Circumnavigating the world through Human Power while connecting different societies, civilizations and landscapes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From Anchorage to Nome

March 14, 2007 Flying between Anchorage and Nome
Alaska Airlines Flight #1: Seattle- Anchorage

Alaska Airlines Flight #153: Anchorage-Kotzebue-Nome.

While staring out the window, I enjoy watching Alaskan mountains, frozen rivers, dense forests and desolate tundra, and I can clearly reminisce the Iditarod course I completed on foot in April 2005.
Back to the “roots” in a way, since I feel that this is where I started this whole human powered round the world Nexus Expedition madness.

I spent my first flight from Seattle to Nome seating next to a group of Japanese tourists on their way to Fairbanks to go and gaze at the northern lights, a beautiful phenomenon quite visible in this part of Alaska.

I landed in Anchorage, spent quite a bit of time while in transit on the phone with my girlfriend Ilima whom I am probably not going to able to see for the next five months, because of the remoteness of this next section in Russian Chukotkan territory. Feeling already a tight knot in my stomach, I cherish every minute we can spend together on the phone.

My second flight is packed with quite a mixed crowd: usual Alaskan oil/mining migrant workers and engineers, military personnel, Iditarod enthusiasts, a group of over ecstatic females from Anchorage on their way to teach cross country skiing to local villages around Kotzebue and finally a good contingent of native Alaskans on their way back to their remote villages after having gone down in Anchorage for surgery and having taking the opportunity to do some shopping as I can tell from observing a few Nordstrom bags. The young Inupiaq woman next to me obviously came down to the big city for a specific reason: delivering a brand new little Brandon whom she is now taking home on her laps.

For the 2d time today, I have had the opportunity to sit next to a right side window where I can observe the cargo being loaded and unloaded off the plane. An amazing site as I see boxes and boxes of booze, clearly labeled “ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE” in large font. A clear reminder that I am indeed on my way to the “wet” town of Nome which is: in full swing currently, celebrating the arrival of each musher after having accomplished their 1200 miles journey across Alaska conducting business as usual, in true fashion to its origin, a booming lawless gold mining town where the booze flew profusely. A “resupplying” town for all the surrounding Inupiaq villages where one cannot buy any alcohol (as it is the case in “dry” villages) or can only mail order it (as it is the case in “damp” villages). This is regulated on a per village basis, according to each tribal council. Native Alaskan tribes trying to do the best they can to curb a rampant alcoholism level, which is also a major problem amongst native communities (Chukchis and Eskimos) in the autonomous region of Chukotka located on the Russian side of the Bering Strait.

“There is no place like Nome !”
This can definitely been said about this town when it is engulfed with the Iditarod rage, which I tend to call the canine Tour de France, taking into account its difficulty and the hype it generates in the mushing world and across Alaska.
Once upon landing in Nome, I noticed that I was surrounded by a fairly large crowd of Iditarod crew and volunteers, journalists, tourists and dog lovers eager to get to the finish line on time and get a glimpse at one of the top 10 Iditarod finishers.

I immediately have the pleasure to be greeted by Meredith Amasuk and her daughter. Meredith is a friend of mine whom I met two years ago when I landed on her footsteps at 10am after having spent 37 days, making my way on the Iditarod trail. Meredith Amasuk is the daughter of a Norwegian American journalist and an Inupiyak walrus, seal and caribou hunter, who completed the Iditarod race in the early 80s.Two years ago, inspired to be a role model for her daughter, she started the Iditarod race by foot but was not able to complete it. Ever since then, she has been quite interested in supporting the race and her house became the semi-official welcome home for the straggling few finishers of the race by foot, bike or ski. I very much appreciated at the time her hospitality and we have maintained contacts ever since.

So, excited as everyone else about the amount of activities in town, she is eager to take me on a tour! First, we drive a few miles out of town to spot and cheer along the frozen sea coast the exhausted, mushers, approaching Nome. We then drove back to the finishing line where we were able to greet some of the same mushers while they were crossing it, taking a bow and then lighting on their first cigarettes…., fully surrounded by harassing tourists and dog enthusiasts begging for little dog bootie as keepsakes! I got the pleasure as well to meet Libby Riddles, an Iditarod committee member and one of the greater female Iditarod mushers of all time. Here she was standing at the finish line all wrapped up in her beautiful seal fur parka. Having spent time in the Alaskan villages of Teller and Brevig Mission on my way from Nome to Wales last year, I now have with Libby some common friends in these villages where she resided for years. We exchanged a few kind words. It always surprises me when an experienced musher such as her, calls me “crazy”, taking into consideration the incredible obstacles they have to overcome to raise, look after and lead their pack of dogs on the taxing Iditarod course, which I consider an incredible feat.

No comments: