Thursday, June 11, 2009

Alaska 4

Saturday, May 30, 2009We spent the late morning being tourists in Seward, looking through the gift shops, dreaming of our own shop somewhere someday. We each have several creative outlets and dream of having a tiny shop filled with all our own stuff: The Fisherman’s music, photography, iron work, rustic bird feeders and bird houses; my jewelry, knitting, and perhaps more. We also have several joint ventures that we would love to do. We came up with about 11 products/media that we’d love to include. *sigh* Someday…

From Seward we went back west to Cooper Landing for dinner with our friends Jerry and Kim. We brought the salmon, Jerry provided the bear ribs from his recent hunt. It was a fun and late night of talking about Alaska’s many offerings from wild berries, mushrooms, fish, and game. The Fisherman and Jerry cut up the 5 and ½ remaining salmon and made a dry brine for smoking it all another day while Kim and I continued to get to know each other. The Fisherman will be cutting down some trees for Jerry on his property. Jerry will be helping The Fisherman with the continued improving of the roads to our property. I like the rural life where neighbor helps neighbor and friend helps friend. Nowhere else in the country to you have the awareness of how much we need each other as you do in Alaska.

We left about 11:30pm on our 40 mile drive to Soldotna and our “home” at the school The Fisherman parks at all summer. Schools welcome summer fishing guides to camp on their property all summer long because it deters vandalism. It works out great for everybody.

Sunday, May 31, 2009We worked on the cabin today. Aside from odds and ends, the most noticeable thing we got done was that The Fisherman got two walls partially insulated and partially installed with tongue and groove wall boards. I worked on nailing off the loft flooring.

We left about 7:30pm. At the point where our road meets the power line road we turned east instead of west. We were hunting for Morel mushrooms. The Fisherman learned to identify them last year and found them often. It was fun learning to spot them. They’re dark, just like the mulchy earth and broken branches littering the ground, so they’re hard to find. But when you do, it’s quite fun. We’ll cook them up with dinner probably tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2009Went to Talon Air and put photos in mats and frames for them to hang in their Boot Barn. They will be advertizing for both The Fisherman’s photography and Talon’s trips. We went back to the cabin for more work. We did more wall work and some caulking. We put our mushrooms in some foil with some butter and garlic and grilled them up on our little portable grill. They don’t taste like your typical button mushrooms – darn – but have an interesting taste. I’m not so sure I like them but The Fisherman loves them. I think they will be an acquired taste for me as I continue to have a couple each time we grill.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009Hung the photos up in the Boot Barn today. They look awesome! The Fisherman still hasn’t gotten his Kings yet and pretty soon he won’t have the time. So we went to a spot where the Kasilof (kas-EE-loff) River and Crooked Creek meet. The water of the river is icy green; the water of the creek is clear brown. At the confluence they run side by side with a clear separation of colors. It’s really quite beautiful. I sat on the rocky shore writing postcards for awhile. I heard the folks sitting behind me (other wives waiting on their fishing husbands) begin talking like something was going on downstream. Sure enough, I looked down there and a moose had emerged from the brush and was standing on the shore, right amongst the fishermen! She looked like she didn’t quite now what to do, go ahead to the water or retreat to the brush. I’m sure the men didn’t quite know what to do either! They gave her some room and she eventually retreated back into the brush. No Kings in the Kasilof either. The Fisherman said there are only about 2500 that come up that river toward their spawning grounds. That’s not a lot of fish. In Seward, at Resurrection Bay, there are thousands upon thousands more. Better chances in Seward but we were just too early last week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Worked on the cabin again. The Fisherman did more on the walls while I duct taped some gaps in the siding up in the loft. Next thing is to caulk them up good. We took our little portable BBQ and grilled up a feast of steak, salmon and halibut. Next we did some serious re-organizing of our van. It was in sorry shape and my order-needy personality was going crazy. We exchanged excess photo frame boxes and fishing gear for a little office sized refrigerator and had room to spare. We can actually GET things we need from the back. We created lots of room underneath the bed and it just felt like I could breath a little better.

Thursday, June 4, 2009
Grumpy, grouchy, gloomy day. Boring, too. Nothing to tell here, move along. (Despite the reorganization success, I think I’m just getting tired of living in a van.)

Friday, June 5 - Sunday, June 7, 2009
Went to the property to get ready for the backhoe’s delivery this evening, and lo and behold, it was already there! We rented it for the weekend, which means we have an 8 hour rental fee with an extra amount ($30-some) for each additional hour. BUT…we have it until Sunday night for that initial 8 hour fee. We got right to work. And now…I know how you build a road. We had a ‘road’ of sorts before: the swath of land The Fisherman cut through our dense forest leading up to the cabin site. But it remained impassable until about this time every year. We need something we can travel on much earlier than that. We needed to lay down a whole bunch of gravel to compact down and make a nice sturdy road.

We spent 3 days doing just that. God has blessed us in a couple huge ways as pertains to our road work. First, we have a friend who is literally a professional at building roads. He’s a heavy equipment operator and is lightening fast and highly knowledgeable; been doing it for years. He is such a good guy! It’s our friend Jerry, who fixed us bear ribs the other night. He and The Fisherman are trading out work and helping each other. The Fisherman ran the backhoe for much of the weekend but Jerry came by and gave us several hours on Friday night – on short notice. He stopped by Saturday and gave us another 4-5 hours on Sunday.

So here’s how you build a road. First you go buy this 12.5 foot wide roll of 435 feet of road fabric, called Typar, which weighs 210 pounds and costs about a dollar a foot. You figure out how to transport that, drive it to the property, muscle it in place and start unrolling. I think I carried about 40 pounds of it while The Fisherman managed the rest of it as we put it in place. We chose our starting point and unrolled toward the cabin. After we got a stretch of it down and anchored with rocks, The Fisherman got on the backhoe and scooped with the “bucket”. The bucket end of a backhoe is not what I thought it was. I thought the little scoop with the claws was the bucket. No, that’s the actual “backhoe”. The bucket is the wide trough on the front that slams into a pile of dirt, tilts upward and then gets dumped in the ultimate destination.

The Fisherman filled the bucket and drove to the Typar and dumped it down. The key is to dump and then “back drag” to level it off. Dump and back drag. Dump and back drag. All day long. For three days. Every time the 30,000 pound backhoe drives over the previously laid down road, it compacts it. There is much finesse to running a backhoe. The Fisherman did a great job. But we were both happy to see Jerry arrive everyday. His experience made him fast and his back drags were perfect. When he was running it, The Fisherman’s and my job was to rid the back dragged road of boulders and troublesome rocks. That was my job when it was just The Fisherman and me working.

We ran into a really squishy spot the very first day. Unfortunately it was a stretch of road that was not included in our span designated for Typar this year. Alaska ground has some permanently frozen layers. Upper layers thaw out in stages as “spring” progresses. First it has to thaw. Then it has to dry. The crust of the the ground thaws and turns to muck and eventually dries out. You can drive on most of this even if the underneath layers are still somewhat squishy. Another thing about Alaska dirt is that is does that cornstarch trick. Have you ever put some corn starch in your hand and added a little water? You mix it up and it turns thick and hard. But you let it settle and it turns to near liquid. That’s sort of how Alaska earth can be, only in reverse. It can seem hard but if you just stand in one spot and paddle your feet back and forth on the ground, you can feel and see it turn squishy right beneath your feet. You have to be careful when driving on that stuff because while the crust might support you as you pass over it, if you stop and idle your truck in one spot, you create squishy ground ready to bury your truck.  Up to the axles.  Per se.

So…as The Fisherman rode back and forth over this squishy spot delivering bucket loads of gravel to our growing road, this section began undulating underneath the backhoe. It just kept getting worse and worse, never firming up. He dumped more gravel on it – and by gravel, I mean a sand a gravel mix, but mostly sand. By Saturday the verdict was to send me to town to get another stretch of Typar, only 130 feet this time, and build that portion of road, too.

Another big blessing is that not only do we have our own road building professtional, we also have our own gravel pit. The Fisherman spotted one section of our road that was loaded with good hard compacted gravel. So last year he “took it down” some and then dug out about 100 feet along the side of it exposing tons of good road making gravel. This is saving us several thousands of dollars in gravel we don’t have to buy and have delivered. Huge blessing.

So…three days camped at our property, swatting mosquitos to beat the band, doing manual labor in dusty, dirty, hot conditions (it reached 80), eating snatches of meals, working from 8am to 9pm, and having no “home” to settle down into each night…well, I was ready to leave on Sunday night. The cabin is a shelter, but it’s stuffed full of building materials. It’s tiny to start with so it doesn’t leave much room to make even a nook of a home in during construction.

Monday, June 8, 2009The Fisherman got the call yesterday afternoon that they were scheduled to “drive the boats across” this morning at 4:00a.m. Ouch! After exhausting himself for 3 days at the property, now he had to get up at 3a.m. Every year is different for this venture. The outfit is based in Soldotna but the fishing spot is located across Cook Inlet, essentially the ocean as far as I'm concerned as regards to him driving a fishing boat across it. They wait for a calm day to drive them across. Last year he remembers it taking about 6 hours. So...I needed to be ready to pick him up at around 10:30. No time to do anything in town, like getting my much needed shower, shopping, or blog posting. So, I stayed put, climbed in back and went back to sleep. I woke up at 10am, expecting him at any minute. 11:00, no Fisherman. 11:30, the owner took off in the plane, I presumed to go pick up all the guys. OK, about 12:30 they'll be back. 1pm - not back. 2 pm - not back. Gee, I hope they're OK. I went up to the office to see if they had an ETA. "Oh, I don't think they'll be back till about 4:30! They had a lot to do out there before they fly back." OK...I'm going for my shower. 2:10 - I leave for my shower. 3:10 - just put my wet towel into a dryer for 15 minutes and took everything back to the van. The Fisherman called from the air saying they'd be landing in 2 minutes. What we thought would be a 6 hour venture turned into 11 hours and he'd had no food all day. He took it in stride, like guys in outdoor jobs do. We got something to eat and headed for the guide meeting at 5:30. Early to bed tonight!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
We spent the day at the cabin today. After 4 straight days of hard work, we looked forward to The Fisherman relaxing at the cabin, enjoying the progress we'd made. We planned to sit in camp chairs and gaze out at our view for a couple hours relaxing. But I knew better. Once we ate some ice cream, acquired at Grannies Groceries about 5 miles from the cabin, he was ready to do something. He took his chainsaw downhill from our perched landing and began improving our view. He cut down dead trees, and sadly, live trees, but now we can see the mountains much better. He'd done this for us before I ever saw the property in 2006, so now he took after the southeast view a little bit. He also knocked over some dead trees that were an eyesore to the south.

Wedesday, June 10, 2009
Happy Birthday Carol!
Today we went to Talon to mat, frame, and hang 14 more photos. It's great to have The Fisherman's photos on display in the office and the boot barn for clients to see. Hopefully, we'll get some orders. He has some great photos of the bears, eagles, waterfalls and glacier. We took most of the day doing this. We were starving and finally left about 3:30. That's one thing about Alaska: you don't eat at normal times. Because it's light out till midnight, your internal clock gets all off kilter. You're so busy doing things that when you finally realize, Hey, I'm hungry you look at your watch and it's 3pm. Or if it's dinner time, you look at your watch and it's not 6pm like you think. No, it's 9pm. It's really wierd. So, sometimes you just go to bed without dinner because by the time you realize you're hungry, it's too late to eat because you realize you need to go to bed soon. We've done a lot of eating a handful of cherries and chips to tide us over until we can eat lunch, but then by the time we stop next, it's dinner time. Very wierd.

After Talon, we were headed for FOOD. Along the way, we saw the Kenai River Wednesday market with crafters in the park. Last chance, so we stopped. We made a beeline for the kettle corn guy who we'd been hoping everyday would be open in his permanent summer spot in the Trustworthy Hardware (aka, great tackle shop, too) parking lot. We downed half a bag while we talked to the guy about our 2006 kettle corn venture in Cooper Landing. He ended up giving us the bag for free and he might buy our kettle corn trailer from us, as well as call Gwin's Lodge about the equipment they bought from us but now want to sell. We finally made it to some Chinese food take-out and headed back to our campsite at the Cook Inlet Academy around 5:30. The plan was to get in back, sitting on the bed, and watch movies while we ate dinner. It was sunny and "hot" (78) and we knew we'd be soon baking in the van. So, The Fisherman had a plan. Since it was breezy outside, he knew the mosquitos wouldn't be a problem like they normally are. So we parked, opened the front windows, propped open the back doors, and opened the side door wide open. It was great! We actually got cold as we sat there and watched two movies!

Thursday, June 11, 2009
Happy Birthday, Paul!
The Fisherman has his first guiding gig today. 6:30am flight time. Yesterday was hot. Last night's breezy turned into downright windy, the hot turned into cold, and the bright sunny turned into cloudy and foggy. 78 degrees at 4pm yesterday turned into 41 degrees at 6am today!

Today is my last day in Alaska. It has been great being here a full month. If we had a decent place to live, I'd gladly stay here all summer! I wish I could. Tonight we will head eastward for dinner with our friends Jerry and Kim - a thank you dinner at a nice pizza place for all Jerry's help on our road! And then we will camp in Cooper Landing somewhere, either their house or at Gwin's Lodge. That puts us 40 miles closer for our early morning drive to Anchorage for my 11:30 a.m. flight.

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