Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jeans In Alaska

I love this photo.

I don't fully dry our jeans in the dryer, so when I came back to our camp I laid some jeans out on the trees to finish drying.  The combination of denim and green spruce branches just grabbed my eye. I had to grab my camera.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alaska This and That

I've mentioned before one of our favorite practical places in Soldonta, The Soldotna Wash & Dry. It is here that we wash our clothes, take $5 showers, and have internet access.

It's a big, clean, bright laundromat that has four showers available.  They provide a towel, wash cloth, floor mat, a tiny bar of soap and 20 minutes in the shower room for $5.  There never seems to be too much of a wait when we go and we have felt free to not be so rushed as their 20 minute rule suggests. The rooms are tiny, but if Room #4 is available, it's the handicapped accessible and there's plenty of room to spread out all your stuff!

It was right about here in the parking lot where last year The Fisherman and I came upon two cars stopped, each with a woman driver.  One petite young girl in the lead was being screamed at by an approaching huge Somalian woman. She was cussing, and yelling, and threatening this little 19-year-old-looking girl for supposedly turning abruptly into the parking lot nearly causing the mean and mad woman to hit her.  The Fisherman intervened, getting out of the van and approaching between them just before the big angry woman arrived at the girl's open car window.  They were yelling back and forth, but you could clearly see the young girl's disadvantage..and her smarts for staying in her car.  The Fisherman diffused the situation and eventually the irate and out of control big woman got back into her car, muttering and cussing all the way, but willing to drop it and move on.  Whew!  I was nervous.  That young gal was angry, too, feeling she did nothing wrong because she'd had her blinker on. If she'd have gotten out of her car, we are confident she would have been assaulted.  We were glad it ended the way it did.

The Wash & Dry is located right next to a fur trader, complete with a moose head on it's outside wall.

When I did laundry one day, I came out to the van to hang up some of the clean clothes in the back.  We'd been at our property when the roads were wet and the van was covered with a the white-ish/grey film of spattered mud produced by Alaska's grey dirt.  I came out to find the standard "Wash Me" written in the dirt of our back windows.  My response?

Upon delivering the next load of clean clothes to the van, I thought my reply sounded a little harsh.  So, I explained...

I generally don't trust a restaurant that serves a multi-cultural menu.  There seems to be a lot of these Mexican-Italian combo places in Alaska.  Let me tell you, it's tough to find good Mexican food in Alaska!  Twenty years ago when we first visited our best man, Todd, he took us to a Garcia's in Anchorage.  Yes, my Arizona friends, it was of the same Garcia's that we have in Phoenix. We couldn't believe it.  But it's gone now, and we're not in Anchorage much anyway.  Down in Soldotna, we've found this little dive that serves a decent chicken chimichanga. Though it lacks a certain richness in flavor, it's not bad. And it's the best place we've found.

I grew up in the big city. Holidays, such as Labor Day, are big retail days. People have the day off and they usually go shopping or out to eat. Restaurants, shops, malls, they're all open on Labor Day. Not in Alaska.  The Fisherman went on a fishing trip with the guys one day, leaving me the whole day to do as I pleased.  I was all set to do some shopping.  The bead store, the book store, gift shops, and a nice lunch were all on my list.  But this is what I encountered nearly everywhere I went.

Sigh.  Things are different in Alaska.  When it's a holiday, everybody goes fishing, not shopping.  Even store owners, evidently.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Homemade Road

Part of our every spring and fall in Alaska seems to be road work.  Last year, you may recall, we did a bunch of road work.  (Here and here.) Well, The Fisherman did a lot of road work.  I did a lot of watching, encouraging, and large rock removal while he ran the backhoe hour after hour.  We used gravel we found on our own property to build up the road a good 18 inches.

This is the result of last year's efforts.

It formed a good base and held up pretty well but it just wasn't quite deep or solid enough. We consulted with a gravel company and learned that our gravel is good for a base but not sufficient for a finished road.  We calculated we'd need almost 20 loads of their Pit Run gravel and were thankful for sunny skies on the scheduled day.  Using the gravel we had was still very much worth it. It saved us about $6000 of having to buy it!  So we're super grateful we have it and were able to create a nice thick base with it.

My first amazement of the day was when we realized the guy was going to BACK his way into our road.  Here he comes now:

Our road is about 1200 feet long, has several hills and has some curves to boot.  I was pretty impressed that he backed his way all the way to our cabin!


He then opened his back gate and made his way down our road, dumping the load of gravel as he went.

This was not like our Arizona road gravel dumps, which I showed you photos of in this Catch Up post.  We needed about 12 inches of this mixture of sand and rock for this Alaska road.  In some spots, in the valley between two hills, we wanted even more.  The Fisherman has done a lot of work cutting down the highs and filling in the lows, thus making the hills less severe.  We wanted to continue those efforts and improve things even more.  So, with the standard 12" in most spots and deeper dumps in other spots, the road was a mess for awhile, downright impassable, during the dumping hours.  We couldn't have gotten out if we'd wanted to, the truck being parked up at the cabin.

BJ was our Backhoe Wonder Man.  Once he got some reinforcement, in the form of another driver bringing truckloads of gravel from the pit, BJ set about really impressing us with his skill on the backhoe.  He took to all that dirt and pushed and dragged it all around so efficiently and quickly, it soon started looking like a road again.  He did a perfect job.  Perfect.  He was so quick, so skilled, it was fun to watch.  The Fisherman learned a lot from him...for the next go round of base work on the remaining half of our road we haven't worked on yet.

Here's BJ taking a break talking with The Fisherman at the end of our road by the cabin.  He even did us a favor by running over a cleared section that had some young alder shoots growing a couple feet high.  A couple passes of the backhoe tracks and a couple scrapes of the scoop, and those babies were outta there! The whole area to the right and beyond out of the photo was getting thick with young alder shoots.  We needed to take care of it this year before they got too big and strong to mess with.  BJ helped us out a lot.

I can't believe I didn't take any photos of the finished work!  Duh.   But after BJ had pushed and dragged the road so beautifully even and wide, just before the last truck full of gravel dumped its load, he got into the dump truck and wheel packed the road he'd spread.  We thought he'd make one or two passes and that we'd have a soft spot high in the middle.  No.  BJ backed the truck up the hill to the cabin and drove it down again several times, carefully and precisely covering nearly every inch of the width of the road.  We were so happy!  And very impressed.

Next year I'll get you some pictures of the finished road.  We learned that an important part of the setting up of a new road is the winter.  The snow and cold of winter play a part in setting up the road and making it stronger for the spring.  We're looking forward to seeing it next summer and seeing how the winter continued the Eternal Road Work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cabin and Land

We spent a lot of time at the cabin this trip.  We got a lot done and it's starting to shape up a little inside.

One of the first things we discovered upon entering it was that about a million bugs had gotten inside through some uncaulked gaps.  They all gravitated to the light coming in our two picture windows in the peak. They crawled up the window in desperation for a way outside.  There were so many of them it looked like a wave, a mass of movement travelling from bottom to top.  Constant movement, hoards of bugs, "swimming" en masse up the window. The Fisherman got up there to sweep them off,
but they just ended right back up there eventually. 

It took us a couple days to come up with the brilliant, but obvious, solution to the problem. We remembered the hand held "Dust Buster" that came in The Fisherman's cool battery operated power tool set, the very set that has built the cabin. We simply vacuumed them up.

We finished insulating the front wall - the one in the above photo - and a few miscellaneous other spots around the cabin.  We then installed the 6-inch tongue-and-groove boards the rest of the way around the cabin except for the half of a wall where we'll put a door and attach an addition for our bathroom. 

Overall, on this trip, we spent a lot of days just snacking for our meals.  Alaska is weird; it messes with your internal clock.  Because it's so light out so late, you get off schedule.  It's kind of neat, actually.  My watch broke about three days after I got there and it didn't even matter.  We had a lot of smoked salmon, some fruit, crackers, and chips.  We'd eat when we got hungry, often eating small portions a number of times in the day. After a few days of this, we'd get good and ready for a real meal. 

We planned one such meal for one of our first days at the cabin.  We planned our usual grilled meal which included a vegetable of some sort, rice and grilled salmon. We threw in some awesome "donut nectarines" and some pretzel crisps (flat pretzels), some bread, and were eager for our feast.

 Now, you have to understand what it's like for us when we're in Alaska.  We have no real normal place to call home.  We live in the van and now The Fisherman had new digs this year, our 7x12 trailer that we used for our 2006 kettle corn venture.  We have the cabin, but it's basically a construction site still.  We also have a truck up there now.  Our lives are generally in a kind of confusion and state of inconvenience and disorganization. Everything we had was spread out in one of four places. We had stuff in the van, the trailer, the truck, and the cabin.  We had been used to always having everything with us in the van.  But now some stuff was in The Fisherman's trailer home and sometimes we were driving the truck instead of the van.

We planned our nice big meal at the cabin, drove the truck out there, and realized we forgot to bring butter.  And utensils.

Hm.  With what shall I chop the onion, dear?

Never fear, honey, you can use a carpenter's blade.
You'll need to take it out of the handle, though,
because we don't want the handle to get all oniony
and leave the scent of food inside the cabin...bears, you know.

So, that's what I did.  I chopped a whole onion with a carpenter's blade. 
I thought it was worth a photo.

OK, I promised you
The Fisherman's Awesome Salmon Recipe

Take a nice big sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Lay your salmon fillet(s) out on it, skin side down.
Spread some softened butter or margarine over the top of the fillet(s).
Sprinkle generously with McCormick Season-All (what we call "the red stuff")
Sprinkle medium-ly with McCormick's California Style Garlic.
Absolutely smother it all that with Kraft Parmesan Cheese.  I mean smother it!
Absolutely smother all that with chopped onions.
Close up the foil in a loose-secure fashion, with a couple very small vent holes.
(There will be a LOT of juices produced so you want it to vent but you don't want it to leak, nor do you want the Parmesan to stick to the foil. That's why we put the onions on last, too.)

Place the foil packet on the grill and cook for about 20-30 minutes,
or until your peeking at it tells you it's done to your liking.

It's yummy!

We bought some furniture for the cabin.  A couch, love seat, and small recliner.  We also bought a beautiful caribou hide which we'll either put on the wall or hang over the upstairs railing
...when we get an upstairs railing.

You are now looking at.....

...exactly one half of our cabin.

Yep, it's tiny.  16 x 20 to be exact.  
The Fisherman calls it "cozy". 

("Calm."  "Cozy."  I'm starting to see a trend here.)

Someday we'll see just how "cozy" it is when we actually venture to winter up there, as is our plan.  Someday...  We'll see how "cozy" we feel when we're tripping over ourselves, and each other, with cabin fever and only 6 hours of daylight per day.
I'm game to try, but I just might go stir crazy!  :-)

On to other aspects of our Cabin and Land.

Here's some shots of how autumn settles in on our property.

Once the bright fuchsia colored Fireweed blooms fall off, only the stalks and leaves are left.  They soon turn red and dazzle hillsides, meadows, and river banks with their own bright beauty that rivals their blooms. 

Fireweed are stalks with flowers that start blooming at the bottom of their heads and, as their season progresses, bloom their way up to the top. Just this year I learned that "when the fireweed blooms hit the top, winter is six weeks away."  Our friends expected an early winter because the fireweed had bloomed out so early this year.

Here's some fireweed leaves next to our wood pile.  Every one of those logs was once part of a tree that The Fisherman had to cut down to carve out a road and a clearing for our cabin.

Some more hues of autumn setting in.

As per usual, we saw new bear tracks.

On this year's second visit to our property, we left the vehicle halfway up the road and walked in the rest of the way because we'd had so much rain and we didn't trust one particular spot of road.   When we got to the top of the hill, I smelled something like a stinky wet dog.  It smelled just like the stinky (but sweet) sled dogs we'd seen at the kennel the week before.  The Fisherman said it was probably the High Bush Cranberry. When it starts to die off for winter, it really stinks.

But we'd also heard that bears really stink, too.  We were a little nervous, thinking we might have just scared a bear away on our walk up the hill.  We kept talking and making noise, the standard advice when walking in bear country.  You sure don't want to surprise a bear; that usually ends in an attack, or at least a threatening false charge...followed, I'm sure, by a human fainting episode after the bear has gone!

When we got to the cabin, we saw that we'd had a visitor.  It's not real easy to see in this photo but there are dirty swipe marks on our door, made by wet bear paws.  Yikes!

We always take every bit of food with us when we leave the cabin and we are careful to not spill anything outside.  Bears can smell food from a half a mile or more away, I was once told by a Game Warden.  Unoccupied cabins often get torn into by hungry bears, so we're extra careful.

It turns out that we think the stinky smell was the High Bush Cranberry bushes after all.  On subsequent visits to the property we were assaulted with wafts of that same smell, which I had by then read described in the newspaper as "a stinky wet smell".  That's it alright.  So, while we had bear tracks on the ground and bear swipes on the door, I was glad to conclude we hadn't nearly had a bear encounter in our tracks on that earlier day.

Next post...the latest segment of the eternal road saga.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boating - Katchemak Bay, Homer

Our next boat trip was down to Homer and Katchemak (catch-eh-mak) Bay.  We launched out of the Homer marina, and cruised through the No Wake Zone right past where last year we saw the Deadliest Catch's Time Bandit vessel docked (posted here).  We looked for the Time Bandit but it wasn't there.

It was a gorgeous day and we were looking forward to catching some halibut out in the bay and some cod near Homer's natural jetty, called The Spit.  We took some friends with us, a guy that The Fisherman used to guide with, and his girlfriend.

We motored partly across the bay and then started moving down along the opposite coastline.  This was not at all like tooling around on peacefully pleasant Kenai Lake.  No, this was what I call "big water".  It was rough, choppy, and bouncy.  And the really bad part about it was that this water was by all seasoned definitions "calm".

Right about the time we anchored to try and throw out some lines, we noticed that the fog we'd seen waaaaaay across the Cook Inlet (which Katchemak Bay opens up to) seemed to be rolling our way. 
We girls kept saying to each other,
"Hm. That fog seems to be coming our way."
"Wow. That fog is really coming our way."
"WOW. Look how close that fog is coming!"
"Um...I think that fog is going to be on us here real soon."

Until finally, we said....
"Gosh I hope no other boats come barrelling at us through this thick fog we're sitting in the middle of."

Now, as far as I know, fog is supposed to BURN OFF and LIFT when the sun gets high and warm enough, somewhere around noon, right?  Noon.   One o'clock.  Two o'clock.  Three o'clock. We were still in the thick of it.  So much for our gorgeous day.  Oh, it was still gorgeous in Homer, just not out on the water...where we were.

Choppy, bouncy, lurching water. Thick fog. Couldn't find the fish. Some seasickness among us on board. Women worrying about the poor visibility. 

I've had better days in a boat.

But finally....finally, the fog started lifting and we could actually see the shore.

It went and returned a number of times, giving us bright hope and then socking us in again. 
 At last, it seemed to be lifting for good.

Either that, or we just drove out of it while looking for fish, as the photo below seems to indicate.

Ahhh, there's the land!

See how "calm" the water is.  It truly is. It's just that "calm", when out on "big water", is still rough.
I've learned, I'm not that into boating on "big water".

The guys threw in some lines with no nibbles.  That was disappointing.  We'd heard two conflicting reports about halibut that time of year. One said, "Oh, I know guys who catch halibut year round in those spots."  The other informed us that halibut migrate out of the bay waters as winter approaches.

I got a fishing license for the day, thinking I'd like to throw a line in and bring home some extra halibut.  But the waters were so, ah-hem, "calm" that I simply could not even stand up in the deck area without holding on to something.  Since the boat is new, we don't yet have rod holders affixed to the top of the cabin.  Consequently, all the rods were propped up all over the place, spilling into the deck which is rather small in the first place.  Then there's the coolers, the tackle boxes, the etc.  Add in three men fishing back there and a lurching sea, and there was absolutely no way I could stand out there to fish.  My new female friend and I stayed inside the cabin the whole time, safely seated with handles and seat backs to hang securely onto when a particularly large wave assaulted us.

Eventually, (finally!), it was time to make our way back to Homer. Close to the marina we passed a HUGE boat...I guess when they're that big you're supposed to call them ships.  This thing was enormous.  I don't know what it was, but it was big.  It was called the Tustemena (Tuss-te-meena). 

Unfortunately, the photos don't do justice to how big this thing was.  Oh well, I tried to share it with you.

We put the boat ashore on a sandy beach where the girls got out and visited a local business for a pit stop.  Our seasick guest opted to walk back to his truck and call it a day.
We got back on board for some cod fishing right near the beach.  Yeh!  Success!  I even fished.  I staked out a small patch of deck right next to the cabin where I could hang on.  Every cast brought up a fish.  They were still hoping for halibut so when we'd caught all the cod we wanted to keep, the guys kept fishing.  I don't like catch and release fishing - I think it's pointless and pretty unfortunate for the poor fish who gets his lips ripped up - so I put my rod down.

Pretty soon it was getting late and we headed back around the end of The Spit toward the marina.  We entered the No Wake Zone again and there was the Time Bandit.  It was fun to see it again.

A couple days before our Homer trip, The Fisherman informed me that I had one job whenever we take the boat out.  I'm in charge of the drain plugs.  It is my responsibility to know where they are and to make sure they are on the boat when we launch.  The drain plugs are just that: they plug some drains at the back of the boat.  If they are not installed when you launch, you take on water.  I have a very important job. Turns out, The Fisherman himself made sure the drain plugs were on board before I even had a chance to locate them or ask him if he had them.  (What? Doesn't he trust me?) We were good to go.

On the way back to the boat launch, it was dusk, getting dark.  Once the boat was on the trailer and out of the water, I turned around to look back toward the launch and I saw a sign that made me laugh.

Evidently, it's designed for the guy in his truck, looking in his rear view mirror, backing the boat and trailer down the launch into the water.  Very clever.

I guess the "unattended vessels" message is designed to be seen normally.  It must be for the guy who's walking away from his unattended boat as he turns around and takes one last look to make sure it's not floating away before he goes to park his truck in the parking lot.

So "?SGULP" was the last tidbit of our big water boating day.  Somewhere around mid-day I concluded that if I never go out in our boat on big waters ever again, it would be totally fine with me. I would not miss it. I would not regret it. I would be happy to not. 

Now, to break such news to The Fisherman.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kenai Lake

We chose the beautiful turquoise waters of Kenai Lake for our boat's maiden voyage. 

There is a required break-in procedure for a new boat. First we had to drive it at 3500 rpms for one hour. That was a little tedious but it was still nice to be out on the beautiful lake.

Next was one hour "on step". That's where you increase the speed to the point where the boat sort of lifts up and levels out on top of the water a bit, rather than having the back end dragging through the water. We had to maintain this for one hour as well.

We went back to shore where our friends, Jerry and Kim, were to meet us.

They got on board and we set out to explore other regions of the lake as well as stop to grill up some salmon for dinner. It was about 5pm by now and the earlier breeziness was settling down.  The water grew more still, the sun shone beautifully and we were treated some breathtaking views.  The sky and mountains reflected in the still water was a stunning sight.  We stopped the boat and just took it all in.

I like getting a bit of the boat in the picture as well.  It gives the photo some perspective; it tells more of the story the photograph has to tell.

We stopped at Porcupine Island for dinner.  The sky was getting grey with both the hour and the clouds.  It was comfortably chilly.

We were all the kitchen crew at one point or another.  We fixed The Fisherman's favorite salmon recipe, an invention of his own he discovered when he tried to remember how a certain restaurant fixed it.  (I'll share the recipe in a later post.)  We also had some rice, mixed vegetables, and toasted French bread.

The other thing we did on the island was collect drift wood. I love hunting for driftwood.  I love hunting for any cool pieces of wood.  For rocks.  For seashells.  Leaves.  You name it.  But this was a driftwood haven and we had a blast checking out all the smoothed wood lying onshore.  Here we are with some of our treasures.

We collected walking stick wood, flat pieces perfect for signs, and big long logs suited for porch or stair railings.

Here's our haul, en totale, stretching out diagonally on the boat's floor.

There's one other part of our first boating trip that I haven't told yet.  It ended here.

Bummer, huh?

Here's the story:

Before we collected driftwood, before we saw awesome reflections on the beautiful water, before we met our friends, before we broke the boat in... and even before we even ventured away from the shore for the very first time... The Fisherman had an accident.

You see that antenna sticking up on the boat?

Well, for transport - for towing - that antenna was folded flat down.  It was sticking out well into the deck area of the boat. It was hard to see.  Just minutes after we launched the boat into the water and had just gotten in it to head out, The Fisherman turned around and walked right into it!  It was at exactly his eye level.  It went right into his left eye!  Oh my gosh, it was so scary and so gross!  The Fisherman hollered and hit the deck, holding his eye in great pain.  You can imagine.  When he took his hand away, there was a dash of blood on his hand!

His eye immediately began to fill with bright red blood.  It was awful and hurt so badly.  It was pretty gross to look at, too. As it got to where he could check his vision and have me look at the eye, we discovered that it was only the white of his eye that was turning red.  His iris and pupil looked fine and his vision was not affected dramatically.  But boy did it hurt. 

Not one to be derailed, The Fisherman was determined to carry on with the day and the outing as planned.  We'd just driven 50 miles to Cooper Landing, 50 miles away from Soldotna, the hospital, any clinics or any doctors.  And we'd JUST gotten into the boat!  So, he determined to suck it up and carry on.  Knowing the eye needed to be looked at, the next morning we called an Opthamologist, hoping to get in for an appointment and thus circumventing an Emergency Room visit.  We figured the ER would call in an Opthamologist anyway, so why not try to go right to one instead.  We couldn't get in for an appointment because the guy had 23 patients on the books for the day. So, we were told to go to the ER and if they judged it necessary they would call the eye doc in. 

Off to the ER we went.  This is the same hospital that has the beautiful stained glass piece in their chapel that I wrote about in this earlier post.  The waiting room was...empty!  We got right in and sure enough, they said he needed to see an eye doc.  THEY got us in for a squeeze-in appointment a few hours later.

The diagnosis?  The Fisherman tore the "conjunctiva", the white part, of his eye.  No injury to the iris or pupil.  Blurry vision would go away when the swelling went away with healing.  We were to come back in one week so the doc could get a look at the wound after the blood had cleared.   At that follow-up appointment, the doc released The Fisherman from any further treatment.

While it was a nasty and horrible thing to endure, we are so very thankful the antenna did not hit just 1/2" over. Maybe even less.  The Fisherman would probably have lost his eyesight in that eye.  The closeness of this call sends shivers through me.  Thank You, God, for sparing his eye!