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.