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  • williejvernon

7 Lessons from 7 Weeks

We've officially lived in Alaska for seven whole weeks plus two days. We are now considered Alaskans and can start smirking at those "Lower 48 people" who say they live somewhere cold. Just kidding; we don't even have our Alaskan driver's licenses and haven't been through a winter yet, so our bragging rights haven't fully grown in. But they're coming. You wait.

Although we haven't been in the Last Frontier all that long, it feels like we've been drinking knowledge from a river when the salmon are spawning. That sounds kind of gross. But it was more on-point than just saying "from a firehose."

Here are the top takeaways from our first 51 days as Alaskans.

1) Good Luck Finding Your Mailbox

We'll start with this one because it's probably one of the things that you take for granted the most. Your mailbox is at the end of your driveway, right? You walk out in your slippers, try to avoid the neighbors who get up way too early to do productive things, grab the folded up pile of grocery sale listings, and scurry back inside hoping the wind hasn't blown your robe open too much.

Not here.

It took us two days to find our mailbox. Not kidding. Is it at the end of our driveway? Nope. Is it at the intersection closest to our house? Nope. Is it at the entrance to what can only be referred to as our "neighborhood"? Nope.

It's down the main highway and across the street. What, you didn't think to look there?

Checking the mail now requires getting in the car and driving. Score 1 for Alaska getting a kick out of making things hard.

2) Water Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

What are those tank things in the back of everyone's trucks . . . Oh, right. It's their water. Because many, many people in Alaska either a) live in a home that does not have access to water or b) they have a well, but the water is literally poisonous. How cute.

Water fill-up stations are a real thing around here, and at the moment, we haven't escaped that fate.

Upon doing the final walk-through of our home, we were greeted with an overwhelming smell of rotten eggs when the realtor turned on all the faucets. She waved it off and said that we just needed to add more salt to the water softener and that would clear it up.

Wrong, Miss Realtor. Turns out we have a major sulfur problem. Like, don't drink it because you'll be in intestinal distress kind of problems. Doesn't matter if you drink it out of the filter in the fridge, either. Still eggy.

We had one person come out to test the water and tell us that we needed a $5,000 system to remove the "organics" from our water. Lovely. Let's get a second opinion.

The next person told us we could filter out the organics, but that we should probably have our water tested by a more thorough facility because some wells around here have arsenic in them.


So we took a water sample to the third place. The big-boy place. The we-know-our-water place. And it takes two weeks to get the full results back, so we're still waiting. In the mean time, it's 2.5 gallon jugs of water from Freddy's for us. (Oh, you don't know what Freddy's is? You must be a Lower 48er. That's Fred Meyers, and it's the jam.)

3) Bring the Heat. No, Seriously.

Yes, another of the very basic requirements for survival. Turns out, not so basic.

The house we bought has two pellet stoves, which burn what you probably best remember as litter from having a rabbit or other small furry creature as a child. Theoretically, the downstairs pellet stove is good enough to heat the entire house on one bag of pellets per day, even during the winter. That comes out to $5.45/bag x 30 days = $163.50 for my mathematically challenged friends. Not too shabby, considering it cost us more than that to keep our house in Virginia Beach warm during the winter. We call bullshit on it only using one bag per day, but even if it's twice that, we can't really complain since it has to keep -40F temperatures at bay. Keep on truckin', little heater.

A fun Alaska quirk is that, when you buy a house and get a mortgage, you're required to have two different sources of heat in the house. You know. In case one fails. So that you don't freeze to death. Sounds morbidly funny, but not a joke. The sellers were required to put in what is referred to around here as a "toyo stove" -- there's an oil barrel parked outside your home that is connected to a somewhat small rectangular box inside that turns that prehistoric goo from the earth magically into heat. Yay science.

3) Your Vehicle Won't Survive Here

Really. It needs things done to it. Because after Day 14 of temperatures that literally freeze the inside of your lungs when you take a breath, your vehicle is just going to say nah, that's it for me.

Our house has a pole that you'd think was meant for tying up horses -- but think again. It has a power outlet attached to it, because around here, you plug your car in at night when winter hits.

I'm not going to pretend to know what all goes on in the inner workings of automobiles, but it has something to do with an oil pan heater, something warm and snuggly that wraps up the battery, and some other stuff that the guys on the phone told be about but I can't remember.

Think you can call and book your truck in for that week? Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. You ain't from around here, are ya? Nothing is same-week. We had to book a month in advance in order to secure our spot at the Toyota dealership to have our vehicle armored for frosty battle.

But armored she shall be. Yomper is a tank and no Alaskan winter will stop her. Someone please knock on wood.

4) You Might Die

No, but really. When I take Zulu for a walk, I literally have a gun and a fixed-blade knife on me just in case. And not for deranged humans -- people seem to keep to themselves. It's for the other locals. The moose who might charge you. The bear who hasn't found enough food before going into hibernation. The wolf pack that decided to go rogue. And none of that is a joke.

We live at Mile 5 up Chena Hot Springs Road. If you do a Google search for "where to see bears around Fairbanks," well hot damn. What you'll find is Chena Hot Springs Road. Locals talk about a grizzly that likes to call Mile 17 his home turf. And if you ask me, 5 and 17 are two numbers that are just too close for comfort when there's a grizzly bear involved.

Additional Fun Facts: Packs of wolves have been spotted about 10 miles from here. And Fairbanks has had at least a dog or two get eaten by wolves who got a bit peckish.

So yeah. Even your neighborhood strolls aren't a walk in the park. Even if you're walking through a park.

5) Um. It's Stunning.

So turns out the potential freezing to death, getting eaten by a bear, and not being able to drink your own water is all fine, because this place is like no other. Scenery that you thought was beautiful before coming here is now mundane. Mountains are average. And that fall foliage you posted 10,000 pictures of on Instagram from that drive you took through New England? Pish posh.

You haven't seen beauty until you've been to Alaska. The sheer vastness of the terrain, the wildness of the land. It's something that stirs your soul and captures your imagination. Everything else that makes this place difficult fades from your mind when you're standing on a rushing riverside while the birch trees are all ablaze in neon yellow while Denali stands in the distance.

And we haven't even been to 99.9% of the state yet.

6) (Almost) Everyone is Nice

Aside from one asshole who literally yelled and video taped us at a gas station because he thought we cut him off and a grouchy old woman at Petco who thought we were holding up the line (fuck you guys), everyone here has been swell.

From the internet dude who sat on mute while he conferenced in someone from their corporate tech support team just to make sure I got the issue solved, to the lovely guy who came to pick up his dog that wandered into our yard, to the hot tub people who are shipping us the insulation we have to put under a panel (oh, yeah -- just like trucks, apparently even hot tubs have to be winterized here), every person we've had an interaction with has been helpful.

I think it's because out here, you have a sense of needing to rely on others, and they rely on you. There's a feeling that no one is coming to save us except ourselves, so we as a community need to make sure we're doing everything we can to support one another.

Even though that camaraderie comes from a very real place of banding together for survival, it's a big old breath of fresh air from anywhere else I've been.

7) Everything is Slow

While everyone takes the time to be nice, that also means that everyone just plain takes their time. A call to a store to ask a quick question results in getting the life's story of the person on the other end. Asking a question about a service you need done to your vehicle will end with you being awarded your Honorary Bachelor of Science in Automobile-ology.

Want to order from Amazon? Cool. You can do that. But whatever it is, it won't show up for two weeks. Amazon Prime two-day shipping? What's that?

We managed to get what is considered in these here parts to be fast internet. And it's 25Mbps.

People drive slow down Chena Hot Springs Road because it is so bumpy that their shocks are shot.

Things move at a slower pace. Get used to it, take a breath, and look at a mountain or something.

All of that to say . . .

We love it here.

We love our house. We love living on a dirt road. We love the mud on the truck, the frost in the air, and the vast emptiness that is out our back door. We love walking through our 5.5 acres and feeling like we are truly in the wild. We love being able to see Denali on the horizon any time we drive to town for groceries. We love the sense of community.

We love it here.

But you wouldn't, so don't move here. Don't tell your friends and family to move here. It sucks. Stay away.

Just kidding. Come on up.

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