Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm Alive

Hey Everyone!

I have been suffering through some major writer's block... I know what I want to say, but have not found the right way to say it.  I am still working on the blog entry that discusses Sam McGee.  I hope to have it done sometime this week.  In the meantime, I have created the following video that can be found on YouTube at

I think it captures a small part of the beauty that can be found in Alaska during the Summer.  I had fun taking these images and then compiling them.  I put them to the song, "I'm Alive" by Celene Dion.  I wasn't really familiar with this music until I started searching out the perfect song to work as a backdrop for my "Art".  Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

P.S. (B.S. ? )  All these images are photos and video that I personally took, except for three photos that were a gift from a friend, Jake Schaeler.  Enjoy!  ~yukon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada

I left you all in Beaver Creek, YT, Canada and also with an unanswered question…  Where did Tok get its name?  There are many presumptions on the origin of the name Tok ranging from a toll road that required a Token to pass to a native maiden that was sacrificed to the Athabaskan deity Tokanananatiam (god of the river of nightmares) on the spot where Tok currently resides.  The official story can be found on this awesome t-shirt that I purchased at the gift shop in the Westmark hotel in Tok:  

Click on image for a larger picture if you cannot read it...

My next door neighbor and adopted daughter - Erika Farmer
So, there you have the official story!

After wading through the toilet paper and making our escape from Beaver Creek, we continue south along the AlCan toward Whitehorse, YT.  Whitehorse is the current capital of the Yukon Territory, having received that distinct honor in 1951.  Dawson City was the original capital of the YT until 1952, soon after the completion of the Klondike Highway made travel to Dawson obsolete.

There are currently about 26,000 people that call Whitehorse home throughout the year, and when you consider that the entire population of the Yukon is only about 34,000 you can guess why it remains the capital.  The city boundaries extend for about 160 square miles, although the vast majority of its population resides in about the original 27 square miles.  Once you pass the “city limits” it takes about 20 minutes of driving before you actually see any buildings.   

Special features to be found in Whitehorse include the Frantic Follies, a vaudeville style show that gives the history of the Klondike goldrush era; Uncommon Journeys, a dog mushing kennel – a favorite among the guests; an informative tour that takes you to three different museums; the Schwatka, a slow boat that starts at the Schwatka resevior and takes you through Miles Canyon; and my absolute favorite the Wild Wonders tour,  a jet boat journey along the Yukon River – speeding 60+ mph down the river  with informative stops along the way, ending in numerous flat spins across the top of the water.  Too intense!

I will go through a few of the tours I have taken in another blog, but right now I want to share a discovery I made at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History…

Sam McGee's Original Cabin ~ Built in 1899

Yes, that is Sam McGee’s Original cabin.  I didn’t know until about four weeks ago that Sam McGee was a real live person.  I do not have time to justify what I want to say here, so further explanation will have to wait...  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beaver Creek

The next leg of our journey brings us into Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada.  Beaver Creek is the western most settlement in Canada and is home of the Rendezvous.  When we pull into Beaver Creek, if there are two full coaches paralleling each other, we effectively double the population of the community for the night.  There are currently about 80 people that live in Beaver Creek, most of whom are seasonal workers.  During the winter months I believe the population drops to about six or so.

When there are so few people living in an area, you can probably guess that they are a little starved for entertainment.  As part of our tour we announce to the guests that the supply truck into Beaver Creek was experiencing difficulties and as a result there is a very limited supply of toilet paper.  The tour director will ration out the single roll of TP we have, asking the guests to please take only what they need and being considerate of all involved.  99.9% of the guests take the news well and we are all usually sharing TP related jokes and laughing our way into Beaver Creek.  No need to mention the other 0.1%.  To help the guests get their minds off the TP, or lack thereof, we have them compose a song that they will be performing during the evening’s festivities.  This becomes a bit of a competition among all the drivers and tour directors to see which coach comes up with the most fun and original song.  I am proud to announce that my guests always receive top billing!

When we arrive at the lodge we are greeted by one of two characters that perform in the nightly Rendezvous show; Gussy L'Amoure, the winsome beauty of the dance hall or Sergeant Loyal of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a.k.a. Officer Friendly.  These two greet our guests in with true Beaver Creek hospitality and continue the TP fun.

You can imagine the relief (no pun intended) as the guests realize that there is indeed a substantial amount of TP to be had.  Oft times when we arrive at dinner the drivers, tour directors and even some of the guests will arrive wearing some of the latest TP fashions.  Dinner is served “family” style with up to eight people per table.  We pass around the honey-glazed chicken, hearty beaver stew, and the miner’s bread and we finish it off with a healthy serving of Baked Alaskan.  Dinner is preceded by an open fire and s’mores for any and all that are interested.  The s’mores are available for consumption up until the fire is extinguished, signaling the start of the Rendezvous.

The Rendezvous is a show that is performed by two main characters, Gussy and Sergeant Loyal’s kin, Yukon Dave with the accompaniment of Will on the piano and a chorus of waiters as backup singers.  Sergeant Loyal wanted to stay for the festivities but Duty called.  Duty is Sergeant Loyal’s wife and when Duty calls, Mounties comes a running!  It is a fun show, much beloved by all.  The show is performed almost every single night during the season.  Last year they performed 70 nights in a row without a break.  Perhaps I can video it some time to share. 

The next morning as we prepare to leave we will often find our coaches decorated with toilet paper as the guests try to get back at us for the fun from the night before.  You know you’ve got a good group when your seat is completely wrapped in white and there are streamers running up and down the coach.  There is always a fun time to be had by all!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Onward, Ho!!

The question of the year, and on everyone’s mind is… Where did Tok (pronounced toke) get its name?  I have a special prize that I will send to anyone that can give me a definitive answer…

After about an hour stay in Tok we hit the highway again on our way to the Alaska / Yukon border.  It is about a 2 hour drive through some beautiful country with ample opportunity to see some wildlife.  So far on my journeys I have come across Bears, Beavers, Eagles, Porcupines, Moose, Trumpeter Swans, and a myriad of other critters.  Pictures to follow…  Just before reaching the border we pass through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge described beautifully below, thanks to

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge is a dynamic landscape made up of forests, wetlands, tundra, lakes, mountains and glacial rivers bounded by the snowy peaks of the Alaska Range. This upper Tanana River valley has been called the "Tetlin Passage," because it serves as a major migratory route for birds traveling to and from Canada, the lower 48 and both Central and South America. Many of these birds breed and nest on the refuge. Others pass through on their way to breeding and nesting grounds elsewhere in the state. Migrants, including ducks, geese, swans, cranes, raptors and songbirds, begin arriving in the valley in April, and continue into early June. An estimated 116 species breed on Tetlin during the short summer, when long days and warm temperatures accelerate the growth of plants, insects and other invertebrates, providing a ready source of rich foods for nesting birds.

Tetlin Refuge also supports a variety of large mammals. Dall sheep dot the higher slopes while moose feed upon the tender new growth that springs up in the wake of frequent lightning caused fires. Wolves, grizzly and black bears and members of three different caribou herds range over the refuge.

Two of the six known humpback whitefish spawning areas in the Yukon River drainage are located within the refuge. Along with caribou and moose, these fish are important subsistence resources for area residents. Arctic grayling, northern pike and burbot are also found in the refuge's many streams and lakes.

The refuge has a surface area of 700,058.54 acres, and is one of the larger (currently #18) National Wildlife Refuges in the United States, although, perhaps surprisingly, also the second-smallest of the sixteen in Alaska.

This brings us to the border crossing… At the Alaska / Yukon border there is a 20 foot wide swath of land that is cleared in a straight line that disappears into the horizon.  This is maintained by either the Canadian or the U.S. government.  My understanding is that responsibility changes every 8 years between the countries, but I will have to double check that info the next time I run through.

Clearing customs is usually a simple straight-forward affair that involves me running inside the customs office with my manifest and any non-U.S./Canadian passports.  On rare occasion customs will ask the foreign guests to enter the building for processing, but most times they just let us pass through or maybe a quick walk-through on the coach.  I have not had any major issues yet getting into Canada.  Coming the opposite way, however, is a little more of a hassle.  We are first subjected to a Radiation scan as I drive the coach through columns that subject us to who knows what fun invasion of self.  I once had a person on the coach that made mention that the scanners were so sensitive that they would pick up eminations from someone that had just gone through a medical procedure involving the dye and x-ray thingies.  I am glad I am done with kids… but what about cancer?  Of course the government says that they are perfectly safe… oh yeah!  That makes me feel MUCH better.  After a little more harassment, we are usually let through with only a couple random probes.

Don’t get me wrong… I am very grateful for those that are willing to spend their lives protecting our borders.  They actually live year round in a small community there at the border with their families, or alone if single.  The nearest other communities are two hours away in Tok, AK or about 45 minutes across the border at Beaver Creek, YT.

Ah yes… Beaver Creek… tune in next time for the fun!  I have to be up in about six hours to start a 16 hour day so I am going to call it a night.

Love Y’all!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Father's Day to All!

Yeah, day late, ah well.  Hope it was a happy one for all of you.  Now back to my narrative...

... 1400.  We stop in Tok for an Alaskan Sampler that consists of battered Alaska Red Snapper swimming in a sea of melted butter, a small sampling of a traditional Chicken Stew, a delicious Buttermilk Biscuit with a honey-butter glaze, a few slices of Reindeer Sausage that is made right there in Tok, Sweet Potatoe Fries that come from Idaho and have absolutely nothing to do with Alaska, and an Apple Cobbler for dessert.  We start our meal with a delicious Fireweed Salad and wash it all down with ice cold water.  Very yummy.

Dang!  I cannot believe this... I am falling asleep trying to get this post out.  I will try again tomorrow...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Still Catching Up...

In regards to the visit we made to Fort Yukon, visiting the community really made me grateful for what I have.  Too often I take for granted the blessings that are mine.

On the flight back from Fort Yukon, the pilot took us over Fort Knox, AK.  Fort Knox is an open pit gold mine that looks much like the Kennicot copper mine in Utah.  They are currently averaging about 60 lbs. of gold each day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, which in today’s market is about $1.4 million a day.  It is quite the impressive operation.  We finally got back to Fairbanks at about 11:30 P.M. where I was able to get a beautiful picture of the sunset…

On May 29th I left on my first solo tour with revenue guests.  What a great adventure!  Just to give you an idea of what a tour consists of,

On our first day of the tour we depart Fairbanks at about 8:30 A.M. and make our way to North Pole, AK, just 30 minutes SE of Fairbanks.  Here the guests can visit with reindeer, read letters to Santa and if they are lucky, see the big man himself as he works on his Naughty/Nice list.  Interesting note about North Pole, AK…  Every letter that is addressed to Santa at the North Pole is delivered here.  All of the 100s of thousands of letters are read, and those that are answerable (i.e. have a name and return address) are answered by either Santa, or one of his many helpers.  The high school students and the military personnel and their families are busy year long answering these letters.  It is also worth mentioning that the post office will even accept and deliver envelopes with hand drawn stamps…

After about 30 minutes at North Pole we head on down the Richardson Highway toward the historic Rika’s Roadhouse.  Sites seen along the way are Eilson Air Force Base, The Knotty Store, The Alaskan Pipeline and myriad views of the Tanana River and the Alaska Range.  

Rika's Roadhouse at Big Delta State Historical Park, has been a gathering place for Alaskan travelers since 1904. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks trail brought travelers to the banks of the Tanana River, where they crossed by ferry. John Hajdukovich, Yugoslavian entrepreneur, envisioned a business opportunity here, and bought the land along with a fur trading post in 1909. The two-story roadhouse, built of logs that were floated down river, became a year-round oasis for hunters, trappers, prospectors and travelers as well as local Athabascans and homesteaders. However, John had many other interests, including the responsibility of US Game Commissioner. Sitting still and running a roadhouse did not appeal to him very much so he simply asked guests to make themselves at home and leave some money on the table. He ran it in this way until 1918, when finally a dependable, hard-working Swede named Rika Wallen was hired to take over.  The roadhouse was restored in the late 1970's by the state of Alaska and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rebuilt with original timbers on a new foundation, it is still a welcome retreat from the dusty road. ( )

And, if I might add… they have awesome cinnamon rolls, bearclaws, and a strawberry rhubarb pie that is to die for!

After we take our leave from Rika’s we head through Delta Junction where we meet up with the official end of the Alaska (or AlCan) Highway.  The Alaska Highway is 1500 miles of road that was constructed in 1942 under extremely harsh conditions in just under 8 months by the Army under the direction of our then President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The road was built as part of the war effort to help protect our borders from Japanese invasion.  A little known fact is that the farthest Aluetian Islands of Alaska are only about 750 miles from Tokyo, Japan and during WWII one of those islands was overrun by Japanese forces making it the first US territory to be taken by enemies since the war of 1812.  The Alaska Highway played a major role in the land-lease program that was set up, transporting 100’s of planes, trains, trucks and other supplies to the Russians for use on the Eastern Front.  Fascinating history!!

The Alaska Highway leads us to Tok, AK which is the final community before we head into the Yukon Territory.  Tok has a population of about … (to be continued…)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been.  I have wanted to blog, but have been too busy or too exhausted.  I am sure everyone is familiar with that feeling of not enough hours in a day to get everything done that you want to do.  As such, I may be doing catch up over the next few days… we shall see how far I get tonight.

I got back from my last blog and expected to turn around in a couple days and head back on the highway.  However, I was at 80 hours in the past 8 days so I needed a few days off for my hours to decrease.   As coach drivers in Alaska we are limited to 80 hours on duty in any 8 day period.  However, when crossing the border into Canada it turns into 70 hours in 7 days.  It may sound the same, but when you are working 60+ hours in 5 days you have to take off a couple days in order for your hours to start dropping off.

That being said, I was reassigned to a tour that left on the 29th of May.  This gave me a few days off in Fairbanks that I took advantage of by touring the city and jumping on a couple excursions.  The excursions are things offered to our guests in order to drain just a little more coin out of their purses.  While burning hours I learned about the gold dredges and sluice mining, I also got the opportunity to pan for gold where I found about $16.00 of the precious yellow metal.  Later in the same day I rode a sternwheeler down the Tanana River.  This was a three hour tour that took us to a Native Alaskan village where we learned about salmon fishing and the way of life of the Alaskan natives in the interior.  One interesting fact I learned is that linguists have determined that the dialects spoken in the interior all stem from the same Athabaskan dialects that can be found along the Pacific Coast and down into the American Southwest and Northern Mexico.  A map can be found here on Wikipedia and following is a listing of the Athabaskan dialects as broken down by area:

  • Alaska: Ahtna, Deg Hit’an, Dena’ina/Tanaina, Gwich’in/Kutchin, Hän, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Lower Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Kuskokwim/Kolchan, Upper Tanana
  • Yukon Territory: Gwich'in/Kutchin, Hän, Kaska, Mountain, Tagish, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Upper Tanana
  • Northwest Territories: Bearlake, Dëne Sųłiné/Chipewyan, Gwich’in, Hare, Mountain, Slavey, Tłįchǫ Yatʼìi/Dogrib
  • Nunavut: Dëne Sųłiné
  • British Columbia: Babine-Witsuwit’en, Bearlake, Beaver, Chilcotin, Dakelh/Carrier, Hare, Kaska, Mountain, Nicola, Sekani/Tsek’ene, Slavey, Tagish, Tahltan, Tsetsaut
  • Alberta: Beaver, Dëne Sųłiné, Slavey, Tsuut’ina/Sarcee
  • Saskatchewan: Dëne Sųłiné
  • Washington: Chilcotin, Kwalhioqua-Clatskanai (Willapa, Suwal), Nicola
  • Oregon: Applegate, Clatskanie, Galice, Rogue River (Chasta Costa, Euchre Creek, Tututni, Upper Coquille), Tolowa, Upper Umpqua
  • Northern California: Eel River, Hupa, Mattole-Bear River, Tolowa
  • Utah: Navajo
  • Colorado: Jicarilla, Navajo
  • Arizona: Chiricahua, Navajo, Western Apache
  • New Mexico: Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, Navajo
  • Texas: Mescalero, Lipan
  • Oklahoma: Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Plains Apache
  • Northwestern Mexico: Chiricahua

Later in the week I had opportunity to take a small plane up above the Arctic Circle where during the Summer, the sun never sets.  We landed in a Native Alaskan village named Fort Yukon where we were given a tour in an old school bus of the community and were able to learn how the Alaskan Natives now live after their introduction to western civilization.  It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.  The First Nations, as they are called in this area, started as a nomadic people following their food wherever it may wander.  They did not start building permanent settlements until Europeans started to make the scene in the early 1700s.  At that time, many of the natives found it profitable to set up permanent trading camps where they could trade furs, artisan works, and slaves to the white skins in exchange for weaponry and whiskey.  I don’t know if it was a good trade.  At this time in Fort Yukon unemployment ranges around 85%.  Many of the people still live without electricity and running water and are permitted to live off the land.  Subsistence living, living off the land, is still a way of life for many of the Alaskan Natives.

Oi!  I am exhausted!  Watch for more tomorrow, as well as some pictures…

Friday, May 20, 2011

And he’ll have fun, fun, fun driving coaches in AK, USA…

I thought I might go through an average day in the life of a Driver/Guide for HAP Alaska, Yukon.  To do this properly, let us return to yesterday for a brief moment.  On Tuesday the 18th, I had the distinct pleasure of driving through some of the most breathtaking country on this great planet of ours.

Standing on the Denali Highway ~ Gravel Roads FTW!
About 20 of us were taken on the Denali Highway Fam (familiarizing) Tour.  This drive took us from Fairbanks, AK to the Denali Princess Lodge, across the Denali Highway and back to Fairbanks via the Richardson Highway, a loop of about 436 miles.  The Denali Highway is about 134 miles long, approximately 121 miles of which is unpaved road.  We reported to the yard at about 5:30am and I got home at about 10:00pm that night.  Now, on to a regular day in the life of a driver guide…

3:30 A.M. – Alarm goes off… I shower and prepare everything for my 4 day road trip. 
5:15 A.M.  – I arrive at the yard, clock in, update my log book and check in with dispatch.
5:30 A.M. – I head out to coach 8898 and start my pre-trip inspection.   I am driving one of our luxury E-class models that were acquired in 2007 at the cost of $500,000.00 each.  The pre-trip inspection covers over 300 points on the coach and lasts about 90 minutes.
7:00 A.M. – I leave the yard and head to the Westmark Hotel, Fairbanks, AK.
7:15 A.M. – I help our luggage handlers load the guest's luggage into the coach bays. 
7:45 A.M. – I stage my coach in preparation to pick up our guests.  The coaches are to be staged at the Hotel entrance 15 minutes prior to departure time.
8:00 A.M. – The first guests start heading out to the coach.  All guests are loaded in about 15 minutes.
8:15 A.M. – We hit the road on to our first stop, North Pole, AK.  Our tour director spends the next 30 minutes telling our guests how cool North Pole, AK is.  How you can visit the Santa Clause House, read many letters that Santa has received over the years, mail their post cards stamped, “North Pole, Alaska” by the North Pole Post Office, grab some yummy cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate, etc…
101 St. Nicolas Dr., North Pole, AK, 99705
8:45 A.M. – Arrive at North Pole, give guests final instructions making sure they know to return by 9:15am.
9:00 A.M. – After 5 grueling minutes of giant mosquito attacks, our bus is reloaded by grumbling guests letting us know that North Pole, AK is currently closed… ruh-roh!  Someone on our coach must have been very naughty!  We are loaded and headed to Rika’s Landing.
10:00 A.M. – We pull over to take a quick 10 minute photo-op of the woven Tanana River with the majestic Mount Hayes and the Alaskan Ridge in the background.

Mt. Hayes and the Alaskan Range make a beautiful backdrop for the braided Tanana River.
11:00 A.M. – Snack and gift shop stop at Rika’s Landing.
11:30 A.M. – The coach is again reloaded and we are back on the Alaska Highway…
2:00 P.M. – Arrive in Tok, AK for a quick lunch of Red Snapper, Chicken Stew, Reindeer Sausage, Sweet Potato Fries, Buttermilk Biscuit, and Fireweed Salad.  Deeelish!!
2:45 P.M. – Back on the Highway and headed for the border!
The Alaska, US / Yukon Territory, Canada Border
4:30 P.M. – Quick photo stop at the Alaska/Yukon border.
5:00 P.M. – Clear customs and enter into Canada.
Look Closely and you can see the notch on the horizon where the border passes.
6:00 P.M. – Arrive at Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory.
6:30 P.M. – Post Trip Inspection and cleaning of the coach.
7:00 P.M. – Dinner Theatre (well a shower and blogging for me, I am too tired!)
8:45 P.M. – Finish blogging for the day and headed to bed.  No internet here so I will be posting this tomorrow night when we reach Whitehorse.

Good Night!

And, “Hello!” again.  Today’s itinerary read pretty much the same as yesterday’s; except I got to sleep in until 4:55 A.M. (3:55 in Alaska =P) and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  We pulled out of Beaver Creek at about 7:15 this morning and arrived in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at about 6:30 this evening, with a brief stop for lunch in Haines Junction.  I then spent about a half hour talking with my family on Skype (yeah internet), reading scriptures and now blogging and will soon be calling it a night.  Our morning starts tomorrow at 5:30 A.M. (4:30 in Alaska)
5:26 A.M. ~ Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada

We will be dropping our guests off in Skagway and then deadheading back here for the night before deadheading back to Fairbanks on Sunday.  It has been a fun tour, and I look forward to my next tour on Thursday the 25th of May.  I will be posting some new pictures, probably tomorrow night, so look for those.  For now I bid you all adieu and send special HUGS and Kisses to Conner, Madison and J’Nell!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Copper River Fam Tour... And Eagles!!

It has been a week since my last post… and a busy week it has been.

We enjoyed Division Day… a day in which they brought all the drivers, maintenance, guest services, management… everyone for an intense orientation and training.  The day started with training and familiarization on the different equipment we will find around the yard.  We got the opportunity to get a closer look at the different models of coaches and to learn about some of their quirks.  This training continued for new drivers on Monday with even more in depth for the highway drivers on the following day. 

During the highway training we got the opportunity to change out one of the tires from the coach.
Changing the Dualies
Of course there were about 15 of us working on the same tire at the same time… not quite the same thing as finding ourselves out somewhere alone on the road in the driving rain.  The heavier tires, all nice and clean in the yard, weigh upwards of 270 lbs.  It was quite the show watching some of our smaller drivers (some of the ladies couldn’t have weighed more than a $1.25 with change to spare) get these tires moved from the horizontal to the vertical.  It is mostly about smarts when working with these monsters, though I gotta admit the brawn doesn’t hurt!
Under the Coach with Fairbank's Head Mechanic, Jon

After our morning training they fed us up on hamburgers and hot dogs.  We then jumped in the coaches and got to tour around Fairbanks.  And when I say “the coaches” I mean “ALL” the coaches.  I think there were about 50 coaches tooling around Fairbanks for a few hours.   Meanwhile, back at the yard, they were cleaning up all the gravel that accumulated over the winter.  Up here they do not use salt on the roads.  Gravel is the roughener of choice.  By the end of the winter the gravel is knee high to a moose!  Driving around Fairbanks you can see a plethora of stars, especially during the daylight hours!  There is nary a windshield without at least two chips to its name.   On the flip side, gravel is cheap and reusable.

Division Day led us into our first day off, which was Sunday, May 8th, Mother’s Day!  I attended church this morning for the first time since arriving in Alaska.  I am currently attending the Fairbanks 2nd Ward which is presided over by Bishop Cheney.  The ward seems friendly enough and I believe I will enjoy my time here.  In addition to myself, there are currently six other driver/guides that I work with attending the 2nd ward… Bryan & Sarah Pulsipher, Brad & Nicole Spencer, and Matt & Erica Farmer.  I am really feeling my age as they are all young enough to be my children =P  The church is about 1.5 miles from our apartment, and as you may remember, I am without a vehicle.  I have been thrust back into a world without wheels, so I am relying upon my feet to get me around just about everywhere I go.  I am definitely getting my exercise!

Traditional Native Clothing
As I stated earlier, we passed most of the day Monday in more training for all drivers in the yard followed with more in depth training on Tuesday for the highway drivers.  Later Monday evening we entertained and fed at “Vendor Night”.  We headed to the Morris Thompson Center in downtown Fairbanks and we met some of the vendors in the area that sponsor tours to their establishments.  We learned about flights up to the Arctic Circle as well as rafting and fishing on some of the rivers and evenings on the Riverboat.  There was some great food from the Pagoda restaurant in North Pole as well as some smoked salmon from the Riverboat in Fairbanks (which I could not get enough of!). 

All the days seem to be running together… I may have gotten a few items out of sequence, but suffice it to say, they are keeping us hopping up here.  Sunday was a welcome relief, not only being able to attend church services, but also getting the opportunity to hear from Jake!  Mother’s Day is one of two days in the year that our missionary is allowed to call home.  I connected with the family via Skype and then listened to the call between Jake and Cheryl for about an hour.  Jake seems to be doing very well thus far on his mission.  He and his companion have gotten off to a great start, from what Jake reports, they have become best of friends.  There have been a few tough moments, but overall his mission has been an amazing growing experience.  I must admit… I love being a missionary parent!

Whew!  almost caught up…   Starting on Wednesday of this week we have enjoyed what is known as the “Copper River Fam Tour”.  This is a tour that allows new drivers to become familiar with the Copper River run that we will be doing this year.  The tour starts off in Fairbanks and heads in the direction of  Copper Center, AK.  We overnight at the Copper River Resort that overlooks the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Reserve… the view is breath taking!
Mt. Drum ~ Mt. Zanetti ~ Mt. Wrangell ~ Mt. Blackburn

The next morning we headed down to Valdez and were treated to an aerial display the likes of which I have never seen before.  There were easily a dozen Bald Eagles
Adult and Juvenile Bald Eagle
flying around the area and in the trees.  A resident of Valdez was “baiting” the eagles by throwing some herring out into the parking lot.  I was able to get some incredible pictures!

More Eagle Pics 
We returned to the Copper River Resort for our second night and then took the Glenn Alan Highway to the Kenai Peninsula.  We traveled the Seward Highway up the Cook Inlet to the cruise port in Whittier.  In order to reach Whittier you must travel through a 2.5 mile tunnel that was blasted through the mountain.  The tunnel was originally built in 1941 to allow for easier freight passage.  Originally there was only a rail that passed through the tunnel… if you wanted your vehicle to traverse the span you were required to drive up onto a railroad car and they would take you through for the minimal cost of $60.00.  Getting the coaches on the RR cars led to the introduction of one of our skills tests, the offset alley.  It is an art form to be sure!  In 2000 they opened up the tunnel to vehicular traffic, which has greatly enhanced the passage.  It is still a single lane, and it is very closely regulated.  I took a video of our journey which I hope to be able to post on the blog… if it lets me (but not tonight).
We did a quick turnaround at the port in Whittier and I got my first “Highway” experience.  I drove the coach to our current location at the Kenai Princess Lodge.  It is a beautiful resort overlooking the Kenai River.  I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to see so much of this beautiful state.  I miss the family terribly, but I am enjoying myself very much thus far.  I am beat, so I think I will call it a night… look for pictures to be posted sometime tomorrow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alaska training has begun in earnest, as well it should since the season starts in about two weeks.  I have already driven twice with trainers here that are evaluating our performance.  I have received good marks in all areas and I am becoming more and more familiar with Fairbanks.  I will have one or two more evaluation drives before I am put through the company road testing.  By all accounts this test is more rigorous than the one given by the DMV.  I am hoping that I do well.

I have some very exciting news!  Well, exciting to me anyway…  Two days ago my supervisor, Jill Hyatt, approached me and asked if I could spare a few minutes.  Of course being the overly positive person that I am I immediately started trying to think of what I had done wrong.  As it turned out she asked if I would be willing to consider taking on “The Alaska Highway” tour in addition to “The Copper River” tour that I was assigned.  My first response was, “Jill, I am only a first year…” (First years usually are not considered for highway driving, but about a dozen of us were selected to drive “Copper River” which is a 5-6 day highway tour.  No first years were even considered for any of the other highway tours.)  Jill said, “I know, and I will understand if you don’t want to do it…”  I, all the while, am jumping out of my skin for this opportunity.  I assured her that I would be more than willing to help out any way that I could.  She explained that they had a driver available for the tour, but because of scheduling he would be unable to do it.  Sooo… I am now the king of the yard among all the first years.  They are sooooo jealous!  Of course I now have twice the material that I need to learn… but this is why I came up here, to see as much of Alaska as possible.  Okay… really I am here to make money… but, I want to see as much as I can!

In case anyone is wondering… I have moved into my apartment.  There are currently four of us living here.  Nicole and Brad Spencer, a young married couple from Utah and Robert Dawson, a more seasoned gentleman from Oregon.  All four of us are jammed into about a 400 square foot apartment.  But as all of us are highway drivers (hmmm… except for maybe Robert) we will not all be in town at the same time.  Sooo…  we think it will work out.

As far as new sites we have seen… We were taken on a Fairbanks familiarity tour yesterday.  This included a tour of downtown Fairbanks and a quick ride out to see the Alaskan Pipeline (well a stretch of pipeline that is near Fairbanks).  There is a lot of neat history here in Fairbanks which I may start sharing as the days go on…  The pipeline itself is pretty fabulous.  It stretches 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez (google it) and at current load is delivering about 300,000 barrels of oil a day.  If I am remembering correctly, its max capacity is about 1.25 million barrels a day.  Once all the red tape was gone through, construction of the pipeline took less than three years to complete (1974-1977).  A marvel of vision, engineering and sheer determination!  In case you are wondering… Alaskans as a whole LOVE their pipeline!


Tomorrow is our “Division Day”.  This will be the one and only time that all the drivers, mechanics, office staff and support in the Fairbanks area will be in one place at the same time.  There is an all day party planned for us with lots of food, some food and even a bit of food.  I of course will be eating sparingly as I do not wish to disrupt my new lifestyle.  Okay, that is a lie… I am taking a free day and eating whatever I dang well please.

I have been careful with my intake, and since moving into our apartment I have been 100% perfect on my diet.  Granted, it has only been two days… but hey!  I made it two days!  In addition to my diet, I am walking to work and will be occasionally walking home as well.  It is 2.83 miles from my door to the yard.  Alright, it isn’t all that far… but it is a start!  My goal is to be able to make the walk in less than 45 minutes by the end of the season!  I also am working to drop 100 lbs in that time as well!

Pray for me!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moving In! (I hope)

Well, it looks as if I may have finally found a place to live.  I had HR Orientation this morning at the yard and then spent the remaining part of the morning into the afternoon searching for an apartment.  We found a small 1-bedroom for $850.00/month plus electric.  There will be four of us living there and so we expect to be paying about 225.00 each.  It hopefully will not be too crowded since we are all highway drivers and will probably be crossing paths more often than not.

Yesterday the company took us on the Chena Hot Springs tour to get us familiarized with that run.  This is a tour that I may be doing between highway runs.  The facilities run off of electricity generated from the geothermal energy found on the site.  The science behind the running of their generators was extremely interesting, but I fear I will not be able to explain how it all works.  I am sure that any interested parties can easily find the information on the internet.  They currently generate all the energy they need at a cost of approximately $0.06 / KW hour.  Once their newest generator goes online they will be able to supply not only all the energy they need, but also enough to run the U.S. Army base that is nearby.  The cost to supply this energy will be less than $0.01 / KW hour.  Of course being a government contract I expect they will be able to get a minimum of $10.00 / KWH out of the army.    

Chena Hot Springs has built greenhouses up in the area that currently supplies all the fresh produce for the resort.  It is amazing how fast things tend to grow when you supply them with perfect growing conditions 24 hours a day.  The tomato vines and cucumbers in the picture are only about 75 days old.  Take special note of the length of the vines that are wrapped around the support pole at the base.  Incredible!  They have plans to start a shrimp farm in the foreseeable future to supply all the shrimp they will need.

One of the main attractions at the Hot Springs is their Ice Museum.  They have a husband and wife team that have more than a dozen world championships between them that now work full time up at the resort.  The creations are incredible… I will let the images speak for themselves.  They maintain about a 20 degree temperature in the museum.  The ice bar is an actual working bar and the rooms in the back can be rented out for the night… why?  I didn’t make it inside myself, but there is a working xylophone inside the igloo.    I meant to go in and take a picture, but forgot to take my turn when it was available.  It was an amazing place of beauty! (other images can be found here:  more pics )

I was one of six first year drivers that drove one of the four coaches up and back from the hot springs.  This gave me added experience, as well as giving a Fairbank’s instructor a chance to see how well our training in Provo translates to Alaska conditions.  When the trip was over he handed me my evaluation to sign and informed me that he had given me the highest marks he was allowed to give on every category.  He mentioned that he thought about giving me some lower scores on some of the items just to make himself look better, but he could not justify doing so.  I felt pretty good about the outcome and am greatly appreciative of the excellent training that I received.

Oh!  I almost forgot… I went to bed early last night because of the whirlwind that I have gone through for the past few days.   I was pretty well exhausted.  At about 10:30pm an alarm went off.  I woke up in a daze and didn’t remember where I was.  I was scrambling to find my phone to turn off the alarm, and couldn’t believe how loud it was sounding.  I finally found my phone and was trying to shut off the alarm when I realized it wasn’t my phone… It was the fire alarm!  I got out of bed and started looking for a shirt and some shoes.  I looked out the window and didn’t see anything and then went to the door and heard a lot of people talking and making noise.  I opened the door and joined the exodus to the parking lot.  It was cold outside!  I should have grabbed a jacket, and maybe my wallet... camera... computer... etc…  To make a long story short, a dumpster near the ventilation intake had caught fire and filled the hotel with smoke.  The fire department arrived and put out the fire and then let us back in about a half hour later.  All in all it was quite a fun night.  In fact, at about 2am I finally called downstairs to have someone come up and break up the party that was going on outside my door… =P