The Long Days of Winter by Jeff Varvil
Old man winter has a firm grip on Alaska this year. With most of South Central Alaska experiencing below zero temperatures over much of the state I am inclined to ride out the worst of it in my lazy boy, reminiscing about the big one that got away! I peek out my window at a Popsicle thermometer. It reads –14.
These are days best spent wrapped in a warm blanket reading the classics as I remember my father doing. Authors like Robert Rouark, who wrote the classic “Horn of the Hunter”. Then again it is January of 2008, so I do what any self-respecting millennium man would do after a new year. I sit down perfectly content with my new 2008 catalog selections ready to kill the entire day investing in gear I really can’t afford, but can somehow justify.
I build a nice fire in my den, pull out my top three reading prospects consisting of West Marine 2008, Bass Pro Shops 2008 and Cabela’s 2008 and begin to sift through the mass propaganda. Ahh, just a quiet day, watching the snow gently fall and no sound heard except for the occasional jangle of my Golden retriever’s collar as he rolls over onto his back, enjoying the contrast the heat and the fire provides against the hardwood floor. Would you look at that, waterproof floatable VHF hand held radios, just in case I decide to throw it in the drink? This is why man works all week, builds warm houses and wants for the better things in life. Peace, solitude and an Icom waterproof radio.
Enter the children. My five-year-old Garrett comes sliding across the hardwood floor doing mach 1, wearing nothing except a football helmet, Sponge bob underwear, a hockey glove and his sister’s favorite blanket as a cape. I know this is his sister’s favorite blanket because his sister Emily is in hot pursuit and screaming like a banshee that Garret has her favorite blanket. She fails to negotiate the corner, slips and takes out both my hot coco and the Cabela’s catalog in one fatal swoop. (This is why West Marines Catalogs have a waterproof top.) She immediately begins to cry and he takes the opportunity to launch off the couch and flee to an upstairs bedroom.
In the meantime the eldest boy Josh hears the commotion and begins his journey down the two flights of stairs to see what he was missing out on. Unfortunately he has a cup of his own coco and the little guy caps off his cud Agra by running into Josh on the corner and spilling hot coco on the two of them and the carpeted stairs. They both begin a shouting match as Emily now regains consciousnesses. and as quick as a cat snatches the blanket off her brothers shoulders and in the process he falls down about one flight of stairs. A full out brawl ensues that would make the movie Brave Heart seem like a Mary Poppins flick!
Enter the Wife. At 4 a.m. she was called into work leaving her baby’s, in dad’s capable hands. She now has returned to world war III. I’m not sure she even had to speak. But even the dog must have known what was coming because he headed straight for his bed. In a barely audible tone that sounded like it was written for the exorcist, she commanded the children to their respective rooms and without a word they quickly obliged. I sunk into my chair even deeper and pretended not to notice the commotion hoping for a reprieve from the oncoming and inevitable verbal assault. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to take the kids skiing?” she said. “Oh, Hi honey, I did not even hear you come in, Ah, ya, I could do that, ah, I guess” I said in my most pathetic voice.
I checked and crosschecked clothing and made sure all of the kids had their cold weather gear on. Gloves, hats, face masks, check, check, check. We are all new to cross country skiing as we thought it would be a great way to spend time as a family. With the rising prices of gas and lift tickets for down hill skiing this was just what we needed to keep us busy during Alaska’s long winter siege. For about $200 per person we were completely outfitted from head to toe with the newest skis, bindings and poles on the market. We loaded the cross-country skis into my truck and away we went.
Anchorage has about 40 miles of ski trails that encompass the entire city. From bike trails to groomed Ski trails it offers the winter enthusiast a retreat from the daily household grind. The Anchorage Bowl also offers many lakes that provide excellent skiing opportunity and exercise.
About fifteen minutes into our trip the kids get into a groove and even the 5 year old keeps up just fine. They separate themselves by age with Josh taking the lead and with me taking up the rear of the group for safety and we stop from time to time for hot coco and granola bars. There is no time to argue as it wastes energy and takes up valuable breath they all need to keep up with their older brother. The many hills provide entertainment with too many wipeouts to keep count of. We have a contest to see who wipes out the most and who wipes out the worst.
Wolves have been prowling the outskirts of the city and they do not hesitate to pull down the family canine for a quick meal. It is not uncommon to see an occasional skier go buy us with a Pistol or Shotgun over their shoulder. So goes life in the 49th state. We are dumbfounded with just how beautiful a backdrop Alaska’s Chugach Mountains provide us. It is a picture I never get tired of looking at. My kids point out massive peaks and name them. An occasional moose browsing near the trail provides more excitement for our little family as the minutes turn to hours. We see ptarmigan and squirrels. We make a big 4-mile loop and I can see the disappointment in the kid’s eyes when we round the corner and see the truck again.
As we load up into the truck Garret’s eyes are already beginning to shut as he is plum wore out. Emily places her blanket over him to keep him warm, go figure. By the time I pull into the drive way they are all out cold. I sneak into the house and find my wife placing another log on the fire as she sits down to read her favorite Hollywood magazine. “Should I go wake them up?” I say with a smile. She motions for me to come sit next to her and I oblige.