Bill McKee loves his dogs, coffee and muffins

This business of transitioning from cheechako to sourdough sure is challenging.  On Monday I drove back from work and stuck the little Jeep in the driveway like a bug in amber.


Nobody was around to help. This cheechako is fast learning that Alaska folks like helping out.


I’d heard rumors that a catalytic converter thief was working in the neighborhood. If he came by, I probably would have asked him to push me out.

Gosia Nuwer and Hank Nuwer. Photo by Tawnya Garlits

Hank Nuwer and Frisky Pups musher Bill McKee

What happened is that my usually reliable snowplow guy spaced my request to dig out the yard. I gathered up computer, books and briefcase and stomped through the snow into the house. No sooner had I set my gear on the counter than I realized I’d left my phone on the passenger seat.


I call my wife Gosia every night in Indiana, and knowing her, she either would worry or stay up half the night.


Back down the hill I went. Back up the hill I started with the phone.


Looking for sympathy, I called my wife so she could hear the sound effects of a cheechako crunching through snow.


“You got stuck again?” she said. “Even with those expensive new winter tires?”


She sure didn’t sound too sympathetic.


“Well, it was your dream to live an Alaskan adventure,” she said. “Now you’re living the dream.”


Back in the house, I texted the snowplow driver who came over about 10 p.m., cleaned the yard, freed my Jeep, and put it in the garage.


My other adventure in the snow last week was far more pleasant.


For many years on winter vacations while my wife and I visited our land east of Fairbanks, we stayed in a cabin owned by a veteran musher Bill McKee and his wife Sandy.


Book a heathen   He still drinks coffee out of a Grateful Dead mug, I noticed.


Every time Bill took my wife and I out on the trail, he dressed me up in about $1,500 in musher gear—huge parka, oversized mittens, and boots that fit over my sneakers. Bill and I both have size 14 feet.  For years we weighed an identical 235-240 pounds.


Only this time, I saw to my surprise Bill looked only half his size.


“I got down to 184 pounds,” Bill said. “I signed up for Noom. It’s a behavior modification designed by psychologists.”


We went out for a 10-mile run.  Bill is a retired elementary school teacher and runs Frisky Kennels out of Two Rivers as a sideline.


The trail was soft and we went slow. It had snowed a lot the night before, and Bill was using a few of his aging 11 and 12-year-old dogs. They’re pampered, and on cold nights he keeps them in a heated shed.


The trail was lovely. The trees were all fluffy snow and crystal ice.  We saw two sets of moose tracks and met three snowmobilers along the way.


When we returned, Bill put away the dogs and gear. “Thanks for a great ride,” I said.


“No problem,” Bill said. “The dogs were starting to look like butterballs, and I planned to give them some exercise. If you hadn’t come over, I would have had to throw concrete sacks on the sled.

We went into the house for coffee. Bill drank out of a Grateful Dead cup. Sled dogs drifted in and out of the kitchen.

Musher Lauro Eclund stopped by to borrow some equipment for his 550-mile stint in the Yukon Quest. He’s a sturdy guy in his mid-20s whose father, two-time Iditarod musher Neil Eclund, homeschooled him in the Bush. He had some great news.

“I just learned I have only one more payment on my place, and the land is all mine,” Lauro said.

The conversation shifted to racing. Bill’s wife, Sandy McKee, regaled us with stories about how she ran the couple’s dogs in the 2005 Iditarod when the temperature sunk to 50 below zero. Sandy is as petite as Bill is tall.

After Lauro departed, Bill and I went to a bakery in Two Rivers for even more java. Mushers and editors like to swill coffee.

We eyed the bakery’s cinnamon rolls, brownies, and other delicacies and caved on our diets. We even added a dollop of ice cream to our plates. Gosia is right. I am living the Alaska dream. It already feels like home.