Posts Tagged With: winter weather

Reluctant Pioneer

The day trip to the Cabin was a bit of a disappointment … because I hated to have to leave after only a couple of hours!  The walk in was slushy with dangerously slick mud hiding under the slush.  Whole chunks of trail slid out from under me in places, so I finally gave up and walked through the brushy kinnikinnick at the side of the trail.  The lake is still frozen, but doesn’t look solid anymore.  As the snow melts on the lake and above it, water builds up on the surface of the ice.  So to my eye it looked like open water all along the “ice road” that my neighbors use, and although I was assured that it was still plenty solid for a vehicle, I’m a chicken.  The trail worked just fine!  

My footprints!  Going back I took the slightly firmer high ground to the right of the trail

My footprints! Going back I took the slightly firmer high ground to the right of the trail

Doesn't look great for walking to me!  The ice should be completely out in another few weeks

Doesn’t look great for walking to me! The ice should be completely out in another few weeks

On my way out I stopped in to accept a dinner invitation with my friends, Susie and her husband, who live up there year round.  They had a real treat for me.  They had come across a book written by a woman who had come to Alaska in the 1940’s with her husband and two small children.  Amid the trials and tribulations of pioneer life in Anchorage, this woman found the money, time, strength and courage to build a remote cabin.  My cabin as it turns out!  I am so excited about reading and sharing this book that I’ve decided to relax my strict policy of not disclosing personal details that could give away my location.  But in order to learn more, you’ll have to read the book!  “Reluctant Pioneer” by Cecile Betts.

reluctant pioneer book

As we had suspected, the cabin is built from a kit.  Cecile had recently divorced her first husband and acquired the property on the lake after a round of court battles over child support.  The ruins of the tiny log cabin that I have long referred to as the “trapper’s cabin” on the property is actually the original dwelling that her family used when staying up there.  She reported that it was too small and the roof leaked which prompted her to find the Quik Log cabin kit which she purchased for $900.  She then enlisted a local man to haul it from Anchorage for her for $50.  She and her children carried the logs up the hill to her building site.  Over the July 4th weekend of that year a military friend helped her build the Cabin, which likely explains the military bunks that were in use there until just two years ago.

 Cecile unfortunately passed away just 3 years ago in California.  I hope to make contact with some of her family and already have a letter on its way to a young lady whom I believe is her grand-daughter.  As I read the book, I am finding more and more names of folks that I recognize from stories my parents have told about their early lives in Alaska.  One gentleman that Cecile worked with was not only the father of my dad’s best friend but he took out my tonsils when I was 11 years old! 

 I am so excited to have come into this bit of history of a place that I hold so dear to my heart.  I promise to share more as I learn more.

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Categories: cabin, nostalgia | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A busy little guardian angel!

I ranted last week about Alaskan drivers and may have given the impression that I’m perfect. (HA)  To set the record straight, I’ll share some highlights of my driving career…my “auto” biography if you’ll pardon the pun.  (sorry about that…)

I took a notion one year to drive my teeny little Chevy Luv to Valdez to get some winter pictures.  In January.  In a blizzard.  With 4 hours of daylight and snow blowing sideways for two of the three days I was on the road, there wasn’t actually a lot of photography.  The drive to Valdez at night in a blizzard isn’t all that scenic as it turns out. 

It was about 10pm when I came down out of Thompson Pass and headed into Keystone Canyon.  Exiting the canyon, I went from relatively calm snow and some visibility to a crazy white swirling world and no road in front of me.  I slowed my truck, and then slowed it some more until I was barely crawling along.  Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had the road to myself I saw headlights coming.  I couldn’t see the road, never mind lane lines so I cautiously sidled over to give the oncoming 18-wheeler plenty of room to pass me.  And then I sidled my way right into the ditch.  I only knew that because my forward motion stopped and I was listing to port all of a sudden. 

Huh.  Now what? 

By the time I had collected my wits and stepped out of my truck to assess the situation, the trucker had gotten himself stopped and was walking a tow strap back to me.  I was out of that ditch before I could think about it.  How many folks can say they’ve been pulled out of a ditch by an 18-wheeler?

Turnagain Pass in winter

Turnagain Pass in winter

Years later a friend and I were coming back to Anchorage from Kenai after Thanksgiving with my parents.  I had a little Mazda 323 at the time and had had just enough money to purchase two new studded winter tires.  Not knowing any better, I instructed the tire guys to install them on the front since it was a front-wheel drive car.  If you’re not from winter country you might not realize what a big NO-NO that is.  Here’s why…

The snow started coming down as we left Kenai and by the time we got to the Sterling flats it was really thick, the kind of snow that Hollywood thinks of when they try to create snow for film.  Big, wet flakes were swirling around and were rapidly accumulating on the road surface.  I slowed a little, but I wasn’t too worried until I realized that the back end of the car was going faster than the front end around a long slow curve in the road.  With more weight on the gripping winter tires in front, the summer tires in the back had nothing to hold them to the road, so slowing down on a slick curve was actually the worst thing I could have done.  Only the front tires could respond. 

We did a nice, slow-motion 360 and came to rest nose down in a shallow ditch.  My guardian angel was on duty once again.  A tow truck came along just as we were climbing up out of the ditch and wondering who to call.  He hooked up, yanked us out and wished us a safe journey before we could even get all our winter gear on.

Kenai River in midwinter.  Some of our swans stay year round.

Kenai River in midwinter. Some of our swans stay year round.

Incidents like these have made me a cautious driver.  Road trip gear, especially in the winter, includes blankets or a down sleeping bag, flares, a small air compressor, heavy cold weather gear in case I have to walk for help, a jug of water, food and first aid supplies.  The gas tank is always topped off before setting out.  Even if the accident that stops highway traffic isn’t yours, you could find yourself on the road hours longer than you had planned.  My dad got caught between avalanches one year and couldn’t go back home or come the rest of the way into Anchorage.  He was lucky and only spent a few hours at the gas station in Girdwood before road crews cleared the avalanches. 

Our family has the best guardian angels anywhere!

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Driving in that first big snow

A truly serious snowfall yesterday, the first of the season. We’ve had several light dustings and one or two that looked like they were going to become serious, but this one pulled out all the stops and dumped close to a foot in places.
There’s a learning curve that Alaskan drivers seem to have to go through every year after the first real snowfall. We forget the basics.
Like…having a big badass four-wheel drive truck doesn’t mean you are going to be able to stop any more reliably than I can in my little front-wheel drive SUV. In fact, since you were probably going a little fast for the conditions, you’re WAY more likely than me to slide through that red light…so what the heck…just go on through. I’m expecting it.
Like…fewer cars are going to be able to make it through each cycle at the intersections and you might have to sit through a couple of cycles before you can (legally) go. Your office/home/grocery store will still be there when you finally get through the light.
Like…MANY folks will get frustrated that it took so long to get to the head of the line at an intersection so they are just going to go through it, even though the light is now green for you!
Like…lane lines (and curbs) have disappeared for the next four to six months, so there are a few nervous (or oblivious) drivers who take what seems to them to be the safest route…driving right down the middle. Slowly. Expect it. Deal with it. Dodge ‘em if they’re in oncoming traffic, otherwise pass ‘em when it’s safe, and get on with your day.
Like…the many listening devices we employ in our vehicles: iPods, CD’s, Pandora, Sirius radio, etc., are going to take second chair to local radio stations who offer regular traffic reports.
Like…you can’t count on the other guy to see you…he didn’t bother to brush the snow off of his windshield or windows. He’s peering out of small areas partially cleared by his wipers and defroster. Also don’t count on anyone behind him to see you…they are busy dodging the snowstorm that is blowing off of his vehicle as he travels down the road. (With wet snow, this can become a storm of flying snowballs…alarming to say the least.)
Like…sometimes, no matter how careful you are, suddenly the snow grabs the wheel and takes you on a little side trip…hopefully up onto a median or into a shallow ditch and NOT into another vehicle.
Like…you can absolutely count on Alaskans – even the crazy, red-light runners – to stop and help you out when we see you slide off course.
It’s just what we do.

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Winter is around here…somewhere

I had so hoped to get up to the Cabin last weekend, but birthdays and dog sitting duties got in the way.  Just as well.  The temperatures have taken a serious plunge into the single digits here in Anchorage and are almost certainly colder up in the mountains. 

Telephoto shot of one of the peaks across the valley from the Cabin – a month ago!

I don’t want to have to depend too much on an untested propane heater in those conditions.  Hopefully it will warm up a little in the next couple of weeks before we get too buried in snow for me to safely make the hike in.  I’ve been looking at snowshoes so that I can walk across the lake once it’s well frozen and has a little snow pack on it.

The extreme cold is somewhat unusual for this early in the season and may become a real problem here in the city.  The little snowfall we have gotten has mostly melted or evaporated (winter air is already deadly dry) so there isn’t any insulation to protect pipes from freezing.  Although I’m not crazy about driving on snowy roads after that first major snowfall, we really need it.

Besides, we manage the cold and endure the twenty hours of darkness by enjoying the beauty and fun of the snow.

 

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

First, errrr, second snowfall

Saturday was our first real snow day.  A group of us went to lunch and one by one we each stared out the window and said some variation of “sure looks like it’s gonna snow…”  As if one of us saying it wasn’t enough to confirm what our eyes were seeing. 

The first of the flakes began drifting down as we headed home, but didn’t seem too serious. 

Time to say goodbye to the green backyard for awhile.

It’s a little more serious this time…

Another hour and it was clear that this was the real thing.  The puppy hadn’t seen snow before, but took it in his usual stride…what’s the big deal, it’s just white rain and hey, it’s tasty! 

Eating white rain…he hasn’t learned the fun of chasing snowballs yet

Surprisingly Mr. Chitters doesn’t mind the snow too much either.  He bounds across the yard, scaling  the fence to access the woods where the snow is less deep, and conducts his kitty business in the shadows just like any other day.  Then he comes inside and looks for a warm lap to dry his feet.

 As before, most of the snow is already gone (as of Tuesday), but it took longer this time and more is already coming down.

We will spend the next two weeks watching and worrying about snowfall for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  On one hand, a fresh blanket of snow greatly increases visibility for drivers dodging pint-sized pedestrians, but on the other hand it makes walking slick and makes costumes awkward at best.  Other winter areas may understand the dilemma…do we outfit our kids in costumes that fit and then hide them under the snowsuits?  Or do we put them into costumes two sizes too big in order to fit over their winter gear?  Or do we just get them a mask and a wand and call it good? 

Princess in a parka…, Scary Monster in a scarf… you get the idea. 

If I can get my act together and get those snow tires out of storage and on my car, I will be going up to the Cabin this coming weekend.  It’s been many years since I was there in winter and I’m really looking forward to it.

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s still winter here!

The weather here in Anchorage has been warming up a bit. After subzero temps for most of the last three weeks, 30F is balmy. I know it’s only February, but the more I write about the Cabin, the more I look to the longer days and the warming weather as indicators of spring coming. Sigh…Phil already predicted another six weeks of winter. Little does he know…in Anchorage we can double that.

Frosty afternoon on Cook Inlet

 The above photo was taken on a recent trip to Kenai to visit my parents.

I have embarked on a huge project of scanning old photos and negatives into my computer.  I hope to be able to share some shots of past Cabin trips with my family and friends soon.  Meanwhile here are a few winter shots to keep me grounded in reality!

Moose on Funny River Road - taken two years ago on a road trip. This placid lady looks like she may be expecting. She was unconcerned about the car stopping next to her and soon went back to munching the willow branches. The temperature that day was between 10 and 20 degrees below zero! mmm...frozen willow sticks...my favorite

 
Alaskans get used to having their shrubbery “pruned” every winter by our ungulate friends.  We had a little bull moose camp out in our back yard a month ago.  A rotted pumpkin had been left on the flower box and that’s like a special treat for a moose.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me at the time!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hoar frost on the brush - Funny River Road

 
 Until the next post…stay warm!
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