Springtime in Alaska

June 25th, 2012

Once again Spring arrives in Alaska–or it tries to arrive.  It’s mid-June now and it’s still no more than 55F.  We’ve planted our greenhouse with tomatoes and cucumbers and the usual root crops outside, but they are growing slowly.  The ferry Matanuska rams Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock and then things start to warm up……  Here’s a You Tube video of the crash.

One morning we get a call from our neighbors about a moose running down our beach.  Now, we haven’t seen a moose in the past 6 years here…..and all of a sudden we’ve several (see below).  This one swims from Petersburg to Kupreanof, then decides to swim back but……look what’s coming.  At this point, she again turns around and heads for Petersburg Creek.  We call the harbormaster who in turn radios the tug/barge and the moose escapes……

Here’s a You Tube video:

Then our friends arrive.  A high school buddy of mine made the third ascent of Devils Thumb and 30 years later his son arrives hell bent on flying this magnificent peak which towers 9000′ above us here.  Chris is an extreme paraglider and methinks he might want to include this trophy in his collection.  The three guests strap GoPros on all surfaces of this plane and off they go…..   I’ll post their flight here at a later date.

This winter I completed my faering project and while Chris, Hanna and Karson might be extreme youth, they are no match for us old geezers in a viking boat!   Every Syttende Mai here in Petersburg, I challenge the moribund Norwegians to a rowboat race and this year has three heats:  1.  open class, 2. wooden rowboats, and 3.  faerings… which I handily win.

This year we have a lot of moose in the yard.  These three  came galloping through one morning like a bunch of camels.

then a wolf!  He walked up within 30′ of the house, then sauntered off.

and finally a bear.  We’ve had a dozen sightings over the past two weeks.   Unfortunately, a local kid cruising the narrows spotted one of our bears and beached his boat and killed a boar, taking only the hide….until the local game warden informed him he must also harvest the meat.  I hope he chokes on bear steaks….not exactly a delicacy.  What a waste!

Here’s a photo Martina took coming back from Juneau–looking SW–still lots of snow this June.  The blue dot is Petersburg, and we’re the red one across the narrows.  Frederick Sound is at the bottom, Sumner Strait at the top.  Hope the weather warms up–stay tuned!



Nome and the New Gold Rush

May 10th, 2012

After visiting the Iditarod start in Anchorage last month, I just must see the finish-line (shown here) so I call up my good friend Fred in Haines and we meet in Juneau for an exciting trip to Nome.

With the price of gold skyrocketing, miners are pouring into Nome to dig up the beaches again.  The sand is only 12 feet below the icepack, so people are cutting holes in the ice, donning scuba gear and using big vacuums to harvest what was left behind 110 years ago.  We don’t want to miss out on this fun…..

We must stop over in Anchorage–this is the view out of the top floor of the Captain Cook Hotel–one of the nicest places to stay in Alaska.   Now, this hotel has a wine bar so they must ‘card’ everyone who enters the bar.   Well, Fred, at 60, doesn’t like to be carded so pretty soon the hotel manager comes over and it turns out to be the owner, Wally Hickle Jr.  He turns out to be a nice guy and we have a nice discussion about Alaskan politics.  Fred presents his ID.

Captain Cook sailed all the way to this place in leaky old ships over 200 years ago–this guy had what it takes.  Even Vitus Bering didn’t make it this far.  This view out into Turnagain Arm shows the setting sun in March.

The ice is breaking up in Norton Sound as we fly along.  They have snowmachine races on Norton Sound every year and these machines reach speeds of 120 miles per hour.  There are no polar bears down this far south.

Alaska Airlines just introduced a bunch of these half cargo/half passenger planes.  If you use frequent flyer miles, it’s only 15,000 miles to fly from Petersburg to Nome and back!  Such a deal.  Fred and I get down to business–investigating all the bars in town.  Wyatt Earp opened a bar here in the early last century during the Nome Gold Rush and we’re anxious to visit there.

This isn’t it, but most of the places look like this–little doorways into warm interiors.  Two weeks earlier, this place was packed with Iditarod sight-seers.  You must prepay for one week at the hotel a year in advance if you want to see the finish.  My name’s on the waiting list.

Meet Fritz–one of the dogs that lead the team transporting diphtheria vaccine to Nome in 1925.  His reward was to be stuffed like Roy Roger’s horse and stuck in a plastic box so tourists like me could take pictures.    Hmmmmm.

If you visit Nome, be sure to visit their wonderful museum.  Besides this famous dog and Wyatt Earp, the early polar explorers visited Teller (near Nome) via dirigible.  The Gjoa, Nansen’s first ship, and the first ship ever to traverse the NW passage sailed here in 1906.  His second ship, Fram carried Amundsen to Antarctica.  These were exciting times!

I worked in Nome (also Shishmaref and Elim) about 10 years ago during the Idatarod.  Here is Igloo #1–a new building in town.

Helping dig out from the winter snow at Anvil City Park–it’s about 12F this day.  Gold was discovered by the “Three Lucky Swedes” on Anvil Creek in 1901.  Actually one was Norwegian….  The name “Nome” is debatable–here’s Wiki’s read:

“The origin of the city’s name “Nome” is still under debate. The name may have been given by Nome’s founder, Jafet Lindeberg: within trekking distance of his childhood home in Kvænangen, Norway, there is a Nome valley (Norwegian: Nomedalen).

An alternate theory is that Nome received its name through an error: allegedly when a British cartographer copied an ambiguous annotation made by a British officer on a nautical chart, while on a voyage up the Bering Strait. The officer had written “? Name” next to the unnamed cape. The mapmaker misread the annotation as “C. Nome”, or Cape Nome, and used that name on his own chart;[1] the city in turn took its name from the cape.”

Local merchants wanted the name Anvil City, but it was the Post Office that refused to change the name.

Two things the locals like the most–drinking and pull tabs.  And this is after they swept up.  This bar has been in continual existence since the original Gold Rush.  An Eskimo woman sitting next to us won $400 and began to tell us her life story–truly riveting for Fred and me.  The Eskimo language and culture is becoming rapidly  extinct.

In normal towns, rednecks have dogs in the back of their pickups.  Not in Nome.  This one will give you a taste  of his antlers if you get too close.

Of  course, I can’t resist playing (and completely dismantling) this old piano–I’ll bet Wyatt Earp played this one too.  Fred listens politely in the lobby of the Nugget Hotel.  Stay tuned!

Islands and Iditarod–our winter respite

March 6th, 2012

It’s time to warm up again–February is always a good time to consider alternative lifestyles in Hawaii and our good friends in Kona invite us down.   There is now a direct Alaska Air flight from B’ham to Hono-town (hate this place) but we hop over to Kauai, pour a couple Pina Coladas and begin to unwind…..ahhhh!  feel the ocean breeze?

First stop–Waimea Canyon, Kauai.  One good thing about living in a rain forest here in Alaska is you’re used to rain–and rain it did.  Kauai hold the planet’s record for rain at over 400″ but at least the waterfalls run.  Grand Canyon of Hawaii???… not even close, but it is beautiful.  We discover a nearby CCC camp and visit there and even make a donation for their restoration.  Visit our new website here to find out about this place.

I take surfing lessons from one of the best……   No wipe-outs for me!

Over on the Beeg Island, Kilauea is still erupting.  Can you imagine, after publishing our Hawaii poster two years ago, this volcano re-erupted and last year we sold over 800 posters compared to about 10 the year before!  Pele’s still happy and so is Ranger Doug.

Here is a typical Kona sunset, filtered through volcanic smog or vog…..

All this vog makes my head spin but I find relief in these pills, or are they suppositories–yikes!  There is so much fufu on these islands.  We visit the Avocado Festival where a silent auction lists custom “Light Infusions,”  at $350 each–or two for $750….later changed to $700, the correct amount.  And get a load of this scam:

I don’t mean to mock religion (OK, I do)……so we tour  a 600+ acre paradise where 23 monks (ex-California hippies) live tax-free and the land was donated by the state!  I’m OK with all their messages (I even wore a sarong for three hours because they didn’t like my knobby, sunburnt & bare knees!), but do they really need a multi-million dollar hand carved granite tax-free temple too?  I say tax all religions.  Read more here.

Then, there is the average Joe on the street–actually, this guy was very nice and let me take his picture.  He ran a piercing shop and tattoo parlor in Hilo.  Now, I attended about 10 years of college before I could pierce anyone (I’m a dentist as you know) and I never could figure out why and how these businesses can possibly be legal….  Time to head back home to sanity….

All flights directly from Hawaii to Anchorage were fully booked so we ferry back to Petersburg and immediately fly to Anchorage to view one of the last great races on this planet–the Iditarod.  Man, was I blown away by the crowds and commercialism.  Not sure this is any more sane than Hawaii really.

People are now ‘training’ 365 days a year for this and spending tons of money doing it.  The top winner so far (this was the 40th anniversary) is Jeff King at over $750,000.   With incredible lightweight sleds and top-science dogfood (12,000 calories/day/dog), this race has been pared down to just under 9 days.  The original “Great Race of Mercy” in 1925 took only five and a half days, but began from Nanana; 674 miles from Nome–today’s race is 1049 miles.  Follow the race here.

Here is Lance Mackey, who won both the Iditarod (four times) and Yukon Quest in the same year and is a heavy favorite this year although the competition is fierce with 67 teams entered.  Over 1000 dogs will run.

And everyone dresses up–Alaska style…..

Move over Pamplona–here is the queuing up for the “Running of the Reindeer.”  Never seen such pandemonium, drunkards, and tattoos since my college days.   Oh, their ‘Queen of this Madness’ was none other than Bristol Palin (white coat).  Pity the poor reindeer.

Here is Martina and friends where we watch the Fur Auction–now this is not for the squeamish.  I doubt PETA was invited.

What with all this global warming, animals are turning in their fur coats by the hundreds and this is where you can buy one.  One wolf fur went for $500; bobcats about $100; beaver about $50.  Actually, fur is quite simply the best insulation there is for ultra cold weather.  I’ve picked up several items from native Alaskans in many of the villages during my travels.

All this madness makes me thirsty and one of the best places to ‘cut the dust’ is Club Paris in downtown Anchorage–all the festivities you just witnessed are right smack dab downtown (4th Avenue)  and so is this watering hole (actually on 5th).  They serve probably the best steak I’ve ever eaten.  One thing about Anchorage is it’s a fun town to visit, especially when you live in South Kupreanof.   Stay tuned…..