Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Specialist Equipment

Sure, they sent me a gear list, which included things like "shower shoes" and "khaki pants". But they forgot one important thing. Of course I am talking about my most recent Alaska-related purchase, which is a handheld battery operated bug zapper shaped like a tennis racket. They are $6 at recreation outlet if you, like me, feel that your summer will be incomplete without one.

After some personal product testing, I was pleased to find that they work well on box elder bugs.

No Relation (Coldfoot Fact #2)

T.R. asked me the other day why they are called the Brooks Mountains. The story behind the name is as short as it is uninteresting. They are named after Alfred Hulse Brooks, who was the head of the USGS in Alaska a while back (you can name things after yourself when you work for the USGS.) I wasn't kidding about "short and uninteresting", was I?
Come on, though. Did they really not discover those mountains until after 1903?


Friday, April 25, 2008

Damn It

Alright, going to Alaska seemed like a good idea at the time. (That, by the way, is the universal excuse for doing anything.) And I have have questioned my decision now and then, but mostly it has seemed like I chose well.

Until now, of course. I am sure you already know what I'm talking about, but in case you don't, maybe this will fill you in.

There are those people who can say "I have lived my whole life with no regrets." I was one of those people once. And I will be until July 17th of this year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Hey readers. I'm finally realizing that this thing is for real, so I want to see as many of you as possible before leaving these contiguous United States. So come over for a BBQ at my mom's house on Thursday, May 1st and we'll have a proper sendoff. I probably shouldn't post the address on these internets, so if you want to come and don't know where the house is, then leave a comment here and a way to contact you and I'll send you the address.

It's at 7:30. Bring something to grill, okay?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Friday, April 11, 2008

Who is Sam McGee anyway?

Well I never met him, but here's his story according to some guy they call "Cap":

The Cremation of Sam Mcgee
Robert W. Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

Then I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;” . . . then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


When I told my friend I was spending the summer in Alaska, he said: "Alaska, huh. Ice in the winter, flies in the summer?"

By the way, that dot is Coldfoot.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Coldfoot Fact #1

It's right next to Gates of the Arctic National Park.

It's not quite Greenland, but it sort of is.

"Dear Old Greenland"
Andrew Bird

On the way to Greenland
I shall find
All the disparate fragments of my mind
I shall return a different man
And darling, do all that I can

On the way to Greenland
I shall find no mundane distractions of any kind
If beneath the ice fields there’s a room
It’s there I’ll find my peace a lovely tomb

Friends, Greenland is a place where souls go to dry out
It is a vast and terrifying place of ice fields and tundra
Bereft of fire and in the horror of its imposing irrelevance
There is a peace
The peace of pain
The peace of nothing
Well friends, I’m going there

Fear is lying dying in the sands
And it’s breathing from the gills of my Greenland.