Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mighty Mouse and the Midnight Sun

Are you old enough to remember Mighty Mouse? And his theme song, “Here he comes to save the day!” Well, Alaska sister/brother in-law are our modern day Mighty Mice. Here’s the deal. It just frosts me that I’ve got all these ordered items arriving within minutes (7 days actually) and yet have a burning need for them now. Frankly, I thought more of the boxes we mailed would have arrived sooner, but don’t forget I didn't know about the haul road delivery when I mailed them. I wasn’t expecting a 4-6 week delay (I had figured on 2 weeks). So, I sent a list to Alaska sister-in-law…items I can’t live without for another week. I’m sure you’d feel the same way: coffee, toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry soap, garbage bags, mayonnaise. They threw in a bar of dark chocolate, which I desperately needed but didn’t know it.
When you buy a flat rate priority box for mailing, it doesn’t matter how much it weighs it costs the same. So the heavy items noted above were not too expensive to ship. Now comes the amazing part. They mailed it from Palmer at 1:30 in the afternoon and we got it the next day in Barrow. Clearly it made the evening flight to the Arctic. Nearly as mystical as Santa’s sleigh!

Last night was our first true experience with the midnight sun. We had spent the day shooting video of our various moments around
town. We drove out to the summer fishing/hunting camp where one household was having a barbecue and a bunch of folks had launched skiffs to go out hunting. It was a sunny day in Barrow (we haven't had a lot of those days, but when they come the town looks much like any beach town you can imagine). We were looking for particularly interesting venues to shoot that might get a spot in the global documentary that Ridley Scott is making.

The last moment we recorded was at 11:59 p.m. We wanted a shot of the sun "setting" over the Arctic Ocean. I captured a little piece of this Heaven on Earth, but there is truly no way to describe just how beautiful and amazing it was to be standing next to the ancestral sod homes and watching the sun move across the horizon (since it doesn't really set until November). An amazing evening and an amazing sky.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Price Is Right

It occurs to me that I've never heard of any contestant on the TV show, "The Price Is Right" who hails from Barrow, Alaska. No one from here would stand a chance on that show. You may think this is a totally random thought for me to be having sitting here with my view of the Arctic Ocean and having just seen a whale spouting "hello" from my front yard.
Not so random, though, when you consider I've also been pondering the receipt from our last sojourn to pick up some necessities from the store. So, I thought this would be a fun little exercise. Take a look at our most recent basket of grocery items. (Just an aside, Husband was totally against my taking photographs in the grocery store, so I had to wait until the aisle was empty then pretend I was making a phone call while snapping the photo with my iPhone. We don't want to look like tourists after all when we are here for the long haul!) Keep in mind this is one of those mini carts. Just take a guess at how much you think this basket cost us. There are a couple of hidden items here, we did buy lettuce, plums, and cookie mix. No, I don't think that's a weird combination of really need to be here to understand why we buy what we do! Now, while you ponder the cost of the basket, let me regale you with some price stories.

For the things that you really can't live without (coffee in my case), it's hard to wait for the deals if you don't have any in your cupboard. You may be surprised to learn that there is a drive thru coffee stand here in Barrow. However at $6 for a 16 oz. latte, I'm going to have to pass on daily visits. This is a 2.5 lb. bag of coffee beans. Do not go to the eye doctor to get your vision checked; the price really is $33.39! I won't even go into detail regarding this small box of Bisquick.

We are somewhat stuck while we wait for the barge to come in. It reminds me of the spirit that must have been behind that song from "Music Man"..."oh ho the Wells Fargo wagon is a-comin', oh please let it be for me" because we are GREATLY anticipating the arrival of our groceries and our other household items.
Oh yeah, and the basket of groceries was $113.60 (there is no tax in Barrow).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hauling Assets

Happy one week to us! This week has been full of events. Our Internet was connected, making us feel as though we are indeed part of the world population. We've received some mail in our post office box, making us feel as though we are bonafide residents. And some of our boxes have arrived.

This order of the box arrival is interesting. They don't arrive in the order they were sent, or as a group of boxes that I shipped from the lower 48 on the same day. I usually get a box that was sent on one day paired with a box that was sent a week earlier or later. This didn't make much sense to me until I found out why the boxes are taking so long to get here. Naturally, this tidbit of information did not come to my attention until after we had arrived here in Barrow (and of course, after we had shipped all of our boxes). It turns out that shipping boxes via parcel post to Barrow means they are driven up the haul road, then flown to Barrow from the end of the haul road (which is Prudhoe Bay). The last leg of the journey is 204 miles. You can see by the map the long haul is aptly named. Lesson learned: when possible ship in those flat rate priority mail boxes!
Every day we get a box is like Christmas. Some of the most inane items have delighted us.
For instance, my bathrobe came in a box yesterday, along with my X-tra Tuffs (non-Alaska residents should note the latter are waterproof boots also known as Juneau tennis shoes). These were high on my wish list since we wanted to walk the dogs on the ATV trail and it's still full of mini lakes. I had no idea the boxes would take such a beating! Amazingly, I haven't found any broken items, yet (knock on wood--of which there is very little here!)
What I really wish for, though, (don't laugh, it's a dire need) is for the box of hangers to arrive. Seriously, I thought it was dumb to pack hangers, you may agree with this thinking. UNTIL, you see the price of $3.99 for a pack of 10. Our clothes are in piles around the house right now. I'm seriously considering biting the bullet and making this extravagant purchase this weekend just so I can put my clothes away and be able to find things again.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Becoming Part of the Community

We spent the day getting acclimated and becoming Barrow citizens. First things first, we signed up for cable TV and Internet access. Even though it's printed right in the brochure that a package for Internet, phone, and cable is offered in Barrow, the brochure is lying. In fact, the GCI employee had never seen that little tidbit prior to us pointing it out. So, for nearly twice the price, without the bundle we got the same offerings that are in the bundle.

On to the Post Office to become official boxholders. Turns out one needs a picture ID and proof of residency. "Why" I asked Husband, "would I want a PO Box in Barrow if I weren't residing in Barrow?" He explained the devious minds of potential scammers and terrorists. Notice this kind of thinking never crossed MY mind! What HAS he been reading? We got a letter proving we lived here from the organization and became boxholders for a mere $4. I think that's the least expensive thing I've paid for here!
Then, on to the library to get our library cards. This is the best value around. There are stacks and stacks of DVDs to rent, many, many books, and free WiFi (which is the only Internet access we have until installation of the grossly overpriced package is installed). Since we don't have all of the computers here (because almost everything is either on the barge or in the mail), this gives both Husband and myself a chance to catch up on our access to the outside world (he on the library terminal and me on my Mac).

We took advantage of a truly beautiful weather day to explore some dog walking places. It was sunny blue skies and 50+ degrees with very little breeze blowing. A veritable heat wave here! Found this "tracked" trail and the reason why a track was installed. This is found on the road to the antenna farm and Freshwater Lake (named for obvious reasons). The dogs are having a ball romping all over the place and making up new games to train us on. Again, no competition while walking on this trail.

We Have Arrived

We arrived ahead of schedule to a blustery, but unusually sunny day in Barrow (it was blowing about 25 knots, but it was about 50 degrees). So even thought it's July, we're all wearing parkas and fleece, but no is July after all!

Many thanks to the two folks at the airport who greeted us and helped with the bags and critters. With their two cars, plus the one I was assigned, we actually made it to the house in one trip. They also thoughtfully provided us with "lender" sheets and towels for the first few days until our stuff arrives.

The crew who were cleaning the house were just finishing up when we arrived. I couldn't wait to see my view of the ocean, since I'd been told what a great place we had. I wasn't disappointed. Look at this view from our living room! Except for the small icebergs, you'd think you were on a tropical beach, no? HA! A coupla things we've discovered as we've been walking the dogs on the beach the last couple of days: there are no signs telling you dogs aren't allowed; there is no competition for a space to walk on the beach. It's like it's our own private dog the end of the Earth!

Firsts and Lasts

July 8, 2010
[We haven't had Internet access for a couple of days so this was written a few days ago]

Today has been a bit surreal. We corralled 6 duffle bags, two kennels, two dogs, and 4 carry on items and packed them in our rental van. Good thing the seats folded down, because no way that would all have fit if they hadn't. We timed our lunch so we had a half hour to run the dogs. Found a great park next door to the somewhat suspect restaurant we ate in (the food was pretty good, but I wouldn't have chosen to go there if Husband hadn't had prior experience there).
Then off to the airport. Drop the 6 bags and me at the door. Park the rental van. Help me check in the six bags (I had three that were 49.6-49.8 lbs., two that were 51.6 and one that was 40.0 They let me slide on the slightly overweight bags (I could easily have evened them out with the underweight bag I had, so it all becomes a wash in the end). Bring the rental car to the arrivals doors. Unload the dogs and the kennels and my carry on and put all on one of those cart thingies. Husband takes rental car back to agency. I wait with dogs and kennels and make sure they both make proper use of the "pet area". Husband gets ride back to airport from rental agency.

Check in dogs and say goodbye to their sad faces (it hasn't been long enough since the last plane ride for them to forget the awful noise of the plane, so they are very anxious). Pass through security and walk up to the gate where the flight was already boarding. WHEW! We made it. FINALLY! Now there is nothing more to do for this move for the next 3 hours!

Today is a day of lasts for awhile...last time we'll eat in a franchise restaurant; last time we'll order coffee in a drive thru; last time we'll see grass, vegetation of any kind, mountains, 70 degrees, a sauna (sister and brother in law have one), dishwasher, garbage disposal, wasps (sister and brother in law have lots of those too!) and mosquitoes (I hope!).
First time we'll see our new house, meet our neighbors, get the dogs off the plane, see the Arctic Ocean not frozen (it was frozen when I was there in May), see if the boxes we mailed made it, explore the town on our own, sleep in our Arctic bed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What gas?

This was an eventful day. An hour or so after passing the test at customs, we switched drivers and Husband took over. The minute he got behind the wheel, that light came on. Husband prefers to call it the "Excuse Me, Sir It's High Time You Stopped For Gas" light. I call it the  “Hey Stupid, This Car Don’t Run On Love” light. We were 45 miles from Tok with NOTHING in between but hilly road and approaching twilight (it was after 10:00 p.m.). Car manual in hand, I read that after the light comes on you have 1.6 (really, that’s what it was, not 1, not 1.5, but 1.6) gallons left before the needle hits E. Then, you have a “small amount of gas left” before the tank runs out. Notice “small amount” is undefined.

This is a Honda Element towing a half loaded 8 ft. UHaul trailer. Usually, we get 21 MPG. Under the best of circumstances, we figured we’d be 15 miles short when we ran out of gas.
Now the creative juices started flowing. How to get to town after we ran out of gas? Strap on the roller blades and coast in? Pull over, sleep until morning and hitch in?

Meanwhile, Husband starts driving to conserve what we had. We coasted on hills and took advantage of the very last push before shifting into drive again. We rejoiced when we got back into cell phone range (four miles out of the town). At least we could now call for help. Another major obstacle overcome when we made it across the bridge and didn’t run out of gas smack in the middle of the two lane structure. We were on pins and needles as the lights from Tok became visible. We might make it? Where’s the gas station? Is it open? (it’s 11:00 p.m.). Look, a flashing arrow pointing to the 24 HOUR gas station! Big smiles and joyful faces from our car greeted the gas pumps. Fill ‘er up, God loves us and didn’t see fit to hit us with a difficult situation to deal with. Probably figured it would put me over the edge after the past two weeks.

How much did it take? 14. 91 gallons. Size of the gas tank? 15. 6 gallons. Heck, we had tons left! Our beloved Honda Element, towing trailer, two dogs, and the two of us clocked in at 19 MPG for that tank of gas that day. I consider that a modern day miracle.

On the Border

About 3 days before we were scheduled to leave Juneau, a bolt of thought thundered into my mind, ‘Where is my passport’? Once we got off the ferry, we were to drive into Canada, then pass back into Alaska. TSA has made a big deal about needing passports and not allowing entry without. At the very least you need a driver’s license and your birth certificate. Where is my birth certificate? Is it in the legal documents from Juneau we just moved to storage? A stealthy trip at night to storage confirmed the birth certificate also was nowhere to be found—well, I know where both documents are, but the barge is somewhere between Seattle and Barrow at this point. Major stress descends! Husband calls the border (he IS good). The answer is, it depends on the guard at the time, you need to prove you’re a US citizen. Still stressed, but I do have my two previous passports and my current Alaska driver’s license. Of course Husband is joking about my deportation as we approach the border into Canada, I’d do the same to him don’t make any mistake about that.

“Hi. Here’s the deal. We’re moving to Barrow and I accidentally packed my current passport and my birth certificate in the boxes that are on the barge right now. I do have my license and my old passports, though.”
So she looks at me, my picture and opens my two previous passports. (My first passport was issued in 1975 and is a veritable antique). “It’s fun to see one of these old passports”, she says. And basically off we went after a final question about my place of birth (which I have memorized). SCORE! Why do I feel as though I’ve gotten away with something? I AM a US citizen after all!
Several hours and miles later that day we approach US customs. These two YOUNG guys were a little more inquisitive wondering why we were moving from two different states even though we’re married. After that long story, I handed over the two passports. “Hey, look at this.” Guy1 says to Guy2. “I’ve never seen one of these!” [Neither one of these guys was born when this passport was issued.] Oh, no, that didn't make me feel old at all. Come to think of it, I was kinda sad that he hadn't been able to partake in the madcap days of hippies, war protests, and Grateful Dead concerts that were hallmarks of the '70s.
So enthralled is he, that he starts reading all of the rules and regulations from back in the day.
He’s getting a real kick out of the text inside, not to mention my hairstyle and the shirt I was wearing that we all remarked were currently coming back into style.

After several shared laughs and a dog cookie for the girls, off we went. Moral to the story: always, always keep those old passports, you never know when they’ll come in handy.

Breathing Room

I don’t think the house has ever been this clean! It took a 12 hour push the last day to get to here. WooHoo. Now the journey is really underway.

We caught the 4:45 a.m. ferry to Haines. That means you have to be at the dock at 2:45 a.m. That translated to the potential for four hours sleep last night. I really got 1 hour, since now my mind is racing with what’s ahead. OMG! We are really doing this!

Round Two--Juneau

Okay, this nearly killed me. We went straight from moving and cleaning the house in Washington to doing the same to the house in Juneau. Not only did we sort through 10 years of accumulation, we were cleaning up the residue of construction on the sunroom (that we’ve been working on for 6 years and finally finished so we could rent out the house (isn’t that always the way). 

But check out this gorgeous room! Sergei (our contractor) did such a fabulous job of finishing the stairs and the framing for the seating. We spent all the time we could in here while we were working on the house. It's quite the serene room, now. Our new tenants are going to love it...quite ironic.
Husband had worked on finishing all of the “almost done” projects we had hanging out during the weeks before he came to Washington AND he got his home office cleaned out (quite a feat since I think he still had unopened boxes from when we moved in ten years ago). I know he had software boxes for software he no longer owned…

Husband did have another brilliant idea and hired some of the high school boys from the local football team to help us move out some of the debris we were getting rid of. A nicer group of kids I couldn't imagine! And REALLY hard workers. My hat is off to the parents of these future stars!

So, though we were in good shape, we had a long way to go. 14 hour days of sorting and packing were demoralizing in that it never looked as though we were making any progress. We had to keep thinking about what not to take and what did we really not want to live without for the next 6 years (it could be a shorter time, but we know it won’t be any longer since that’s when I’ll retire). I can’t tell you how many bags we took to the dump, but we filled the UHaul trailer twice and still had seven more bags on our last day…not to mention the carloads of household goods that went to Salvation Army.
To top it all off, both the Salvation Army and St. Vincent's had stopped accepting clothing donations. If you aren't from a pretty small town, this seems odd to you, but it does happen often in Juneau.

Some Men and a Truck

The day after the load was delivered to the barge, of course I came up with another 6 odd boxes to send. I found out while talking about something else with the guy at the UPS store that they could ship my boxes parcel post. I guess they take them to the post office themselves (at least that's what the convo I overheard suggested). Talk about a time saver! I never had to wait in that long line at the PO and the guy even came out and helped me carry boxes from the car into the store! So we shipped those odd boxes plus took 14 garbage bags (!) of stuff to Good Will.
The next day we were ready to move the remains of the Washington household to storage. 
Apparently age has brought us some modicum of wisdom as we are no longer of the mind to think that we can move that piano by ourselves! We also had the bed and dining room furniture and about 20 boxes. The rest is gone to Barrow, or gone for good.

Next job was getting ourselves ready to get on the plane from Seattle to Juneau. Because we had 6 duffle bag suitcases (some clothes, some remaining items), the two dogs, the two kennels, our carry on bags, and ourselves to get on the plane, we put two bags and the two kennels into storage at the airport the night before our flight. That was a brilliant idea since there was NO WAY that load would have fit in the large rental car we'd been using since selling the Prius. Note to self: Large rental cars have REALLY small trunks.

Barge Right In!

Something I do NOT recommend is moving out of two houses in the space of two weeks. This has been a non-stop grind of sorting, cleaning, packing, cleaning, boxing, cleaning, stacking, cleaning, shipping, and cleaning. Enough already.

One of the undocumented features of moving from Washington to Barrow is the proximity to the barge dock. Husband came up with the idea that maybe we could ship household goods on the barge that’s bringing up our groceries. Husband had several convos with the guy on the phone (GOTP). GOTP said, no problem, relax, just bring your stuff to the staging area in Seattle. Surely it couldn’t be that easy!
Just like GOTP said, it was that easy.
We showed up with our rental truck and 42 items to ship. Husband was really smart and made sure we had an itemized list of our goods (if we hadn’t had that printed, we would have had to hand write it on the form). Was our stuff was palletized and shrink wrapped, they asked. HUH? Uh, no.
No problem. Soon the forklift guy delivered three palettes to our truck. Then the wrapping began. These guys have obviously done this before! Believe it or not, there was quite a technique involved in this process. He'd wrap it, then turn it to change direction, continue wrapping and rapped to us as he worked. Turns out he plays in a band called Bad Lattitude. His musician flavor emerged as we discussed the digital piano we were loading. (Our anniversary present to ourselves!)
Check out Travis (he let me take his picture). What a great smile and so patient with us and our piddly little load of stuff even on this busy day! You see, you get to know people quite well as you hang out in the yard. We came to understand Travis is actually from Barrow and was working in personnel for my organization when my job was being filled. So, looks like we’ll be seeing him in Barrow when the barge lands.