Monday, February 27, 2017

Confession time

For those of you who follow me on facebook or instagram, or for those of you who speak with me longer than oh, about 30 seconds, you may get the impression that I hate living in Alaska. It is dark, very, very, very cold, the roads are horrible, and it just won't stop snowing. Basically it must seem downright miserable to those who don't live here. Let's be honest here, it can be pretty miserable at times for those who do live here. Sliding through intersections is never fun. Every red light or stop sign is a game of "Am I going to stop this time?" Shoveling a million pounds of snow, not fun either. You have to put on 72 layers of clothing just to go the grocery store, because there is no such thing as a short trip (thanks for that advice, Lizzie!). When you leave for church in your cute shoes and skirt, you better make sure to throw some snow boots and snow pants in the car, just in case.  Even if you are only going a couple of miles, you could end up stuck in a ditch or get in a car accident and have to wait in your car in -20*F (-29*C) weather. Oh and that's only if your car will start, which you hope it does because you spent hundred of dollars getting it winterized so it better start gosh darn it. Even going around the corner to the mailbox seems like too much some days. The snow piles keep getting higher and you run out of places to put the new snow. I am pretty sure we are in for a flood of epic proportions when it starts to melt. The fruit isn't fresh or plentiful, and what is available is expensive. The vegetables go bad after a couple days. Food shipments are delayed and sometimes that means no chicken at the grocery stores. You go through bags and bags of ice melt, trying to keep your driveway clear, which is a losing battle. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I say insanity is trying to keep your driveway clear in Alaska in the winter. You have to wash the floor of your arctic room (mudroom for you non-Alaskans) every day because snow gets tracked in every single day. It all sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it?

And yet, I feel lucky to live here. We had our first white Christmas in 8 years. We also had a white Halloween, white Thanksgiving, white Valentine's day, and most likely will have a white Easter, but Christmas seems extra special when there is snow on the ground. We have gone dog sledding, and snowshoeing. We have seen the Northern Lights. We have stood in the middle of a frozen river and watched Yukon Quest participants go by. We have seen ice sculptures and we have been to Santa's House in North Pole. We have sat in hot springs in -20*F (-29*C) weather. We have moose that live in our neighbourhood. We have been to the northernmost point in the United States. We have stood in the Arctic Ocean. The snow that we have to shovel is, for the most part, the lightest driest snow I have ever seen (so shoveling is manageable, even if still annoying). We have experienced cold that not many people can say they have felt. We have endured days with less than 4 hours of sunlight. We have seen the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets. We have seen colours in the sky that we have never seen before. An all pink sky? It does happen. We have seen light pillars and sun dogs. We have seen Denali in all its snow-covered beauty. We haven't been in any car accidents yet; well, unless you count the time that *someone* hit the side of the garage while pulling in and broke the side-view mirror off her car, but let's not talk about that, okay? We have strengthened friendships over dinners, board games, and many cups of hot chocolate. We have found new shows to watch on Netflix. We have read many, many books.

Everyday I get to look out my window at the whiteness that surrounds me and think "I live in Alaska." And sometimes, I even like it here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sled dogging!

Going dog sledding was pretty high on my Alaska bucket list and this weekend I was able to check it off. I was so excited as we pulled down the driveway to the sled dog tour company. We were about to go dog sledding! And on the heels of the Yukon Quest?!? It doesn't get much better than that. 

It was a perfect dog sledding day (I say as if I know what that looks like. Haha). The weather was pretty nice, around 5*F (-15*C). The sun was shining. Our musher was a German named Olaf. Olaf has lived in Alaska for about 30 years. He lives in a cabin he built himself on land about 200 hundred miles from us, and 50 miles from the nearest road. He comes into town a couple times a year to buy supplies, including enough dog food to feed 18 dogs for months. Then he transports it by dog sled back to his cabin. He was in the area for a couple months, running dog sled tours to earn money to buy window for his cabin, since he can't make the glass himself. As he told us his story, a part of me couldn't help but admire him. What a wonderful way to live in Alaska, just a man and his dogs on his own land, in a home he built with his own hands. Another part of me thought he was completely crazy. Who would want to live like that in this barren, frozen wasteland of a state? I came to the conclusion that I would like to try it for a month or two, but not for much longer than that. 

The dog sled ride itself was so much fun. We went for 7 miles on a beautiful trail. We got to ride the runners, meaning that we stood on the back of the sled, balanced on one runner (Olaf needed to be on the other one to drive the team). It took a few minutes to become steady but once that happened, oh man!! What an experience to ride behind a sled being pulled by dogs. The trail was a bit bumpy at times and the dogs got up to a speed of 12 miles an hour at one point, which added to the adventure. Neither Husband nor I ended up in a snowbank so I call that a success.

Before and after the ride, we were able to pet the dogs that weren't being used for tours. Turns out that the dogs LOVED Husband. He has a way with them apparently (too bad we just found out he is allergic). I was surprised to learn that sled dogs are pretty much mutts. They are not all the same type of dog like you see in movies and TV shows. Most of the dogs we saw, both at the dog sled place and during the Yukon Quest, looked nothing like the traditional husky we envision pulling sleds. The only thing they all have in common is they have some part of husky in them.

This was an amazing experience. We are already talking about doing it again next winter. If you find yourself in Alaska, I highly recommend a dog sled tour. It is an experience you won't regret!

Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 Yukon Quest

Disclaimer: I tried to keep the pictures to a minimum,but there are still a lot. Sorry (not sorry). 

I was excited to learn that the dog teams in the Yukon Quest came down the river right by our house. Standing in the middle of a frozen river while watching dog sleds go by? It doesn't get much more Alaskan than that, people. Tuesday morning, I texted my friend J to see if she wanted to go with me to watch the winner, Matt Hall, come down the river on his way to the finish line. My text message basically said "I've never done this before so I don't really know what I am doing, but it should be an adventure. Oh and dress for snow!" Surprisingly, she came anyway. We drove to a bridge less than a mile away, parked, and walked onto the river through knee-deep snow. 

This was our view while we waited.

My brave (and probably a little crazy) friend J. If I had received that text from a friend, I think I would have stayed home! 

The 2017 Yukon Quest winner. We were so close I could have reached out to touch him, but I was too busy taking pictures. He gave high fives to people as he went by.

Off he goes to the finish line 

Wednesday brought 4 more mushers down our way (a couple mushers passed through in the middle of the night, but there was no way I was waiting up for them). Torsten Kohnert came through our neighbourhood about 8:30am. I simply walked a few minutes down the street to the river. Then I climbed through knee deep snow again to get on the river. I barely settled in to wait when he came around the bend. I almost missed him! Interestingly enough, he is only one I saw seated.

A couple hours later another musher came by, but I missed her by less than 5 minutes. I thought I had more time, but she was hauling at speeds up to 11 miles an hour! I was determined not to miss the next one. Jessie Royer came by mid-afternoon. By this point I had the timing down pretty good so I was ready and waiting when she showed up.

The last musher of the day, Ryne Olson, came through about 8:40pm. I took Husband down to the river so he could see his first dog sled team (somebody has to work all day so I can stay home and track dog sleds). I didn't take any pictures because I didn't want the flash to distract the dogs. So instead of a cute picture of dogs, you get this cute picture of us.

Thursday I had to wait until 1pm to see the first team of the day come down the river. I took my friend's 5 year old with me to greet Dave Dalton as he passed by. The snow was tricky for the 5 year old's short legs. During our 3 minute walk to the river she kept huffing and puffing and exclaiming "Miss Michelle, I can't. I just can't." After a few encouraging words from me basically telling her to suck it up (Just kidding. I was laughing too hard to say anything), she made it through the snow like a champ. On the way back she said "Miss Michelle, that man waved at me. It was pretty awesome." Apparently the effort was worth it for her.

Thursday evening brought more mushers. I went to greet one more, Rob Cooke, just to make it an even 6. I only took cell phone pictures and those didn't turn out very good. And let's be honest, you're probably sick of looking at dog sled pictures. 

A final note, it turns out I have a knack for tracking dog sled teams. I was able to predict when the teams would be reaching our point in the race with almost scary accuracy. I could look at a musher's online tracker a few hours out and know when they would hit our spot. I seconded guessed myself once or twice, and that led to some mad scrambles to get out the door. I am considering adding "expert dog sled tracker" to my resume. Who knew Alaska would bring out such a talent in me? 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fun at -25*F (-32*C)

We had some really cold weather over the weekend. It was -39*F (-39*C) at 9am Sunday morning! Since it was so cold, we decided to have some fun.  I figure if we are going to live in the frozen north, we may as well have some fun with the cold. We tried two tricks. The first one was turning boiling water into snow. (Side note: I wanted to title this post "Our first Alaskan miracle: turning water into snow" but then I realized that our first miracle is that we have made it this far into winter and haven't lost any fingers or toes to frostbite.) The second trick was freezing bubbles. We blew bubbles and they froze in the air. It was as if they turned to plastic. Some of them landed on the snow and just stayed there, frozen. I was able to hold the bubbles in my hand. You can see from the pictures that some broke. Both were pretty fun experiments. I don't want to repeat them anytime soon though. That would mean it is super cold again. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Arizona Trip

Husband had some training that took him away from Alaska for the month of January. There was no way I was going to spend an entire month by myself in the Alaska interior in the middle of winter so I booked a ticket to Arizona under the guise of visiting my brother and sister-in-law. Truth be told, I just wanted warmth, sunshine, and great Mexican food. Just kidding - kind of. I chose the right week to get out of Alaska. While I was gone, temperatures hit -47*F (-44*C). I am already making plans to visit again next winter. My plan is to stay longer, maybe 3 or 4 months longer. 

The one thing I really wanted was a picture of me next to a cactus. We went to a nearby park in order to get the perfect picture. We also did a hike in the park. The trail was rocky and since we hadn't planned on doing any real hiking, we were in our flip-flops. Not the best choice for footwear. The hike was worth it though. We were rewarded with gorgeous views at the top. 

This is what most of the trail looked like. Not very conducive to walking in flip-flops. 

At another location, we were able to pick lemons and oranges. In case you are wondering, you can take 3 pounds of lemons in your carry on suitcase and nobody will bat an eye as you go through security. 

It wasn't quite as warm as I hoped it would be. I wanted it to be in the 80sF (20sC), but it was warmer than Alaska so I was happy. It was even warm enough one day for a bit of swimming.


My brother is in his second semester of med school so he had to study most of the week. That meant that my sister-in-law and I got to spend a TON of time together. It's a good thing we get along. We shopped a lot. I am not really a shopper, but since there aren't many stores where we live, I was super excited to go into any store we passed by. I took an almost empty suitcase down with me on the trip just in case. It was about half full when I returned. We ate some wonderful food. They introduced me to the Shake Shack, and I introduced them to Chipotle. I relearned the game Qwirkle and beat my sister-in-law by 2 points (#sorrynotsorry).