AKP Teacher's Institute 2009- A Personal Journal

1. Salem to Fairbanks to AKP

THURSDAY, Day 1 — On May 28, I left my husband Doug at the Boston airport for Anaktuvuk Pass (AKP), which translates as “Place of Caribou Droppings." I would soon be joining 13 other students for a springtime adventure in the interior of Alaska, a place I NEVER thought to go!

When my Northwest Airlines flight, with a single stop in Minneapolis, landed in Fairbanks, it was 11:30 pm Boston time, but only 7:30 pm Alaska time. I then faced my first major challenge, apart from wearing too heavy, knee-high waterproof boots for 13+ hours — adjusting to a different time zone AND almost endless sunlight.

I was quickly tested. Along with a small group of participants from Barrow who were also staying at Sophie's Hotel, I worked out room assignments, changed into fresh clothes and went in search of dinner. Ironically, "Chilli's" was closed so we ended up at "Boston's" and then shopping at a 24/7 Walmart. After buying earplugs for the group and a new pair of bright yellow Mary Jane’s, I returned to the hotel and fell into bed at 6 AM Boston time. With soft Alaska light streaming in though holes in the drapes, it was almost impossible to sleep.

 

 

When we went to Sam's Club the next morning to buy all the food and supplies we'd need in AKP, I was still quite jet-lagged. However, my experience provisioning Project Adventure workshops soon kicked in. Along with a few other participants, I helped Martha fill a long train of shopping carts with cans of bug spray, tubs of Crisco, a gross of bacon, gallons of Tang, heaping bags of apples and potatoes, many pounds of chicken and beef, and reams of paper towels and toilet paper. It seemed we were going out in the wild, but not quite in the "traditional" way.

Our shopping, one of my least favorite activities, worked out well. Despite the complete absence of caribou to kill and eat, nobody starved and not much was wasted. We did get some important supplements — from the AKP school larder, elders' freezers, a successful Dall sheep hunt, berries gathered, roots dug, a fish caught by Ben, and delicious meals from the AKP "camp" restaurant and generous AKP residents, such as NPS Ranger Al. The lightweight t-shirt from AKP's Simon Paneak Memorial Museum and the $1 Walmart shoes, together with cut-off camouflage pants, became my hot weather outfit — something I hadn't anticipated needing so far north.

FRIDAY, Day 2 —After loading the rental cars with our luggage and provisions, we drove to the small airport of Wright Air Service for transport to AKP, 2 hours away. We were weighed, along with our personal gear (my pack at 22 lbs.) and flown in shifts in a 9-passenger, Cessna Model 208B. We put in our earplugs before takeoff and then all the other participants fell quickly asleep. I was too excited to close my eyes, despite the lack of visibility. When the skies opened up about 15 minutes before we approached the village, I got my reward. All around our tiny plane loomed the tops of craggy, dark grey mountains that looked close enough to touch. It was an amazing sight. At that moment, really for the first time, it hit me: This is Alaska!

After landing, we were met by a small group of AKP residents who quickly moved our gear onto trucks and Argos for the two-block ride to the school. As we walked along the village, I was surprised to see it had buildings, paved roads, and even streetlights. However, when I looked beyond the village, towering high above everything were those huge mountains covered with snow and ice, and then seemingly nothing. I was up above the Arctic Circle and it didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before.