Can this really be happening?
Here we are in Valdez! It has been a frustrating and amazing month. We are finally getting settled and have found a great place to housesit through the first week of February. We bought a car, a bunch of groceries and a special light to fight the blues with such short days.
The weather has been clear and cold. Today is the coldest yet. The temperature outside this morning was 1 degree (-17C), and that was one of the warmer readings in the state. BRR. The most exciting event of the past month occurred yesterday: We finally unpacked the skis and winter gear from the deepest depths of storage on the boat.
Valdez is home to LOTS of snow. In town, the average yearly snowfall is over 300 inches (25ft/7.6m). On the pass, some 20 miles (32km) away where we will be skiing this winter, the total is well over 1000 inches (83ft/25.4m). Combine that with the amazing mountains that climb like dragons teeth out of the sea and the low, soft light that fills each day, a result of being so far north, and it looks like the winter will be spectacular. We went to Anchorage, which as the crow flies is about 50 miles (80.5km) away, but because you have to go around the mighty Chugach Range the only way to get there is to drive 7 hours (300+ miles/483km), take a 6-hour ferry ride across Prince William Sound, or fly. In the city, we bought a seafoam green 2000 Subaru wagon (we really are a Subaru family–before leaving Colorado we both drove Subaru wagons, my father drives a Subaru, my brother drives a Subaru, Subaru should be a sponsor!). After a few mechanical headaches and more cash than we expected to spend, we have what we hope will be a very reliable car. We promptly filled it with groceries from Costco and a few specialty markets. The car was so full, overloaded really, that we worried about the drive back to Valdez.
The return home requires driving around the north side of the Chugach, through a town called Glennallen, down a portion of the Copper River (as in THE Copper River) valley then up into the mountains, over Thompson Pass and down Keystone Canyon and into Valdez. The scary part, besides the overloaded car on a two-lane road with few other cars was the fact that a giant ball of Arctic air has settled over the interior of Alaska, sending temperatures plummeting. The highs in Glennallen had and continue to hover in the mid 20s to 35 BELOW ZERO (-37C) for the daily HIGH. Add to that winds in excess of 50mph (80km/hr).
The cold, the winter driving conditions and the overloaded car prompted us to take the ferry, which we boarded in a town south of Anchorage called Whittier. Whittier sits on the western edge of Prince William Sound and is only accessible through a one-lane tunnel that cars share with a train. The tunnel opens twice each hour to cars, once eastbound, once westbound.
Whittier exists because of its bad weather. Originally conceived as port from which the military could move troops and equipment into Alaska during World War II, the site was selected for its fog. The thought was that there is so much fog any enemy would lack the visibility to see what was going on there.
The day we were there was not foggy, but windy, very windy. The ferry came soon after we arrived and we loaded our new wagon, filled with groceries and Nisa into the hold and found seats in the forward observation deck to watch the scenery go by for the next 6 hours. We were two of seven passengers on the ferry.
What scenery it was. Amazing. Snow-covered peaks and cloudless skies. Once the ferry left Whittier and the confines of Passage Canal, the wind laid down and it was pleasant out on deck, chilly, but not windy. That is until we approached the Valdez Narrows and the wind started to howl. Both Susanna and I were glad to be in a BIG ferry and not in a little sailboat, especially since every buoy we passed was coated in ice and the wind waves seemed to have a winter bite that they lack in the fall.
Mostly we enjoyed looking out at the places we want to go this coming summer. Places with names like: Shotgun Cove, Bettles Bay, Granite Bay, Cluross Bay, Port Wells, Eaglek Bay, Glacier Island, Storey Island and Naked Island, just to name a few. We feel like we could spend all of the summer of 2007 in the Price William Sound and never repeat ourselves.
The best part of taking the ferry was arriving in Valdez only having driven 60 miles total from Anchorage.
Thanksgiving was a simple affair with poulet roti and smashed yams shared with a few new friends. Tonight is the lighting of the Valdez Christmas Tree. It will be a chilly affair as it is just starting to get dark (it is just a few minutes before 4 p.m.) and the temperature is back to 1 degree (-17C). Thank goodness we have spent the last few days unloading the winter gear from the boat.
When we returned from Anchorage, we discovered the boat to be very frosty inside. Nothing that we couldn’t fix with a heat gun and a few towels, but it just underscores our need to install a better heater, one that can pull the moisture out of the boat rather than put moisture into the air. So the plan now is to remove the existing heater and stove (which run on kerosene) and install a heater/stove combination that will run on diesel. More importantly, the stove we are considering has a closed-exhaust system that will send any moisture from the combustion process outside, while at the same time providing dry, constant heat inside.
I just glanced out the window and the wind has changed direction, the sky is clouding up and a crescent moon is rising in the southeast over the mountains. What an amazing place we have come to.
Thanks for taking a gander. If you find something that's broken or missing, please let us know via our contact page. Thanks.