Today we embark on a 4,000+ mile road trip from North Pole, Alaska to our new home in Carlisle, PA. It will be 20+ days of travel, exploration, and tons of camping. We are really looking forward to our journey and the new town at the end of the road.
Our itinerary is flexible, but we plan to drive the Alcan Highway into Canada, camping along the way, then stop for a few days in Jasper National Park, at Lake Louis, and Banff National Park. A break from driving (which I am sure we will need), and a chance to celebrate our 1 year anniversary in Canada over a pre-ordered chocolate peanut butter cake
Then we will travel down to Glacier National Park for another few days off the road. Plus lots of hiking, yes please! We hit the pavement again until we reach the Black Hills/Badlands for more exploring, and then deadhead towards the Midwest to spend time with family (and collect all our belongs scattered between Ohio and PA) before we reach our final destination.
Looking forward to our latest adventure, but we will certainly miss Alaska! It will always have a special place in our hearts.
For months I have been hearing tales of spring from the lower forty-eight, bright colors, intense blooms, vivid greens, while I looked at muddy piles of melting snow, matted down brown grass, and naked trees. But that is all changing, fast. According to the local Fairbanks newspaper, the Daily News Miner, we are finally joining the rest of the country in our little corner of Alaska.
Thursday, the National Weather Service announced that Fairbanks, AK had official entered “greenup.” Greenup is a new term for me so I will give you the definition listed in the newspaper: “Although somewhat subjective, greenup ‘is the rapid transformation of the landscape from brown to spring green as the leaves of deciduous trees burst forth,’ according to greenup guru Ted Fathauer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.”
Most locals agree that greenup, aka spring, all happens within a matter of two weeks. Brown to green with the snap of your fingers, and from what I have seen so far they seem to be right. This weekend when we were driving to meet friends, I looked up at the tree line and realized it had changed. Instead of scratchy branches, the trees were peppered with lime green sprinkles that almost seemed to glow or sparkle in the evening light. Green. Actual green. It seems the only color I have seen, for months and months, is white. I hadn’t realized how hungry for color I was until I looked at those trees popping with buds of spring. It felt like getting a new box of crayons, all the points still sharp.
I am still skeptical that winter is really over, especially when I hear that in Denali National Park it has been snowing all week. Fresh inches piling up. But for now, I am embracing the green of greenup, like an oasis of color. Fingers crossed the color palate here in Alaska just keeps growing.
Last week I jumped on a plane and ventured out beyond the bubble of winter. Fourteen hours later, I was in Washington DC, and it was 70 degrees. Talk about change. I sure wasn’t in Alaska anymore.
I made the trip to attend one of my very good friends wedding (which was wonderful) and in the process I got to see friends and family, and even spend a little time being a tourist. I have been to Washington DC several times, but it has been awhile since I revisited the historic side of the city. So I decided to take a grand walking tour: from the capital to Lincoln Memorial and back, with a final stop at the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
What I liked most about this walking tour (besides the weather- shorts and a tank top!) was comparing my memories of the monuments to what I saw now. For example, as a kid I remember the Vietnam Memorial being something somber. Even then the long list of names made me quiet. It made it real in a way I didn’t really understand, but one that demanded respect. And strangely, that is much the same impact that it had on me last week. The feeling there is so much different than say, the Lincoln Memorial, where kids are hanging their feet off the sides of the stairs, laughing. At the Vietnam Memorial people are still quiet.
I walked past a father talking to his son, who was perhaps seven, trying to explain what it all meant. The father said, “These are all the people who died fighting in the war.” The son said, “But there are so many.” And a woman standing behind them said quietly, “Too many.”
I like that Washington DC is a place that brings together the past and what is happening now in our history. It is place where we get to think about what being American, and also human, means. Both important questions to ask.
It was also a nice little break from snow. But I was happy to be getting back to Alaska and Lucas, who was waiting for me at the airport with a warm winter coat. It is always wonderful to be home.
Important update from North Pole, Alaska. It’s warm! Okay, not warm like we live in Florida warm, but it has been above zero for the last week. Above zero!! This weekend, it was actually warmer here than it was in Chicago. Talk about crazy.
It seems sort of like spring, and everyone is wondering when, inevitably, it will get cold again. But I’m saying, fingers crossed, the coldest cold is behind us. Honestly, I think the real reason for the break in weather is because we moved, and now, miracle upon miracle, we have a heated garage. Go figure.
A little over a week ago, we moved into a new a apartment about ten minutes from town. It is tucked back in the woods down a snowy little road pocketed with moose footprints. It isn’t exactly wild, but we are feeling a little more Alaskan. The place is quirky. As is our landlord, the former resident of our new home. He didn’t exactly have all his things moved out when we showed up to move in, so we spent a lot of time cleaning and helping him pack up. A strange and dusty experience. But to the point. Here is what our move was like in a nut shell.
Picture this: Lucas and I have been cleaning for at least two hours. I have dust and muck under my fingernails so thick it looks like thin, black half-moons. I have uncovered a whole cabinet of women’s clothing in the laundry room from our landlord’s old girlfriend (they broke up five years ago), which I promptly tossed into trash bags, his chosen suitcases. It was that kind of morning. It’s time to tackle the kitchen. I open the first small drawer at the corner of the kitchen counter. Inside, I find tiny bottles of whiskey and bullets. Whiskey and bullets. Yep.
Lucas is mad I didn’t take a picture. I should have. The caption could read: welcome to your new home…cheers…bang!
Alaska has been full of surprises. But really, we are settling in, and I think our new places is going to work out nicely. Now if we can just remember what drawer I put the napkins in, I think we will be okay. Moving every five months certainly keeps you on your toes.
Sometimes I still forget just how far away we are from the rest of the United States. And then I think about plane rides and time zones. From Anchorage, an hour plane ride from where we live, it still takes around four hours to fly to Seattle. Four hours. That is about the same amount of time it takes to fly from Ohio to California. Crazy. And this morning when I woke up around eight, my friends and family in the Eastern Time Zone where already having lunch. Somehow even with the darkness and the snow and the cold, it still seems impossible that Alaska is so big and so far north. But it is.
The reason I have been thinking about this so much is our car. Yesterday, after three weeks, it finally arrived in North Pole. It seems funny, but the car has now joined our nomadic family. It was shipped from Ohio to Seattle, from there loaded on a barge that stopped at more coastal Alaskan towns than I have been to, and finally, shipped from Anchorage to North Pole. Our car traveled over 5,000 miles.
It arrived a little dirty and unprepared to handle this kind of cold, so after a quick jump start, it went directly to the mechanic. It will be fitted with a block heater, and the cord for plugging it in, and other mechanical things I don’t totally understand, all so we can start it in the cold. Our car will now have a permanent reminder of its months in Alaska!
It is exciting to have our own car back. No more rental cars with bad tires, and we can give back the truck we have been borrowing. Although, I think Lucas and I have both come around to having a beastly truck, especially here. It makes driving in the snow a lot easier. And I am going to miss the remote starter like you wouldn’t believe.
But the double bonus of getting our car: the items that arrived in the car trunk. Our dehydrator, backpacking just got so much lighter, and our ice skates, here we come open skate. I am also looking forward to seeing what kind of looks we get driving around in a car with Pennsylvania license plates. You don’t see that everyday in Alaska!
Add one more experience to our nomadic repertoire, shipping cars cross country.
When we started this year-long traveling journey I didn’t know what to expect. And that was part of the draw. It was a new frontier for us (especially starting in Alaska), and really, it still is. Over the last several weeks, we have been debating what the next stage should be and finally decided: Alaska. Give us more Alaska.
So after a nice holiday break in the Midwest with our families, we will be coming back to North Pole, Alaska. Although we won’t be traveling to several different places like we originally intended, Alaska is a big enough place to keep us busy all on its own. We have already made a huge list of things we still haven’t done or seen yet, and things that were so good we want to go back and do again (here we come Denali National and State Parks!).
We will also have to find a new place to live, since our current apartment won’t be available anymore after January. So everything still feels pretty non-permanent. Even though our year won’t be quite as nomadic as I first guessed, I think it still earns the title of the blog.
Here are a few pictures from our travels over the last four months that remind me how lucky we are to have more time to explore wild Alaska:
I have been really thinking about this question as we try and figure out what we will do next. I think the strangest part of being “non-permanent” is the unknown. I literally have no idea where we will be living in January. Okay, I have a little bit of an idea, but I can’t start making plans or thinking about what comes next until everything is decided. This is a strange land for me. I am a planner. I like lists and calendars and knowing what is around the next corner. I am ready to start planning!
It makes me wonder if this is how real nomads feel? I imagine it isn’t. From my limited understanding of nomadic culture most groups move based on need. Their way of life depends on movement, just like animals that migrate in order to feed themselves with changing seasons. It seems like a rhythm or a tide, part of the normal flow of life.
From what I understand, nomads usually fall into three categories: hunter-gathers, herders, or craftspeople (skilled in certain trades). Movement for a nomad equals sustainability. I suppose we fall into the skilled craftspeople category, but although we can move with my husbands job, it certainly isn’t required. We are choosing to be nomadic.
But maybe any life, even when you are raised in it, is a choice at a certain level? I am straying a little from my point, but I am profoundly interested in choices. How we become who we are. And I think this is all an important part of our adventure.
So am I a nomad? It depends on your definition. But here are the things I can check off so far:
- No permanent address (You would be surprised how often this becomes a problem- driver’s license, insurance, voting, etc.)
- Travel with only what we can carry, i.e. limited “stuff” (this one I don’t really mind except I miss our bed…and our kitchen supplies; what I wouldn’t give for a good knife!)
- Encountering new landscapes, people, food, and weather (check, check, check, and check. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling)
- Feeling connected (I am surprised by how quickly I felt rooted in Alaska. I feel at home here. Strange how so many places in the world can feel like home. I like that.)
Fingers crossed I will be able to share our next “home” soon. Until then, cheers from Alaska!
The temperature in North Pole, AK is -40 degrees today…-40!
How do you wrap your head around that? It isn’t even December yet. When I opened the blinds in our living room this morning, the corners of the windows were frosted on the inside, not condensation, frozen. Cold little crystals nestled in the corners like spider webs. Yesterday, the inside of the car was frozen. The inside! Frost across the dash board and raised lines of ice around the steering wheel. I am wholly unprepared for this kind of cold.
Looking out the window is misleading. It looks beautiful. Soft-white and peaceful. No wind. Like the inside of a snow globe. And when you walk out the door, it feels cold but not bad at first. And then you take a few more steps, you feel it on your face, and then you breath in through your nose and it crackles. In five minutes your face tingles. You cough. You start to wonder when frostbite sets in. You rush for any place with bright lights and an open door that will let you in. This was me walking to the grocery store yesterday afternoon, and it was only, ha, -20.
In the grocery store, I listened. I expected people to be complaining. I expected people to be talking about packing up there things and moving. But they weren’t. No one said a word about the cold. Instead, they made off-hand comments about Thanksgiving, and the cashier asked me if I found everything okay. I wanted to say, do you know it is freezing out there?
I love winter. The snow makes me feel like putting on my boots and going for a walk. But the cold here is something else. It holds me captive. Cabin fever. Winters in the upper peninsula of Michigan are nothing to scoff at, but the interior of Alaska has redefined my idea of cold. My new winter motto: Give me snow, not cold.
It does make me admire all those people who don’t complain, the ones who choose this permanently. Alaska is the kind of place that makes you accept nature as the superior force. I love that about it. The wild is wild here. But for me, if I can’t get outdoors, I start getting a little crazy, and temperatures like this every winter would definitely lead to crazy.
But I’m happy we are here this winter. Part of the reason we decided to travel for the first year of our marriage was to experience new things. To see how other people lived and to explore new corners of the country. Alaska has offered all of this and more. Now I can officially say I know what real cold feels like. This experience will also someday lead to stories that start with, it was so cold…just like the stories my dad tells about walking up hill both ways to school, barefoot, in three feet of snow, but mine will be true.
One of the funny things I like about Alaska in the winter is seeing all the plugs hanging from the grills of cars like cigarette butts. I have to admit, when Lucas and I first saw them, we assumed they pulled out to connect to the plug-in stations. Incorrect assumption. It turns out you carry an all-weather extension cord in your car, and that is what links the car to the station. It is a little like tying your dog’s leash to a pole outside the grocery store.
Today was the first time we used the plug-in station in front of our apartment. I was pretty excited. Lucas plugged it in for me this morning before he went to work so I could run errands. Since it has been cold, they recommend you plug the car in for about two hours before you want to drive. When you are ready to go, let the car run 5-10 minutes and you are set.
Most public builds around here have plug-in stations. Public plug-ins run on a rolling basis, so they aren’t constantly “on.” To use the one at our apartment you flip a switch inside, again so it isn’t continually running. It is an easy process, but the extension cord is a little tough to wrangle. It is hard to plug and unplug from the car, and we are told as it gets colder it will get pretty stiff (think semi-frozen).
But what I am really looking forward to is pulling into the grocery store parking lot and seeing rows of cars all plugged-in. This just seems like it will be visually interesting. Or maybe just different than what I am used to. Either way, add another experience to our Alaskan story.
I have been in Alaska two and a half months. During this time, I have looked at incredible mountains, watched sunsets, seen wildlife, taken journeys I never expected, and come to understand why people love this place so much. As we move into winter, the world here is changing, and it has brought out the quirky side of this place and the people who live here. So here are five things I have learned so far:
#1. Static electricity is practically a weapon. No kidding. Remember when you used to rub your socked feet on the floor to shock your siblings? Well here, you become shock-able by walking, sitting, or maybe even just breathing. It is like having lightening bolts on your finger tips. Important Note: Ground yourself before you kiss good-night or you will get more than you bargained for.
#2. Carhartt is king. Enough said.
#3. Can you identify a log splitter? Well, Lucas and I can’t. We were driving past Lowe’s last weekend and the front of the store was crowded with winter tools. We easily picked out snow blowers (thanks, MI upper peninsula) and shovels, but as we drove past a narrow, shiny, black and red tool Lucas tells me he thinks he saw a cannon. A personal cannon. I decide it must be a civilian-size avalanche cannon. (They really do shoot rounds from avalanche cannons into the mountains in places to protect things like roads and ski resorts.) On the second drive past we are about to pat ourselves on the back for accurate guessing, until we read the sign. Log splitter. In a place where most (or at least lots) of homes are heated by wood burning stoves, this makes sense. Bonus: I can now identify a log splitter.
#4. Cars plug in. They are not electric, rather, it gets so cold here that your car battery just can’t take it. So businesses and homes have a place to plug the car into giving the battery a enough juice to start the engine. The grill of each Alaskan car it fitted with a plug sticking out. Then you need an all-weather extension cord to connect your car to meter-like plug station. It hasn’t been cold enough to try this out yet, but we have all the right tools to make it happen. I will post pictures when it is put into action.
#5. Snow mobiles are really snow machines. I have no idea why, but up here everyone calls them snow machines. And they are as legitimate for transportation as a car or a truck. You can even take your snow machine through the Wendy’s drive through window.
I am sure there are more important lessons to be learned as we move deeper into the season, but that is it for now!