I spent a few days in Anchorage over Christmas break. My return to the village did not go as expected, but it was a great adventure.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of the beginning of the story because I didn’t know that it would become blog-worthy. I was scheduled to fly home via Ravn Alaska on New Year’s Eve. But, as is sometimes the case when traveling to the Bush, weather became an issue. We boarded the 32-passenger plane to St. Mary’s on time, and soon after we were asked to deplane. Half an hour later, we repeated this process. Finally, we were told we could board for the third time. However, we planned to catch a connecting flight out of St. Mary’s, and Ravn warned that the village flights had been canceled all day. Another option was to rebook for the next available flight…five days later! This meant not only returning to work late, but also paying for an additional five nights in a hotel. My principal, who happened to be on the same flight, said it was best to fly to St. Mary’s even though there was no guarantee we would get the rest of the way home.
We flew more than 450 miles to St. Mary’s and, sure enough, the smaller planes could not fly to Pilot Station. Thankfully, my principal has a lot of contacts. After making many phone calls, he had arranged for people to take the 11-mile trail by snowmachine to pick us up. (A snowmachine is what non-Alaskans call a snowmobile.)
Since the airport was shutting down for the night, we met our drivers at the local Alaska Commercial (AC) Store. Alaska rule states that you haven’t been to a village until you’ve visited its school and its store, so I was excited to take the first step. St. Mary’s is a hub, and their store is huge!
It looks like Walmart!
OK, maybe more like Dollar General. But it has a nice selection of fresh produce!
I wasn’t prepared with my best winter gear, so I bought a face mask.
We left nonessential luggage at the airport to be delivered by plane later. The stuff that we had to bring was put in trash bags to keep it dry.
Then we went outside and waited expectantly for the snowmachines to come. Although it was too foggy for planes, it was not too cold. About an hour later, we saw a series of headlights come over the hill. It was the snowmachines from Pilot!
We loaded our luggage in a sled that one of the snowmachines was dragging. Then we got on our way.
The “trail” between St. Mary’s and Pilot Station largely consists of frozen bodies of water. Now I understand why my students get so excited when the temperature falls: It opens up a whole new mode of travel! We drove down into lakes and rivers, then up into wooded areas.
My driver was Niles, the son of our 2nd grade teacher who was visiting his dad for the holidays. I had to hold on tight, so I didn’t get many pictures. Besides, this was around 7pm just a few days after the shortest day of the year. I did snap a pic during one of our pit stops. Several times we regrouped to make sure everyone was doing OK.
Everything went smoothly, for the most part. There was that one time that my principal fell off the snowmachine, but I promised not to tell about that 😉
It’s hard to describe the sensation of riding a snowmachine. My first impression was something like this:
But it is probably more akin to a very fast, cold horseback ride.
The trip home took about an hour, and it is not one I’ll soon forget. I immediately texted my dad, “Will you buy me a snowmachine for my birthday?” He never answered.
All in all, it was the best New Year’s Eve of my life.