Just had a few minutes to read this morning. I woke at 4:30 and left at 5:00 for a nice long walk. When I left, it was once again a perfect Irish Autumn morning. Cool, crisp with a slight breeze coming off the lagoon carrying the smell of the ocean. Leaves are falling so it sounds and looks and feels like fall. I would prefer to be running, but the pulled muscle in my back is still paining me so I am a walker.
I walked on the path that runs adjacent to the airport, but this morning, just past the Starbucks that doesn’t open until 8:00am, I found a path going off into a field. It was nice—gravel path with a shrub and rock wall on one side and heavy forest on the other. When I came out on the other side of that, about 25 minutes into the walk, I felt a few rain drops. It was time to turn around anyway and by the time I got back to the hotel I was soaked from a constant drizzle. My wool pullover is hanging off a chair by the radiator.
Jonathan has reached Ketchikan in ‘Passage‘. Socked in by weather again. It seems in Alaska, whether traveling by boat or plane, a lot of time is lost passed for weather to change. I once gave up 3 days in a house rented by a Fish and Game officer in Anaktuvuk Pass. Along with me, there were two scientists—a man and a woman, and a cultural anthropologist who was required to accompany us in case we came across any native graves or culturally sensitive sites during our investigation. We passed the days in the small house reading, chatting, going for long walks, listening to the weather forecast and playing Scrabble. Anaktuvuk Pass is a typical remote native village. Mostly dirt or gravel streets. Most houses are pretty dilapidated and dirty and there are generally a couple of dogsled dogs tied in the yard. Old and broken down snow-machines are everywhere; junk lies about wherever it has fallen.
Finally, after 3 days, we were all able to get aboard the de Havilland ‘Beaver’ float plane and fly out to Lake Chandler. The little lake, hard on the edge of town at Anaktuvuk, is not quite long enough for a fully loaded Beaver to get enough speed on a straight run. So our grizzled old pilot made a trip around the lake, building up as much speed as possible before taking the final straight run along the longest edge. We had about 5 feet between the plane and the ground when we ran out of water.
If you are flying bush in Alaska, always opt for an old pilot over a young one. Surviving in that profession in that part of the world is not coincidence.
We unloaded our considerable gear for 4 days of camping and soil and water sampling. Brown bears and caribou were all around the lake as we flew in. The pilot said he would be back in 3 days, but as always, dependent on the weather. We had a satellite phone for emergencies, but I don’t think either of us knew how to use the damn thing.
Alaska is of course stunningly beautiful, but you just can’t be in a hurry there. I lost another two days in Barrow once, waiting for weather. Finally getting out on a chartered jet full of oil pipeline workers. The plane somewhat resembled a greyhound bus on the inside. The seats were dirty and covered with grime and oil; the windows and walls were dingy and the carpet was torn from heavy boots. It was a different flying experience—especially with weather outside that was within sight of blizzard conditions. This was only a day or two after Ted Steven’s plane went down in Alaska. We were waiting in the airport lounge most of the day because any extra seat was available to whoever was there to claim it. I was traveling with a beautiful and elegant scientist from Juneau who was anxious to get home to see her daughter—we had been there 3 or 4 days already doing a site investigation, so I let her take the first seat that came open. I caught my ride the next day. The airport lounge was about 40’ x 20’ with a dirty tile floor and dingy walls covered old plain colored paint. There were 5 or 6 hard plastic chairs and one small little tv hanging from the ceiling by a steel pipe. A coffee pot was on all the time and coffee was self service and free in little 6 oz styrofoam cups.
We watched the news about Stevens’ plane crash and waited for weather to improve enough for a plane to land. It’s just part of the deal when traveling in Alaska.
Picture of Anaktuvuk Pass below. I also wrote about this experience in a newspaper article some years ago.