Thursday, March 22, 2012

Super-quick - More observations of Alaska

Shhhh....I'm supposed to be writing, but I just remembered the weird things I had been collecting to share with non-Alaskans.

First - completely enclosed carwashes.  They look like oil change places, with slide-down doors front and back.  Obviously, in weather below freezing, an exposed automated car wash would become an ice-laden nightmare.  But the totally enclosed concept cracks me up for some reason.  They always have huge columns of steam rising from them, and I can't help but wonder how much a wash costs....

Second - the fact these car washes exist.  Because nearly EVERY car here is dirty as heck.  Why?  The road is always dirty, but in most climates, it's regularly washed clean by rain or dew.  Here, the snow collects the dirt and holds it, until the glorious days when it melts a bit, creating a dirty, dirty slush that of course coats every car in a fine layer of dirt.  As the winter goes on and this plays over and over, cars become a bit unrecognizable.  The thing is, if you want a shiny car, you would have to wash it pretty much once a week (or more) to keep it that way.  And I can't imagine how annoying it would be to drive out of the (enclosed) car wash only to splash dirty slush all over it.  So, I would say 95% of the cars on the road are in some form of dirtiness.

Third - fat-tired bicycles.  Maybe this is how Fat Tire beer was named?  The tires are made for riding in the snow, obviously.  Before I talk about the tires, kudos to the badasses who ride bikes around here.  Not only is it effing cold, the roads are icy and there aren't a lot of clear paths along the roads for bikers to ride.  Anyway, the tires can be equipped with studs just like car tires, and chains.  The first time I saw one, I nearly laughed myself silly at how odd the fat tires looked.  Once you think about it though, it makes a lot of sense.  I can't imagine that it would be easy to ride with tires that size though (as far as muscle exertion goes, not balance and such).

Hats off to you, badass Alaskan bikers.  Stay out of my way, okay?  You scare the poop out of me when you get too close.  I don't need vehicular manslaughter on my driving record!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More observations on life in Alaska

As you all know, I finally started driving on my own.  Nothing has changed in that respect, I'm still terrified 90% of the time and have to contain a scream every time I feel the car slip.  Yes, it's an SUV with traction control, so the car takes over when it feels the driver can't handle is too inexperienced to control the slide.  Otherwise I probably would have wrecked at least one car by now.

When we've had enough snow that it needs removal from the road, these odd machines called "graders" come out.  To me, they look like giant preying mantises (manti?).  See above pic of the yellow thing.  Their job is to scrape the snow off the road, widening it and pushing the snow over to the right.  Following the giant preying mantis is a snowblower, who then blows the newly scraped snow onto the side of the road.  God forbid you are trying to walk there (although the berms on the side of the road are 3+ feet, so I doubt you would be).  This is not your average snowblower though, it's an industrial one, just like our lovely scraper.  See the picture to the left - it's a big truck with what reminds of a harrow on farm equipment.

The cutest thing of all, though, are the sidewalk plows/blowers.  They're like mini versions of the orange one above.  I find them so cute that I giggle every time I see one.  The only problem is they have blinking blue and red lights behind them, so I always worry it's a police car at an accident or something.  And yes, accidents are prevalent here.  Ice+idiots=accidents.  Most people drive fairly decently here - either speed limit or below depending on the conditions and several car lengths between each other to eliminate sliding into each other during stops.  Notice I said "most."  I've encountered my share of assholes cutting me off or tailgating when I'm driving, just like in Oregon.  Thankfully, they are rare.

I was terrified of driving on my own for so long that it took 2 months to get me past my fear.  Considering I'm at the medical center at least once a week, it was really inconvenient for Richard to try to drive me.  Now I'm happily independent :).  Well, as happy as I can be driving on snow and ice!

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I've Learned After Two Months in Alaska

Hey guess what?  It's cold here!  You may be one of those people (such as myself) who THINK they can handle the cold and are "always warm" but you have no idea what you are in for.  Single digit temperatures are just a test.  Below zero?  Is mother nature's way of laughing at you.  It's effing cold.

No matter where you move from, even if it's a snow state, you will not have appropriate shoes or clothes. Street shoes are like wearing skates on the ice (I have a lovely bruise on my butt/thigh area to prove it).  Regular coats are useless.  You should buy your clothes from places that have temperature resistant information on them.  Seriously.  Land's End, REI, etc. all print what temperature their clothing can protect you from.  Alaska weather is not kidding around!

Let's go back to shoes.  These are a huge consideration.  I thought, "hey - I'll just find some cute and fuzzy boots and wear them all winter, tee hee!"  And then mother nature scoffed.  The first few steps in the snow and moisture flooded into the cute suede since it was not water-resistant.  Then I did the lovely "oh crap, please don't let me fall" dance in the parking lot because the soles weren't made for ice.  They currently reside in my room as decor.  Oddly, I didn't learn my lesson though.  I continued to wear my "Oregon shoes" (aka shoes with no sole and a lot of exposed foot flesh since I refuse to wear socks), hence the fall.  The funny part of that is I had already bought my new Alaska shoes, but they had given me a blister (I know, wah) and I wore my comfy shoes so the blister could heal.  Stupid blister.

Now girls - there are plenty of cute shoe/boot options that are still Alaska appropriate.  I chose Bogs shoes, because I prefer a shoe to a boot since I wear trouser-fit jeans and the boot outline underneath looks weird.  They are water-tight, comfy (once the damn blister healed), and the soles are grippy on the ice.  They are quite popular here, actually.  There's the every present Uggs, although they aren't waterproof and I would hate to ruin them. Sorels are pretty hardcore, but they do make cute styles.  I've seen a lot of Danskos, but I've heard mixed reviews about their ability to handle the ice.  Zappos delivers here (huzzah), so you can order easily.  Just make sure you ask a local to see what they recommend!

Jackets.  I still don't have a decent one.  I ordered a parka when I first got here and immediately hated it.  It was far too large, the hood could cover 3 heads, and it was just bulky.  I alternate between my wool dress coat and hoodies.  Next winter I'll buy a North Face or Land's End jacket so I can be warm without feeling odd.

Anchorage is a really laid back city.  I love that!  Although there seems to be some debate as to whether it's ACTUALLY a city.  Uh, I came from a small town.  THIS IS A CITY TO ME, ok?  So stop debating.

Driving on the snow and ice is scary as hell.  Everyone here drives like they are on dry pavement in perfect conditions.  I have to practically pry my hands off the steering wheel when I get to my destination.  I screamed like a little girl the first time I slid on the ice (in my defense, we were about a foot from rear-ending someone).  Sliding around corners is considered perfectly natural.  I may need to start dying my hair every two weeks instead of every six with the stress of driving on Alaska roads.

Other than that, I've come to love my new home.  Richard and I are excitedly immersing ourselves into plans to remodel the condo and I'm fervently applying for jobs.  Aside from missing my friends and my lady river, I really love it here.  Every time I see the mountains, I'm breathless.  That's the best part of living here :).