Sunday, June 29, 2008


I heard stories about Sep before I met him two weeks ago. He was mushing his dog team over a pass last October when a starving grizzly attacked. All but two of his dogs were killed. Sep tried unsuccessfully to defend himself with his ice hook, but it wasn't until the bear put both forepaws on Sep's shoulders that he realized what Sep was and then retreated in primal fear. When Sep came back with reinforcements, the bear had already eaten a dog and a half, and they shot the old boy in the lungs. He died almost instantly; his pelt was auctioned by the state and the money was put into a fund for game management.

Sep is tall and slim and almost toothless. I would put him at somewhere between 50 and 65 years old. He has a thick accent from Germany or wherever he came from years ago to trap and pick berries and mush dogs here in Alaska. He lives on his own and doesn't seem to have any further ambitions than to keep doing what he's doing until he's too old to do it anymore or else has another, less fortunate encounter with a grizzly.

Sep said he was saving money for an airline ticket since his mother had written him a letter begging him to come visit her in his home country one last time. What a strange thing, to ask someone to visit you one last time before you die.

Did anyone see that movie "Vanilla Sky"?

Well, I did. I had bought it at Value Village in Fairbanks for $3 last time I was there. Yeah, it has Tom Cruise, and it was not a great movie, but I enjoyed it. The title of movie refers to a sky that is so beautiful that it is the thing of art, dreams, or imagination, but could never be real. Last night though, as I walked to my tent, I realized that they can be real, even if you have to stay up until 2:16 am in Arctic to see one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Megafauna Monday, Week 6 & 7

Days: 14
Moose: 10
Black Bear: 1
Grizzly Bear: 4
Caribou: 0
Dall Sheep: 2
Musk Ox: 0
Gray Wolf: 0

Bonus Animals:
Lynx: 1

Thanks to Billy for making the convenient spreadsheet for me!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Hey, Happy Solstice everyone!

Q: What is the Solstice anyway?
A: It's when the earth is at the point in it's orbit such that Northern Hemisphere is at its maximum tilt toward the sun. That's what makes it the longest day of the year for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

Q: I thought that was supposed to happen tomorrow?
A: It varies from 2 or 3 days before to 2 or 3 days after the 21st.

Q: Why does my 2008 Nuns Havin' Fun calendar mark today as the first day of summer instead of the Solstice?
A: Your calendar is wrong. Summer started more than a month ago when you took your last final, or ate your first popsicle, or had your first barbecue where you wore that tasteless yet amusing apron.

Q: When is the exact moment of Solstice so I can put on my Druid robe and kill an animal on the top of mountain peak?
A: I'm afraid you're too late. This post is scheduled to publish itself at the precise minute of the solstice, and in the amount of time you have taken to read this far, that minute has probably passed. It happened at 23:59 UCT (or one minute before midnight in Greenwich, England), which makes it 2:59 PM here in Alaska and 4:59 PM for you Utah types. Also, you're not a real Druid, are you?

Q: Silence! I'm asking the questions here! Understand?
A: Yes. I'm sorry.

Q: Good. So what's with the Arctic Circle? What is it anyway?
A: Great question. It's the theoretical line upon which if you stand at sea level you will see one night without a sunset on the summer solstice and one day without sunrise on the winter solstice. In reality, such a line cannot exist because our atmosphere bends sunlight and makes it visible even when it's slightly below the horizon, which means that you can really see a night without sunset a bit below the Arctic Circle. Also, we at Coldfoot are at 1,062 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains. That means that I can hang out in this valley all day and night and never see the midnight sun because it will move behind a mountain peak for a few hours. It also means I could camp out on top of a mountain and watch the midnight sun for several weeks from the vantage point of being 3,000 feet above sea level and 55 miles above the Arctic Circle.

Q: Whoa, whoa there. I didn't ask for your life story, Bill Nye. I just want to know what the Arctic Circle is.
A: Well I just explained it.

Q: Yeah, sorry. I was texting my friend and missed what you were saying.
A: Um, yeah. The Arctic Circle is a line drawn by Santa that his reindeer are not allowed to cross.

Q: Oh, okay. That makes sense now. So what has that got to do with a bag of hamburgers?
A: Nothing. It has nothing to do with a bag of hamburgers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The End

This is it folks, the very end of America, the absolute edge of the world. You can't get any farther than this. Fortunately, you can buy a taco made by an Eskimo.

The great thing about Barrow is that anything there is always the "farthest north" one, whether it's a radio station, Mexican restaurant, or football field.

There are no trees for like 200 miles. Unless you count pieces of driftwood with baleen nailed to the top. (I don't.)

This might well be the farthest north dead seagull.

What? You want to see the arch made from whale mandibles? Are you sure you don't want to see the farthest north totem pole? With a toilet on the very top? Because it's cool too.

It's great, isn't it? What?

Alright fine. Here's the arch, if you're going to be like that.

There's your precious arch. I was going to post it. Just try to show some patience once in while.
Look, I'll even stand under it for you. Here.

Other things to see in Barrow:

-A polar bear, if you're lucky
-The farthest north Thai and Japanese restaurants
-Eskimos gutting and butchering a bowhead whale
-That Will Rogers monument that they have for some reason


Well, that about does 'er. It is kind of bleak, but in a nifty sort of way. I could just stare out at the still frozen Arctic Ocean forever. I don't think it would take long to solve all of the mysteries of life doing that.
"This is, to me, the saddest and loveliest landscape in the world. It is the same as that on the preceding page, but I have drawn it here again to impress it on your memory."

-Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

Saturday, June 14, 2008

FAQs, vol. 4

So this week "FAQs" stands for frequently answered questions. Just the other day, Michelle asked "Who is Sam McGee and how did he die"? I will go ahead and take the blame for any reader's ignorance on this topic, because I answered that question back when this blog was still secret.

That should clear up any confusion. The poem is by Robert Service, by the way. Oh and feel free to post your question here as a comment.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

FAQs, vol. 3

Q: I'm planning a trip to Alaska, but don't want to look all "touristy". What can I do to blend in and look more like a "Sourdough".

A. What a great question! First of all, good job using the word "sourdough". You are well on your way. Besides that, here are some other things.

1. Be a guy. There are not many women here, and you will immediately stand out if you are a woman unless you are either married, a biologist, or an Eskimo.

2. Don't be from Australia. For some reason, nearly every well-to-do Australian seems to end up in Alaska at some point for a vacation. Being Australian is dead giveaway that you are a tourist.

3. Wear Carhartts. Sure, people wear them in other places, but not like they do here. You would do well to wear Carhartt pants (esp. with reinforced front panel), A Carhartt jacket, and a Carhartt cap. There are even Carhartt socks, if you are worried that you will be examined that closely.

4. Talk about moose hunting. All the time. Ask people if they "got their moose". Ask the men and women (should you run into any) this.

5. NEVER be seen hiking without a handgun visibly holstered on your person. Don't let anyone tell you that bear mace is statistically much more effective at deterring bear maulings. It may be true but don't let anyone tell you that, Damnit.

6. In fact, ignore all advice. Even good advice.

7. Speaking of bear attacks, assume the attitude of an expert in everything related to bears. Even if you've never seen one in the wild, repeat everything, no matter how ridiculous, that you have ever heard about bears (see #6).

8. If anyone brings up anything related to Chris McCandless or Timothy Treadwell, express disgust for the amateurish ignorance of Alaska that killed both of them.

Follow these 8 tips and you will blend right in, be invited to salmon bakes, moose hunts, ice fishing trips, and bush plane rides. Good luck!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Megafauna Monday, Week 5

Points have been restructured. For one thing, although they get to be up to 25 pounds up here, porcupines still don't qualify as megafauna, which is defined as an animal weighing over 40kg according to the most liberal allowances. An adult bull Arctic Yukon moose can weigh up to 800kg. Now that's megafauna! New point structure:

Moose: 10 points
Black Bear: 20 points
Grizzly Bear: 25 points
Dall Sheep: 10 points
Caribou: 10 points per herd, plus one point per caribou.
Musk Ox: 30 points
Gray Wolf*: 30 points

Bonus Animals (Rare and/or interesting but not big enough to be megafauna, 5 points each):

Arctic Fox, Canadian Lynx, Great Horned Owl, Porcupine, Pine Marten, Red Fox, Wolverine

Days: 7
Moose: 6
Black Bear: 0
Grizzly Bear: 0
Caribou: 6
Dall Sheep: 10
Musk Ox: 0
Gray Wolf: 0

Bonus Animals:

Great Horned Owl: 1
Porcupine: 2

Running Totals:

Days: 35
Moose: 59
Black Bear: 1
Grizzly Bear: 1
Caribou: 130
Dall Sheep: 18
Musk Ox: 0
Gray Wolf: 0

Bonus Animals:

Great Horned Owl: 1
Porcupine: 12
Red Fox: 1

Total Points:

As it works out, this greatly increases my score. Feel free to adjust my arbitrarily set goals y'all chose for me.

*I have learned that a wolf that lives in the arctic is not necessarily an "Arctic Wolf".

Saturday, June 7, 2008

FAQs, vol. 2

Q. Are you doing what Chris McCandless (or "Alexander Supertramp", or "that one guy from Into the Wild") did?
A. What a great question! (I've learned to say that after every single question that any tourist ever asks me.) The answer is yes and no. We both went to interior Alaska, But that's about it. Here's why what I am doing is way cooler:

1. Chris lived about ten miles outside of Fairbanks, the nearest major city. I am 200 miles from Fairbanks, and from any city.

2. Chris was below the Arctic Circle, and he never saw a 24 hour day. I am 55 miles above the Arctic Circle, and will see a 336 hour period of direct sunshine. It starts in just two weeks.

3. Chris ate plain rice, larva-impregnated moose meat, and toxic flora.* I eat fresh fruit and yogurt with pancakes and biscuits for breakfast, and then whatever the special of the day is for lunch and dinner. It is always delicious.

4. I got some suckers to pay me to be here.

5. Chris McCandless never met Jack Reakoff. (That article is old. He turns 51 this year.) Seriously, this guy is the real deal. If you continue reading this blog, you will tire of hearing about him.

6. Chris died during his sojourn, but I have years of adventures in my future! (Probably)

*Okay, there is something kind of cooler about eating just rice and funky moose meat. But it's nice to not get poisoned.

Friday, June 6, 2008

FAQs Page #1

You asked for it, and here it is. Sam McGee Is Dead's very own Frequently Asked Questions Page!

Q. The only reason I would go to Alaska is to shoot a bear in the face. When do you get to do that?
A. Well, I don't have a gun. And I hardly ever see bears. And when I do they run away. And even if I could, it's illegal UNLESS it's in self-defense. So I guess all I have to do is borrow Bug's handgun, sneak up and give a bear an atomic wedgie, then run, then when the bear is chasing me, turn and shoot, realize that a handgun isn't strong enough to kill a bear, then die.

Q. Being that far North, is the North Star straight overhead?
A. Probably, but there are no stars here because there is no night.

Q. Have you ever heard that Johnny Cash song "North to Alaska"?
A. Yes I have. But it's actually Johnny Horton.

Q. Oh. It's cool, huh?
A. Yes.

Q. My Dad used to listen to that song.
A. Cool.

Q. Yeah. Cool.
A. Yeah.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Megafauna Monday, week 4

On Thursday? Well what are you complaining about? Nobody reads this thing anyway!

Days: 7
Moose: 14
Black Bear: 0
Grizzly Bear: 1
Caribou: 0
Dall Sheep: 0
Porcupine: 6

Running Totals:

Days: 28
Moose: 53
Black Bear: 1
Grizzly Bear: 1
Caribou: 124
Dall Sheep: 8
Porcupine: 10

Total Points: Um, I'll add them up next week.