Monday, December 5, 2011

Weather Permitting

In our last installment, it was 2 o'clock in the stinking morning, way too warm out, and weird things were happening.  Yesterday was the kind of day that defines the concept of "weather permitting'.

Travel in Alaska, whether a journey of a few miles or a few hundred, is always contingent upon weather conditions.  Yesterday showed good examples of that.  In the grip of a chinook, thawing weather turned to freezing rain, combined with warmth that turned everything to a sort of gunky slush, which was in turned followed by dropping temperatures, high winds, and a promise of snow that sort of fizzled out.

After feeding the dogs, I fired up the little tractor.  The snow that had sloughed off the roof the night before was piling up in front of the house, and I figured that if I could clear it we could maintain an easier pathway to the kennel gate for feeding and performing other kennel chores.  Although the job took longer than I expected due to the weight and volume of the fallen snow, it was accomplished in good order.  Machinery can be a blessing at times, especially in snow country.  I had barely finished the job when the rain started falling.

This wasn't just a typical light mist of rain, either.  It was serious drops of water falling from the sky in summer-time volumes, soaking into the snow and freezing to a slippery glaze over every surface.  I kept checking out the weather forecast, and hoping beyond hope that the promised shift from rain to snow would happen quickly.  Meanwhile, the rain kept falling.  Fortunately, so did the thermometer and by about 2 o'clock it seemed to be snowing quite nicely, though the wind was picking up to sometimes fierce levels.

In town, conditions were so bad that some roads were closed to travel, and many people had the good sense to just stay home.  That was bad news for Mike and Kim's annual Christmas get-together.  I had planned on making it to the gathering with a friend, so called ahead to see if it was still a "go".  Indeed it was, for anyone who could get there.  That didn't include very many people.

So, my friend and I loaded into the dog truck for the three-mile drive over to Mike and Kim's place.  I chose the dog truck, even though it really isn't designed for travel in party clothes, because it is quite heavy, especially with that big ol' dog box on back, and has studded snow tires on all four corners.  It was a decision based on safety. 

By the time we left my place the road wasn't in all that bad of condition.  I did a skid test and found pretty good traction underneath the rig, so it was easy rolling to Mike and Kim's road.  As we drove up the road we did encounter another hazard of the weather conditions, though. 

I didn't have either a saw or an axe in the truck, so I grabbed the next best thing.  I used my cell phone to call Mike and asked him to bring his chainsaw to cut away the fallen tree.  Mike is no dummy, he lashed his saw to his four-wheeler for the quick trip over rather than messing with a highway vehicle.  In short order he had the various limbs bucked away, which I tossed onto the side of the road while he made the main cut needed to clear the log.  Then he chained the log to his machine, to drag home for firewood.  Did I mention that mike is also a thrifty sort?

Though originally planned as a huge 'bash', the get-together was an intimate evening with friends, lots of laughter, good food (most of which fit into my diet nicely), kids running amok and generally just an old-fashioned good time among neighbors. 

It was still snowing, albeit lightly, when we returned to my place and fed the dogs.  Since I'd had little sleep the night before, I crashed pretty early and apparently so did the snowfall, because this morning I find only about an inch of powder on top of the frozen base.  I'm not even certain there is enough left of the trails to safely run the dogs, though I'll do what I can to find out later on.  If not, I'll have to chalk it up to one more instance of travel only with weather permitting.

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