Alaska, Anchorage

In the Midst of the Melt

So this will be my 50th post on Tales of the Dogfish! What a wild ride it has been these past 3 years. Hopefully in the coming months I’ll be able to post more frequently, as I’ll be having a lot more adventures to write about if all goes according to plan. Anyways, I appreciate all ya’lls support. Here’s to many more Tales in the future!

I’m about 3 weeks shy of my one year anniversary of being here in Alaska. It’s been quite an eventual winter! Over the past couple weeks, the daily temperature highs have started being in the mid to upper 30’s. The Great Melt has begun as a result. I’m actually a bit sad to see the snow vanish. As many problems as it gave me over the course of the winter, the novelty of tromping through it never seemed to fade. The world is so peaceful and pristine after the snow falls, and I just love how it deadens the sounds of civilization. Now that it’s melting, the roads and sidewalks are covered in grimy slush. Also, all the garbage that was entombed in the drifts is now scattered everywhere. The first few days above freezing were really treacherous, as the snow that melted during the day turns back to ice overnight. It still gets down below freezing at night so things are only melting half of the day. As a result, the ice has been the worst it’s been all season. I’ve had more falls and almost-falls in the past three weeks than I’ve had the whole winter. With the majority of the sidewalks and roads having lost their ice cover, I’m actually starting to see dirt and pavement again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the ground! I’ll be able to start riding my bike again soon, so I’m looking forward to that. There’s still quite a bit of ice here and there, however. I’ll still need to watch out for those slick spots in order to avoid any possible crashes!

It has been quite the winter for sure. Things were pretty bleak in December and January. The lack of sunlight was hell on my mental state. Since I was also facing having to find a new place to live, I was really stressed out. House-hunting in the middle of winter without a vehicle to get around was miserable. I also had to deal with many flaky would-be landlords and really depressing potential living situations. For a couple of months there, looking for a new place to live utterly consumed my life. As the date I was supposed to be out of Ingrid’s condo approached, I kept striking out. Nothing was working out for me. In the past, these kinds of things always seemed to sort themselves at the last minute. However, I was beginning to think that my luck may had finally run out.

A week before I was supposed to be out, finally I had a breakthrough. A girl I work with told me that her landlord had a studio opening up and I should get in touch with him. I did so, and he confirmed that there was a unit available. I made an appointment and went to check it out. I was really impressed by the space, it was the best place I had seen so far in my house-hunt actually. It was just barely in my budget, but it was a good deal for what I would be getting. The major downside is that it was in one of the parts of town I had been trying to avoid, Mountainview. It’s probably the most diverse neighborhood in all of Anchorage, which I like. Everyone is a minority! What I don’t like is that it’s pretty ghetto. There’s bums laying around all over the place drunk as hell at all hours. There’s so much garbage everywhere as well, a really big contrast to the part of Anchorage I had been living in so far. All that being said, having a nice place in the ghetto is better than no place at all…so I decided to take the studio.

I had been looking at a mix of studios and roommate situations. I was of a mind that while I would definitely prefer to have my own space if the price was right, I figured I’d have to accept sharing a space with at least one other person. This being the case, I was mostly thrilled with getting a place all to myself. However, since all my housewares are in storage back in the lower 48, I’d have to spend a lot of money making my place livable. I’d need everything from a bed to bathroom things, and a whole kitchen set. Fortunately I had just about paid off one of my credit cards, so I had a lot of available credit. I went into a shopping frenzy, placing multiple orders on Amazon and making many trips on foot to Walmart. Ingrid was really nice and helped me to move what I had over to the new place, then over the next few days I gradually gathered everything else I would need. It was exhausting not having a vehicle to carry items around, and I spent quite a bit on Ubers when I’d get a big haul of packages or items to transport. Now, at the 1 month point, I’ve got about 95 percent of what I need. I’ve still got a few things I want to get in the coming weeks, but currently I’ve got pretty much everything I need to be functional.

It’s not a lot of space, but it’s a vast improvement over my previous living situations!

So far I haven’t had any problems with anyone. My co-worker and her boyfriend live across the way, and my next door neighbor is a friendly 19 year old amateur boxer. They do a ‘Thursday Night Fights’ here in town, and that’s where he goes to fight. There was a tournament last Thursday actually, the kid invited me to see him box. I took him up on the invite, only to see him get eliminated in the second round after a hit that knocked out his mouthpiece. After a wobbly standing 8 count, his coach threw in the towel. Dude is really good at bobbing and weaving, but he was totally outmatched by his opponent who was much more experienced. Every fight that evening was quality though, there was an insane heavyweight fight between 2 huge Samoan guys I really enjoyed in particular. There were a lot of people there, boxing is very popular here in Anchorage it seems. I’ve always enjoyed watching a good scrap myself! I had the best time cheering on the fighters I liked and booing the ones I didn’t. I’ll definitely try and catch as many of these boxing evenings as I can in the future.

So far most of my neighbors are pretty cool, but unfortunately there’s a couple that lives on the other side of my boxing neighbor that are insane crazy tweaker/drunks. All they do in fight, scream and bang on their walls and doors. One seems to like to lock the other outside of the apartment when they get pissed off at one another. They get up to very strange behaviors, such as creeping around outside my kitchen window in the alley the other morning at like 3:30 AM. I had the window open getting some air when this happened. It was the woman, and she said “It’s just me, your neighbor. Don’t mind me!” It completely freaked me out. I hadn’t even met the woman in person at that point, what a lovely first impression. I don’t know what she was doing, maybe trying to get inside her apartment through the window? She definitely seemed to be tweaking pretty hard. It was a pretty dumb thing to do, especially in Alaska where everyone is armed to the teeth! That kind of behavior will get you shot around here. I definitely thought someone was trying to get in at me for a hot minute.

On other occasions, the guy that lived there tried to break down the door because his lady locked him out. He must have pounded the door over a hundred times on one occasion, all the while screaming, “Open the door or I’ll tear down the wall and kill you!” How romantic. They always like to battle it out in the middle of the night as tweakers are wont to do, of course. I doubt they have to get up and work in the morning, so why not interrupt their neighbors slumber? I really don’t know what to do about it, the landlord knows but doesn’t seem to care. It’s really disturbing listening to them fight, it’s at the level where someone will eventually get beaten/stabbed/shot from the sound of it. It’s a microcosm of the whole neighborhood though. I get bad vibes walking around and always try to be in before dark. After dark I stay indoors. Living here is like a combination of living in a college dorm and an insane asylum! It’s not the way I saw myself living in Alaska, but I’ve got to start somewhere I reckon.

It is nice when no one is fighting though, I have had some peaceful moments in between the battles. I really am comfortable when I am home most of the time. I’ve got my place pretty dialed in. My new mattress is super firm and the room stays nice and warm, so I’ve really been sleeping well when the neighbors aren’t warring. One of the best Asian markets in town is a block away, and there is a pho restaurant at the end of my street. There’s a German and Hawaiian restaurant in the neighborhood, and about a half mile away is a catfish and bbq place. There’s a Popeye’s around a mile away, so I’m sitting in a really good place for food. About a 40 minute bus ride from me is a Super Walmart, Carrs, and a Fred Meyers, so everything I could possibly need is pretty close by.

I do spend 2 hours a day on the bus getting to and from work however, so that’s been a real bummer. I have to get up at 6:45 to be at work by 9 AM. The bus has been a real source of interesting experiences, especially coming back and forth from this part of town. I’ve seen a lot of crazy drunken behavior and been around a lot of real nasty people on the ‘ol People Mover. It always smells like vomit on board the buses, they’re real puke wagons! Most folks keep to themselves, and are generally friendly. I’ve been weirded out by people but never felt threatened in any way. I’m really over it by this point though. I waste so much time waiting on buses to run, a 15 minute commute by car takes an hour by bus. It’s so aggravating.

Some teenager slammed into my bus the other day. No one got hurt fortunately. Dumb kid pulled a hit-and-run, not knowing that the buses are covered in cameras. I figure he was drunk or something, I’m sure he lost his licence over this.

In other news, my kitchen won the High Times Alaska Cannabis Cup! It was in the category of People’s Choice Non-Gummy Edibles, and our chocolate bars are what got us the award. We were all super stoked, management was dancing around all over the place. We took turns holding the Cup, that was something I’d never thought I’d get to do in my life. High Times really spares no expense with the actual award, it was the nicest trophy I’ve ever held. It made me think of how my 15 year old stoner mind would have been blown if I’d have known that someday I’d be part of a team winning this legendary award in Alaska of all places! We had our company photographer come in and take some professional shots of my crew and the trophy. I was hoping that maybe we’d get a party or at least they’d buy us lunch for our achievement, but no such luck. I guess our only reward is bragging rights. It’ll look good on my resume at least!

The pinnacle of my cannabis career! The device we are posing around is our chocolate melting & mixing machine that made the award-winning bar. We’re like a bunch of stoned Willy Wonkas up in there!

Can’t even wait for a bus without being menaced by moose!

There was a lot of moose activity around town back in February as the weather got colder and the snow got deeper. I imagine that the moose were roaming around more than usual due to them depleting the tiny amount of fodder that was easily accessible in their usual habitat. For a while there we had a cow and her calf hanging around outside my work. One day as I was waiting for the bus to go home, the pair started slowly walking towards me on the sidewalk. I was hoping that the bus would arrive before the moose ran me off from the bus stop. Right before I was going to have to walk away, the bus fortunately showed up. It was quite the predicament there for a while!

Not long after this incident, I was walking down the street back to Ingrid’s condo coming home from work when suddenly I saw a moose walking down the sidewalk right towards me! It seemed to be calm, but it was rather unnerving to have something that big suddenly appear in your path. I think that this moose is the same one in the shot I used as the title picture of this post, she’s a big ‘ol gal.

I’ve really been wanting to see the Northern Lights all winter, but they never got bright enough to be seen with all the light pollution that Anchorage emits. If I had a way to drive some distance north out of town I could have seen them, but with no wheels that wasn’t a possibility. Back towards the beginning of March we had a really strong solar storm that hit the ionosphere, and it really put on a show all over the state. I think it was an unusually clear night state-wide as well, and that led to some really great viewing conditions. I heard from 3 different people that I should get outside and see it, and the aurora was so strong that it was easily visible over the city. I was just absolutely blown away by seeing it in real life. Like the Grand Canyon, it is something that you have to experience in person, photos don’t do it justice. I saw every color you could imagine, which was a testament to how powerful the storm was. Generally, the more colors you see besides the basic green, the stronger the solar activity. The purples were especially beautiful. The crazy thing is that to the naked eye, it looked like fog, smoke, or clouds morphing overhead. It wasn’t until I held my phone camera to the sky that I could see the colors. It was awe-inspiring to say the least! The Northern Lights are something everyone in the world needs to see at least once in their lifetime. It’s amazing seeing a phenomena that moves so quickly in the sky, unlike the way things like clouds or fog behave up there.

The Northern Lights are really difficult to photograph, as they stretch across the sky from one horizon to the other.

Back in early March, I got to see the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in downtown Anchorage. I’ve always been fascinated by this iconic Alaskan race, and of mushing in general ever since I read The Call of the Wild as a youth. A few years ago I watched a couple seasons of this reality show about the race, so I know something of the big names and lore of it. It was on a bitterly cold but sunny Saturday morning. I did some research on the best places to watch the teams go by, and I picked the site of the first right turn of the race. Supposedly there’s the occasional spectacular wipeout at this spot, due to the teams not having the bugs worked out of their sled loads. I arrived at the place a bit later than I had planned, and all the best views of the treacherous corner were already staked out. Nevertheless, I found a spot with good visibility, and was surrounded by many hard-core mushing fans. It was a real lively scene, it was the most people by far I had ever seen downtown. I was about 4 blocks down from the starting line and the crowds were still shoulder to shoulder. At ten o’clock the first team came down the street, and a total of 33 teams left the line every 2 minutes. I asked the guy next to me how they determined the order in which they left, and he told me that they drew lots. The fellow was really informative on all things Iditarod, and told me a bit about each team as they went by.

It took a little over an hour for all the teams to pass. There was only one team that flipped their sled, unfortunately it was past my line of sight so I couldn’t get some blooper footage. I could actually tell by the reaction of the onlookers that it flipped by the collective gasp of the audience, followed by cheers a moment later as they righted themselves. It was a bit difficult to take pictures and film, as my exposed camera-holding hand kept freezing. I had to swap hands every minute or so. I have really thick gloves, but to operate a touchscreen I had to endure the chill in my thin gloves. In the end I got some great footage of the teams, next year I know where to go to get a line of sight on the wipeout lane. It was such a good time, but unfortunately I hear that the Iditarod’s days are numbered. I guess PETA is funneling a lot of money into getting the race shut down due to rumors of animal abuse. As far as I could tell though, the dogs I saw were very happy and healthy. I think the Iditarod is of great historical importance, and so many people get so much joy from it. I’d hate to see it go. If animals are being hurt though, they need to change the way they do things for sure.

Go dogs go! Nice to see working dogs earning their moose meat, or whatever it is that they feed them.

There was a big snow sculpture competition going on during the Iditarod festivities. There are some pretty talented sculptors around here!

I’m a real big fan of all things fermented. I love good pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. I can’t really enjoy a sandwich without the extra zip that fermented foods bring. It’s a really expensive addiction though! The only sauerkraut I buy is the kind that needs to be refrigerated, as that’s the variety that hasn’t been pasteurized. Most commercial brands are devoid of probiotics due to pasteurization. A bag or jar of these kinds of sauerkraut makes about 6 sandwiches and costs me 11-12 dollars! I can’t afford to be spending that kind of money on basically cabbage and salt, so I’ve been looking into making my own. I found this kimchi making container called an e-jen online that works great for making all kinds of fermented foods, so I ordered one.

There’s different sizes you can buy, but I got one that is a little under a gallon for around 20 bucks. I figured it’d pay for itself after a couple of batches, plus I’d get to experiment with fermenting things. It’s a gasket lined container with an interior airlock, it’s pretty simple to use actually. You make whatever it is that you’re going to ferment, then press down the airlock to push out all the air inside. I made my first batch of sauerkraut already with sea salt and caraway seeds, which is how I like it. It was recommended that I put in a couple of bay leaves as well, so that should add to the flavor. It’s going to take a while to be ready, I think 4 weeks is what it calls for. Basically you just taste it every week or so, and when it gets to your preferred level of sour you put it in the fridge to halt the fermentation process. I’m looking forward to making kimchi, pickles as well as some green beans. Since it takes so long to ferment these things, I may need to get some more containers so I can have different batches going all at once!

It’s incredibly easy to make sauerkraut, I can’t believe I haven’t done this until now!

I am finally 100% confirmed to be deckhanding with Thor’s son Taylor out on Bristol Bay this upcoming salmon season. I pretty much had the unofficial green light, but now it’s on. I’m feeling a mixture of relief and trepidation. Relief because with my earnings I can get my truck up here, upgrade my living situation and maybe squeeze in some trips to see family and travel abroad. It would be nice to celebrate my 45th birthday on some island in Thailand somewhere, and I have a new baby nephew to meet. I’m feeling trepidation because it’s going to be absolutely brutal. I’m going to be with 3 other deckhands plus the captain at sea non-stop for nearly two months. We do everything at sea, from off-loading to resupplying to even showering, it’s all done through tender boats. I absolutely dread being in a situation where I’m around people 24/7 and can’t get away. I do not do well at all with a lack of privacy, that coupled with the insane grind and lack of sleep has me really on edge. After the long winter, I’m not really feeling as mentally or physically healthy as I’d like to be for such a enormous undertaking at the moment.

Well, I’ve got another seven weeks or so to get my life in order. I figure it’ll be hell for a couple of weeks once I’m out there, then after that I should hopefully get into a rhythm. At least, I sure hope so! There’s a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in this endeavour. If I make it through the season, my life will continue to blossom up here. If I fail…well, that can’t happen. I don’t have a backup plan, I need that fishing grubstake to get ahead. I’ve faced much adversity in my life trying to accomplish my goals. This is shaping up to be the biggest challenge of them all, I’ll definitely be pushed to my very limits of what I can endure. Until then, I’m just focused on enjoying my new space, doing a good job at work, and being thankful that at least I’m moving forward in life again. I’ve got a plan and it’s satisfying to see the pieces finally starting to fall into place.