Sloped

Adventure and Life in the Arctic

Village Trips and Piloting Bush Planes

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Just got back into Fairbanks today after a four day trip to Anaktuvuk Pass for a Veterinary trip. None of the smaller villages on the Slope have Veterinary Clinics, so twice yearly we travel to all the villages to provide services, most of the services are free, including spays, neuters and rabies vaccines, basically anything public health related. We work from sun rise to sunset, which this time of year, means about 20 hrs a day. We do our surgeries in the health clinic garages, right next to the vehicles on makeshift tables and whatever supplies we could fit in our luggage.

This trip was really special to me (and not just because I got to go to Fairbanks and feel like a real civilian again, go shopping and pay somewhat normal prices for things, and got to see a movie to boot…the little things) The people, for the most part were incredibly welcoming, some of the dogs pretty vicious, the kids though, the kids were so great, and so was co-piloting the plane!

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Grab Your Sports Bras, Spring Has Arrived!

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It warmed to above freezing over these past few days here in Barrow, I’m amazed at how truly gross everything is. A swampy, cesspool, full of everything that the snow, ice, and darkness kindly kept from view through the winter. All the garbage is uncovered, the empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, wine boxes, dirty diapers, candy wrappers, soda cans, animal body parts, it looks as if someone took all the dumpsters in town and spread their contents throughout the streets.

Driving is now pure hell, absolute and total hell. I watched a 3 yr old walking down the side of the road going faster than me in my company vehicle, a nice, burly, 4WD Expedition, equipped with the necessary kennels for dog catching.  All of the ice and snow filling the pot holes is gone, replaced by mucky water and slush. People drive on whichever part of the road is passable, even if it means the shoulder, the center, or heck, why not the other lane? My max speed is now 15 mph and that’s if I want to chance my truck rattle apart around me. I discovered after the first trip around town that I needed to be better equipped in the chest support department, I would not attempt a drive through Barrow at this moment without a sports bra. Thank goodness I’m somewhat small chested, or I may have been the victim of a unintended self-inflicted black eye. (Yes, that’s truly how bad the roads are)

They call it the breakup, it’s fitting because, its a big hot mess here in Barrow, all of my worries about the nastiness of town have come true. I think I want the cold back….

On  the bright side, the birds have returned even though they chirp, tweet, and chatter at all hours, I missed them and love hearing them again.

The ice has started to break-up, just like that, I went to work a bad wind storm whipped through, and then it was gone, literally a whole ice sheet in hours.

Ice Burgs floating by in the distance

Ice Burgs floating by in the distance

I’m told it dries out quick here in Barrow, when does that happen I ask? It happens when it happens.

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Of Mushing, Ice, and Polar Bears

We went for a walk on the Arctic Ocean the other day, something that is both exciting and incredibly scary at the same time.  I also got the chance to bring the dog sled team out onto the sea ice.

One thing I have learned since moving here: ALWAYS bring a gun. You never know what you could encounter and a little human would make quite a tasty snack for the largest predator of the arctic, the polar bear. My boyfriend decided to go out on the ice alone, without a gun, and a dying cell phone. I wasn’t happy, they don’t just stay on the ice, and its kinda asking for it to do that. He, in turn, has earned himself the nickname “BearWalker” and unfortunately it is not a term of endearment. Most people here in Barrow he has told think he has a screw or two loose.

When he told his father he thought he could out run a bear if it was coming, his father quickly responded with: A Polar Bear can run from 20-30 mph for a sustained 1-2 hours, Usain Bolt, the fastest human in the world can run 22 mph for 100 yards. Dad: 1, Son: big fat 0.

Hmmm……..Still think you can outrun that Polar Bear, babe? I have to admit, he got some pretty stunning pictures, so maybe it was worth it? Only worth it because he came back alive though. Lesson learned in any case, I hope.

This guy barely out ran this bear, he had to jump into another car to get away. He couldn't unlock his car fast enough (why you would even bother to lock your car in Barrow is beyond me. Where are they gonna take the car? You can't drive away)

This guy barely out ran this bear, he had to jump into another car to get away. He couldn’t unlock his car fast enough (Why you would even bother to lock your car in Barrow is beyond me. Where are they gonna take the car? You can’t drive away, maybe a new lawn ornament?)

One thing that I didn’t think would be uncommon when moving here, was snow and icicles, but they are, because it is so damn dry all the time. It doesn’t snow, there are no icicles, its just cold and it sucks. Right now though, right now, it is both warm enough to snow and for icicles to form and it is stunningly beautiful.

Right outside the front door. I cracked my forehead on one on my way out. They got to about 3-4 ft long before we decided to knock them down on the off chance someone could get impaled.

Right outside the front door. I cracked my forehead on one on my way out. They got to about 3-4 ft long before we decided to knock them down on the off chance someone could get impaled.

. These ones connected with the 'ground' or in this case the sea ice. It was warm this day, about 25 F or so and no wind.

. These ones connected with the ‘ground’ or in this case the sea ice. It was warm this day, about 25 F or so and no wind.

Icicles on the Arctic Ocean

Icicles on the Arctic Ocean

There is this really cool phenomenon that happens when it starts warming up here, the sea ice moves away and towards the shore all the time and the landscape is always changing. You can tell how far away the edge of the ice is by something called a ‘water sky.’ The clouds over open water are much grayer than those over ice, you can tell open water (and warmer weather) is coming when you begin to see the water sky. In this picture its the thin gray strip across the horizon, that is where the open water starts, its also a good way to keep your bearings in the ‘sea of white.’

 

Water sky, in the very far distance you could see open water too. The pictures just don't do it justice!

Water sky, in the very far distance you could see open water too. The pictures just don’t do it justice!

Blocks of ice pushed up by currents, see the water sky too?

Blocks of ice pushed up by currents, see the water sky too?

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More blocks of ice

How about an ice cave on the sea ice, in the middle of ice, topped with ice?

How about an ice cave on the sea ice, in the middle of ice, topped with ice?

I love mushing, everything about it, the excitement and the joy from the dogs, the quiet concentration when they get in stride. The absolute peace when you are out with the team and worried about nothing else. I don’t care what people say, its not cruel, the dogs get so much joy from it, they are given a job and they love it. To not run a mushing dog is cruel. PETA can shove it because I’m betting they have never actually seen the love and dedication that a musher devotes to his team, let alone taken a ride on a sled  or spent a day caring for a team.  I myself participated in the steroid testing team for the Iditarod this year (a post will be up soon) I can speak from experience that these dogs are loved, the amount of time, effort, money and love that goes into mushing is astounding.

Mushing is a very expensive hobby, and therefore there is only one team in town, I am lucky enough to know the owner of the team and to have worked with all of his lovely dogs.

The only dog sled team in town, he built his own sled, not your typical Iditarod sled, this one is built for the ice

The only dog sled team in town, he built his own sled, not your typical Iditarod sled, this one is built for the ice

I love this sled, no nails, no metal, except for the brake and the hook, all lashed together, built to go over the hills and crevasses of the sea ice and bumpy tundra, the sled almost molds to the  terrain as it moves.

Coming through town to take a tour past  the college and BARC to the sea ice

Coming through town to take a tour past the college and BARC to the sea ice

Mushing in between the houses and down the roads, notice how the houses are all on stilts? Its to keep the permafrost on the tundra from melting due to the heat of the home.

The whole team, 16 dogs in all.

The whole team, 16 dogs in all.

This rowdy little shit (and one of my favorites) still doesn't know her Jii from her Ha and gets the whole team tangled all the time

This rowdy little shit (and one of my favorites) still doesn’t know her Jii from her Ha and gets the whole team tangled all the time

I love that sled dogs are not your typical huskies that come to mind for most people, they are mutts, bred for speed, endurance, agility. I would love to build a team of Barrow dogs for sledding someday, none sturdier than these dogs. You can bet they are fast too, I know, its part of my job to catch them when they’re running loose!

Sleds eye view on the sea ice

Sleds eye view on the sea ice


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Isolated

Some of the more beautiful moments in Barrow:

Chronic loose dog offender and general tyrant of Barrow. Classified as a nuisance, this monster is one of my favorites in town, I have never seen such a happy, stinky, obnoxious, pain in the ass animal, and I love everything about him. Especially when he breaks loose and takes off, tongue lolling, like he planned the whole thing, down the street after the school bus while the kids cheer him on.

Loose dogs are a chronic and sometimes dangerous problem in town, but there is this one group of dogs, a failed sled dog team, that brings joy to my heart every time I see them. These dogs are giant and full of life, but I’ll be damned if they don’t look like wolves running through town. They aren’t the ones to worry about though, it’s the ‘Barrow’ breed that is the real danger. These dogs are the typical street dogs you think of that run in packs and there is no discernible dominant breed, except some type of husky/lab/shepherd/pitbull/border collie/thing, and they are tough as nails.

Sea Ice

I don’t like walking on the sea ice, it creeks and cracks, its quiet and eerie, but when the wind whips across it unabated it howls so loudly that you can’t think.  Polar bears come to shore this time of year and the white of the ice and snow and the sun make it so hard to see, its truly a dangerous thing to walk the ice. Yet, I can’t resist the unnatural blues and teals that the ocean produces, makes it look like candy.

The kids don’t float sign. The sign is so morbid in front of such a beautiful scene. I didn’t even notice the sign said ‘kids don’t float’ until we lived here for about 4 months.

Maybe I didn’t notice, because for 8 months out of the year, the sign is posted up in front a giant shelf of ice that would support a stadium of trucks that stretches for 10 miles, the other 4 months it serves as a tiny boat launch for the whalers.

Sunset over the Arctic Ocean. This picture was taken just a week before the sundog over the gas station, which you can see to the right in this one. I can’t believe how quickly the sun dances change across the sky here.

The Graveyard at Sunrise. All the crosses are wooden and not built to last, but this one of the most beautiful and heartfelt graveyards I have ever been in.

Sundoggin' over the gas station, just after sunset.

Sundoggin’ over the gas station, just after sunset.

11:00 pm Sunset

11:00 pm Sunset

The Satellite Dishes. This field of wonders is just across the trail from the graveyard. This place is one of my favorites in the town.

The Satellite Dishes. This field of wonders is just across the trail from the graveyard. This place is one of my favorites in the town.

Beauty in the strangest of places, but I am worried I am going to blowout something in my camera or blind myself. I can’t believe how much more furious the sun seems here, you almost need a welders mask just to be outside, and try to go out without something over your eyes? Be prepared to see stars for about 3 hours if you’re lucky, usually it ends with a blinding migraine and bumping into countless walls, muttering, I can’t believe I did that again, I miss the dark!

Polar Bear Paw At Point Barrow on the edge of the Chukchi

Polar Bear Paw
At Point Barrow on the edge of the Chukchi

Polar Bear outside football field

Polar Bear outside football field

The football field is a a little ways outside the main part of town near the college, the polar bears rarely make it too far into town except along the edge of the ocean, lucky for me, my window in my office looks right out across the sea ice.

Aurora Borealis at deserted village outside of Barrow

Aurora Borealis at deserted village outside of Barrow

Over the winter, I saw many auroras, this one was the only picture. The legends for children say that these are the elders and when you see them the are reaching down to grab naughty children and carry them into the sky. I can see why it would look like hands in the sky, I didn’t realize how fast they move and shimmer, but I think its sad that a lot of kids are now afraid of these beautiful things now.