Noatak - 2004 Page 2
3 AM Wednesday morning, T-Minus 54 1/2 hours and counting. I didn't get much sleep in anticipation of having to get up so early. Isn't it ironic that just knowing that you don't have much time to sleep deprives you of any at all? I think I saw every 15 minute increment on the clock making sure I didn't over sleep.
But at any rate the hour had arrived and after 2 months of planning we where ready. The gear had been bought, the research done and arrangements made. If I had forgotten anything I was sure the 6 hour flight from Colorado Springs to Anchorage would bring it to memory.
At 4:15 I give my buddy John a wake-up call and true to form 30 minutes later he is waiting by the door as we arrive. John is to ride with us to the airport then drop us off and return home with the car and store it the 6 weeks I'll be gone, he jumps in the back seat of the 85 blue Subaru (which has been J.R.'s transportation for the last 18 months) and in 10 minutes we are at the airport off loading our gear.
With oars, pumps, stoves, cameras, sat-phones, cell phones, 454 caliber handgun, raft, a repair kit full of glue and cleaners plus numerous other pieces of equipment that beg scrutiny by the post 9-11 security people we head to the gate!
I was expecting this to be a arduous affair but in what can only be described as a fluke of fate we breezed right thru security without a hitch - simply amazing! I hope this is an indication of how the whole trip will go.
The flight takes us 2 hours over to O'Hare and then it's an hour changing planes and another hour or so sitting on the ground waiting for clearance. I don't think there are many things as frustrating as sitting in a parked airplane for over an hour on the tarmac not knowing when you'll take off. After what seems like an eternity we finally leave the ground for the 6 hour leg up to Anchorage.
With a left leg that protests being in one spot too long the trip was getting excruciatingly painful by the time I felt the decent and recognized familiar landmarks. I have spent the last couple summers in Alaska so the scenery around Anchorage is no stranger to me, we were cruising down Turn Again Arm preparing for a right turn to final into Anchorage airport. Turn Again Arm is an appendage of Cook Inlet where Captain Cook (who was looking for the north passage) realized the inlet was another dead end (one of many dead ends) and turned around. Cook inlet is fascinating in that the long waterway from the bearing sea combined with a deep trench produces some of the largest tides in the world and they in turn produce a Boar Tide of up to 4 feet. What happens is that the receding waters from the last low tide run into the onrushing water of the new high tide and the size and speed of each successive tide is so magnified by the closed inlet that it literally causes a collision of the two and creates a wave or Boar Tide that can be seen and heard from quite a distance.
As we descend I see the spectacular purple mountains and azure blue glaciers that line the inlet. Soon the treacherous mudflats and buzy shipping docks can be made out and seconds later the screech of rubber wheels instantly accelerating from zero to 160 can be heard as they hit the runway.
We unload and have a momentary scare when we see none of our bags come out. Finally the last four bags are ours and we can go.
Anchorage is now about 250,000 in population and much to the chagrin of many inhabitants is looking more and more like any other American city. Fast food chains and Wal-Mart need I say more? But even with all the outside trappings of the lower 48 I still feel a difference in the city. 10 or 20 years ago it was a 15 minute ride and you were in the wilderness, that has gone but much of that culture still remains. Of course much of Alaska is still wilderness and the people who live "out there" still come to the big city for supplies when they can, that being the case, I guess that "wild" feel will never change or not until those persons are gone.
Many people still remember Anchorage for the big Earthquake in the 50's. That quake was one of the biggest ever recorded, it flattened the city and sent whole neighborhoods to a muddy grave. The town of Portage 20 or so miles down the road was literally swallowed by the mudflats. Today you can see a few of the old relics of the town beside the highway.
Something you'll notice immediately upon arriving in Anchorage is the diversity of people. Not the P.C. kind of diversity but real diversity, people are from everywhere and everyone seems to be up to some really neat stuff. Seldom will you talk to anyone who is living their life in a cubicle. It's trappers and ecologists, travelers from every nation you can think of, bush pilots and Eskimos who live off the land. People seem to come up here to visit and never go home. It captures people in the depths of their soul.
Personally I think it's an honesty of life that's recognized like an old friend from childhood. Suddenly we remember and find that innocence and wonder filling our hearts again. Maybe that's why people are so social up here, once out of Anchorage you can strike up a conversation with anyone. People talk to people here, what a concept!
Fashion (when it's not "Early Outback") is from 3-5 years past and that's pretty much just in Anchorage and maybe a little in Fairbanks. The P.C. crowd just doesn't do well here especially when the first thing you see as you step off the plane are two huge Stuffed Bears, One Brown and the other a Polar Bear. People who are visiting for the first time just stare in disbelief that creatures such as these still walk the earth and are terrified that they do so freely! If you travel very far off road it's wise to remember that up here humans are not always at the top of the food chain!
With our luggage in hand and everything in in good order so we hail a taxi and head for the storage lot where we will pick up the "Land Yacht". The Land Yacht is a 1976 Mini-Winnie 22 foot motor home which looks more like a moving fish camp than anything else. I bought the motor home last year to leave in Alaska for our summer trips. After a year of sitting in the freezing cold of an Alaska winter and remembering that J.R. had left all sorts of his "Stuff" stored plus a number of bottles of liquid minerals sitting in the upper sleeping compartment and knowing that these minerals had frozen and thawed a number of times I was expecting the worst. But again luck was with us and as I opened the door with great relief I found that it was not a sticky mess and everything was just as I left it. Then, putting the key in the ignition and turning the key - lo and behold it still had juice, a good battery! It took a little pumping and 5 or 6 tries but finally she lit up and after a minute or two to warm up she was purring like a kitten.
So with gear in hand and a functional method of transportation, off we went to Wal-Mart and REI. Food , batteries, freeze dried food, a spare paddle, fuel plus odds and ends that we hadn't wanted to transport by plane then we where ready.