Steamer Yukon at Nenana

Arggh! The reason it’s been so quiet here is that a day after getting back to Juneau I came down with a vicious summer cold. I’ve been laying on the couch, drinking mint tea, coughing, and watching two weeks of gorgeous sunny Juneau summer slide by outside my window. Other than forays outside for cold meds and cough drops, I haven’t been anywhere or done anything worth talking about.

However, I have been surfing around on the web some, and I found this awesome old photo postcard from the days of the Yukon River paddlewheel steamboats (which survived until almost World War II). The Steamer Yukon at Nenana:

stern wheel steamer yukon at nenana

and a detail from the same postcard:

paddle wheel steamer yukon at nenana

More when I get healthy, I promise!

Badger Towing Goes Racing

Back in Fairbanks, but had damn little time to blog so far. Brought Dad in on Thursday, but everybody at Badger Towing was gearing up to go racing at the Mitchell Raceway (motto: “Drive Fast, Turn Left.”) My car needs a little work, but it will have to wait — when the racing season is about to start, nobody at Badger Towing has time for anything but racing (and, well, towing of course).

badger towing leaving for the races

Here you can see everybody about to head for the track. Shawn’s #67 Camero on the big black flat deck, the kids’ car on the towbar. That’s my sister in the support truck (well, it’s a roadside assistance vehicle except during racing season) at the right edge of the frame. And of course, bottom left is the dangerous English Mastiff yard dog. (Her name is Kitty. Don’t mess with her, or she’ll eat the faces off all your stuffed animals.)

I took a lot of not-very-good pictures at the racetrack. Shawn did very well, as he generally does, and the children (rookies this year) got around the track quite creditably. Here’s Shawn parading with the checkered flag:

the victory lap

I was planning to enlist Shawn’s help with some minor mechanical issues on my Oldsmobile. But now that I’ve driven it seven hundred miles and spoken warmly of it, he’s threatening to do a fast-and-dirty one-day paint job. That will make it a long day….

Burned Woods

In Eagle, posting via painfully slow dialup-over-satellite (the local telephone system connects to the world via satellite, as is common in the Alaskan bush). Data connections here are always very poor. I’d curse the local phone company, but its employees are guys I grew up with. And they shoot better than I do. (Hi, David!) Besides, connecting to the internet in Eagle is like that old joke about the dancing bear: it’s not the quality of the dancing that impresses, but the fact that the bear dances at all.

I took an interesting snapshot along the Taylor Highway. Last summer was an awful, terrible year for wildfires. Here you can see a birch tree that was burned at the base and is now dead, against a backdrop of heavily-burned black spruce “forest”:

wildfire damage along Taylor Highway

The Summer Car

So it occurs to me that I haven’t yet explained all this long-haul ferry-and-bus voyaging through the Alaskan and Canadian wildernesses. It’s one of those complicated logistical nightmares, but it boils down to a quest for the perfect cheap used car.

Now, “cheap used car” doesn’t mean quite the same thing to me in Alaska as it might to your responsible Uncle Ned in Nebraska. I just need a summer driving car for a second vehicle, because the love of my life went and got herself a summer job with a daily commute, leaving me pretty much without wheels. I’m looking for a one-summer wonder, a thousand-dollars-or-less beater. Trouble is, Juneau has a wet maritime climate where they salt the roads in the winter, so all the old beaters have body rot you can put your fist or your head through. I don’t need pretty, but I prefer to have body panels. (Also, in Juneau, once the body rusts through, vehicle interiors start growing mold and even — I am not making this up — moss.)

Hence my trip to Fairbanks. The thing is, Fairbanks has a dry, low-precipitation interior climate, where they do not salt the roads. So old used cars in Fairbanks tend to be dented and ugly, but at least all there — and devoid of interior moss. Also, as mentioned previously, my sister Maggie and her man Shawn run Badger Towing, which is getting famous for its salvage auctions of unclaimed towed vehicles. And they know everybody in town who deals in low-end vehicles. If they don’t have what I need, they can find it.

So, to make a long story short, here’s my “new” car:

oldsmobile by tanana river near Fairbanks

Revel in the glory that is a 1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale. 80k original miles, runs like a sewing machine. “She uses a little oil, but outside of that, she’s cherry.”

By now you may be starting to notice one flaw in giving a digital camera to an Alaskan male person. Anybody else would take pictures of scenery. But an Alaskan male person will, upon finding a scenic pullout along the highway, pull into it and take a picture of his car. (No matter how crappy.) I’ve actually been doing this forever. Half my photo collection is my old-car-of-the-month in scenic spots. Much of the rest is pictures of my car in not-scenic spots.

I suggest you get used to it.

The scenery above is the Tanana river and environs, along the Alaska Highway between Fairbanks and Delta. I’m writing this from Eagle, where I grew up and where my father still lives. After equipping me with my majestic new Olds, I got sent over to Eagle by my sister to pry my father out of his cabin after a hard winter and bring him back to Fairbanks for race weekend (of which more later).

After driving my “new” Olds from Fairbanks to Tok along the Alaska Highway (more than 200 miles) and then over the Taylor Highway (mostly dirt road) to Eagle (162 miles), I’m starting to worry. Why? Because for an old beater, it’s too good. If the engine doesn’t blow soon (and it won’t) I’ll end up wanting to keep it when the summer is over….

South End Of North-Bound Moose

OK, so I lied. I am going to subject you to my crappy digital snapshots of Alaskan wildlife. In this case, the rear end of a wet moose. Today for me was a very long day on the Alaska Direct bus from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. In the morning just north of Whitehorse it was very rainy, and this moose was browsing along the edge of the Alaska Highway:

moose beside road

Moose being stupid beasts, this one decided to get out into the middle of the road and then try to outrun the bus:

ass of a moose in the road

That blur in the picture is our windshield wiper.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. Got to Fairbanks and and got a warm welcome from my sister and her family, who are the creative geniuses behind Badger Towing — aka the folks with the coolest fleet of black tow-trucks in the state.

Why Did The Bear Cross The Road?

Long and busy day today. I left Juneau on the fast ferry Fairweather to Skagway, where I hooked up with Alaska Direct Bus Line (call 867-668-4833 in Whitehorse and ask for Henry, it’s literally the only way to go from Skagway to Fairbanks by land) for the trip over the mountain to Whitehorse. Tomorrow it’s on to Fairbanks — a long but very scenic bus ride.

Henry’s bus today was actually a big van, since I was the only reserved passenger. That meant I got the front passenger seat for better views. Just past Canadian Customs, a very sleek-looking bear ambled across the road in front of us. And I do mean right in front of us:

bear crossing road

He didn’t look at all hungry, the way spring bears tend to. Whatever he’s been eating this spring, he found plenty of it:

bear crosses road

A long day, but fun. Now I’m kicking back in a Whitehorse motel drinking 7% peach-flavored apple cider from a two-liter bottle. Why don’t they sell this stuff in the states?

Nude Woman On A Taku Glacier Iceberg

One of the main occupations in Alaska is dreaming up clever new ways to get one’s hands on tourist dollars. We get a lot of tourists (and why not? It’s a great trip, everyone agrees) and like tourists everywhere, they like to buy novelties and trinkets.

This novelty postcard falls near the bottom end of the taste scale, but I’m sure it sold handsomely. I found it on eBay, but did not buy it:

Taku Glacier nude

This “real photo” postcard dates from the 1950s or so. The nude woman is obviously what the kids these days call a “photoshop” , but here she’s been added to the scene in the darkroom with scissors and paste. There’s no way anyone could stand safely on that jumbled ice. But still, it’s a cute postcard that probably moved briskly off the racks.

The glacier in the background is the Taku Glacier south of Junuea, and it’s a popular destination for cruise visitors. Some of the bolder cruise ships enter Taku Arm and approach pretty near the glacier, bumping aside icebergs as they go. But there’s a brisk and thriving business in Juneau selling day tours on smaller catamarans normally used for whale watching. The scenery (even without naked women on icebergs) is unbelievably spectacular.

Real Alaskan Vehicle, With Eagles

Here’s a real Alaskan vehicle for you. I called it the War Pig. I bought it off my (sort-of) brother-in-law for seven hundred bucks, after he bought it for some lesser sum at a salvage auction. First thing I did was put five hundred dollars worth of snow tires on it, because I wanted it for rough winter driving. I loved that thing — it would go anywhere (four wheel drive baby!) and it didn’t matter what you hit. Dents? Hell, that’s a pickup truck fender on the front!

Real Alaskan Suburban

Here you see me stopped along the Chilkat river near Haines. It was in November of 2001, and the bald eagles had gathered as they do that time of year. Alaskan or not, it was more bald eagles than I’d ever seen, so I had to stop and stare. And take bad snapshots, like any other tourist:

Chilkat River eagles

Here’s another picture of the War Pig, parked up near the top of Haines Pass where the snow was already deep:

Haines Pass at dusk in November

Pretty mountains. That’s the trouble with living in Alaska. You’re just barrelling along in your cartoonishly bad Suburban, trying to get somewhere to clean out a storage unit, and the scenery just jumps out and ambushes you. There’s nothing you can do but stand there for four or five minutes and soak it up. Then you shake your head, realize you’re freezing your ass off, and get on with your life.

There’s A Moose!

This photo is to explain why you won’t see too much of my photography on Alaskan Blog, and why you’ll be sorry when you do. I took this with a cheap sub-megapixel Sony Mavica in May of 2001, on the Taylor Highway, somewhere in the vicinity of King Creek between Polly Summit and The Flats:

moose in road

You know those huge moose in the calendar photos, the ones in the middle of small lakes, luminous in the summer sunshine with aquatic plants dripping from their Boone & Crocket antlers? I theorize that those are specially bred for wildlife photographers, and kept in a secret preserve for journalistic use only. This picture is how real Alaskans usually see moose: unexpectedly, at dusk, in the fading light, through a dirty windshield, along the side of a desolate stretch of road. The soundtrack is usually “Oh shit, don’t hit him!” accompanied by squealing brakes and tires skidding on gravel.

On the rare and fortunate occasion when such an encounter is actually happening during hunting season, the soundtrack differs. Then it’s “Shit! I can’t see any antlers! Can you see any antlers?”

My Alaska

Alaska. The Great Land. The Last Frontier. Seward’s Icebox. Seward’s Folly.

Home.

Why blog about Alaska? My life here isn’t that exciting, but I never grow tired of the setting. It’s worth talking about.

I’m a third generation Alaskan. My mom was born here in 1936, and her father was a failed commercial fisherman — the sort of man who didn’t much enjoy actually fishing, but who would anchor up in remote coves and read pulp fiction in order to escape from my grandmother’s sharp tongue.

I don’t have a romantic outdoorsy profession — I’m not a logger or a fisherman or a gold miner or bush pilot or an oilman or a fur trapper or a park ranger (spit ). True, I’ve done my share of trapping and mining and fishing, and I still hunt when I get a chance. I’m trained as a lawyer, and I’ve represented a lot of loggers and miners. But I don’t get outdoors as much as I should, and I’m no photographer. So if you see any of my photos here, they will be snapshots, and bad ones at that.

My plan for this blog is to talk about life in Alaska. My life, when I happen to do anything Alaskan-ish. Other people’s lives, the rest of the time. There will be some politics, but I hope to keep it to a dull roar. There will be pretty pictures (taken by other people). And there will be lots of Alaskan links.

Thanks for stopping by!

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