50th Anniversary – The Great Alaskan Quake

Standard

I’ve been fairly tied up the last two weeks – and it caused me to miss a big date in Alaskan history.  Yesterday, Thursday March 27th, marked the 50th Anniversary of the Great Alaskan Quake.  On Good Friday, March 27th, 1964 at 5:36PM Alaska time a 9.2 Magnitude Earthquake centered in Prince William Sound shook southern Alaska for nearly three minutes.  This is remembered by a number of names, the Quake of ’64, the Portage Earthquake, the Good Friday Quake, but most call it the Great Alaskan Quake.  It is the largest earthquake in North American written history, and is only surpassed worldwide by the 1960 Valdivia, Chili earthquake in magnitude.  The quake was responsible for 143 deaths from ground fissures, collapsing structures, and tsunamis.

This earthquake was massive, and I mean Massive!!

Magnitudes on the Richter Scale is not relative to each other.  Every point is ten times worse than the next, so this was over 10 times worse than an 8.0 which is considered to be when “homes are a total loss, and rivers & landscapes are forever diverted”.  The Northridge Earthquake (L.A. Area) of 1984 was a 6.7 & the 1989 San Fransisco (World Series) Earthquake was a 6.9 — The Great Alaskan Earthquake had aftershocks bigger than them,  ELEVEN over 6.2 in the first 24 hours and nine more in the next 3 weeks.

It was centered 120 miles from Anchorage, yet the full brunt was still felt here.  Some experts have stated the actual epicenter really wasn’t.  The quake, happening where the Pacific and the North American plates meet, was such a massive disruption that the epicenter was actually approximately 10 miles long.  It was said it felt like you were in a boat in rough seas, where the ground just rippled in waves under you – but it was the ground, not water.

The land under the city shifted and slid.  Areas around down town tried to push towards Ship Creek, pulling roads and buildings apart.  Much of the land on the north end of the town was mostly built on what was fine silt that when shook like that acted more like liquid than solid.  A classic scene from the quake shows Fourth Avenue & Barrow Street, where half the road is about fifteen feet below the rest of the road.

While downtown was sliding north towards Ship Creek, Government Hill was sliding south.  Still until this day, the rolls on the southern side of Government Hill shows the undulations of caused by the landslides there.  Classes let out early at the Government Hill Elementary School, and if the quake happened earlier in the day, the death toll would hit a scarey level of sadness.

If you look at the back of the picture, you will see the water tower, painted red & white checked.  Somehow that water tower stood, and still stands today just at the edge of Government hill off of Harvard and on top of Loop Road (FYI – the curling club is just below it at a patch where the landslide leveled).

Outside of town was torn apart by it too, more towards the base of the mountains towards the rivers where the land could easily shift in the went thawing ground and along the longstanding faults below.   The hamlet of Girdwood had to be moved inland by a mile or be flooded out by the tides, and the town of Portage had to be abandoned for the same reason.  Higher up the hillsides, subdivisions were ripped apart. This picture was along the Knik river.

All you have to do is Google 1964 and Earthquake, and you can see hundreds of pictures of the damage, the repair, and the history.  In modern numbers, the quake did over $900Million in damage.

With the earthquake came a devastating tsunami.  Of the 143 people killed by the effects of the earthquake, 113 was due to the Tsunami.  That Tsumanis that came immediately after and in the aftershocks that day destroyed the cities of Chenega, Whittier, & Portage – and caused the town of Girdwood to move inland 2 miles.  Some reports suggest the wave reached 200feet high and struck all down the coast of Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Hawaii.  YES … CALIFORNIA.  Two kids playing in the ocean were tragically killed in Crescent City, CA.

That was not the only far reaching reports.  It was said the earthquake caused the space needle in Seattle to sway, and lakes in Louisiana & Texas could be seen to slosh from it’s effect.

Since 1964, Alaska and Anchorage specifically imposed harsher building codes for buildings and structures.  The thirteen story tower I work in is built on rollers so that it can sway with a quake rather than crumble trying to stabilize.  We run earthquake drills at work, and are encouraged to keep an earthquake kit at home.  The West Coast of North America has  tsunami warning system and Tsunami Warning Center built specific in response to this earthquake.  The city is now quake conscious and quake aware.

Probably the harshest realization about the quake came from the old Cessna head of security, Captain Ken, who told me he lived through the quake when living in Anchorage.  He said because of the quake he will never lay foot in Alaska again.  To this day, he is the only person I have met who has been through the quake, and is the only person who didn’t say they would move back to Alaska if they could.  It was the one thing that made this city unloved.

Let’s just hope the next big one holds off for more than 49 years more.

Iditarod Finish: Two Lanterns

Standard

Alaska is still buzzing over the crazy finish to the Iditarod dog sled race last Monday night, and while the top finishers were doing interviews, caring for their dogs, and just generally thawing out the race continued.  The Iditarod is a timed race, but the clock doesn’t stop when they announce the winner.  Finishing the race is as much of an accomplishment as many have ever tried.  So the Iditarod has always continued until the last musher leaves the trail.  As it happens, there are two symbols of this finish that share the same object — oil lanterns.

The last finisher get’s a prize — not just a portion of the winnings (that is if they finish in the top 30), but a special award called “The Red Lantern”.  Started as a joke in the 1950s as part of other non-Iditarod games during the Fur Rondy, many old Alaskan events gave a Red Lantern to a last place finisher matching them up with the caboose of the train who takes up the rear (kind of like the “wooden spoon” or “the participation award” or “The Detroit Lions”).  They started giving it to Iditarod mushers who finished last during the race but noticed more and more they were giving it to people who overcame a lot, persevered, and still made it across the finish line when many others didn’t.  Now it represents the pride and accomplishment felt by all finishers.

That last finisher also has another duty.  The finish line in Nome, AK is an arch or burled wood.  The day of the race re-start, an oil lantern is lit and hung from the burled arch.  This is called the Widow’s Lantern.  In the gold rush days, roadhouses would hang lanterns outside their doors if  they knew mushers were on the trail so that they could see in the dark and snow.  When the team arrived, the lantern was extinguished – or in those sad cases, it was extinguished when the team didn’t make it.  To locals, the signal meant that there was a team on the trail.  It get’s it’s name from the women who would push to keep it lit knowing that her husband would make it in.  The Widow’s Lantern is lit at the start of the race and remains lit as long as there is a team on the trail; and then is extinguished by the last one to arrive.

As fate would have it, similar to the finish for first place there was a tight race and a record fallen.  The Red Lantern was decided by only 35 seconds when Marcelle Fressineau followed Lisbet Norris up the ramp, making the 2 minute gap for 1st & 2nd look huge.  Marcelle, a rookie from the Yukon, finished at a little before 8PM AST Saturday night in a time of 13 Days 4 Hours 42 minutes and 8 Seconds.  That time was the fastest Red Lantern time by nearly a half hour.  In the end she was the 49th finisher, ahead of 20 scratches.  While not tall enough to reach the Widow’s lantern, a local official pulled it down to ground level where she turned the wick and watched the flame go out.

Now the clock can start again – 50 more weeks to go until Iditarod 2015.

 

Stupid NWS, Being Consistent

Standard

They predicted “up to an inch” of snow in the Anchorage Bowl on Friday night.  Boy did they screw that one up.  We were beginning to think that Spring was right around the corner here in Anchorage.  It was in the 40s most of last week, and the sun was melting much of what was left on the ground.  Sure, we could expect it to roller coaster between warm and cold for another month or two, but with the ground starting to show the end was near.  With the “up to an inch”, we were ready for a little bit of wet roads this weekend, maybe wait to wash the car until next week.

Instead, we got hammered.  It started to come down around 5pm, then it started coming harder, and harder.  Our flurries became a near white out then became a blizzard.  It stopped somewhere around 1AM (yes I was up, I just got me a new kick-ass laptop, and Titanfall rocks!!).  It picked up again in the morning, and has snowed on and off since then.  It was all big fluffy flakes from the sky and had no problem sticking around as the storm continued.  In the end where I lived we nearly got a foot of snow.  A FOOT is not “up to an inch”!!!

So, I was all ready to yell and scream about it all, then I went to the National Weather Service website to see what the official count was, and that gave me something else to complain about.  The NWS measures snowfall using a high tech instrument called a “Snow Board” – which is a flat board placed in an open area that they let snow fall onto then they stick a ruler into it to see how deep it is.  Naturally, it only counts the snow where it falls in that one location.

In Anchorage, they put it at Sand Lake, next to their offices and near to the airport.  It’s in the western part of town and nearest to the confluence of the Turnagain Arm, Knik River Inlet, and the Cook Inlet — meaning on the seaside corner of the triangle that is Anchorage.  It is also the least snowiest part of town.  Most of it comes down the off the mountains where the air is colder and wetter.  By the time the clouds have dropped down the 2000 feet of altitude difference they have dumped what they can already.  This “less than an inch” storm couldn’t be more proof of that.

Sand Lake measured the official snow fall as 6.6 inches.  Less than 2 miles east where I live, the unofficial measurement was 11 inches, and that matched similarly eastern parts of town like Midtown and Downtown.  Oceanside, which is near the Turnagain arm and the mountains got 16 inches.  Glen Alps, the housing area that is 2500 feet above the rest of city and known to have the harshest weather in town, measured 23 inches — nearly 2 feet!

Still, the stupid NWS in the effort to keep things “Consistent” only gave us credit for 6.6 inches.

I think NWS needs to come shove Auggie’s Poop Path the extra 6.6 inches deep so he can go do his business.

Wonderfulman: It’s Just Different This Time

Standard

A month ago, I announced here that I started a new weight loss program similar to that of one that I had loads of success with a few years back.  I hadn’t really mentioned anything since then here (or at all).  Some could interpret a number or reasons for that, I guess.  A couple people asked me about it, but they were people I see everyday in real life, and I don’t really talk about it to them either.  It’s different, especially when you compare it to the way I talked about on the last program.  Back then, I was telling everyone.  Maybe not as much from the start, but I remember posting my weight loss numbers every week, and spent hours it seemed talking to people about it and what I was facing.  Just not this time.  I guess the short reason is that this time is just different, and I’m just different.

If you never had a weight problem, or maybe have possibly, it’s hard to describe what gaining & losing weight seeming uncontrollable feels like emotionally.  Sure some of it is obvious.  Like its more fun being energetic than lethargic.  Or how Pizza & Beer is a heck of a lot more fun than a protein shake alone at home.  What’s harder to understand that the daily challenges of little battles that are easily ignored, or over celebrated.  Overeating doesn’t happen just because someone doesn’t have will power alone.  I mean, it does, will power does come into play.  But it is a series of triggers that all of us face day in and day out.  It can be so complicated that after five years of weight loss programs that included behavioral psychologists, I still don’t know why I eat when I eat.  I say this because, the hardest challenge for me sometimes isn’t the decisions I make, but my perception of how people perceive my decisions.

Okay, that was really over analytic and boring probably.  So let me be blunt.  I got off from the attention I got when I lost weight the last time, to the point that it became just as important to me to be “that guy who lost a lot of weight” that it was to lose that weight.  Don’t get me wrong, when you lose 200 pounds in a year, you deserve praise, attention, and all the pats on the back for the accomplishment.  I also get how important it was to be that standard bearer to those who used me as inspiration to get healthier too.

Truth is that eating and weight loss is far more personal of a battle than people realize.  My problem wasn’t hanging out at the curling club and putting back three or four beers on a Friday.  My problem was having a counter full of chips and nacho cheese I didn’t stop at one plate of, or the nightly runs to Testoro for a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.  The only one around to judge me or give attention to what I was eating was Auggie the Doggie, and … well … he’s a dog.

So I had this idea this time around — what if I wasn’t “that guy that lost a lot of weight”.  What if I was “a guy” who just happens to be losing weight.  What if I didn’t let me weight loss define who I was this time, and I just worked my way though it.

As part of the program I am on, I meet bi-weekly with a physician who talks not just the physical side of weight loss, but the emotional side; and that relationship is turning into a great balance for me.  We talk about the challenges I face, not any different than the last program I was on, but because it is one-on-one – we are a lot more specific, and we focus on the emotions of the moment.  Plus, I am not so harsh on myself with my own expectations.  I haven’t stuck to the plan very well, I mean … since being on a “shake only” diet, I have had ice cream three times, pizza twice, pasta twice, about a dozen cookies, and … just last night … two hot dogs.  The decision I am making at that time is not “this is wrong”, it is “this is okay, it’s just going to take you longer to get to your goal”.

By the numbers, you can say that I am not as successful as I was on the old program.  I am six weeks into it, and at the six week point five years ago I had already lost 50 pounds.  So far, though, I am more successful for other reasons — one I have had good choices made, I have learned more about the new challenges I face, I have had ice cream, and my curling game has done a 180°.  The fact that in six weeks I lost 40 pounds is just icing on the hot dogs.

So yeah, it’s different this time, because I want it to be different.

And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

Iditarod – What a Finish!!!

Standard

“How did you do it?” an Iditarod Insider videographer asked.

“What’d I do?” replied Dallas Seavey

“You just won the Iditarod.”

“What?”

You stick a microphone in the window of any NASCAR winner, chances are the first reaction isn’t assuming they are in 3rd.  Chances are they wouldn’t mistake a woman driver in 2nd for their own father either.  Dallas Seavey’s shock about winning the Iditarod was shared by nearly everyone watching the race, and the timeline of what took place only shows how brutal this race can be, and how tough the decisions are on the trail.

Yesterday, the leaders were arriving in White Mountain, a checkpoint 77 miles to the finish. The stretch into the finish at Nome runs along the Norton Sound coast, is relatively flat, and except if the wind howls is pretty easy to stick with it. In fact, the leader in White Mountain has won every year since the 1970s.  With an estimated 10 hour run to the finish, Nome’s streets were starting to fill around midnight in the excitement of crowning the champion.

That champion was supposed to be the 4th win for Jeff King, who had at least an hour and a half lead.  He was ahead of Aliy Zirkle, who looked to take her third consecutive runner-up because she had nearly a two hour lead on 2012 winner Dallas Seavey and four hours ahead of his father and last year’s winner Mitch Seavey.  While the first third of the race was the roughest of any Iditarod, the dogs loved those conditions and everything suggested that a record time of near 8 days 10 hours was going to be recorded (that would be nearly 10 hours faster than the previous record).

The wind, however, kicked up – and kicked up much harder than expected.  Readings near the last checkpoint in Safety suggested hurricane force winds higher than 70 miles per hour. In those conditions, sleds and teams would be pushed around, sometimes sliding it way off the trail and even out onto the sea ice.  Dog teams have been known to stop and camp out in defiance to their mushers.

While the real story is coming in, some suggest that this actually happened … to the soon to be crowned Jeff King.  Somewhere outside of Safety, Jeff was blown off course and into driftwood.  The GPS tracker shows that he remained in one location for nearly 2 hours; meaning he fought tangles and the conditions for most of that time.  In the end, he scratched – putting his dog team first, he called help to get them free and protected before they were out there any longer in those conditions.

What happened next is also not understood completely yet – but the story should start to break later today.  The new leader became Aliy Zirkle.  She may had seen Jeff on the trail, but in those conditions that was very unlikely.  She checked into Safety first, and bedded down her dogs.  By doing so she would have seen that she was the first one in, and still chose to stop rather than push on through the weather.  Those close to Aliy believe she had serious concerns for her team to continue in the weather the last 22 hours, and stopped for a few hours.  It’s well known she is a musher who always puts her dogs first, so many are sure that she stopped out of concern for them first and foremost.  Only when Dallas Seavey checked into Safety did she made her move to get going again.  Dallas, for some reason, wasn’t aware of where the leaders were or what order they were in.  He made the decision to push through and spent only 3 minutes in the check point.  By the time Aliy got going she spent a total of 2 hours 40 minutes in Safety and left nearly 20 minutes behind Dallas. Because she had 10 dogs still on line, and Dallas had 7, the race was still on  for sure.

Shortly there after a race in sued.   Typically on the trail, if you can see another team behind you, you have to let them pass – but not in the final stretch.  They saw each other and would have fought for a trail position that was both fast and safe.

Dallas Seavey crossed the finish line at just after 4AM this morning.  He crossed in a record 8 days 13 hours 4 mins 19 seconds.  Aliy Zirkle crossed 2 minutes 22 seconds later.  It was the second closest finish in the history of the race (behind the still controversial 1978 “by a nose” one second finish).

For most of us outside of Nome, and aren’t insane to stay up all night, waking up to this news was a shock.  I have an e-mail service that I had set up to kick me an e-mail when Jeff would cross the finish, and when Aliy finished … but not Dallas.  So when I got up, I saw Aliy’s finish and I thought .. .where’s Jeff?

The race is only over by 2 hours, so early the 3rd place team has yet to cross (expected any time now), and while there was interviews Dallas and Aliy are resting now with their teams.  The race will continue until the last team crosses the finish line – winning the “Red Latern” award for the last finisher.  That is not expected for another week.

But there will be much more to talk about for the days to come.

Daylight Saved

Standard

For those of us that still work for a living, we got hit by the cruelest of Mondays – the one that follows Daylight Savings.  Yes, yes, thank you farmers for giving us a reason to move our clocks one way or another for some reason I never really understood.  Last night lasted way too long before going to bed, and this morning came way to early to get to work.

Of course, if you want to put a half full glass in front of me, Daylight Savings means Spring is nearly here, and that means Summer is right around the corner.  Maybe not in Alaska, where we have a break-up still ahead of us and the usual late season winter to come, but one thing Daylight Savings reminds us about is sunlight.

Of course the summers nearly have no nighttime, and the dark winters are dark near constantly – but to get to those points requires constant radically changing days – and that is really noticeable now.  December, we sat at 5 hours of daylight, now it’s nearly 11 hours.  Seems just a few weeks ago when we noticed a bit of sun in the morning on the way to work and a bit of sun on the way back.  Sure, it wasn’t sun up on the way in this morning but it was not at all dark.  By the end of the week, the sun WILL be up before work, because we are adding just short of 6 minutes a day.

Where it was crazy noticeable was last night.  When the pup wanted to go outside at 9PM, there was still light in the sky.  Not enough to read by, mind you, but enough to count.

In a month there will be enough daylight to enjoy any outdoor activity as late as you want (weather permitting obviously).  Soon enough the sky will be bright to start the new day when the alarm goes off.

So maybe there is still another two months of winter (or three, or five, or … forever), but the daylight is coming and coming hard.

Iditarod’s Brutal Start

Standard

This past Saturday, the Annual Iditarod had it’s beautiful ceremonial start through the streets of Anchorage in front of thousands of excited fans cheering and wishing them well.  The 1000 mile sled-dog race starts with this non-competitive leg on man-made snow burns with over a foot of the white stuff keeping them off the streets, the rocks, gravel, and any other rough stuff they may encounter on their sleds.  Racers show off their beautifully athletic dogs, take their time along the course, wave to crowds, stop for a hot dog or a beer, and even share pictures with fans – all televised world wide to tens of thousands with tower cams, interviews, and helicopters following everyone.  Running along the in the ceremonial start, the people who love this sport witness everything romantic about sled-dog racing that makes the Last Great Race so well named.

Of course on Sunday’s Re-Start from Willow, everything was going to change.  Gone will be the crowds, the TV cameras, and the helicopters.  Gone were the hot dogs and beer.  Gone was the slow pace as well, as now the race was on.

Gone also was the simple trail through town.  Dog teams weren’t just going up and down pathways along a creek; but cutting across frozen rivers, up portages, through trees.  In the first 48 hours they were on their way to Rainy Pass, the highest point on the trail at over 3500 ft.  Nearly all of that elevation is climbed in the 153 miles to get to that checkpoint, and by the time they reach Nikolai at mile 263 (where most of the leaders are coming in as I post this on Tuesday) they will have most of the decent down from the mountains complete.   But to say that the trail from Nikolai is “all downhill from Rainy Pass” might get a punch in the face from the racers.

Unlike the nicely piled up, manicured, burns of Anchorage; the Iditarod Trail from Rainy Pass to Nikolai doesn’t have the snow pack for the sleds to run on.  In fact, it doesn’t have the snow at all.  The initial run is on a glacier, which say what you want about global warming, won’t change much from year to year.  It’s when they get off the trouble starts.  While it has been quite cold up in the interior, a warmer first part of the winter when there was moisture left little snow to be had.  The trail is more gravel, rocks, and glare ice than it is snow.  Pictures are coming back of dry sandy brown landscapes that look more like winter in Kansas than in Alaska.  Riders are complaining about rocks frozen hard into the ground that feel more like hitting concrete than earth.  Word is that the ugliness of the terrain is great for the dogs.  Most of the leaders still have all 16 of their dogs on the line, and they are loving the nice conditions and all the variety to the scenery (instead of constant white snow in front of them).  The riders are hating life.  They are getting rocked on their sleds, and doing what they can to keep those high tech holders in one piece, let alone their bodies.  Leader Martin Buser uses replaceable plastic runners, which he keeps four pair on the sled – but he went through them all and half of the permanent runner in the 10 hour run from Rohn (just past Rainy Pass) to Nikolai.  He’s also nursing a sprained ankle suffered on the trail.  Buser isn’t the only one.  Most of those arriving in Nikolai have some injury of one kind or another; the worst is one favorite Aaron Burmeister who dislocated a knee.

Those who survive – and that is not an exaggeration, actually survive – the brutal ride from the start to Nikolai can rest assured the worst is over.  It is still very very bad from here on out, including the cold windswept Yukon River, the harsh Bering Straight seaside run, and the potentially open sea ice on Norton Bay; but Ice is a lot more predictable than open gravel and ground.

The real race is truly on, though.  Buser stunned the race last year by developing a new strategy to run dogs longer in the beginning and rest them longer in between runs.  Last year he was way ahead at Nikolai because most were taking a 24 hour stop (mandatory, but can happen at any time on the race) up on top of Rainy Pass, but he pushed to Nikolai.  Now most of the contenders are doing the same strategy, but not with the results Buser has found.  Last year Buser remained in the lead until the strategy backfired on the tough headwinds he alone saw on the Yukon.  Still, it’s believed the winner this year will be in the top 15 arriving in Nikolai, and at this point it looks like there are no surprises in the field.

But then again, this is just the start.