28 December 2005

In Anchorage

JD and I met up in Anchorage at the end of my Arctic adventure. He was just finished with a month of gill-netting in Bristol Bay. (Note his manly beard.)

Out of the Arctic

Finally, that arctic story is finished. Now I can write about other things. In the meantime I'll show some pictures from Prince William Sound. That's where I was all summer on a small cruise ship called the "Spirit of Columbia."

08 December 2005

Arctic Trek VI

It was another long stay in my tent after that long day of walking. It was how I'd planned it more or less, giving me plenty of time to recover, and plenty of time to think and write. If it hadn't been raining again, I'd have explored some of the surrounding mountains to get a better look at the valley, but as it was I wanted to be dry and warm.

I'm not sure exactly how long I was in the tent, but when I finally got out the sun was peeking through the clouds a little. It wasn't really any warmer, and it was clearly going to rain again, but there was enough sunshine for me to lay out all of my things to dry. I dressed in my shorts for the first time (with my long underwear on, and wetted down with deet) and went about making myself a small meal. Actually, I was too lazy to cook so I made do with the last of my dried fruits and nuts. The mosquitos buzzed in an unhappy swarm above my toxic head, and I contemplated the day to come.

I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to get back to Coldfoot, let alone all the way to Fairbanks, but I knew that I'd have plently of time if I got in to Wiseman early enough to meet Jack. He'd asked me to stop in at his place on my way out, maybe we'd have dinner. He'd be able to help me make arrangements for whatever mode of travel was available.

When my things had evaporated a good portion of the water they'd been gathering I set to packing once again, and the methodical preparation for another day on the trail. By this time my packing skill had become expert, and where at the beginning of the trip I fretted about fitting all of my gear in my limited pack space, now I wondered how it could have been so difficult.

From my camp at the top of Glacier Pass, I knew that I'd be able to take the winter trail all the way back to the Nolan Creek Mine Road. In other words, the way was going to be much easier than the previous few days. It was a pleasant thought, what with my bandaged and painful feet, and the clearing skies made it all that much better. It was frustrating that the weather would clear on my last day, but I was happy to accept the good weather, and use it to make good distance.

It took me a while to find the trail. Once again I made the poor decision to cut diagonally across a tussock field in order to reach my destination, and found what in retrospect is so obvious, that it would have been much better to head straight, that is perpendicul
ar to the trail I was trying to reach. The small saved distance was not worth the effort. But I made it with only a little cussing, and had much improved travel from here on out. I hiked the muddy trail through meadow and spruce stand, past the first small lake I'd seen on my first night out, thus skirting the tussock field that had so bogged me down, and on to the road that would bring me back to Wiseman.

For most of the day I had been thinking that the road was my goal. Once there, the way would be so easy that it wouldn't even be worth thinking about, and I'd be back at the highway in no time. That proved to be an inaccurate estimate. What had seemed like a short jaunt on the way in, with fresh feet and unbounded enthusiasm, was actually a rather long haul, especially with my feet as sore as they were. My rate of travel was slow, and as I came around each bend expecting but not finding those visual cues from the beginning of the road, it became harder to enjoy act of walking. My excitement at the beginning of the trip had totally blinded me to the distance that I was covering, and now I was paying the price for t
hat mental trick.

I did however make it down to the Wiseman road, and hiked the remaining miles down to the town. It was even less of a "town" than I had imagined. I don't have much experience with villages, but I'm pretty sure this is one. There's really no center, only one road, and people have driveways leading off of it. There were dogs trotting around everywhere who seemed not entirely pleased about my presence in their territory. My friendly gestures were more often than not greeted with a low snarl and bristled shoulder. Thankfully, the dogs that seemed interested in eating my face were all tied up, but sled dogs as they were, I wasn't sure about the stakes holding them in.

Somewhere toward the middle of the road I came across a big, split-plank barn-like building with an open door labeled "Trading Post" or something like that. I went in expecting to ask someone where I might find Jack's place, but found no one. There were ar
tifacts all over the place from the mining days: the implements of a bygone industry in a remote wilderness outpost, rusted and decayed in this unoccupied room. There were some items for sale, labeled with the amount of money to be deposited in the can sitting underneath. A lot of candy, some powdered milk, diesel fuel treatment, de-icing liquid, propane canisters. On the glass counter was a big container of "double bubble" (free) which I partook of, and a can of aerosol deet which I did not. I took a seat in the big stuffed chair and kicked my feet up on the ottoman, waiting in a way for someone to ask me what I was doing.

No one came. I could hear some heavy equipment operating not too far awa
y, and the road continued on, so I got up and followed it along to it's end. And there was Jack's house, the end of my journey on foot as it would turn out. I knocked and a young girl opened the door. There was a tour group in the living room listening to Jack talk about the local ecology and his way of life. The people were amazed. So was I. How could you be anything else coming from the ease that most of us are accustomed to. He hunts and grows almost all of his own food, and spends the winter trapping. And when he's not doing that, he's participating in the oversight of the lands that he uses for his subsistence, through various panels and committees. How he has time I don't know. I guess he must study during the long winter night.

After the tour left, Jack offered to let me stay in one of his cabins and lent me a
book to read. He also helped me get a ride back to Fairbanks on a van that goes a few times a week back and forth to Prudhoe Bay. It was more hospitality than I could have hoped for.

The next day, I got on the van for the long ride south. My trek was over, but my mind was on fire, burning with the new knowledge of true wilderness, and deep solitude.