Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wickersham Dome, -5F

After our Christmas gorge here in Fairbanks, we were quasi-inspired or at least not utterly uninspired by our semi-pro athlete friends H. and J. to drag ourselves into the out-of-doors. More than just a leisurely ski around campus, that is. Our friends A. and P. are game for almost anything, so all four of us had our first backcountry ski experience. I'm totally sold! Not only because it was a blast but because it gives us an excuse to gorge more! We headed out at day break to the White Mountains north of Fairbanks and skied the aptly named Ski Loop part of the Wickersham Dome trail. Bob votes for the summer hike here instead, but the lack of other people and mosquitoes lead me to prefer the winter trek.
We dragged Midge along with us (behind me) who was having a great time so long as we kept moving. Even sled dogs get cold. All five us hit the Hilltop Cafe truckstop on our way home for some burgers. Well, Midge stayed in the car, but she still got her fill. I think somehow the waitress figured it out. "One hamburger-to-go for table 6, Jeanie. I THINK IT'S FOR A DOG." If you don't mind your burger charred and elongated, I recommend you order from the Hilltop this way: I think there was twice as much meat as in our people burgers.

There's a new book available out from UAF press that has a ton of great info about adventures around the AK interior. I highly recommend it so far. We're putting together a check list of all the trips we want to do.

Le Flat Place

Before Christmas proper, I headed down to Nebraska to check in with friends and family. I took a Great Lakes flight from Denver to North Platte aboard a little Beechcraft 1900. This is an awesome little plane. Unlike AK, the sun still shines (occasionally) in Nebraska this time of year. Here are some sunflowers at A.'s place holding up the weight of the snow. But it's no Caribbean. Or is it?

These palm trees at the local hot tub shop suggest otherwise. Unfortunately there were no pina coladas growing on them.

North Platte is known for a few things. Trains being most of them. Some sources claim the local Baily Yard is the largest in the world. That's a little hard for me to imagine. The same sources claim that "North Platte is an extremely boring railroad town" so perhaps neither fact is entirely objective.

A. claims there is actually a huge market for railroad tourism on which North Platte is a "real whistle stop" if you know what I mean. Again, this is difficult for me to me to wrap my mind around. There is a Golden Spike visitor center despite the golden spike having been laid (driven?) in Utah. Check your commemorative quarters, people.

NP had some other things going for it, namely a couple of cozy restaurants, some good photo-taking opportunities, and of course the company of an old friend.

Arctic Bowl

Boy, you might wonder how we pass the time during these long winter nights. Us too. I have never been overly fascinated with bowling, but I have found myself at the Arctic Bowl twice already this winter. In a couple of years you'll probably see me getting lessons from this Ned Flanders look-alike as is this lady here. We went again Friday night with friends and it was hoppin'. There were several separate clans there which I might describe as "future enlistees and their future wives," hipsters sporting beards who look like the guys in Brooklyn who are trying to look like Alaskans, and a strange M/F couple I'll call the Graceful Bowlarina dancers (Pas de deux).

Amazingly, there are actually at least three bowling alleys in town: one on campus, one on the Army base, and Arctic Bowl. Other proposed indoor activities include curling and women's hockey. I'll let you know how those go. Arctic Bowl is the best because 1) they serve Fairbanks lager 2) they are adjacent to the best (& also the sleaziest) Korean restaurant in town, which is 3) also adjacent to an Asian grocery store. So really it's three exciting destinations in one. And if I wanted to learn Tai Kwon Do there would be four.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Worst is Over?

Well, we made it through the winter solstice, which is a big deal here. Shortest day of the year. Civil twilight began at 9:32 am. The sun crept above the horizon at 10:58 am. Sunset was at 2:40 pm and civil twilight ended at 4:06 pm. 3:38 of sun above the horizon is pretty rough. The moon was a waxing gibbous at 93% which made it almost tolerable. Right before the solstice we had a cold snap of -40s. Yish. I missed most of that while on travel. Climatology has us at +5 high and -9 low for December; not half bad. According to our friend at Swingley Development, the current running average is probably pretty close to climatology. The cold snap made up for warm anomalies early in the month. The sunlight minimum has passed but the average temperature minimum is typically in January, thanks to thermal inertia in the climate system. We here in the 'banks are all generally weather obsessed for obvious reasons.

What are some of the impacts of -40 on our way of life? Good and bad. Our tires are square in the morning. They tha-thunk down the road until they warm up. On the other hand, freezing food is free. We like to cook a lot and squirrel away the extra in the chest freezer. The cold helps us save on energy costs. With the cost of oil and the cold temperatures, we fuss a lot about energy consumption. Bob's good about installing timers and unplugging stuff when we don't need it...I don't know if it's the engineer training or just common sense.

We recently purchased an "energy efficient" counter top dishwasher from Edgestar. It's slightly bigger than a microwave and supposedly holds 4 place settings worth of dishes, silverware, and glasses. Uses only 3 gallons of water and has an internal heater, so the input is cold water. Perhaps the verdict is still out, but after one load all signs point to "piece of crap". Like all other consumer products these days. And because Compact Appliances wouldn't ship to AK, I shipped it from Nebraska at great expense. Oh well. I don't think our expectations were too high, but like many Alaskans, custom made cabinetry meant no chance of a regular dishwasher. Bourgeois problems.

Well, we've been busy dirtying dishes as well, since our friends A. & P. gave us this incredible cookbook. We love Deborah Madison's Veg Cooking for Everyone, but a lot of these soup recipes are really new and interesting. I made the lentil walnut cream soup yesterday, which was delicious, even with my substitute of hazelnuts. Bob's been doing mad baking all month which is nearly killing me. I finally got out for a ski today and look forward to working off the latest chocolate cake. Yes, I think the worst is over.