Friday, July 25, 2014

budgeting and planning for the winter Homestead

Following is a brief description of the preparation for spending the winter at the homestead. This will be after the work season, from the first of October, to mid May. Everything needed will have to procured before the last charter boat leaves the river for the season.
Enough of the winter supplies will be brought in to get through until the river has frozen, and the snowmobile can be used to haul freight.
I have determined that $1500, will be the bare minimum to provide for me and my three dogs. Any additional will be great, but the $1500 will be my bottom threshold. Bear in mind that I already have some supplies on hand from last winter.
The list, in this post will be a basic list. I'll post a more detailed account of items in the second part to this article.
I have prioritized this way...

1) Dog food.. I calculated 12, 50lb bags, but will buy 14    $420.00

2) Gas and oil (2 cycle, bar/chain/ etc). 65 gallons of gas, 2 gal bar oil and 3 gal 2 cycle.    $375.00

3)Kerosene.... 15 gallons   $75.00

4) Propane... 20 lb cylinders X 3       $55.00

4) Human food.... $400.00 

5) misc hardware and items (batteries, duct tape, and such) $175

Every payday, I immediately delegate where the money will be spent. My first priority is to get the dog food bought as soon as possible. Whatever funds are not required to get me from payday to payday goes towards winter.
As for my low numbers for human food. Most everything I buy is bulk, and I cook very simply as well. there will be salmon and other meat. Actually it is quite doable,  and I expect to actually exceed my winter budget amount.

As of July 25th, I have purchased 5 bags of my dog food and a 20lb bag of rice. That may not seem like much.. It isn't. But it is a start.
I currently have 9 weeks to accomplish my goal before winter starts to set in. Then there is a period of time here in Alaska, referred to as "freeze up". This is when the rivers begin to freeze, and the ice flows prevent the usage of river boats. Usually from The first week in October to late December travel into town is extremely difficult if not impossible, and always quite hazardous.
At least two freight runs of supplies will be hauled up river to get me by, the 2+ months until river travel is possible.
In the next article I'll detail more, the human food and misc supply portion of the list.

Photo of a typical truck load to be taken by boat, to the homestead. This may not look like much, but trust me... it is....

A typical load waiting to go on the boat....

A full and very heavy load to the homestead.. I don't recommend a load like this, and have since downsized my weight limits.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

On a Dime (pt 2)

Making your money go far....
That is the key... And it is something you have to experience yourself. Preferably in small doses at first! None of it is rocket science. It is more mindset... Not forgetting. You become "always conscious", of the money supply.
Area's that have made my life easier, has been my reliance on garage and estate sales. I have saved a lot of money on much needed items at them over the years, and I have friends that run a summer long sale that I frequent almost weekly. The items I require are fortunately, items that many people buy, but rarely seem to use. In my case it is snowshoes, axes, etc...
These get purchased and after a short period of use, get stored, then sold. Much like the exercise bike and treadmills...
Entertainment, is also an important issue over the course of a long winter, so I look for used DVD's to make the long winter nights, a bit more pleasant. I have even gone so far as to make a list, for my Garage sale friends, of items for them to keep on the lookout for.

My other friend is the pawnshop. Tools especially can be had at a bargain, as well as firearms if you are in the need. The trick to the pawnshop sale is to be sure to ask for their lowest "cash" price.. (then be sure you pay with cash). Don't feel bad.. they are still making good money on the sale. And remember.. the more you frequent the shop, the better deals you will get.

I mentioned bulk, in the previous post, but it bears mentioning again. Most big chain grocery stores are offering bulk foods these day's. So hunting down the bulk stores is a lot easier. Also, some of the bigger chains will reduce their main isle items if you buy in quantity. For example you buy 2 cases of canned pea's. Flag a store attendant over and ask if a bulk discount is given. You might be suprised.  But don't try this at the "bulk only" stores... they are already discounted...

Thrift stores.. These are the "I'm to lazy to have a garage sale", stores. There is no telling what you will find there for a bargain. I've personally bought everything from jeans, to parka's... backpacks to soft sided suitcases (which I have a liking for in transporting freight.. which I will post about later).

Barter.... Live in a small town? Have something you don't need? Post it online or on the local bulletin board. WTF (will trade for) or WTT (willing to trade)...
I know people who have turned barter into a fine art.

So you see there are many way's of getting by on less.
But don't kid yourself that it is glamorous! Getting by on less is great. But it's not easy or fun at times. It's just something you do in the long list of sacrifices you make to live a rural lifestyle.

Stress and the short work season

With the coming of spring I find myself once again returning to the civilized world for a time, to earn that almighty dollar, that keeps the dogs and I, in food for the rapidly approaching winter. Living in a small enclosed community, makes the competition for work rather fierce. The food service people all vie for the most coveted jobs. Longevity in an area helps, as you begin to be known, and earn a reputation of being, either a good employee or a bad one.. In a small town word gets around.
The men who don't relish the idea of washing dishes, or waiting tables take on bus driving jobs, or whatever else presents itself.
Then there are those such as myself who really tend to shun the public, and prefer to be by ourselves. The number of "Handyman" flyers increase greatly in spring. Everyone being handy with a hammer, whether they (I) am or not. Posts on the local bulletin boards range from hand scrawled notes on tablet paper, to more ornate printed material that is computer generated.
The number of people,, at least professing to be looking for work ensures that wages will be low. As in the above paragraph, being in an area with a good reputation helps, and the longer you stay at it the more references you will have.
I am fortunate in that the bulk of what work I go get in, is from just a few people, and I tend to stick with them, as my main source of income.
Early in the summer work season, the wheels turn slowly, and the stress mounts as you are sure there will be no work, and you will end up freezing or starving come winter. So far that hasn't happened, but the thought still sticks with you.
With each tiny check, you plan and plot, how to make it last as long as possible or go as far as it can. You know what it will take to feed the dogs, the chickens, whatever, so you prioritize and spend away! Leaving just enough to get by until next payday. 
Does the stress leave?
No.... not entirely. It's not easy providing for a year in just a few months. Regardless of how much you make there is always a vast hole where the money needs to go. It's more, a matter of what can I do, to NOT break things, or create more places the money needs to go.
This is one area where the "weekenders" have a supreme advantage. They work year round, go into debt for all the nice toys, and spend 2-3 weeks a year at their little rural cabins. I'm not sure I could do that either.
Honestly I'd be trading one type of stress for another. And the thought of just being at the cabin a few days a year is actually depressing. Rather than enjoying the few day's, I'd probably just forget the whole thing.

This summer work season has about 90 day's left as I write this. What will it hold? I honestly don't know. You can get a windfall just as fast as a crisis which takes money away. You take it as it comes and you adapt. Learn better way's. Get more frugal. Just do the best you can.
In 100 day's I'll know if I have failed or succeeded. I'll know if my fall, winter, and spring will be home, or if I'll need to stay in town, or go looking for work in a bigger city.
I guess that's what makes it the great experiment and adventure??
Well.. I'll know when it happens and I'm sure I'll write about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On a Dime Pt. 1

The Name of my Blog is Homesteading on a dime..... So I guess I had better expound from time to time on that particular subject matter. In no way am I a person of means. At least not in the way I used to be.
My life has totally changed since I moved to Alaska. Although the changes actually started before I made the move up.
Living here, out in the sticks, I have kind of reverted back to an earlier time, though "that" is not exactly unique in this area. It is somewhat like depression era living. You think twice about throwing anything away, lest you find a use for it later. Tin cans are saved until you determine you have to many. Juice jugs become your water jugs for your backpack. plastic bottles with long necks become funnels for fuel and water transfer, etc. Sometimes I get somewhat self conscious about doing this. But I can't justify buying something whan a perfectly acceptable substitute sits right in front of me.
Once you get used to the reality of living on meager means you begin to shift your priorities. You become a cash and carry person. you would like to have a big bank account, but the reality is that you will begin investing in your needs almost immediately. You will prioritize your needs for the year and buy accordingly. Rarely will much money reach the bank. You will collect your payday, and head to the grocery store, hardware store, army surplus store etc. If you don't buy what you will need, you may very well find your money going to non essential items insead. (Ask me how I know)...
In the old day's people were more focused on buying a lot of staples at one time rather than the constant, nearly daily trips to the store. Going into town was an event, and you made the trip worthwhile. My personal recommendation would be to try and accumulate an amount of cash that makes a trip to the nearest bulk food or food warehouse feasible, and spend wisely. The bigger the lot of food the cheaper it will be.
Learn to cook from scratch. Avoid prepackaged foods and overly processed foods. Chips will be a treat, not nightly fair. Focus on what it takes to go the furthest for the leastest, if I may borrow, and adapt that famous civil war comment.
I focus on, beans, rice, potatoes, and flour first. I buy a variety of beans, primarily, pinto, navy, and garbanzo beans in bulk bags of at least 20lbs. Same with the rice, both white and brown. I stick with dark flour. Whole wheats, and rye flour.
Canned goods are next in priority. Your dependance on these, will lessen as your homestead gets establshed, but until you get a good garden and preserving process established you will need canned goods. I focus on tomato products, diced, and sauce, to make both spaghetti sause and adding to other dishes.
Canned peas, and carrots follow. I avoid canned corn or and corn product as 95% plus is GMO... I only buy these if they are labeled organic.
Every time I go to the local grocery for those small items, I'll add a box of baking soda, jar of yeast or bullion cubes etc. They won't break your weekly food budget and it will add up rapidly.
You will determine the amount of condiments you need as well.
You wait for sales, specials, and you will scan the end caps for clearances.

Daily durable goods, such as rubber knee boots, tools, etc, you will find at garage, and estate sales. While most garage sales seem to specialize in baby clothes you can still find man sales out there. So it it worth your while to inspect every sale you pass.
I am fortunate in that I have found a full time garage sale (during summer), where I have been able to find many items that I have needed. Everything from DVD's, to oil lamps, snow shoes, etc. The people who run the sale have become close friends and I get special deals...
Forming a network should not be underestimated.

The number and amount of items you will need to live a simple life is astounding.. And you won't get there over night. But you will find that gradually, you are doing more, for far less, and with far less, than you would ever have imagined. 
Now in reality you don't need to live in the sticks to adopt any of the advice I have mentioned here. Regardless of where you live, being frugal will at the very least put a few extra scheckles in your pocket.

If you determine you need a snowmobile to drag in your firewood from the back 40. Do you really need a brand new Skidoo scandic? Or will a several year old machine do as well, and save you a few thousand dollars. If you are more impressed with impressing the neighbors..... well.... there ya go....
Don't worry though.... That shiney machine won't look new for long!! And you'll wonder why you are making payments on a machine that looks like it's been nuked.... I'm not joking! The machines owned by people who live remote look like holy heck..

How will you make that money to keep the homestead going? Beats me! I'm still trying to figure that out myself.
What I do know is that I do have to leave the homestead in order to stay on it. I do some little construction jobs and make and sell items of leather in order to keep things going.
It can get interesting, and I'm always trying to improve. But I've had some very lean years. Having two dogs (now three), to feed is a big worry, and I have had long periods with little to eat but beans and rice, and buckwheat pancakes. One thing I can tell you about buckwheat pancakes... make sure you eat them while they are warm!

The vision of walking out into the woods with an axe and a frying pan and making it any length of time make a good movie. But you'll give up soon...

My suggestion, like anything else is to research your area well, before moving there and learn what the local economy is, and adapt! If possible travel there beforehand and make some contacts.
Dump as much debt as possible beforehand and don't acquire more in the move! In the poorest year I had so far I made approximately $3000 (maybe a bit more), in the course of a work season... It's not something I recommend. If you figure about $600 of that was dogfood. I was still able to buy the food needed and some fuel, kerosene, etc. But it wasn't easy and if something breaks don't even worry about getting it fixed.

Well, if you aren't worried by now, it should at the very least give you something to think about. Plan well.... do your homework..
And please!!!!!!! don't watch those TV reality shows!!!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gathering Logs (pt1)

Well, after a bit of a break, I'm back at the writing biz.. In the time since I last posted I have been quite busy with a mountain of tasks. Most of which will end up here, eventually.
Honestly, doing this homesteading thing often leaves me to fatigued to really care much about writing. Not to mention the extra use of fuel in the snowmobiles has made gas for the generator, and battery charging a bit more of a burden. I have had to shave my dime very thin this year.
However the purpose of this post is to chronical the cutting and hauling of logs for the big cabin and the outhouse/bathhouse (primarily). Not to say that you do not exploit every available piece of wood in a given area, since firewood is always needed as well as posts for other projects such as fence material, and furniture, etc. Tis better to run a good trail through an area and use it, than have to rerun it after a big snowfall, which is not uncommon up here in the far north.
To begin with you will need your dependable snowmobile and a good sled, capable of carrying the logs to the site. A distant neighbor of mine simply spikes his log into a half cut plastic barrel and has good results, however it digs a deep channel down the middle of his trail and causes some streering and balance issues on following runs. I rather like my trails as smooth and easy to use as possible.
My immediate answer was to inlist the use of my military surplus akio. These narrow sleds work quite well, though they can be a bit tippy. To keep the weight of the log off of the ends of the akio (think of it as a very shallow oval bathtub), I lay down two 4-6" diameter logs, 4 feet long in the bottom of the akio. This lets the weight of the log rest solidly on the bottom, and once strapped down keeps bending and flexing to a minimum. I really don't want to break my akio (it is built of fiberglass). My main snowmobile is a late 90's Polaris Widetrack, with a low range transmission. These machines are great for hauling, and the low range will let you work at the slow speeds you will be traveling, without fear of burning up your belt.
Trees of the proper diameter must be located. What you determine correct is totally up to you. I decided on going with a modified, two sided log, assembled in a "piece on piece" fashion. This is simply a log cabin comprised of both vertical and horizontal logs. This allows the usage of shorter, lighter secrions of logs.
The chances of you finding a bunch of trees in one small area to build the cabin is probably not going to happen. Some scouting will be needed. I found that a tree with a 12" diameter just past the flare would give me the following:
1, 7 foot piece to be used as a building pier. This is the butt and flared section.
2, 10.5' logs to be used in wall construction.
1 16' log to be used as beam, post, or perlin logs.
Then the top material, to be used as either firewood or project material.

The first step is to cut down the tree and do as much of the limbing as possible. There will always be limbs on the bottom, buried in the snow you won't reach.

Don't be suprised that you may have to drop a tree you don't want, in order to get the tree you do want, to fall. Dealing with a snag is not what you want to deal with at this time! Also be sure to try and drop the tree in the direction it is leaning. To try and do otherwise without the proper equipment and experience can be.... interesting....

After the limbing is done and you can access the tree trunk, I take measurements, so that I can get the best use out of my tree. I measure girth and length, so I can get at leat two wall logs from each tree. In my case my wall logs are running from 12" down to 10" with the bark on.. Making them two sided logs will reduce that even further.

The much dreaded limbing process.

The marking and measuring process.

After the log is measured and marked, it is simply cut to it's proper length. After the cuts are made it is much easier to try and turn the log and remove the remaining limbs. When these logs were harvested, I was blessed with a solid snowpack, due to a warm spell, which melted the snow down, then refroze..
It is now time to haul the logs to the building site. It is at this time that I snowshoe a trail to the tree. I do this by waling a looping trail that allows me to pull up parallel to the log, load it and drive off without having to resort to using reverse. It is simply easier to load and pull away.
I secure each log onto the akio using ratchet straps. The log sits easily ontop of the two bottom logs and pulled quite easily.

Here is the loading and hauling process. A 10 to 12 foot log 12 inches in diameter, pulls with no problems, and even a much smaller snowmobile would handle this operation as log as a good trail was made first.
Honestly it isn't so much the weight as the length of the log that causes difficulty. The 16 foot logs I haul make the inevitable turns through the trees a bit harder and they tend to drag when starting up hills, etc.
So far the longest run I have had to haul a log (actual trail legth) was 1/2 mile. Much shorter if I could have just gone straight. However, terrain dictates the route.
Once you get to the building site you will want to segregate your logs in piles. Wall logs in one spot, pier logs in another, etc. And you will take up a bunch of room as you will only be able to stack the logs just so high.

This pic is the beginning of the cabin "wall log" pile. Notice how nicely it sits on top of the hard crusted snow. Since this pic was taken it and many others have become buried under about 2 feet of snow. However the hauling continues 3 day's a week. The rest consist of fire wood gathering and the hauling of the bath house logs... which are much smaller in diameter.

The log piles slowly grow.. piles of logs for wall logs, piles for posts and perlins, and piers. Other piles are for other projects, as you will be needing an outhouse, generator shed, etc...

As I've said many times... Once you start hauling.... it never stops....

Here is a pic of the logs that will make up the piers and wall logs. If you look closely to the left and left rear you can see other small piles that are now covered with snow...


To be continued........

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Daily Grind

I'm often asked to tell about my day. What are my day's like? What do I do? Honestly I'm never sure how to answer, without feeling the person or person's will be disappointed. The vast majority of my day is so routine that I wonder how anyone could really be interested!
Sure, there is the occassional adventure, or rather, misadventure. But for the most part my life is as regular and routine as anyone elses. In fact, it may be even a bit limited in diversity, compared to someone living a more conventional lifestyle.
Once the newness wears off you will find yourself in the same grind (but hopefully with a nice view!).
My day's do vary a bit, deoending on whether it is summer or winter. However they do follow a theme of sorts. Gathering fire wood and hauling water are my two primary activities. Everything else revolves around those two primary chores.
A typical fall/winter day, may go like this.
I wake up either when I feel like it, or the temperature of the cabin dictates. At this time I start the morning coffee. In late fall and winter this always happens before daylight, which in it's worst, can be about 10am before one can see in the cabin without some sort of assistance from an oil lamp, headlamp, or candles.
I set the coffee pot on the back of the wood stove resting against the stove pipe. this heats the water enough to make coffee in a relatively short time. Note, that the water does not need to boil, unless you use the percolator basket. An item I have long since discarded!
At this point I either go back to bed a enjoy the warmth, emenating from the stove, or turn the radio on and wait for both daylight and coffee. I usually enjoy that first cup, more likely two, before I get breakfast started. It is tradition, that my female dogs snoozes on my lap for a bit. A bad habit that  have no intention of breaking her from!
Eventually, I will get the morning meal under way. It usually consists of oatmeal, pancakes, biscuits, or in the case of an extravegant weekend, bacon, hashbrowns and eggs. Breakfast is enjoyed with more coffee and talk radio.
At this point I decide what my day will consist of. I haul my firewood in, and leave it in lengths until time to buck it up and split it. I do it this way simply because it gives me something to do.
While the days are short, it is best to keep busy, and stay outside, as the nights are long and become quite tedious! the cutting and splitting can take an hour or more depending on my mood and ambition. If the weather looks to turn cold, I always split up extra, just in case!
The rest of the day will be filled with minor repairs. Much breaks out here! And there is always something that needs fixing! Whether it be snowshoes, or the leg of a chair, there is no shortage of little tasks.
On the days that require a water run, I strap my reliance water jug to the back of my pack frame and head to the creek. The round trip takes less than a half hour and I usually make two. Unless there is the dreaded "laundry", to do, in which case I make three runs! Baths are at least once a week, depending on the weather. I don't care how warm the cabin is, it doesn't feel warm when you are dripping wet and it is -20 outside!
Cooking food takes a few minutes at a time, throughout the day. Baking and cooking inside the wood stove is a totally visual thing. Biscuits normally take about 15 minutes or so, not including the mixing of the flour. However you don't go to far as it is quite easy to turn them into cinders! I usually bake the biscuits after breakfast and before I head out for the creek or wood pile. Cooking dinner is another thing however. Beans figure prominently in my life, and always seem to be in the dutch oven. I cook the beans first, by themselves, adding water throughout the morning as needed. I will then add the stock, and either rice, or potato's, along with peppers, onions, etc, and cook the rest of the afternoon.
During the height of winter this will be done by about 4pm, as light is quickly fading by then. As the day's grow longer, your chores are done either at a more leisurely pace or you just get more done. If there is nothing to fix, you fire up the snowmobile and drag logs, find poles for fence material, etc. Weather permitting you peel some of the logs..
On day's off, I go snowshoeing with the dogs. 
After things start to get dark, I'll fire up the oil lamps and finish whatever dinner prep is needed. Depending on the hour, we will either listen to the radio while we eat, or plug in the DVD player and watch a movie. If I can stay awake, I'll pop some corn and make it a double feature!
After that it is lights out and plan for all the things that winter won't let you do, like garden, dig fence posts and pier holes for the cabin. Then fall sleep until tomorrow, so I can do it all over again.
the main idea for coming out here and living this way, is simply to do what I want, at my own pace and on my own schedule. As long as the work gets done!

Please be aware that this does not include the "special", times of year when it is either canning, or hunting, or fishing season. the spring/summer months are totally different. Likewise in winter, when there is a freight run to do, these things are events, and totally scrap my normal routine. This is just a glimpse of my little life.....

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Things to be expected on the Trail...

I had planned on going in to town to get my mail, buy fuel, propane and grab some of the much coveted halibut and other meat in mikes freezer.
The river was still probably very iffy further downstream, and there was still a lot of open water up here, in some area's. In any event I would be crossing the river and linking up with a series of trails on the other side, which would eventually take me to the road system. I would then park my snowmobile in a friends drive.
Jesse had mentioned that he was going to go down to the river and work on a snowmobile of his, that had broken down, and that he would tag along.
I told him I needed to get back, same day, so I wanted to get and early start. I told Jesse I wanted to head out by 9:30 am. The morning of the trip arrived. It was partly cloudy and in the low 20's.
Jesse showed up a bit early, which was fine with me. I had to take my bear dog Uljas with, as I still had the issue with Kaksi being in heat. I didn't want to leave her alone, but had little choice.
It was okay with him though as he loves going along.
We headed out and had no real trouble even though the trail was barely broken in. The only troubles I had was in some of the sharp bends he had put into the trail. My Arctic cat has a very long track, and my akio freight sled is quite long itself, making sharp bends difficult. Crossing the river was no big deal. The ice seemed solid and we crossed the channel and took to the gravel bars. We exited the river and took a winding trail that gave me a few more turning issues. Several times I had to jump off my machine and pull the ski's to get the cat going in the right direction. To get to the rest of the trail I had to cross a small stream that never freezes. Normally this little creek is just 20 feet wide or so, and just a few inches deep, and has a is easy to build a quick ramp. No so this year.
Jesse had warmed me that with all the temerature fluctuations the creek had frozen high, then as the levels lowered,and the temps rose it continued freezing on the way down. This resulted in about a four feet thick wall of ice that had been crudely hacked into steep ramps by Jesse his last trip up. The current had swept much of it away, on the last ramp, leaving a break which needed to be hacked back into a traversible ramp once again. We broke out the sledge hammers and in about twenty minutes had an acceptable ramp built. Jesse stayed on the far side ready to grab my ski, in the event I lost momentum. It wasn't needed but it was nice to have him there. His broken snowmobile was just a few yards away. He went to work on it and I continued down the trail. It was a pretty typical ride and was totally uneventful. I met two guy's heading to their weekend cabin up on carlson lake but that was about it. Uljas and I pulled into the trailhead parking lot about 11:15am.
Mike showed up a few minutes later and we continued on to Jeffs place which was just a few hundred yards further. As I was about turn down his road I spied him coming down the trail on his old Skidoo Tundra. Jeff was on his way up to his cabin to start opening it up for winter.Why he was using this Tundra was anybodies guess as he has five much newer, more comfortable machines to ride. His tundra, though a good machine, has no reverse and no headlights. We exchanged small talk quick, while I unloaded my sled. Mike and I then and made our way to all of my designated stops. Mail, propane, gasoline dogfood and some items out of my storage trailer. It didn't seem like it took very long, but by the time I got back to Jeff's driveway, it was 2:30pm. Later than I wanted.
As Mike and I pulled in I was suprised to see Jeff had returned already. He had some difficulty breaking trail through the unpacked snow, and since he had no headlight on his tundra (see!), he had to turn around. I hurried to repack my freight sled with all the new supplies and found there just was not enough room. I decided that two boxes of food and a 5 gallon can of gas had to stay behind. I put them back into the bed of Mikes truck. It was about then that I noticed my gloves were missing. I had evidentally left them at Mikes, which had been our last stop. I dug through my pack and retrieved my backup pair. I always bring a pack of basic survival items, including a complete change of clothing. Especially when you are traveling near water. Getting soaked out here is a death sentence. There will be no time to start a fire. I donned my gloves, said a quick so long, and headed out. It was nearly 3pm by the time I made the trailhead. Not good, as by 4:30pm it was going to be quite dark. I headed back down the trail at as good a clip as I could, without killing my poor dog, who was trailing behind. We were making
pretty good time, and the fact that it was a clear day helped, although I knew that the temps would continue to drop. We had traveled about 1/3 the way to the river when I looked back and noticed that a 5 gallon can of gas was missing from the rear deck on my machine. The ratchet strap was also missing, although one can had remained in the small enclosed platform. I was fairly upset, as in my haste I had not double checked my ratchets and straps. I made the decision to backtrack a bit just in case. This is not the first time I had lost something on the trail. In fact it is rather routine for people to drop items. There is a trail code (which may be vanishing), that folks will put your item off to the side of the trail and leave it. It was my hope that the code would hold true a bit longer. I could not get my freight sled to release from the hitch. Crossing the little creek had solidly frozen it in place. Regardless of the pounding with my fist or the kicking of my boot, it would not budge. I did manage to get my rig turned around, after a bit of work and some foul language. I went back a mile or so, much to my dogs dismay. I was getting really concerned over the diminshing light and decided to turn around and head for home. I couldn't afford to lose the gas, or the can, but I had much more important issues at the moment.
I don't like being caught out at night in these temps, and I had a LONG way to go yet. The creek and those ramps were weighing heavily on my mind. When we did arrive at the creek it was just after 4pm. Way to late in the day! I unloaded the sled. there was no way I was going to try and get that sled up that incline loaded full. So I carried two bags of dogfood, a 20lb cylinder of propane, 5 gallons of gas, a cooler full of meat and two new battery chargers across first. Actually I carried them all the way across to the far side of the creek. There was no way I was going to pick that stuff up twice! I had no difficulty crossing the first channel of the creek other than tipping my akio over, completely soaking what remained in it. It was of little matter as there was nothing fragile left in the sled. I got the machine and akio up on level ground and began reloading it. The soaking in the creek was going to freeze up my ropes for securing my load. There was a bit of light left, and I really hoping to get across the river. I was basically at the rivers edge, and all I had to do was negotiate a few sharp turns then cross the river. After that I was sure I'd be home free.
Well, it was not to be. The long track of my machine coupled with a long tongue on the freight sled continued to make cornering interesting. As I approached the first sharp turn I had to slow down to make the turn. As I did so the machine began to snowplow into the turn. I gave it some gas to try and get straightened out, but it didn't work.
If any of you have driven a narrow front end tractor in the snow, you know that steering in the front doesn't work that well. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to steer by braking. I could not just go straight forward due to some alders. I needed to make the turn. I was already off the machine, I gave it a bit more gas, trying to help steer it into the turn but it was no good. I reached down and tugged my ski's back onto the turn, but I has literally in the middle of the tight corner. After getting the machine straight, I applied the gas and tried to get the heavy load to move without digging down. that didn't work either. To compound matters, the tongue of the freight sled was sitting on what turned out to be a down cottonwood. As my track turned it dug until I was effectively high centered, by the tongue of the sled.
This was not working out well. I cursed the tight turn that was done out of expediency. By now it was nearly 5pm and getting very dark. As quickly as I could I unlashed the canvas on the sled and unloaded it. My hitch was solidly frozen shut from going through the creeks and with no real tools, I was unable to get it free. Even with the sled empty I was now to tired to lift the back of the machine out of the hole. I could see the track spin quite freely, turning nothing but air.
It was obvious I was done. My mitten gloves had frozen solid as had my pants from the knees down. I sat down to rest and used my last minutes on the phone to call Jeff and verify his coming up the next day. He said he was going to head out approximately 8am,  and that he would keep a lookout for my gas can. In mid conversation my phone beeped and shut off... no minutes left. With nothing left to do, I put what food I did not want to freeze in my pack. I struggled to put my snowshoes on. The bindings cotton laces had gotten wet in the creek crossing and were almost impossible to manipulate. I had thoughts of taking a shortcut across the river and linking up with my summer trail. A shorter but harder route as I would need to break trail. Once I put my headlamp on and turned it on, any thought of blazing a new trail across a river was out, as a weak circle of light shone on my feet. The cold had pulled my batteries down a bit. Uljas had aleady taken off anyhow. He always returns the same way we came. And that way was the winter hauling trail. It is a bit longer, but much more level with no real steep inclines. Which is the main reason we use it.
I took off following the trail, and my dog, onto the river. With the temps dropping, my mittens a useless mass of ice inside my pack, and no real light, I was in no great desire to bump into a moose in the dark. Pushing my hands deep down into the well insulated pockets of my surplus airforce artcic parka I trudged off. I was not cold or in any way uncomfortable, except maybe for the fatigue and annoying weight on my back. As I walked along in my dim circle of light, I could hear water running beneath my feet. A sound that I don't care to hear. However I was on a used trail, and my headlamp did not show any oveflow, so I felt okay.
Now this is not the first time I have had to walk back to the cabin in the dark. In fact I've done it enough, that I try and avoid it at all costs. But I have come up with the best way to get the job done. You trudge along. Don't focus on how far you have gone. Don't try and pick out landmarks. As long as you are on a trail you know, focus on thinking about anything but the trail. If you try and judge how far you have gone you will just get depressed. So I focused on what I would bring back down to the river the next day. Fortunately, there was no moon, so it was nice and dark the whole way. Had even the half moon risen, I would not have needed a headlamp at all.
Bringing Uljas along with me was a fluke, but I was glad it turned out that way. He led the way, and made sure no moose would cause any problems. As it was I never heard a peep out of him. Every so often I would see his eyes looking back at me, as he would sit and wait for slow, old dad to catch up.
Eventually I rounded a corner and realized I had turned off the winter trail and was now on my main trail. I had less than two miles, line of sight, to home. On I trudged, setting no land speed records in the least. At last I saw my little mountain looming in front of me. Uljas was already home, and I could hear my girl dog barking from inside the cabin. Looking at the thermometer as I unlocked the door, the temp read zero. My girl dog seemed very happy to see me, though I had left her alone all day. The cabin was frigid. My water jugs had frozen enough to be useless although the water in my stock pots did provide water.
I started a fire as quickly as I could. While the cabin warms quickly it took over han hour before I could stop shivering. My walk home was fine enough, but the minute I got in the cabin that all changed. I fired up the propane stove and started heating water. I was not able to carry any dog food back, so I had to make something for the dogs and me. I ended up cooking some pasta in chicken stock and a bit of spam. It wasn't much but it seemed to satisfy everybody, me included.
I gathered up the tools I wanted and an empty pack, and settled in for the rest of the night. It was 9pm when I got to my front door. It was 12:30 am by the time we had dinner and I was ready for tomorrow. My clothing was hung above the woodstove to dry and warm. I lay down on the bunk, and felt bones either falling into joint, or out of joint. It didn't really know or care which. I was not able to get comfortable, regardless of my position. Each was worse than the one before. I stared at the oil lamp and listened to the radio for awhile. About 3:30am I dozed off a bit. My departure time came too early. By 7am I was up and getting ready. By 7:45am Uljas and I were heading back to the river.
The half moon had risen about midnight and was still up so I could see quite well without the headlamp. The pack on my back was empty except for a butane torch, several vise grips and channel locks and a hammer. In my hands was a sod shovel. This time we took the shortcut I had thought of using the night before. It was exceedingly steep and I basically slide down the hill to the river. I searched around a bit to find the most solid place to cross, then headed downstream to my machine. By the time I got withing 100 yards I could hear Jeff.
He had just arrived a few minutes earlier. It was about 10:30 and I had made much better time, although I had not recovered much, if any, energy that I could tell. After a brief chat, I fired up the butane torch and de iced the hitch so I could remove it from the snowmobile. While I did this Jeff started digging my machine out of the snow. Once the freight sled was unloaded and free of the machine, it was fairly easy for both of us to lift the arctic cat back onto more solid footing. Jeff said it was -17 when he left Talkeetna. My therometer said minus -4. So it was somewhere in between. I had brought the empty pack in case the snowmobile would not start. At least I could carry something back. It took some gentle pulling on the starter rope to get the recoil to work and free up the pistons. After a bit of priming the arctic cat fired up and I knew I was finally on the downhill slide. After the machine was idling on it's own, I reloaded the freight sled. I threw some items in the pack and put it on my back. Once we got the load to move I didn't stop. We pulled out onto the river. Uljas behind and Jeff trailing on his tundra. From there on out the trip was exactly as it was supposed to go. The hauling trail proved to be an easy ride and jeff followed me home. It was noon when we arrived and the cabin. We were both a bit chilly. Traveling at an average of 10mph, I did freeze my ears a bit, even wearing my favorite balaclava. My glove warmers on the handle bars of my machine finally got warm about 1/8th mile from the cabin.
At least the cabin was neutral, if not warm. I got the interior warm in short order, cooked up some coffee and had lunch with Jeff while he warmed up. He still had to make it to his place and open it up. It would take me until dark to sort and re stow everything I had brought up.
I really try and plan my trips to avoid trouble. But sometimes it just happens. At least with the day's starting to get a bit longer, it will get a bit easier as well.....