Monday, March 30, 2009

All Anchorage flights have been suspended for the remainder of Monday due to Mt. Redoubt.

That's what the Alaska Airlines site said earlier today, as well as Friday and I think Saturday: "All Anchorage flights have been suspended for the remainder of Monday due to Mt. Redoubt."

Good thing Martin managed to make it back Sunday from Yakutat. His flight from Yakutat hopped to Cordova, then they apparently sat and sat on the tarmack. Finally, they were allowed to fly to Anchorage. Apparently all that waiting was so that in Anchorage, the ash from Redoubt could be cleared off the runway and taxiway.

Seems like Matt got caught in the Redoubt cancellations too. People from work also. Martin's sister and her boyfriend just made it out at midnight Wednesday, and I think the first eruption was Thursday morning. Makes me wonder how long does a volcano rumble and distort people's lives?

And, apparently some of the ash made it to Fairbanks, but I haven't noticed it yet...

Friday, March 27, 2009

One howler of a Tolovana trip

Last weekend, we (together with our girls' aunt and uncle) made our way to Tolovana once again. It's been a while since we've been back - for sure we went in November 2003, but after that I am not sure. And it was in 2003 or 2002 that the area burned. Since we haven't been back much since then, I don't know whether it is due to the lack of wind protection, but the trail was in bad shape: for large parts of it, there was a snowdrift on the east side of the trail, spilling onto the trail. Sometimes the trail was too narrow, so one had to ski on the snowdrift, oftentimes 2 to 3 to 4 feet above the trail (and once even 5 ft or so); then the snowdrift would peter out and become too narrow for our load, and we would have to go back down onto the trail. And the whole cycle repeated. All in a strong wind hitting us from the side, no longer stopped by the trees that used to be around the trail. Temperatures were around 0F. Took us 5 hours to ski in.

The kids were bundled up. Our original intention was that Sonja was going to ride the dogsled, but with the wind, we just strapped her onto it, and used an empty duffel bag as a wind barrier, with a down sleeping bag and some XXL down pants my dad sent me years ago as the insulation (finally got to use for them for something!). Emilie was in the chariot that I pulled, also surrounded by a sleeping bag, with two water bottles with hot water between her legs. She had the fabric cover I made for it to protect her from the wind, and slept most of the way. Which was good - we did not really stop anywhere except for some extremely brief food stops since the conditions were so bad and there just is not any place to get out of the wind.

(All pictures by Thomas -thanks!)
Cooper helping Martin pull Sonja

A small snow drift on the left side of the trail - nearly nothing compared with the much higher and wider drifts further on.

We stayed one night in the big cabin ("cedar" cabin), then the next night in the new "log" cabin built near the water spring. In both cabins one could hear and feel a bit the wind howling outside, and the gusts that hit the walls. The new cabin is nice, though it is small - only four spaces for sleeping.

View from the new cabin, across the burned forest, and onto the Tolovana river valley:

The stupid dogs managed to find a porcupine within three minutes of me letting them out for a walk (with me) on our middle day - so much for a tranquil afternoon. Considering that they had found one four days earlier in the Alaska Range and had gotten into it there, we did not feel too sorry for them. Thomas laid across the dog, I tried to keep the butt and hind legs from moving, and Martin and Regula worked the quills on the face. Saphira only had five quills, Cooper more like 50, and once we came back to Fairbanks, I had to take him again to the vet. Here is Emilie still bugging Cooper though he still has some ten quills in his nose... He was not a happy camper. Will he learn? Some dogs do, some don't. Do we now have dogs that don't?

Preparing to head back out. Kids are bundled in sleeping bags, everyone else is bundled in wind protection if not sleeping bags.

I think we will try to go next time to Tolovana when it's a bit less windy. Still, glad we went, and even gladder we didn't have any problems along the trail.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"It is 26 degrees outside"

This morning's radio local temperature announcement: "It is 26 degrees outside".
My thoughts: "What a heat wave".

This year, it has been a cold March, with temperatures well below normal. It's rather ironic that we told Sonja's aunt and uncle, when they were trying to decide whether to visit, about how wonderful March is in Fairbanks, with long days, warm temperatures. And since they had come here ten days ago, it has been cold. They left at midnight last night, and it warmed up. Murphy's law. Hopefully they still enjoyed their visit.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


This weekend are the Open North American Championships - races with an unlimited (hence the "Open") number of sled dogs. First day, a 20 mile race. Second day, same thing - 20 miles. Third day, 27 miles. Each team starts separately, so while the teams are not competing against each other, they do not see each other unless one catches up to the one that started in front of it. So it is amazing that the two top team, of Egil Ellis and Buddy Streeper, are after 2 days (and 40 miles) of races a mere 2.4 seconds apart. Both have won the championships in the past.

I went to watch for a tiny bit off Creamer's field. The cool weather that we've had for the past week continued today too, which was probably good for the dogs. For the spectators, it made things a bit chilly. Still beautiful out there, though - a lot of sun these days, and it reflects off the snow to almost blind one.

Ed Wood was wearing bib no. 5. Sounds like things did not go too well for him, since by the end of the race he had two dogs in his basket instead of running with the team. The time it takes to stop, unhook a dog, and put it in the sled explains why he finished 7th even though he started 5th.

Bill Kornmuller was wearing bib #7 today, and was staying warm with his fur hat and mittens.

Don Cousins followed him with bib #8. I just managed to get all his team onto one picture. A lot of dogs - 16 of them. Considering how fast I can go when Saphira and Cooper decide to go somewhere, 16 dogs must be amazing.

And, lastly, a not-so-rare visitor to our neighborhood. Luckily our dogs did not make an acquaintance with him/her. Unlike that porcupine in the Alaska Range on Thursday, when they accompanied Martin with his sister and her boyfriend for a day of skiing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ice Alaska at night

Sonja's aunt and uncle arrived yesterday. Today, they visited Ice Alaska during the day, then I dragged there Regula one more at night. Here she is coming down one of the slides, with a random person standing there and giving her a high five and doing a running commentary on anything and everything around:

A couple sculptures, while the camera cooperated:

We stayed for about half an hour. It was about -8F, with a light breeze, enough to chill one through. So much for telling these folks about how nice March in Alaska is...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brrr, where is the March weather?

Current temperature at the airport at 11pm: -16F. Lows expected approaching -30. Same forecast for the next three days. Sure it warms up during the day with the strong sun, but the snow does not warm up so fast, so it is not so nice to go skiing (for wimps like me). Darn, where is the nice March weather that we like to dream of in the middle of winter? May be it is just delayed...

While this feels a bit cool for the season, someone pointed out to me that we are not really close to breaking any record lows, which are still nearer to -50F than to -40 (some of the forecast for tonight calls for -40 some places). Chris Swingley has it graphed nicely: lines indicating normal temperatures, asterisks for the record highs and lows, and red bars for the current year's temperature. I'll be watching that in the coming days to see how far below "normal" we are. In the meanwhile, I plugged in our cars, to make sure they start in the morning.

As an aside, people running the Iditarod will hit some of this cool air too - the lows tonight for Nome are predicted to 30 below. Stay warm! Especially Alan, as in Barbara and Alan who used to live here: Go, Alan, go, and stay warm!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A rare visitor

A rare visitor to Fairbanks these days, though of course they used to live on Crane Court in the heydays of that little alley:

(Dorte is holding a very tired Emilie, nearly two hours past her bedtime.) The rare visitor leaves Fairbanks late night Saturday. Just convenient that the Sonot Kkaazoot is Saturday :). Good luck to all the skiers on Saturday!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ice park

Emilie was in daycare today and Sonja and I slid down many of the slides in the ice park. Train, plane, and bear in the kiddie park, and one of the single-block (of ice) sculptures. All at the ice alaska.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

That was one ski jump!

The local newspaper had a picture from half a century ago, when on the UAF campus there was a ski jump. Online the photo can be found here, though the pictures are only thumbnails so are not as impressive as the big print in the newspaper. In the caption, it states that the top of the ski jump was on the ridge, i.e. I must imagine right near where the natural sciences building is now. Must have been one crazy jump! These days, the university lawyers would have be all over it.

I tried to find that picture in the Alaska's Digital Archives historical photographs collection online at, but couldn't find it (may be one of the ones not digitized yet?). There is, however, a 52-second black and white silent movie from mid-1930s of skiing at Birch Hill (right here in town). In the movie, a person jumps on a downhill slipe, but fails to land nicely, and, legs and arms spread wide, slides towards the bottom. That would be me if I ever dared to do that. And the next person does exactly the same! The movie is here (click on "Access this item" to view it from the summary page).

From the same location: Photos of Fairbanks a hundred years ago.
Fairbanks in 1904
Fairbanks in 1905
Fairbanks in 1907

A most satisfying doctor's visit

Our (ahem, my) plan today was to drop off Emilie at daycare, do some food shopping with Sonja, and go to the ice park again in the afternoon. All of that went out the window right after the shopping trip, when I got a call from the daycare that Emilie might have something wrong with the wrist and is crying a lot.

With Sonja, we picked Emilie up from daycare, and took her to the doctor. She was very unhappy about her left arm, and was holding the left wrist with her right hand, and crying often, whenever the left arm got moved a tiny bit. We went to our pediatric practice, and they said they will try to squeeze us in (since we didn't have an appointment). And they did, within about twenty minutes.

The nurse practitioner Judy came in a couple minutes after the nurse weighed and measured Emilie. She observed Emilie, and said she suspected "Nursemaid's Elbow" - and not the wrist. Pretty much, for people like me who don't understand the terms, it sounds like it's a dislocated elbow but it's not really a dislocated elbow, just the ligaments caught between the bones of the elbow. The name comes because it often happens to small kids when they are held by one arm or similar - for example, if a maid grabbed a child who was trying to get away from her.

Anyways, the nurse practitioner gently but firmly took Emilie's wrist in one hand, her elbow in the other, and rotated it into place. She had to redo it a second time, but after that, Emilie was once again using her left arm just like normal. 100 % recovery in the course of the visit.

Most of the time when we visit the doctor, it is either preventive visits (wellbeing and immunizations), or things like stomach bugs that can't quite be cured during the course of the 5 to 10 minute visit. There is something really satisfying about a case like this where Emilie went in not well and came out absolutely fine.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Super slide

We visited the Ice Alaska for about an hour today. Did not make it to see any of the carvings, but we did check out some eight different slides, including the super slides into the pond where they get the ice. Here is Sonja going down the long slide. Just on her butt. We did bring a sled, but I thought that might be a bit too fast to go down on. May be tomorrow. As it was, the slides were a huge hit with both kids. ( in having a huge fit and temper tantrum when we had to go back home...)

Birch Hill skijoring and at the Tanana

Saturday was the 9th annual Birch Hill skijor race. Since Martin thought it might be fun to race with our dogs, this time I signed him up for the long race. Due to all that fresh and drifted snow, the trails were super slow. Martin likened it to trying to skate ski at twenty below - trying to ski on a sandpaper. Unfortunately Saphira didn't feel too good, so overall the dogs pulled really well (nice pic!) but only on the first couple kilometers, and after that it was almost more like Martin pulling them, especially Saphira on the downhills had problems keeping up. (And, by the way, mom, after I skijored with the dogs a couple weeks ago, you asked whether I was all bruised up. I said no. Neither is Martin now.)

Martin tok Sonja on her skis after the race, for a few minutes.

Later that afternoon, Cooper got his typical dose of love from the youngest one:

And when she was done cuddling wiht Cooper, Emilie did some fine body art:

Later that day we dropped the girls off with a babysitter, for the first time, and went ot have a lovely 6 course Tuscan dinner that we won at an auction, with Will and Anne and Judy and Mark. The girls had fun (the 5 year old with whom they were had a ton of toys) and so had we, so it was great overall.

Sunday we dropped Martin off at the airport and played in the white sandbox full of dinasaurs right there at the terminal for a while. Then we grabbed something to eat at home, and went to find the danes at the Tanana (river). Dorte and Mette had the boys (Kasper and Olav) out, together with their dogs. Some tourist outfit was also taking people out on a short 15 minute dogmushing adventure under the bluffs. Overall, it was a tiny bit windy, enough to make it somewhat more unpleasant to go upriver (into the wind), and there was also some snow-covered overflow a bit further on the river on the trail, so with Sonja we hung out with these folks for less than an hour before heading back home. Emilie had a nice nap during this time on my back snuggled inside the jacket.

Kasper and Sonja on Kasper's sled. Soon, she will be able to return the favor.

Bolto pulling Kasper:

Dorte pulling the momentarily empty sled as Kasper rolls out of the chariot, where he was sitting on top of Olav. Mette pulled both of them for a bit before Sonja decided she had enough sitting on the sled and decided to run.

The tourist outfit coming back to the "campground" at the Tanana river (no camping allowed anymore, but the name sticks on).

Friday, March 6, 2009

And it blew, and blew, and blew

After the day when it snowed and snowed and snowed we had a day when it blew and blew and blew. Both of these are very unusual for Fairbanks. I was glad the driveway didn't get that much more snow today, I had enough snow shoveling yesterday.

At the Sears building this afternoon:

I still did not make it out to Ice Alaska. One of these days! For now, I just flip through the ice sculptures via their webcams on my computer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

And it snowed, and snowed, and snowed

This morning, we woke up to some fresh snow. And it continued to snow in the morning. And it continued to snow through midday. And in the afternoon. And in the evening. And it continues to snow now at night.

Accumulation over the last not quite 24 hours on our stairs:

Saphira next to the house in the snow coming down and down...

The dogs were snow covered as soon as they stepped outside:

The only bummer is that today, I planned to go check out some of the ice sculptures at the Ice Park. The multi-block competition is nearing end. Vladimir again has an entry. He always creates these beautiful, aesthetically pleasing sculptures that are a delight to look at. Webcam of his sculpture is here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kids and technology

Kids and technology just seem to go hand in hand. Martin has had an iphone for three months now. On occasion, he shows Sonja how to do something. The other day, she got a hold of the iphone, and based on the sound effects, was playing a game of bursting bubbles, then took some pictures with the phone, then played some music or video on the phone. And all of that without any input from the adults.