I’ve been here almost three weeks now. We moved Collin out of the barracks and into a rental pad we found for the first two weeks. It was out of town about 25 minutes (the town being Fairbanks, population 33,000). It was a strange deal where a lady temporarily moves out of her own house to earn income from visitors. She was nice and the house was nice but, despite paying her $750/week, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were using her stuff, cleaning her dirt, and otherwise imposing. Not like a true vacation rental or hotel, but such is the Alaska way, where people will do WHATEVER to get by. And it was a great first lesson in leaving behind our “American” standards and ideas of how things should work. (The “ marks above are there because Alaskans don’t necessarily claim to be part of the USA. You frequently hear references to “down in America,” or “in the lower 48” or, my favorite, “Outside,” as in: I was born in Fairbanks, moved Outside for college, then came back to Alaska when I got married.” )
Anyway, I have included below a photo of our rental digs on Moose Mountain (which is the name of the nearby ski area, served by a “ski lift,” which is just a guy driving you up to the top of the mountain in a bus. Suffice it to say, it ain’t Aspen!). What was great about Moose Mountain was the dog-walking for Luna (deserted ski area, tons of dogs, quiet roads). I would often set out with one dog and come back with 5, all friendly though most of the males I’ve seen aren’t fixed, which is weird.
The other great thing about walking around Moose Mountain was the mushrooms—millions of them this time of year—of all different varieties including the deadly red amanita and super huge ones growing in triplicate.
So we left Moose Mountain behind after two weeks, and are now in Room 246 at the Fairbanks Extended Stay Suites, with a heavily trafficked road in front, a skanky strip club behind, and a (strange) combo of Walgreen’s/ Auto Zone under construction next door. Oh, and the hotel is on short final to Fairbanks International, so periodically the room shakes and quakes with landing airliners, screaming military jets, and sundry other aircraft, and we have to stop talking because we can’t hear each other.
But I’m not complaining. It’s a fun, adventurous chapter and it’s not like we’re pioneers or anything. Even if I wanted to complain, the locals would laugh me right out of the state because it is crystal clear to me already: hardship we know not!
And life in Room 246 is just temporary because…we are buying a house! We found a sweet, well-built 1,500 sq-ft log home that we are buying NEXT WEEK! So here’s what we’ve decided for life going forward:
We close on the house on September 8th, and move in. I’ve been scouring Craig’s List, second-hand shops and the area furniture stores to get furnishing ideas. Collin has to fly the jump plane back to Sheridan, Wyoming on the 10th, then he’ll come right back up after that and we’ll take a couple of weeks to get settled in.
Then we’ll BOTH fly back to Colorado on our about 10/1, because we have a Parkwest tour October 5-15. Great group, 22 people in 10 planes, starting in Santa Fe, ending in Big Bend NP in Texas. Then, we’ll fly back up here and hunker down for the long, cold, dark Alaskan winter. Crazy? Maybe, but I’ve always wanted to experience that (probably just once!), and it will give us some good time to get our life together at the house before Collin starts flying again next spring. We are thinking that, starting next year, we’ll spend winters in Denver and try to rent out the Fairbanks pad—maybe to the Japanese aurora seekers!
I think we can carve out a good life here, and I’ve met some wonderful people already. One friend, Keitha, who I already knew thru hospice (I visited her mother for 3 years), is from Colorado and has lived here for 20 years. She has been great. Last week she even took me blueberry picking with another friend of hers, Sandi. It was fun and relaxing and felt very tribal, just to be spending a couple of hours out in the wild with some ladies, sometimes chatting, sometimes silent, wandering away from each other, coming back together again.
And I was again reminded of the realities of life in the wilderness when, upon meeting Sandi at her house, she grabbed her berry basket and then grabbed her gun. You don’t go wandering ANYWHERE without one here. Strange and disconcerting to think I may need to have one of my own….
I’ve also met two women named Colleen. The first was our Moose Mountain landlord (a local schoolteacher, who I think will be a friend now that I’m not sleeping in her bed!) and another Colleen who is a retired hospital administrator. She had a leather couch advertised on Craig’s List and I went to look at it. I don’t think I’ll buy the couch, but we chatted a long time, and she’s going to hook me up with yoga studio and also the volunteer coordinator at the Alaska Pioneer Home—a nursing home/assisted living center for Alaskans. She retired from hospital work and went back to college to get an art degree, her passion, and is now a wonderful watercolor artist.
Collin and I have gotten out a little bit. Last week on his day off we drove part of the Dalton Highway (featured in the show Ice Road Truckers), a wild stretch of highway that was built for the pipeline and winds up in Prudhoe Bay. Those haul trucks are HUGE and know their size alone grants them right of way at all times. Here’s just one of the many warnings out there for folks considering a drive on the Dalton:
The road is narrow and filled with truck traffic. Road conditions vary depending on weather, maintenance and time of year. Most of the road is gravel and subject to potholes and washboard. There are several steep (10 to 12 percent) grades. Flat tires are a common occurrence. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommends two full-sized spare tires mounted on rims.
It was an all-day excursion and we barely went anywhere (though we had burgers and root beer floats at one of the very few outposts). And the car was trashed—you can’t read (or see any existence of) anyone’s license plate due to the baked-on sludge.
So…I think that’s about it for this first segment. I am soon heading out to nearby Ester to check out the annual pie contest/fundraiser for their library, called the LiBerry Throwdown!