Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Moving to Alaska: Part Two

Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario to Steinbach, Manitoba to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Lodging: Days Inn
Mileage: 840 miles
Weather: 80-90°F, humid, thunderstorms

The second part of our trip will be forever known as the "endless flatland experience." We traveled through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which both happen to be situated directly above the Great Plains states, which tells you a bit about their geography and weather. Now, I'm sure many people appreciate the beauty of rolling farmland, but as a girl who grew up in the middle of farm country I was pretty bored.  

We stayed at a Days Inn on both nights, which was bit of a change from our itinerary.  We were actually supposed to camp at Pine Tree Campground in Manitoba the first night, but tornado warnings with extreme wind and rain drove us into the nearest town pretty quickly.  The weather stayed pretty crummy both days of travel.  Aside from rainstorms, the temperature was scorching hot and humid. The "real feel" one of the days was well over 100°F.  The dogs were miserable in the heat and didn't even want to get out of the car. 

With the severe lack of scenery and weather that pretty much confined us to the car (no hiking or exploring in that crazy weather), we ended up playing a lot of car games.  I think the game that lasted the longest was the Celebrity Name Game (where the first letter of the celebrities last name has to be the first letter of the next celebrities first name - not confusing at all - haha.) We actually kept it going for nearly an hour before Cody admitted defeat.  Finally, I was able to justify all of those years of watching E! News. Other than silly games, napping took up most of our time. 

Obviously, this leg of the trip was not my favorite.  I could see adjusting the route and hitting some of the more scenic parts or interesting cities of these two provinces if we ever do this trip again. Thankfully, when we drove out of Saskatchewan we knew we were headed for one of the coolest parts of the trip, Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta.  Stay tuned for the next installment of our road trip adventure! 

Your turn...What are some of your favorite car games?
Currently listening to...Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac

Monday, July 25, 2016

Moving to Alaska: Part One

Location: Holland, Michigan to Wawa, Ontario to Thunder Bay, Ontario
Lodging: Agawa Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park and Prince Arthur Hotel
Mileage: 764 miles
Weather: 40-70°F, sunny

The first part of our Alaskan relocation adventure began in southwest Michigan and took us through the Canadian province of Ontario.  It took us two days to reach Thunder Bay, a mid-sized city in western Ontario.  This portion of the drive was a bit of a bucket list item for me because I've always wanted to visit the northern shore of Lake Superior. It definitely lived up to my expectations.

The first day, we drove north through the very hilly and scenic part of northern Michigan, and then we crossed into Canada shortly after entering the UP. The opportunity to cruise the shore of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior both in one day was pretty special.  When we finally hit Superior it was absolutely stunning, and a big change from our views of Lake Michigan earlier in the day.

The northern shore of Lake Superior was breathtaking. There's just no other way to describe it. Huge rocky cliffs, thick forests, and expansive views of the lake dominated our drive.  I was constantly screaming, "STOP!" at Cody and making him pull over at every scenic overlook. Thankfully, the traffic was nonexistent, so no accidents were caused due to my screaming. Cody's eardrums may never be the same though.

The campground that we stayed at was the Agawa Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park. This campground gets a five-star review from me.  It was incredibly scenic and well taken care of, with easy access to restrooms, a water source, and firewood. I could have easily spent the whole weekend (or longer!) camping in this location.

The second day of driving was equally as scenic.  There were huge stretches between towns (roughly 150km) and we had to be very careful to fill up on gas at every opportunity. We rolled into Thunder Bay in the early evening, and it definitely gave off the impression of being a highly industrialized town. The downtown was busy, but not particularly picturesque. We stayed at the Prince Arthur Hotel on the second night, and were fairly underwhelmed with it.  The room was tiny and we could barely fit our overnight bags in the room.  The TV was broken and the street noise was a little tough to sleep through.  We were in a roadside "standard" room instead of the deluxe lakeside rooms they had available, so that may have had something to do with it. All in all, it was an ok hotel, but not my favorite stop of the trip. Thankfully, the scenery made up for it!

We drove out of Thunder Bay the next morning and eventually Ontario too. On our third day of driving, our travels led us into Manitoba. Stay tuned!

Your turn...Have you ever visited Lake Superior?
Currently listening to...Great Wide Open - Tom Petty

Monday, July 11, 2016

ALCAN Road Trip Itinerary

We are officially one week away from heading out on our next big adventure. Cody, Specks, Luna, and I will be driving off at sunrise on Monday, July 18th.  This will  be our third time driving to or from Alaska, and I anticipate that it won't be our last.  The more times we do it though, the better and more well prepared we are for the trek.

The first time we drove to Alaska we took I-70 across the Midwest and into Colorado, and then jumped on a few more highways (heading through Utah and Oregon) that would eventually deposit us in Bellingham, Washington. In Bellingham, we jumped on the ferry and spent three days touring the Gulf of Alaska and eventually ended up in Juneau.  This trip was our shortest in terms of road time, but it was also the most stressful because we'd both never done a trip of this caliber on our own before.  The ferry was my favorite part of this particular trip.  We slept outside, watched the northern lights, and toured a bunch of tiny towns in SE Alaska.

The second time we took a big Alaskan road trip, we were leaving our home in Juneau and heading for Michigan. We drove the ALCAN highway for ten days.  First, we took the ferry from Juneau to Haines, and from there we headed through Canada and entered the United States in Babb, Montana. The drive was longer, but we were much more prepared and relaxed about the travel.  Our car was full of less stuff, we were able to stop and take a ton of pictures, and we got to do some camping (which we'd been to nervous to do the first time around).

Both trips had their pros and cons, and both were completely wonderful adventures in their own unique ways.  This time, we thought we'd try it out a bit of a different route and drive through Canada the entire time.  We will be adding two extra Canadian provinces to our itinerary this time around (Ontario and Manitoba). Our thought behind planning this specific route was that we wanted to camp on the north shore of Lake Superior and spend some time in either Banff or Jasper National Park. Both of these goals were possible with the adjusted itinerary. Here is our tentative schedule:

Day 1: Holland, MI to Wawa, ON (Border Crossing)
Day 2: Wawa, ON to Thunder Bay, ON
Day 3: Thunder Bay, ON to Winnipeg, MB
Day 4: Winnipeg, MB to Moose Jaw, SK
Day 5: Moose Jaw, SK to Lake Louise, AB
Day 6:  Banff or Jasper National Park
Day 7: Banff or Jasper National Park, AB to Grand Prairie, AB
Day 8: Grand Prairie, AB to Fort Nelson, BC
Day 9: Fort Nelson, BC to Watson Lake, YT
Day 10: Watson Lake, YT to Haines Junction, YT
Day 11: Haines Junction, YT to Tok, AK
Day 12: Tok, AK to Anchorage, AK

This schedule is tentative, and it puts us in Anchorage about five days before our flight leaves for our new home in Pilot Point, Alaska. I anticipate we will want to take at least one "rest day."  Our rest days usually consist of getting a hotel room, binge watching cable television, and ordering room service. This schedule also allows us to camp roughly every other day, which we've found to be more fun and MUCH cheaper.

If you're ever interested in driving through Canada and Alaska, and more specifically driving the ALCAN, I highly suggest picking up The Milepost. The Milepost, also known as The Bible of North Country Travel, is a travel guide that gives detailed highway information, community profiles, hotel and campground suggestions, gas station updates, tourist attractions, and so much more. It is updated yearly to keep it relevant. This kind of information is highly valued on this drive because there are long stretches without cell service, gas stations, hotels, etc. It's a beautiful and dangerous trek, which should not be done without proper preparations. Plan ahead, book hotels in advance, keep an emergency car bag with you (medical supplies, tools, etc), make sure you have everything you need to change a flat tire, and be hyper-aware of wildlife.

 If you're prepared, this drive across the vast northern countryside can be the adventure of a lifetime. And, if you're lucky like us, maybe you'll get to do it more than once. 

Your turn...What are some of your top road trip tips? 
Currently listening to... Wild Horses - The Rolling Stones

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Moving Your Stuff to Bush Alaska

Moving to the Alaskan bush is a little different than moving anywhere else.  Things can't be easily transported on a U-Haul (because there are no roads) or packed into a boat (because it would have to be a barge and that's expensive).  Everything, for the most part, has to be delivered by mail on a tiny bush plane. The easiest way to do this is by packing all of your belongings into 18-gallon Rubbermaid totes.  Each tote can weigh up to 70lbs, but you have to keep in mind that you pay per pound and it can get pricey.  I think we paid $500+ to ship 10 totes and a few priority boxes last time, and I expect we paid roughly the same amount this time.

Alaska version of transportation!
When you are considering what to bring with you in your little totes, you have to keep in mind what your "must haves" are, as well as what you need to survive.  For us, entertainment items are "must haves" to help keep us occupied during the long months without TV or home internet access.   While books and movies make for some pretty heavy totes, they are actually the cheapest to ship because of a little known secret called "media mail."  Media mail is a special type of shipping on media items that is significantly cheaper.  The pricing allows you to ship a full tote of books and movies for only about $25, which is a STEAL compared to what they charge for all other shipping purposes. USPS is very strict about what you can ship via media mail though, and your stuff is subject to search, but it is totally worth it.

Package things carefully and keep track of what is in each tote. 
Another important thing to know about packing these totes is that it is incredibly important to KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOU PUT INTO THEM. When I pack, whether I am moving two blocks or three thousand miles (because let's face it I move constantly), I number everything.  All of our totes are numbered and then, on a piece of paper I have those numbers listed.  Underneath those listed numbers I have written exactly what is in each tote.  This makes it so that I don't have to rummage or guess.  All I have to do is say, "Oh, tote #8 is full of clothes, so that should go straight to the bedroom."  This will save you time, energy, and guesswork.  It also allows you to easily see what totes/items have not yet arrived.

Use permanent marker to address totes.  If you write on duct tape, put another piece of clear tape OVER the address to keep it from rubbing off in transit. 
It's also important to note that some items just aren't going to make the cut. Purging was a huge to-do for Cody and I this time around.  Two years on Beaver Island had made us complacent in collecting things, which I loathe.  I really had to revisit my minimalist lifestyle roots and look back through some of my favorite inspirational websites like Becoming Minimalist and books like The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up.  It can be difficult to purge and part with so many belongings, but it is absolutely essential if you are moving to the bush.  My advice, put your belongings in storage if you can't bear to part with them or have expensive pieces you know you'll want in a few years.

Don't be afraid to ask your family to send you care packages! 
Once you've purged your belongings, packed your totes, and correctly addressed them to your new home, it's time to send them off into the world! The post office workers may look at you like you have gone insane (I know they always look at me like that when I come in lugging a 70lb tote), but rest assured, the USPS is quite helpful when it comes to moving your goods. Take your tracking numbers and keep them in your possession until you get to your new home (I keep mine in my wallet), this will help you keep track of your shipments and ensure they all arrive. Totes can take a long time to arrive in Alaska.

It may seem overwhelming to start the shipping and moving process, but once you get started it's really not that awful. Just take it slowly and make lists.  The more organized you are, the easier it will be!

Your turn...What changes are happening in your life right now?
Currently listening to...Knock Three Times - Dawn

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Getting a Job in Alaska

Making the decision to go teach in Alaska can be a difficult one. There are so many things to consider before taking the plunge into the unknown.  Do you want to live urban or rural? Do you need access to amenities like restaurants or health care services? Are you a natural adventure seeker? Do you enjoy extreme climates and places? Are you committed to learning about a new culture? Can you live with an incinerator toilet?These are all important questions to ask yourself. 

For me, the decision was an easy one because I fell in love with Alaska while living in King Salmon seasonally back in 2010.  I knew that I wanted to live and teach in the bush. Somehow, I ended up teaching in Juneau instead though, and was able fall madly in love with one of the urban areas of the state too. There are pros and cons to both, and it is important to make the right decision for you.  Know your comfort levels and your "must-haves" before interviewing and job searching so that you can narrow down your search to places that fit your criteria. With all of that said, here are my top tips for securing a job teaching in Alaska. 

1.) Use the Alaska Teacher Placement (ATP) website.  This website in the best way to research districts, connect with fellow educators, and apply for jobs. The ATP forum (located within the website) is a great way to  ask veteran Alaskan educators specifics about villages, districts, or teaching in general.  The people there are always super helpful. Once you've done your research, this is also the place that you submit your application through. (Note: The "Big 5" aka the urban districts do have their own application system, but I believe they still post all their openings here.) 


2.)  Research the districts, and by research I mean learn everything you can.  Some districts are on the tundra, while others are in thick forested areas, while others still are deep in the mountains or on little islands out at sea.  Once you've narrowed down your desirable regions and climates you can start to find out the specifics (climate and region DOES matter, if you can't handle months of dark then the North Slope probably isn't for you).  Google, ATP, Wikipedia, and the State of Alaska communities website are all good places to find information. Crime reports can also be helpful in deciding where to go, and there's no shame in checking out the statistics.

3.) Read as many blogs as you can.  There are teachers, just like me, creating new blogs every year. You can find blogs from teachers in literally every district.  It's important to keep in mind that some teachers just aren't cut out for a location and may make things seem worse than they are, and vice versa.  I've found that blogs were incredibly helpful to me in my decision making process though because you do learn a lot about the pros, cons, and daily operations of a district this way. I recommend this one (Lake and Peninsula School District), this one (Lower Yukon School District), this one (Northwest Arctic Borough School District), and this one (Yukon Flats School District). There are a million of them out there, just type in some variation of "Alaska bush teacher blog" or even "(insert village name here) Alaska teacher blog."  

4.) Attend a job fair.  ATP hosts a few job fairs every year.  I know quite a few people who have gone to one or more of these and been offered contracts on the spot.  Aside from the ATP fairs, many districts attend jobs fairs throughout the US at colleges.  Check at colleges nearby you.  The district that I got a job with frequently recruits in Pennsylvania, and I know that Lower Yukon was recruiting at Northern Michigan University this year.  Look around at the big university job fairs near you during hiring season (February-May).


5.) E-mail and/or call districts that you are interested in.  This is super important because districts do receive many applicants.  Take my current position, there were no openings in February when I started looking, but I knew that I wanted to work for LPSD.  I e-mailed their HR Director and Superintendent directly.  Within a couple of weeks I had an interview, and I was offered the job at the conclusion of the interview. Along this same vein, I received interviews from many other schools that I pursued myself. Each one mentioned that they liked that I pursued them because it showed that I was really interested and it wasn't just a fleeting idea.

6.) Trust your instincts. This spring, I was interviewing with multiple districts all in the same week and I had multiple offers on the table on top of the one I took, but LPSD just felt right. My interview with them was seamless, and I felt connected to my interviewers immediately, which  I always take as a good sign. They offered to put me in touch with other teachers from the district right away, and offered up easy access to many of their staff for questioning. On the flip side, another district I interviewed with kept having missed connections with me, which ultimately contributed to me declining their offer because it didn't seem meant to be.

Note: If you are not a teacher, but you are still interested in working/living in Alaska check out CoolWorks and WWOOF

Your turn...What are some of your job hunting tips and tricks? 
Currently listening to...Dog Days - Florence and the Machine