Genuine Alaskan Adventure

What comes to mind when you think of Alaska?
Vast expanses of wilderness? Bears, wolves and wild animals? Glaciers?

This is not, for the most part, what I saw when I was in Alaska. Instead of scaling a glacier while being chased by bears I had what is arguably a more genuine Alaskan experience–I helped work on a re-finishing a friend’s house. This is how a large number of Alaskans spend their summer, so I too participated in the true Alaskan Adventure.

The state of the built environment in central Alaska leaves something to be desired. Despite extremely harsh winters requiring large amounts of energy to heat homes (40 below is not an uncommon temperature) it seems like a huge number of them are either built improperly for the environment or just plain built improperly. It is not quite correct to say that there is no building code but I would say by observation that many (many) structures do not follow said code. I guess the reason this bothers me so much is because there is a large energy consumption associated with poor building in a climate such as interior Alaska. Despite being in an oil state, fuel still costs ~$4/gallon and a house can use more than a thousand gallons of oil over a winter (according to the local paper the average is between 1,300 and 1,350 gallons of heating fuel per year). How can these people afford to heat their homes?

The house my friends purchased this summer consists of two buildings connected together by an internal causeway. One of the buildings is about 30 years old and made of logs without additional insulation. 8″ of wood is better than nothing but it can’t keep things particularly warm. The other building is newer, insulated and contains the house’s water system and bedrooms.

The list of things to be built or re-built is fairly substantial and the deadline is November. Some of the projects are to bring the house into compliance with insurance requirements, others are to save some money and energy heating. They are hoping to take advantage of a rebate and mortgage rate reduction available if they can greatly improving the energy “rating” of the house.

First on the list: Build a deck railing for insurance compliance.

Next: Build a make-shift kitchen to operate out of while the current kitchen is dismantled. These hearty alaskan folks will probably do ok, but I know I would have trouble working out of this arrangement for more than a few weeks….

They need to replace/update their kitchen so we talked about which parts they would keep and which they would replace or build themselves. They decided to keep the cabinets and re-finish them. We primed them while I was there but reports are that painting them is taking many coats of paint (and therefore a *lot* of time). They still have to decide on a counter surface to put in. I calculated some approximate costs for the seamless counters from the hardware store vs building the counter and tilling it yourself. I think the cost of doing it yourself is about half, but it takes two days of work which might make the two balance out.

The older cabin is going to be framed with new walls, insulated and then sheet rocked. I didn’t get to see the first wall go up, but it was built on the floor the day I left. Only 3 more to go!

Don’t worry, we did some (more traditionally) fun things too! I got to go canoing where I saw the Bald Eagle at the top of the post. The eagle was really close, that photo was shot with a small waterproof digital camera so there is no fancy zoom action.

We picked some rhubarb

and blueberries

and I saw all sorts of neat plant life. Arctic vegetation is on my brain these days and I find the plant communities there fascinating.

I did a fair share of knitting as well. It seemed appropriate to work on my norwegian mittens while in a cold climate. I’m loving how they are turning out. Maybe I’ll get around to posting about them later, otherwise you can check them out on Ravelry.

For some cultural exposure we attended the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. They have some crazy sports that involve jumping really high and kicking your feet in the air. There is also a selection of sports which involve ears – hanging large weights from your ears or having a “tug of war” between two ears. I think I’m glad I missed those events. Check out this coat from the native regalia contest. I was in love…

That woman also competed in the blanket toss event and wore the coat for the first jump!

The flight home was long and tiring. Most flights out of Fairbanks come and go around 1am, so I flew all night. I used to take the red-eye back to NY when I lived there, but this was much more brutal than I remember. I have recovered now though and I had a great time. It is fun to work on large scale house projects when you don’t have your own. It is even better when I don’t have to make the decisions! I just think now I might need vacation from my vacation…

5 Responses to “Genuine Alaskan Adventure”

  1. 1 anne

    wow, this is great. it’s like a preview of my own visit to the same friends in 1.5 weeks!

  2. 2 jc

    Awesome picts Abby!!! Glad you had a good time and that you’ve recorded the evidence for posterity.

  3. 3 Kristine

    I love your photos from the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. And your mitten!

  4. 4 installing tile

    I’m definately adding you to my feed reading list ;)

  5. 5 Gerald

    I freaking love that there’s a blanket toss event from the eskimo olympics! There should have more events like that in the national olympics. Your photo is awesome!