Coming into our 4th freeze up and winter this year, we felt as though we were finally on top of this Alaska winter thing. We were a hundred times more prepared than the first winter and more prepared than the year prior to this one. This seems to be the norm out here. As time goes by and mistakes and misfortunes happen, you become a little more wiser in the seasons to come.
Here we were, winter was upon us and the temperatures were starting to plummet.
Boats were pulled out of the water. Ice was starting to form on mtop of the lake.
Our firewood was stacked like never before!
We had 3 sections of wood under the house all in order by burning and BTU ratings. Good seasoned Sitka spruce, for moderate fires when temps are in the20’s and 30’s. Then Birch, a heavy dense wood, that burns hotter and longer than Spruce . This was for when the temps start to drop in the teens and lower. They were also split into larger chunks to enable longer burn times for the colder nights. We also had 2-year old seasoned Cottonwood. On a chart of all the wood species that are used for burning, out of 50 trees, Cottonwood is the second to last for heat-producing per cord. Even the locals discard this wood and think it is only good for smoking fish because its a really “wet” wood. It just doesn’t make sense to mess with it if you can produce the same amount of heat from one Birch tree than you can from two Cottonwoods. But, we saved some Cottonwood for firewood because we had so many that we had dropped on our property, we had to do something with them. I noticed that when Cottonwood is really dry, it’s super light and burns really fast, but still puts off heat regardless. We have woodstove house heating down to a science. With the woodstove in the workout room, hot tub, kitchen stove and main cabin we get lots of practice. I always tell jen “you are the firestarter!” in an English accent. If you grew up listening to music In the late 90’s you might get that. I learned that doing this gets her pumped up to go outside and light the hot tub fire especially when it’s too cold for me to want to venture out. I also learned to coach her about how much better she is at it than I. She has really taken to being the official Motes Mountain firestarter. What can I say, I’m a lucky man. We have also stacked 3 times as much wood as in past years. Our stacks keep getting larger and larger with every winter that approaches. We won’t have to start cutting wood well into March when the weather is nicer and the sun is shinning. By then, the temps will be in the 30s again.
All the animals were moved into good shelters and bedded down with bales of hay. Nature is cruel and tuff though, and we did lose one chicken when the temps dropped into the negatives. He was definitely the runt and was lowest in the pecking order. We moved all the rabbits into the greenhouse. Two of them wouldn’t stay and would much rather stay outside under a snow drift where they had made an elaborate tunnel system.
They seem to be thriving with their thick coats so we just allowed them to stay out.
The peacocks for the most part are spoiled.
They get a heat lamp that comes on once in the morning and again that evening. Jen always makes fun of me turning it on and says “God made animals to live outside..baby!”. And I always retort that “He didnt make peacocks to live in Alaska!” Even Chi Chi was prepared. This cat beefed-up and looked as though he put on 20lbs and his coat got so thick. -10 outside and he would be rolling around in the snow.
We had 110 gallons of gas stored up for generators if needed. We actually only used only about 50 gallons the entire 8 weeks we were stuck back here. We had enough food packed away in freezer and in the pantry. We had enough propane tanks stored for the kitchen stove. We also have the woodstove oven to use when gets really cold. It helps to add extra heat in the house. We also prepared for heavy snow loads this year by putting up extra log poles to support the additional weight that snow brings to the roof.
I nearly caved in the back covered area our first winter because so much snow piled up. All the existing support beams were bowing and about to splinter. Even the outhouse was ready to go.
By the way, the secret to a warm bum in the cold outhouse is styrofoam insulation for seat!
Everything was set and ready for winter. We get such a great sense of pride and security when we can say….”we are prepared for however long it takes… we could stay back here and never go out until spring!”
We were starting to feel like we were graduating from “cheechako” status to “sourdough” status.
Let me explain about “sourdough” and “cheechako”.
A “sourdough” is Alaskan slang for an old-timer who has been in the Alaska bush for quite sometime. This was from back in the day when prospectors came from the lower 48 during the great gold rush, carrying with them fermented sourdough starter. The starter was used for making bread and pancakes. These where prized for their high resiliency in cold climates. Sourdough starters were passed down from friends and family throughout the years. The older the starter, the more sense of nostalgia and pride you have when passing it over to someone else. Telling the history of where it comes from and the story behind it is part of the allure that sourdough has up here. We have had someone give us a starter that was brought up on the midwest prairie passage from back in the early 1800’s when people where making their way to the west coast, for that gold rush. It’s amazing how so many pivotal migrations throughout American history were on the dreams of striking it rich, finding gold. No telling how many pancakes and loaves of bread they have consumed from that one single starter. Bakers know that the older the sourdough starter, the better the bread.
Now, a “cheechako” is Alaska slang for a newcomer, someone who has just moved to the bush and has a lot to learn . We have all been there at some point… Wrecking boats, falling in rivers, crashing and getting snow machines stuck, trees almost falling over on you, breaking through the ice, getting stuck in devils club, the list goes on and on!
There are several ways you can tell the two apart. A cheechako is always prepared with a bag of extra clothing in case of emergencies…
A sourdough’s clothing always looks like he was in an emergency. Sourdoughs look as though they have had the same clothes on for 20+years.
A cheechako always wants to take pictures of animals and a sourdough always wears a bear rug in case they need to chase cheechakos around while they are taking pictures.
Sourdoughs pride themselves on messing with young cheechakos for fun, but at the same time passing down a little knowledge. If you can befriend a sourdough when you first come to Alaska, consider yourself lucky. If you live through all the pranks, you can learn alot from an Alaskan old timer, everything from how to smoke fish and game to the best building practices for this area, etc. They seem to always have a trick to get something mechanical to work! They are geniuses and retarded all at the same. The scary thing is, I see myself turning into this Sourdough character!!
I have come to wear the same Carhart coveralls 4 to 5 weeks before Jen makes me take them off and wash them. She actually locked me out this summer and said I couldn’t come back in untill I strip and hand her the coveralls through the window.She told me that she wants to call the Carhart company to see if there is a way to better get the stains out of them. She doesn’t realize that after not washing them for that long, it’s not stains but a new extra layer of film for better insulation and protection. I pride myself on having the same jacket and shoes from when I first moved here. My outfit has now become part of my Sourdough costume. I came up here as a cheechako with thousands of dollars of gear. But they all rest in boxes packed away In the attic. I had originally let my beard grow out, but in the winter, it was always getting covered with ice so I prefer to be the new 21st century metro, smoothed-face sourdough.
I think the last part of this sourdough transformation has to be getting stuck for a long winter in a cabin and going a little Shacky Whacky!!
By far, cabin fever was the thing I was least prepared for. I really just thought it was an exaggerated symptom that sourdoughs talk about to scare the cheechakos.
I was wrong. It all started progressively slow. After the first 3 weeks, I started getting agitated at little things. Then, by week 5 of being stuck on the property, I started talking to myself. I was literally walking around the property and catching myself role playing, conversations that I have either had already with people or future conversations that I was gonna have with people when I see them. This seemed to only happen when I was alone. But If Jen was close by and heard me. she would say “what’s that honey?” 90% of the time my answer would always be “you’re too stupid, you will never understand!” During this sourdough transformation, there must be 5 week period where you’re just transforming into an asshole, and not some old wise mountain man. I don’t know how Jen and I do it, being together nearly 24/7, 365 days a year, give or take a few breakaways. I didn’t understand if my high irritability was from Jen’s record high stats of breaking things this year, or it was just me losing it. How she has put up with me this season is unknown. Around week 6, as we sat having breakfast, I looked over at jen as she was eating breakfast. Never have I noticed how loud her chewing is. It sounded like a horse chomping on dry corn! I turned the radio on but her chewing was still driving me crazy. I knew I was losing it!!. Here is the woman I love and I’m about grab her head and smash her face through the kitchen table, cause shes eating her oatmeal too loudly?!? This was actually the only side affect that I still have from cabin fever. I’ve read that cabin fever is a condition similar to what a stick of dynamite must feel like just before it explodes. It can make a single solitary person feel surrounded by idiots, and that even a frying pan seems to acquire an irritating personality. By week 7, my sourdough transformation was kind of complete, and I felt like I was getting back to normal. Although Jen’s chewing still bothers me more than before.
Because of the warmer temperatures we had this year, freeze up was longer then usual. We were stuck back here about 8 weeks total this year. The lake is now solid at about 3 feet thick and safe to travel on.
We are now going in and out on our snow machines and can get to town with ease. Jen has forgiven me for my weeks of going crazy and we are now back to a happy couple on a cold mountain…..life is good once again on Motes Mountain