Blog 301 Anchorage museum 5th August 2013

Current news – We have now got a bike on the road each but also needed to buy a cheap car at some stage. We both fancied a campervan and we managed to find a cheap 1995 Mercedes Sprinter which has already been converted. We both ride to work so we wanted just one vehicle that will do everything else, shopping, tip runs, moving big items etc.  It will also be our escape pod when we need our own space, we have been out for a few day trips in it already and stayed overnight a couple of times and we love it !. Part of the reason it was cheap is because it needs a bit of work and has a short mot but we are working on that as we speak. IMG_2849

Longer term we plan to build a rack on the back of it and carry a couple of trials bikes with us when we travel. Kev has wanted to have a go at trials for some time and they can be road legalised quite easily and are obviously light to carry on the back. Also we are lucky to have a really good local trials club called Horsham Riders who have lots of places they can ride in. We are saving our pennies to try and buy two bikes next year. Karen is now working more hours so we are both very busy bees.  In this blog we are still in Anchorage.

The Anchorage museum looked to be excellent so we made a day trip to it with our friend Steve. The intricate sculpure outside gave us some clue to the wealth of displays we would find inside.

It was on several floors and had a wide variety of exhibits and themes, this photo showed a high street in Anchorage presumably after the winter snows had melted.


There was a science hall downstairs which had lots of fun experiments designed to demonstrate scientific principles. We made huge bubbles big enough to stand in whilst learning about surface tension. We learnt that a bubble is actually made of 3 layers, 2 layers of soap sandwiching a thin layer of water. The soap increases the waters surface tension or stretchiness by about a third enabling us stretch it much more than normal. Karen has stretched this bubble over the length of her body and is standing encircled within it.

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Here is a picture looking down over the science hall, where Karen tried out the chair which is hooked up to various different pulley systems to demonstrate the mechanical advantage of  pulleys as you winch your own bodyweight upwards. They also had a touch tank in which we could pet the starfish.

The final picture is an image of the two of us playing around with a thermal imaging camera.

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In a different gallery there was another display of bush pilot flying in Alaska. This was incredibly dangerous flying and the early pioneers really became Alaskan heroes. Without their exploits far flung outposts would not get supplied and life would have been far more difficult for early settlers. They made some ingenious adaptations for landing on various different surfaces, huge tundra tyres to stop sinking on soft surfaces whilst skis attached directly to the wheels so they could easily be added or removed as conditions dictated. Airfields were few and far between and not maintained, they were mainly where-ever the pilot thought it was safe to land nearby. In the spring of 1923 the townsfolk of Anchorage then a little railroad town banded together and declared a public holiday so the entire population could turn out with rakes, shovels and scythes to clear an airstrip, (later to be named Merrill Field).

Ski's with wheel booties

Ski’s with wheel booties


Early Airline transport service

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Loads included people, food ,fuel, anything that settlers in remote outposts needed to survive. Crash landing in Alaska posed the risks of Hypothermia, animal attack and insurmountable distances from help.  Steve can be spotted in one of these pictures.IMG_0262


This is an interesting wing from a crash landed P-39. It was supplied to the Russian air force by the USA through the lend lease program which ran from 1942 to 1945 to bolster the Russian war effort. It has Russian markings but you can see the dark blue USAF paint underneath. Ironically the two countries would be bitter enemies for decades after this.

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Another floor had a display on the history of Alaska and its indigenous peoples. People of the far north are often crudely lumped together as Eskimos but these are only one group in a complex list of tribes. (Interestingly Eskimo would never refer to themselves by that name, it was a white man’s phrase).

The museum had a fascinating history of the different tribes and peoples of the north including a brilliant display of their different dress and ceremonial wear which is markedly different. Check out the Aleutian rain mac or cagoul as we might call it today. Years before nylon was invented they devised a way of making a lightweight waterproof coat out of seal intestines.

It also told the history of becoming the 49th state.





First nations Masks


Models of kayaks and watercraft used and a display of tribal hats. Many tribes had their own distinctive design. A peak was commonly built in to shield the eyes from glare and reflection off the water.


Tlingit and Haida cermonial cloak.


Eskimo clothing.

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Some of the different tribes include: Aleuts, Inupiaqs, Unangax, Athabascans, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida but there are many more. Their languages and culture were crushed for many years but are starting to be celebrated and taught again so they are not lost.

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This is a modern version of the traditional Tingit feast bowl called a Potlatch Bowl.


Here is a picture/model of an Umiak, it was the cargo boat of the first nations as opposed to the kayak which was their personal transportation. Made of driftwood and split walrus hide they could be made anywhere and could carry large loads. They were very quiet in the water and so used for traditional whale hunts. After that there is a picture of a two man kayak and single kayak without its cover to show its construction. All modern kayaks owe their design to these (and their name).

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There were also some excellent cross sectional models of their various dwellings and shelters all of which were adapted to the harsh northern climate. The last picture is of a typical trappers cabin.

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Yet another floor had an exhibit on the Alaska pipeline, this was a big part of the history of modern Alaska and was nicknamed the skinny city whilst it was under construction due to the 70’000 people who worked on it.

Here is a picture of a cross section of the pipe showing the insulation around it and in the background two heatsinks on the support.


We learnt more the pipeline in this museum than we did when we rode 500 miles alongside it. Here are some good pipeline facts:

Mountain ranges crossed : 3

Highest elevation : Atigun Pass 4,739 feet (been there !)

Lowest elevation : Valdez, sea level (been there too !)

Total materials shipped to Alaska : 3 million tons

Number of bridges : 13

Number of vertical support members : 78,000

Number of permits required :
Federal : 515

State : 832

These are the leather boots (now bronzed) worn by the geologist William Bishop when he directed the drilling on what became the discovery well on the Kenai Penisula in 1957.


One of the things we learned about the pipeline was the engineering involved to stop the hot oil melting the permafrost. Most of the pipeline route is across pristine wilderness and much of the northern part of it is on permafrost. Whilst permanently frozen ground thawing doesn’t sound like a big deal it really could cause huge problems.

Firstly habitat for wildlife would change irreversibly, it would also affect infrastructure roads, bridges and buildings which could all become unstable as they are sitting on permafrost which can sometimes be hundreds of metres thick. This is the style of telgraph pole that was used in the early 1900′s as a single pole could not withstand the the freezing, thawing and frost-heaving conditions common during the winter months.


24% of the northern hemisphere is covered in permafrost, it locks in 1700 gigatonnes of carbon in the form of frozen organic matter which if it thawed would be released into the atmosphere as CO2 and Methane. That is TWICE the amount of carbon that is currently in the earths atmosphere.

This is making scientists very nervous now but in the 1970′s when the pipeline was built they designed a way to stop this happening on a small scale. Each support member if it were directly bolted to the pipe and buried in the ground would melt the permafrost around it and the supports would topple like ninepins. To counter this each support has a hot and a cold section which are insulated from each other. The hot part works a bit like a fridge with ammonia being used as a refrigerant. The ammonia carries the heat to the top via convection where aluminium heat sinks dissipate the excess heat to atmosphere. It is a clever piece of design that requires no moving parts or maintenance and no power.

Most buried sections of the pipe use a similar passive system but in a select few places where this is not suitable special refrigeration pumps cool the ground through a network of pipework and you thought it was just a pipe to delviver oil over many miles….

After our educational and fasinating tour around the museum we headed back to camp.

Steve treated us to a bbq for dinner. Woohoo !


Next up – heading for Valdez

  1. #1 by Theo Bekkers on September 5, 2014 - 4:21 am

    Hi you two. Great to see you both got home in one piece, and still friends. Now you are going to have to deal with life in the suburbs. All the best in your endeavours.


  2. #2 by Lyn & Arthur Spain on August 5, 2014 - 5:18 pm

    What an amazing museum, its so good to see alot of the History & way of life preserved for future generations to learn about.
    It was good to catch up again the other W/E, speak soon
    Love Mum & Dad!!

  3. #3 by NEIL HORNSBY on July 22, 2014 - 2:55 am

    Well you two aren’t letting any grass grow under your feet! I’m sure that the Sprinter will soon be tricked out with all the organisational gusto of the Guzzi!! Bravo. Neil

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