The lifeblood of rural Alaska !!
Although this is a glimpse into one particular event that can, and does, happen in ‘bush” Alaska something tells me almost anyone can relate, especially if in a committed relationship! Just think about this incident like the car, washing machine, etc., that will for sure die when the partner that is most familiar with it leaves town, usually within 24 hours of said leaving.
The beginning was simple and predictable enough. Spouse and I were in the ‘big’ city, Anchorage, a few weeks ago for some business. Since winter was also almost upon us I had made a lengthy list of things I felt we needed to get to make sure at least the start of the winter was survivable.
We were lucky enough to get one whole day, the use of a car and have two able bodied adults, to just run errands, something that almost never happens. (Usually you are cramming personal things like errands into lunch hours, evenings after meetings or even super early times due to other commitments. Most times there is also only one of us in town at the time)
A trip, or even two, to one of the big wholesale food, clothing, books, and whatever else they can think of to offer stores is ALWAYS on the list when coming in from the bush! Trips to a big box tool store, the ‘regular’ grocery store, some specialty tool places and of course the last place we all end up at, the airport post office to get all items heading home are also on the list of ‘must dos’.
So, back to the beginning, spouse and I were in town, had time and were off to get a few things done. Knowing that most items I had on the list could be gotten at the big discount store we head there first. While tromping the aisles, moving quickly but trying to see if there were items of need they had that you had not thought of (so often called impulse buying and what gets so many of us in hot water) we come to the automotive, batteries, mundane and expensive but needed section. I look at the rack of batteries, car/truck type, not camera type and my list with notes on it. I reach for a battery and spouse asks what I am getting. I explain that I usually try to get us at least 2 new batteries sometime during the summer as back-ups for the winter and this year I had not gotten it done yet. I am then informed that these are the ‘wrong’ kind. Given I have bought these from the same place year after year, had made notes of previous purchases, I was not convinced. Also realizing that this was not the time or place to ignore said comments I ask a few questions like. “well what type do you want to get?” The type mentioned was not there, of course. I voiced that given that we surely must make some time to check another place and get them before we leave as being without back-up batteries is not a lesson I need to relearn. Agreement was reached. At that time my inner voice, OK actually ALARM voice, said,”you better keep at this as spouse is likely to forget, ignore and overall leave us without back-up batteries since he had not lived “the lesson learning” time in a number of years”….meaning spouse would not be the one stuck ‘up the river without a paddle’.
This is the same as the time all of you have mentioned to a loved one, ‘shouldn’t we get a new washer hose soon as that one is leaking’, or ‘the noise in the car is happening more often and louder’ and been told not to worry they would take care of it can relate, I am sure.
So fast forward a few weeks to a month, the spouse heads out of town for a few days, no biggie as this has already happened a few times this year and goes on all winter.
Of course that first night the first good snow fall hits, causing 2-3 foot drifts and temperatures that are now much closer to 0 than freezing.
Spouse has been gone about 30 hours, things are running smoothly and you are about done for the day. Having buttoned up all outside activities, gotten the dogs inside, eaten dinner and settled in with a good book….alas the power goes off! Given we produce all our own power, be it from the diesel generator or some renewable energy (RE) system this is not a matter of waiting for someone else to deal with it. (The RE system happened to be waiting for spouse to replace a part that had arrived while gone and thus was not operational for these few days)
Now this could be a matter of running out of fuel, unlikely but still possible, a battery issue or something even worse like a blown seal. On go sweats, heavy socks-as this could be involve a lot of walking back and forth through drifted snow, clunky big winter boots, hat, ear muffs, big jacket, and gloves. Flashlight is unhooked from the power source (another relatable story for later about how always having a working flashlight is a MUST) and off to tromp to the generator building.
Thank heavens spouse has listened and an emergency light box is in the shed and working like a champ. There is enough light to at least see where to walk and equipment fairly well. Fuel is checked, low but OK, so onto the control panel/start switch. It looks to have vibrated off its normal place and fallen onto the top of the battery. Sure enough once righting things the switch is turned and it is determined quickly the battery is dead. Close by is another battery that had been hooked up to the charger so things look like they will be easy to remedy.
After a couple of different changes of batteries it is determined either none have enough life in them to start a dead generator OR the connections cannot be made tight enough to get enough juice to the generator to start.
Desire to return to a warm house, and probably soon to bed, overrules any desire to spend the next hour or two trying to right things that night.
A quick call is made to spouse to enlighten about said situation at home. Only an answering machine is gotten and two messages updating on what happened and attempts to right it are made. (Don’t worry, having lived through these things any number of times over the years we have back-up heating, telephone, radio and a light or two that can either run without electricity or are hooked to a 12 volt system in the house. All of this, most times, can keep things comfortable and communication going for a minimum of 24 hours)
Dragging the phone extension up near the bed everyone settles in for the night. About 15 minutes later comes a return call from spouse. All remedies attempted are explained in more detail and plans laid for early morning attempts. It is settled that the house is warm enough and will stay that way, everyone is safe and spouse will head home the next day unless early morning suggested new remedies are successful.
The night proves uneventful, no winds kick up to cause damage to items needing electricity to maintain integrity and animals figure out that making noise to get up at 5 AM is not going to result in anyone getting up to turn on the lights and feed them.
Once the sun is up far enough to actually help with seeing items, all the possible remedies are attempted. In the course of these attempts are searches for tools, since said spouse has borrowed your tools so many times and failed to return them you no longer having any. There are obstacles that result in you stumbling, remember those clunky boots, and setting a 100# battery down just hard enough to break a cell and have battery acid form a pool on the generator building floor (yes, we have soda handy to keep this from being more dangerous than batteries already are) and hook-ups on the last battery tried do require additional parts not readily available. By mid-morning, after a number of calls to spouse, any attempts to play junior mechanic are done and a hot cup of tea is being enjoyed inside.
Spouse will be home in a few hours, probably righting things is less than an hour, the sun is shining, the house is warm and we WILL be getting a couple of back-up batteries purchased and out here ASAP. No ‘I told you so’ will be necessary but some inner voice says that next time it is suggested that we get an item as back-up there will be compliance.