Formatting and Structure

Man it's been a busy day! Errands, phone calls, catching up with friends and working on the appearance of this blog. But I think I can relax now...the sidebar on the left is now organized for content additions and it's no longer jumbled together, which means it will be much easier to scan for information. I think I spent about six hours total working on the sidebar today, and it struck me that doing so was kind of a metaphor for life.

To be successful at anything, we need formatting and structure. We need our calendars or personal assistants or alarm clocks to keep us on track. We need day planners to record our appointments and meetings and shopping lists. We need itineraries and emails to our computers or blackberry's to know when our next flight is leaving and confirmation numbers for hotel and rental car reservations, bill payments, and online purchases. We need Google Desktop to manage our computers and record our web searches.... The list goes on and on.

Formatting and structure. We fit our lives into the structured template that we choose and create--well, at least if we're lucky. Our employers and our families always try to impose their formatting and structure on us as well. At least for my purposes today, I have my blog looking the way I want it to, so now I can get back to the business of blogging.

Thanks for reading.

Year of the Dog: Remembering Buffy, Mookie, Duke, Duchess and Duke

Today is the Chinese Year and this year is the Year of the Dog. So I thought it would be appropriate to remember some wonderful dogs that I had the privilege to know.

The first is Buffy (1978-1989), seen here at one year-old as a Tomboy in 1979, as was fitting since she shared the house with four boys aged 14 down to 9.

Tomboy Buffy--You notice that smile? She kind of looks like the Mona Lisa, doesn't she?

We never really could figure out exactly what kind of dog Buffy was, but we came to the conclusion with our vet that she was part hound, part fox terrier, and part sheep dog. Quite the pedigree. But what Buffy lacked in breeding, she made up with intelligence, and eagerness to please, and unwavering devotion and love. One day when she was older and beginning to suffer seizures, we had just brought Buffy home from the vet and Mom and I were discussing her condition. The entire time, Buffy was sitting at my feet. I would say something, Mom would say something. I would say something, Mom would say something. I would say something, Mom would say something. And then we were done. Buffy, however, immediately turned her head to look at me, obviously expecting that I would say something else. It was really eerie. It was like Buffy knew that we were talking about her and that she was listening intently. Mom and I both laughed very hard at that time as Buffy had unwittingly broken the ice.

My brother Doug actually brought Buffy home from the Katz's one day in May shortly after my parents' divorce was final in 1978. (What's really crazy is that the Katz's Aunt/Sister Barbara would marry my father 17 years later, so we got both a dog and a step mother out of that house on Stratford. Okay, that sounded a little strange. It's just a coincidence.) Anyway, my brothers and I were experts at emotional blackmail. We had just gone through the ordeal of having to choose which parent to live with, and we chose Mom. We had always wanted a dog, but Dad had always said "no," and he usually blamed it on my allergies. My brothers resented me a little bit for that. So we played the "We'll take care of her, Mom. She's free, she won't cost you a cent" card. And....Mom relented. Having grown up with dogs her entire life, it was clear that Mom wanted her too.

You can't tell from the pictures, but Buffy was a sun worshiper. She must have been a California Girl in a previous life, because Buffy loved lying in the sun. Whether it be in the cool grass outside, on the patio or deck, or when we were away at school, on the carpet wherever the sun was shining in through the windows. When Buffy was about two, Mom was getting kind of tired of cleaning up the carpeting after Buffy dug, chewed, and patted down to make her den; so Mom crocheted Buffy a mini-afghan rug. It was about 3'x3' and Mom usually had it by the doorwall so that when Buffy would go out and then come inside, the carpet would be protected from dirty or wet paws. Well this little rug somehow became Buffy's security blanket.

I was home sick from school for a few days my sophomore year in high school. While everyone else was gone, I just kind of lay down and slept on the couch and watched television. But I witnesses the most remarkable thing. At about 1:30 in the afternoon the sun started coming in through the door wall. At this time, Buffy got up from the floor next to me and moved to lie in the sun. She made herself comfortable, and then she got up and pulled her rug about six inches away from the door and then she lay down on the rug on her back and let the sun warm her belly. About an hour later, the sun was moving on so Buffy shrugged, got up, grabbed the rug with her teeth and moved about a foot, lay down on the rug again, this time on her side, and soaked up the sun. She repeated this for the next couple of hours while the sun shone through the glass doorwall. There is no doubt. Buffy loved lying in the sun, but she had to had have the rug Mom crocheted for to lie on.

This is a picture of Buffy at 8 years old, all groomed, smiling, and proper. Clearly she had matured out of her tomboy stage and with my mother's influence, became far more ladylike.

Buffy's death, sadly, was slow. Mom had called me over saying that Buffy had run away. A few hours later, Buffy was found not far from home lying in a ditch, all sullen and pretty much in a stupor, as if she had run away to die. It was Sunday afternoon and the vet was closed. Mom brought Buffy home and I came over. Normally, Buffy would run up to me, wagging her tail, even with the hip displaysia she suffered from in her last two years. But this time Buffy just stayed underneath the table pictured above. Her head was lying on her two front paws, pretty much glued to the floor. Buffy barely looked up at me with her eyes, but she did wag her tail once.

I pulled out all the stops to get her to perk up. I used the "T" Word: treat. I used the "W" word: walk. I used the "P" word: Pizza. Nothing worked. I went to the kitchen and brought out a cup of dog ice cream we had in the freezer. No dice. So I got a scoop of Breyer's ice cream and brought that out to her. Buffy took one lick. She just would not eat or drink. The next day I took Buffy to the vet, and after a whole battery of tests it was clear that Buffy was in the final stages of kidney failure, to which she succumbed after three days.

Buffy's death tore our hearts out. She was our childhood dog, and you really only ever have one childhood dog--the one you grow up with, the one you play in the snow with, the one who follows you around to neighborhood baseball games through the high grass, the one who follows you bravely over rocks and sand and boulders into deep and murky and frigid Lake Michigan because you are her family and where you go, she goes--even if she's never been in water before and has no idea what swimming is nor a clue of whether she can keep herself afloat as we played in the whitecaps coming ashore that warm June day in Charlevoix when she was only three months old.

In 1989 I was just beginning to become a writer. I had taken some classes at community college, and in 1990 I was enrolled in a poetry class at the University of Michigan--Dearborn. It was in that class that I wrote this:

Goodbye, My Friend

I watched that neon sun go down
as a jet flew through
electric red and purple rays
in between soft clouds
pushed and pulled by the wind.

And as I watched, I wondered:
what happens to a cloud
when it is torn asunder in the winds,
almost like a loaf of french bread
in a game of tug-o-war
with the white blur of fur
that snatched it from the dinner table.

Does the cloud die
and fade to nothingness,
never to be seen again,
or do memories remain
like scattered breadcrumbs on the floor
after the tug-o-war?


I remember
sitting with her in the waiting room.
She would walk back and forth on the tiled floor,
lie down under my chair,
get up and walk back and forth again—
bumping into a table covered with magazines…

Come here, girl!
Roll over.
Don’t die.



It is night now.
The sun has gone
and I no longer see the clouds.
So I lament
like that old McCartney song
of life and love and loss.

When I see that neon sun again
I’ll remember
the game,
and the breadcrumbs too.
I’ll watch the wind
blowing the clouds around
and feel
my gentle rain.

--Matthew S. Urdan
(Originally published in 1990 in the Literary Journal Lyceum, published by the University of Michigan-Dearborn)

I'm proud to say that this poem won the poetry contest that year, and a $350 stipend I used towards tuition.

Mookie The Wonderdog, Eight Weeks Old

April 9, 1990, almost six months after Buffy died, it was Doug again who brought home Mookie (1990-2001), a chocolate lab/german shepherd mix. Doug rescued Mookie from the pound, and I can't imagine a better save. I've never met a dog as sweet and as loving and as friendly and people-oriented as Mookie.

Just a couple of quick stories about Mookie. The first is how she learned to turn on the faucet. Mookie was a big dog...Maybe it doesn't look like it in the pictures, but she was 70 pounds and she could easily put her paws on my shoulders when standing on her hind legs. One day my brother Paul and sister n law April were in from Chicago and Mom had Chinese delivered. Paul and April had to get back to the airport and Mom wanted to maximize the time we spent with them, so instead of doing dishes after the meal, Mom just put the dirty dishes in the sink and we continued to chat with Paul and April. Well, Mookie, on her hind legs, could reach the sink. So she did and started to lick the plates clean. When she was finished, Mookie lifted up her head and hit the water faucet, turning the faucet on. Mookie let out a yelp and it was clear she had startled herself, but from that point forward, whenever Mookie wanted to get a drink of water, she went over to the faucet and turned it on and helped herself. Mookie was a smart girl, but for whatever reason, Mookie never figured out how to turn the faucet off. Maybe she just didn't see a need.

Mookie, 6 years old, and Matt

Mookie absolutely loved to go for walks. When Doug brought her home the first day, I took her for a walk off-leash. She just followed me for a quick trip around the house. As she got older, we went farther, and then the walks became a run--at least for a few months while I could still outrun her. For her first six months I came over three or four times a week. A little less frequently after that, but I had succeeded in making a monster out of her. Rain, snow, blizzard, ice storm--it didn't matter. The second I opened that door to my mother's house, Mookie was on me and would not relent until we took our walk together. Kind of sweet, eh? And I could always trust her off-leash. She knew the drill, she knew the route, she knew the rules.

I could go on and tell you more, such as the story of Mookie chasing the Canada Geese in their own pond and marshlands; or how driving home one day from the vet Mookie just freaked out when the sky opened up and the rain poured down in this intense thunderstorm and couldn't wait to get home and inside under cover, or how Mookie almost snapped at me for taking her uncracked walnuts away from her so I could open them for her; but this blog entry is getting kind of long already.


I don't have a picture of my brother Brad's Golden Retriever Duke, but he died this year and it was very sad. I didn't know Duke very well, but he was a great dog. Super gentle and my brother's constant companion. The following is Brad's eulogy for Duke.

I know it is weird and at least I'll be able to use the excuse "he just died" for sending this but Duke was not only my dog but he truly was a big part of my life.Not to mention I am not going to want to dwell on this everyday until I see each one of you because most of you will ask how he is doing and that is going to be bad at least for a little while.

I was very lucky to have a great dog who traveled with me and worked with me on a daily basis. He loved the woods up north, he loved the lobby of the Peninsula in Chicago and he loved the UJC conference in Pittsburgh. But most all, he loved everyone he met. He always said hello and loved to be scratched on his neck and would put his back real far so you would have easy access.

Duke was truly man's best friend and I will miss him dearly. Those of you who have lost animals know that they really are more than just an animal, they are family, Mispucha!

For those of you who think I am a raving lunatic, what took you so long to figure it out? I took Duke everywhere AND HE WAS THE BEST FRIEND ANY OF US COULD HAVE ASKED FOR.

If I am a little out of it the next couple of days, I apologize in advance but I know that I am going to have huge mood swings.

Thank You for being there for me, I appreciate it.

By the way. Duke woke up this morning, ate his breakfast went to work with me and had no problems until the end of the day when I let him out to do his business, he walked around normally then collapsed. I immediately put him in the car and took him to the hospital where they discovered he had a tumor in his heart and while trying to treat him, he died comfortably with very little pain in the course of 5 hours.

Thank you for your patience.

Love, Bubba

Duke and Duchess

Duke and Duchess were the first dogs I knew. They were both German Shepherds and they belonged to my Grandparents. I don't have many memories of either of the, however Duke was the kindest, most gentle dog. I remember when I was about seven we were over for Thanksgiving and my youngest brother Brad stepped on Duke's tail. Duke did not even flinch. We actually have a picture of Brad and Duke together somewhere. I wasn't able to find it for this blog entry though.

My grandparents bought Duchess as a 3 month old puppy about a year before Duke died and they lived together for almost a year. Duchess was totally different than Duke. As quiet and gentle as Duke was, Duchess was like an unbridled horse. Every time we went to our Grandparents Mom would have to go in first because Duchess would jump up on my mother and tower over her with her paws. Duchess ached to be with us, but my grandmother would usually put her outside when we came over. BUT towards the end of Duchess's reign we got Buffy and brought Buffy over to my grandparents. Buffy was just a puppy when she first met Duchess, and Duchess was mostly indifferent as Buffy was just a fraction of Duchess's size. But it seemed that Duchess was mildy amused by the white ball of fur that was pawing at and munching on the giant shepherd's tail. Duchess put up with it for half an hour before going away to lie down. I remember Buffy running after Duchess, Duchess barking once and Buffy running right back to my brothers and me.

And so we come full circle: Buffy, Mookie, Duke, Duke, Duchess, and back to Buffy. May the Year of the Dog bring you luck! It has already brought me some joy from this trip down 35 years of Memory Lane.

Thanks for reading.

Missing Winter

It snowed in Columbus today. Briefly. We had about an hour of flurries this morning around 10:00 am. The flakes stuck to the ground until around noon, and then they melted away into memory.

Compare and contrast today's grey day in Columbus with the grey and white landscapes of the Parks Highway connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage only last weekend and you have the difference between the retirement home of a sickly Old Man Winter and the magical grandeur of Santa's palace--or so as I would envision and imagine.

The sad thing is that here, in Columbus in January, kids are growing up without memories of building snow men and snow forts or snowball fights and making snow angels and slogging through feet of snow to bus stops or to home or school or a neighbor's house. Kids are missing seeing birds flock to bird feeders or playing with their Christmas puppies in snow drifts or chasing rabbit tracks in a freshly fallen snow; and then coming home to Mom's Hot Cocoa or Chicken Noodle Soup.

It's not right that winter is hiding out in Alaska. It's only with winter that we can truly appreciate all the seasons. And it's only with winter and the wonder of freshly fallen snow that those of us who grew up with it in the first place can relive those precious memories and even be kids again, if only for a little while.

Just back from Alaska it's all pretty clear to me. When the snow stopped this morning and disappeared before my eyes I just had to look up at the sky and ask: "Are you kidding me?" It doesn't have to be bitterly cold to be winter; but it does have to snow. Even a blizzard, every once in a while, is a great excuse to stay inside with the family and keep warm by the fireplace. And after every blizzard ends, the magic of playtime begins with all the snow toys Mother Nature so generously lends us. "Walking in a winter wonderland" indeed.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 7: Flying Home

Honestly, I hated to leave. Alaska, just the tiny part of it that I saw, is overwhelmingly breathtaking and beautiful. And the time that I spent there only whetted my appetite for more. I can easily see myself moving to Anchorage or Fairbanks at some point in the coming years. Without exception, every person I met was warm, friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Moreso than on any other vacation I have ever taken anywhere, I really met a large number of people that I will be emailing with on a regular basis and that I can now call friends. Greg from Wasilla, Angel and Lori from the Earth River Bed and Breakfast in Anchorage; Andie and Jacque from the F Street Station, James Brown and AP & Annette McDonald from Nenana, Steve Gray, Billie and Jim from Fairbanks, Missy from the Talkeetna Ranger Station and Jim from Denali National Park were especially friendly, kind and generous.

The flights from Anchorage to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis to Columbus were thankfully smooth, on time, and uneventful.

I hoped you enjoyed reading about my Alaskan adventure. I promise, there will be much more to come. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 6: Quiet Time

Day Six was my last day in Alaska and it was a day for peace, quiet, and reflection; so I spent it alone hiking nine or ten miles of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail runs from downtown Anchorage, along the coast of the Cook Inlet and past the airport. The trail is a magnet for cross-country skiers in winter and hikers, and rollerbladers after the snow melts. Along the trail are lakes, spectacular views of the Chugach Mountains, spots along the Cook Inlet to watch waterfowl and sunsets, and some city parks, including Earthquake Park, which was the site of the 9.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Anchorage. Lori, one of my hosts at the Earth Bed and Breakfast was kind enough to drop me off at the trailhead. The temperature was about fifteen degrees--balmy compared to the -35 outside when I was dogsledding in Fairbanks, and while I wasn't dressed as warmly for hiking as I was for dogsledding, I quickly found myself overheating and sweating along the trail and I had to take off a fleece layer. Additionally, there were many times when I took my fleece facemask and gloves off as well. Who knew 15 degrees could be so warm?

The marker at a Coastal Trail trailhead.

Jupiter Sign. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is not just a trail, but it's also an educational experience.

The trail actually begins in downtown Anchorage on 5th Street with the Sun. As the pictured sign explains, walking the trail is a scale version of the distances in our solar system. Each step represents the distance that light travels in one second. As it takes eight minutes for light traveling at the speed of light to reach the Earth, it takes eight minutes walking out from the sun (or about 4 city blocks) to reach the Earth. It takes 37 minutes to reach Jupiter, and an hour and twenty minutes to reach Saturn and so on and so on. Walking the trail from the Sun out of Anchorage and towards the Cook Inlet, you get an understanding of the relative distances the planets are from each other. Each sign also includes up to date factoids about each planet, their special features, like the rings of Saturn or the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, and all of the major moons. It's really very cool.

The sun trying to come out 0.5 Miles down the Coastal Trail.

View of Birch Trees and the Cook Inlet from a park bench about 1 mile down the coastal trail from the Jupiter Sign. The white cliff on the left of the picture is the end of the runway at Anchorage International Airport.

Looking east from the Coastal Trail across a frozen lake to the Chugach Mountains.

Four young ladies I caught up with along the trail. They were taking a rest from skiing and we started talking. I've forgotten two of their names--I should have written them down, but two of them are Ophelia, named of course from Hamlet, and another one is Naomi. The Chugach Mountains are in the background.

Looking south down the Cook Inlet towards the open Pacific Ocean from the Coastal Trail.

If you look very carefully, in the middle of the picture you can see a jet which has just taken off from Anchorage International Airport. Regrettably, sound carries very well up and down the inlet and the Coastal Trail. The sounds of jets taking off and landing at the airport roll like soft thunder over the water. But walking the trail is peaceful nonetheless and it affords a lot of time to think and take stock. The low light of winter and the nearly uniform color palette of this grey and white day created a stark and otherworldly beauty that was perfect for reflection.

As I walked down and back up the trail, I ended up back in downtown Anchorage, where I went souvenir shopping for my niece and nephews and then out to dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse. I had the most amazing Alaskan King Crab--not fishy at all, completely fresh and tender served with warm butter, brewhouse bread, Alaskan Seafood chowder with shrimp, salmon, clams, and dill, and a spinach salad with mango, strawberries, and mandarin oranges. MMMMMMMM! I also had a pint of the Oatmeal Stout, which was by far the best tasting and smoothest dark beer I have ever had. It would be worth moving to Anchorage just so I could eat at the Glacier Brewhouse on a regular basis. My compliments to the management and staff.

Later, I returned to the Bed and Breakfast around 6:00 pm, wrote out a couple dozen post cards, made myself a cup of spiced apple cider and watched Miss Congeniality 2 on cable before heading to bed.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 5: Pictures

Picture of me taken in Healy, Alaska with the Alaskan Range Mountains of Denali National Park in the background, approximately 10:00 am.

2006 Christmas Card Photo taken from Willow, Alaska. Note the hoarfrost covering all the trees and the dim afternoon light. The picture was taken at approximately 1:00 pm and the sun is still just barely over the horizon.

Friday night at the F Street Station in Anchorage. Left to right are Steve Gray, Jamie, Andie, and myself. Just behind Andie's left shoulder is the famous block of cheese and above that is the sign indicating that the block of cheese is for display purposes only. Yeah, right.

Unfortunately, my digital camera is ill-equiped to take night time photos. This is a picture of me in front of the Northern Lights light sculpture, which is the centerpiece of the outdoor Anchorage ice-skating rink.

ALASKA Day 5: Return to Anchorage

I apologize to everyone for the lateness of getting this post up. I have been experiencing technical difficulties, and for whatever reason, the pictures that I have been trying to upload just won't. So, this will be an abbreviated post and I'll do what I can to edit it for content and photographs when I return to Columbus.

In any case, Friday was a day of travel and wildlife. It began early well before dawn as I packed and awaited a Yukon Trails Shuttle Van ( for the return trip from Fairbanks to Alaska. I gotta tell ya: Yukon Trails provides an awesome service. Every day there is scheduled shuttle van/bus service between Anchorage and Fairbanks with appropriate stops along the way to pickup and discharge passengers on their way up or down the Parks Highway and the other major highways in Alaska. They also offer trips, such as a Day trip to the Arctic Circle with lunch, photo ops at the demarcation line, and more. As much preparation that you do for an Alaskan trip, you can never really discover all the possibilities until you get there and see for yourself what there is to offer. But in any case, Yukon Trails picked me up at my door in Fairbanks, and I was immediately welcomed by their driver, Steve.

Steve is from California, a mortician of 25 years in California and Alaska, who has given it up to become a Railroad Engineer. During the off season, he works for Yukon Trails which pays him to travel Alaska and sightsee along the way. How cool is that? Of course, there is always a downside. Friday it was having to put up with Ray--a non-recovering alcoholic who was very drunk the entire 7-hour trip, and who kept interupting conversations and who was getting overly frienly with me.

Within the first five minutes of the trip, Ray expressed how much he hoped to see me again the next time I was in Alaska. Ray patted my back, put his hands on my shoulder, etc, etc, etc. Later in the trip, he kept repeating himself. He never sobered up and he even snuck out of the van to drink some of his liquor he was hiding when he told Steve he needed to stop to relieve himself. Ray dribbled cranberry juice down his entire face and jacket. Ray did not recognize Steve when we stopped at a regular stop for potty breaks and refueling. Ray invited me to stay with him at his place for the night and then asked if he could stay with me. Ray offered to buy me a drink and then asked if I had $10 or $20 to loan him. And when we arrived in Anchorage, Ray couldn't make up his mind where he wanted to get off, and when he did get off at the Bus Station, Ray had no idea how many bags he actually had or which ones they were and could not ascertain whether or not he had them all. After Steve had dropped the other two passengers off, an MP in Alaska for a funeral and a college student attending school in Anchorage, Steve discovered he had extra bags and opened them to discover AA literature and more. Steve returned to the bus station, Ray was still there, but he did not recognize Steve. Steve put Ray's belongings with the rest of them sitting outside and left.

It's really sad to see something like that. Ray reeked of alcohol, had a black eye, claimed he was an electrician and said he was on worker's comp; but as far as drunks go, Ray was easy to handle--at least until Steve's cell phone beeped and Ray made a fist and asked if we were all ready as if the shuttle van were a boxing ring.

Steve, myself and the MP made light of the situation as best as we could, and we continued on with our own conversations and laughed and somewhat ignored Ray while trying very hard to remain polite and patient with the guy. The last thing we needed was an agitated drunk in a van driving down an icy highway at -40 degrees outside. I was just glad we all made it to Anchorage safely.

But the trip was not without it's moments. Twice we saw wildlife. Along side the road we spotted two moose, who fortunately were content to stay where they were. And we were astonished to see a wolf actually cross the highway and run off into the trees near Denali. I also was able to get some decent photo ops in Healy of me with the mountains of Denali in the background, and some photos of trees covered in snow near Willow that will make excellent Christmas Cards at some point in the future.

Back in Anchorage, I re-checked into the Earth Bed and Breakfast and then met up with Steve and some ladies and had a good time in town back at the F Street Station, the Glacier Brewhouse (, and other night spots.

All in all, another interesting Alaskan adventure and a little well deserved R&R. Not a bad way to spend the day at all.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 4: In God's Country, There Be Angels

In a previous post in this blog, from Tuesday I believe, I mentioned I could see rainbows where the sun shone through the ice fog. This is the picture I referred to previously. When you click on the picture you'll get the full size version, but you can see the faint rainbow in the center of the picture rising up from the trees along the Parks Highway.

In Indian Mythology, rainbows are often described as the highways the spirits travel on. My thinking on this is that if the rainbow highways are good enough for spirits, they are also good enough for Angels. Never in my life have I been more convinced that Angels and God exist than after what befell me today while driving to Denali for a planned day of hiking in the park with the National Park Rangers.

Mom, Dad, I know you're reading this, but don't be worried, I'm okay. This morning, at about 6:00 am Alaska time I was in a rollover accident in my rented Buick Rendezvous. I wasn't speeding, I wasn't driving recklessly, I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was actively scanning the shoulders for Moose. But as I rounded a curve, I hit a patch of ice and skidded out of control. My car made a beeline for the right shoulder. I crashed into a snowbank, slid down a gently sloping 7' embankment, rolled over, screamed to myself: "I'm dead! I'm dead!" and then the car was back on all four tires again. The ABBA CD was still playing in the car's CD player as if nothing had happened. I looked around and was amazed that not only was I still alive, but that I hadn't even received the smallest scratch. Instantaneously, not one, but two cars stopped beside the road to check on me. The first car was a man and a woman who asked if I was okay. The second was James Brown, a police officer for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Police Department who had just got off work and, as I learned later, had followed me essentially all the way from Fairbanks.

The picture below is of the snow tracks my car made as it ran off the road.

James is a life saver. 1. He stopped to see how I was. 2. He drove me to the Parks Highway Towing Station only two miles south of the accident site. 3. When noone was there, he drove me another 20 miles to the town of Nenana to find a phone to call the Tow Station. (Cell phones had no service in this area.) 4. He drove me back to the Tow Station. I am 100% certain that God, or my Guardian Angel, had James behind me to help me in this emergency.

A dark picture, but an effective one showing distance. A.P. McDonald used a flashlight to hook up the wrecker cables to pull the car out of the snow.

In James' truck, as we were driving up and down the Parks Highway, I had time to think and my head was spinning. The odds that I survived the accident without even a scratch are pretty amazing. But if you also consider that just twenty yards further down the road, there was a 40 foot drop-off in a stand of trees that would have hurt me very badly; if you also consider that all along the Parks Highway there are drop-offs that are not survivable or thick stands of birch and trees that would do much damage upon impact; if you also consider that this morning it was -25 degrees and if I had suffered a broken bone or other injury shock and hypothermia could have been deadly in a very short period of time; and if you also consider that on a wilderness highway it is possible I could have remained hidden from any car or truck passing by and not discovered for days. It was snowing outside, afterall. Combine all these factors with the instantaneous appearance of James Brown and I think it's pretty clear that not only was I extremely lucky, but also that I was blessed. This accident could have so easily been far uglier than it was. That I was unhurt and that James Brown was there to aid me, that A.P. McDonald was so close by and able to extract the car, that A.P.'s wife Annette was also available to drive me back to Fairbanks, and that the shuttle that will take me from Fairbanks back to Anchorage tomorrow morning stops right in front of the hostel that I'm staying at is just too many fortunate coincidences for me.

A. P. McDonald working to extract my car from the accident site.

Below, my rental car on the truck bed of A. P. McDonald's wrecker.

OK, it's a blurry picture, but really, for a rollover accident, there really wasn't much damage to the car. Dented panels, one broken rear window, the driver's side view mirror wrenched off.

I don't think it needs to be said that I did not get the scenic Alaskan experience in Denali I was expecting today. However, I did receive the human experience. Ever since the plane ride to Alaska every Alaskan I have met has been warm, and friendly, and helpful, and kind, and interested in me and what I was doing here in the winter. Every single person I have met has been eager to talk, to take the time to get to know a little about me and to share their state or their city and their stories with me. And after this morning, I can add that they will go out of their way to help those in need. To me, James Brown, A.P. McDonald and his wife Annette McDonald are heroes, and their actions, along with all those who've I met while in this state have restored my faith in humanity.

Back home in Columbus, we have snipers on I-270. Home intruders in Upper Arlington. Child abductors in the central city. Car burglars in the city's richest mall. Traffic accidents every day at all major intersections all along the beltway and few people to stop and help though thousands pass by every few minutes.

Here, in God's country, there be Angels. And I am grateful beyond words.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 3 Part II: Gone to the Dogs!

There's a new Disney movie coming out in February. It's called Eight Below and it recounts the true story of a dogsled expedition in Anarctica that is cut short by vicious weather. The people need to be evacuated fast, but they don't have room for the sled dogs. The rest of the movie is a story of survival--of the eight dogs left behind, and the mission to rescue them. Eight below my ass! You really got to hand it to Hollywood. This morning, when I went dogsledding, around 10:30 just after the sun came up--it was 35 BELOW with the windchill factor taking it down to 50 BELOW! Just a little bit different from the 50 degrees ABOVE that we've been in averaging in Columbus all of January, eh? But that's what I came to Alaska for.

I started out the day getting up around seven-thirty this morning and getting dressed. You saw the list of the stuff I packed. I put on every bit of it and drove over to Sourdough Sam's for breakfast. Sourdough Sam's is a greasy spoon on the corner of University and College that serves breakfast all day and some really good lunch and dinner specials. "Sourdough" is a term they use to describe Alaskans that have lived here a long time--like 20 years or longer. When Alaska was being settled by Americans, those arriving from San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest brought their sourdough cultures with them to make bread, so the people that come to live in Alaska are called "sourdoughs" and Sourdough Pancakes are pretty much ubiquitous throughout the state.

Sourdough Sam's is also one of those few establishments that serves exotic meats, such as reindeer. That's right folks, I ate Rudolph. Seriously, they serve Reindeer Sausage and it was excellent...a little spicy, but really not a lot different from a really good beef sausage from Chicago. I didn't decide to try Rudolph, er, I mean, reindeer until after I saw it on the menu. I knew I needed to eat some protien before the dogsled tour and I simply figured that if I traveled all the way to Alaska and truly wanted an Alaskan experience, I would try some of the local specialties. It's all part of the adventure. The sourdough pancakes were also excellent, rivaling the Original Pancake House's trademark recipe in Birmingham and Charlevoix, Michigan.

So after breakfast I drove over to Sun Dog Sled Dog Tours ( and met Elise Miller, the proprietor and sled team driver. (Contrary to public belief, no one tells a sled dog team to "mush" There is a set of commands, but mush is not one of them. The term derives from the French word moucher, which means "to go fast." And then I met the sled dogs and Elise instructed me how to sit in the sled.

The two lead dogs are named Dudley and Percy, and both are named after characters from the Harry Potter Series. Both dogs were extremely friendly, but once they were hooked up to the sled, they were all business. All the dogs were excited and jumping on their leads when they saw Elise all bundled up in winter gear. They knew there was sledding afoot, and you could just hear each dog screaming in dog barks: "Pick me! Pick me!" As each dog was hooked up to the sled, the other dogs seemed to get more desperate, as if they were fearing they weren't going to be picked. All their eyes were bright, their tales were wagging, and they were alert. It was really quite a sight.

Finally we were ready to go and Elise said "okay" and the dogs took off on the nine mile trail into the woods north of College Avenue, past the fairgrounds and on to the old Creamery Dairy property which is now a Wildlife Refuge and major stopping and nesting ground on Alaskan waterfowl's migratory route.

The ride was simply magical. The sun barely made it above the horizon, almost as if our wonderful life-giving star 93 million miles away took one look at the Weather Channel forecast for Fairbanks and said: "Unt-uh. There's no way in hell I'm dealing with that cold. So the sun stayed low on the horizon, but it bathed the stunted old-growth forest covered in crusted snow with a salmon-pink glow. The lighting was like a neverending sunset. But it was more than enough to see the trail and watch the dogs and see how deftly they steered and controlled the motion of the sled and kept it from swinging off the trail in sharp curves as well as grabbing snow to swallow to drink on the run. We started off like a bat out of hell, but after the first mile, the dogs had worked off their excitement and settled into a more stately pace. But it was still fast and the dogs kicked up a dusting of fine snow that coated my jacket and the creases in my ski goggles.

All the while, Elise talked about the sport of sled dogging, the snow conditions or lack thereof, the optimum temperatures for sledding, the races like the Iditarod and other lesser warm up events. She also talked about the one true danger on the trail: Moose. Unlike Bullwinkle, Moose are nasty creatures that will charge and attack humans and sled dog teams. Moose are bigger than horses. Moose can crush a sled dog's skull with one stamp of its feet, and the sled dogs will stand their ground when confronted by a Moose in a confrontation the dogs can't win. Elise explained that a Moose can completely tear through a sled team and that they are the one hazard that must be avoided at all costs. This is why our expedition did not start until after 10:00 am, which is after the sun came up.

Well, periodically, the dogs would speed up and you could tell that they smelled something and were trying to track whatever it was. Elise said that there were Moose on the trails, so when the dogs started switching into tracking mode, we both became more alert. Sure enough, we saw two Moose. Magnificent creatures indeed, but they were ones we needed to hurry past. Fortunately, the two Moose we saw were not in any mood this morning to charge so I got to see them in the best possible light.

Sadly, the tour quickly came to an end. My toes, even through two smart wool socks, my hiking boots, and a blanket thrown over them did get a little cold, but other than that I was fine. But the biggest disappointment was that I was unable to take any pictures. The extreme cold drained all the life out of my camera batteries, and the camera was inoperative. #^^(!<^@*(*$!!!@!@!####!@! But Elise did give me a souvenir: an official Sun Dog Tours Certificate of Completion, noting the date and the temperature. The rest is indelibly imprinted in my memory--all the sights, the moose, the smells, the feels of the fine snow kicking up from the dogs' feet, the sounds of the sled gliding over the snow and crunching over the dirt and grass patches, and so much more.

After sledding I went over to the University of Alaska--Fairbanks Museum of the North and spent a couple hours looking at the exhibits of Alaskan wildlife, geology, history, and the Northern Lights. And then I drove around town, criscrossing the Chena River and being awed that there were patches where the river was still unfrozen. Large amounts of steam rose from the open water and immediately condensed into ice fog, through which the sun shone creating amazing crystal ice rainbows in the air up to 30 feet above the river.

At 3:30 I found the movie theatre and decided to see Brokeback Mountain. It won all those Golden Globes, it's a huge Oscar contender, and strangely, it is not playing in Columbus. Go figure. It was a good movie, but not perfect. The cinematography was absolutely stunning, and Anne Hathaway, Michelle

For dinner I went to Boston's Pizza ( It seemed to be the place where everyone was going as the parking lot was packed. It was wonderful. Turns out it's a chain based in British Columbia and only opens in locations like Fairbanks, a little off the beaten path, and without major competition from the likes of Applebee's, Friday's, and the like. I had the Shanghai Spaghetti with shrimp and it was great. I'm going back tomorrow night for the Chicken Thai pizza--obviously an attempt to copy California Pizza Kitchen, but we'll see.

Reindeer, Dogs, Moose and -35 degrees. What a great day!

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 3: In Pursuit of Northern Lights

I got up about half an hour ago (1 am local time) to go outside, brave the -27 degree cold, and search for Northern Lights. There's a clear sky out there, but the moon is still super bright. I'm staying at a hostel in Fairbanks with a group of very interesting people, one of whom is from Commerce Township in Michigan, very close to where I grew up. The world keeps getting smaller. Those from Alaska who are also staying at the hostel tell me the Northern Lights are viewed best after midnight, but they come and go all night long; sometimes you see them, sometimes you don't.

I think I saw them. There's this long wispy cloud in the northern sky that stretches from horizon to horizon. But the cloud definitely has a green cast to it. If so, it's the northern lights. If not, its my eyes playing tricks with the light and very cold sky. I just didn't see any shimmering, but I am inside the city limits of Fairbanks and there is a lot of ambient light along with the moonlight.

I'll venture outside again in another half hour and take another look.

A note about the weather channel: Don't believe their forecasts when it's super cold. Currently on their website, they indicate in their hour by hour forecast that Fairbanks won't get colder than -24 tonight. But they list the current temperature as -27. Local forecasters have predicted it will be between -35 and -40 later tonight, as it was last night. What was interesting though, is that in the 20 minutes I was outside, the -27 didn't really bother me. Instead of it being a dry heat, it was a dry cold.

I'll have more from ALASKA Day 3 later on so keep checking back.

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day 2: Denali

(Each picture on this screen is a thumbnail. Click on each picture to see them full size.)

Pictures just don't do vistas justice. But this one is of Denali (right), Mt. Foraker (17,000+ ft), and the other 14,000 ft peak I can't just remember what it's called taken from the banks of the frozen Talkeetna River before dawn at about 10:00 am local time. The waning full moon is shining brightly about an inch to the left out of view of the shot. Sorry!

I left Anchorage dark and early this morning, hoping for views like this. What I didn't expect was the "OH MY GOD!!!!" I screamed upon first seeing this vista three hours earlier as I drove into Talkeetna to visit the Talkeetna Ranger Station where all climbing expeditions of Denali begin. About two miles outside of the town, you drive over this ridge into the Talkeetna River Valley. Immediately after cresting the ridge, Denali explodes into view. My timing was such that the very first lights of morning twilight were appearing in the east while the waning full moon was still shining brightly. The entire drive from Anchorage, I had been in virtual darkness, but suddenly, right after cresting this ridge outside Talkeetna, Denali, Mt. Foraker, and the third mountain explode into moonlit view. You can not understand the scale unless you see it for yourself. These three mountains dominate the horizon. Talkeetna is 60 miles away from these towering behemoths. I had read about Denali. I had seen pictures of Denali. I had heard all kinds of stories of expeditions on Denali. But nothing prepared me for the reality of Denali.

Zooming in on Denali from the same vantage point along the frozen banks of the Talkeetna River.

Honestly, I never thought I could feel awe when looking at a mountain again. When I was a teenager, my father took my brothers and I to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We drove up to Copper Harbour. We saw the mountains of our home state. Don't laugh! And I was impressed. Compared to the flatlands of Detroit, the UP had mountains, alright?

Looking back at Denali from the Talkeetna overlook two miles outside of the town of Talkeetna just after sunrise.

When I was 20, I drove out west to Washington State via Kansas City and Denver. I drove north up I-25 through Colorado and Wyoming and into Montana and then west on I-90 and over the continental divide and through Idaho into Washington. The entire way I was in awe of the mountains I saw, how huge they were. These were real mountains.

Close up of Denali about 30 minutes and 20 miles closer to the mountain along the Parks Highway (Alaska Highway 3). Note that the sun is still extremely low on the horizon and the illumination from the sun, which is barely above the horizon, isn't any better.

Later on that trip to Washington I drove to Mt. Rainier, and from Paradise, I was astounded by this massive volcano that dominated the entire sky and rose 14, 410' above sea level. Up until today, Mt. Rainier is the highest mountain I have ever laid eyes on.

But then in 1997 I went to Hawaii and saw Mauna Loa stretch wide across the entire Big Island from the Top of Mauna Kea. Manua Loa and Mauna Kea are the two tallest mountains on the earth, each standing over 32,000' high from their base on the sea floor. The Big Island of Hawaii is actually just the tops of these two massive mountains. So I learned mountains are big in another way, and yet today I saw a mountain that rose 20,000 feet, almost 4 miles straight up above surrounding land. And it took my breath away.

Driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Denali is visible almost the entire 375 mile way. I caught my last glimpse of it from behind just 15 miles outside Fairbanks. The only other mountain I have ever seen from more than 100 miles away is Mt. Shasta in California, which rises way above the deep central valley floor. I am still in awe.

Along the drive I also saw something very interesting and kind of unique. The air was so cold that the fog that rose up from river valleys from time to time wasn't made of water vapor so much as it was made of ice crystals. So when the sun passed through the fog, which I learned is called "ice fog", it creates rainbows. I took a picture of this, but it needs some photo enhancement to see the rainbow well in the photograph, so I'll post that one later. But what I also saw was mile after mile of frozen snow just smothering trees. We've all seen trees encased in ice after an ice storm, but I've never seen really hardened snow encasing trees. Apparently, when there is a heavy snow, if it gets cold enough, the snow hardens and does not fall off of the tree. It's the same kind of snow that crunches and hardens beneath our feet when it's like zero degrees outside. So on the trees, it becomes a kind of snow crust.

I thought it was pretty amazing, and it certainly is visibly impressive.

Also today I stopped in at Denali National Park. I was the first visitor today at about 2:00 pm. Normally they lead snow shoe hikes through the park trails, but there's hardly any snow right now, so snow shoes are not necessary. However, I will be returning on Thursday to hike these trails with the Park Rangers and I can't wait.

After stopping in at Denali, I continued on to Fairbanks and ate dinner at the World Famous Thai House. Apparently, people from all over the world know about this restaurant and when they are in town for whatever reason, the visit is not complete without a visit to this restaurant. I went there and had the Pad Thai. It was really outstanding! But after the build up on Frommer's Travel Guide I was disappointed. Not taking anything away from the Thai House's food, but Molly Woo's in Columbus, Ohio has ( Shrimp Pad Thai that is every bit as good if not better than the Thai House, and Molly Woo's is much less greasy. Kudos to Molly Woo's!

Well folks, it's going to get to -40 tonight in Fairbanks, putting my dogsledding trip tomorrow in jeopardy. The dogs just do not run when it approaches -40, so we'll have to keep my fingers crossed. I'm hoping for that frigid experience!

Thanks for reading.

ALASKA Day One: Greg and F Street Station

Hello from Alaska!

God, that sounds so strange. Almost as strange as seeing nothing but snow-covered wrinkled earth and the glaciers that carve their way through that mountainous terrain from the air. It took me 41 years to get here, and after meeting some amazing people on the plane from Minneapolis, after spending three hours talking with an off-duty Northwest Pilot who lives just outside of Anchorage as we held court at the 757's Galley, after renting my Buick Rendezvous and driving out of Anchorage into the vistas of the Chugach Mountains directly to the east, after checking into my room at the Earth Bed and Breakfast--which is more luxurious than any hotel suite I have ever stayed in, and after having dinner and hanging out at the F Street Station Bar and Grill and meeting some amazingly friendly people, including one from Tiffin, Ohio of all places; I can only ask myself: "What the hell took me so long?!?!"

Granted, the flight was hell. But from Columbus to Minneapolis I just slept. From Minneapolis to Anchorage, I thought I was going to go mad. Before we boarded, there was news of the volcano erupting in the Aleutians and there was some discussion that our plane might have needed to divert from Anchorage, possibly to Fairbanks. Fortunately, that did not come to pass. But it didn't help that there were 300 people crammed into the 757 like sardines. There was no room. It was hot. I could hardly even get to my carry on bag under my seat for a bottled water without some other passenger tripping over me as he or she made his or her way to the lavatory. But strangely, making that trip myself made this flight the most enjoyable one I've ever had.

I passed a flight attendant and looking out a window, I asked him where we were. He deferred his answer to Greg, a Northwest Pilot who lives outside Anchorage and was commuting home. We started talking like we were old friends. We talked about the geography, the flight times, the plane, the airline industry--which led to politics and Bush and Hillary and Iraq, which led to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which led to exports TO Japan-----DID YOU KNOW MOST OF THE OIL FROM PRUDHOE BAY GETS EXPORTED TO JAPAN WHEN WE DON'T PRODUCE ENOUGH FOR OURSELVES? Neither did I. Then we started talking about government in general, divorce, gay marriage, the religious right, family values--all of it. And then we really started having fun. Other passengers joined us in the Galley area. Other passengers needed to use the lavatory. Flight attendants were trying to serve drinks and we were standing in the way. So we started this strange dance with the flight attendants and then we really got to talking with them and cutting up. I, being a restaurant manager, offered to help. They appreciated the offer. Then Greg and I were standing in front of the lavatory doors just behind first class. Passengers would walk up and ask if they were occupied, and we would tell them no, but just as meal service had been cut back aboard planes, restroom service now required a toll.

I have never had that much fun on an airplane.

So I rent my car and everyone at the Alamo desk was very helpful and friendly. The lot attendant took time to help me identify the block heater and explained what I needed to do with it. He even cut the cord tie so I didn't have to do it myself and affixed the cord with duct tape to the washer fluid reservoir. I really appreciated that.

I checked into the B&B and Angel greeted me very warmly. No front desk clerk ever welcomes anyone to a hotel like that. I was showed my room, the bathroom, the amenities, the living room with the DVD collection, the computer with internet access, all of it. Then she gave me dining and shopping advice and directions. But in the end, I opted for Greg's suggestion of the F Street Station Bar and Grill and the fried battered halibut and the local Alaskan Ale. WOW!

I had just sat down at the bar. George on my left was friendly and welcoming, Andie the bartender was friendly and welcoming, Trudy on my right was friendly and inquiring and her friend Jackie and I started a long conversation. Turns out her sister lives in Westerville, OH just a few miles from me. SMALL WORLD. We're probably going out to a movie Friday night in Anchorage.

I gotta tell you folks, I was given a lot of props for wanting to come to Alaska in Winter by the locals and the Alaska transplants. But what I have really relished is how friendly everyone is. Everyone I've met in Anchorage so far has made me feel welcome. Even the guy walking next to me out of the airport terminal seemed to sense I was lost and asked me where I was headed. When I said the rental car lot he pointed the way. My vacation is off to an amazing start, and I am really glad I came.

Thanks for reading.

You Cannot Love Life Until You Live the Life You Love

That was my fortune from a fortune cookie after eating dinner at Molly Woo's ( Trust me. I'm living the life I love. In less than twelve hours I'll be on my way to Alaska. But before I get to that point, first I have to pack; and that is proving to be a challenge.

Packing for Alaska in Winter is a major undertaking, unlike traveling in the lower 48. In addition to the usual suspects you pack when you go on vacation which I'll discuss below, there's that additional step of carrying important documents and contact info and making sure the right people have them before leaving. In my case, I'm sending itineraries (flight info, rent a car info, lodging reservations and phone numbers) so that should the unthinkable happen, my family will be able to backtrack and hopefully track me down.

Packing for Alaska in Winter with the intention of carrying on all luggage so it doesn't get lost on any connecting flight and disrupt the entire trip is an added complication. Let's face it, I just bought over $600 in winter clothing so I can survive three days at 40 below in a worst case scenario, and so that I'm comfortable dogsledding at 20 below and snowshoe hiking in Denali, also at 20 below. It would kind of be a problem if that clothing disappeared in a checked bag gone astray.

And then there's the food. Almost 11 hours between check-in at Port Columbus and arrival in Anchorage, assuming no delays. No meals are served on the connecting flight to Minneapolis and none are served on the six hour flight to Anchorage from Minneapolis. That's a long time to go without a meal, so I'm bringing tuna lunch kits, Dole pineapples in lime jello, Jif Peanut Butter, Nutri-Grain Bars, PowerBars, and a six pack of Propel Fitness Water in addition to everything else. (At least I'm off to a good start for the 3 day supply of food I've been advised to keep in the car, right?)

In any case, just so you can get an idea of the clothing I need just to go dogsledding or snowshoeing or to keep warm if the car dies, here's the list (which I'm also publishing for the airline's benefit should my bags still get lost and I need to make an insurance claim):

1. Wool Army Blanket
2. Down Sleeping Bag
3. Smart Wool Socks
4. Polar Fleece Gloves
5. Down Mittens to wear over Polar Fleece Gloves
6. Polar Fleece Face Mask
7. Ski Goggles
8. Wool Skull Cap
9. Rash Guard as a Base Layer in place of a cotton t-shirt
10. Patagonia/Lotus Thermal Layer Shirt
11. Polar Fleece to wear over Thermal Shirt
12. Thin Lotus Paddling Jacket Shorty (kind of a rain slicker, but super thin, light, and designed for paddling sports--kayaking or rafting) to act as a wind and water barrier.
13. Columbia Ski Jacket System
14. Thermal Underwear
15. Mountain Hardware Chugach Pants
16. North Face Shell Pants
17. Lowe Hiking Boots

Sounds like a lot of clothes, and it is. But it's not as much as you would think and most of it packs into a really small volume. I'll probably wear fewer layers while snowshoe hiking since I'll be working and generating heat. But for dogsledding when you're pretty much holding on, I've been told you need all the warmth you can get; and the same holds true if you're stranded in a car.

Other than that, I'm just wearing jeans and a really heavy hooded sweatshirt from the Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago and the Columbia Ski Jacket on the plane. I'm bringing extra pairs of wools socks, a few t-shirts, and underwear. It's Alaska in winter. There's only six hours of daylight. It will be pretty dark most of the time. So there's no need to try to make a fashion statement by packing heavy, right? But when I get to Anchorage, I still need to buy an aluminum camp cup, matches, more food, water, candles and an ice scraper for the car.

Isn't all this amazing? When I go whitewater rafting, I usually just wear river shorts, a t-shirt and sandals on the way to the river, and after rafting I just change into equally light weight river shorts and another t-shirt. BIG difference! But it's all good because this is part of the adventure. Packing for this trip will be the first memory of the trip. And that's what my fortune is all about, right? Taking this trip is part of living the life I love. It's fun. It's new. It's exciting, and without a doubt, it'll be one of the most spectacular trips I'll ever take in my life. The plane leaves in less than twelve hours, but the adventure has already begun.

Thanks for reading.

Be Careful What You Ask For...

I said I missed winter, right? Well winter is what I'm going to get. I just checked the ten day forecast for Fairbanks on and the near worst-case scenario from the travel books and websites seems likely to come to pass.

All the advice for traveling in Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks in the winter, or for any trip along Alaska's highways in winter, calls for some pretty major planning. Should something happen to you or your car or the highway while you're driving in Alaska in winter (whiteout, closed road, avalanche, icy conditions, crashing into a moose or extreme cold), it is possible you could be alone for a protracted period of time, perhaps two or three days. So in winter, it is absolutely necessary to bring survival gear that will allow you to survive for up to three days inside your vehicle until help arrives. But this is not car camping. You have to be able to protect yourself from three days of extreme cold, possibly -40 degrees or colder.

A basic survival situation in extreme cold requires sleeping bags, blankets, matches, candles, high energy food, water and a way to melt frozen water, insultated and water proof clothing to keep you warm and dry, face protection, a shovel, ice scraper, tire chains.... You get the idea.

While I'm in Anchorage and south of Denali, the temperature will be fine, in the teens and 20's. However in Fairbanks, where I'll be spending three days, the highs will be in the -10's and the lows are forecast at -30. Great. And I've also got a dogsledding trip planned when temperatures will not be above -15. So I guess I'll really have the chance to put all my new Helly Hansen and North Face gear to the test, won't I?

So once again, the old adage is proven true: Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.

Thanks for reading.

Why Alaska in Winter?

Well, why not Alaska in winter?

Alaska is immense and has countless choices to offer that will fill any and all time you spend there. I chose Alaska in winter for several reasons that go beyond the usual of wanting to see wildlife, Denali and the Northern Lights; and of it being considerably less expensive in the off season due to substantially less tourist traffic and that mosquitos are usually not a factor when the temperature in the interior is hovering between zero and minus ten. I chose Alaska in winter because I miss winter.

When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, we used to have really cold winters with tons of snow that my brothers and I dug tunnels through to create forts, or to build armies of snowmen, or ramps over the firewood pile to the roof of the outdoor shed that we used to slide or toboggan down. At least for the better part of recent history, it doesn't get that cold in Detroit anymore for snow to accumulate like that. Winter temperatures hover in the 30s and 40s. It's the middle of January right now and instead of snow, Detroit is rather warm with highs above freezing and almost no snow. The same is true in Columbus, where I now live. We've had more 50 degree days in January with rain instead of snow than we did in December. Alaska may not get a ton of snow in the winter, but it can. The mountains are snow-covered. The ski resorts aren't worried about a sudden thaw and winter sports of all kinds abound.

In Alaska, in the middle of January, dogsledding season begins. In Denali rangers take rare park visitors on hikes wearing snowshoes. Anchorage is alive with song from week long folk music festivals and the skies above Fairbanks are alive and filled with dancing Northern Lights. It's a dark, peaceful time with a slower pace. And it's this time of year, without the distraction of cruise ships that disgorge passengers by the thousands, that you can get a chance to discover the real Alaska with people who have more time to sit with you around an uncrowded bar or a fireplace.

That's why I chose Alaska in winter, and I can't wait. Thanks for reading.

Welcome! Or....NORTH: to ALASKA!

Hello, and thank you for visiting my blog. I've gone back and forth in my mind since I first heard about blogging about whether or not I wanted a blog of my own. And now I've succumbed. It took an upcoming trip to Alaska and my desire to share the experience with my family and friends as it was happening to make this happen, but now that it has happened, I'm glad it did.

I am a member of many online communities. I participate in several forums, most notably Boatertalk ( and I've played euchre online for years; but forums and message boards and instant message conversations create an awkward record of thoughts and inspirations and the life events that energize and traumatize us all. So now that I've carved out this space hopefully my records will become a bit more organized and meaningful for me in a way that I can reference them; and hopefully they will be entertaining enough that they will hold your interest as well.

At least I get to start off with a bang. I go whitewater rafting about 30 days a year and there are tons of stories that I can tell about experiences on the river. But I am going on vacation Sunday night and there aren't too many rivers running this time of year in the States, and regrettably, I don't have the time or the resources right now to go to Costa Rica or Chile for sensational rafting on the Pacuare or the Futaleufu. So I chose Frozen Alaska instead.

I've never been to Alaska. I've always wanted to go. And I am excited as hell! Hopefully that excitement will come out in my blogging, and hopefully as I learn about Alaska, you can learn something about it as well through my blog. If for nothing else, that alone will make this experience entirely worth the effort.

Thanks for reading!