Saturday, July 30, 2011

Over the Arctic Circle

I crossed over the Arctic Circle today!  I spent the day flying over the length of Alaska, and after four ‘airports’ I am ready to spend some time on solid ground.

I left Anchorage way too early in the morning for any sane human being to be awake.  If you’ve never flown in bush Alaska, you may never have seen the Boeing 747 Combination planes they have up here.  Since there isn’t a mad rush for passenger seats between Anchorage and rural Alaska, they have special planes built for carrying half-passenger and half-cargo loads. Locally, they are called Combis.

 The front half is a cargo hold, and the back half is dedicated to carrying passengers.  There is no way to back a plane that big onto a skywalk bridge, so you have to exit the airport down a flight of stairs and walk across the Anchorage tarmac to the Combi.  Once you arrive at your destination in rural Alaska, you exit off the plane onto the tarmac and walk into a terminal building.  To my knowledge, there are two of these Combis in Alaska.  One of them flies the western route to Kotzebue/Nome, and the other flies the northern route to Fairbanks/Prudhoe Bay/Barrow.  Sometimes the Combi skips a few of those cities and takes a direct flight, and sometimes it jumps inbetween all of them.

Apparently, I purchased the milk-run flight to Barrow . . . so my Combi plane made a stop in Fairbanks.  And then Prudhoe Bay.  And then Barrow.  This made a long trip even longer, but I did meet some interesting people along the way. 

On my flight to Fairbanks, I sat next to the Vice President of Alaskan Operations for BP.  Of course, it was evident he didn’t know a thing about Alaska after only twenty minutes of conversation.  If you have to ask me why somebody can’t drive a car from Anchorage to Dillingham, you shouldn’t be Vice President of any kind of Alaskan Operation.

On my flight to Prudhoe Bay, I sat next to an oil rig worker who was about my age.  Actually, most of the flight from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse) was primarily oil workers coming up for a shift change.  The guy next to me said that they work something like 6 weeks on the Slope, and then get 6 weeks off.  It seems like a hard job, but I know the money is fantastic.  He was saving up to build a house in Houston, Alaska.  Lots of people in Southern Alaska work on the North Slope with the oil companies just to make ends meet.  I asked him what it was really like, and he said that ‘There is a girl behind every tree.’  There are no trees on the North Slope of Alaska, once you get yourself past the Brooks Range.  They shouldn’t complain, though, because I was pulling lightning 3G speed on my iPhone just sitting on the plane.  Even Barrow can’t boast that.  Also, Prudhoe Bay has these really cool FAKE bald eagles sitting on their tarmac . . . to ward off birds, I imagine.  A bird hit is not good for a plane, no matter the size of the bird or the plane.  (Personally, I think they should have REAL American bald eagles trained for the job . . . talk about outsourcing).

(This is a picture of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, from the air.  It's much bigger in real life, with space enough underneath for animals to travel through unimpeded).

I got in Barrow around 10:30 am after 6 hours of flying and sitting on tarmacs.  It’s a funny little town of about 4,000 people.  Unlike Nome, Barrow is technically still a village.  The tourist trade isn’t as kitchy here, and it functions just like any small town might.  There is a library, a museum, an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, a police department, a fire department, a pool, a skating rink, a few Chinese restaurants, a cafĂ©, a Japanese restaurant, two pizza places, a fur shop, and a grocery store.  You can find anything you might need in Barrow . . . for a price, and don’t expect a choice between brands.  Even still, it’s better than most village stores.

I spent some time at the district office meeting people, and then hopped on the 4:00 pm Era Aviation flight to Atqasuk with 3 dozen eggs and a half-gallon of milk on my lap.  (Have you ever thought about what you can’t get without a Wal-Mart or direct flight to Anchorage?)  If you have seen that show ‘Flying Wild Alaska’ on the Discovery Channel, this is the same little airline with little bitty airplanes.  Actually, the second episode of the first season highlighted Barrow and Atqasuk.  You should watch it sometime.

My fellow Oklahomans will find this piece of information interesting:  Will Rogers and Wiley Post (Oklahomans) crashed their plane in Barrow . . . so the airport is named after them, just like in Oklahoma City!  It's kind of weird to have started the journey at Will Rogers International Airport and nearly end it at the top of the world at Will Rogers/Wiley Post Memorial Airport.  

My little plane landed on the gravel airstrip in Atqasuk about 20 minutes after leaving Barrow skies.   It is so nice living so close to a hub!  A 90 minute flight over the Bering Sea from Nome to Siberia sounds exotic, but trust me it gets old and uncomfortable in a hurry. 

Atqasuk seems like a quaint little Alaskan village.  More to come when I know more about the town . . . for now, I’m ‘bushed’ and it’s time to get some sleep! 

Friday, July 29, 2011

I Love Anchorage (even if nobody else does)

I absolutely love Anchorage.  Most bush teachers that I’ve met always say they hate Anchorage.  I think they are just jealous that they haven’t gotten an Anchorage job yet.  J   Sure, it’s a city . . . it’s not the middle of now where – but you can get to ‘nowhere’ within a half hour’s drive.  The treed mountains are gorgeous, and the trail system in Anchorage is unsurpassed in all the world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to enjoy Anchorage this time.  I was only in town a short while, and most of it was spent running around like a mad woman buying food.  If I didn’t have to eat, it would be ever so much easier to live in the bush.  As it is, I have 10 million pounds of pisachios and chocolate raisins making their way to the North Slope (along with $800 worth of other food).  I made sure to get a good variety this time; I still can’t eat mandarin oranges without suffering Gambell flashbacks.

In other news, my Anchorage cousins are moving again!  Last time I came through in 2009-2010, they moved houses within the city.  This time, they are moving away from Alaska!  They’ve tried to move away from me every year . . . maybe I should take the hint!  ;)

I fly out SUPER EARLY in the morning to Barrow/Atqasuk, so it’s time for me to sleep.  I will post pictures soon!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

North to Alaska

It’s a fantastically beautiful day in Anchorage!

I left Oklahoma City way early in the morning today.  I’m always so sad to leave home, but I just keep telling myself this is the right thing to do.

Usually, I fly OKC-Dallas-Seattle-Anchorage.  However, a new flight from OKC to Chicago was added since I last lived in Alaska, so I chose that one.  Then I took the Chicago to Anchorage flight, and I realized why this choice has not always been offered.  It is a SUPER LONG flight!  Six hours is a long time to be in a plane and stay on the same continent.  Luckily I had my new Quiet-Comfort Bose headphones, and it was silent the whole time!  Seriously, if you travel often on planes, this is the way to go.  You can’t hear a thing.

The guy sitting next to me on the plane to ANC was the VP of Alaskan Operations for BP.  I have no idea why he was flying coach.  He didn’t know a thing about Alaska either; he told another girl she should drive from Anchorage to Dillingham because the landscape is beautiful.  Someone needs to tell him that there is NO ROAD from Anchorage to Dillingham. 

Mary Ellen and her daughter picked me up at the Anchorage airport.  She worked with me in Gambell, and will also be at Atqasuk teaching with me.  She’s an older lady, but we get along famously. 

Our most important item of business was to find a set of cats.  We both wanted a kitten to take with us to the village.  One of the hardest parts about living away from home is not having a live-in furry friend.  We were looking for a kitten about 3 months old with all their shots.  After taking a caffeine break, we set out on the hunt.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a 3 month old cat in Alaska?  This is not cat country.  We looked at Animal Control, on Craigslist, the SPCA, and finally Petsmart.  I finally found the PERFECT cat at Petsmart.  And then, the adoption process began.  I had to fill out a two page application.  They wanted to meet any human that would live with or around the cat.  They needed to call two references (my mom and my vet in Yukon, Oklahoma).  They also called the plant manager for Meade River School, and checked out my employer reference in Barrow. 

It’s not looking good for me and the cat.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Battle of the Books

Funniest Find Award: I store some stuff in the attic (because there's no more room in my room). I found two books with their front covers stuck together, presumably because it's been 1094 degrees in Oklahoma for the past month.

I'll let you figure out why I found this pairing hilarious.

Irony is the best type of comedy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oh, The Things You'll Find

When you move to Alaska, you find all sorts of crazy things in your room. Mostly in my room, I find a lot of random books. Seriously, there are hundreds in there . . . and I forgot that I squirreled them away in so many places.

Example 1: An Introductory French Course book, published in 1858 with an 1882 inscription in the front cover.

Example 2: The Best Lincoln Stories, published in 1898 with a 1900 inscription in the front cover.

Example 3: The Giver, First Edition published in 1993 with an author-autographed inscription (Reads: With love to those who read - remember - and GIVE - Lois Lowry, 1994)

Example 4: Fablehaven, Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC)

Where did I get some of those books? I have no clue. Especially that first one. I mean, I don't know a word in French. German? Yes. Spanish? Yes. Siberian Yupik? Yes. English? Of course. But French? Why do I have that?

I have way too much stuff. I've sent tubs and tubs of stuff up to Alaska, and yet I still have a room that looks well-lived in.

I swear it all multiplies behind my back.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It All Ends Here

You know what I'm talking about.

Harry Potter.

It's over.

Well, it will never really be over for me. But the point is there will never be anything new to look forward to (unless we count

I grieved and passed through the mourning stage back in 2007 when I finished the seventh book, though, so today wasn't as bad as I thought it might have been. Still, it is sad to see the end of an era, essentially the end of my childhood.

I didn't go to the midnight showing this time, but I still went opening day. Obligatory pictures are below. And yes, I made my Ravenclaw shirt and my sister made her badger shirt. If I have to explain why she is wearing a yellow badger, you aren't my friend anymore.

My sister's boyfriend James, my sister Amanda, and myself rockin' the 3D shades.

The flash on my iPhone was unfortunate. Our faces aren't THAT white, I promise.

I'm super proud to wear my homemade Ravenclaw shirt, and super bummed I couldn't find my lightning bolt earrings.

As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it. Certainly it was better than the sixth movie (which David Yates murdered). The CGI and special effects were SPECTACULAR. Long ago I came to the decision to treat the movies as completely separate from the books, lest I become too obsessive about the discrepancies. I am a superfan of the Harry Potter books. I enjoy the movies as an extension of the books, but not as a replacement or an equivalent.

Anyway, Harry Potter is always my grand send-off for a new school year. Really. I read the first three books, and moved to Texas. The fourth book in Summer 2000 sent me to 8th Grade. I moved to Kansas. The fifth book in Summer 2003 sent me to 11th grade. The sixth book in Summer 2005 moved me to California and sent me to college. The fifth movie and the end of the book series in Summer 2007 sent me to college for my junior year. I moved to Oklahoma. The sixth movie in Summer 2009 sent me to Alaska for the first time, and the eighth movie in Summer 2011 sent me to Alaska for the second time.

You see, Harry has been there for every life change.

And he always will be.

Because I am a nerd, and I'm finally old enough to embrace the nerdiness.

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" ~J.K. Rowling, HP and the Deathly Hallows

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back to Alaska

You can take the girl out of Alaska, but you can't take Alaska out of the girl.

That was me this year in Oklahoma. I mean, it is really hot here so I do miss the cold and yes, sometimes I do stick my head in a freezer as a temporary remedy . . . but more than that, I just missed Alaska. So I'm going back.

This year in Oklahoma wasn't a wasted year by any means, even if I did not often enjoy my job. I got to spend a year at home with my family and my dogs, and I got seven root canals (yes, SEVEN). Actually it's a good thing I came back because there is no way I could have done seven root canals while living in the bush.

Some of you know I got a job in Arkansas in a brand new school for the 2011-2012 school year. I also financed a new car, new furniture, and leased a new apartment super close to some of my best friends in the whole world. In short, I got every I thought I wanted. I was set to move July 8th.

And then I realized I was underwhelmed by it all. Don't get me wrong; I would have had loads of fun with my Arkansas friends and I would have had a great church to join.

However, I just kept thinking of all the things I wanted to do, all the places I wanted to go, and all the experiences I wanted to have. I was looking at Peace Corps blogs. I was mapping out plans to get back to road system Alaska once I got married (way ahead of myself there; I'm not even dating). I was researching teaching abroad. I was completely skipping the excitement of my new Lower 48 life.

Of course, how could I even afford all those things once I am finished with Arkansas? I can only afford to put away $150 a month in savings with Lower 48 teacher pay . . . that won't pay for any kind of domestic trip, much less international. Good grief, I could hardly justify going home to Oklahoma more than twice a semester with the tight budget I was looking at.

Then, Alaska called. Figuratively AND literally. My friend Mary Ellen (a colleague I met and worked with in Gambell) called me and told me a position in Atqasuk was finally open, and I needed to fill it. It just so happened the principal was visiting her L48 home that very day. I interviewed on an impulse, and gave myself the night to sort it all out.

I made this lovely graphic organizer (sometimes I just can't turn the teacher off). I spent practically the whole night going back and forth, making myself crazy over the decision. How could I reverse the things I had done, and how could I turn down everything that I should want? People would think I am insane! (Maybe I am insane!)

Financially, it was a no-brainer. I would make close to $5000 a month in Alaska, with very few bills. I could save and save and save for student loan repayment, grad school, travel, a future house, whatever. Emotionally, it wasn't a bad decision. I am smarter and less naive this time around about bush life. Plus, I already know and like at least two of the teachers in Atqasuk (I taught with both in Gambell).

And yet, I worked hard to get that job. I just bought this car. I just leased an apartment. I just bought furniture for that awesome apartment. I just told everyone I'm going to Arkansas.

You can see my dilemma.

In the end, the siren song of Alaska was just too strong to ignore. And if I'm completely honest, the money was hard to turn down, too. I am in the process of undoing everything I did, though I will probably keep the car. I love it too much to sell, and anyway the insurance company would probably hunt me down if I sold it (since I crashed it a week after purchasing the policy . . . but that's another story). My dad will drive it and park it in the garage until I decide whether I will stay in Alaska for good or eventually come back and need an awesome car. The whole car thing was the worst timing ever, but then that's life I guess.

I'm not saying it will be easy this time around. It won't. It is still an isolated village in bush Alaska, and I still want to eventually live on the road system. But I'm going to work very hard to remain positive this time, and see the beauty in everything. I am going to refuse depression, and call family/friends more often. I am going to plan a little less, and live a little more. I'm going to love the tundra for what it is, and not hate it for what it is not. I will enjoy the experience to the fullest. I will.

I am also going to blog more frequently than I did in Gambell. I am still debating as to whether I will keep this blog public, or move it to a private status. I feel like I could write more honestly if it was private, but I do enjoy having a public blog that people around the world can learn from. I am undecided. Who knows, I may upkeep one of each like my friend in the Peace Corps.

If it goes private, I will notify you all on Facebook. You can either FB message me, email me, or text me at that time.

I'll post more information on Atqasuk in the near future. Until then, here's a sneak peek at the village location.

Yes, it's very nearly as north as it gets in the US. I probably won't be sticking my head in any freezers to cool off.