Friday, December 28, 2007

A Day in the Life

6:30 am : Wake up, stoke fire, run outside to "go", check to see if the wolves have eaten any dogs, and get a feel for the temp, which is very affective in just mukluks and long underwear.

6:45 am: Put french press on the stove (thanks mom, it works great), turn on NPR.

6:55 am: Coffee is ready, NPR has reminded me why I am hiding in Alaska and music is put on instead. Have a cup, relax, eat (oatmeal, bagel, or I hate to admit it, chocolate) Put together the dog team to run on paper and catch up on their records, read, or go online.

7:30 am: Water the dogs with baited water(water mixed with food and meat and fat).

8:00 am: Clean the yard, get the sled ready. Check out the dogs for missed injuries etc.

8:45: am: Stoke the fire, hook up the dogs.

9:00 am: Head out on the trail, by far the best part of the day!

2:00 pm: Get home. Put the dogs at their houses. Feed the dogs. Stoke the fire.

3:00 pm: Split and stack wood, or clean, or some other chore.

3:30 pm: Go get water, we haul 35 gallons a day.

4:00 pm: Try to turn myself from "tough musher girl" to "classy waitress girl". Stoke fire.

4:30 pm: Go to work at the lodge (6 days a week), either bartending or serving.

11:00 pm: Get off work, go home, start the fire which is probably out, feed the dogs. Sometimes I run a second team and then feed the dogs.

12:00 am: Read or go online, or "crash hard".

3:30 am: Stoke fire

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone!

Just wanted to show everyone my new parka. It was made by Dogwood Designs, I LOVE it. Its my Christmas gift from Jim and man, is it warm!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Well finally I have some time to write…my thermometer says 50 below others say 42 or 48 below, but whichever one is correct they all mean one thing, it’s COLD! So I have some time to hole up inside, because perhaps we will skip running a day or two and wait for it to warm up to at least 30 below. I knew it would come eventually, despite the lack of snow, we’ve had a pretty easy winter here in interior Alaska. It’s hardly even been below zero yet, and Murphy’s Law states clearly that as soon as I am left to run the farm myself, the bottom would drop out on the ole’ mercury.

It’s funny when I think back to when I first moved to the interior, I though it was cool when it got really cold. It made you somehow feel more “Alaskan”. But with years of experience the novelty of bitter cold has long been frostbitten. Those same years have taught me some of the tricks to living with Jack Frost when he’s in a particularly bad mood.

Soon as NOAA radio (my favorite station) predicts the cold coming its time to prepare. First you have to know how to translate the forecast for here in the Central Tanana Valley. It can be quite ambiguous. Usually they report something like “ Highs 25 to 45 below, light winds, periods of ice fog and flurries. Partly sunny.” That means that it will be about 45 below and in the morning it will be foggy but as the fog lifts it will look kind of like its snowing, but really it’s just what we call “diamond dust” that accumulates to nothing but covers everything in rime ice, which is actually quite beautiful, especially sparkling in the 2 hours of daylight that we will have this time of year. ( Actually, exaggerations aside: sunrise 10:58am, sunset 2:13pm, so about 3 ½ hours of daylight). Unless you are lucky enough to live in the hills, then it will actually be 10 or 15 degrees warmer than everywhere else. When it is cold I purposely go up in the hills to take advantage of this, you can really feel the difference between the temps in the hills and down here in the swamp.

So if you live down in the swamp, you need to start getting ready. Dogs can start losing weight fast so you need to feed them more, especially more fat. I give them lots of fresh straw to insulate their houses and some of the thinner coated dogs I put blankets over their doors so that the house retain even more heat. When it’s cold I soak their food so that it makes a kind of warm mush, it is actually not a good way to feed the dogs all the time, but I figure I like eating things like oatmeal, and soup when it’s cold, they probably enjoy it too. Actually oatmeal and ramen with frozen vegetables are my main staples all of the time, along with gourmet chocolate, coffee, and smoked salmon. I am lucky to work at a restaurant so I take advantage of eating more vegetables at this time. A coleman stove discourages any gourmet cooking, though it can be done.

Make sure there is enough wood cut. However, I actually don’t mind cutting wood when it’s cold. Who said “he who heats with wood is twice warmed?” Out of all of the chores it isn’t too bad in the cold, but the chainsaw needs to come inside to warm up before it will start. I have been cutting the wood bigger because it’s hard to keep the fire going when I go to work at night. It is a small stove so maximum fire burn time is about 6 or 7 hours. I bigger log burns longer. If you have to leave for awhile fill your stove plumb full, and then try to get 2 or 3 more pieces of wood in that fire, I guarantee they will fit. Jim says this is one of my better talents.

Then there are the vehicles. If you are lucky enough to have electricity then you plug in your truck, so that the block heater keeps the engine warm. If you don’t have electricity, like me, you need to wake up every couple hours and start up your truck because if you don’t, it won’t start the following morning. If it comes to that I have some creative ways to warm up vehicles that involve propane weed burners, cookie sheets, blankets, and sofa cushions. When you go to the store or over to your friend’s house leave your car running. When you go to the grocery store 90 percent of the cars are running in the parking lot. Sometimes I think that this is what really causes ice fog. Either that or we are giving global warming a good kick in the ass with our emission boot. Don’t forget to periodically start your 4 wheelers and snowmachines, but most likely the 4 wheeler won’t start until it warms up and you will have to pull start the snowmachine.

Lastly, prepare your story. Bitter cold is like fishing, if it is 40 below at someone else’s house make sure you tell them it is 45 below at yours. And if you have been in Alaska longer than 20 years you haved earned the right to tell everyone that, “You think this is cold, in 19whatever it was 70 below for 3 months” or a similar story. I have observed also that the ones that tell these amazing stories of how cold it always used to be, are usually the biggest naysayers against the existence of global warming, which I find odd.

All of this being said, don’t forget to admire the beauty the cold brings. Hoar frost and whispy winter skies. The stillness of the cold and the way every sound echoes crisp and clear as if they are armored in ice. White tipped whiskers on the dogs faces and on the fur on their backs. The way their breath dances around their muzzles when they howl. The way the smoke from the chimney floats in flat swirls hovering inches above the stovepipe. Northern lights, and shining stars. Ice frosted eyelashes behind wolverine ruffs and beaver trapper hats. And finally how nice and warm it feels to stand close to the stove or get in the hot springs after spending any time outside.