Tag Archives: Moving

Alaskan Idealism: Project Progress

Now that we’ve been in Alaska for almost 6 weeks, the regular, annoying, logistical issues involved in relocating are starting to iron themselves out.  Settling into our new residence, finding our way around, and getting started working are mostly concerns of the past.  It’s been a busy time, so really exploring what Alaska has to offer in our immediate area hasn’t been as much of a priority as I’d hoped, especially considering that summer here is almost over, and it sounds like “autumn” as I’ve known it may not exactly exist.

The necessities of day-to-day living have most certainly intruded on my vision of Alaskan living.  We’ve run into two separate couples (one pair including the fabulous Vanessa Runs) who, each knowing their time in Alaska was limited, were really able to live it up, visiting Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Seward, and Homer among other destinations.  If we make it to all of those places in the next year, I’ll consider myself fulfilled.

Fishing

Despite the reality check, John and I have made some positive progress.  Two weekends in a row took us down to the Kenai Peninsula for fishing during the Sockeye salmon run.  The first weekend was my first legitimate attempt at fishing of any kind, and did not end up successfully.  John, however, came home with 9 salmon.  Our freezer and bellies are very happy and full.

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The next weekend was a small haul by seasoned Alaskan standards, but I couldn’t have been more excited.  John caught a Sockeye and a trout, and I came home with two Sockeyes.  Standing out in the Kenai River in my waders, I felt that first real tug on my line, started backing up to the shore, and immediately tripped and fell over into the river, mostly defeating the purpose of my waders.  I hung on to my pole though, and after satisfyingly long struggle, with the assistance of John and our net, got my first catch up to the shore.

ImageSince then, we’ve had grilled salmon, baked salmon, pan-fried salmon, smoked salmon, salmon roe, and salmon-head soup.  Lunch today was Chipotle Salmon Wraps with Bacon.  Are we salmoned-out?  Nope.  But I’m certainly not disappointed about John’s charter fishing trip coming up tomorrow that could yield halibut, rock fish, yellow-eye, and…more salmon.  But Coho this time.

Car Repairs

A new and unexpected project that was recently created for us is the issue of vehicle maintenance.

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More appropriate mugs would say, “I Drove the Alaska Hiway…and lived!  My car…not so much.”

So far our tally is as follows:

John’s truck:

New clutch – $$$

Replaced fan clutch – $$

My SUV:

Rear brake pads and resurfaced rotors – $$

Four spark plugs and coils – $$

Squeaking front brakes – TBD

Boat trailer:

Lost brake/turn light cover and wires – TBD

Broken winch in need of welding – TBD

Moral of the story: the cost of driving to Alaska includes more than gas.

Knitting

My Central Park Hoodie was not finished before crossing the border into Alaska.  But it’s done now!

ImageSince finishing, I’ve done a really cute baby hat, and am 2/3 of the way through a sweater for Si.  Turns out knitting projects do not need to take multiple years each.

Settling

Since moving to Alaska, we’ve already moved. We readjusted to our new surroundings over the first month with relatives in Anchorage (thanks Scott and Jaime!), but have since set out on our own.  We headed out of town to Wasilla, because, after all, we didn’t move to Alaska to live in the city.  The commute is significant, but on my way to work I have views of glaciers and mountain ranges, cross two big rivers (the Knik and the Matanuska), and have to keep my eye out for moose (6 have been hit since July 1st).  It’s not unpleasant.  And after living in San Diego County, there is zero traffic by comparison.

Overall, Alaskan life is moving along nicely.  Next up: first day of school with students, preparing for winter, the DMV, and getting ready for baby #2.

ImageWaiting for our table at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, which never has no wait. Not never.

 

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The Drive – Part 3

On Tuesday, July 9th, we rose with the mission of finding a shower and washing some clothes.  We drove for a few hours through some incredibly beautiful and scenic territory.  The highway wound back and forth between British Columbia and Yukon Territory, so we were welcomed to both provinces in a morning.

After coming around a wide, sweeping turn, one of the most picturesque and charming views of the trip opened up.  Teslin Lake below us, so long the distant shores were invisible, was crossed by a megalithic bridge that lead to Teslin Village, a sweet little town where we didn’t at all mind spending the rest of our morning and early afternoon.  We pulled in to a lodge and RV park, and had all of our needs fulfilled.  Showers, laundry, pecan sweet rolls, and a couple of souvenir mugs we’ve used every day since.

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I went in to the little laundromat hoping for the best.  Everywhere we had been so far accepted American cash, but I assumed Canadian coin-op washing machines would be less than impressed with George Washington.  Luckily, I had $8 Canadian that had been change from our camp fee at Big Creek.  I needed some coins, and was grateful someone was in the office.  I handed him my $5, and felt remarkably the same as when I was a kindergartener buying something at the store.  “Here’s all the money I have…is it enough?”

“The machines take two quarters and two loonies,” the office manager explained.

Two what?!  I poked around at the coins in my hand.  Ah-ha!  The $1 coins had loons on the back.  Feeling like I’d just succeeded in interpreting hieroglyphics, I got our laundry started.

After naps for us all, feeling freshly showered, and with stacks of clean, folded laundry, we took off from Teslin and headed for our last campsite before crossing into Alaska.  Ready to not disrupt our low mileage day with too much driving, we settled in to Wolf Creek campground in the late afternoon.  This southern end of the Yukon is still far enough north that the daylight hours stretched very late into the evening, giving us plenty of reason to set up our slackline, take a walk to the camp playground, and take our time with our steaks and corn-on-the-cob.

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Wednesday, July 10th, we knew, was our Alaska day.   There would be no stopping for the night until we were securely in the 49th state.  Our first stop of the day was in Whitehorse, Yukon, for gas.  Whitehorse is now my quintessential BFE.  It was a busy little city, with things happening and going on, and looked like a fun place to visit, but it felt like it was on Mars, completely isolated from everything and anything else in the world.

Right outside of Whitehorse, we picked up our first and only hitchhiker of the trip.  John and I had discussed other potential hitchhikers, via walkie talkie, along the way, but Lucas was the lucky one.  We continued on through Otter Falls Cutoff, where we picked up some mugs and a bumper sticker declaring our success in navigating the Alaska Hiway, to Haines Junction.  We parted ways with Lucas there, as he was going into Alaska at the panhandle, headed to Haines.  The road turned northward and followed along a stretch of mountains whose profile matched what I’ve seen in every Alaska snowboarding video.  This seemed pretty reasonable, since they’re always going to Haines to ride.

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A gas and bathroom stop in Destruction Bay marked a significant transition in the road, and made us realize that the mugs and bumper sticker were purchased prematurely.  Imagine the worst road you’ve ever driven on, blow it up with dynamite, drive on what’s left, and you have an idea.  My understanding is that the expansion and contraction of the permafrost over the seasons makes the road impossible to keep smooth.  We were so rattled, shaken, and generally agitated, that we crossed the border back onto American soil and into Alaska completely unceremoniously, without even pausing for the photo-op at the Welcome to Alaska monument.

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Going through the border check here was quite a different experience than crossing into Canada had been.  After handing over our passport cards, the following inquisition ensued:

“Buy anything other than food and gas in Canada?”

“A few mugs.”

“Have a nice day!”

Nothing has ever made me feel more patriotic.  There’s something very comforting about returning “home”, being treated like an insider, even in a place I’ve never been.  The speed limits were posted in mph again; even though I had no problem with kph (as a trail runner, I’m acutely aware of just what 50k means, having done it on foot), I was more than happy to return to my default setting.

The next landmark was the city of Tok, but since it was getting late in the day and we were the most tired from driving as we had been any day, we turned left for Anchorage and our last campground of the trip.  The Porcupine Creek campground was barely our host; we stayed only long enough to sleep.

Thursday, July 11th was our final day, and we didn’t want to waste any time.  After breakfast in Glenallen, we made our final push down the Glenn Highway, and through the most spectacular views of the entire drive.  The highway followed along the northern border of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and we were treated with the sight of mountain peaks and glaciers the entire way.  At one point I was impressed with a range of tall, snowy mountains, cloaked in clouds, until I realized the clouds were actually a range of taller, snowier mountains.  We hadn’t made much of a habit out of pulling over to take pictures during the trip, but we made up for it along this stretch.  Every time we thought we’d seen the most breathtaking sight, the next bend would produce a greater one.  One summit that was in the backdrop for a great portion of the day, Mt. Sanford, which loomed at an impressive 16,237 ft, was quite possibly the tallest mountain I’ve ever seen in person, and I’d never even heard of it.

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We made it into Anchorage by mid-afternoon.  The city felt like any other: traffic, Targets, and stoplights, with the exception of the ragged Chugach Mountains dominating the skyline instead of buildings.  The contrast neatly sums up our vision, our goals, and our purpose for the whole trip: the sacrifice of urban living to support and allow for our dream life in the mountains.

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Dirty Socks

John is already gone, but that’s how we do things.  For our first major move, over 5 years ago, we were able to go together and at the same time.  But at that time, I had just finished student teaching and just finished almost dying of pneumonia, so I didn’t really have a schedule to keep.  Ever since then, I’ve been working as a teacher, so I have maintained a pretty definite work season.  John, as a landscaper, has had a less defined, but certainly prime, work season.  When you apply the field of landscaping to the backdrop of Alaska, some definition starts to take shape. 

 All of that adds up to our moving ability being not quite aligned.  From Reno to San Diego, John left over three months ahead of me.  From San Diego to Yreka, he stayed behind to finish his season and I moved to start mine.  There was almost a two month gap.  For this move, he’ll have been soaking up 20+ hours of daylight for only six weeks before we make the final push to get our life northward.

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John’s advanced view.

Our lag time in starting our Alaskan life together presents some problems, because moving to Alaska presents some problems.  Primarily, John took three bags with him when he left in May, which leaves me to pack up the rest of the house.  I am not the person you want to leave behind to pack up the house.  Secondly, we have one shot to get what we need north.  There were several trips involved when we transitioned to Yreka.  To Anchorage, there will be one, and one only.  So prepping must be planned, pointed, and succinct.  I am also not particularly good at planned, pointed, and succinct.  

Fortunately, I recently heard a talk that gave me a very useful lens for viewing my current situation and task.  The speaker was talking about dirty socks.  Imagine that you somehow got it in your head that dirty socks, as in nasty, sweaty, stinky, post-workout socks, were extremely valuable.  More valuable than gold.  You would roam around collecting socks, in all their reeking putrescence, until you had a bag so large and cumbersome, you couldn’t hold anything else.  This would continue, until something caused you to enter a moment of clarity where you saw your treasure for what it really was: just dirty socks.  My goal now is to shed my dirty socks.  Old magazines?  Dirty socks.  Easily replaceable furniture?  Dirty socks.  Clothes I haven’t worn in years?  Dirty socks.  Cheap knick-knacks, chipped dishes, old bottle of face cream?  Dirty socks.

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Bad dirty socks.

Ultimately, it all must go.  Whether sold, given away, or trashed, we’ll be down to bare essentials.  I’ll admit, I already cheated a little.  I packed up a couple, well, several, boxes of books to store at my dad’s house.  Actually, it was nine boxes.  I suppose I haven’t completely given up my addiction to dirty socks.  Or maybe it’s just an imperfect analogy.  I realized that one thing that is not a dirty sock for me is…well…my dirty socks.  I do love my Injinjis.  They are all coming.

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Good dirty socks.

John sent me confirmation yesterday that he’ll be flying back to the lower 48 on July 1st.  That gives me a little over two weeks to purge over eight years of accumulation, then neatly assemble what remains.  At that point, we’ll begin our long caravan, with him towing our trailer, and me pulling our recently traded-for boat (which has been confirmed several times over as an essential item for AK).  The drive will not be brief, but it’s expected to be our most epic camping trip to date.  And, with my eye focused on our dirty socks, it should be a pretty light load.  

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The Prelude

Call it what you like.  Wanderlust.  Grass-is-always-greener syndrome.  Unrelenting sense of adventure.  Pie-in-the-sky expectations.  Commitment-phobic.  Optimistic.  

We don’t go on many vacations, but we make up for it by moving.  In over eight years, we’ve spent a full two years in the same house exactly…well…never.  In our record holding shortest stay, we were in at Halloween and out at Christmas.  But that place had some serious issues.  It wasn’t just us.  Really.  But our habits are still revealing.  This will be our third lease in a row where we cut out early.  Even a year is too confining.

There is always something a little sad about leaving any place.  At this Northern California house, I was finally able to have a mini-farm: a few chickens and a couple pigs.  Family lived close, rent was cheap, there was no traffic.

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Memories of San Diego from our previous stopover have been a particular challenge to shake from my psyche.  It’s hard to argue with amazing and beautiful year-round weather.  Warm stretches of beach, beautiful deserts, and wild mountains, all within an easy drive, have never drummed up complaints that I’ve heard.

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And there’s Reno.  Well, there’s not much I miss about Reno.  There was extreme hot, extreme cold, and extreme wind.  It’s close to Tahoe, but I didn’t ski once while we were there.  Not one time.

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But the sadness of leaving behind is always the minor emotion compared to the excitement, anticipation, and suspense of what’s to come.  And our current what’s-to-come carries a particular weight that no other destination can dare compare with. 

Alaska.

A name alone that hangs heavy with dreams, images, and emotions.  The mere mention evokes thoughts of mystery in a land that is both ancient and new, but also wild and unsettled.  Among those thoughts there is, undoubtably, unrealistic romanticism.  But even unrealized ideals house the possibility of exceeding the expectations. 

Alaska really needs no introduction.  Every other show on the Discovery Channel is about it.  People are curious.  They want to know more.  To see it.  To feel it.  To be part of it.  It is far enough away to exude the foreign appeal, but close enough to be realistic, if not practical.  But still, only some actually go.  Is it the distance?  Anxiety about the unknown?  The majority of general responses to our decision has been resounding and enthusiastic support.  Maybe most people, for themselves, come to settle on the conclusion, “But why?”  

I doubt that our foray north will fizzle, as our other forays have, into just another broken lease and a few loose ends left untied.  This time it’s different.  This time it’s special.  Because this time, we don’t have a practical list of answers to the question, “But why?”  We just have absolutely no answer to the question, “Why not?”

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