freezing your butt off

When I lived in Virginia, I never really experienced intense cold weather. Growing up in the South means hot, humid summers and mild winters. If we were lucky, we’d get a few snowstorms a year that would last a few days before it all melted again. I’d guess that the average winter temperature is around 20-30 degrees. When I say winter, I mean the actual winter season—December 21-March 21. But it’s probably only 20-30 degrees for December and January. By late February it starts warming up again. The coldest I ever experienced there was around 0. And that lasted a day.

I’ll state the obvious here: Alaska is NOT like that. People joke that there are two seasons here—one of which lasts 9 months. And I’d have to say that’s not too far off. Growing up in Virginia, I never thought winter was too bad. I hated being super cold, but it was always manageable. And snow was the most exciting thing—even when I was out of school, it was still exciting to see that school was closed. I empathized. 🙂

It starts getting cold here around mid-August. Don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t get below freezing or anything. But in what is the hottest month down south, it starts getting colder here—60s, 50s, 40s. Our first year here, we went to Denali on September 1st and it snowed! But it didn’t get really cold until October. Once October hit, we never saw above freezing temperatures until the breakup in late April. This year was a little different. We had a record-breaking snowstorm in early September. We got a foot and a half of snow! Temperatures averaged around the 30s so it was a heavy, wet snow—something we’re not used to up here because usually when it snows, it’s well below 25 degrees and it’s really dry and powdery. Most of that snow melted eventually, and the rest of September averaged around 30-40 degrees.

The first year we were here, we saw -20 for the first time on Thanksgiving night. I remember going out in just a fleece jacket and being giddy about experiencing that kind of temperature for the first time. And it wasn’t that bad. Dry cold is WAY more manageable than when there’s a lot of humidity in the air. Thankfully, Fairbanks is a pretty dry place. (Funny, since we get so much snow). We’ve been lucky this year—the temperature has dropped below -20 sooner than last year, but we only had -20s for about a week. Here lately, it’s been in the teens and twenties, which is SUPER nice, comparatively. We’ve been going outside in just sweatshirts and gloves. It’s a nice change from the week of cold we had.

I remember this year when it dropped to -25, feeling slightly giddy to go outside to use the outhouse for the first time. Much to my surprise, -25 is very very cold when you have to sit vulnerable with bare leg exposed, even if just for a few seconds. My giddiness quickly turned to hatred. Gone were the feelings of excitement and toughness. Sometimes I think people live in dry cabins for the bragging rights. Don’t get me wrong; it’s cool to say I live in a dry cabin. It makes you seem hardcore. But, no matter who brags about living in a dry cabin, or how much fun it is, or how cool people say they are, NOBODY in their right mind likes to go outside to use the bathroom in sub zero temperatures. There’s no heat in there! And the only reason we have light is because of a light bulb connected to an extension cord! It is NOT a fun experience by any means! It is pretty funny though. There’s not really an adequate way of describing the bathroom experience until you’ve dropped your pants in -20 degrees. And this isn’t even as cold as it gets here! Winter lasts for 9 months! December, January, February are the COLDEST! Last winter, it was 40 below for a straight week! It got down to -50 one day!

For a place that’s not the greatest to be in the cold, our outhouse is probably decorated better than our whole house, no thanks to me. The people before us left some weird art and paintings in there, and we’ve continued the tradition by collecting weird knickknacks from the places we travel to put in our outhouse. It’s a pretty unique place. 🙂 And it’s hilarious when we’re travelling to hear me or Logan say ‘Hey, don’t forget, we need to buy something weird for the outhouse.’ I hope no stranger has ever heard us say that… 🙂

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yes, that is a record with a stick as a lid.

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doing dirty dishes

Maybe after reading this, you’ll find a new appreciation for doing dishes, because let me tell you something: doing dishes in a dry cabin is THE worst.

I wanted to write about dishes around this time because Thanksgiving is coming up. And no matter who you are or how many people you’re having Thanksgiving with, people normally cook more food, more types of food, and have a LOT of dishes to do after.

As a reminder, a dry cabin has no running water. We have water jugs that drain into a five gallon bucket under our faucet-less sink. No water pressure, no hot water, just 60 degree water trickling from a jug. As you can imagine, the dish washing process is a bit of a hassle. We have no microwave here for heating water—mostly because we have NO extra space in our tiny kitchen for even a small microwave, and I also prefer heating things on a stove or in an oven.

When we first moved in, we quickly discovered dishes would be one of the chores we both hate most. We heated up a pot of water on the stove until it was boiling and would add it to some room temperature water in a larger container in the sink. There’s no bubbly hot, soapy water—after all, it’s water pressure that does that to soap when it enters the water. Thank God for those little stick sponges that you can fill with soap! Otherwise, we’d be adding soap to whatever sponge or rag we use. We soon realized we could use our coffee pot to heat up the water a little faster, so our coffee pot has many uses now! We’ll fill it up with 12 cups of water, and run it through—that way I can multi task. 🙂  You have a very limited time to do dishes ‘properly’ since hot water only stays hot for so long. It’s a real pain to have to heat water more than once when you’re doing dishes. It just makes the process that much longer. This happens more than I want it to. Since Logan and I both hate doing the dishes, we’ll let them stack up for a few days before doing them. It’s better that way anyway, that way we’re using essentially less water than if we did dishes every night. Because while we can only heat up 12 cups at a time, we still have to rinse the dishes individually with 60 degree water. We can’t really soak dishes in hot soapy water either, so we have to be extra aware once we’re done cooking or eating to rinse our dishes. Even then, sometimes food sticks. There’s not water pressure or one of those sprayer hoses, so we use our own strength and a paper towel ALL THE TIME to ‘pre-wash’ the dishes. Once you have your tub of hot water, you have to be careful to not get that water very dirty. Who wants to wash dishes with food-filled, cloudy, lukewarm water? Gross. This is yet another reason we sometimes have to reheat water, and thus start the whole process over again. Did I mention this is a pain!?

You can imagine the measures we’ve taken to cut back on dishes. I started buying paper plates. That’s been a lifesaver. I use aluminum foil most every time I put anything in the oven. I’ll reuse dishes (sometimes) for cooking. I’ve got a stainless steel and a cast iron pan I use, and those need to be seasoned with oil to work well, so if they’re not too bad, I’ll use them to cook chicken one night, and fish the next. Or to reheat leftovers. As one of my dry cabin friends told me in so many words, ‘you learn to accept more things that would otherwise be unacceptable.’ Living in our old house, we’d just wash everything every night. It keeps the kitchen clean(ish) and it was just one of those things. Now I’m okay with reusing the same coffee cup all week. Or the same plate. These things would be unheard of in our old house—not because it’s incredibly unsanitary, but because I just had the ability and quantity of cups to use more than one a week.

It’s funny because at our old house, we’d still bicker over who got to do dishes after dinner. And we had hot, running water. We even had a dishwasher! When I lived with my parents, we’d argue over who had to load or unload the dishwasher constantly! The thought of that now seems absurd to me! I don’t know if we’ll ever argue about the dishes again once we leave this house. I figure, this is kind of the worst of the worst dishes scenario.

So the next time you go to unload your dishwasher, or rinse off your dinner plates, or run the hot water to fill your sink with soapy goodness, I hope you think of this post, and realize you’ve got it made! Grumbling about doing the dishes is unnecessary, petty nonsense.

P.S. Thank you for putting up with this post. I realize it’s a bit negative and whiny, but this is one of the very real struggles of living in a dry cabin. I’d say it’s the biggest pain—(more than having to travel 30 minutes to shower and do laundry several times a week). I know I’ll never forget how much I hated doing dishes here, but I’m sure one day, it’ll be funny to read this again. 🙂

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our cute vintage stove
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our sponge stick!
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my new best friend
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our multi-purpose appliance

the locals

Disclaimer: Every person I mention in this post is someone I have either seen or encountered at some point living in Fairbanks.

This post will be my attempt to convey and describe the locals of Fairbanks. To do so is quite the task, because I’ve never quite experienced a town like this before. Most people who know me know I grew up in a small town in southern Virginia. I’m used to the small-town feel. I’m used to not having much to do in town. I’m used to knowing mainly everyone around, either personally or by association. Small towns are full of talk and gossip and everyone always seems to know what everyone else is up to.

Fairbanks is a whole other scenario. I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about the people of Fairbanks unless I’ve lived here a good while, and after almost a year and a half, I feel like I can say this: people in Fairbanks really don’t give two beans about anything or anybody!

Let me elaborate. This is a generalization, and not meant to offend anyone. As I’ve said before, this blog is just a lower 48 girl’s perspective on the ways of interior Alaska.

Normally, people care what others think or say about them. If we’re honest with ourselves, we usually don’t want people to think we’re weirdos or awkward or vastly different from societal norms. Fairbanks couldn’t be farther from this stereotype! People here don’t seem to care about anybody else! The way people dress, the way they fix their hair, the things they do to their bodies, the way they talk, the things they say, their mannerisms. It sometimes seems as if a lot of people are purposefully different and weird to draw attention to themselves. But in reality, I think it’s just because nobody cares one way or another!

You want to shave the top of your head but leave hair on the sides and tattoo your head? Do it! Nobody cares!
You want to wear sweatpants, snow boots, and a wacky hat to the grocery store? Do it! Nobody will give you a second look.
You want to dye your hair turquoise and order lemon-tangerine mochas, and say you go by the name ‘Merman’?! More power to ya.

It’s not unusual to see people dressed in all 70s, thrift shop attire by choice. I’ve seen a grown man wearing red high heel boots and cargo pants in a grocery store. I’ve seen a girl wearing tye-dye tank top over a fleece coat with brightly patterned leggings, toe socks, flip flops, and a cartoon bunny hat. I’ve seen people (and kids) outside in the 40 below weather wearing next to nothing! People wearing bathing suits and running around in the snow just for the photo op and the boasting privilege. This is the kind of weird even I can’t make up!

Fairbanks is a town where moose roam city streets in the middle of winter; a town where the closest shopping mall is an 8 hour drive away; a town that has very few chain restaurants, fewer chain stores and very few things to do unless you are an outdoor enthusiast. This town has a neighboring city named North Pole that has candy cane streetlights all year round. You drive by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and see 30-40 reindeer lounging around outside. The list goes on and on! I hope I can adequately convey all the strange and different things that I encounter in Fairbanks over the course of this blog. But I’ve realized, the longer I live here, the more the abnormalities become normal to me.

Maybe my innate apathy is coming to the surface living here. I’ll admit, nine times out of ten, I don’t care what my hair looks like, or what I’m wearing, if I’m wearing make-up or not. I’ve never dressed to the nines or bought expensive clothing. I can’t remember the last time I shopped for style or fashion. I buy clothing for functionality, not fashion-factor. As I write this, I’m sitting in a bar wearing black pants, a black jacket, black shirt, purple hiking boots, and no one is giving me a second glance! 3:00pm on a Monday at a bar, and there are three or four people getting their alcohol on a little too early for my fancy, yet nobody is judging or caring about their choices.

Maybe there is some beauty in this. I haven’t worried about how I look or what I’m wearing or how to sound proper in speech in months. I know that if I make some weird comment or joke that nobody understands but me, that it’ll be okay. If I wear something questionable according to today’s cultural standard, no one will really be bothered. In fact, I could dress a lot weirder and be a lot more intentional about my weirdness and I’d still be in the safe zone.

I guess, the purpose of this post isn’t to criticize the weirdness of Fairbanks, but to applaud their openness, their apathy, and their open arms of non-judgment. It has taught me to love broader and care less what others see or think—good lessons I think more people could learn these days.

“I like weird. Conformity bores but is inescapable for the most part. We all follow something, even if it is following the goal of wanting to stand apart. We are a sea of ordinary people; it is always the quirk, the flaw or the ingenuity that stands out.”
-Donna Lynn Hope

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a new way of life

Before I begin, read this blunt disclaimer: I know little about Internet compared to most 20-somethings. If I misspeak or misunderstand something, feel free to let me know.
Life without Internet. Some people remember it well, but most of us these days don’t. I can remember when I was a young teenager having dial-up Internet that would use a phone line to connect, and you paid by however much time you spent online. My sister and I would have a timed hour each and eventually, this grew increasingly difficult. We all know technology rules the globe now. I can barely remember when ‘Wi-Fi’ became a thing. It all happened so fast. It still does. I could go on and talk about the fast pace life we all now live, but I think we hear that and feel that often enough. I’m here to talk about my life.
When we first moved to Alaska in July 2014, we quickly learned that Internet is not cheap. In Alaska, no resident can have unlimited, ‘free’ Wi-Fi. That’s just not a thing up here. With our habits of Netflix and streaming YouTube videos, we purchased a hefty package of 200gb per month of Internet. This is the case in some rural areas. I’m no Internet genius, but there’s just something about being in the middle of nowhere that makes unlimited Internet access pretty difficult. There are other options when people in the lower 48 or Alaska cannot receive Ethernet (cable) Internet, and that option is satellite Internet. You still have to purchase Internet by the gigabyte, but it’s possible to have satellite Internet. Most Internet companies these days are providers of multiple services—like cell phones, TV services, Internet services, etc. Our current cell phone company provided us with Internet services too, and all in all, we lived online comfortably for the first year we lived here.
When you follow a dream, sometimes it comes with sacrifices. Living in a dry cabin is hardly a dream, but it is something I had always wanted to try as soon as I discovered more about it. When we found our new dry home, we discovered there was no Internet access of any kind there. No Ethernet or phone line hookups. According to the FCC, 81% of rural Alaskans don’t have access to 25/3 Internet (that is 25 Mbps/3 Mbps…very slow Internet), so this shouldn’t have been surprising to hear. We looked into satellite Internet through Verizon, which is one of the only companies up here that offers that, and they use their cell towers for the coverage. When we saw the map of their coverage, we realized our house is too far out to receive satellite Internet through any major company. A little leary of our slim options, I accepted the fact that we wouldn’t be getting Internet at the new place. No worries—what’s a year without Internet? We’ll just up our data plan with our phones and have access that way if we need it. Who knows, maybe we won’t need it as much as we think we do.
Guess what. I was wrong. For the first month and a half, I was miserable. I searched for options. There must be some way to get Internet. We live in the 21st century. And while we live in rural Alaska, it’s still the outskirts of the second largest city in the whole state. Surely, there is a way. After days of searching for options and struggling through a life without constant Facebook updates and Googling anything that crossed my mind, I realized I needed to just give up. Believe me when I say the struggle was real. Our culture is so submersed in Internet that it is hard to think of a life without it.
Did you check your Facebook or Instagram today? Did you check your emails? Did you Google something or search for something? Did you watch a YouTube video? I’d have to think most everyone in this century would say yes to one of those questions. It’s a daily habit we all have taken on. Imagine being on a limited schedule—only allowed a certain amount of time on the Internet—like it was when I was a kid.
I have 5gb of data per month on my phone. I have to use that wisely. I don’t get to Google anything that crosses my mind or have constant connection to the outside world. I can’t remember the last YouTube video I watched, and I feel so disconnected to the news of the world. But I’m still here. I’ll tell you this, after a month or two of adjusting, I’ve gotten used to it. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or fun. It’s another challenge in my life. If I want to use the Internet for any length of time, the nearest place is 6 miles away from my house, and it’s a bar for that matter! (More on that to come). There are limited options in Fairbanks that advertise free Wi-Fi. I work at a coffee shop and we don’t even have free Wi-Fi there. I don’t even have Internet access at work people! It is truly an effort for me if I want to spend any amount of time online. I pack up my laptop and charger cord, drive 15 miles into town and hop online where everyone else is packed for the free Wi-Fi too. You can imagine the types of speed I’m getting. 😛
Okay, enough whining. I just wanted to take a moment and introduce this concept. I’m sure I’ll mention it again, as this is an online blog. I have limited abilities online, and limited time. The next time you’re frustrated at the speed of your Internet connection, or even if you have an Internet connection at all, I hope you think about this post. Life without Internet is not all that bad. It can be frustrating, but just like life was decades ago, it can also thrive without the use of constant Internet connections. You begin spending time doing better things—like taking a walk in the woods, picking blueberries in the fall, going hiking, playing with my dog, reading an actual book, writing or creating something tangible, actually having meaningful conversations with people. Try it sometime. The benefits greatly outweigh the cons in my opinion.

the watering hole

The topic of this post is water. We collect water from a local spring—I mentioned that in my last post. I figured I’d go into a little more detail here. Complete with pictures so you may understand the process a bit better.

The town of Fox is about 12 miles north of the city of Fairbanks. The ‘town’ really just consists of two gas stations, and two bars. And of course, the famous Fox spring. This spring provides water to 1000s of Fairbanks locals, and it’s not uncommon to see cars pulled over on the side of the road with several jars, buckets, gallons, etc to collect the natural spring water. Once we went to collect water, and there was an older man there with the entirety of his car FILLED with 1-gallon milk jugs. And one by one, he filled each of the jugs and carried them back to his car. The line grew kind of long at that point, and it was just a little bit ridiculous. I found an article from Alaska Dispatch News that describes the well…well.

“Fox water has a mythical standing in Fairbanks, and it is good water. Some people will not drink coffee or tea unless it is made with the magic elixir, claiming it just doesn’t taste the same otherwise. Every day of the year people arrive in cars and trucks bearing milk jugs, water bottles, and five-gallon containers to fill up at the roadside pull-off where a three-sided shack covers the piping system. Because the makeshift equipment is exposed to the elements, the system is prone to a buildup of glacier-like ice in winter.”

Thanks to the great state of Alaska, since 1966, this well system has been state maintained and free to the public. Since dry cabin living is common(er) in Fairbanks, there are several ‘water’ stands where you can fill containers. And while getting water at any of these stands costs $0.03/gallon (and we only have like 60 gallons at any point in our house), we still prefer the Fox spring water since it’s so close to home. To me, you can’t beat the crisp, cold taste of fresh mountain water.

Water is heavy! I thought our jugs were only 5 gallons, but they are actually 7 gallons! And at a little over 8 pounds per gallon of water, you’re looking at 56ish pounds of water per jug! Times that by two, since it’s more balanced to carry two jugs at a time, and you’re lugging around 115 pounds! Though it’s a short walk to and from the car, and to and from the house, it becomes quite a workout, having to go up stairs and make several trips. We have 10 containers in our house that line the wall, and once the one by the sink empties, we just replace it or refill it with any of the other containers. This method works well for us, and we only have to get water 2-3 times per month.

Living in a dry cabin makes you very aware and cautious of how you use water, and what you use it for. Normally, people use water for washing dishes, clothes, using the bathroom, cleaning, rinsing things out, showering, cooking, etc. There are endless ways to use water. Living here, I’ve become very aware of how much and how often we should use our water. It’s still a renewable resource, and is ever-flowing, but once we run out, it becomes another necessary chore to do—just like taking out the garbage. We use water for washing dishes and cooking (and drinking of course). And that’s it! We don’t have the luxury of running the hot water to thoroughly wash our hands or washing greasy dishes. We don’t have the luxury of controlling the amount of water pressure. We have to heat up water on the stove every time we want to wash dishes, which only makes you more conscious of how many dishes you’re using. I’ve started buying paper plates, and I’ll use the same coffee mug all week giving it just a quick rinse after use (more on the joy of dishwashing in a later post). You begin to adapt and see small changes in how to be efficient in a less-than-ideal situation. And it works for us for now.

Who would have thought I could write 700+ words on water! ☺ I guess that is enough for now.

the fox piping system allows you to just press one of two buttons that release the water from these two spouts.
the fox piping system allows you to just press one of two buttons that release the water from these two spouts.
the wall of water jugs
the wall of water jugs
our water system :)
our water system 🙂
notice the toothbrushes in the kitchen...when you have only one sink, you gotta do it all there!
notice the toothbrushes in the kitchen…when you have only one sink, you gotta do it all there!
the complex plumbing system
the complex plumbing system

here goes something…

So before I even begin telling my story, I want you to know something. This is not a formal blog. It’s not written to impress or distress anyone. I’ve never been one to write much for public viewing. It’s a chronicle of my life–a chapter–that I want to share with those who care about it. It’s meant for my own memory’s sake when we want to remember the vivid details and hardships and frustrations of dry cabin living. It’s for my family and friends who always ask me about my life in Alaska. Should you not care about that, you should choose to not pursue this. It’s just that simple.

So here goes the memoirs of the year we went without water.

Specifically, running water. For those of you who don’t understand a dry cabin, let me explain first. We are living primitively. No running water in our house and no indoor plumbing. We use five gallon jugs full of water we collect from a fresh spring down the road propped up on the edge of a sink that drains into a five gallon bucket. Once the bucket is full, we take it outside and dump it out. And any time you have to use the bathroom, you gotta walk outside to use the outhouse (even when it’s 40 below). This type of living isn’t too unusual for rural, interior Alaska. A lot of my friends here live in dry cabins and it’s just the way of life for some people.

We’ve been living in this cabin for a little over 2 months now. It’s mid-September, and today we got our first substantial snowfall. Some people said they haven’t seen a snowstorm like this in September or anytime…ever. Usually we don’t get any snow until mid to late October, and usually Fairbanks doesn’t see snowstorms of this volume. All in all, we got about a foot and a half where we live. And while the winters get extreme here, I’m looking forward to it, and am almost glad it got an early start this year. The temperature lately averages around 20-40 degrees day and night, so a lot of the snow has melted and re-froze. But at our house there’s still a good amount of snow, and we’re loving it. Can’t wait for the winter sports to start.

I guess I don’t want to give away too much in one post, so I’ll just introduce a little about myself and where I’m at in my life right now, and leave it at that. I’m 23 and married for almost two years to my best friend Logan. We moved to Alaska in July of 2014 for Logan’s job. We moved to the dry cabin in July of 2015. We recently got a puppy named Zander. I’m sure I’ll have a post dedicated to him at some point. He’s really a lot more than just a dog. As we settle in to our new style of life, we are still excited for the adventures and stories to come of our great Alaskan adventure. I’m excited to live this life and share it with others.

A brief disclaimer: We do not have Internet at my house (more on that later), so what I post may be slightly outdated. (I’m posting this in mid-October, and I wrote it in mid-September…). Bear with me. There will be more pictures and adventures to come. 🙂

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