Friday, October 23, 2009

I need a new camera!

Awesome northern lights going on right now. Super bright green swirls with pink, red, and purple streaks. Unfortunately, neither my Canon or my phone is capturing them at all :( Maybe Santa will get me an SLR for Christmas.

It's a truly beautiful sight... I can only imagine how gorgeous this must look at home since it's this pretty here in Fairbanks. Poor G-man is probably sleeping through it since it's way past his bedtime.

It's at times like this that I fully appreciate Alaska and remember why I put up with the cold and bad roads.

Here are a few that Kari managed to catch with her camera:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10-21-09: A Stroke of Genius

Our Oregon Scientific home weather station has these nifty little programmable alarms for certain weather situations. Gee, why wake up every 3 hours to feed the fire when you can just set an alarm to go off when the temp in the tent gets below 50F?!

Lat night, I got my first mostly full night of sleep since the weather turned cold... and it was still nice and toasty enough that I wasn't doing the chatter-dance waiting for the stove to heat up. Inspiration I tell ya!

10-20-09: Reaching New Lows

It hasn’t been above freezing for an entire week now. This isn’t so bad when you’re in the sun and the air is still… but is kind of sucky when it’s windy or sleeting. You know when the sun starts going down because you can feel it getting colder by the minute. It hasn’t been above the single-digits at night this week either. The creeks are frozen over except the very center strip and a few places where there are rapids or the current is fast. The ground is solid and the moss breaks when you walk on it. Every morning the landscape sparkles like diamonds in the frost.

Last night, it was -1F. Today, we needed to swap out the short, galvanized single-wall stove pipe for a longer and more efficient stainless double-wall, so we had to let the stove go cold. It was 20F in the tent this morning when we got up and the little propane heater could only get it above freezing (we don’t like to run that when we’re sleeping, or for more than an hour or so inside). Charlie’s water dish was frozen solid, so was the coffee pot. There was a layer of ice in all our water tanks. Our sodas were slushy. Our olive oil was opaque. Charlie had frost in her fur where my breath condensed on her while we were sleeping. Our breath was fogging so badly that we couldn’t see much with our headlamps while we were installing the new stove pipe (which, of course, had mechanical issues!).

But, once we got things all set up and the fire started again, it warmed right up to 70F in about an hour. It took two hours for my feet to thaw out and Charlie to venture out from under the covers :D

On a positive note, it should only get about 20 to 40 degrees colder from here on out. The locals say this is a mild winter so far, and reckon that it’ll probably only get to 40 below zero a few times. I’m so glad that our blueboard insulation order will be ready soon! It’s plenty warm enough when we have the fire going, but it’ll be nice to keep in some more of that warmth when the fire has to be out or if one of us accidentally sleeps through the 3 a.m. firebox feeding.

10-19-09: Attentive Driving

Driving on the unpaved section between Livengood and our neck of the woods is probably the most harrowing and exhausting 80 miles I’ve ever experienced. Mind you, I’ve done my fair share of winter driving in the mountains of Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and South Central Alaska; I’ve driven in the cities of Chicago, New York, Seattle, Portland and the DC Metro… but nothing has required such dogged attention and nerves of steel as our last stretch of road.

You must keep careful watch for any patches of ice or sudden deep snow drifts. You have to constantly be feeling what your vehicle is doing because sometimes it’ll just squirm out on you for no obvious reason. You have to be mindful of what the weather is doing since a sudden gust of wind can slide you right off the road and the temperatures can drop 20-30 degrees coming up or down some of the ridges and your windshield frosts up almost immediately. And, not only must you watch the road, and try to find the edges of the road, but you must know exactly what section of the road you are on in case your vehicle does start to slide you’ll know which side of the road that you need to try to skid off into… trust me smacking a tree or an embankment or rolling over into a ditch is way more preferable that careening off into space and down a cliff. Yeah, as if that weren’t bad enough, you still have extremely large wildlife to contend with on the roadway. What do you do when you’re coming around a blind curve on ice and there’s a friggin’ moose in the middle of the road? Well, you certainly don’t hit the brakes or make any radical steering adjustments!!! (and now you can guess why we had angle-iron welded to our front bumper and grill!!)

But anyway, it’s not such a horrible drive as long as you take it slow and keep it in 4WD… it just takes all your effort and a LOT of time. Just have to remember where all the turn-outs are so you can stop for a drink, a smoke or a pee (which is also really interesting for women when it’s below freezing outside – guys are so lucky!). It goes without saying… we don’t plan to drive into Fairbanks much in the winter once we get our final couple of supply runs done!

10-18-09: What a Grind

Now that we finally got a good portion of our food stores out of our storage room in Fairbanks, we got to play with one of our new toys… our grain mill! The hard red winter wheat was a bit of a pain, and required three millings to get it fine enough that I’d actually consider it fluffy enough for bread flour. The yellow dent corn was a serious arm wrencher, but we like our corn meal coarse so only had to mill it twice (but several kernels did jettison out of the hopper and shoot across the room). The rye was truly easy by comparison and was nice fine flour on the second milling.

Now we just have to experiment with baking bread in our dutch oven in the open fire pit… we’ll keep you posted! (Beware, neither of us are accomplished bakers by any stretch of the imagination – I suspect we’ll make a few charred doorstops before we get something edible)

10-17-09: Bye Bye Burnie

Alas, our valiant oven mitt, Burnie, met his final doom and we were forced to give him a true Viking-style funeral; which, we hope, satisfied his life-long desire to become a Hand of Glory. Shine on you crazy diamond!!!

10-15-09: It's Electric!

I finally finished building our electrical cabinet and wired up the 24v battery bank and inverter. Gungnir wired the generator, service panel, breakers, and grounding rod; while I wired outlets and switches for the overhead lights. As soon as I find a pendant light I can live with, we’ll wire up the center indoor light, and then the front and back porch lights… but for now it’s just nice to have a bedside lamp and be able to recharge our appliance batteries without going to town or kicking off the generator every time.

I realize it may seem strange to some to actually wire an electrical system into a tent, but we’re going to be living in the tent for a year (+/-) and wanted some of the conveniences (and safety!) that a few electrical appliances can offer. In our case, light is definitely a key necessity this winter since we’ll only get about 3-4 hours of daylight in December and January. Sure, we have oil lamps, candles, flashlights and headlamps… but nothing beats being able to turn on a floodlight on the porch when you hear something creepy in the dark! Besides, doing everything by flame light or headlamp can get pretty old. Not to mention that you look like a Cylon walking around with your headlamp on… and you tend to blind the person you’re talking to if you look directly at them!! Come summer, we may actually need a small refrigerator/freezer… but for now, the back corner of the tent is our fridge (yes, it stays below 40F) and anything left outside stays frozen.

Once we finally decide which site we’re going to build the house on, then we’ll invest in solar panels and a wind turbine so that we don’t have to worry about running the generator so much. As it stands, we can run lights and recharge our computers for almost 3 weeks before kicking over the generator again… can’t beat that. All I can say is that it’s a darn good thing we went on that energy diet and got rid of most of our electric stuff… it’s amazing what you can really live quite happily (and easily) without.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sonja is all equipped...

So the main reason for being in Fairbanks this week was to get the Winching points completely installed (since we couldn't get the bed hitch last time) and the full winterization package done.

Both were done with minimal issues (although the winterization took longer, since apparently they only have one "large" lift where we took it, which created an intense stress moment, that I took out on the service assistant and manager, good times...) but they completed it in about two and a half hours which was a redeeming factor.

The bed winch point was done with minimal issues, kudos to Bulletproof in Fairbanks for the custom hitch, and fast completion.

All I need today is for a quick trip to Sams Club, and to swing by Petco. Then off back to the old homestead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One pic for the archives...

Here's a picture that I took the other day of sunrise... it was mighty pretty, and it's for all of you demanding pictures. Hope you like it.

Spin me around...

Ok so, you've likely read my last post... here's why its crazy!

On Friday I went into Manley to arrange a couple of things while I was in Fairbanks, driving in was no problem. Driving out however...

I wasn't going particularly fast 30-35 mph went around a bend and whoops there went the back end and I was facing the left verge while traveling sideways, so I corrected, and whoops, I was then facing the right verge and still going sideways. Then it was a quick spin cycle as I slid off the road and onto the shoulder/run off area doing a 720 degree pirouette, with a 30 degree roll thinking; "I hope that I don't bust the truck up, or I'm not going to Fairbanks on Monday", "Paul* is going to have a field day with this one", "I wonder whether I'll find out if Jennine was right about how this thing will roll" and "How we going to fix this if it's busted up". I was mighty confused, since I hadn't had any issue or warning while driving in...

So while sitting for a moment sitting at 90 degrees to the road, I figured I'd get out and take a quick look see to make sure all the wheels were still on my wagon, getting out of the cab, I nearly fell down, the road was completely iced, I mean coming off the corner and about 150 yards further down, this added to my confusion since I had no issues on the drive in, go figure. Anyway Sonja (the truck) was fine, much like a Marine "it just can't suck enough".

*Paul - is Paul Breuer, our DOT guy who mentioned that I'll learn to slow down he might be right

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Charge of the Light Brigade...

Ok so, you read PC's mention that she was late and so she was.

Thursday I hadn't heard the news, so waited up to about 3:00am Friday to see whether she'd be back, and no she wasn't... Eek! I checked the road a couple of times on Willow our ATV, no joy. Much concerns about car trouble, and cold nights, or minor off road spills leading to nasty conclusions stuttered through my brain for those hours, not a pleasant experience.

Anyway at 9:00 on Friday I was scooting down the Elliot to Manley on Willow, in sub-zero temperatures, with a fresh dusting of snow, counter-steering like crazy and fishtailing as I sped at up to 50 on fresh pack (yes I'm crazy at times). Then found out from Gladys that Jennine was delayed in Fairbanks. Whew! Later that day PC got home and I was even more relieved.

Anyway, time to go make calls, and take my dinner home a Spruce Grouse, shot with my 40S&W Springfield on the easement of our property as I was heading in to shower, check mail etc. Sorry to Sager, since this was just a drive out see the bird and pop off at it. Not much of a hunting tale... :(

'til next time kiddies.

Friday, October 2, 2009

10-2-09: Still stuck in Fairbanks

As usual, nothing mechanical ever goes as planned. While Brett at Bulletproof is trying his very hardest to get our winches installed and the other custom fabrication and welding on Sonja, the job is taking much longer than originally anticipated. You just never know what fun things you'll run into until you start taking things apart and trying to put things back together again. They're going to try to get the front and back winch mounts and new grill guard and lights installed for me by noon today so I can head back to Manley; but we might have to get the winch mount in the bed of the truck completed on another trip. Oh well, the front and back winch mounts are the important ones for safety (i.e. - getting ourselves out of a ditch), while the one in the bed is just handy for dragging logs, moose, and other heavy things up into the bed. We got a removable winch that can be attached to any of these three mounts as the need arises... pretty nifty since you always seem to have a great tow point on the opposite end of the vehicle when you have a permanently mounted winch.

So, I'm seriously hoping that one of our buddies that I called down in Manley got a chance to stop out at the property and let Gungnir know that I was stuck in F'banks another day... otherwise, he's probably freaking right the hell out about now since he was expecting me home last night. I might get home tongiht to find that he shoved Charlie in his jacket and then rode into Manley on the 4-wheeler to see if anyone has heard of my demise from the hospitals, cops, or Dept of Transportation. This has been the only time when it would have been really nice to have a satellite phone at the tent! But I did send him an email in case he drove into town, and I did call Carole (our health aide & friend who would be the person any of the above agencies would contact in case of emergency) and she was going to call around and see if someone could go out to the property for me to keep G-man from losing his mind.

But in any case, I rented a truck while here and got tons and tons of errands run and stocked up on a lot of stuff (temporarily shoved in the storage room). Unfortunately, the truck they rented me was brand new and is a short bed... so no picking up my lumber until after I get Sonja back!! But at least it was a full cab with the short bed, so I could load up on groceries and other supplies that wouldn't scratch the paint and didn't hang out the sides or back :D It's just so weird driving a normal-sized truck... seriously this F-150 feels like I'm driving in a car compared to Sonja. I mean, really, I can just step into this truck and I don't have to climb up the tire in order to reach into the bed.... it feels surreal. It drives nice enough, although doesn't have the git-up-n-go that Sonja's V-10 does, but I'll be happy when I get Sonja back!!