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Old 02-17-2013, 12:55 AM
 
6 posts, read 53,633 times
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Hey guys, my significant other is a military man, and we just received the final Word of God about his first duty station. We've been hearing "Alaska" for four months (I've never known such a well-informed rumor mill), but now it's time to get specifics. He's still in school and unable to do any research, so I'm trying to find out the little details for him. He graduates at the end of the month and the Army will fly him out. Whether I will join him or not -- and if so when -- is as far up in the air as it can get, so can't give any details there; but for the sake of research, say I will.

I'm a long-time lurker here at city data, and have put my hours in at wikipedia, so I'm not a complete blank slate anymore. I've got a good idea about the weather and cost of living and all the really important information that everyone provides. So a big thank-you to all of you who have been such a valuable source of information to me. But here are the areas that I still don't know enough about:

Transportation -- Most of the people are asking questions about road quality and winterizing their vehicles, and there's just not a lot of specifics about other modes of transportation. Neither of us have a driver's license, let alone a car, so at least right at first he won't be driving anywhere. I hope to have one soon, but even if I /do/, I will be a really nervous and inexperienced driver. We're both from CT, and not strangers to bad roads, but I know it's a whole different deal in your neck of the woods. (We've got two feet of snow in the yard today. Want to impress me with how much you've got?)

Anyway, I've read that the city is really "spread out," and I've heard that there's a bus line but it's useless. How true is that? Are things so far apart that the place isn't really walkable? Would it be very dangerous to walk or bike places in winter? How pedestrian/bike friendly is the city? In the parts of the year with prolonged darkness and extreme temperature, this is of especial concern. I guess I'm wondering how we would get to work and school, grocery shopping, visiting places, etc without cars. How practical would it be? Given temperature, darkness, road quality, and locations, could we do it?

City Size -- I'm from a rural area (not Alaska bush rural, but rural by New England standards: pop 2,301), and he's from a suburb next to a major city. I've read Fairbanks is the second-largest population center in the state, but everything else I hear sounds like it's equivalent to a small "city" around here; not much to do, not much in the way of public transportation, small and spread out, not a lot of variety or amenities. Can anyone expand on what kind of area he's moving to? Wainwright looks like it has a fair amount of cool stuff going on, and I have to assume Fairbanks does, too, but all the information I have is very contradictory. Barring winter sports and music festivals, what's the area like in terms of restaurants, coffee shops, quirky activities/clubs, that kind of thing? (And how accessible are those things without a car, can you guess?) How about stuff to do for 18-21 yrs? Without alcohol, are there many things to do at night? There's a college like right there, you MUST tell me there's fun stuff going on!

Where I live we call it a city if there's a grocery store and an Applebee's, and a main street you can walk down with small businesses. I'm wondering if Fairbanks is going to turn out to be partly the same way? I know it's no NYC or anything, but I was hoping for something fairly urban from the second-biggest. If you can try to clear this up for me I'd really appreciate it.

Military Stuff -- I take it Wainwright has been around for a long time, but I still have to ask: how is the attitude toward soldiers and their families? I know in some areas the post is barely noticed, and in some it's a major part of the character of the area. Any insight into how high-profile Army stuff is in Fairbanks? Whether or not he is accompanied, I am 99% sure he will choose to live off-post sooner rather than later anyway, if the transportation thing can be worked out. (Please no flack for this, our desire to be out of military housing is a personal choice that has already been made.) Can anyone comment on the feasibility of that in terms of the layout of the city? Is there an area that's close to the post but also close to grocery, bank, entertainment? Is there a neighborhood that's especially suited toward or favored by military families for those reasons? No pets or kids here, so not worried about those things.

If I decide to stay where I am and he can't find a suitable place off-post, he'll be in the barracks. Can anyone comment on the conditions of bachelor housing at Wainwright? How modern, crowded, conveniently located and so on are they at this particular location? It's my understanding that it's space-available for voluntarily separated soldiers. Not a big concern of mine, but just wondering. Any information, especially first-hand, that I can pass along to him is appreciated.

I've read a few comments about having to drive to work even living on post because of the extreme cold. Does anyone have experience with that? If he stays in the barracks, does that still apply? I'm a little confused about this. I would think at least a good portion of soldiers in the barracks wouldn't have/need cars; but I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to that. Is the weather really so hazardous, or their jobs so far away, that they can't walk? I understand this probably varies for everyone, and this will really be between him and the Army to figure out, but I'm trying to make things as easy for him as I can. If anyone can try to give me a general understand or clear it up even a little, I'd appreciate it.

Pollution + Environment -- I don't know how much you guys will have to say about this, but it's worth asking. Wainwright's got a pretty terrifying track record. So far everything I've got indicates that the problem is mostly isolated to the military's land, though. I'm satisfied that Fairbanks's water is of very good quality. I haven't read great things about the Chena River, though. Anyone got an opinion? How about wildfires? We don't have them in my part of the country at all. Can anyone tell me anything about them? Season, how they affect day-to-day life, etc? Smog/ice fog is worrying. We're both used to clean, country air -- not to sound pretentious or anything, but the difference in a city is noticeable. How bad is it, really? What time of year is it worst? Is it mostly cleared up during the warmer months, or is it a permanent problem? And be real with me, do you guys really get moose and bears /in the city/? And just to double-check, is there any other extreme weather event you guys get regularly? Hurricane, tornado, earthquake, volcano, and so on.... Sorry, I know I'm being ridiculous, but it's all good stuff to know! I've done the research on this topic, but a first-hand account would make me feel a whole lot better.

Economy -- Any general impression you can contribute would be great. One of the reasons I'm not definitely going right away is job concerns. I'm not picky, guys! What's the general climate for jobs in restaurants, secretaries, retail, anything at all? And are they accessible by foot/bike/bus? Can anyone recommend cheap places for groceries and home essentials? We certainly won't be hauling household goods and furniture across the continent, so we'll have to start over. Flea markets and thrift shops? Any farmer's markets? (I have a feeling that's going to be asking too much....)

Culture -- I doubt this will be much of a problem with my soldier, but I've been pretty isolated and sheltered my whole life. I've visited other areas, and made long vacations for studying and stuff, but when it comes to such a big move, I don't know what I don't know, you get me? So, who wants to tell me what I'm getting myself into? Besides reindeer sausages and the auroras, what makes your city unique? Are there any things we should definitely look for/check out/visit/try before we're PCSed out of there? What kind of personality does the city have? Is it young, busy, quiet, slow, outdoorsy, cooped-up, etc?

I know that's a lot of questions, and I'm so grateful if any of you have read all of it. I think I've got a handle on the basics, and all the important things that get repeated a lot. I'm just trying to get a more concrete feel for what kind of lifestyle is possible and practical in your area; I know it doesn't help that there are a few possible scenarios with us, but what can I say, I'm a contingencies person. Fairbanks looks like a lovely area, but I want both of us to go in extra prepared, for all possible circumstances! Thanks a whole bunch for any information you can provide.
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Old 02-17-2013, 01:12 AM
 
6 posts, read 53,633 times
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I forgot to ask about crime. How's the crime? Is all the talk about gun-loving and alcoholism a fair characterization of the city's population? I'm not too worried about this, it doesn't seem like a dangerous place to live, but you know, gotta ask.

Oh, and what's this about a giant battery? Just how common are interruptions in internet, electricity, and cell phone service?
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Old 02-17-2013, 01:18 AM
 
Location: Not far from Fairbanks, AK
15,695 posts, read 25,302,452 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by batterycrayon View Post
I forgot to ask about crime. How's the crime? Is all the talk about gun-loving and alcoholism a fair characterization of the city's population? I'm not too worried about this, it doesn't seem like a dangerous place to live, but you know, gotta ask.
Fort Wainwright by itself is a small community that's separated from Fairbanks by a chain-link fence, and a couple of guarded gates. It has a commissary, PX, gas station, a food joint, and more food and other stuff at the PX. It has new housing a new and very large hospital, a grade school, fire station, ski slope, and so on.

Will let others chime in, and will come back to tell you more.
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Old 02-17-2013, 02:58 PM
 
Location: Wasilla, AK
2,433 posts, read 3,553,463 times
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You are asking some good questions...

My only comment for now is that not having the car will be a major hindrance. I personally would make it a big priority to get a license and get the cash saved up for a cheap car.
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:07 PM
 
Location: Not far from Fairbanks, AK
15,695 posts, read 25,302,452 times
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Originally Posted by AKStafford View Post
You are asking some good questions...

My only comment for now is that not having the car will be a major hindrance. I personally would make it a big priority to get a license and get the cash saved up for a cheap car.
Agree with you. During the summer they can get by with bicycles, but not having a car during the winter can be quite tough.
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:24 PM
 
6 posts, read 53,633 times
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Thanks for the replies!

AKStafford, would you mind answering a few car questions for me? Let's say I get my license here and I join him in August. Without a lot of driving experience, would it be a time of year that would give me enough time to get my bearings and have a good transition into winter? Enough so that it would be safe? I can read up online for weatherizing vehicles and driving in snowy conditions, but I am nervous that it won't be the same as practical experience.

Additionally, I'm not sure we could afford the expenses of a car. We'd have to buy the car, get insurance, pay for gas, and all the maintenance it needs. I have NO clue how much these things cost, in any part of the country. Don't they need new oil and tires and stuff pretty regularly? It's looking like we're really going to need one, so I wonder if anyone can give me a monthly or yearly cost estimate?

It's not only the actual act of driving that I'm worried about, but knowing how to take care of the vehicle. I assume that all the fluid-changing and waxing/rust protectant is only magnified up there, and I wouldn't even know where to start in an easier area like New England. And then there's the Alaska-specific stuff on top of it, like plugging the car in to warm it up?

This is going to be such an adventure for us! It would be in any time of our lives, but especially so now, since we're both young, it's the first experience with the Army, and there will be a lot of life-firsts for both of us as well. I'm just concerned about all the complications that's going to add to this move for us. If we knew how to drive, all we'd have to do is learn how to adapt to the climate. But we have to learn the normal stuff first, and the Alaska stuff on top of it. And it's the same way for all kinds of things. Neither of us have parents that can help, so it's quite overwhelming. I'm sorry I've been so long-winded, but there's so much we don't know!
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:25 PM
 
6 posts, read 53,633 times
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RayinAK, I've read a lot of your posts in other threads. You've been such a help to me! Thank you both for being so kind to share your knowledge of the area with us newbies. It really helps so much!
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Old 02-18-2013, 09:51 PM
 
Location: Not far from Fairbanks, AK
15,695 posts, read 25,302,452 times
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Originally Posted by batterycrayon View Post
RayinAK, I've read a lot of your posts in other threads. You've been such a help to me! Thank you both for being so kind to share your knowledge of the area with us newbies. It really helps so much!
You are welcomed

I wish I could answer some of your other questions, but most relate to things that you can only figure once you have resided here for a few months.

During the summer you can get by riding bicycles, but it won't be as easy during the winter. Some people still make it here without automobiles, but they wear several layers of winter clothing in order to move from place to place. I know students at UAF who ride bikes year-round, even when -40 degrees or colder. They use bicycles with studded tires, and expensive outdoors clothing. But such a thing takes time since you have to acclimatize or prepare your body. Then some other students get rides from other students or coworkers who own automobiles.
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Old 02-19-2013, 03:07 AM
 
6 posts, read 53,633 times
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I, uh... don't actually know how to ride a bike, either. But /that/ I can learn quickly without killing myself, for sure, and my soldier is very competent. I think you're right, if everything goes through we will just have to wait and see, and figure things out as we go along. Thanks for the reassurances, it's very comforting knowing we're probably not going to die. Don't get me wrong, I'll keep digging around, but I'm not very worried anymore.

Do you think the van-share program would be a viable option if we're still too afraid to drive? It seems like Wainwright would be a pretty common destination, especially if he/we settle(s) in a place with a large military population. I haven't seen any reviews or opinions on it, though, and I'm a bit wary of counting on it before the chickens are hatched. Thanks everyone!
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Old 02-19-2013, 04:32 AM
 
Location: Interior Alaska
18 posts, read 26,145 times
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Fairbanks Bus System: Fairbanks North Star Borough

Hi, what stands out for me is the need to say something good about the bus system. I moved to Fairbanks in August 2012. I live just off the main bus lines, so it's a simple block walk and wait for the bus. I find the routes to be excellent, with many connections at the transit center downtown. I have been on a bus that waited a few minutes for another one, so that riders could transfer. It's cheap at 1.50 a ride, with military discount, it's .75! Now, I do agree that not all areas are accessible to the bus lines, but they really try to connect people to shopping, business, college, the library and recreation around the city. Would I want to use it exclusively? Probably not. I like to bring back lots of groceries and a few bags on the bus doesn't work for me. Yet, I see people do that and there are stops at both Fred Meyer stores. I actually have been pleased with the overall experience so far, minus the usual on public transit, like people coughing and not covering their mouths. I feel safe on the bus, in comparison to when I drive my car.
A related note: Driving in Fairbanks is an entirely different animal. The ice is slick and stays like that all winter. You don't get the daily melt off from the sun, resulting in dry pavement afterwards, like in the upper parts of the lower 48. The city does put gravel down and plows.

We couldn't afford Blizzack tires after paying 6,000 of our own money to rent a 26 foot UHaul and pay for gas costs to get here. The result? We have our one powerful, sporty car with all season tires that spin at almost every intersection. It's been awful and scary.
Winter driving in Fairbanks changed my entire outlook and for too long, I stopped going to things that I enjoyed due to it. Well, that and the darkness, plus bitter cold in December. Plus not wanting to start up the car in the driveway and let it run for ten minutes and it never warms up the entire time you drive, because everything is only 10 mins away. I digress.

Back to the bus. If you can get a place that is well connected to the bus system, you'll be fine.
Walking? I've layered up and walked a half mile each way to work in minus 45 temps. Do I like it? No! But it does work and I haven't got frostbite from it yet.

It is extremely important that you find a community of people, whether its church, sports, political, environmental, hobbyists... You get the idea, or you will get cabin fever. There are plenty of activities here! Everything from community choir, to cross country skiing, to gardening, to getting involved in social projects. There are many nice cafes to hang out. Alaska Coffee Roasters, College Coffee and McCaffertys comes to mind. There's a neat little place called The Fudge Pot downtown. There are approximately 113 restaurants! Even the cafe at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital recently renovated and after an appointment, I had a large sized fresh salad for only 3 dollars. There is a lot of tourism and the military is here, so it is culturally diverse for such an isolated part of the world geographically. Yet, the airport is right here, just a short drive.

As for Fairbanks city air quality in the winter, it is awful. The inversions trap particulate from wood stoves, cars, trucks and steam venting from oil heat furnaces. Air quality alerts on a daily basis are common. I let my dogs outside for a few minutes and they come back in stinking of car exhaust. My cat's asthma is worse. I developed a cough at times and some people develop asthma or their pre-existing asthma gets so bad that they have to move, because it isn't healthy long term.
The reason the air quality is bad in the winter is also due to the increased use of wood burning for heat, as electricity and fuel oil costs have tripled, maybe quadrupled in the past 5 years or so. This relates to your "big battery" question. To put it in very simple terms, the energy here is expensive because the electric company isn't using coal, but fuel oil to generate energy, so we are paying first for that and then the electricity it generates on top of it. That's how it was explained to me. Supposedly a "clean" coal plant near Healy is going to help things, but for now it's too darned expensive to live here in the winter.

If anyone has better information about what I said, feel free to explain the energy thing. I'm not attached to being right.

Summers here are amazing. The air quality and weather is great, there are plenty of things to see and do. The Farmer's market is in two locations. One is downtown and the main location is on College Rd, on the north edge of the city. If you like nature, Creamer's Field is fantastic for hiking, bird watching, biking, walking dogs etc. There is also a walking trail along the Chena River downtown. There are several fitness centers.

Natural disasters: Alaska has had massive wildfires and smoke has been an issue. Just last Autumn a fire was burning southeast of Fairbanks about 20 to 30 miles and the plume of smoke was quite dramatic. Earthquakes, little ones, happen all the time in the general area, even more so closer to the coast's ring of fire, but you usually don't feel them up here. That being said, big ones in Fairbanks should not be ruled out completely. I believe there is a fault line that runs under the Tanana River. If I'm not mistaken, there was some damage to homes in Fairbanks due to a regional earthquake in the 1960s.

I said this in a previous post here in the Fairbanks forum, but be sure to get memberships in Fred Meyers, Safeway and Sam's Clubs. You can get food for decent prices here if you have those club cards. Going out to eat is expensive! Almost twice as much per person, compared to most lower 48 places, not including big cities like NYC or San Francisco.
Lunch at non fast food places is around $12.00 for a burger and fries. Add 3 dollars to same menu and you have the dinner Price. Like at Pike's Landing on the river.
I love thai food and an order of Pad Thai for dinner runs about $13.50
Same meal in lower 48? About 8.50
Be ready to learn to cook your favorite meals! It will save you $$.

Alcohol is an issue, especially in the long, dark winters, so you do have to watch for drunk drivers. I work at a place where someone showed up drunk and was fired. Another guy was a new delivery driver and after a delivery, ended up taking a field sobriety test in the parking lot. He was arrested and fired from his job.
Not all Fairbanksans are into drinking. I think Alaska Troopers on TV hasn't helped Alaska's image. There are many genuinely kind, decent folks who are really good people, living good lives. I was welcomed by so many people when I first moved here. It was great!

All for now.
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