Monday, May 30, 2011

Five Years

We moved to Juneau 5 years ago. In that time we've:

Lived in 1 Apartment

Driven 2 Cars

Watched 3 Televisions

Tolerated 4 upstairs neighbors

Held 5 Jobs (HSS, UAS, DOA, DOI, F&G)

Served in 6 Callings

Spent the night at 7 Cabins (Windfall Lake, John Muir, Camping Cove, Cowee Meadow, Taku Harbor, Dan Moller, Chena River)

Owned 8 Snow tires

Toured 9 Northern Communities (Anchorage, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Nome, Fairbanks, Skagway, Gustavus, Sitka, Whitehorse)

Accumlated 10 Retirement Accounts (2x: Pension, 401(a), 457, Roth IRA; 1x 403(b), rollover 401(a))

Monday, May 16, 2011

72-hour kits or How Mr. X was right

One of the preparedness blogs I enjoy reading happened to have a 72 hour kit post...which I didn't entirely agree with. So, here's how 72 hour kits have evolved for me.

My First Kit
When I was 13 or 14 my mom allowed me to put together a 72 hour kit for our family. I wasn't sure what to do; she pointed me to the milk carton kit.

  • can of chili

  • two envelopes of lipton soup

  • three granola bars

  • 3 pieces of hard candy

There may have also been some hot chocolate and instant oatmeal packets. One winter we had a number of days without power, and we opened the kit to use the chili for a baked potato bar. By then the granola bars were nasty and the hard candy was soft. The financial committment to rotate the kit made me less interested in pursuing emergency preparedness.

Christmas Gift Kit
Several years later, just after Hurricane Katrina, my grandmother made me an elaborate 72 hour kit with jerky and boxed milk, crackers and cookies, hand warmers and a sewing kit. It was (and is) a great kit.

But low and behold, it had to be rotated. Out came the boxed milk, the crackers and cookies, the beef jerky, the raisins, the applesauce. And I couldn't commit to rebuying all that stuff. I bought a few things. I made sure we had protein and carbs. But the advice I got was to rotate it every six months! Do you know how expensive that is?! We're talking minimum $30 for two people every six months.

My Kit today
A few years ago, when I started talking to Mr. X about the Chilkoot trail, Mr. X started talking about Mountain House meals. Sure I knew what they were, I also knew they were expensive. I'd always wanted to put MREs in a 72 hour kit but the money oh, the money.

Eventually Mr. X convinced me to buy a few packets for hiking. And then when we saw a sale, a few more for emergency preparedness. And now I'm convinced that this is the way for us to go.

Cue the info-mercial music: Mountain House meals provide enough energy to maintain your standard activities and more - something those milk carton kits won't do. They also aren't as expensive as I thought. I can get Mountain House meals on sale at Fred Meyer for $3.95 or $1.97 per serving, or in other words, a 72 hour kit for one person: $17.73. These meals last for seven years so the money involved is $2.53 per person per year. I throw in a bag of hard candy and some chewing gum and we're all set*.

But what about heating them? Check out Moutain House's flameless oven if you're worried about heating them up. You also can eat the meals cold if you have no way to heat water.

But what about water? We have a supply on hand and a pristine mountain stream 2 blocks from us. We have several water purification sources including filters and chemical. You just have to factor that into your plan.

But aren't they nasty? No, they're pretty good. Mr. X and I lived off of them while on the Chilkoot. We had enough energy to hike 8 - 12 miles a day and carry all our gear. And even though when we got back to Skagway, I had a bunch of canned food ready for a feast, we opted for an extra Mountain House because it was just so darn easy. My favorite is Chili-Mac.

But what about food allergies? This is why I recommend buying your own in the store rather than buying a kit directly from Mountain House. You will have the flexibility to choose what your family needs rather than what someone else thinks sounds nice. Mountain House may not be for you if you are Celiac or have high blood pressure. You can contact them directly at if you have allergen questions.

Anyway. That's what we're doing. How about you?

*except of course we live in Alaska and have to have a 168 hour kit. We're up to hour 144.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Nome (part 4)

Nome's Safeway aka Hanson Trading Co.

Thursday morning Mr. X had more meetings and I had a few pictures to take, so we agreed to meet at the airport at noon.

This is a scoop from a dredge. They are everywhere. They are used to mark property boundaries and as a bit of a fence around the city center.


Pt. Barrow in the frozen boat harbor. The fish processor closed the crab catch because the water was too slushy

Norton Sound Seafood Center dock

Northland Services is who barged our goods to Juneau. I've got a special place in my heart for them.

School bus shelter

I spent some time taking pictures in the cemetary

How about that frozen mud puddle.

Mr. X showed up at the the airport late enough that I was worried about him. The Nome airport does not have a waiting room after security. We all waited in the airport lobby, then an Alaska Airline's attendant checked our boarding passes and we then went through TSA screening. From there we walked out to the tamac and on to our plane.

This time we headed over the Arctic Circle for a stop in Kotzebue.

We dropped off several passengers and then turned toward Anchorage. After a 3 hour layover there we headed for home, arriving about 10 pm.

I had a fantastic time in Nome. Everyone we talk to are a little skeptical about that, but really it's the truth. I cannot think of the circumstances that took me to Nome or the feelings I had while hiking on Anvil Mountain, without thinking that I was supposed to go to Nome. For whatever reason, I was supposed to be there and also I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing, living the life I should be. It's a wonderful feeling to know that.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nome (part 3)

Wednesday dawned early. Mr. X carpooled over to the processing plant where he'd be teaching Nome and Savoonga processors as well as ADF&G staff how to use the software he's been developing.

I packed my bag for the day and headed out the door at 8:30 with my eye set on Anvil Mountain. I walked out of town and the sidewalk ended. Spotting a walking trail just off the highway, I dropped down away from the road. I got maybe 1/4 mile when a dog sat up and barked at me. Realizing I was in his yard and grateful he was chained up, I made my way back up to the highway only to discover I wasn't being watched by a single dog, but an entire dog sled team. They howled when I paused to take their picture.

About a 1/2 mile later I approached a small neighborhood. If I remembered correctly the LDS church was here somewhere. Heaven smiled upon me, because I walked straight to the church. It's a former duplex with a steeple stuck on the top. I also noticed that the houses in the neighborhood were off the ground. They were on pilings to prevent them from melting the ground and sinking into the tundra.

I paused occasionally on my walk to watch ptarmagin wearing their winter feathers. Eventually, I could see rocks on the mountain that looked like musk-oxen. I turned down the Dexter Cutoff road and saw five musk-oxen grazing in the willows.

I continued to hike and after asking some guys for directions (who looked like Lance Mackey at the end of the iditarod) started up the mountain. About halfway up the 1065 foot ridgeline, there were 12 musk-oxen. They all appeared to be enjoying the sunshine. Though they definitely noticed I was coming through.

At the top of the first peak is Nome's White Alice antenna and radio link. Constructed during the cold war, these towers were essential for communication throughout Alaska. They are no longer needed because of new technologies, like satilites. The area is now a toxic waste site due to the lead, asbestos and other materials used to build the antennae, but the towers are used for navigation by both ships and planes, so the community of Nome does not want the government to completely remove them.

I ventured along the ridgeline, looking at animal tracks as I went. There were some obvious oxen track and a variety of dog tracks that could have been domesticated dog, wolf and fox. I snapped this picture of scat on the tundra 'cause it looked so pretty.

Finally I reached the rock that gives the mountain its name. It looks like an anvil. I looked over the edge and was shocked to see a larger herd of musk-oxen. A cow and yearling calf glared up at me and then ran to join the rest of the herd. A red fox worked its way through the herd and over to a rock, where he turned around and looked up at me. Training my binoculars on the fox, I realized he was standing not on a rock but a dead musk-ox. He was uncomfortable with me watching, so he took off across the front of the mountain. I sat down in the spongy moss and counted the musk-oxen: 39. Then I called my mom. We've come a long way from the day when only a single call could get out to Fairbanks at a time.

After about 20 minutes at the top, I'm shivering pretty hard and decide I better get moving. By the time I'm down the mountain, I wish I would have written down the number for a taxi. On my walk back to town, I keep myself moving with marching songs. Of course the only ones I know are, "Zippidee-do dah" and "Popcorn Popping".

I made it back to town by 3 pm and go to the library to read until 5 (we only had one key to the hotel, a metal key not a plastic card).

Mr. X and I met halfway back to the hotel and he took me out to Subway for dinner. While eating we were able to gaze out over the Bering Sea, because Subway has large picture windows and an unobstructed view. Over dinner he tells me that he was treated to a (very tiny, but fish oily) piece of Bowhead whale during the training.

After Mr. X took a two hour nap, we set out to drive around. Someone had loaned Mr. X a truck! We tried the road to Teller but found it unmaintained relatively quickly. We did see some dog teams and musk-oxen out that way. Next we took the Dexter Cut-off road.

In Nome they don't keep the roads passible in the winter. If you want to go somewhere, you use your snowmachine. So the snow hasn't be plowed all winter, but they recently went through and cut open some parts of the road.

On the road back into Nome, we spotted three moose in the willows and stopped for a quick peek. We had also been told to get a good look at breakup, we had to head toward Safety. We could really see open water from the Dexter Road. By now it was after 10 pm so we headed back to the hotel for the night.

Nome (part 2)

Early Tuesday morning, Mr. X and I packed up some groceries and called a cab to take us to the airport.

We arrived at the airport and walked right up to the TSA security podium...only to discover that I had left my license at home. The TSA agent offered to accept other i.d., but worried I wouldn't be able to get back to Juneau, so I hurried out to the parking lot to hail another cab.

The driver got me home and back to the airport within 15 minutes. The poor guy got his tip in quarters.

We had an uneventful flight to Anchorage and after a short layover we were on our way to Nome.
Anchorage airport

Our plane to Nome was a 737-400. The front of the plane is for cargo and rows 16 - 27 accomodate passengers. Mr. X and I sat next to Dawn Weyiouanna who regaled us with stories of living in Nome, Shishmaref, and Barrow. Her husband is an itinerant art teacher for the Barrow school district. She's a retired math teacher who taught 13 years in Shish. She and her husband Dick were on their way to his home village for a funeral.

Dawn told us about her mother-in-law who grew up as the daughter of a reindeer herder. When the Mother-in-Law came to visit them in Fairbanks one winter, she commented that the lights of the city reminded her of the glistening light reflected in the eyes of the reindeer at night. She had never before seen city lights.

We landed in Nome and quickly met with Mr. X's local contact who took us to the hotel and out to lunch at Airport Pizza. Afterward Rich dropped me off on Front street for some sightseeing while Mr. X went to meetings.

I visited the Nome Visitor's Center, library and city museum. Mr. X found me checking out displays on dog sledding, the northwest passage and gold mining. After a dinner of Mountain House spaghetti, we went for a walk along the frozen, but breaking up Bering Sea. We stopped to look at a gold dredger.

Everywhere we went people told us this summer should be crazy with everyone out looking for gold dust on the beach. Several stretches of land specifically excluded mining.

In case you were wondering. We took these pictures of Nome at 9 pm. The sun didn't set until after 11 pm. We had light snow in the afternoon and then brilliant (i.e. blinding) sun all evening.

Nome (Part 1): Dorothy, hand me those ruby slippers...

cause 'there' no place like Nome'.

A couple months ago, I decided I was going to Nome. I hadn't decided if I was going for next March's Iditrod finish or whether I wanted a summer birdwatching excursion. When Mr. X heard my intentions, his reaction was, "uhh, okay".

Two days later, I'd started researching Iditarod volunteer opportunities as well as birding websites, and Mr. X emailed me,

Hey Sarah,
G said that a processor doesn't want to come to [Anchorage] training because it is the middle of whaling season. They need the training so we may be going to Nome around May 4th (it is very tentative at this point). Do you want to try to come? Might not work but might be fun."

[Mr. X]

I called him right back and said, "I'm coming!"

"Tentative" turned in to definite within a week.

Obviously, Mr. X's airfare, hotel and food were covered so, we were looking at tickets for just me. Getting to Nome is not cheap: $650 - $725 for a rountrip ticket from Juneau. Except I knew that Alaska Air was holding an air mile sale. If I bought miles for a trip to Nome, the ticket would only be $330. Not bad, but I already a had some miles, so my price came in at $187. Very doable. When Mr. X's exact flights showed up for 15k miles, I pounced. I was going to Nome.