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Welcome to Marc's Weblog

— also known as my vanity gripe page

From sunny, Las Vegas, Nevada, this is the blog of Marc Elliot Hall, leader and system engineer extraordinaire.

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Tue, 27 Mar 2012

Road Trip II

Last weekend I took advantage of some clear weather and clear-ish roads to take another road trip. This one was south along the Seward Highway, which runs along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.

The fjord-like waterway is stunningly gorgeous.


This a view from the north side of the Arm looking south across the water. In the foreground, you can see the railroad tracks that run between the road and the water. Across the center of the channel are broken blocks of ice, each about half the size of a small car. While I was driving, I didn't notice this; but the water is flowing out toward the Inlet. You can tell because the ice is moving swiftly downstream. Very swiftly. Dangerously swiftly.

As I drove further along, I came upon the town of Girdwood. From one perspective, Girdwood is 40 miles from Anchorage. However, from a strictly legalistic perspective, Girdwood is inside Anchorage, because the Anchorage City limits are enormous, encompassing a goodly portion of Alaska's Chugach State Park. Girdwood is perhaps best known for its famous ski resort, Aleyeska. Here are a pair of views of the chair lift from the main road through town:


If you look closely, you can just see the main lodge at the base of the mountain and the chairlift wending its way up the snow face.


I also tried to capture some panoramas of the Turnagain Arm, but haven't yet stitched them together. We'll save that for another post, I suppose.  

posted at: 00:55 |

Mon, 19 Mar 2012

Road Trip

Just because I'm in Anchorage in dead of Winter doesn't mean I can't get out and see Alaska. Sometimes the weather even cooperates.

For example, two weeks ago I drove north up the Glenn Highway to see if I could catch a glimpse of Denali. While I only got about 20 miles past Wasilla (you betcha, that Wasilla) before the cloud cover rolled in, I did get a view of some mighty pretty mountains.


This is the northern end of the Chugach mountain range that borders Anchorage to the east; it forms the southeastern edge of the Knick Arm of the Cook Inlet, just off the Gulf of Alaska. Anchorage sits at the confluence of the Knick Arm and Turnagin Arm of the Inlet, and each arm is fed by a river.

I’d put a map here, but Google isn’t cooperating… Instead, here’s a link to the region.

So, while I didn't get to see the tallest mountain in North America, I did see some spectacular scenery.  

posted at: 16:10 |

Wed, 14 Mar 2012

Cold? What’s a Little Cold to an Alaskan?

I know I've griped about how cold it can be in Anchorage (true to form: my car thermometer said 6F this morning).

But the people who live here year 'round, year after year, don't let a little cold get in their way of a fun time!

Witness the fairway laid out for the week of the Fur Rendezvous (affectionately and illiterately known as the Fur Rondy around here) and the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod:


Nobody's on the rides at the moment I took the photo because they're all on Fourth Street for the Ceremonial Start. Don't let that fool you!


In case you missed my comments about it being cold, allow me to show you this evidence:


This is the starting point of a several mile walk that follows a scaled-down path through our solar system. Mercury and Venus are both less than two blocks away, while Pluto (yes, it still has Pluto despite that celestial body's demotion to planetoid) is out past the airport.

But just so you don't miss the point: that's right, folks. It's so cold in Alaska, it even snows on the sun!


posted at: 00:03 |

Tue, 13 Mar 2012

Where Does All the Snow Go?

As I've previously blathered, it snows a lot here in Anchorage. And, as I've shown in pictorial splendor, equipment runs night and day to remove it.

Since the weather is clearly too cold for the snow to melt, where does it go?



That mountain of snow is about forty feet high, and there are piles just like it all over town. 

posted at: 00:01 |

Fri, 09 Mar 2012

People Mover

The Anchorage bus system is called the People Mover, and it's a popular way to get around.

This week, I bought a 2002 Subaru Forester and returned my rental car. I figure, even if I lose $1400 dollars when I sell it after I'm through in Alaska, I'll be farther ahead than if I keep paying $750 a month for a rental car. I could be driving a BMW or Mercedes for that kind of payment. 

But no, instead I bought an econobox AWD car with nearly 150 thousand miles on it:

thumb.2002 Subaru Forester 1.jpg  

Doesn't she look like she's ready for an Alaskan winter? And camouflaged, too!

So why did I bring up the People Mover?

Well, dropping off the Chevrolet Aveo rental car and picking up the Subaru Forester took some logistical effort. 

My plan was to walk to the bus station, ride the bus out to Tudor Road, pay for and pick up the Subaru, drive it downtown, walk to the condo, drive the Chevy out to the airport, and ride the bus back downtown. Total distance: less than twelve miles. The People Mover is a hub-and-spoke system; while there are some places where you can transfer directly from bus to bus on the side of the road, most lines converge at three major hubs. I was going to have to ride two buses, so I needed to be at the downtown terminal to switch. 

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy walking around downtown Anchorage and seeing the sights. I've walked past (and into) museums, galleries, restaurants, bars, stores, coffee houses, parks, and neighborhoods. I've even walked past the People Mover downtown terminal and transfer station. Many times. 

However, on Wednesday, when I was ready to pay for and pick up the car, I couldn't find it! I wasted a good 25 minutes looking for it before giving up and driving the Chevy out to Tudor Road. Obviously, I wasn't going to be able to pick up the Subaru right then, as I would need two drivers for the two cars.

So the seller and I did the paperwork, I gave him a check, and I drove the Chevy to the airport. On the way to the airport, I wanted to fill the gas tank, since Alamo would have likely charged me $23 a gallon to do it for me. I stopped at a Holiday station on the way and swiped my card at the pump, which promptly told me to talk to the cashier. Well, I didn't want to talk to the cashier — I needed to get to the airport early enough that I would have time to catch the bus back downtown and then outbound to Tudor Road before they stopped running for the night. So I jumped in the car and drove to another gas station. 

Which did the same thing. 

This time, I did talk to the cashier. My card had been declined. Frustrated — and in a hurry — I paid with cash and drove off to the airport. At the Alamo drop off, I returned the car and asked for directions to the bus stop at the airport terminal. It was right across the street, and I was going to be able to catch the next inbound bus!

However, once I reached the terminal, I realized that the Citibank Rewards MasterCard was not going to miraculously fix itself, so I walked into the (warm!) terminal and called customer service to see what the problem might be. After ten minutes on hold, my call was dropped. I called back. After 15 minutes on hold, I was told a security flag had been raised on my account and I needed to talk to the security department. After 15 more minutes on hold — well, by now I'd missed my bus. Twice. But, the security department finally told me, the Holiday station had reserved $50 of my credit line when I swiped my card, and that had raised a flag. Well, when gas is $4.08 a gallon, it doesn't take much of a tank to use $50 worth. Their algorithm was a little over sensitive. So, I had missed my bus — possibly three times if you count having to stop at two gas stations and waste time with an attendant — and wasted more than an hour dealing directly with CitiCard's customer service. But! Now I could get on the bus and ride downtown. It was about 9:30 p.m.


I've been on a lot of buses, in a lot of cities. In more than one country. I commuted daily by bus and light rail for more than two years as a young man, before I bought my motorcycle. I'm used to buses and the types of people who ride them. And, inbound to the downtown terminal from the airport, the driver and my fellow riders were exactly what I expected: friendly, courteous, and quiet. 

However, when I reached the downtown terminal, I experienced a new environment. 

Indoors, it was chaotic and noisy; shouting drunkards arguing with transit cops, groups of disaffected youth in ragged clothes. Panhandlers insisting I give them my change. Outdoors, it was almost as noisy; the thick cigarette and marijuana smoke choked me; the calls asking if I wanted to buy (or sell) marijuana were aggressive; the clusters of tokers were arguing about who got the next drag — basically, it was like high school, only with old people. 

For obvious reasons, I didn't take any photos. 

Amid the chaos, I saw an approaching bus. "Out of Service" it said, but it was pulling up to the stop for the route I wanted to board, and it was not time for any other bus routes to have stopped there. The driver shut down the engine, walked to the back to verify it was empty, and then exited the bus. He was five minutes early, but I was eager to be on my way, so I stood by the folding doors and waited for him to return. Which he did just a few minutes later. Sure enough, the indicators on the bus changed to announce that this was my ride. I climbed aboard, paid my $1.75, and took a seat. The driver greeted me with a friendly word or two as I boarded.

And, again, the ride itself was quite pleasant. So, apparently, it's the terminal itself that has issues, rather than the buses.

As we approached the neighborhood where my Subaru waited, I tugged the stop request cord. The driver coasted to a stop, I thanked him, exited, and began walking through the dark. As the bus pulled away, though, I noticed that the pavement was very slippery. Dangerously so. 

Despite noticing this, though, I was not being particularly careful. I had realized on the ride outbound that my GPS mount was still in my rental car; I was fiddling with my phone getting ready to call Alamo when my feet began skidding uncontrollably across the ice. Suddenly, I was on the ground. My hip had smacked the sidewalk. Fortunately, nothing — including my phone — was broken. In fact, as I recovered my feet, I felt like I had avoided any injury. Walking the remaining block, I unlocked the Subaru, started her up, and began driving to my condo. Since I had already added them to my speed dial, I called the Alamo desk. "You probably hear this a lot", I said, "but I think I left my GPS mount in my rental car. Can I swing by the garage right now to retrieve it?" The clerk laughed and asked when I had dropped off the car. When I told her at about 7:30 that evening, she replied that more than a dozen GPS mounts had been left in vehicles since 4:30 that day. "So, that's 'yes', you do hear that a lot," I said. She laughed again.

Now it was close to 10:00.

I drove into the rental return garage at the airport, parked, and stepped over to the attendant's booth. "Hey," I said. "I just called…" Before I could finish, the attendant held out the GPS mount for me. "Thanks!" I said. And I meant it. Now I could go home.

So, finally, my ordeal completed, I parked at my condo at 10:30. Four hours from the start to finish. But I was done. 

It was only today that my neck and hip started to hurt. So, while I now know exactly where the People Mover terminal is, I didn’t get away clean.

posted at: 21:21 |

Sat, 03 Mar 2012

I did it

It's not enough that I have updated my blog. I've been specifically asked to blog about the Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 

Technically, the race doesn't begin until the first Sunday after the first Saturday in March. However, there is a Ceremonial Start in Anchorage on the first Saturday. The mushers do a quick eleven-mile run to Campbell Airstrip and then get trucked to the real starting line at the third checkpoint. 

So, on day two, the race will really get going with the Official Start, this year in Willow Lake. Because this is an even-numbered year, the race will take the northern route — which doesn't actually go through Iditarod — on their way to Nome and the finish line.

Here's the first musher off the Ceremonial Start: 


You might not be able to tell, but there's an "Iditarider" tagging along. Not the guy on the second sled. In the first sled, bundled up. Almost all of the racers have one of these people along for the ride during this first, short leg.

The guy behind? I'm not sure yet. Oh, and this first musher on the Ceremonial Start isn't an official competitor. He's an honorary musher, chosen for his contributions to the sport.


I’ve been corrected. This just came in:

This data was submitted on: Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 16:59:40
firstname:      Macy
lastname:       Teeter
comment:        Hi! I saw your blog as I was googling
pictures from the 2012 Iditarod start
and ran across your one picture.. the
first one on the first musher starting
out of the iditarod start on 3/3/12...
That's not actually the honorary
musher.. that's the Jr. Iditarod
champion and the person on the tag sled
(sled behind Conway) is his friend and
second place jr iditarod finisher Ben
Lyon.. just so you know happy

I don’t know Ms. Teeter’s credentials, but I presume she wouldn’t lie to me about something as important as this!

The competitors drew lots at a dinner the night before and got to choose the order they started in, with each in turn choosing the spot he or she wanted of the remaining slots. All 66 of them. How many will finish?

I took most of my pictures from the fourth floor of a five-story parking garage one block from the starting line and four blocks from my condo.

Here's the first "official" competitor:


He's Ray Redington, Jr., and as of this writing, he's still in first place (naturally, since this is only the Ceremonial Start). 

As the morning progressed and I got colder and colder (as long as you're moving you can stay plenty warm even in today's 26 degree weather. But once you hold still a while, all your body heat escapes. My toes really started to hurt eventually), I also got better at taking photos with my phone. Until it got too cold. 

Every one of the mushers started differently. Some were slow, and their dogs just kind of trotted a little. The first several teams out were like that. But a few started out like day one wasn't just the ceremonial start — they were really moving fast. 


That's Wade Marrs, who's not afraid to be seen in pink.  

I won't bore you with photos of every single musher… But after the first thirty had passed, I noticed the spectators had thinned, so I walked down to the street and down along the route to see if I could get some close-up shots.

Here's one of the very last few competitors, just approaching the first turn onto Cordova Avenue…


And here's Braxton Peterson just starting the first turn. You can see one of his runners lifting as he adjusts his weight. Yes, I could almost touch 'im: 


See that red building just the other side? That's the new soup kitchen. My condo is just the other side of it.

Yup, home sweet home is only a block from the first turn of the Iditarod route!


And it's a good thing, too, because I was cold!

Remember how I said if you're moving you stay warm, but if you hold still for very long your body heat escapes? Well, if you'll notice, all those mushers are standing on the sled runners. They're holding still. But the sleds are moving — anywhere from five to twenty miles per hour; so there's an apparent wind, even if the weather is calm. Which, in Alaskan winter, it's not. Ever. And Anchorage is anywhere from 20 to 120 degrees warmer than the interior. So… They are going to be way, way colder.

Good luck, Iditarod mushers! 

posted at: 21:34 |

Thu, 01 Mar 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

As the song goes…

Here's a typical streetscape between my condo and office, as I'm driving to work.


Boring and ordinary, I know.

But look a little closer…


Did you see it?


Ah, there it is! The dancing hobo!

I don't think this is an official Municipality of Anchorage sign. It's about twenty feet after a more traditional pedestrian crossing sign. Why is it here? Because this is at a bus stop right at the turn off to the city lockup, and one block north and west is the homeless shelter. In fact, there is a hostel, a soup kitchen, the social services department, and a subsidized housing facility all within the two miles between my condo and the office. There is a constant and perpetual parade of indigents through the area. I think I chose the area with the greatest concentration of unlucky people in all of Anchorage.

Did I mention that they're building a new soup kitchen a block away from my condo?

posted at: 18:53 |

Marc Elliot Hall St. Peters, Missouri 

Page created: 21 January 2002
Page modified: 09 December 2017

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