Labor Day Weekend in Koyuk

This past weekend, once 3:30 in the afternoon rolled around, I began my impatient wait to climb onboard an airplane and take a trip out of the village. Not for work this time, but for pleasure. I was invited to visit Erika in Koyuk and with Labor Day extending the weekend to three days, it was the perfect time to go. (I won’t lie… after the first two weeks teaching, making personal and professional adjustments, it was soothing to get out of the village.)

Unfortunately for me… this is the Bush. My 4:30 flight time came and went. 5:30 came and went. Finally at 6, the community agent knocked on the door of the school and let me know that it was about to land. I grabbed my things, threw them in the back of the truck and we headed for the airport. For those of you who don’t know, airports in the Bush aren’t anything like airports in the Lower-48. You know those pesky TSA agents that inspect your baggage? We don’t have them here. That comfortable, warm terminal you sit in while waiting? We don’t have that here. You sit at the end of the road, wait for the plane to stop moving and shut its engine off and then walk up to the door. You shove your baggage into the nose, belly or back of the plane and climb in. No flight attendants, the safety speech consists of the pilot looking over his shoulder and asking, “Everyone find their seat belts?”

I strapped myself into the only empty seat on this 4-seater Cesena, shoved my laptop bag between my feet and let the pilot know that a mutual friend asked me to say hello. Then… away we went, climbing to about 1,000 feet, flying at about 160 mph following the coast west to Koyuk. Twenty minutes later, I landed, hitched a ride down to the teacher housing and picked up Erika along the road.

The next morning, we stuffed some gear into a backpack, headed to the beach and along with the majority of the Koyuk teaching staff, took a boat ride to the cabin of Dumma and Rosemary Otton along the Inglutalik River (pronounced Igloo Delak). It’s amazing how calm Norton Sound is; it’s part of the ocean and conceptually I know that it’s sheltered, but I’m still astounded every time I’m on the water, or even looking out my window and I see 2 inch waves or less.

To be honest, one of the nicest things about this trip was the ability to get out and actually experience the tundra. In Shaktoolik, I’ve been keeping myself so busy that I haven’t really had the time to explore as much as I want to. That’s a shame and something that I need to rectify. There’s so much to see and do here that I simply have to make the time or I’ll regret it. As luck would have it, it turns out that I’m something of a charmer and I convinced Erika to hold still long enough to let me take a few pictures. (And came up with a great idea for a photo to take later, which she also consented to.)

Camping on the tundra


After a bit of blueberry and cranberry picking (the blueberries never made it into a bag, but some cranberries did) we fulfilled what for me was one of the primary purposes of the hike: teaching Erika how to shoot a gun. For those of you back home, I know it’s hard to imagine. A twenty-two year old woman who doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Have no fear though, by the time I finish my tale of the weekend, you’ll be proud of this former East-coast girl. (I keep joking with her that she’s quickly moving away from being a liberal hippie.)

Erika learning how to shoot

Having successfully fired a few rounds from a .22 long rifle and a .357 pistol (she preferred the rifle) and even hitting what she was aiming at once – not bad for the first time shooting – we headed back to find what everyone else was up to. A few people had gone off to hunt ducks, the rest were hanging out at the camp, and we quickly found that Rosemary is an excellent cook and host. While sitting around and discussing the Inupiat culture and finding out things that we need to know, a call comes in on the CB – there’s a seal headed upriver and Sam is headed back to get it – Rosemary has been wanting a seal since she’s running out of seal oil. (Don’t ask me what all it’s used for, I’m still not entirely sure, but I think it’s eaten, a condiment perhaps.)

Seal hunt on the river

Three shots from the rifle later, Sam and Dumma are able to harpoon it and bring it onto the boat. A short ride back up the river and it’s being brought up onto the beach so that it can be skinned.

Excited already by seeing my first seal (and the prospect of learning how it is skinned and butchered) Rosemary offered to teach everyone how to skin the seal. Quite frankly, it’s simply amazing how much fat is on these creatures.

Seal flippers

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, but a lot of work. Rosemary put several hours into the process – it’s no small task butchering a seal, that’s for sure. The rest of the evening was rounded out by paddling on the river in an inflatable raft, eating muktuk and musk ox, guitar playing, singing and a gorgeous sunset. It was truly a night that will stick with me for quite a while.

Rafting on the Inglutalik River

Tundra Sunset

Sam and Jason

Terry on the guitar

Sunday around noon we headed back and the rest of the weekend turned into a blur. Laundry in an attempt to get the stink of seal out of our clothes, showering in the school because the boiler was out in the teacher housing, exploring town, heading onto the tundra to try my photo idea. (Erika was an awfully good sport about that, I know I wouldn’t have stood on the tundra with mosquitoes biting in a dress.)

Erika on the tundra

And then, all of a sudden it was Monday morning and the Frontier Airways agent was knocking on the door to pick me up and take me back to Shaktoolik, where a mound of planning awaited me. Despite the mound of work and the fun I had though, Shak is home and it’s good to be back.

Summer Trip 2008 – Wrapping Up

Well, I have the feeling that the previous 45 days have been a once in a lifetime experience. I traveled through Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana. I’ve met an incredible number of new people whose company I have enjoyed immensely. I’ve taken more pictures than I can count and most will never see the light of day.

I visited 8 National Parks and 5 National Monuments stopping at countless other places along the way. Spending two minutes thinking about it, I actually spent longer than half an hour in the following places:

  • Marion, IA
  • Badlands National Park
  • Wall Drug
  • Minuteman Missile National Monument
  • South Dakota Air and Space Museum
  • Rapid City, SD
  • Mount Rushmore National Monument
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Denver, CO
  • Colorado Springs, CO
  • Golden, CO
  • Pike’s Peak
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Wings Over the Rockies
  • Cripple Creek, CO
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Hill Air Force Base, UT
  • Layton, UT
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Shoshone Falls, ID
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Frisco, UT
  • Zion National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Butte, MT
  • Glacier National Park
  • Harlowton, MT
  • Devil’s Tower National Monument
  • I’ve also come up with a list of figures:

  • 11 states
  • 8 National Parks, 5 National Monuments
  • 9 nights in hotels, 4 of which I paid for
  • 10 nights at my brother’s house
  • 207 hours, 54 minutes of driving
  • 9,230 miles driven
  • $1,286 spent on gasoline
  • I’ve seen 1 presidential candidate for the 2008 election
  • And kept track of when I rolled over every 1,000 miles:

  • 1,000 miles – May 31
  • 2,000 miles – June 05
  • 3,000 miles – June 10
  • 4,000 miles – June 19
  • 5,000 miles – June 24
  • 6,000 miles – June 30
  • 7,000 miles – July 07
  • 8,000 miles – July 09
  • 9,000 miles – July 12
  • Summer 2008 Trip: Day 45 – Marion, IA to Rose City, MI

    Woke up this morning at 7am in order to head back to Michigan. After an awful experience at the Perkin’s on Collins Ave. by Kevin’s apartment (that is the most disgusting Perkin’s I’ve ever been in) we were on the road by 9:30.

    It wasn’t long before I was in Illinois, which is probably one of my least favorite states. It’s boring and the drivers education system there leaves much to desire in Illinois drivers; especially around Chicago. And then… a few hundred miles or so left to drive through Michigan to make it to my parents house, where I will promptly collapse in bed from what I think was a mild case of food poisoning from a Wendy’s along the way. Not too much exciting happened during the 12 hours of traveling today.

    And that brings my trip to a close… forty-five days of vacation and I’ll have 16 days to get all my affairs in order before I fly to Alaska. Hopefully I’ll make it to Houghton one last time and down to see Rae in Ohio. Tomorrow, I’ll put up a post with all the statistics for my trip.

    Day 45 - Marion, IA to Rose City, MI

    Travel Distance: 628 miles

    Summer 2008 Trip: Day 43 – Cedar Rapids, IA

    Another day with nothing too exciting going on. I got to sleep in until the glorious hour of 9am this morning and spent a good chunk of the day playing video games while I waited for Kevin to get off work.

    After that, we watched one of our favorite movies, Bad Boys II and sat around catching up with another friend of ours Betsy.

    I’ve decided to stay one more day and head back to MI on Saturday.