Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Alaska Highway

Yesterday I had the opportunity to drive the pilot truck from Fairbanks to Tok (pronounced like "poke" except with a "t") and then pick up a wicked awesome truck in Tok and drive it back to Fairbanks. I want a truck. They're so much fun to drive. Anyway, we have a pilot truck for the Taylor highway because the Taylor is narrow enough that we need to have someone ahead of the coaches to let the coaches know who's coming toward them and to let people coming toward the coaches know that we are coming toward them. Did you follow that? Anyway, the following pictures are pictures I took while driving to and from Tok. Tok is about four hours from Fairbanks along the Richardson and Alaska highways. I left at 2:00 pm and got back around 12:30 am. It was a BEAUTIFUL drive. I saw five moose along the way. This picture is one I took as I was driving back into Fairbanks. It's about 12:30 am here. Also, I apologize if some of the pictures have reflection on them or white dots on them. I took some of them through the window while I was driving.

Here's one of the moose I saw as I was driving along the Richardson Highway. The Richardson runs from Valdez to Fairbanks. It was started as a sled trail to connect the coast of Alaska with the gold fields of the interior.

This is a shot of the Alaska highway. The Alaska highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and ends at Delta Junction, Alaska. It is 1422 miles long. The people of Fairbanks argue that the Alaska (or Alcan) highway ends in Fairbanks but the official end, according to government records, is Delta Junction.

Here's me driving a wicked sweet truck back to Fairbanks. Maybe I should stop taking pictures and just drive.

This state is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

No, really, how will I ever be able to leave this place? It's painful, it's so beautiful.

Oh my gosh. Where else do you drive along and have views of the Alaska range?

It's so beautiful here. The pictures don't even begin to show the amazing beauty.

This is the official mile marker of the end of the Alaska highway. This is also Delta Juntion. This is my only picture of Delta Junction because this is the only interesting thing in Delta Junction.

This is me at a place called Rika's Roadhouse. The river behind me is the Tanana. Rika ran a roadhouse for years for gold miners and others that were travelling up the Alaska highway on their way to Fairbanks and the gold fields of the north.

Rika's has AMAZING strawberry rhubarab pie!

I tried to get a picture of the peacock at Rika's. The ducks in the cage were hissing at me. I don't know where they got all their attitude. They were in a cage. Hah!

This car reminded me of that old lady car in "Cars" so I had to take a picture. It also reminded me a little bit of Mater in "Cars" - check out the tires.

The public restroom at Rika's.

(Just kidding.)

Rika's Roadhouse. It's now a giftshop where they sell Russian made gifts and AMAZING furs. I was tempted to buy a beaver scarf. It was the softest thing I ever felt and if I had $150.00 I would have got it. Because I'm a teacher and so I have $150.00 to spend on a scarf I don't need.

This is the Tanana river.

This is where the pipeline crosses the Tanana river. They have security here 24/7 to make sure no one tampers with the pipeline. They also have video cameras monitoring the pipeline. If someone messes with it, Alyeska will be there immediately. Also, the pipeline is a matter of national security and so it's protected by the FBI. It's a felony to tamper with the pipeline.

Here's just another view of the pipeline.

Here's the Tanana just outside Fairbanks.

Here's another picture of the Tanana.

The Riverboat Discovery

As part of the Fairbanks city tour, our guests take a riverboat tour on the Chena river. The Binkley family owns and operates the riverboat. They're so rich it's sickening. Maybe they have a son my age.... Anyway, they're the nicest people and take really good care of the drivers. I am not in the picture because I am on the riverboat taking the picture. But when I have guests that take the riverboat tour, I get to stand down on the dock and wave at them as they come in. I feel like an idiot.

I've only included a few pictures from the riverboat tour because it's three hours long and we see a lot of stuff. If you want to see what's on the riverboat tour, you'll just have to come to Alaska and visit me and come on my city tour!! :)

This is Susan Butchers home. She was a three time winner of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which runs from Anchorage to Nome. I believe she was also the first woman to win the race. Unfortunately, she passed away last August of cancer. One of her assistants that worked with her and is also a dog musher talked to us about mushing and also gave us a demonstration. You can see the dogs lined up on the line ready to pull the four wheeler. You should see them. They bark and yelp and are so excited we could hardly hear the girl as she was talking to us over her microphone. Some of the dogs were literally bounding three feet in the air, they were so excited. I've never seen anything like it. Once they got the command to pull, they went from looking like they were bouncing on pogo sticks to pulling as a team. It was amazing! Incidentally, dog mushing is the state sport in Alaska. Fairbanks is the ending or starting point for the Yukon Quest, a 1000 mile sled dog race that runs between Fairbanks and Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory and is considered one of the toughest races in the world.

As part of the riverboat tour, we dock and get off in a replica of a native Athabascan village. They have reindeer at the village. Their antlers are really soft and velvety. Do you know the difference between reindeer and caribou? Reindeer can fly, silly!

Okay, bad bus driver joke. Actually, they are the same animal. Reindeer are domesticated and caribou are free-roaming out on the tundra.

This is a picture of confluence of the Tanana and the Chena rivers. It's also the point where they turn the riverboat around. The dark water is the Chena river and the lighter, grayish water is the Tanana. The Tanana is a glacial fed river and so the water is filled with silt. The silt gives it that grayish/silver color. Silt is really fine, sandy material. If it gets into your clothes, it will wear them out - and there's a good reason that it does but I can't remember what it is. Anyway, you don't want to swim in a glacial fed river (duh!) because the water is ice cold and hypothermia would set in in a matter of minutes and you would freeze to death. Yikes!

This is a contraption that the Athabascan Indians use/used to catch salmon during spawning season. The flowing water turns the wheel and as the salmon are swimming up the river, they get caught in the baskets. They are dumped into another basket and collected. Some of the salmon are used to feed the dog teams and some are used by the Athabascans for their own food. They keep the nicest fish for themselves. And since the dogs don't know the difference, why not? :)

This is a float plane that took off and landed next to the riverboat. it was cool to watch. When I lived on Afognak island near Kodiak, I took a float plane to and from the island. I thought the landing would be smooth, but it felt just like landing on land.

Oh, this is just another picture of the float plane ... and Matt's arm, which I didn't realize was in the picture until after I took it.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline

My first few days here were spent doing refresher training. This involved riding around on motorcoaches and listening to driver/guides give tours of Fairbanks. I learned a lot. One of our stops was at the Trans-Alaska pipeline. This picture is not a picture of the pipeline. This is a picture of all the stuff John Reeves (aka Big John - 6'8" 350 lbs.) has set up across from the pipeline. The big dome used to be part of the Early Warning Defense System. Big John bought it from the government because the government was tearing all the domes down. His plan is to turn the dome into an "Auroreum." This Auroreum would be a place where people could see a simulation of the Northern Lights. Big John plans on getting the temperature in there to about -10 or -20 degrees because you don't see the Northern Lights until it gets dark and cold in Fairbanks. He will let people come in for free but will charge them $10 to get out.

This IS the Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is 800 miles long. It start at Prudoe Bay on the North Slope and ends at Valdez. Valdez stays ice free all winter and so they can ship the oil year round. 420 miles of the pipeline are above ground and 380 miles are buried. The pipeline is coming out of the ground here. They elevate the pipeline when the pipeline route goes through an area of unstable permafrost. They can't bury the pipeline in the permafrost because the warmth of the pipeline would melt the frozen ground, the pipeline would shift and sink and ultimately break, causing a huge underground oil spill. This would be a big problem. This viewpoint is at milepost 450, so about halfway along the length of the pipeline. It's elevated as high as it is because when they built it, they didn't want to interrupt the migration routes of the moose and caribou.

These fine gentlemen are Josh and Matt. They are identical twins. The only way to tell them apart is that Matt hates to shave and Josh hates having a beard. Josh is always trying to get Matt to shave and Matt is always trying to get Josh to not shave. They are a lot of fun - and even more important they are two of the finest men I have ever met. They are Christian and very respectful and just all around really cool. Matt (on the right) and I have been doing our refresher training together.

Yep, life's been pretty rough having to ride around with a really hot, really cool guy...AND getting paid for it!! :-)

Here's me standing next to one of the VSMs, otherwise known as Vertical Support Members. The VSMs support the pipeline. They are filled with anhydrous ammonia which has a very low boiling point. If the ground starts to heat up, the ammonia boils and floats to the top of the VSM. The heat dissipates through the silver fins, the ammonia cools and falls back to the base of the VSM and the process starts all over again. The pipeline is actually resting on a "shoe" that is lined on the bottom with teflon. Alyeska, the company that owns the pipeline, built the pipeline to withstand the extreme temperature changes (-80 degrees in the winter to up to 100 degrees in the summer) that Alaska experiences and also to withstand an earthquake of 9.6 on the Richter scale. As the pipeline expands and contracts with the temperature changes it can slide back and forth on the shoe. Also, if there is an earthquake, it can slide on the shoe and there are bumpers that protect it if it slides into the VSM.

I look like a midget next to the pipeline.

This display shows the path the pipline takes from Prudoe Bay to Valdez. Matt and I are practicing being good tour guides. We're also considering applying for Vanna White's job on Wheel of Fortune.

Hmm, I can't put the cursor next to the picture. Weird. Anyway, Alyeska hired me to hold up the pipeline 'cause I'm so wicked strong!!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fairbanks City Tour

After spending the day doing refresher training and dual driving (driving around Fairbanks for four hours with another driver) I decided to go downtown this evening and get some pictures of Fairbanks. Some of these pictures are stops we make along our tour. For example, the picture on the left is a statue that represents the people that first came to Alaska. The faces don't have any nationality to represent that many races have built up Alaska and that everyone is welcome here.

This river is the Chena river. Chena is an Athabascan word that means "rock water." The Chena flows through the center of Fairbanks. Our guests take a riverboat tour along the Chena. The Chena river was the river that E.T. Barnette, the original founder of Fairbanks, used to get to this spot in Alaska and open his trading post.

This is the Visitor Center. I took a picture of it because it has a sod roof. Some of the people here put sod roofs on their homes because the sod works as an insulator and helps keep their homes warmer in the winter. They also use their roofs (I kid you not!) to plant their gardens so the moose can't come along and eat their vegetables.

I can park here! How cool is that!? :)

This is an example of a shotgun cabin. Early settlers built these cabins. They built them small because they were easier to keep warm than a big house. As they needed more room, they would just add on to the back of the cabin. They originally got their names because you could open the front and back doors and shoot a shotgun through the doors without hitting anything. (I don't know why you would want to shoot a shotgun through your front and back doors even if you could!)

This is part of 2nd Avenue (Two Street). This was where the prostitutes would hang out back in the day. They were easy to pick out because they were the only women in short skirts and heels during the long, dark, bitterly cold winter months. Now 2nd Avenue is filled with tourist shops, an extension office for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the back of the Marriott hotel.

Fairbanks actually has an ice museum! I've never been in it, but I understand it's where they keep the ice statues people carve during the February ice carving festival they hold in Fairbanks. Plus, who has an ice museum, really? :)

I took a picture of this porch because it's such a great example of common Alaskan decoration. The people here love to use burls. These people used this wood to create their porch. There is a shop called the Knotty Shop that has used burl wood to create mosquitoes, moose, and other animals.

This is the branch building. (I went to Institute - a church class - last night.) It's hard to tell from the picture, but this building is tiny! It's maybe a fourth the size of a regular church building - and it cost $2 million to build. It's not uncommon for buildings to be crazy expensive because when you build on permafrost, you have to either dig it out down to the bedrock or insulate the ground so that your foundation will be stable. If you want to build a home here, you have to get a notarized statement that the ground is free from permafrost before the bank will give you a loan.

Well, there you go! Thanks for visiting Fairbanks, and don't forget to tip your driver (really, really well!! :) )

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Midnight in Alaska

Here is Alaska as it was when I got here in the middle of the night. The pictures actually look darker than it really was. The views are the views from the apartment I'm staying in. The pictures of the apartment are the apartment I'm thinking of renting. If these comments don't make sense, I'm sorry. I haven't someone from the corporate office in Seattle talking to me.

Here's the kitchen of the apartment. I wish the kitchen in McLean was this nice.

This is the living room/dining room. What do you think? Should I take the apartment?

Here's the park across the street from my complex.

Here's the view down the other direction from the park and the complex.

Here's me! :)

Have you ever seen the sun rise at midnight?

So, my friend and roommate Anne very generously gave up her lunch hour to take me to Reagan for my big, exciting trip to Alaska! We left for the airport around 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. US Airways checked my bags through to Seattle and after going through security, I chatted with my friend Georgina until it was time to leave. I admit, I was feeling a little homesick for Virginia before I had even left. Anyway, we boarded the plane - and then sat there for forty-five minutes because the weather wasn't right for us to take off. This wasn't a problem for me because I had almost two hours in Charlotte, NC. When we landed in Charlotte, the timing was perfect. I found my gate, grabbed a Snickers Marathon bar and didn't have to wait too long to board. We boarded ... and waited. So, this was a little bit more of a problem because I only had about 55 minutes in Seattle. Not only was my layover short, but I had to change airlines and so I had to get my luggage, recheck it, and go back through security. My flight was scheduled to leave at 9:20. We arrived at 9:05. But Alaska Airlines being the fabulous airline that they are managed to rebook me on the 10:52 flight. I was only praying that Adam (my friend and the division manager), who's phone number I managed to track down with mere seconds to spare, had gotten my voicemail letting him know about the flight change. We took off from Seattle in the dark and as we flew, I watched the sky get lighter and lighter and lighter.

Have you ever watched the sun rise at midnight? It's amazing. If you come to Alaska, book a late night flight so that you can watch the sun rise over the mountains. I wish I'd had a window seat so I could have gotten a picture.

Anyway, at 1:25 we landed in Fairbanks! It was light outside. A lot of people asked me before I left what it's like when it's light all night. It's AWESOME!!!! Even though I had just left Seattle where it was dark, it seemed strange to me that it should be anything but light at 2:00 in the morning.

To bring this long story to a close,
Adam was there to meet me, he took me to a beautiful but very empty apartment and offered to rent it to me for a mere $400 a month. I tried not to choke. (We usually pay around $150 because we get a lot of people in one apartment.) I'm still considering the apartment. At about 3:30 am Alaska time, I finally got to bed.

Yay! Look at me! I'm going to Alaska! I can't wait!

What did I do with my picture from the Charlotte airport? Well, picture me looking puzzled because I think I moved further south than I did west!

Look! I found my picture! I WAS looking puzzled! :)

How I thought I would feel in Seattle.

How I felt in Seattle. "What? You mean my plane left without me?!" "Yikes! What did I do with Adam's phone number?"

Fairbanks. "Nuff said.