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Winter Happens.

January 27, 2015

Remember when we were complaining about above-freezing temperatures and rain? Well, that changed abruptly. It is 10 F (-12 C) in Seward and hovering around -50 F (-45 C) in parts of the Interior. The entire state had a sudden, dramatic temperatures swing as January progressed. We’re used to that. That’s how life works in Alaska.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have an adequate blanket of snow on the Kenai Peninsula to do our usual sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Instead we rigged up the fatbikes and headed out to find the perfect biking spots.

Another Day, Another Bike Ride Around a Frozen Lake

Saturday was a bit snowy from the brief snow storm that left a whopping one inch of snow on our deck. In our usual Saturday morning fashion, we awoke way too late to do anything meaningful. Here at the end of January the sunrise is still around 9:30 in the morning, so it is really difficult to get going early in the morning, especially after a night of continuing our 23-movie James Bond marathon.

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Our destination: Upper Trail Lake, a winter playground for everyone in the Seward/Moose Pass area!

When we finally got moving, we loaded up our bikes and headed out to Upper Trail Lake in Moose Pass to ride the circumference.

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Oh look, a rock stack.

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You know how we feel about rock stacks!

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Success!

The ride would’ve been quick since the circumference is only 8.5 miles if you cut out the overflow and chunky ice places, but Bixler stopped at every birch tree to check for chaga.

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Bixler chips a chaga off a birch tree on the other side of the lake.

What is chaga? Chaga, or rather Inonotus Obliquus is a slow-growing fungus found on birch trees in cold climates. Not much is known about it, but this weird-looking fungus is an old Siberian folk remedy for anti-anything: anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-intestinal worms (which we probably have) – you name it. Chaga has been gaining popularity in the US for the past few years and Alaska seems to have an abundance of it. So you want to buy Chaga? Processed chaga will set you back about $100/pound. You can’t just eat it; it must be boiled in water and/or infused in alcohol to extract the goodness. More on that to come soon!

A few pounds of chaga richer and slightly colder from the dropping temperatures, we completed our circumnavigation and headed to the Trail Lake Lodge for a beer and some bar food. The Trail Lake Lodge was the place to be in Moose Pass (population 219), encompassing a tenth of the population. Sometime during our stay, the lodge owner’s daughter came over and our conversation went something like this:

Owner’s Daughter: Is that your beautiful red sled outside? Pointing to our truck.

Bixler: Yes.

Owner’s Daughter: That’s a nice F-350.

Bixler: Thanks.

Owner’s Daughter: Next time park farther back so people can walk in front. I’m a bitch, I know.

She then proceeded to talk something about how they purchased new snow machines from the lesbians across the street that were wrecked by a hairy Mexican and a hipster, all the while touching Bixler during this conversation. We weren’t really sure for the reason for such a tangent but it was entertaining nonetheless, especially because it made Bixler hopelessly uncomfortable. More people arrived mid-conversation and parked their trucks further back. Ah, now we get it. Gotta love small town Alaska!

Third Time’s the Charm

Fueled by the cooler temperatures and sunshine, we actually made an effort to wake up early enough to do something meaningful.

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Something meaningful!

Our destination: the mysterious Mystery Creek Road that the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge only opens but once a year for hunters. We loaded up our beautiful red sled and drove west.

For those of you in cold climates, have you ever noticed that big diesel trucks always have a cover on the radiator intake in the front? Well, we discovered that there is a viable reason for that. As we approached Moose Pass, the temperature dropped below zero and our big truck, despite being 8,000 lbs of awesomeness, could hardly keep us warm traveling at highway speeds. Only when we slowed down to go through Moose Pass did we experience precious heat in the vehicle. The last time we experienced this issue was driving back from Fairbanks at -55 F in our Element (may it rest in peace) where we had to don snow pants to keep warm inside the vehicle.

We approached Mystery Creek Road and rigged up our bikes only to discover that Mystery Creek Road doesn’t allow bike traffic when the road is closed, which is most of the year.

We aborted and tried again at Skilak Lake Road. Skilak Lake Road is an 18-mile bypass off the highway that has little maintenance in the winter, so we thought it would be viable for biking. Not so. The road is steep. We huffed to the top and froze on the way back down. Check that one off the list.

Our third and final stop was the Russian River Campground, located at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers. This area is famous for its fishing and is a zoo in the summer. Thankfully, the campground is closed during the winter months and usually turned into a skier’s paradise.

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The nearly-frozen Russian River nestled in a very cold valley.

A few weeks ago we tried to bike along the Russian River trail to the Russian River falls and back along the river. That nearly ended in divorce because that section of the trail along the river is not maintained. This time, we headed further into the campground, rode around the loops, and headed down to the river. All along the Russian River there is a sketchy boardwalk that is probably for walking only and also probably level in the summer when the world isn’t an ice cube.

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Bixler bikes along the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers.

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Hmm…probably shouldn’t be riding on this…

We were a bit disgusted by the amount of development along this beautiful stretch of river. Unfortunately, a common management policy is to have a few “sacrificial spots” to send the bulk of the tourists to keep other beautiful places virtually unvisited.

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We weren’t too thrilled by the amount of development along this river…

Cold and tired, we returned to the truck and headed back to Seward, skipping the single-scoop at Wildman’s for today. Somewhere during our trek we spotted a few people ice fishing on lakes. Hmm…

Installing New Beckson Ports

January 22, 2015

Alaskans tend to spend their Permanent Fund Dividend several times over and one iteration we bought with Krystin’s share were new opening ports for Carpe Ventos’ aging, cracked ports. At 36 years of age, the old ports were nearing the end of their useful life. They still technically worked since they weren’t leaking from the physical port itself, but three leaked from the gasket and the fourth was sealed shut since the lens broke off. Wouldn’t it be nice to a) have two opening ports in the head especially after Mexican night and b) have some more light in the boat on those cold, Alaskan summer days?

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Notice anything different? Check out those new ports! Damn, that looks nice!

Newfound Metals vs. Beckson

So finally we initiated the dreaded port replacement project. It took years of procrastination and research to select the correct port for the boat. The runner up were the stainless steel ports from Newfound Metals because they are shiny and beautiful. The drag with these are the expense and additional time needed to reshape the holes for the new ports. Additionally, Seward is a wet climate and having something that both attracts moisture and potentially rusts on our boat can be a problem. However, there are several Cal 34 out there with Newfound Metal ports and they look awesome! Kudos to those owners!

Instead, Krystin selected Beckson ports as the replacement. Beckson is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for the Cal 34 Mark III ports (we think) and has refined the plastic port over the past 36 years. If you are looking to do any boat projects and you want the easiest possible installation, look for “OEM.” Honestly, these ports literally fit in the same hole.

Yes, the Beckson ports are plastic and many people these days upturn their noses on plastic, especially in Alaska with the plethora of steel boats and wooden boat enthusiasts. Remember: the old Beckson ports lasted 36 years. In Alaska we often use the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with regards to trying to find a different replacement. Maybe that’s why people tend to collect junk cars on their lawns….

Beckson Port Installation

Beckson provides a fairly wordy installation guide that includes various scenarios ranging from new port installation to hole-too-small to hole-too-big to general troubleshooting. There are also two ways to install the ports: standard thru-bolting and flush mount.

According to Beckson, the hardware should be easy to find at any marine chandlery. Yeah, uh huh. The only thing we discovered on our quest to find hardware was that the local Ace Hardware store has a cat named Mufasa that lives in the store to control the shrew population. When you aren’t looking, he follows you and bats at your Xtratufs, then runs away playfully. Honestly, we’re pretty sure business has skyrocketed there. In the end, we ordered both the ports and the hardware off of Defender.

In the end, we ordered the hardware to flush mount the ports versus thru-bolt. Flush mounting has its advantages though it is a bit more difficult to install. The flush mount allows no bolts to be exposed to the elements since they are encased by the trim ring. We imagine this way if there was a leak it would be easier to fix since the trim ring can be popped off and re-sealed without the pain of unbolting everything. Also, it looks damn sharp on the boat.

For the flush mount installation, you will need the following tools and equipment:

  • 10 flush mount barrel nuts per port
  • Two tubes of marine silicone and a caulk gun
  • 3/16″ and 17/64 drill bits and drill
  • 1/2″ countersink drill bit
  • Two c-clamps
  • Paint scraper
  • Pointed awl
  • Hammer
  • Tape
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Acetone and loads of paper towels
  • Various screwdrivers
  • One husband
  • Patience and a beer

Here the simplified steps for installing Beckson ports on a Cal 34 Mk III:

  1. Unbolt the old port. Give the husband a beer and a screwdriver and have him stand inside while you unbolt the port from the outside. On the outside, you will have basic bolts which can be reused for this project. The husband will have barrel nuts which can be discarded which you can push out into the cabin with the pointed awl. Once unbolted, send the husband away before he complains about what a waste of a weekend this project is. You may need to give him an activity book at this point.
  2. Remove the old port. Ports of this age are brittle and more easily removed by breaking the port. Use the paint scraper and hammer to remove the trim ring on the outside. It will likely break off in pieces. Next use the paint scraper to scrape off some of the sealant between the remaining port and cabin. Go inside and start hammering in the awl around the port to separate it from the deck. The more you use the awl, the greater the chance a portion of the port will break off and you can start removing pieces. Note: this is incredibly frustrating and will take 60% of the time.
  3. Remove the old sealant. A combination of acetone, a paint scraper, and patience will help you slowly remove the old sealant. This takes about 30% of the total project time. Once you finish removing the sealant, lightly sand the area with 220-grit sandpaper and clean up with acetone.
  4. Center and clamp the new port in place. The Beckson ports come fully assembled, so you will need to remove the gasket and pop out the screen (screens are a must in Alaska). The easiest way to “center” the new port is to align the new holes with as many existing holes as possible. We found that the bottom holes of the old port aligned the best for some reason. Next, clamp the port in place with c-clamps and tape up the border. We chose to only tape the inside because the tape is really hard to remove if it rains.
  5. Drill and countersink new holes. With the port still clamped in place, use the 3/16″ drill bit and drill out the new holes on the inside through the port. You will notice that the drill bit will favor going into the existing holes. That’s okay. Just try to widen out the old holes. The new port will fit most of the existing holes from the old port. Next, remove the port and switch to the 17/64″ drill bit and redrill the holes from the outside. The Beckson instructions talk about drilling these holes only 3/8″ deep. However, the deck on a Cal 34 at this part is only 3/8″ thick, so you don’t need to worry about the depth. Next, while still outside, countersink the holes. We found that counting to two (you know, “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”) provides enough countersink for the flush mount barrel nuts, but is wise to check.
  6. Do a dry run before you goop up your port. If you aren’t confident in your drilling abilities, you may want to bolt down the port before applying the sealant. This requires a husband and a screwdriver. We only tried this on the first port because there was much complaining from the husband about this step.
  7. Seal and bolt down the new port. If you have extra holes, first shoot some sealant into those holes. Next seal all surfaces of the port and the contact surface on the hull. Press the port in place. The sealant should hold it in place, but if you aren’t sure you can re-clamp the window down. Dabble a bit of sealant on each screw and place them into the holes. This will help align the window. Gather up the husband and give him a screwdriver and a pair of gloves (to protect his precious hands) and repeat outside with the barrel nuts. Bolt the window in place hand tight, to allow for expansion. Next, goop up the trim ring and press it into place. Do not clamp. Silicone needs some space for expansion for those rare warm days. Clean up excess sealant with acetone. You may want to cover the ports with plastic at this point to avoid rain.
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The finished product still taped up in the head. We went with clear lenses versus smoked lenses for added light.

The entire project took about 4 hours per port done over two days. Day one it poured rain so we did it all under a tarp. Day two was nicer, but the temperature dropped some 30 degrees which made for a very cold installation. In the end, Carpe Ventos looks awesome with her new ports. We can’t wait to try them out on one of those ridiculously warm winter days! Oh, and we dewinterized the boat (minus the anti-freeze) just in case.

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A closeup of the finished ports on a particularly icy day.

Alaskans Visit the Biggest City in the Pacific Northwest

January 14, 2015

How do you throw a bunch of Alaskans out of their comfort zones? Send them to a big city, any big city beyond the limits of Anchorage. Like, say, Seattle.

Seattle, at 3.5 million people (or five times the population of the state of Alaska) is the largest US metropolitan area near our home town of Seward with a population greater than 1 million souls. Anchorage, at 300,000 people, looks like a one-horse town in the eyes of Seattle.

So how did we end up in Seattle? That’s a good question. We don’t usually go out of our way to visit large cities. With our Xtratufs, lack of apparent style, and openness to things like carrying firearms (Alaska does not have a concealed carry law), we don’t exactly fit into the city life. However, our friend Jesse over at Empiricus Embarks and his now-wife Samantha, a Canadian, decided to have their wedding in Seattle to break up the travel for those coming from all parts of the world. Of course we would attend. What better way to spend time in a big city than with all of your best friends from Seward?

Ray Day

Our adventure started earlier than usual due to a freezing rain advisory. We jetted up to the airport in Anchorage, a quiet, uneventful 120-mile drive and spent the night at the airport. And by spending the night, we mean watching the guy on the cleaning mobile wax the same section of floor for hours on end. Ever wonder how those floors at the Anchorage airport stay so shiny? That’s how.

Our flight was uneventful, and as usual everyone with their goddamn rolly bags held up those of us with more efficient luggage getting off the airplane. Tired, with only three hours of sleep behind us, we stood on the curb in sweatpants and Xtratufs, squinting at the sun, and sticking out like a sore thumb. Our overnight flight was full of women dressed in the latest in Pacific Northwest fashion that we would see everywhere: drab colors, leggings, useless faux-leather boots.

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Doth thine eyes deceive thee? Is that a kilt? Yep, a utilikilt…

Our internal fuel tanks were running on empty until Ray showed up. Ray is a local Seattlite and member of the band Gertrude’s Hearse, providing rock and roll undertaking to the Seattle area since 2005. He and band-member Keith work in the sailboat industry and come up to Seward once a year in May to rig boats for when the rest of the harbor starts the sailing season. When we told him we were going to Seattle for the weekend, he literally cleared his entire schedule. He showed up in his minivan, the White Knight, and with his seemingly boundless energy, took us to the local brewery in his neighborhood, the Fremont-Ballard area, and on a driving tour of the Lake Union locks and some of the local sailing scene.

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The number of sailboats in Seattle alone was astounding. Seward’s harbor is tiny by comparison.

We ended the evening by taking a personalized tour on Lake Union on Ray’s sailboat Wilson. Lake Union is the opposite of a typical Alaska lake: the waters are controlled by locks, the shorelines are crammed with marinas, float houses, and plenty of gentrified buildings. Much to Ray’s chagrin, Seattle is undergoing a massive gentrification due to the ever-growing online store Amazon which is housed in Seattle. Neat little homes and that old boatyard feel are being displaced by gaudy, overpriced condos. Soon Seattle will be another San Francisco.

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The most difficult part of sailing in this area would be figuring out the lock system!

Lake Union has a 7 mph speed limit. You can’t anchor because your hook might break the clay cap that keeps the pollution from a nearby EPA Superfund site from seeping into the lake. Ray insists it is safe to swim in the lake, as long as you don’t leave from shore as to not drag any pollution in the lake. Multimillion dollar yachts line the lake. The skyline is incredible: the lights of the city contrast with Mt. Rainier peaking the background, like something out of a postcard. Traffic rings the lake in all directions. The most daunting thing about sailing here is going through the Lake Union locks. We both remarked at how easy it must be to sail in this area. Something goes wrong and you can hop off your boat and simply ask for help.

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Krystin remarks at the skyline along Lake Union on a rare clear day.

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We motored by how the other half lives, in float homes on the lake with a million-dollar view.

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Our tour guide and friend Ray in his winter plumage.

 

Ray dropped us off at our hotel remarking at how excited he and the rest of his band were to play at Jesse’s wedding, but he noted Jesse planned his wedding at the same time as a major Seattle Seahawks game, for which none of us Alaskans cared. We relayed that information to Jesse, who laughed about it, and as friends from Seward, other parts of Alaska, and Canada started to amass, we wreaked havoc on the hotel lobby.

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This sunset over the skyline is a very different view than what we are used to.

Beer Day

All of us split up in the morning to explore the local area around South Lake Union. Bixler headed off for a straight shave and a hair cut at a high-end hipster barbershop. Krystin walked around trying to understand more about the area. The area completely lacks trees, has hills like San Francisco, and is almost entirely new buildings. Busy business people doing busy business stuff jetted around between spin classes and entering Whole Foods with their dogs. Overwhelmed by the city life, we later hooked up with friends at a restaurant who shared our same feelings. The city wasn’t for us, but we might as well make the best of it.

We headed out for a day of beer tasting and sampling fine cuisine. After sitting in traffic and taking 50 minutes to move 4 miles, we finally visited Two Beers Brewing, our favorite summertime beer for our sailing trip. After that we ended up at Pike Place Market, where after numerous more rounds of beers, the five of us managed to consume eight dozen oysters. Eight dozen oysters. Apparently that was a new record for the restaurant.

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Beer! The reason why the Pacific Northwest exists in the modern era.

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Why have two dozen oysters when you can have eight dozen!?

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A strange large man photobombs Krystin at the bubble gum alley near Pike Place Market.

We wondered out of Pike Place Market in the night hours only to be accosted by Seattle’s homeless population. Bixler almost instigated a fight with a woman who insisted that we give her spare change, even after turning out our pockets and a string of expletives. Seattle is not the place to be at night.

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At least he didn’t accost us for spare change…

Wedding Day

Our return to the Pike Place Market during the daylight hours was far more enjoyable. As usual we bought interesting wall art to furnish our house, mostly Alaska-based since that seems to be theme around Seattle. Despite it being the day of his wedding, Jesse did not have a shirt to wear (way to wait until the last minute, Jesse), so we dropped into Macy’s nearby. When we reached the Men’s Department we rolled around with laughter realizing that Jesse’s son was dressed exactly like the mannequins in the store.

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Hmm…Jesse’s son would fit right in here in Seattle…He was actually offered a modeling job at the mall!

After a walking tour back to our hotel, we began to help Jesse prepare for the wedding. He insisted on doing his own food, so we pulled out our salmon and began the prep process along with helping with a whole host of other activities. Krystin was also the official videographer and Bixler did all the wedding photography. He was even hired as Gertrude’s Hearse’s photographer for the event.

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Jesse and Sam’s wedding was at the Center for Wooden Boats, which ironically featured many wooden longliners that make their home in Seward.

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Despite the drizzly night, we enjoyed browsing some awesome wood sailboats.

The wedding was a blast. The best way to describe it is combine crazy, partying Alaskans with quiet, reserved Canadians. Throw in some break dancing as well. Awesome. We’ll leave Jesse to explain the details if he so chooses on his blog!

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Our friends Ray and Keith (saxophone) and their band really put on a high energy, wonderful show for Jesse, Sam, and their guests.

Sick Day

You would think that the next day would be fun, wondering around Seattle with a slight hangover waiting for your evening flight back to Anchorage. Boy, were wrong. Krystin came down with norovirus in the middle of the night and proceeded to re-experience the build-your-own-salmon sushi. Somewhere between suffering from chills and the impending doom, she sat on the couch in the hotel room listening to the sweet sounds of gunshots being fired nearby. By the time the daylight hours had rolled around, Bixler checked out and dragged Krystin into Ray’s van where we all headed to the Elysian Brewery. Krystin spent most of the day sleeping in the car when parked and turning green when Ray drove around.

You know those movies where the driver never watches the road and talks to the passengers? That’s how Ray drives while dodging Seattle traffic. Sights the Space Needle were a blur and somehow we made it through security at the airport, dying to get home. Our flight was late. We sat on the tarmac for an hour waiting for the next flight crew. Krystin was stuck in the middle seat between a hypochondriacal Bixler and a woman with the ass the size of an elephant. The flight was hot and miserable, but after a long drive home we crashed in bed.

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A rare picture of us together forced outside of our comfort zone.

The upside to this trip? We hung out with great people, heard ALL o the members of Gertrude’s Hearse live, and brought back 54 pounds of some of the best microbrewery beer in the Pacific Northwest and a new-found appreciation for why we don’t live in a large city like Seattle.

When Winter gives you Rain, you Buy a Fatbike

December 29, 2014

Our cross country skis are still collecting dust in the garage. Our snowshoes are sitting patiently for the next adventure. We’ve used them once this year. The lakes near our house are not yet frozen. The road is an ice sheet impregnated with gravel. It is 36 degrees with rain in the forecast.

This is our winter right now. Frankly, it sucks. Usually we are snowshoeing by Thanksgiving and skiing across lakes by Christmas. Even last year, with our relatively mild winter, we recall skiing with a friend on Trail Lake in Moose Pass on a beautiful -5F day (as anyone will tell you, the ideal skiing temperature). Not so this year. Instead we’ve been hit with warm storms that have dumped snow in the mountains creating hazardous avalanche conditions and a combination of rain and freezing rain down here at sea level. Driving the Seward Highway is like navigating an ice skating rink from hell.

Occasionally we’ll get a brief respite from the rain, but for the most part the ground cover is pretty bare. To cope with the weather, we’ve been doing an unnecessary amount of running for this time of year. Krystin even participated in Kristen’s Virtual 5k on the Winter Solstice, when Seward is graced with a whopping 4 hours where one can actually see the orb of the sun.

Kristen’s blog is always peppered with selfie pictures of her running, so in honor of Kristen, Krystin took this selfie across the bay from Seward showing her icy waterfront run in the background. This one is for you, Kristen!

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We haven’t exactly caught on to the whole selfie thing.

As much as running is a decent workout, we can only enjoy it for so long. During the winter, we enjoy skiing and snowshoeing because both allow you to cover some serious terrain with the shortened days, provided you have enough snow. Our current quandary is that there is not enough snow to get to our usual places. An idea we had was to invest in either an ATV or a snowmachine, but we are kind of against powered vehicles for a number of reasons, namely we need to burn some calories.

A few weeks ago while killing time in Anchorage before making a rare appearance at a company Christmas party, we dropped into Paramount Cycles to browse the latest Alaskan craze: fatbikes. Fatbikes are exactly as they sound. They have fat tires at low pressure designed to roll over just about anything. Due to the lousy ski conditions in Anchorage, they have been selling like hotcakes as a skiing replacement on Anchorage’s many maintained trails. We used to stick up our noses at them, thinking the bikes were merely a ski substitute that required such trails. However, after talking to the employees at Paramount Cycles, the bikes are beefed up to take you, well, anywhere. The problem is that most people just don’t use them as intended.

A friend of ours invested in one, so we checked his out. Hmm… At Paramount Cycles, we browsed their selection. Among the rack of bikes, the beautiful light blue Surly Ice Cream Truck called our name. Honestly, how could you not like a bike called an Ice Cream Truck? We purchased a his-and-hers pair and the owner of Paramount Cycles noted a few milestones: these were the last available in Alaska along with the last two sets of studded tires. Awesome.

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Our his-and-hers fatbikes on a minimally-snowy outwash plain.

The day after Christmas we rode out Exit Glacier Road (now closed for the winter season) to the base of the glacier to ride around in the outwash plain. The road was a combination of ice and tire ruts and the occasionally snowmachine trail. All of those years of riding bikes as little kids and falling over has wired our brains into thinking that we can’t possibly ride on this. However, the fat tires of the bikes literally rolled over everything.

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Definitely not a road to ski on, but it was surprisingly easy to bike on it!

When we reached the visitor’s center, we had to push our bikes through the deep snow on the usually well-maintained trail to reach the outwash plain.

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The trail to the outwash plain and glacier reminds users to not take bikes on the trail. We figured that was for the summer months only.

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This trail is both well-maintained and paved during the summer months!

The outwash plain is where these bikes really perform. It is like riding on a slightly snow open plain with lots of fun ups and downs. Unfortunately, the river coming off of the glacier is not quite frozen, so we turned around to take the road back to our truck.

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Success! We made it to Exit Glacier! No sun for us since we got the usual late-morning start.

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It’s like riding on a cloud.

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The valley off in the distance is the Resurrection River Trail. Maybe we’ll ride that someday…

That was the first adventure. The second adventure took us on a section of the Iditarod trail that runs behind our house. This was far more technical, with a lot more maneuvering (and thus falling). Portions of the trail were washed out, so we did a lot of this:

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Krystin follows Bixler across a washed-out section of the trail. We did a lot of lowering our bikes into rivers and walking across rivers towards the end of this trail. Thank goodness for Xtratufs!

In the end, it was an eventful Christmas spending time doing our usual extreme husband-wife activities. Our neighbor’s cat Dusty spent the afternoon the day after Christmas sleeping on our floor while we donated our Christmas tree to his llama brothers and sisters for a snack.

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Dusty, our neighbor’s cat, sleeps hard near a Christmas box in our house.

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Our neighbor’s llamas enjoy a Christmas tree snack.

Hope everyone had a Happy Holiday!

Boat, Beaches, & Bears 3: Still Here in the Last Frontier

December 20, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been unusually quiet the past few weeks. Our last post on Alaskagraphy was somewhere in the neighborhood of December 1, and now it is nearly Christmas. No, we haven’t just been sitting around. We’ve been busy finishing up the final touches on our epic new movie: Boat, Beaches, & Bears 3: Still Here in the Last Frontier. We hope you enjoy our Christmas present to you!

The movie runs an epic 3 hours and 8 minutes, so you must have will, determination, and comfy chair to watch it all in one sitting. It rendered overnight in Final Cut Pro and took 54 hours to upload onto YouTube. Someone at the Fish House tonight noticed the internet had been running slow in town. We guess we were probably sucking up all of Seward’s bandwidth.

Enjoy!

Rivers and Mountains

December 1, 2014

So, you are looking for a lesson on being really, really cold, right? Well, here’s a great idea: go packrafting in the Kenai River. In late November. Spend half the day standing in said river trying to catch trout on a fly rod. Watch your fly rod tip freeze up in the process. Realize that you are rapidly losing sunlight because you have no time reference.

Back in February, we had the brilliant idea to packraft the Upper Kenai River from the headwaters and Kenai Lake to the Russian River Landing. It was a gorgeous day, warm, with much fishing success. We liked the trip so much, we decided to repeat it last weekend as November tips towards December.

We rounded up our Doppelgangers and hit the headwaters of the Kenai River at the winter sunrise hoping for an equally nice day as we had in February. The difference between late November and late February is that in late November the sun never actually hits the Kenai River. A slightly overcast day didn’t help, though we were starting to get a snow (finally).

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The headwaters of the Kenai River…at 11 am.

We rafted down to our usual spot and setup to look fish for trout. All of us immediately noticed how much colder this adventure was than last time. With each cast our fly tips froze and we had to periodically cycle out of standing in the river for any extended period of time. Our spirits were low because we weren’t catching much of anything. Jamie offered a round of ice-cold beers to warm our spirits. Unfortunately they only made us all colder.

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Our stopping spot for fishing. Jamie was the first one to hit the river.

After a re-rig of our fly rods, we started catching fish. Jamie landed a beautiful rainbow that we forgot to photograph because we were all so excited. In this area of the Kenai, large fish must be returned to the river, so he let the fish go. Bixler hooked up to something massive that shook his fly. Krystin was the last one to get a nibble. Though the excitement we realized that we were rapidly losing daylight and that we needed to head downriver.

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Krystin hits the water to fly fish. A much better fly fisherman was upstream of us in the background.

The float was rougher than last time. The river was running slightly higher due to all of the early November rain. The one Class III rapid on the river was a monster, and all of us flooded our packrafts, necessitating a stop and a second chance at fishing.

At this point we were all freezing. Hands and feet were the hardest hit, making both fishing and walking on the slippery, rocky shoreline a nightmare. Krystin stopped fishing early to conserve energy. Jamie, whose hands were soaked from the rapid, made the executive decision to hurry downriver before it becomes too cold and too dark. We hopped into our iced-up packrafts and pulled out early at the bridge near the Resurrection Pass trailhead.

Shivering, we nixed the idea of stopping at Wildman’s for the legendary single scoop of ice cream. Though Alaskans may eat more ice cream per capita than any other state, the thought of a cold cone of ice cream was out of the question.

We said farewell to the Doppelgangers and headed home to immediately sit in our hot tub for an indeterminate amount of time. We thought of packrafting another river, but the cold wore us out. We could hardly get out of bed the next morning and decided to head out for a more heat-inducing adventure.

All along the highways in Alaska are random ATV trails that seemingly lead to nowhere. Since we are tiring of our usual round of snowshoeing trails, we decided to head out onto one of those random ATV trails.

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The trail to no where starts climbing us up high enough to get some nice views.

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The valley across from our climb. Does it have a trail? Who knows.

It turns out that the trail was some sort of old mining road that led us up the side of a steep mountain. This was our first snowshoeing trip of the season and we toiled to get as high as we could before, again, losing our sunlight.

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Bixler toils up the mountain side after grabbing an errant ptarmigan.

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The beautiful, but dangerously steep, trail.

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Bixler stops the near the end of the trail. We were close to the top of the mountain, but we were out of sunlight.

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The sun disappears at the far end of the valley around 2 pm. A storm which will bring more snow (including down to sea level at our house) hangs on the horizon.

The trek was difficult, but the view was worth it. And we stayed nice and warm the entire time, too.

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Damn! What a view!

Calm After the Storm

November 18, 2014

Typhoon Nuri passed over us finally leaving a few days of glorious sunshine in our wake. We celebrated by receiving numerous notifications that our blog was featured in an NPR article about eating bear! Apparently, the general attitude that bears are cute and cuddly is slowly changing around the US as bears become more numerous in populous areas. Maybe this will keep the anti-hunting YouTube comments down for a change on our Boat, Beaches, & Bears series for a change. Or maybe not.

That was the first piece of good news. The second was a combination of a high aurora activity alert coupled with crystal-clear, calm weather. When Nuri passed over us, she left relatively warm weather in her wake. Sorry Lower 48, but Alaska sent another blast of cold down to you guys. This makes for the most ideal aurora borealis viewing because one isn’t constantly running in and out trying to warm up on those cold Alaskan nights.

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The aurora lights up our dark neighborhood. Note the big dipper (essentially Alaska’s state flag) captured in this image.

The aurora was so bright that we literally stepped outside and watched it from our driveway. Our neighbor’s cat, Dusty, came by to wonder what we were doing at this crazy hour outside.

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Spires of light of different colors emanate off the aurora.

Two nights of excellent aurora viewing allowed us to play with the settings on our camera. In reality, the aurora at our latitude is quite light in color, though you can see it both dancing and changing from green to orange with the naked eye. A long exposure on a camera is what creates those brilliant pictures plastered all over the internet. We played around with our exposure time, sometimes exposing the image for as long as 90 seconds.

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This 90-second exposure captures portions of the aurora that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

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In comparison, this a shorter exposure. You can still see interesting bands of light from the aurora. A few wispy clouds make for an eerie image.

In between the two clear nights, we headed out to the Snow River delta on Kenai Lake for some unsuccessful duck hunting and packrafting. We were taking it easy on our usual extreme adventures because Krystin came down with a nasty head cold the week before and was still recovering.

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Krystin stands at the mouth of Snow River gazing towards the mountains near Lost Lake.

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The Snow River Delta. The highway is actually in this picture, but is obscured by alder and that blinding sunlight.

We first paddled out to the delta to try our hand at duck hunting. Even at this time of year ducks hang out in Snow River, but they are few and far between. The Seward Highway transects the delta, so one needs to be careful when shooting. No ducks for us, but an interesting place to explore. This time of year the rivers in Alaska are running at low water (or frozen), exposing all kinds of interesting features.

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No ducks, but lots of great views and interesting features.

We then paddled along the far side of Kenai Lake, an area we’ve never fully explored. Kenai Lake is also at low water, exposing a beach along the shoreline. Because of our relatively snow-free winter so far, bears are still out and about as evidenced by the numerous bear tracks along the shoreline.

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The frozen and cold Kenai Lake shoreline at low water.

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Lots of interesting tracks on the beach…

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Oh look, bears!

The weather might be warm, but the sunlight is still disappearing at its usual rate. By 2:30 pm we were losing our overhead sun to the mountains and paddled back to the car. We do have a great idea though: packrafting far out along the shore of Kenai Lake and camping at an indeterminate location. Next weekend, maybe? We’ll see if the weather holds!

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Plenty of driftwood to burn in the future!

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