Monday, January 23, 2012

How Do We Get Stuff with No Roads?

(I welcome your comments and questions through the "comments" option below any entry. --Laura)
Because our home site is remote, everything we use has to be:
(a) local, like wood for building or fuel, or water, from the lake or
(b) expensively transported from elsewhere.  Transport is determined by weather, weight, and dimensions.  This means that shopping lists are developed for needs anticipated a year in advance, and have to include a hefty supply of redundant parts and equipment and dry goods. 

During the winter, the rivers (the –na suffix in names like Yentna, Chena, Susitna means "river: in the Athabaskan language) become “highways” for remote areas, allowing snow machine trailer transport of large, heavy and flammable items, like mattresses, or 55 gallon drums of diesel fuel that are not allowed or are prohibitively expensive to transport by ski or float plane (usually Cessna 182s, 206s, or de Havilland Beavers and Otters).  As of 2011, the planes from Anchorage charge $0.50 per pound unless you charter the whole plane.  Since a whole plane charter costs from $300 – 600, there is an obvious incentive to fill it with over 150 pounds of goods, since a 50 lb bag of groceries will cost $25 to transport by itself.   Each air taxi service has a shed or two at Lake Hood (the largest float plane airport in the world) for accumulated piles of purchases by bush cabin owners like us until time to fly them out.   
The alternative mode of transportation is by snow machine cross country and up river 42 miles, about 3 hours.  That is 42 miles to the boat launch.  Not to Walmart.  Before we bought our own snow machine, our neighbor charged us $300 per day for hauling everything he could carry on his trailer, which holds up to 1000 lbs. He snow machined up river, switched to his truck, stored near a river landing, and then made up to 13 shopping stops (for construction supplies, fuel, furniture, and anything else we could think of) before returning to the pier, loading up his snow machine trailer, securing his truck, and then traveling home, down river and cross country.  That $300 works out to about $0.33/lb for shopping and transportation.  It was well earned and easily paid! 

The problem with both of these modes of transport is that twice a year, during what Outsiders would call Fall and Spring, but which Alaskans refer to as “Freeze Up” and “Break Up” the lake/river ice is either melting or freezing and not safe for planes or snow machines.  During this period, which can last nearly two months each in the fall and spring, NOTHING can get to the lake, and conversely, no one can leave except, in a health emergency, by helicopter(for $700).   In addition, because there are wild swings in winter temperature, there may be periods in the winter that make lake/water crossings dangerous.  For example, at 45 degrees below 0, it is not safe for people or equipment to be outside (rubber and plastic parts crack, oil doesn’t flow, and exposed body parts can freeze in 4 minutes).  One week the weather veered suddenly from 30 below to 40 above, causing snow melt on trails and thinning ice on rivers.  A workman came to the lake for a day project and had to stay for a week;  other family members were meanwhile stranded in town. 

As a result of these logistical issues, everything requires advance planning.  Which projects should be undertaken over the winters and summers?  When we planned the building projects for the first three years, we assembled massive shopping lists:  what supplies and tools we’d need for each, in turn, and which projects needed to be complete before something else could start.  During the first winter, the priorities were to haul in construction supplies to build an 8 x 12 storage shed and a short dock to facilitate transportation of construction tools from our one full time neighbor's barn by motor boat as an occasional alternative to an ATV path he also needed to hack through the woods.  He also brought in supplies like a pallet of 60 lb bags of cement and sonatubes for the pier and beam cabin base), a two person kayak we ordered, a propane powered “mosquito magnet” publicized as effective in a half acre area (it helped, sort of), and some yard tools to start clearing the land as soon as we returned the next summer.  How he found the time, I don’t know, but in addition, our stalwart neighbor cut down the thickest, straightest spruce trees he could find (which numbered 106) for the 16 x 24, two story cabin that would take two years to build.  He hauled them to the vicinity of the cabin site to cure. 
Over the ensuing years, we have sometimes planned deliveries well, a season or a year ahead, and other times had to pony up for transport because something  broke (like the ridiculously expensive propane powered refrigerator - hence the cold-hole.  See blogs on  power).  We have bought a used snow machine and had a hardy sled built that can carry 1000 lbs worth of supplies next time my husband gets cabin fever and motivation to build something.  For the foreseeable future, he, like other intrepid Bush rats, will happily embark on a 6 hour round trip to haul across frozen rivers and moose populated country trails appliances and furniture, roof trusses and mattresses that city people order on a Friday and have delivered on Monday by friendly Home Depot staffers.  

As a result of all the planning and effort, I probably appreciate and pamper my few, carefully chosen acquisions in a way I never did before.  That's a good thing.     

1 comment:

  1. Your life must be so intentional in order to be successful. You must appreciate little things so much more.