Monday, May 31, 2010

Please Stand By...

Fire has slowed down and the Fire Service says to stay put for the night, so we're not evacuating yet. Everything is all packed up and ready to go if things should change though.

Talk about a mad scramble!!

Got to the truck and freakin' battery was dead from all the winching we had to do to get the truck out of the sucking morass of non-newtonian fluid they euphemistically call "mud" up here.  One of our neighbors had a few spares, so we're charging them up and will go back out and see if the stupid truck starts... otherwise, it's the starter or alternator, which is way more of a problem.

At least the Fire Service now know we're back here, and our neighbors will be keeping in touch with us via mail. Someone will be able to give us a ride into Manley if the truck won't start... just don't think Charlie kitty will be really happy going 20 miles down the hwy in her little cat carrier on the 4-wheeler and there ain't no way I can walk that with my pack/BOB and towing animals!

It never rains but it pours, eh?

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Fire is now 2 miles west, on both sides of the highway, and approaching.

We're evacuating valuables and animals into Manley and will be heading back out to man the front lines.

Will try to post status sometime tomorrow if we can.

Forest Fire

We've been monitoring a forest fire that started on Thursday, via lightning strike, about 8 miles NE of us.  Since Thursday, the fire has spread rapidly to the north and west, and has just jumped south over the Elliott Hwy about 5 miles east of our location.  AK Fire Service is monitoring, but not really doing much about it except saving structures in the path.  Locals are out with all available equipment cutting fire breaks to try and keep it from spreading any further west into the Eureka residential area.  We currently have ash fall and moderate laying smoke, but no flames visible as of yet.

We, and our surrounding neighbors, are preparing for rendezvous and evacuation west into Manley if necessary. We are securing our tent site as best as possible, moving everything of value into the center of the clearing and hoping that will provide a sufficient firebreak should the fire come through this area. Unfortunately, half of our new cabin lumber is at the tent site, a quarter is about 1/4 mile up the trail (where the trail finally gave out to mud and tried to swallow the truck), and the rest is still on the side of the highway. If the fire does come through, we will likely lose most/all of our building materials :(

The Elliott Hwy east of us (towards Fairbanks) is closed with this (Applegate Creek) fire and the Cascaden fire (Livengood) at the junction of Elliott and Parks Hwys, so evacuation can only be made west into Manley. If Manley (20 miles away) must also be evacuated, it will likely be by air and river; although that is not likely since they have a full volunteer fire department on call with pumper trucks and high pressure hoses.  Most of us Eurekans will likely be staying at the roadhouse or the campground across the street should evacuation be necessary.

We'll try to keep updating the blog as the evening progresses, etc.  Wish us luck!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Epic Fail

Shortly after posting the "We Have Touchdown" entry, our tent platform completely collapsed!  Yes, folks, we had our own little private earthquake out here in the Bush.  Everyone was fine, and nothing serious was broken, although we did spend quite a few hours picking up shelving units and cans of food, etc.  After careful inspection, and putting things back to right, it appears that only a jar of olives and a few candle holders were sacrificed to Murphy that day!

So here's what happened...  When the Spring thaw started, one of the posts on the back of the deck started to jack and twist. We really didn't think that was particularly concerning since there were several other posts that still seemed to be reasonably plumb. In fact, we were planning to jack up the deck and fix the twisty post the day following, now that we'd finally finished clearing the darned trail. But Murphy was afoot again, and beat us to the punch line.  It just HAD to be a really hot couple of days before we could get to the releveling, and that melting completely destabilized a few of the other piers & posts, soooooo..... 

Anyway, we're just standing around, making dinner after a grueling 3-day push to finish the trail when everything sort of slid to the southeast and then *thump* *crash* *boom*!!!

We spent the rest of the night surveying the damage and cleaning up the mess inside. The entire following day was spent rescuing a few items that I'd crammed under the deck the day before (figures!), cutting out the kicked out posts and releveling the deck directly onto the concrete piers with the hand jack for our pickup in about 6 inches of squishy, spongy, meltwater-laden tundra moss goop . Then the following day was consumed trying to get the satellite dish realigned, and enough trees cleared, to get a strong enough signal now that we're 3 feet lower than before!

One day of rest and then back out to clearing the building site since our first load of lumber is coming tomorrow!  Never a dull moment!

Here's some pics of the damage so you can appreciate the fun. The platform itself held up reasonably well, although there is a decided slant to the floor to the center since we couldn't get far enough under the deck *safely* to jack up and fix the center beam.

You can see that the force of the collapse actually sheared off some of the metal connectors, bent others and also blew out some of the wooden posts.  Hurray for the metal trash can, that surprisingly suffered only minimal damage, as it took the brunt of the drop load and the lateral load as the deck was in motion.

So, what have we learned from this little fiasco?

1. Never alter your design based on the salesperson's word if they don't have the parts you're looking for in stock!

2. Always prepare the proper foundation, even if you know the building is only going to be temporary!

3. It doesn't matter if winter is setting in and you need to get your shelter up quickly, DO NOT build anything on top of an ice lens if you aren't going to move it before Breakup in the Spring!

4. Two exhausted people can accomplish a lot of work as long as they don't say *anything* to each other except the barest minimum to get the job done... anything else will result in arguments and mud flinging (both literally and figuratively).

5. Rubbermaid totes might stand up to getting hit by a car, but they don't stand up too well to an entire  platform dropping on them!

6. And last, but certainly not least, if you're going to have a floating surface foundation then your building can't be 3 feet off the ground. If you want the height, you have to sink the piers. And that means finding a site not on ice or permafrost. Which, luckily, the cabin site has neither of; so we're sinking the concrete piers this time!  Yes, I said CONCRETE piers, nice 10" diameter concrete pillars sunk 4' deep. I'm not trusting my shelter to wimpy wooden posts again unless they are so fat that I couldn't afford them, or they're from whole trees I cut personally from our lot -- there's just too much crap lumber coming out of home improvement warehouses these days!

But HEY - we survived intact and relatively unscathed, so we can laugh about it now :D

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Houston, We Have Touch Down

We started the last section of trail clearing at the may pole today.  Here's me trudging through with my little Shindaiwa, wearing my ultra-sexy do-rag and work jeans that are about 2 sizes too big :)  That mangey critter in front of me is Ripley, who is currently blowing her winter coat and looking very scruffy.

But, miracles of all miracles, we did make it to the center marker. The driveway trail is now officially complete. Tomorrow we'll drive the truck down it to see if we need to widen any tight spots, but other than eventually laying in gravel, we're done with the trail.  Good thing too, cuz I've got blisters on calluses on blisters and my back hasn't worked right for days. Well, we still have to slear the building site after we finish up the surveying. But that shouldn't take but a couple days since we plan to have a huge bonfire to celebrate which sure makes clearing brush piles  a LOT easier!  :-D

Ahhhh, looking back at a job well done!!  OK - so the trail is a little winding because I never could manage to get a straight line even with the compass, GPS and marking paint; but it's kinda nice not to be able to look straight on down and see the cabin from the main trail/road. A little bit of privacy, courtesy of a few gentle bends in the path, is a good thing in my opinion. 

Whew! I'm still can't believe that we're finally done with this project. It was really beginning to feel like it would last forever. HaHa- the "trail with no end" has now met its end!

Monday, May 17, 2010

So Close....

 Man, the may pole is, like, right there! Literally within a few yards. But after clearing 2.5 cans worth of trail, about 5 hours of truly cranking it, my stupid back started to spasm and I just couldn't do another can's worth.  And Gungnir attempted to amputate his leg with the chainsaw... ok, not really that serious... but he'll have a little permanent reminder of our adventures in bush whacking. Not that I wish anyone ill fortune, but it was nice that someone else got injured this time, since it's usually me. Of course, I got bit by the chainsaw a couple weeks ago, so maybe the Husqvarna has developed a taste for human flesh.... mwuahahahahaha.

It was sooooo HARD to pack up shop and leave the trail so close to the end, but I just couldn't convince my back to tough it out another two hours.  It's all the bending low to do the cutting, standing funny on uneven ground, and throwing whole trees around that does you in.  I'm more of a javelin technique, while G does more of shot-put method; but there's still some ungainly balance, twisting and weight issue involved in both.

I'll get there... To-morrow...
It's only a day away  :-D

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Light at the End of the Tunnel

... or in this case, survey monument at the end of the forest :-D

I've given up trying to use conventional measurements, like feet and yards, to determine how far we have left to cut trail until we hit our center marker.  I'm now using an exceptionally accurate and scientific standard of measure -- spray cans of contractor marking paint.

Yup, that's right. Every day I paint a thick solid line down the right-hand side of the trail from one trail tape flag to another, attempting to ensure a somewhat straighter line than I've managed to create up to this point. Working 4-6 hours, we normally cut and clear out about 2 paint can's worth of forest a day.  On a really ambitious day, we might make 3 paint cans.

For those more interested in budgeting your time and resources, I'd say that a tank of gas in the chainsaw lasts about 60-90 minutes running fairly continuously on small and medium trees and scrub. We refill the chain oil every other filling of the gas tank. We can normally cut a one-can paint line per tank of gas, maybe a little more if we're lucky and hit a sparse part with only a few bigger trees. Then it takes about 30-60 minutes to haul out all the brush and chuck it off the trail (including limbing and stacking anything that is a "firewood friendly" >3-inch diameter).

After today's clearing, I decided to go ahead and paint tomorrow's line to get a little bit of a head start.  After two cans, I looked up and clearly saw our "may pole" just a little off in the distance. The "may pole" is the tallest tree in the area where the 25' easements off our center marker intersect. We did some creative tossing of the trail tape (kinda like toilet-papering a tree) so that we could see it from a greater distance and be absolutely sure that it was the *right tree* to aim for.

That's right faithful readers!!  We are now only a mere 3.5 cans from our center marker.  It's possible that we might make it by the end of the day tomorrow (Mon) if we really push; but at the latest it'll be Tuesday afternoon!  Stop a moment and celebrate with a happy hamster dance:

Then it's just clearing the 1000 sq ft  building site wherever along the trail that we decide to put the little cabin. That bit of clearing is really nothing in comparison to cutting a 1500 ft x 12 ft trail. 

Looks like we might actually get the driveway straightened, widened enough for the truck, and get that gravel foundation base down and spread before the lumber gets delivered next week. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Family Roadtrip

Seeing as how so many people in the city were concerned about me worrying my pretty little head with the manly things like building supplies, Gungnir and I decided that we'd have to make the trip into Fairbanks together so he could fake that he was the designer and engineer of our cabin.  Gosh, don't you just love the sticks?!?

Anyway, for both of us to be gone from the tent, it meant that we had to take Ripley and Charlie with us.  Imagine, for a moment, how fun a 4 hour drive (each way) on back roads can be in a standard cab pickup with two adults, an adult-sized dog and cat who really hates traveling. All that after we had to secure the site and button up the tent so no critters ransacked it while we were gone for 3 days. Good thing I had the foresight to build kick-away stairs on our tent platform, or I'm sure some beastie would have had a field day.

So after being on the road for what seemed like an eternity, we ended up staying at a friend's house who was out of town. They have 3 dogs themselves, an poor Ripley really isn't used to other animals, or other people, or walls, or doors, or small yards. And she certainly wasn't used to being left alone while Mom & Dad went out shopping... poor baby has never been left alone since we got her as a puppy since you really can't lock a dog in a tent and it's been too cold to just stake her out somewhere. All-in-all she handled it pretty well, but she was a nervous wreck most of the time.

We managed to get the bulk of our building materials ordered and the lumber yard will be delivering them in a couple weeks. With good fortune, we should have the trail finished and the gravel pad laid before they dump our stuff at the side of the highway... no way are you getting a big rig down our muddy forest trail!  The delivery fee was a little steep, but a last minute redesign saved us enough money that we could stay in budget. Plus, it's only half of what it would have cost us in gas making 8 trips back and forth to Fairbanks.

So, our trip was fruitful, if a little nerve wracking. Everyone survived at least.  We're all totally exhausted and happy to be home in our little tent in the woods again. Time for the mad push to the "finish line" with the bush whacking so we can finally set hammer to nail and get to building.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Things That Feel Weird

After living in the bush for almost a year, I've noticed that a few things are starting to feel really weird when I go into town:

1. Driving on pavement with signs, guard rails, and painted lines on the road
2. Driving in traffic, and actually having to drive on one side of the road and not down the middle
3. Curbs and sidewalks
4. Street lights and traffic lights
5. Television and radio
6. Commercials on television and radio
7. Flush toilets & running water
8. Eating in restaurants
9. Sounds of life that don't include chainsaws
10. Supermarkets and malls
11. Central heat & AC
12. Phones
13. Clothes, cars and hairstyles as status symbols

Guess I've been living out in the sticks, roughing it, long enough to look at average "civilized life" and find it very odd.  :-D

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2/3's There

Despite injuries, mechanical gremlins, and evil willow thickets we've managed to come abreast of the Sentinel Tree. Also realized that the Secret Garden and the Sentinel Tree were farther apart from each other than I'd originally illustrated. Oh well, it's all good now. We estimate that the trail is now somewhere between 2/3 & 3/4 of the way to the center marker.

 During further explorations, we also found a low ridge just NW of the center marker. There are tons of creeks running through this area, and this ridge was most likely an old bank before the creek either moved or went underground. The ground closer to the marker forms a slight depression and is soggier than the area above the ridge. Since there is a natural clearing of sorts in the middle, I'm guessing that there is probably a good chunk of permafrost or an ice lens that is preventing the spring run-off to completely drain and keeping the larger trees from taking root. 

So, it looks like we'll likely end up building the cabin somewhere between the Sentinel Tree and the Ridge, and leaving that acre or so towards the middle open for the raised bed gardens or fall pasture (as it should still be green when everything else is bone dry). There are two silver-linings to this discovery: 1) very likely to be a decent well site near the ridge if the creek just went underground; and 2) we won't have to cut the trail quite as far before we start building :-D.

A Morning in the Life -- Spring

4:30 am -- jump out of bed, run outside with shotgun in hand, wearing nothing but underwear and muck boots, because dog is totally freaking out. Scan and patrol perimeter in the meager dawn light, see/hear/smell nothing. Pet and praise dog for being a good protector (while secretly cursing her). Go back to bed and hope there really wasn't a bear out there hiding in the trees.

7:30 am -- roll out of bed because it's just too damned bright in the tent to sleep anymore. Spend 30 minutes trying to get stove burning since the wood is damp from recent rains.

8:00 am -- finally get the coffee started, open a can of bacon (yes -- a CAN), mix up some powdered eggs, dump in last night's left over potatoes and make a skillet scramble for breakfast while the coffee is perking.

8:30 am -- attempt to check email, go outside and realign satellite dish.

9:00 am -- eat your now lukewarm breakfast while checking mail and forums. Attempt to get properly caffeinated on crunchy coffee (yum, the grounds are so tasty - NOT).

9:30 am -- clean, oil and sharpen chainsaw while arguing online with Dell Customer Support... who keep wanting you to call even though you've told them there are no phones in the forest; and no streets either so, no, they can't use FedEx for shipping; and NO, I'm not spending the same amount of money in gas as it would cost me to just buy a whole new laptop (and 16+ wasted hours) driving to and from Fairbanks a few times just so they can use FedEx to service the warranty instead of USPS.

10:00 am -- give up in frustration, decide to deal with it later when your blood pressure comes down. Load up the ATV with chainsaws, gas/oil/tools, and snacks/bevs. Head out for yet another day of trail clearing.

12:00 pm -- run out the first tank of gas, scan the clearing with disappointment... only 20 feet cleared. Damned willow thickets! Decide to come back to tent for lunch and a liberal coating DEET.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Temperament and Survival

As you all know, G & I frequent several online forums, many of them focused on rural/bush living, self-sufficiency, and long-term survival/preparation. One topic that keeps coming up, over and over in one form or another, is whether it's better to go it alone or to be in a community.  This question pops up under the guise of "City vs. Rural" and "Transition Community Building" and others along those lines. I can honestly say, this discussion/argument is really getting on my nerves.

There seems to be an assumption that the only way for humans to survive after long-term catastrophe is to band together in communities, that socialization is a necessity, and that rural living is boring, etc etc.  What has become batantly apparent to me is that an individual's temperament plays a major role in determining which lifestyle and survival strategy will work best for them... one way is not ultimately superior to another.

So what do I mean by temperament?  Well, rather than going too far into the psychology of personality and all the Myers-Briggs temperaments, I'll just focus on the one factor that I think is the most relevent to successfully selecting, as a starting point, a style and strategy that will work for you - Extraversion vs. Introversion. This has nothing to do with being chatty or shy, but where you get your energy from. Keep in mind that slightly over 75% of the population are Extraverts, and that there is a full spectrum on the E-to-I scale. Most people are a little of both, and fall somewhere between the two extremes. Understanding where you fall within the scale can help you determine which style and strategy will work best for you.

Extraversion:  Extraverts are more outwardly-focused. They tend to get direction, motivation, validation and energy from interactions with other people. If left alone too long, they tend to get bored, lonely, or depressed. Their make-up actually requires them to receive a certain level of outside stimulation, particularly the human social kind.

Extraverts would be best served by remaining in the cities and attempting to enact their survival plans there, or finding/creating a medium-large rural community because they simply need other people.  If they strike out on their own or into a rural community that is too small for them they will be unhappy, which could lead them to fail in their efforts. Isolation goes against their basic nature.

Introversion: Introverts are more inwardly-focused. They tend to be self-directed, self-motivated, self-validating, and self-energizing. They require time to themselves for introspection and recharging, and very rarely get bored, lonely or depressed when they are alone. They do, however, get exhausted and depressed when subjected to too much outside stimulation, particularly the human social kind.

Introverts would be best served by moving out to a small rural community or striking out into the bush in isolation. Remaining in a city, or joining/creating a community that is too large for them will make them unhappy, which could lead them to fail in their efforts. Socialization goes against their basic nature.

Now, temperament aside, there are pros and cons to isolation vs. community. Neither is inherently better, but a basic understanding of your options allows for better decisions.

Community does provide additional resources and allows for larger-scale projects because the labor pool is larger; but it also costs more because time/effort must be spent on building and maintaining social and communal infrastructure (churches/community centers, legal systems and courthouses, etc). Community allows people to specialize in a few talents that they excel at, while relying on others to make up the difference in knowledge/skills and to help them problem-solve... which works well until your doctor gets sick or your mechanic is on vacation. Community allows for greater defense and fortifications, but also makes you a more noticeable target. Community allows workload to be shared; but also promotes resentment, slacking and competition.

Isolation reduces the time/effort you must spend building and maintaining a social/communal infrastructure, but it can limit the scale and amount of projects you can undertake to those you can complete with only one or two people. Isolation means that you must be a jack-of-all-trades and a good problem-solver since you are responsible for the whole shebang; but that also means that you are/become reasonably prepared for any eventuality regardless of the availability of an "expert". Isolation provides you the security of anonymity, but can leave you under-manned if overrun. Isolation means all the burden is yours, but so are all the benefits.

With that in mind, you need to weigh those pros and cons against your own style -- are you really great at one or two things with an extreme depth of detailed knowledge, or are you reasonably proficient at a multitude of things with a wide breadth of "surface" knowledge?  (I guess this plays into the second temperament type of Sensor vs. Intuitive... but we won't go there for now).  If you're a detailed specializer, living out in isolation may be very difficult for you since it goes against your nature.  If you're a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, living in a community where peope have assigned specialties may not be the best fit; but you should have minimal troubles problem-solving in isolation.

There are combinations and variations of situations to fit almost every combination of temperament and style -- it's not just "live in the city" or " live in the bush". If you understand your temperament and basic preferences, you can better determine what lifestyle and survival strategy works best for you... but none of them are inherently any better or more successful than the other :)  Yes, there is a historic-survival value and benefit to combining resources. But that doesn't automatically mean it has to be a close-knit or large centralized community, because a loose federation of distributed individuals can work just as well.  The human species existed quite efficiently for a very long time in "pastoral villages" before "industrial cities" became the norm.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


It's been raining for the last three days straight, so work on the trail has come to a temporary halt. A few times, it's tapered off to a mild drizzle only to start pouring again a few minutes later. Besides the risk of hypothermia getting soaked when it's only around 45F, everything is squishy and slippery back in the woods... not safe working conditions when you're handling a chainsaw (which I've already proven once this week, thanks!). 

Since the ground is mostly still frozen, all this rain has nowhere to go and is just resting in the top few inches. Notice that I said "in" not "on" -- the weird mossy thicket stuff that passes for groundcover here is really spongey and soaks up a lot of water, so it doesn't look that wet outside until you step down on it and sink 6 inches. We have a few puddles of standing surface water, but most of it is that spongey crap. Pour Ripley has found a few places that she sinks up to her belly. Of course, she's loving it, since the only thing cooler than bounding through snowbanks for a dog is digging mudholes :-D