Monday, June 28, 2010

More equipment

After the fire fiasco, we decided to invest in more brush cutting and clearing equipment. Not only will these greatly speed up the last of clearing our building site (once it dries up!), but it will also make it much easier to maintain a cleaner forest/wood lot so we reduce the risk of a forest fire coming through our property.  Besides, I just love power tools and heavy equipment... if we had more money, I would definitely splurge more at The Woodway  and Jackovich Industrial & Construction :D

Bear Cat SC3206 3" Chipper/Shredder -- it's only 190cc, but that's really all we need for the spruce, birch and aspen since they're pretty soft.  Only needed 3" since anything 3"+ is firewood! Now we can clear out all those brush piles from clearing the driveway (fire hazard!!) and spread the mulch on the driveway until we get the gravel in. So, while it's not big or powerful enough to pull a "Fargo", it should be plenty for what we need it for.
Husqvarna 335FR Brushcutter -- we have the 10" circular saw blade attachment on ours rather than the wimpy string cutter since we're doing real forestry clearing with ours.  Just found that during the initial clearing of the forest, the brush mowers don't quite do it... the creeping willow is below the deck height and while they will cut the spruce saplings, they push them over first so you end up with these 6" pungee sticks popping back up all over.  So this Husky should work WAY better for clearing and use the mower style for annual brush maintenance.
And we picked up a second generator with a little more juice -- Kipor IG3000E.  This one isn't quite as portable as our little Honda EU2000i, but we get another 1000w with the Kipor and it cost less than the smaller Honda with all the same features (plus an electric start - woohoo!).

Now, if the trail will just dry out and firm up so we can actually get back to work, we're all ready to go!  Well, except for the flooring nails... but that's a whole other story :D

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Darrell and Donna just ROCK!

Went to visit our old-timer neighbors today, and not only did they let us take a wonderful hot shower -- woohoo!; but they also hooked us up with several harnesses for Ripley. Everyone here now runs racing (different style harness) Huskies (smaller sized dogs) so we were having a hard time finding harnesses and rigging to train Ripley to do some hauling for us. Well, D & D used to run freight Malamutes back in the day, so they had several different types and sizes of freight harnesses specifically designed for a Malamute frame. Double Woohoo!! And they just gave them to us since they're not running dogs anymore. Triple WooHoo!!

So, she's old enough for us to graduate her from the cheesey walking harness we used to get her used to wearing one, and we can now put her in one of the freight training harnesses and hook up water jugs and tires and stuff so she can get used to dragging stuff around on the harness, and then by winter she should be reay to graduate to a true freight harness that attaches to a wagon or sled just like a draft horse harness. She'll be able to earn her keep hauling firewood and gravel around for us when it's too cold for us to do it effectively ourselves!  She loves to tug, loves to run, loves the cold, and always wants to help so this will be awesome for all of us.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lumber finally off the highway

Two days of sun with no rain let the trails dry out just enough to get the lumber off the side of the road an at least to the back of a Rob's place.  Thanks to Paul for the use of his trailer, and huge thanks to Dane who helped us load and haul when I thought I was really going to pass out. 

The trail in the back of Rob's place did finally give out on the last load, so we won't be able to use that anymore for a while... but the mucky soup at the top of the main trail is slowly drying out, so maybe we'll be able to use that pretty soon with only a few pickups of gravel to fill in the ruts where the truck got sucked in. Still a few nasty spots on the trail, but mostly it's just mucky in the ruts so a little gravel there will go a long way as well. No need to do the whole thing if we're entring the dry season, just make it traverseable enough until it freezes up again and we can fix it more properly. 

Our front yard is now only a pond and not a lake. If we don't get anymore really heavy rain, we might actually be able to get everything back here and stacked ready to take to the building site in smaller loads as needed.

Then, of course, Woodway can finally come and deliver the last load which is mostly drywall and our siding. Definitely don't want any mucky trail or standing water or serious threat of heavy rain when they deliver that because the best we can do to save it is throwing a tarp over.  Lumber that is warped, bowed or cupped due to rain can be worked around; but drywall is useless once it gets wet and plywood doesn't stand up so well when it's actually sitting in inches of rain and mud.

Big Moose in My Front Yard

(** a nodding homage to the Dead Milkmen **)

Round about 5am this morning Ripley started going absolutely berzerk... barking her head off and racing around the tent, including tromping all over us in bed. So, I bolt out of bed, grab a shirt and my shotgun and stumble over to unzip the tent. Well, she shoots between my legs and races out into the yard before I can even get the flap open enough to see what's out there. Lo and behold, I catch a glimpse of a huge bull moose taking off into the trees at the top of our driveway with Ripster in hot pursuit.

So I yelled at her, which at least made her stop in her tracks; but it took both G and I several minutes to get through to her little doggy ADHD brain that she really needed to come back to the tent right now and not chase Mr. Moose, who would most assuredly kick her furry butt if she didn't back off.

Sorry, no pics... but when you live in the bush you tend to grab the shotgun and not the camera when some unknown wildlife wakes you up from a dead sleep at O'dark-thirty.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

So, officially today is the first day of summer. At least we have some sun. It stopped raining around 7am and has just been misting off and on. The yard seems to be draining pretty well right now, so we're hoping it clears up just a little more with the sun and the wind so we can go out to the highway and rescue the remains of the first load of lumber... although the dark clouds on the horizon look a bit ominous and wind usually means we have a strom brewing. But we really do have to get the lumber off the road, this is just getting ridiculous now.

Speaking of ridiculous, let's talk about some things I've been craving lately...
  • Fresh fried eggs -- mmmmm fried egg sandwiches with cheese that actually melts, on a toasted english muffin, with a thin slice of tomato and sliced mushrooms
  • Salad -- any kind really... I might even sell my soul for just a leaf of crappy iceberg lettuce at this point. We have miner's lettuce wild here, but it's just not the same as a crisp romaine or mesclun tossed in a light vinegrette with feta and proscuitto with cracked pepper and cherry tomatoes
  • Bruschetta -- lordy lordy but I've had a hankering for the wonderfully toasted crostinis with fresh tomato, garlic and basil "salsa"
  • Caprese -- nothing says loving like fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella... as a salad or as canape
  • Stilton and fresh figs -- ok, you really should eat these while drinking Port, but since I find Port to be relatively vile an I don't drink much these days anyway, just the cheese and figs would be perfect :)
  • "Gourmet" cheese -- cheese is a gift from the gods, but you don't get a lot of variety up here in Alaska. I miss having a true deli cheese case that's as big as most produce sections. Stilton (as noted), Double Gloucester, Roquefort, Chevre, Camembert... oh, the list of yummy cheese is endless!  Paired with the equally enless assortment of olives...  **drool**
  • Spring Rolls -- fresh Vietnamese or Thai style, and the more typical fried types of other Asian origins
  • Sushi and Shashimi -- about the only raw fish I can get around here is salmon (wish is wonderful raw), but there are so many other lovely fish that I miss dearly (raw at least). I would probably die of pure bliss sinking my teeth into red tuna with wasabi, or spicy roe, or shrimp, or anything but eel really.
  • Cucumber and Avocado canapes with caramelized shallots and capers
Ok... enough. I'm making myself hungry and nothing in my pantry of cans will satisfy these cravings. Heck, even a trip into Fairbanks would only marginally satisfy some.  I just need to get the homestead up and running so I can grow and make most of these myself. Now, if only we can get an oven set up an G can perfect breadmaking  (I'm sooo not even going to attempt to bake, really I'm doing the world a favor!), then we'd be all set.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did I move to Florida?!

It's been raining here pretty much 3 weeks straight with no end in next week's forecast either :(

The rain stops for maybe an hour a few times a day, which is only long enough for the sun to come out and make everything humid and buggy, but not really dry anything out.

If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in Florida. The temps might be in the 60's vs 90's, but the near-constant rain and humidity (and swarms of bugs) is similar. I intentionally chose an area that was cold and arid because humidity really screws me up even more than the heat does. Seriously, I can handle desert hot with little problems, but hot and humid blows. High humidity just sucks the life right out of me, making me cranky and lackluster.

But the bigger problem with all this rain is all the standing water. Sure, if it were just raining we'd still be able to work through it since it's not normally a downpour or anything. BUT the standing water is almost as treacherous, if not more so, than the snow for safe footing when working with chainsaws and hauling anything through the forest. AND the more you travel over this boggy tundra (even on foot) while it's wet, the faster it sinks and breaks through to the mud underneath... and once you do that, the area will be a maintenance problem forever.

While we are still slowly laying down corduroy on the main trail on the worst spots during the drier periods, we're trying not to destroy the driveway back to the cabin site... which pretty much means staying off it until everything drains and dries up. So the only progress we're making on the cabin is incidental... "fixing" the main trail so we can haul the building materials off the side of the road and down to the tent.

Although, I have been using the time to perfect my 3D model and write up the building docs with dimensions, diagrams, cut lists and nailing schedules. We can't even begin to make the concrete pad & pier assemblies since we have to pour the piers to level which means they have to be in place. We could start pouring the pads now... but they're almost 150 lbs each. I don't want to be lugging those suckers around any great distances if I can help it... so best to just wait until we can pour them on site :(

So, yes, the rain and mud are really starting to get us down and very frustrated. Our building window is getting smaller with each passing day and progress is pretty much at a standstill.  BUMMER is putting it mildly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hindsight is 20/20

So you all know that we spent weeks and weeks cutting down trees to break trail for our driveway and widening the main trail. And then we spent even more time clearing all that brush into neat little piles off the trail. 

NOW... we're spending even MORE time putting all those trees an brush BACK on the trail!!  That's right, folks, after the mud swallowed the truck and threatened to swallow the 4-wheeler, we figured out that we should have just left all the trees on the trail.

I'm not talking about just leaving a mound of crap in the roadway, but meticulously filling in low spots (and tire ruts!) with smaller brush and chunks of wood parallel to the roadway and then laying a bed of decent-sized logs evenly across the roadway.  This is the basis of constructing a corduroy road, which was initially the way most forest road beds were constructed (until about 1990).

Once you construct the corduroy, you can come back (pretty much at your leisure) and cover the wooden roadbase with fill or gravel. The perpendicular cords act to displace the weight of vehicles better than pure gravel, so you have less of a future constant battle keeping your gravel from slowly being sucked down into the mud every spring.

Leaving the brush and cords in place also acts as insulation on permafrost and muskeg to keep it from thawing as badly and giving out beneath the surface... and creating a seemingly bottomless quagmire of goo.

So, anyone currently or about to clear trail through a forest... learn from our mistake... at the end of the day, drag the brush and trees into a corduroy road behind you!! You'll thank us the next time it rains :D

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yard... or Lake?

Just a few pics of our clearing after all this rain:

Yeah, I know it looks like there is some "dry" ground here and there, but don't be fooled...

the minute you step down on it, it sinks about 6-12" and the water comes up over your shoes (I'm barely putting any weight down here because I didn't want to flood my shoes!):

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rain Mud Skeeters

About sums up our existence at the moment.  It's either the rain keeping us indoors unable to build, or the mud precluding us from getting supplies back and forth or working, or we're being eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. Although the skeeters don't keep us from working, they do keep us from sleeping... DEET, screens, netting, and coils only do so much. And on top of it all, after getting run own and then exposed to all those people during the fire fiasco  we're both sick with some sort of head/chest funk. JOY!

We don't have the time or money to get a gravel hauler to come fill in the main trail, and they'd need to fix that a little at a time just so they could get the dumper and dozer down a few yards at a time and back to our place. SOOOO... we're going to fill the ruts with smaller ruts (parallel) and then lay down the fallen and cleared trees on the trail (perpendicular) to make a kind of floating boardwalk that we can hopefully drive the truck down so we can get the rest of the building materials back to tent and cabin site. And we still have one more load of stuff waiting at the mill that needs to be delivered once the fires and mud aren't messing up the Elliott Hwy anymore.

If our hodge-podge road stands up to that abuse, we're going to get one or two pickup loads of gravel just to fill in and level underneath the concrete pads for our piers and bases for our sheds so we can store the tools and temperamental materials out of the rain. We'll worry about fixing the main and driveway trails "properly" and getting a full gravel pad under the house and carport later when it's either dried up or frozen solid again.

So, we haven't been able to start building yet and time is ticking away... less than 100 days until expected first frost now. We might still make it to dry-in before the weather turns cold; but we might be blowing in the insulation round about the same time it starts snowing. Should be an interesting race.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back to the old homestead

So after the excitement of the start of the week, we're back home to our place.

So now back to more mundane tasks, we still have a house to build before the winter sets in, and lumber to move to the building site, then land to finish clearing so we're able to build where we want to, and possibly gravel to haul for a road and a pad.

No rest for the wicked eh...?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

So where are we at...?

Since it's been a couple of days since we posted last, and I'm up and drinking coffee (although not at our place) I thought I'd update you all.

I've been scooting up to our neighbors and keeping an eye on the fire daily while we've been in Manley, and since Monday it's changed significantly. It mostly got held at the firebreak cut by Jay Hodges on Sunday night on the south side of the Elliott, it did jump towards the Hutlinana, but that was being mopped up and bulldozed on Tuesday yesterday Darrell Scott did a flyover and only saw a half a dozen smoking patches in the Eureka area, but they were mostly inside the burn perimeter so were just burning out. The only concern was where the fire jumped the firebreak but we had smoke jumpers working that area.

All in all the fire teams did a great job (once they got on it) and had some help from the wind while doing the backburn.

Seems like we dodged a bullet this time around, we're planning on returning home tomorrow, and getting on with more mundane things. Of course there is always the possibility that it could all blow up again, but if the rain we got in Manley last night also hit our place, then the chances drop even further. We likely have more chance of getting another fire from a lightning strike.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Doing well

Sorry for the delay with updates, things have just been totally hectic!!

So, later on Monday the fire flared back up and started jumping back and forth over the highway headed in our direction.  Once it got over the ridges and started heading toward the flats, the locals all got together and cut some massive firebreaks with their own mining equipment around homesteads above the highway and at the gravel pit before the residential area under the highway. Since our trail was in such bad/muddy shape and we'd have to travel into the fire to get to the highway if it did get to us, we decided to take the valuables and pets into Manley and set up temporary camp in Paul & Penny's travel trailer, then went back out to help the clearing efforts.

The Fire Service finally got on the ball Monday afternoon when we got upgraded to Type 3 and it went to Federal jurisdiction. They started dousing the firebreak with water and retardant and lit a back burn on the other side.  Between that, cool temps overnight, the wind shifting back toward the NE, and some rain today, the fire turned back on itself and appears to have burned itself out.

There are still a few spot fires here and there, including a back burn they got a little over zealous with (gov't assistance = more harm than good sometimes!); but we should know tomorrow whether it's really out and safe for us to return home.  On a positive note, no one lost any structures, and only one property got totally burned to the ground (around the house, which was ok)... and none of our lumber went up in flames (at least not yet -- knock wood).

The trail is a complete mess, and likely to be even worse with the water dumps and the rain; but we'll manage to deal with that... at least we still have a home to go to and lumber to build the new one :)

We are sooooo exhausted. Feels like we could sleep for a week :)