Monday, October 23, 2017

Changing Seasons Ride the North Wind

The turn of the seasons is always an exciting time, whether it is the green explosion of spring or the golden spray of fall leaves.  This week, we moved into winter here in southern Alaska with temperatures settling into the twenties and the north wind sending us running to the closet for more clothes.

  At our house on Bear Lake we are ready for the change though we had to move quickly. With the help of grandson, Sawyer, we placed the kayaks in their winter slings hanging in the rafters of the dog kennel, and we pulled the rowboat and nestled it in its nest in the boat shed. By the time we got to the rowboat though, the ice was wrapping around the hull and the ice pans threatened to anchor it on lakeshore for the duration.  We’ve plucked the last hardy kale leaves and only the carrots wait in the soil to be harvest. 

This weekend we even found a few cranberries to augment our assorted berry larder.

The last of the ducks seem to be looking at the horizon wondering if they should leave, they must know that on the first morning without out wind the lake will freeze and they have to migrate or move the salt water for the winter.  Only the persistent north wind has kept the lake in motion so it doesn’t freeze. I have seen times when wind drops on a cold morning in October and one can watch the first skin of form on the lake. 

Along the south shore where lumpy ice ridges have been forming on the beach for days, the thin layer of ice stretches out from the shore pushing the last of the Golden-eye duck farther off shore. Then fingers and pans of silver  ice take shape off shore until they stretch and touch. I have seen five acres of ice form on the still lake in just a half hour.

Some years this is the end open water and the lid of ice covers the lake water for the winter. More often though, wind, rain and warming temperatures break the first layer of ice piled it in the south cove where Bear Creek drains the lake.  As we watch the ice pans form and stack the last stash of firewood, we can only hope that the first week of November brings still cold ice making days so we can be skating by thanksgiving.  Remember it’s the end of October and regardless of what the calendar says that’s the start of winter. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Road Again, No Sidekick

After my visit to Tanana Middle School, the home of the
Eagles!, I'm back on the road again to Healy, Alaska. Healy is home to the Usibelli Coal Mine and very near Denali National Park.

The students at Tanana Middle were energetic and friendly and many of them confident enough to share their writing in front of their peers.  That takes courage that many adults never muster.  Librarian, Tana Martin, Alaskan born but raised in Georgia, was a great organizer and support during the long day when I met all the Language Arts classes.  I had forgotten how much work teaching all day really is.   

More Later, time to make camp and settle in for the night.

And then this . . . .
Inexplicable totem poles in Central Alaska

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mutiny and Desertion on the Parks Highway

Such an innocent face. . .
The great Alaska Book Week Roadtrip started a day late and then things when down hill.  We made a smooth traverse of the Seward and Glenn Highways then motored north to Willow and dropped in on Musher Travis Beals.  My partner, Kermit, seemed unimpressed by seeing his old teams mates and owner.  Sarah and Madelyn had him groomed and perfumed so that I think he thought he was heading for a date not dropping by the locker room. 
Anyway, we had a quiet camp beside the highway Friday night, and Kermit helped me finish a Sheep Creek Lodge burger – even better than I remember and the fries were hand cut fresh potatoes like they used to make at the Kenai Lake Lodge fifty years ago. I almost cried when I saw they were smoking brisket for their anniversary party tonight. We had to keep moving. 
This morning after an early start, we stopped at scenic Byers Lake for a walk and breakfast.  This is where it all fell apart and the adventure began.  When I opened the door, Kermit left the truck like a pissed off teenager with car keys. For those of you who don't know, Kermit is a retired Iditarod athlete with several trips up the trail on his resume and still plenty of fuel in  the tank.  Luckily, I was driving in my soft comfortable house slippers instead of regular shoes.  I say luckily because if I was in regular shoes I would have launched a pursuit on foot.  a total waste of time, in my slippers there was no chance. 
After five hours of searching and calling and waiting, I gave up and turned my wheels north.  Maybe he'd turn up when I returned in two days. 
In two hours, Travis had driven north to start his own search, and the some good Samaritans and State Park rangers hand wrangled up Kermit and gave me a call, having see my notes left on outhouses and visitor plaques at the state park.  By then Travis, my hero, Beals was only a mile from the where the deserter was being held.  So Kermit is back in the locker
room with his old team and I am safe in Fairbanks for the night. 
More tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Drop Cloths, Boot Driers and All the News that's Fit to Print

Like most Alaskan’s I spent a lot of time this month processing fish.  I was preparing salmon for the smoker and laying the pieces of ripe orange filet on racks to dry before smoking. When I was laying out the newspaper under the wire racks, I got to thinking how useful newspaper was and how much a part of day-to-day life this daily-delivered paper product is.

 If I didn’t have yesterday’s paper what would I do for something absorbent to catch the drips of drying salmon? Is there anything cheaper, easier, or more disposable for catching drips than newspaper? What would one put under the paint can when painting the trim in the bathroom?  What is handier than grabbing some newspaper to stuff in those wet Xtratuf boots? I was actually going to take a stack to the recycler the other day and my wife stopped me, thank goodness. Any I don’t use, she’ll spread in the garden for weed block.

But with so many people reading their news online and newspapers struggling to sell print editions that could all be gone sooner than later.  All the time I was processing fish this weekend I chewed on this idea. What a bummer if I couldn’t grab the funny papers and classifieds out of the Sunday edition so I could have crossword puzzles to take in my pack when I travel. What if I wanted leave a story on the end table to share with my wife? How weird would it be not to have newspaper to start the fire in the woodstove or to wrap grandma’s china cups?
Oh we have paper towels and packing paper, puzzle apps on our phones and plenty of little waxed paper fire starters available, but are we ready to give that all up?

These ideas were all insignificant musing of a man longing the good old days of newspaper hats and my mom cleaning mirrors with a page out of the Sunday Daily News until this Friday.  This Friday, I was my cabin on Pear Lake and heard on KTNA that the Alaska Dispatch News was declaring bankruptcy and maybe being evicted. Suddenly, my old man fretting had become an actually possibility. Here was a real likelihood that a daily paper in Alaska’s largest city would be a thing of the past. Not in five years or ten years but right damn now! 

Suddenly this is more than the possibility that I have to pay for my drop cloths and blotters from now on. This is the real threat that we don’t have a print media source a center of record for our state.  If we loose the ADN it will be like closing a road, or shutting the doors of a school. Yes, we have good local and regional papers, but ADN was the statewide paper, and they still used that soft absorbent newsprint so handy around the house. I mean really, do we want Facebook and Twitter to be the table around which all our statewide conversation takes place? Will the “cloud” be the answer?

It’s not that Alaska Dispatch News is the perfect, unbiased news base. The point is that we need something to fill that gap for news and continuity of our Alaska community until a strong, valid twenty-first century solution is developed. I can find old ragged T shirts for drop clothes and be more frugal with saving birch bark for fire starters, but I’m not yet ready to give up having a rolled up newspaper landing in my drive, even if it does land in a puddle now and then.  Right now I’m going to teach my grandkids to make newspaper hats before it’s too late.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Becoming a Laid Back Rider -- Recumbent Update.

I promised to follow up on my recumbent bike exploration, and you are probably wondering if I’m riding twenty miles a day or is it gathering dust in the boat shed. Well short answer, somewhere in between.

I bought the bike because I like riding but needed a change from the traditional bike I was riding. Leaning forward on a regular bike made my hands numb and my back sore, and those kept me from saddling up for anything more than a tour of the neighborhood.  So, to summarize, I took the leap and bought a used recumbent cruiser both for my comfort and curiosity. The bikes are something different and, like a young Steller’s jay, I a curious about unique divergent ideas. 

I was surprised after doing some reading that the bike was easy to get accustomed to though the ride is decided different for a regular bike, both in handled and balance. Articles I read online cautioned riders to practice in empty parking lots and quiet neighborhoods before heading out on the open streets. Good advice. I had my first wreck showing off for my wife in the driveway. I made a tight turn like I would on my old bike and dumped myself indelicately into the gravel.  No surgery required.

The biggest struggle I have is launching. I say launching because that is how it feels. One sits balanced on the seat with feet on the ground and rotates one pedal to a near vertical position. Then the rider must push off with one foot and pedal with the other.  There is no way to push with the hands as we do on traditional bikes. All the weight on the ass, and I must launched with a push and wobble like a five year old on his first solo.

I was feeling so lame with my launch technique that I went to YouTube (for the longest time I could never find ‘UTube’ when I ran a search online- sad) and watched a five-minute video of a guy launching on a bike like mine. He made it look easy, but he was short enough that he could move the bike along like a scoot bike. My legs are too long to do that, so I still look like a klutz on the start off. When I ride, I try to avoid any stops while riding unless they are downhill or away from an audience. It’s all about technique and practice.

Anyway, I have been riding regularly, moving from cruising the neighborhood to riding out on the highway both north and south. While a ten-mile ride made me tired and my legs complained, there were no numb hands, no aching back, no sore groin. Yesterday, I rode thirteen miles, half of it into a tough south wind, and this morning I am not suffering and looking forward to a ride this afternoon.

I do notice that hill climbing, even a gentle slope, is a challenge to me and I seem to climb slowly. Part of this is the physics of this type of bicycle. The other part is the development of riding technique and muscles. The power muscles are different for a recumbent and need to build while the technique for applying force to the pedals comes from the hips differently than when riding erect. I’m learning, and every time I ride I am motivated to ride more, and that is the key to any fitness activity.  Motivation. I will see you on the road until the snow flies again, and we can all get back to skiing. Or maybe I’ll get studs and try winter riding.  --- Yeah right!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Twisted Stalk, A Snack for the Whole Summer

            When I was a kid on the homestead, my mom liked to take afternoon walks this time of year and gather her ‘rabbit food’. She would take a basket and paring knife and walk out on the margins of the clearing for dandelion greens and fireweed sprouts then enter the forest for fiddleheads, miner’s lettuce and watermelon berry vine. She would toss the mass of greens she collected in a salad or wilt them in hot vinegar heated in an iron skillet.  We called it her ‘rabbit food’ because when brother Mike, self-appointed devil’s advocate, would say, “ How do you know that you’re not poisoning us?” She would respond, “If the rabbits eat it we can! And besides, it will cure what ails you.”  But she said that about most things we didn’t want to eat. We were unconvinced.
            Most of the greens were harsh tasting and coarse and her comment didn’t contribute to the taste. The only one of the rabbit greens I liked were the watermelon berry vines, which I found to be succulent, tender and sweet tasting both when picked very young or mature.  I still like to pick these when I’m hiking and munch on them as I go or gather and bring home to enrich my salads.  Every spring I pledge to try fiddleheads again. Unfortunately, the spirit is willing but the body is weak, and procrastination is not an option with fiddleheads.  Today I picked a few that hadn’t moved past usable and will steam then tonight and douse with butter. 
            My true favorite of the wild things is the watermelon berry vine, which goes by many names: twisted stalk is what is is called in Alaska Wild Plants by Janice Schofield— a great source for people interesting in eating wild in Alaska. Our friends the Fishers use the term scoot berry and others call it wild cucumber.  According to Schofield, the term twisted stalk is a variation on the scientific name, streptopus amplexifolius, which means “the twisted stalk with the clasping leaf”.  I don’t think of that when I look at this delicate member of the lilly family. Instead I can relate to the crisp cucumber flavor of the stalk, and the tiny watermelon treat of the berries. 
            I collect these in May and June to for my salads am trying to get the grand kids to munch them when we hike but without much luck. By July I’ll be snacking on the berries and for those I will complete with the kiddos.
By the way, it turns out, the ‘scoot berry’ term is a reference to using the berries as a laxative, something to think about if you and your kids are munching them along the trail. I have eaten bunches without noticeable effect.   
Another good source for edible plant info is Alaska’s Wild Berries by Verna Pratt, a truly pocket sized illustrated guide, Pratt suggested adding the berries to other berries as an extender. My mom tried to make a pie with the berries once, and it was a disappointment so mixing them with others makes sense.  Next time you hit the trail try a snack of twisted stalk and maybe take some home for dinner.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Getting Laid back with Recumbent Bikes

High Tech 1970!
Every spring, it seems I take on a new thing, and invest myself in learning, testing, or building something I’ve never done before. This time last year I took on rebuilding a teardrop trailer. This year I joined the recumbent bike crowd, a small, elite troop of people who would rather ride like they are in a recliner instead of balancing on a two-by-four. I didn’t do it just to be different. I did it because I wanted to keep bike riding. Over the last few years, bicycling had become increasingly difficult for me. After a short ride my butt is sore, my hands go numb, and my back hurts anytime I ride more than a couple of miles. First, I replaced my mountain bike with a street bike with a more erect position. No help, then I adjusted the handlebars and wore padded gloves. I was still not happy.
To be fair, I am not a dedicated, long-distance bicycle guy. But I have always enjoyed bike riding. The first thing of any value I ever purchased was a yellow Schwinn Varsity ten speed that I rode all over Anchorage 45 years ago. That was a sweet ride with skinnnnny tires and those racers handlebars that swooped down so my noes was practically touching the front tire. I felt like a jet pilot on those wheels. Twenty years ago, I was biking the trails on the Kenai using one of the early mountain bikes. Then I figured out how little I was seeing traveling that way and moved my biking back to the road. But now my frame needs a different mode if I’m to keep riding. 
I have been ogling the recumbent bikes for sometime but was too cheap or scared to make the leap. This winter I did some reading to help figure out which way to go because recumbents differ greatly. Some have the rider nearly prone, and steering with levers at hip level and the sprocket out in front of the front tire. Others are tricycles, some with a single wheel in back and others in front. A guy could get lost real easy and none of this is cheap.
But first, why a recumbent?
And what the hell is it? 
“Those wheels are really small!”
Ok, a recumbent bicycle is one that is set up so the rider is seated with the shoulders behind the hips and the feet out in front. This puts almost all the weight on your ass, which for means that my hands won’t go numb from the weight of my head and shoulders pushing down on them. It also means I have a seat back to support my spine and big cushy seat for my rear end. No more pressure on my scrotum. I miss riding to town to pick up the mail and maybe now I can do that again. So, the answer to the why question is comfort and (I will admit) novelty, I like trying new things. Learn More about Recumbents
Once I started searching Craigslist I found that I could buy a used recumbent bike for anywhere from 300 to 1500 dollars. Guess where my budget lay! Back to the Internet for more research and comparison shopping.  I decided I didn’t want a tricycle because they are heavy and bulky and the cheaper ones are slow; I didn’t want one of those extreme sprocket-forward models because the learning curve is too high for my patience; so I settled for the LWRB, long wheelbase recumbent bicycle. This style is the easiest to learn and use. My search put me on an Ez-1 Super Cruiser by Sun Bicycles that I found at Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage, an outdoor gear commission store. — Nice store, helpful staff, check it out—
This particular model is a few years old and no longer sold, but Sun still offers similar bikes. The Ez-1 has a comfortable seat, twenty-one gears and a chopper motorcycle style handlebars. It sits low to the ground and, as my grandson said, “Those wheels are really small!” Twenty inch on the back and sixteen inch in front. The bike is heavy and most of that weight is in the stern, but when I parked myself in the seat, I smiled. The seat is wide below and high in back, and I can sit on the bike with both feet flat on the ground.  This is going to be a whole different thing!