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Happy New Year!!! lif-1258

2009 arrived in Alaska on the wings of a bitter, frigid cold snap. The temperature hasn’t climbed above zero for almost two weeks now and it’s been quite an adventure for us to balance the basic human needs of keeping warm and getting outside to play and go to work.

For Christmas, Santa gave us a new place to live. The construction noise and issues with our greedy inconsiderate landlord got to be too much for us and so we moved out of the old place and into a nice rental house in a great neighborhood called Rogers Park. The area has that homey Old Town Fort Collins feel, although we can’t see too much since everything is covered with a foot and a half of snow. We even have a grocery store within walking distance, a little market called Fred Meyer. Ok, it’s an enormous market, and it’s no Beaver’s but it is close and since it’s the grocery store for this neighborhood, it’s got a nice mid to upscale client base, not like the getto Carr’s/Safeway over on Gambell St. Plus you can get just about everything there: food, housewares, books, art and office supplies, games, auto stuff…

We had a nice Christmas together and made some yummy food bla bla bla… Ok, since I know you all want to know about the cold, we’ll talk about that some more.

mbk-0615Riding your bike at -14 degrees is a challenge. Not because the riding is that hard, it’s quite do-able with studded snow tires and packed down trails. Rather, it’s the keeping your feet warm that’s the hard part. Regular running shoes are fine for riding short errands around town, but for longer, more exercise, get out and play rides, your feet freeze pretty quickly. Even insulated, plastic winter mountaineering boots haven’t worked very well, mostly because there is just no movement, your feet just sit there on the metal pedals and get cold. What seems to work here is big, warm and loose. Sorels and anything oversize that gives your feet room to move around and keep circulating.
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The hands part is not too bad, since we have Epic Designs pogies that Eric has been kind enough to supply for us. Big winter gloves and mittens stuffed inside the pogies does the job pretty well. For the face, keeping as much of it covered as possible is key. Scarves, balaclavas, facemasks… whatever works. Of course, wearing glasses means dealing endlessly with fogging lenses whenever you start covering your nose. Oh well, such is life when you don’t have perfect vision.

Running is a different story. You keep much warmer and since more of your body is working and moving, your feet are fine in regular shoes. The trouble with running in sub-zero temperatures is that the snow covered trails are frozen solid as is the rubber in running shoes, which means very little cushioning for your feet. Too much running on the ice leads to foot pain, as Amy is now unfortunately experiencing.

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Our new house is further from Amy’s work than the old place, about 3.5 miles, but she’s been a rock star and has continued to run the 35-40 minutes to and from the office nearly every day in the cold dark. She accepts the occasional ride home from a coworker and the even more rare ride to work since Dan now has a plug-in engine heater in his truck. With the trails so hard now, she started riding her bike to work this week. This morning it 25 below.

Dan has been shooting photos here and there, doing lots of office and editing work, studying the private pilot manual, and even went out to take photos of Snowzilla, the colossal 25-foot tall snowman here in Anchorage that made the national News. It’s been too cold to fly lately, so he hasn’t had a lesson since before Christmas, but will hopefully get back up in the sky in that critical weather window between the time it warms up and before a week of forecasted snow hits Anchorage. He’s looking forward to his first solo, which will likely happen sometime this month.

In the evenings, we watch Netflix videos, play games (Cribbage, and Yatzee┬«) and bake and cook yummy things like cookies (Amy) and homemade pizza (Dan and Eric). Now that the winter solstice has passed, we’re looking forward to progressively longer days. Summer will be here before we know it! One nice benefit of the short days, though, is that winter light is absolutely beautiful. When the sun is out, it’s so low in the sky that it’s basically sunset all day long, which makes for great photos. And, even though we’ve lost count on the moose, we did see on walk down our street the other day.

We miss all of you, dear friends and family, and our Fort Collins house, even a little bit more lately. We wish you all a great and happy new year and are still taking bets on who will be the first ones to come visit up up here.

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12-degrees in Anchorage this morning, with an icy fog that hung over the city. Perfect conditions for a couple hours of exercise/playtime/adventure before Amy had to go work at The Sport Shop. We suited up, donning wind pants, balaclavas, and enough layers to keep us warm for an hour-long run, which we followed with an hour-long bike ride.

The air temperature was so cold, especially during the run, that any exposed pieces of hair, whisker and even those tiny little hairs on your face that you can’t even see, became covered in white rhyme ice. We saw a number of other people out on the trail walking and running, and everyone had the same look; like we were all some kind of strange ice creatures.

We finished running at about 9:00 AM, just as the sun was rising above the Chugach mountains to the east. The fog began to burn off as we headed out on our bikes, which was an even colder experience, because canvas, mesh cycling shoes, even with thick wool socks, offer absolutely no cover from the icy wind. Our feet were cold within minutes, and began to freeze after we ride through a long icy slush puddle that splattered ice all over the tops of our shoes.

They were uncomfortably cold by the time we turned around to head home, and by the time we were finished, they had that painful freeze that hurts with stabbing pain when you warm them up. Amy’s feet were worse, since they had a thicker coating of ice. In fact, her shoes were literally encased in solid ice to the point that it impossible for her to untie her laces. We need to figure out better shoes for winter bike riding. More on that later.

All in all, it was very enjoyable way for us to spend the morning together. Ain’t married life great?

Here in Alaska, everybody goes to Costco. Going for the Big Stockup seems to be the way that people like to buy groceries up here. Maybe it’s like that in the rest of the country and we just don’t know it. After all, we do live with that Old Town Fort Collins mindset, which is a little different than in some places. Anyway, there are actually two (2) Costco stores in Anchorage, and recently, Dan made his first trip to the Big Daddy of big box grocery stores.

He and Eric hitched up their bike trailers and rode to the store. When they got there, Eric put Dan onto his Costco Gold Club Card Membership, (you’re not even allowed into the store without showing your card) and off they went on their spending spree. Of course, Eric, being the Costco veteran was not nearly as overwhelmed by the experience as Dan, who was completely taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the place. It literally is the size of a warehouse, or a jet hanger that could house a handful of 747’s, and not just full of food, but homewares, electronics, big screen TV’s… just about everything the modern person would ever need. It’s really the biggest retail store that Dan has ever set foot in, with long aisles, and high metal shelving that it stacked with industrial/bulk sizes of EVERYTHING. Need black beans? Buy 12 cans to a box. Need eggs? buy five (5) dozen. Need cheese? Buy it in 5 lb. blocks. Or bigger. Need pasta? Buy 8 bags at a time. (Dan was REALLY excited about this one!)

Since TV’s weren’t on the shopping list, the pair headed straight for the food still wearing their bike helmets and clacking on the hard polished concrete floor in their cleated cycling shoes. Dan immediately got lost while getting a sample of pesto on a cracker and tried to text message Eric to see where he was, but soon found him as he went for a little mini pizza sample. You’re starting to get the idea- free samples everywhere!

In short time, Dan and Eric piled their shopping cart as high as they could with all kinds of goodies in large quantities, and proceeded to the checkout. The total bill: $247. Not bad considering the vast quantity of food they bought and the fact that it was to feed three people for hopefully an entire month, or at least some fraction thereof. They wheeled the cart out to their waiting bicycles and, much to the amazement of themselves and a few mildly curious onlookers, packed it into two Yakima Big Tow Trailers (no longer manufactured) and rode home to show Amy their take.

One note- in the world of Big Box chain stores, Costco pays its employees a much higher hourly wage than walmart or sams club, and gives them health benefits and retirement plans. The effects of this are easily seen throughout the store; all the employees are polite and helpful, dress neatly and obviously take pride in their jobs. In fact, Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal is an outspoken proponent of raising the Federal Minimum Wage. He’s the REAL maverick.

Read the Washington Post Article.

Of course, we still have to go to the store on a regular basis to buy fresh vegetables, so in some ways, it might seem a little silly, but if you’re going to buy cheese, beans and pesto anyway, you might as well get it in massive quantities, which is definitely cheaper in the long run. And besides, that’s just the way they do it up here.