, sweat flies, spruce sap, the residual odor of 2-stroke, wood smoke, and gray glacial silt dust (which permeates everything). So far, our battle scars are few and minor, and we hope it stays that way. In the meantime, we're enjoying our breakfasts of biscuits and Spam, lunches of PB & local homemade cranberry preserves (our new neighbors are awesome -- thanks Carol!), and dinners of whatever soup can we manage to lay our hands on in the cupboard when we aren't too tired to stop by the Roadhouse for some socializing. Life is good :)

In the vein of our beloved Sager... clear brush, haul logs! :D

Saturday, August 1, 2009

We aren't gonna be in Kansas anymore Toto

Today's the day we move our base of operations down to Manley. I'm kinda gonna miss hanging out with Kari, but we'll be back up sometime next week... and many more times before winter I'm sure. The cats are so not going to be happy being put back into a truck and spending hours on the road again, but I think they'll be happy that we're staying in the new place almost a whole month!

We managed to get all sorts of errands completed here in town, and will have to pick up some special order parts and even more stuff from the storage room when we're back next week. We'd be able to bring a heck of a lot more with us if we weren't hauling our new baby (Arctic Cat 700 EFI) along with us in the back of the truck:
She looks all cute and tiny doesn't she?! Well, she takes up almost the entire bed of our full-size Dodge Ram and adds a few hundred pounds for sure! Surprisingly (well to Mark at least) the 'Cat actually fits between the wheel wells perfectly so we can drive her into the bed without having to do anything heroic. I think we have just enough space (with some creative packing) to get the chainsaws, tools, and immediate necessities (like food and a cat box!) in the bed around her. Of course, it's a bit chilly and rainy so thank goodness for our muchness of tarps! I'm hoping that monsoon season will hold off just a few more weeks, at least until we get our trail cleared and some building underway (maybe even a roof on the shed -- please please please).
So we're off to the storage room and then back on the road! Props to Jody at Northern Power Sports, Brett at BulletProof Trailers, all the guys at 6 Robblees, all the guys at Alaska Guns & Ammo, and Melissa at Prospectors (who must have gotten me a dozen different boots from the back before we found one that fit my freaky feet -- move to Alaska, drop a shoe size?!?). Until our next installment kiddies... be well and think happy thoughts :D