White Christmas ?

 

Christmas is just around the corner and I am faced with the realization that once again all my good intentions of keeping up on my blog over the spring, summer, and fall have fallen flat. There seems to be one season out here that gives me the time to sit by the fire and hammer away at the laptop keys in a fit of inspiration.

Joe is out on the lake dragging a runway for a supply load coming in this weekend. Its been a cold freeze up with almost no snow. We got about 7 inches two weeks ago, but the wind that followed left everything pretty bare. We don’t have enough snow to do the snow machine trail, in fact we had a pretty rough go of things just trying to get a christmas tree. Each year brings new challenges, reminding us that life out here means always adapting to the weather patterns and rolling with whatever comes our way. It seems like after a few years we would begin to run out of firsts, but every season brings a new set of them. This year has been no exception.

We had our busiest tourist season yet, Joe and I barely had a moment to catch our breath. As always, we met wonderful people from around the world who made us laugh and shared stories of their lives, reminding us that we are not all as different as we think we are and that common ground isn’t hard to find……. no matter where you come from. While we were beyond thankful for a good season, by the time October rolled around we both were exhausted and dreaming of the quiet and calm days of winter.

This Spring, I did my first stay alone at the lodge for a few days, while Joe headed out to fish the copper river for our winter meat. I found a certain thrill in knowing it was just me out here in the vast wilderness, and that I had to figure everything out on my own. Howie wasn’t very good company during that time, since he got bitten up by noseeums (apparently herbal dog bug spray doesn’t work in Alaska!) and took to hiding in the shop. Not to worry though, Wilson turned out to be a very good companion……on second thought maybe too much time out here alone isn’t such a great idea! Thankfully, we ended up with plenty of salmon…….. nothing makes me happier than blackened salmon sizzling on the stove on a winter evening. (Joe doesn’t share my love of salmon, he would take a moose burger over salmon every time, but he never complains about how often it appears on our dinner table……smart man!)

Another first we had this year was that my dad finally made his first trip out to the lodge. It was funny as the plane was taxing towards the dock, I knew my dad was in the front seat because I couldn’t see his head over the dash. (now I know how it looks when I ride as co pilot!) Those of you who know my dad, know he is a pretty excitable guy, he was so excited his first day here I was a little worried he was going to give himself an asthma attack. Few people have as deep of a love of nature, fresh mountain air, and roughing it as my dad. I don’t have to look very far to know where I get my love of the wilderness. Joe’s dad came out for a while too, he had a moose tag so we were looking for a nice bull for him. Dad and I spotted a bull one morning and spent several hours just watching him, he was too far to go after, but we really enjoyed watching him. It was early in the rut, so the bull was starting to collect a few cows. Not many people can sit and glass for long periods like I do, usually even Joe and Howie get board with me and start exploring or playing with sticks, but with my dad I found the perfect companion…. we sat on the tundra for long periods watching the wildlife around us. For me, its therapeutic, as I scan the tundra all my tiredness just ebbs away, trying to find an animal is like a treasure hunt. (It’s weird to some people, I guess, but then again I think its weird to camp out on a side-walk outside of Best Buy so you can fight a person for a new television.) Dad’s time here was short, but we packed in as many adventures as we could, canoeing, hiking, glassing, he even got to see the northern lights. Hopefully, he will be able to make another trip out here before too long.

Now as winter settles in the sun barely peeks above the mountains before it begins its decent, but we don’t mind, we curl next to the fire with a steaming cup of coffee and read another book, watching the skies and dreaming of a white Christmas.

 

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Denali

Unfit For Passengers

 

I clearly remember my first time handling an ATV, mainly because my dad and sister have never let me forget. My dad was out working on irrigation ditches, and my older sister and I were tagging along, the main benefit being that we all got to ride around on a 4wheeler. My dad has always loved to teach us how to handle new thing and situations, which led to Jenny getting a chance to learn to drive the 4wheeler, and then eventually came my opportunity. All I can remember being told was push the black throttle down, in my mind that meant push it all the way until it stops. There may have been other instructions, but at six this is all I heard. My sister is still convinced it was an attempt on her life, but what happened next was the start of my driving experiences. I pushed the throttle down as hard as I could with my little thumb, and the machine roared to life, leaving my sister and dad yelling, and hanging on for dear life as we raced forward, completely jumping an irrigation ditch. I don’t know how long it took for my dad to wrestle the steering away from me and bring us safely to a stop, probably a matter of seconds after clearing the ditch, but for a moment the wind whipped my face and I felt the thrill of power. Never mind that no one let me drive anything for a long time after, and to this day they continue to remind me of how I almost killed them on a 4wheeler. I think it was a steady piece of driving, since we jumped the ditch instead of crashing into it or flipping over. Needless to say, neither my dad or my sister offered to let me drive anything until I was old enough to go through drivers education and had learned to drive with a stranger. As it turned out, I am a decent driver in a car, no accidents or tickets, cautious, but not timid. That aspect of my driving has never been a problem, but once we moved out to Caribou Lodge, a whole new world of driving opened up to me in the form of snowmobiling (or as alaskans refer to it, snow machining.) Once again, I got to enjoy the thrill of the wind at my face and power at my fingertips. Joe is a good teacher and undaunted by my appetite for speed, of course he is sitting safely on his own machine, not clinging on behind me. Over the past year, I have learned to drive a snow machine pretty efficiently, traversing trails and the backcountry with ease. However, there seems to be a consistent hitch in my ability to drive…….passengers. The first time, I buzzed across the frozen lake with my sister in law hanging on the back, we were laughing and enjoying the ride, when suddenly as I leaned into a turn……there was a whooosh of snow pants and she was gone. I looked back to see her laughing and laying in the snow. That was only the beginning of my problem.

Recently, we had our first winter guests. While we have had our share of summer and fall guests, winter guests was a new adventure for us. As the plane dropped down onto the snow covered lake, we jumped onto our machines, with sleds in tow, to bring our new guests and their luggage back to the lodge. It all started out great, introductions and getting loaded up, the plane taking off, and then everyone got on the machines for the ride back to the lodge. I had two passengers, a father and daughter behind me, as Joe had the older son and luggage. As we tried to turn and make our way up the hill, I found the steering nearly impossible, we made a wide turn but as we headed up the hill to the lodge I felt us begin to slide sideways. As if in slow motion, we slid and the snowmachine tipped over dumping all three of us in the snow bank. As it was happening, all I could think of was the unsigned snowmachine wavers sitting on the counter in the lodge. All of us were unhurt and Joe came and helped us get the machine up and back on track and up the hill. As it turned out, our wonderful guests had a sense of humor about the whole affair, though I think they will probably be more selective about their drivers in the future.      Needless to say I have come to grips with the reality that I cannot drive passengers without dumping them off. So far, I have only one passenger who manages to stay on when I am driving, my dog Howie. Somehow, he has managed to perfect the art of riding with me, its a mystery, since he can’t actually hang on, not that it has been helpful to my other passengers. Sometimes as we bump down a rough trail, I look back at him and see him scrunched and wide eyed in the basket, other times as we fly along he leans into the wind and seems to smile. Regardless of our ride, he is always ready to go again. When we load up machines and I lay the cardboard down in the basket he climbs in and is ready for an adventure. He knows he is on his own back there, if he dumps out, he is in charge of getting back in whether I am moving or not. He also knows when things get tricky, its his job to bail out in order to stay safe. He can catch up with me and jump back into the basket while I am moving before I even know he is gone. He is the only passenger that I don’t have to worry about, he is also the only one with the necessary skills to stay on. In acknowledging the fact that I am unfit for passengers, I have decided a special insurance waver is necessary to ride with me. It will go something like this:

“ I _________________, hereby acknowledge that in selecting Bonnie Bramante as my driver, I take full responsibility of my own fate. I will be liable for any injuries sustained during my dump offs and or bail outs, as well as any sustained in my attempts to catch up and remount moving transportation. I assume full responsibility as a passenger to keep and maintain my seat and safety for the duration of the ride. I also acknowledge should other transportation be available to me, it is in my best interest to take it, as current driver is unfit for passengers.”

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Free Time?

People always ask us what we do with our free time in the winter, with tourist season over I think they imagine us spending our days sitting by the fire, reading books, and sipping coffee. Well, not to say that we don’t occasionally get to indulge in those wonderful activities, but I find there is less “free time” than I thought there would be. First off, you are a slave to weather, if it snows you shovel, (want to go the bathroom, shovel a path to the outhouse!) if the wind blows, you shovel the drifts, if it warms and the snow starts melting you shovel slush and fix trails. Then, there is getting firewood. This has always been one of my favorite activities, I have a lot of good memories of getting firewood with my dad. Its a little more fun out here, mainly because we go out with the snow machines, pulling sleds. I am finally learning how to use a chain saw!

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Also, winter is one of the best times to haul supplies in and out. Recently, we got all the new mattresses for the cabins hauled into the lodge. We had a great crew of friends and family that helped out. Joe and I have spent a lot of days on the trail the last month, between supplies and visitors, but we are so thankful to have both.

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Winter being our slow time for guests, also means its the time to repair and spruce things up for tourist season. When I sit down to make a list of what needs done for the day, I find there is always more than I can complete in one day. The most surprising thing of all about winter, I am always sore. Winter has made me use muscles I didn’t know I possessed. My left arm is sore from using the chains saw, my right arm is sore from using the axe, my neck and shoulders are sore from snowmaching on a rough trail, my back aches from shoveling, and my ribs, who knows why they are sore. This may sound like a pity party, but in truth, I love it, because I know with each new ache and pain, I am getting a little stronger. At the end of the day, when I crawl into bed, my mind and body tired, I know its been a good and productive day. Now, in case you start to think winter is some kind of hellish nightmare for us out here, let me just say, in spite of all the work, we do get to enjoy some down time. Some days when the winds howls outside, we get lost in one of our favorite activities. For Joe, it is working with wood in his shop. I used to say I wouldn’t see him all day if he didn’t have to come in from his shop for food, but here recently I noticed he took a candy jar out to his shop for snacks, so maybe I won’t see him at all! Anything Joe does, he perfects. He even sewed himself a leather apron for his wood shop. The other day he came in and informed me it needed pockets for his pencils, and he spent the evening sewing them. I am always amazed at his ability to design and create things, and his persistence in perfection.

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In my free time I am a little less practical and resourceful, I love to ramble with my dog on my snowshoes, soaking in the outdoors. I sit and scribble down my thoughts or get lost in a good book. I also love to make messes in the kitchen, trying out new recipes. As for Howie, he spends his abundant free time playing with sticks and bumming rides off people. Occasionally, he does his job and lets us know about the coyotes across the lake or that there is a snow machiner on the horizon, but mostly he hunts for sunny spots to nap or someone to scratch his belly. IMG_1333

Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
Howie would rather ride than run, even if he gets a face full of snow.
"So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?"
“So, is someone going to pull this thing or what?”
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.
Howie scammed a ride from his new best friend, Jake. Even got to ride in the front seat! Not sure which one is happier.

Winter is passing quickly, the sun stretching a little higher each day, the birds have been singing in the bushes as if it were already spring. With each extra moment of daylight, we find another chore that can be completed before the sun goes down. IMG_1491