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Aurora Season Returns

It’s that time of year again. The aurora forecast from UAF’s Geophysical Institute is up and running again. A moderate aurora is being forecast for Thursday, with it being visible directly overhead for Fairbanks, weather permitting.

In Canada, Dawson City, Fort Nelson and Fort McMurray will find the northern lights directly overhead, assuming cloud cover doesn’t obscure viewing.

The aurora will be low on the horizon for Marquette, Michigan and Sundsvall, Sweden.

An equal, but opposite aurora will be taking place in the Southern Hemisphere, as well.

The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks puts out their geomagnetic forecast daily.

All images credit: UAF Geophysical Institute


Engine No. 1

Engine No. 1 traveling the rails

Engine No. 1, the 120 year old steam engine, was making the rounds this Labor Day.

It was the final weekend of the season for the old locomotive. It now retires to the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum until next Memorial Weekend.

FTVRR in action

A special shoutout to FTVRR for all their hard work this summer.


Catch of Day Two

We caught some fish

Normally, we head down to Seward with the idea that we may get one day of fishing in with decent seas. This year, we went down knowing we had perfect weather for the entire time on the coast.

The second day out, we hit the silvers early and often outside of Resurrection Bay. Once we hit our limit there, we came into the Bay for the possibility of three more silvers each. The fishing within Resurrection Bay was considerably slower, but we did catch some cohos.

Since we were planning on being out on the water all day, we wrapped things up by going after rock fish. It took us a couple of stops to find them, but when we did, it was nonstop action. Rock fish are a blast to fish, and they are incredible eating too.

It was a great day out on the water, and I have a nicely stocked freezer as winter approaches.

It’s not full, but the freezer holds some fish


September!

Fireweed gone to seed

Of the twelve months, September is my favorite in Interior Alaska. That holds true even though I know what lies just around the corner.

The length of days would be considered “normal” in the Outside world. Sunrise on the final day of August was 6:29am, with sunset coming in at 9:12pm, for a loss of 7 minutes from the day before.

Mornings carry a heavy dew, and there is a definite chill to the air. We have already seen several nights with a hard frost. A hike down any trail is likely to bring the scent of woodsmoke from a cabin or two. Finally, the scent comes from chimneys and not wildfires.

The change of colors has started

The sound of cranes and geese filled the air today, as they gather their flocks for the trip south. A bull moose showed himself this morning; his massive set of antlers now devoid of velvet. For the next two weeks, I expect he will make himself scarce.

Finishing preparations for the coming winter likely dominate thoughts, but one can not forget to get outside and enjoy the brilliance of this month of transformation.

As much as I love the long days of June, I revel in the colorful days of September.


Kenai Burning

The view from the Parks Highway: McKinley Fire

The road to Seward had an unexpected gauntlet north of the town of Willow, Alaska. Severe winds had knocked over a power pole, and the resulting sparks set off a wildfire along the Parks Highway.

The winds were still howling when we went through. Firefighters were on the scene, but things didn’t look good. By the time we made it to Anchorage, we learned that the fire had made the jump, and both sides of the road had flames. The Parks had been closed to traffic behind us.

A smokey Seward Harbor

The high winds continued on the Kenai Peninsula, as we drove south on the Seward Highway. The Swan Lake Fire had been all but contained, but the winds gave it a breath of new life, which closed the Sterling Highway, and left the taste of burning spruce in all of our throats.

Out on Resurrection Bay: Looking back at Seward Harbor

Once on the water, the smoke diminished some, but we didn’t really escape it until we were out in the Gulf of Alaska.

To date, Seward had seen 2.25″ of rain, which is unheard of. They normally see 64″ in a year. The town of Homer had been hit even harder still, with only 1.15″ of rain this season. Needless to say, the Kenai Peninsula is seeing drought conditions.

The fishing was good, and at times great. There was no rain in the foreseeable forecast, so no one had rain jackets. The temps were in the 70’s F, and we all ended up fishing in short sleeves. Out of all my trips to Alaska’s coast to fish, this one may have been the most surreal.


Canoe Repair

Cracks in the hull, minus the moose hoof prints

Prior to heading out to the lake a couple of weeks ago, I had to do some repair work to the hull on my Old Town Discovery canoe. This past winter, I followed moose tracks over to where I had the canoe stored, and found that the moose tried to go through the canoe. I thought it was stored well enough on saw horses, but a moose does what it wants to, and I’m sure it looked like a snow covered log.

There were moose prints in the snow covering the canoe, but it must have realized that it wasn’t a log. If a moose had put all its weight on the Old Town, it would have gone through the hull. As it turned out, the moose only put a few cracks in it. To be fair, the canoe is at least 30 years old, so I have received my money’s worth, but I also like to squeeze every bit out of something I can.

So I decided to repair the hull.

Sanded hull

The first step was to get the canoe in the Rover Hut, then sand the entire hull.

Acetone the hull

I then cleaned the entire hull with acetone. Warning: Acetone should only be used in a well ventilated area**

After the cleaning, I cut alongside the cracks with a razor blade to allow the epoxy I was going to use to get down into the cracks. Then I cleaned the entire hull a second time with the acetone. Luckily, acetone dries extremely quickly.

G-Flex 650 Epoxy

After some internet searching, I found that the G-Flex epoxy was the best product out there to repair the Royalex of an Old Town canoe. I called their tech center to tell them my plan, and get any insight from them. They were incredibly helpful! I received the go ahead from them, and went back out to the Rover Hut. Side note: I did have some down time. The product is not sold in Fairbanks, so I ordered it from Amazon. They promptly sent me a box containing only the epoxy hardener, which is utterly useless by itself.

Filling the cracks with epoxy

Like most epoxies, G-Flex is a two part system. There is a resin Part A, and a hardener Part B. You mix equal parts of both together to get the working epoxy. I mixed up a small batch, and filled the large cracks. The next day, I flipped the canoe over to fill brush some epoxy over the cracks that had come close to coming all the way through the hull.

The hull completely coated in G-flex epoxy

Because of the canoe’s age, there was a fair amount of what I would describe as “spider-webbing”. A series of tiny cracks that had not gone through the hull, but had probably made it easier for the moose to cause the large ones. I wanted to coat the entire hull in the epoxy to at least buy me some time with the spider-webbing. Luckily, the G-Flex went on rather easy with a brush, and spread out in an even coat.

The epoxy can be top coated, although I have not done so. Krylon Fusion spray paint is said to work well on Royalex, but again, I have not attempted that.

The Discovery back on the water

The end result: The old canoe was back on the water, and glided just like it did when I bought it. No leaks, and the epoxy didn’t scare away the lake trout.


The waning of summer

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Fairbanks daylight; Graph by @AlaskaWX

Civil twilight ended on Sunday morning in Fairbanks. Monday was the first time since May 16th, that we have not experienced civil twilight at night. All night.  Basically, during civil twilight, the sun is just below the horizon, which allows for most outdoor activities to take place without artificial lights. As if to punctuate that fact, when I returned home from the working-fishing trip, my security light came on for the first time in months.

Sigh.

Fairbanks community wood pile

I needed one more truckload of firewood to put me over the top for the coming burning season, so I went the easy route and picked one up. The wood has now been hauled, split and stacked. It’s a good feeling to have all those BTU’s piled up outside the cabin. I’m ready for a cold winter, but if we have a mild one like last year, I’ll have quite a bit left over.

Fireweed past bloom

 

Fireweed is our unofficial harbinger of darkness. The plant blooms from the bottom to the top. When we reach the peak of the fireweed blossom, like we have right now, residents of Interior Alaska feel a natural sense of apprehension. Summer is nearing its end; winter is close at hand.

What about autumn in the Interior? It’s beautiful, and to be honest, September is my favorite month up here. With a little luck, autumn could last a good 3-4 days.


Sea Ice? Not in 2019


Open water at Nome, Alaska; Photo credit: James Mason/Nome Nugget

The Iditarod Sled Dog Race had a new winner last Wednesday. As interesting as the race is to most Alaskans, the pictures from Nome and the Norton Sound area is what really caused a buzz.

There was no ice. Open water along the beach front of Nome in March is unheard of. “Unprecedented” the Nome Nugget called it.


Aily Zirkle mushing along the beach into Nome, Alaska. Zirkle finished fourth in the Iditarod. Open water of Norton Sound in the background

“You can take a boat from Dillingham to Diomede.” I’m not sure how I can stress how unusual that is. In March, the sea ice should be at its thickest, but Norton and Kotzebue Sound have open water. That would normally happen in June.


Map credit: NOAA

The map above shows how much warmer Alaska has been above average during the first half of March. As I type this out, Fairbanks is 20 degrees warmer than normal. The rest of March looks to stay the warm course.


Deer River Northern Pike

Deer River, Minnesota

A Roadside Attraction Edition:

Not to be outdone by the town of Garrison, Deer River has its own aquatic idol: the lean, mean, northern pike. Although the general consensus of our little band of hunters was that the fish looked more Muskie-like.

Photos were taken of a thirteen year old caught in the jaws of this magnificent carnivore, but they are too gruesome to share here.


Quebec City

Citadel wall around Quebec

The Algonquian people called the area Kébec, meaning “Where the river narrows”. Jacques Cartier, the French explorer, built a fort here in 1535.

Samuel de Champlain founded the city on the bank of the Saint Lawrence River in 1608. Champlain adopted the Algonquin name, calling the new settlement Quebec.

The old city, Vieux-Québec, is still surrounded by ramparts. The fortified city walls are the last ones remaining in the Americas north of Mexico.

The Saint Lawrence River from the citadel walls

Lucas and I spent the day exploring Vieux-Québec. From the Plains of Abraham to the citadel walls and down to the railway station and the river port, we walked the historic streets of this fascinating city.

Monument to Samuel de Champlain

I brought the old Kodak 66 along just for this part of the journey. It offered a good excuse to pop into a pub for a pint to reload the camera with its 120 film. Since I’m traveling light on this trip, no laptop, just the smartphone and two film cameras, if anything interesting comes out of the film, I’ll post it upon my return to Alaska.

The Chateau Frontenac

I really enjoyed Quebec City, especially Old Quebec. I loved the history and character of the city, and found it so much easier than Montreal to get around. I would love to go back: spend a week wandering the city, then a week or more wandering the National Park to the north.

The city was not void of crowds, however. I found the tourist volume to ebb & flow. One moment we would have a street to ourselves, then a moment later we would be surrounded by madness. Luckily, both Lucas and I found a certain amount of amusement in that.

In many places, stairs link the lower and upper part of the town. The Escalier « casse-cou, literally means: “neck breaking” steps. Lucas insisted on getting the full experience, so we ventured both down, and then up this series of steps.

Gare du Palais, “The Palace Station”

The train Depot in Quebec is a work of art. Called the Palace Station, the Via-Rail station is the eastern terminus of the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor.

The Palace Station ceiling

Wandering the streets of Quebec City