Chickens, Birds, and Squirrels

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Been raining here a fair bit, so I haven’t been able to do good hiking for most of the week … not to mention the fact this house buying thing has had my attention too.  A conversation I was having yesterday, reminding me of some of my other experiences around here that are a fair bit more blog worthy than I have been giving them.  We’ve been focusing on bears a lot, and when not on bears on moose.  But I maybe a little unfair to the other animals about.

Fish weigh heavier on the minds of the locals these days.  It’s nearing the end of the salmon run, the time when all the salmon head up or down stream to swim the forbidden dance, lay some eggs, then get the heck back out to sea.  Fishermen flock to the rivers and inlets to get their fill.  When not salmon fishing, halibut fishing is big … because the halibut ARE big.  They throw back the 30 or 40 pounders (‘chickens’ they call them) even when they are better eats than the big ones, but as my boss said “you don’t win the pot for biggest fish with a chicken on your line”.  Many get up over 70lbs, and the halibut can grow as big as 400lbs.  We’ve talked at work about a charter to do some ourselves, if just to stock up for the winter at a better price than at the store;  and that may still happen.

Birders are flocking up here too (pun intended) to watch rare and exotic birds you can’t see on the rest of the continent.  Earlier this year I read (ok, Jeremy, listen to on audiobook, but it still counts in my opinion) a book called “The Big Year” which describes the obsession birders can have to spot a rare or exotic bird (Geocachers out there, that’s an interesting read just because we soooooooo are like those bird watchers).  Of course I can’t tell a wobbler from a finch, but where I take my lunchtime walks there is a van full of people with binoculars staring at what I assume are ducks … but obviously not normal ducks.

My mind, though, always ends up back in the woods.  I do love my hikes.  Last Sunday, when the rest of you were worried about me getting eaten by a bear, something else was worried about me.  As I was wondering along a trail, I stopped to reply to an urgent text asking if I was the one that was grizzly treats, and while I was standing there I heard a chirp.  Looking up a tree, there was a red squirrel, at least 35 or 40 feet up, its eyes squarely on me and its voice loud.  Most squirrels seem to always run to the other side of a tree and duck from me, but this one didn’t; and it was making it clear it didn’t want me there.  It wasn’t going to rush me, or make some attack, it just wanted to give me a piece of it’s mind.  I talked back to it, saying I didn’t mean to worry her and I will be on my way shortly; but she wouldn’t let up.  As she continued to chirp and chirp at me in ways I didn’t understand, I couldn’t help but start to laugh, knowing that squirrel reminded me of a good friend.  So I packed up my phone, text unfinished, and headed on apologizing to the squirrel for causing her alarm.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t running away from an angry squirrel .. it just was reminding me that I am a human in those woods, and that makes me a visitor to the place.  There are animals everywhere out there, and I need to respect their home.

The squirrel, as memorable as it was, wasn’t enough to remind me that this week was the birthday of one of my closest friends whom had to throw a nut at me to remind me after the fact.  Happy Birthday Nick (and yeah, sweety, the squirrel story REALLY did happen).

Offer Accepted

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My offer on the house was accepted. We gave them until 6PM today to respond hoping to make them jump before we found ourselves in a bidding war, and at 5PM they contacted my realtor to let him know that the deal has gone through.  I’ll close likely around October 15th, so still a long trail of paperwork and inspections and things to go … but all signs point to being an Alaskan Homeowner before Winter.

Now the real challenge … and welcome to the first “Interactive” Blog post of the Bear Feed.  What am I going to name the thing?

I started naming the houses up here as a joke (I mean … you HAVE to call the Murder House “The Murder House”) but then it became easier to give the rest of them names (Dog Smell House, Reliant Duplex, Drunken Architech, Highway House) but I didn’t get much of a shot to think of a name for this place.

So I need your help.  Throw me ideas and I will put a poll together for y’all to respond.

Some of the suggestions so far:

Plan B (see yesterday’s blog)
The Gray House (cause its … gray)
Strawberry Lake (cause that’s the lake on the other side of the highway)
bilderbuch haus (German for … ummm … probably something nice)
The House We Will Throwdown In (long name, but Brad Barnes always must get an honorable mention)

If you need inspiration, the listing is still available for a short time: http://www.alaskarealestate.com/Search/Property/PropertyDetail.aspx?li=12-11936

What do you think?  Leave a comment below, you don’t need to sign up or leave a name. Later I will create a poll, and we can have fun with that.

Buyer’s Remorse

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If you have heard me complain about my house in Wichita, you know that I am the king of second guessing my home buying choices — I am the KING of Buyer’s Remorse.  Today I put pen to paper and put an offer on a house, certain that this was going to be my home for as long as I am an Alaska.  I did so without fear, and confidently told myself I had absolutely no reason to feel regret or buyer’s remorse.  Five hours later, I tossed that offer away and put another one down to a completely different house.

If you have  been watching this blog, you know that I had done some serious house hunting.  Over the weekend, I decided I was going to go with “The Highway House” — a 3 bedroom, 1158 sq ft (that’s 107 square meter floor space for your European readers), single family with a 10,000 sq ft lot, big back yard, deck, and in a very livable part of town.  At the end of a cul-de-sac it was priced reasonably, though slightly high for it’s neighborhood, and butted up against a major highway running just beyond the fence in the backyard.  I had my finances put in place by Monday night, so I let my realitor know I wanted to make an offer today – we made arrangements and I met him at 11am.

The house was listed at $249,500 (keep in mind – housing in Anchorage is Stupid High, and that price would have not gotten me my 4 bed, 1600sq ft house back in Wichita).  The municipality had it appraised at $238,500.  Based on some houses in the area and the sizes of yards / bedrooms / garages; I was ready to put an offer down at $240,000.  My realtor had other thoughts.  He did a search on houses sold recently of the same general floor plan near that area; and while most of them were larger than the one I wanted the price per square foot was much less than the listing price.  So he talked me into a low bid, $225,000.  I wasn’t comfortable with it, but he felt that if they had good offers that beat that they would have gotten it by now … plus, we could always negotiate higher.  So the offer was sent to the seller with the list of homes my realtor used to come up with the bid as evidence.

The seller (who was also a realtor) didn’t like it, and said the list of homes weren’t nothing like the ones in the area that are listed.  My realtor, now second guessing himself, decided to do a search just to be sure.

And what does second guessing get you?  Plan B:

http://www.alaskarealestate.com/Search/Property/PropertyDetail.aspx?li=12-11936

The house went on the market last week, but probably wasn’t listed to anyone outside of the seller’s agency before today.  When we visited, there was evidence that at least two others had visited the house already.

In comparison to the Highway House:
Downsides:  It isn’t at the end of the cul-de-sac, so I have houses behind and the sides beyond a 6ft fence, so not as much privacy.  The furnace is older, and depending on the inspection back it may need to be replaced within the next few years.  The roof on 3/4 of the house looks to be original (25+ years old) and may need to be replaced – and the other 1/4 (added as part of an extension) doesn’t quite match the rest of the house.
Upsides: It is in great condition.  No need to upgrade exterior, no need to upgrade interior.  It’s been taken care very very well – the sellers are still in the house and haven’t done a bit of touch up you normally see, but there is little need to paint the floors or redo carpets.  Appliances are new, and depending on the offer acceptance, I wouldn’t need to invest in fridges and wash/dryer that weren’t included in highway house.  The deck is bigger and doesn’t need repair.  But the real star of the show was the living room, right on the entry into the house — it is fully lofted to the roof and runs almost 2 stories up, well lighted, with part wood paneling floors and part carpet.  My immediate reaction was “people will love to visit me IN THIS ROOM”.

My realtor looked at me and said: “I think you should cancel your other offer and jump this one.”  At 1300 sq feet, it was bigger than the highway house, and noticeably so.  It was listed at $249,500 – the same price as the Highway House was listed; but the municipality was saying this should be closer to $270,000.  Comparably, it should go for at least $270k, or even start creeping closer to $3ook.  When I asked my realtor what he though I should offer, he said: “This is under priced, if you offer their listed price they may just take it.  If you wait, someone else will make an offer and you could lose this.  If you list it under, someone else may come along and you’ll run the risk of a bidding war.  Give them every reason to accept your first offer.”

There I was, five hours after making an offer on a house, I was cancelling it and making a second offer on a different house.  I was more anxious the second time around, though I don’t know why.  Likely it was the speed of it all, no time to sleep on it.  Part of me was worried that I am jumping into something I felt I can’t back out of.  But as I sit here a couple hours later its sinking in that I may have fallen onto the best bet of luck this summer has given me.

I wanted a house that I could move into without any major work to be done … this would do it.

I wanted a house that I felt would be easy to keep up … this would be easy.

I wanted a house that gave me the sense of privacy and spaciousness .. this fits the bill.

I wanted a house in a neighborhood that I could do fun things like hiking, walking, riding a bike, wandering to a coffee shop, hang out at a cool place, be not far from work, not far from downtown, not far from the stuff I wanted to do … this is going to be as good as it gets.

I wanted a house that is in my price range … this did it.

The seller has until tomorrow night to respond, so expect an update on the blog on Wednesday.  For now, I need to find a geocache and a beer.

*side note — thoughts and prayers go out to those folk down in the deep south in the path of Tropicane Issac.  Stay safe!

Grizzly Attack in Denali

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Many of you showed your concern over a report of a man’s death yesterday.  If you read those articles, you should know that I didn’t share the man’s name and not from where he’s from.  But come on folks … not only did I NOT walk on the moon, I wasn’t even born in 1969.

The other story that some of you confused me with is about a pour soul killed by a grizzly bear this weekend.  The Anchorage Daily News ran a front page story on it, and it was quite blunt about their opinion of the hiker.

http://www.adn.com/2012/08/25/2599545/hiker-killed-by-grizzly-bear-in.html

The attack took place in Denali National Park, the most popular national park in Alaska and the home of Mt McKinley (or Mt Denali) the tallest mountain in North America.  It was the first death by bear mauling in the 90 year history of the park, extraordinary because there are 400,000 annual visitors to the 9 million acre park.  The man killed was back country hiking, which is basically random hiking off the grid, and had received training & signed a waver stating he understood what to do if he came across a bear.

The park rangers found out that the man was taking pictures of the bear from 50 ft away on a digital camera, and the time stamps showed he was doing so for at least 8 minutes.  The bear seemed to be quietly grazing in the photos, but obviously something happened.  The rangers found the bear that killed him and put the bear down, it was acting in a “predatory” manner and was a threat to any and all park visitors until it was put down.

Now, I may make jokes about bears and I may be an idiot, but there is a limit to my stupidity — I take bears pretty seriously.  Bear behavior can be split into 6  moods, ranging from docile (or not wanting to bother you) to predatory (or sees you as dinner).  There are three types of bears up here – picked out easily by color.  The man was killed by a Grizzly, which can be thrown in with all the brown bears up here; they can easily go from docile to predatory on little notice if you aren’t careful.  Most of the bears around Anchorage are Black Bears, who are smaller and nearly always docile if you don’t get in the way of something they want.  The real scarey ones, almost never seen around Anchorage but would be around the North Slope, are the white Polar Bears – they are predators, and should always be assumed to be predatory.

While I only bought bear spray and a bear whistle yesterday, I have been “bear aware” since I landed in Alaska.  I read the warning signs and listen to those who have had confrontations with bears.  Bears will attack creatures it thinks it can eat and wouldn’t eat them.  If I come across a bear, I stand my ground, make myself look big, and keep talking to the bear.  Of those six moods a bear can be in (from docile to predatory), five of them can be diffused if you keep your senses about you and use your brains.  All of them can cause an attack if you just turn and run.

It may not be sensitive of me to point fingers at a dead man, but the man could be alive now if he followed the basic fundamentals of dealing with a bear.  When one sees a bear, the smart thing to do is back away slowly at a diagonal and keep talking to the bear.  The worst thing to do is stick around.  The time stamps showed he took pictures for 8 minutes, and while that doesn’t sound like much you probably finished reading this in far less than 8 minutes.  When you see a bear, you don’t sit around for 8 minutes taking pictures of a predatory animal … you leave.

With the news of the grizzly attack fresh on my mind, I went to South Anchorage and put in a four mile hike in bear country this morning.  I hiked as a concern hiker should, aware and alert, but hiked none the less.  Bears are a risk of hiking, as are Moose, as are foxes, as is a slip & fall, as is Poison Ivy or Devil’s Club, as is dehydration, hypothermia, and exhaustion.  I didn’t see a bear, but I cut my hike way short because the rain was harder than I expected and my back-up socks were going to be no match for the mud on the decline –  I turned back because that was the smart thing to do.

Hiking is dangerous, but not deadly. Hiking only becomes deadly when you don’t know the risk or choose to ignore the risk. But I still hike, because nothing is more exhilarating or ever changing or refreshing that I can do.

Geared Up to Be Easily Distracted

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I was having a conversation with someone during my orientation on my first day at work, and the topic of hiking gear came up.  The lady I was talking to was describing about when she came up from the lower 48 as excited about hiking as I was, and she was taken aback on how unprepared she was to hit the woods.

Of course, I was smug and thought I was better prepared.  I had a shovel to dig poo holes, what else did I really need?

Today, I broke down and embraced the complete lack of gear I have.

The lack of preparation really doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of intent for preparation.  I’ve read a enough hiking books and magazines over the last couple of years to know that I needed more than I had, and I love to window shop in outfitter stores.  But I kept thinking about putting off some items for a big hike, or focused more on the backwoods camping gear than true hiking gear.

The real problem I have is my spontaneity.  Like what seems the rest of the world is now, I have a bit of the ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  I like my hiking, but I don’t think about where or when I do my day hikes.


I don’t go to bed thinking “Tomorrow I will hike the Turnagain Arm Trail for 2 miles out and back.”  I go to bed thinking, “I drank too much, because the room is spinning”, or “I need to do laundry tomorrow” and then start to think about how to haul clothes to the laundry mat, and then wonder if I can get netflix on my cell phone and if so what kind of show I could watch then the world just kinda goes wrong from …. oh wait, off topic there.  Anywho …

When I look at day hiking, I usually make the decision to go hiking right at that moment, flip open an phone app that either takes me to the nearest trail or nearest geocache.  Then I head that way.  Today showed off what can happen.  I’m up on the Turnagain Arm Trail, take a wrong turn, then I am up a good 300ft elevation on a dirt path with changing weather conditions but an opportunity to try for a 14 mile knock-out path to a high mountain lake.  I could have run back to the car and gear up, but didn’t have any gear.  I needed something for the car.

So the day ended with a trip to REI and I Geared up.  Specifically with:

  • One Day Pack (backpack that is pro-hiking, but isn’t too big, good for water bottles and clothing)
  • One Pair of Hiking Poles (they look like ski-poles but … are for … hiking)
  • One high quality rain jacket (layered for different conditions)
  • One Can of Bear Repellant (for Mary Glerum … happy now?  I am safe!  you can’t get me to wear bear bells)

Bag will be packed up by tonight and put into the car – where it will stay so come any day I want to go hiking, I got something to go with.

Now, to find me a place with good coffee.  Not that there isn’t good coffee here, there is a lot of places with good coffee.  Some coffee shops and some drive thrus.  I mean, I like the coffee shops, where I can sit and type these blogs up, or read.  Oh, and I am nearly finished listening to an audio book … crime mystery by Tana French.  Based in Dublin.  Lots of books based in Dublin it seems.  Must be because there is a good paper industry or … SQUIRREL!!

Friday Full of Houses and Mooses

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This was an interesting day to say the least; though most of it was errands.  All of BP’s office workers work a 9/80 schedule, which means we work 9 hours a day Monday thru Thursday, and work 8 hours one Friday and get the next Friday off.  Today was my 9/80 Friday off, and made a lot of it.

I awoke at 4am, no idea why, and couldn’t get back to sleep.  So, awake and alert I intended to begin the day with a thing I wanted to do for a while … try out the BP Fitness Center.  A sweaty half an hour in an empty (and nearly dark) gym and I was off.  By now the dawn had cracked and the day was beginning.  Had breakfast at Denny’s (Reindeer Sausage Omelet), and then on to the DMV to register the RAV4 as an Alaskan RAV4.  I will be getting personalized plates, something I had been considering, but now convinced as my new plates include “911”, not really favorable if you ask me.  They aren’t on yet, because Alaska is a 2 plate state (unlike Kansas) and I have the front bracket on order through Toyota.

Today, though, was “time to get serious about house hunting” day.  Through my realtor, I set up visiting five homes that was my short list.  The five were, in order of worst to first:

5) The Murder House (see post earlier this week) is officially out.  Financing was my excuse to duck out – they could not let anyone own it on a mortgage as the property covenant had too many mortgages per their land deal.  They had offers already, so it was a no go anyway. But while there, I did confirm it was THE murder house (missed mail from the victim inside the door).

4) The Drunked Architect house is out.  A 3 bedroom duplex where rooms were placed in awkwardly bad locations throughout; including one bedroom that was smaller than the master walk-in closet (and the walk in was not that big), a separate room just for the fireplace (yeah, it was a fireplace and no room for a place to sit).

3) The Reliant Duplex.  This is still on my “I can live here” list.  It’s actually one building over form the Drunked Architect house, and in a very nice neighborhood within a couple miles of where I work.  Three bedroom with a sunken floor living room and a nice deck.  It’s right off a bike path that will take you to a number of nice hikes.  But it is a duplex, and there is a need for some work on the outside – meaning you have to get your neighbor to buy into doing the work.  But overall, it’s a good place.

2) Highway House.  This is a close second.  Downside is that its needs some cosmetic work done on it, nothing that a coat of paint and new gutters will fix. It also is short of some appliances (needs a fridge, washer, dryer).  While I don’t mind it, the house butts right up against a highway, but when I lived in Milwaukee I lived next to an airport and know how to get over noise with time.  The yard is huge, though; the lot is over 10,000 sq ft.  I’d have good healthy trees of all different types (apples, pines, cedars, ash) and a nice size deck (though that may need work).  Big garage and nice storage – the rooms are good size too.  But, work would be needed right away when I get in.  Not like …

1) Baxter Terrace.  You would think it would be a turnoff to walk up to house and see roofers working on it, but my first thought was “wow, new roof”.  Wood panel flooring was just installed this year too, and new windows on the first floor.  New appliances, new deck in the backyard, and new carpet on the upstairs.  The yard isn’t as big as the highway house, and it is far from being as private as the highway house – which maybe an issue as the big plus of Baxter Terrace was all the windows and natural light (hard to use light when there is so many houses right on top of you).  But this was the first house I visited since arriving that was in my price range and made me say “if people came to visit, they would say ‘this is a nice house’”.  It’s on the east side, close to the mountains, but not really the part of town that jumps out at me as my part of town … that’s what I have to get comfortable with before I pull the trigger.

Have some financing things to work out this week, but I have the feeling that if Baxter Terrace or the Highway House is still on the market come time for the financing to be worked out, I could be making an offer.

Oh, and near the highway house, I saw another moose.  This was a biggun … With a full rack and everything.  Deep into a residential area, eating from a tree in someone’s backyard.

Moose Saddle Soars

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The wait is over, my car has arrived in Alaska.

Yesterday I got the call that the car was released from the shipping company and ready to be delivered.  As if to go full circle, the car was dropped off in the parking lot where I work; as it was picked up from the parking lot where I worked.

Before it Left

It took 30 days for the car to make the move.

When it Arrived

I suspected that the car would be a bit of a mess, and it wasn’t too bad.  Birds took a bit of target practice on it, but birds always did  like to aim at my car (as well as cats, bugs, and squirrels … no elf, not you).  The radio antenna did break off, and I got an claim on that with the movers kicked off, but otherwise its in pretty good shape.

But when I drive it, it doesn’t feel right.

Part of it is that I drove three different low riding sedans for the last 30 days, so sitting up in a crossover SUV is definitely different.  But I drove that car for 33,000 miles in the lower 48; I should just slide in like putting on an old glove.  But it isn’t quite the same.

I think its because driving in Alaska is a bit unique.  There isn’t the interstates you get used to down south.  The roads are rough as well.  Everything here is built on permafrost … that isn’t a joke, its true; even in Anchorage the ground is frozen a few feet below the surface.  A road crew can lay a road and expect it to sit well for a time, but the slight differences in the ground and warming effects cause the roads to sag and pothole anytime.  You always know when you are in a well driven lane, and always know when you aren’t up here.

But I think its just because its like trying to fit an old friend in a new place.  I love my car, that guy (and it is a ‘male’ car, he’s pretty kickass and likes him the tough roads) and I have put the miles down in some great places.  But this isn’t a muddy road in Oklahoma, or the pig farms of Iowa.  This is Alaska, and its new to him, and maybe new to me too still.

In time we will fit once more, but it takes time to shake off the memory of riding low in a rental.  The saddle soars from Marty the Moose takes time to heal.