Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cold Snap: Oh, Snap!

Well, it appears that our warm winter is over. The highs and lows here have stayed well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Tonight may be the coldest night yet with a range from 35-45F below! I have found where the insulation in my cabin is not sufficient. It is mainly around the edges of my front door. There is actually frost on the inside near the locking mechanism!

The aurora must be cold too because I have not seen it in quite a long time. The outside of my cabin needs some shoveling especially on my "party deck". there is 1-1.5 feet of snow on it, and I am afraid that if more gets piled on there it will collapse. I have a new hat and pair of mittens to keep me warm. Long underwear is next on my list.

I also rigged up a full-spectrum light alarm clock. It has been getting harder and harder to get up in the mornings since it is so dark, and this is my solution. It worked like a charm this morning even though the timing was a bit early. Not a big issue. School is almost over which means deadlines are very close! I have a couple of weeks to finish up my grading and turn in some papers and projects.

I think my next blog will have some timelapse photos of the rising and setting sun. I think that will interest some people. Be looking for that sometime this week perhaps.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rain Day: Part Deux

Raining non-stop. Over an inch or rain (=ice) on some roads. School canceled because of the warmth!

Warm it is here in Fairbanks. Jackets are missing for the most part as temperatures hover above the freezing point. The roads are improving as the ground slowly thaws out. I managed to escape the slushy grasp of my driveway as the many inches of hard-packed snow gave way. Having a two-wheel drive truck in Alaska is definitely a humbling experience.

I keep on taking the risk of leaving my cabin because it is the only way to learn how to drive in icy conditions. I just remember what I was taught many years ago in driving school (yes, I went to "school"). It is fair to say that Alaska never has "snow days", but it has "rain days". Forty below should not slow you down any!

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but concentrating on driving is a top priority for me. Also, I do not want to stop moving because I may never get the darn truck moving again! Momentum is an important part in gaining traction, I have found. Luckily, the rain will be switching over to snow tonight as the temperatures plummet to the negatives once again (Luckily?). It is true that I get annoyed when it warms up here.

For now I am sitting in College Coffeehouse grading my babel-sized stack of papers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Danger: ICE!

It is dark and rainy out on the roads. The ground still clings to the cold temperatures from bygone days. conditions are perfect for turning the roads into skating rinks.

An unusually warm pocket of air has affected almost all of Alaska today, and no one is happy about it. With the air temperature rising, the snow has turned into rain while the ground remains below freezing. Fairbanksans are finding the roads here downright impassible in many areas.

There are reports of multiple car pileups on the highway and many more in ditches scattered across town. I left my cabin this morning with the reasoning that the best way to learn how to drive on ice is to do it. Talley ho! As soon as I left my cabin, I saw the Gray Line city bus in the ditch surrounded by flares. No good.

I crept along at a snail's pace, giving the three cars in front of me enough room for me to stop. Stopping is not easy, however. Even the tiniest change in speed seemed to cause trouble and loss of traction. Oh, to have four-wheel drive right now! I had escaped Farmers Loop Road, but then had to tackle the hill to upper campus.

Progress was good up until the halfway point whereby my tires ceased to grip the road. The truck came to a halt and slid backwards until the tires regained traction. I was in a bit of a quandary. How do you get an object with no traction up a steep hill? The answer is you cannot. Sitting in the idling truck, I though long and hard about how to solve this dilemma.

A man in a navy blue UAF truck pulled up and offered a solution. He got out and slid (not walked) to my truck and tossed salt under my wheels. After trying this several times, but to no avail, he left me with the promise of a gravel truck. Cars behind me were annoyed and attempted to go around me. They eventually slid back to where I was, much to my amusement.

Once the gravel truck arrived, I was able to gain traction and head up to upper campus. Classes were canceled of course, but I came up here for the experience and to work. It is still dark outside, but lightening up a bit. I hope the ice is taken care of soon!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter: The Signs

It was dark and cool when I pulled into my snowy driveway. As I walked up to my cabin everything seemed normal until I heard a rustling, crashing sound to my right. I stopped in my tracks immediately.

Moments passed as the list of large animals that could possibly be out there flashed through my mind. Moose? Bear? Sarah Palin?

Suddenly, I heard another crashing sound to my left. This time I could see it. Snow sliding off of my slanted metal roof. I breathed a sigh of relief and entered my cabin a little wiser. 

Winter is definitely here in Alaska. The signs can be seen all around town. The easiest one to spot is the marshmallow blob on cars. The snow in Fairbanks is not like the snow in most places. It is very dry and powdery. In fact, it is so dry that you cannot make a snowball or a snowman with it. This also help when you want to get the snow off of your car in the morning. You can simply brush it off with little effort. You do have to make sure that you dust off your license plate, too!


Another sign is the large amount of cars in ditches. Apparently, the people of Fairbanks forget that ice is inherently slippery. Winter happens every year people! Plus, it lasts for the majority of the year! How can you forget to drive carefully on ICE! Sigh.

The remedy for this problem is the next sign. Namely, the whirring, clicking sound of studded snow tires. These are a must for those who have 2-wheel drive (me), who are magically drawn to ditches, who like the movie Tokyo Drift, or those who are from Colorado (You people only THINK you can drive on ice).

Amazingly, this leads into the next one perfectly (witch!(warlock?)). There is an abundance of snow plows/blowers buzzing about. These can come in all sizes from hand-propelled to massively large trucks the size of Brittney Spear's trailer (home?). I even have a buddy in the snow-plowing business (plow my driveway, Joe!). 

This last one may be the most obvious as well as the oddest. The sun tends to race across the sky at a rapid pace (lower angle, too!). I have definitely noticed this recently. It is not uncommon to get up and go to school/work and completely miss the day. Currently, it starts getting dark around 3 pm with a sun rise around 9:30am. I try to make an an effort to go outside and do errands during the daylight hours. If not, then it can do weird stuff to your body. 

Well, I hope y'all enjoy Fall wherever you are. I am sorry for the lack of posts recently. School. That is my excuse. There will be more to come soon, I promise. 

Sun Dog-Taken at "high" noon

Strange light spires formed in the icy atmosphere.

View facing South from Farmers Loop Road by my cabin.

View facing West towards my cabin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vanity Plates: README

If you drive anywhere in Alaska for a short period of time you will begin to notice the high quantities of vanity plates. Now, I wouldn’t describe Alaskans as vain since most look like the Gordon’s Fisherman or the crazy prospector, Gabby Johnson, from Blazing Saddles (rerin!), but they do have vanity in other forms.
For one, they take their state pride way too seriously. I haven’t felt this discriminated against since I visited China and all because I am a Texan. I don’t seem to recall making fun of people because they were from Vermont while living in the Lone Star State. “How does it feel to be from the second largest state?” is one jeer that I received recently. But I digress.

40BLOW, RAVENS, and TI3VOM are some of the colorful plates I have seen. A creepier one spotted recently was LVBSKT. I think the reason why people get these plates is the fact that they are easy to create on the DMV website (and fun!). They are also inexpensive compared to other states.

I still have my good ‘ole Texas plates on my truck for now, but a time will come when I will probably need to get Alaska plates. Should I choose to get vanity plates, I would have to have a pretty good 6-character combo to put on there.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moose: Golly Gee Bulwinkle!

Probably not since watching Rocky and Bullwinkle have I been exposed to a moose. But in Alaska, look around! There are moose by the dozens here! Now, I know that moose are found all around the northern latitudes of the world, but none so large and iconic as these.

In one day I came across four moose within a span of a couple of hours, two of which, trotted in front of my truck. One thing I have noticed is the elusiveness of the bull moose. So far, I have only seen the cows and calves. My friend’s father, Jim, who joined me for the drive up with me to Alaska, claims to have seen one while we were driving. 

Perhaps later in the year when they are in rut (mating season) will I finally see one. My only hope is that I have my camera handy. Out of all the Alaskan mammals, moose seem the least concerned with bipedal mammals such as us. They have no real natural predator except for the bloodthirsty Bronco or the feisty Forrester. 

A moose’s innermost thoughts are mainly centered on fresh tree shoots and soggy pond scum. The pond scum is eaten as a sodium supplement, apparently. It’s kind of nasty to watch if you ask me. Once the mating season is over I hope to come across some freshly shed moose antlers. You can never have too many antlers in Alaska! 

Besides playing moose roulette with my truck, my second biggest concern is bumping into an 8-foot, 1000 pound beast on the way to my outhouse. I keep forgetting to look around me because the intoxicating effect of sleep clouds my thoughts in the morning. Why am I concerned? Well, because moose attack more people than bears and wolves combined! 

Most people do not know that moose are dangerous. This is probably due to their dorky appearance. Those skinny legs and bulbous upper-body appear slow and clunky, but they are anything but. A moose can charge at speeds of 35 m.p.h., easily outrunning any human. On top of that, their massive hooves can smash your neck with one single blow. Did I mention they have teeth, too? 

So, it is best to leave these bulky behemoths alone, and enjoy them from a safe distance. I have no idea why a squirrel and moose became friends, but rest assured that that squirrel would have been trampled to death a long time ago in real life. Yeah, I know, it’s not the best way to end a blog, but that’s real life, people. It ain’t* pretty sometimes.

*I am from Texas and have permission to use “ain’t” like it’s a word.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Autumn Is Here!

Aspens are quaking in their little golden leaves, and the birch just hang out and turn yellow. 

Autumn is definitely in full swing here in Fairbanks! Everywhere you look there are dozens of yellow and golden brown patches of birch and aspen trees. The spruce provide a steady green color to contrast with the yellows. On the hill above my cabin, a patch of aspens has been changing color together, causing a spilling lava effect over the top and down the side.

The temperature is still very nice and cool but not cold. There was a week of clouds and rain, but the weekend looks fantastic. Saturday may be my day to drive down to Denali and maybe even see the darn mountain! This is pretty much it for fun road trips since school is in full swing now. Man, I wish I could have just a little more time!

So, there may be some new Denali pics coming soon to the blog. Be on your guard! Well, now i must go and set up the lab for next week.

See you later!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brooks Range Pics Posted

I just got back from camping/hiking in the Brooks Range, and I have some new pics posted under the Alaska Photography page. There might be a write-up to follow. School is beginning in the next few days so I may be very busy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dry Cabin Living

The power of the ancient Romans is evident from their technological achievements. Many of their theaters, roads, and bridges still stand as a testament to this fact. Another invention that still stands the test of time is indoor plumbing. At least, that is what I used to think. Alaska is still behind when it comes to embracing this “luxury”.

I am speaking facetiously, of course, but it is interesting to live in a place where living without running water is not uncommon or frowned upon. This can be witnessed by visiting the Laundromat near the University. You can wash your clothes and yourself at the same time in one of four showers for a price. The campus also has several shower facilities available at no cost.

My cabin rests above several feet of soil and permafrost, ground that remains below freezing. If the cabin were to sit on the ground it would trap heat underneath it, melt the underlying permafrost, and subsequently cause the cabin to sink. The permafrost is also responsible for the lack of running water in my cabin.

The cold soil and the extreme temperature swings wreak havoc on underground plumbing. The solution is to purchase water at a cheap price and haul the water back in blue camping jugs (yay, Aqua-tainer!). The Water Wagon is a popular place to fill up your jugs. It operates not unlike a gas station/vending machine.
Small change is best for this task since one gallon of water costs 1 ¾ cents! I like to use nickels. The water is dispensed out like gasoline and comes out pretty quickly. Then you just heave the now heavy water jug in the back of the truck/car and head on home. It’s that simple!
In my kitchen there is a normal sink with two basins. Underneath is where it gets interesting! There are two one-foot long pvc pipes that run into two large, orange buckets. Brilliant! So, the water jugs (equipped with spigots) sit over the sink and operate like a regular faucet, and the water runs into these buckets.

One important thing to remember, and I must stress important, is to empty out the buckets when they are full. Luckily, I have a tray to catch all of the forgetful drops that pour from the full buckets. This incident has occurred a few times already since I moved up here. The buckets are emptied outside in a spot of your choosing.

Everything else is pretty much the same. Although, most places do not have air conditioning since it rarely gets warm enough to need one. I say that after Sunday’s high was 91 degrees! However, this was a record and only lasted one day. Oil heaters are common for some reason. I have yet to figure out this one. I turned mine on the other day to make sure that it worked. My place still smells like exhaust! There is probably something wrong with mine, though.
Oil Heater

What else am I forgetting? There was something else that was different. Oh, yes, now I remember. I don’t have a bathroom! Well, I should say that I don’t have an INDOOR bathroom. I do have an outhouse. This seems to be a hot topic among Outsiders. My outhouse has four walls, a clear roof, and electricity. That’s all I want to say about the subject because there is not much else to say.

Living in Alaska has changed my way of life a little bit, and it is exciting to try and live differently than what I am used to. Dry cabin living is definitely not for everyone, save for those that crave adventure and being out in nature. Speaking of Nature, I think I hear her calling me. Excuse me. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coffee: The Lifeblood of Alaska

In my recent travels around the last frontier state, I have noticed something curious. The people here love their coffee! Never have I lived in a place so infested with coffee purveyors in my life! There are little kiosks on almost every street corner where you can simply drive up in order to get a quick fix. There are also places where you can relax in a leather chair and sip the stuff slowly.

I have found myself patronizing the latter quite frequently since I haven’t purchased one of those obnoxious cable/internet combo packs for my cabin yet. Let me just say that I have reenlisted in the coffee junkie army in a very short period of time. College Coffeehouse was the first place that I discovered here in town. Located ideally across from the UAF campus, this venue offers North Pole coffee, tea, and some sweets to munch on. I go mainly for the Wi-Fi since the next venue has the best coffee I have found thus far.

The Alaska Coffee Roasting Company is my favorite place to go for coffee and much much more. Their coffee comes from all parts of the world and is roasted locally. Their food is excellent as is the atmosphere. Their pizzas are cooked in their brick oven fresh every day, and their selection of pastries is out of sight!

Still, what has turned this place into a giant sludge cup? I suppose the love of coffee is strong here because of the long winter which I am about to endure. Some are optimistic about winter and some are not. Those who are not probably haven’t had their coffee yet. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Fires,They Rage

The wind shifted to the north and with it came the smoke and ash from forest fires.

If the fires are not threatening anything the fire fighters let them burn themselves out. I suppose this saves time and money. People with breathing issues need to be careful, however. The recent deluge yesterday has squelched much of the fires for now. I must say that the storms here are much more violent than I had predicted.

In Texas, most of the thunderstorms that pop up in the summer are brief downpours and last no more than fifteen minutes. Not so in Alaska. It poured and poured for over an hour with occasional lightning and thunder. It all sounded wonderful in my cabin since my roof is metal. At first I was concerned with having my windows open, but then I noticed that all of the windows were protected by the overhanging roof.

I drove up to Fox last night to fill up my water jugs with the spring water up there. Everyone that I have talked to has said that it is worth the drive. Also, the water is free. This is usually a great selling point, but the Water Wagon water is 1 3/4 cent per gallon so its not that big of a bargain. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it for myself.

I had to wait a bit because a man in an old Nissan truck was filling up his jugs. In the meantime I wandered around the brush near the stream. I found some tasty raspberries, and popped a few in my mouth. Berry season is well underway in Alaska by now. A yell from the pump station told me that it was my turn to fill up.

It was a three-walled shelter that covered two cold pipes that were gushing water. The two silver buttons were propped in the on position with a coke tab and a penny. This was easier than holding them down and showed some true Alaskan ingenuity. All in all, I collected twenty four gallons of Fox spring water. On the way home, I watched the clouds crawl over the forested mountains in the golden evening sunlight. It reminded me of my time in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York a little.

When I got home, I immediately poured a draught of the icy spring water from my jug. I drank it slowly on the balcony while watching the steam from the forest fires pass by. It was worth the drive!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Journey Has Ended

The six day journey to Alaska from Texas has ended.

I am still feeling the effects of that 4,200 mile drive. The path went up through CO, WY, and MT with only two stops along that stretch. Once into Canada, we pitched camp in Calgary, stayed at an old air force barracks in Ft. St. John, and then to Beaver Creek at the border. We drove the entire Alaska Highway, which had some ups and downs (literally).

Fires are raging to the south of Fairbanks, and there was a cargo plane crash in Denali. Also, ash is falling out of the sky like a light snow, but the weather is clear and warm. Rain is on the way, and that should help with the fires.

The cabin has been a neat change. Dry cabin living is definitely different from modern conveniences. Emptying out my sink bucket, purchasing my water, and the all too popular outhouse are some of the differences. Really, though, it isn't that different from "normal" life. I shower up at school, which if you exercise, shouldn't be different.

There is a wealth of information about to be released once I muster up the energy to put finger to keypad.

Soon, soon.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Antler Update

Man, I cannot believe how far we have come already!

The first night was spent at Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico. This place is very nice! We awoke in time to see the sunset before we set out on our next leg of the journey. We coursed our way up through central Colorado and the eastern side of Wyoming. Rolling hills of golden grass and deep purple mountains followed us most of the way.

We are now in Billings, Montana. Quite a lot of travel in one day! Our next break will be in Canada probably in Calgary. I am awake early and eager to type up some things. Pictures may come along the journey if I am not too tired. Also, internet is a bit scarce up here, as you can imagine.

Thanks for all of your prayers!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Antler Roadtrip

It looks like this might actually happen!

I have tied up most of the loose ends here, and have begun the series of goodbye's. There's a new top-of-the-line camper shell on my truck now. This protects my things and will keep the snow out of the bed during the winter months. Black wasn't available, but the silver isn't bad.

The drive should take around five or six days depending on how hard we push through. I think that we will try and push through the USA and spend more time in Canada. I have two companions traveling with me. They wanted to have a little adventure, and who can blame them? Its the greatest roadtrip ever!

Thanks for all of your support and I will leave little progress reports along the way with pictures and maybe some video.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Part VI: The Conclusion

The bus continued to climb and snake its way along the loose gravel road hundreds of feet above the valley floor. Another bus was coming towards us on the narrow road. We held our breath. 

Inches away to our left, we saw our scared faces mirrored by the people on the other bus as we crawled past. Whew! Thankfully, the road widened and journeyed away from the ledges and into rolling hills. An empty riverbed sat at the foot of a tall hill with small shrubbery between us. Alongside the road there stood two dusty campers staring off into the grass and shrub.  

They began to signal our driver with hand-gestures that were well-known to park staff. We came to a stop and saw a pack of wolves trotting along together. The familiar shutter clicking began. Then, the lead wolf stopped cold, standing almost like an English pointer. A huge brown shape suddenly grew out of the shrub and towered above them. It was a large grizzly bear.  
We all gasped as we awaited the result of this showdown. It was unclear at first, but it soon became apparent that this was a territorial dispute. The wolves surrounded the bear and the ones behind began to inch closer and even bite at the bear’s large ankles. They were cautious, however, when the beast swung his giant head around and glared at them. He was a stubborn bear!  
He even had the courage to sit down and rest while the wolves paced about him, clearly agitated by his brevity. Finally, the wolves became more aggressive and he saw that he had out-worn his welcome. He got up and trudged away down the dry riverbed. Our driver, a veteran of the park, said that he had never seen a bear/wolf encounter in all of his time there. Sweet!  

We reached the end of our route and the center facing Mount McKinley. The view was obscured completely, but we rode back still satisfied with all of the wildlife we saw along the way. Being only a couple of hours away from Denali, I am confident that I will eventually see Mt. McKinley up-close and stripped of icy clouds. 
The End 


Friday, July 2, 2010

Part V: Denali - The Cliffhanger

           Cloud-wrapped mountains and misty trees stood sentinel as we pulled into Denali National Park. There would be no seeing “The Great One” on this trip.

Heidi had agreed to come along with my parents and I. She had spent a summer working as a guide in the park and knew the area well. We bought our bus tickets and waited patiently inside as the cold drizzle continued to fall. Suddenly, a feeling of dread came over me because of a familiar sound coming from a corner of the building. It sounded like the horrible child that was on the train to Fairbanks.

Gathering up my courage, I walked over cautiously to investigate. It was the very same beast! Quickly, I alerted my parents much to their dismay. It seemed that we were doomed to repeat our journey but in bus form. As the minutes fluttered away, so did our hopes of having a decent day in Denali. Now, the wait for the bus held a weight of burden on all of us.

I tried to talk to Heidi to make the wait more bearable. In doing so, I almost missed the couple and their demon-spawn exit the building never to return. We all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we had avoided catastrophe. Boarding the hunter-green bus, we all sat down and began our journey through Denali.

Everyone on the bus clung to the windows on the sides of the bus as the driver provided some narration along the way. Our first wildlife encounter was a few Caribou on a misty mountain slope. The bus stopped and all was silent for a few moments save the sound of camera shutters clicking away. I was, of course, one of those noisy shutterbugs.

As we continued around the corner, one of the passengers yelled out, “Dall sheep, eight o’clock!” We could see on the top of the ridge two rams lying in the patchy grass and rocks. They seemed to take no notice of us, probably because of their superior proximity to us. The bus reached the bottom of the valley, and there were a few composting toilets near a great mountain river. Bathroom break! I went straight for the frigid river in search for interesting rocks.

I had just enough time to come back to the bus and clean my mud-stained window before we were off again. This next stretch of “road” had to have been the scariest I have ever been on. It snaked along the mountain’s side with no support, pavement (only gravel in Denali), or railing. Thankfully, we clung to the mountain side when another bus had to pass us because there was only enough room for two buses to graze past one another.

On our way back, however, we would be the ones on the loose talus side. One weird passenger asked the driver if they had ever lost a bus over the side. The wry driver responded, “No. We have always been able to find them!” He then said that no bus had gone down the couple thousand foot drop to our right. Heidi then spoke up and recounted an incident she had heard of during her time working at the park. The driver thought for a while and then took back what he said. Comforting.

Photo by: Tom Wright
Part VI: The Conclusion

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Part VI: Enjoyment

The day after your birthday is usually met with the same enthusiasm as the day after Christmas, but not in this case. My housing needs were met and the rest of the week was open to exploration.
What should we do first? Well, when you live a few miles away from North Pole, Alaska chances are good that you will go and pay Santa a visit. SANTA! I was having flashbacks to Will Ferrell screaming that name at the top of his lungs while dressed as an elf. How would we know which house was his?
A giant statue of Santa wielding his iconic list greeted us as we drove up. Who could resist? Reindeer were nestled all snug under spruce trees until they heard the familiar sound of feed being deposited into their troughs. I watched as they pranced away with a flash, but was distracted by an all too familiar jolly laugh.
I turned my head quickly just in time to see a large man disappear inside. Could it be? It didn’t take much to convince me to go inside. Every form of Christmas decoration was there by our sides. Then we all dispersed in different directions throughout the store. This place was the ultimate decoration superstore!
Garlands, ornaments, and shiny glass balls were piled high from wall-to-wall. There were even enough North Pole shirts to stuff a narwhal! My parents and I convened on the same spot when suddenly we were greeted by nobody but the Big Man himself. My mother melted and turned into an eight-year-old girl again. She said, “Hello, Santa,” with a sheepish grin.
He was very kind and down to earth, but what surprised me more than his girth was his knowledge of where we lived! After all he is Santa Claus, but wow! He knew everything about my hometown as well as my other home in Waco, TX. I thought perhaps he was from Texas, but he proceeded to do the same with a couple from Kansas.
After becoming believers, we paid for our merchandise, and I mailed my postcards (they get a nice postmark from Santa’s House). We then drove a little ways down the street to visit the Knotty Shop (not sleazy). This store had a wonderful pine smell and some very unique gifts. It was here that I purchased a nice Ulu knife, perfect for my new cabin.
On our way back we went to one of the many drive-thru coffee stands (recommended highly), and then went to eat at the Pump Station with Heidi.
For writing this I hope you may not kill me on sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Part V: Denali

Friday, June 25, 2010

Part III: The Hunt For Someplace Nice

The train pulled into the station amidst the lowering smoke-stained sun. The wild fire season had come early to Fairbanks.

I picked up our luggage as my dad cleverly grabbed the only cab waiting at the train station. Our cab (mini-van) pulled into the Best Western after a rather short drive. The place was new and still had that new carpet smell as well as sticking doors and “green” staff. We made the best of it, though. Night time equated to me shutting the hotel curtains, turning off the lamp on the nightstand, and saying, “good night!”

The sun sets late during the Alaska summers, if at all. Waking up looked very similar to going to bed, but we rose ready to compete at the Continental Breakfast Olympics. Fire-fighters from all
over were bunked up at our hotel (many wildfires), and getting to the breakfast before them was our up-most priority. Some days were more successful than others, I’m afraid.

Our second most priority was to find me a place to live. Easier said than done, right? My parents and I went up to the University of Alaska campus to check the bulletin boards. I had already picked up some leads earlier from wading through the murk that is Craigslist (Creepslist?), but felt more comfortable with ads geared towards students like myself.

The perfect place was not found until the day of my birthday. A local ad in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner Classifieds started it all. After a visit and subsequent paperwork, I was the proud owner (renter) of a two bedroom dry log cabin in the woods. The location, being only three miles from campus, was a nice perk as well.

After the cabin business was complete, my parents and I went down to the Sourdough Cafe for a little celebration dinner, both for the cabin and my apparent birth. It was a turning point in the trip for us. No more would we have to wonder whether or not I could find a place to live. The stress-cloud was lifted, and we slept well that night knowing that the rest of the trip was for our enjoyment.

Part IV: Enjoyment

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Part II: Heading To Fairbanks

Arriving to the train station early was my dad’s idea, but even he underestimated how early we would get there. Either our driver knew the ropes well or the front desk lady drives slowly.

The morning light filled the small, quaint train station with a warm light that reflected off of the polished wooden benches and onto the detailed ceiling. We watched travelers saunter in as the time rolled on steadily towards our departure. I had never been on a real train before (just those things big cities call trains), and never first class!

The front car of the blue and yellow train was reserved for us Gold Star people (fancy-pants). The second story was the seating quarters, which included a bar, open-air deck, and a clear bubble ceiling. The bottom of the car was where the bathrooms and dining room were. I chose to spend much of my time out on the open air deck with my camera. I was about to find out that this was to be prime real estate for many reasons.

As with most adventures, things began to chug along quite nicely. The scenery was fantastic, from the jagged mountain peaks to the braided-meandering river crossings. Trees were a nice touch as well. What was not a nice touch was an Indian family located a few seats back and to the right of us. Their little girl, who had to have been three or four, was a brat of a child.

Great loud and strange wailings continued out of her mouth for eight hours, greatly annoying everyone in the train car. The creature even drove the nice New Zealand couple to drink excessively. Now, I am not usually bothered by a little bit of fussing as long as the parents are trying their best to silence the child. These people did NOTHING! Not even their extended family, who was with them, would provide aid.

I missed most of the screaming child action since I was out on the open-air deck part of the train car, and could not hear much. Only when the child came outside did I come inside, except for the lure of the dining car. The food on the train was wonderfully well-prepared and flavorful. I dined on buffalo burgers for lunch and salmon corn chowder in the evening.

When the train stopped in Denali National Park so did the screaming. The Indian couple left the train. Everyone on-board felt and looked more at ease. Even the New Zealand couple had ceased their drinking binge, and promptly went to sleep. I came in and relaxed with a nice book in my seat while the wilderness of Alaska quietly sped past. We spent the next four hours in silence with only slight interruption from the staff narration.

As we rolled into Fairbanks, I saw the University of Alaska, my future home, for the first time. I thought about this introspectively, said goodbye to the staff, and exited the train.

Part III: The Hunt For Someplace Nice