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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In all its beauty and it wonder, sounds like some sort of documentary starter here, seriously though, Alaska is a beautiful place.

Buuut, it has its problems too, and they aren’t small ones, Alaska has the highest suicide rate among teenagers than any other state in the country, high depression, incarceration, alcoholism, behavioral health problems, insane cost of living. Hard to think of all that in a place where just saying the name brings up images of pristine wilderness. Truth is, its a lovely front, as with any relationship, you never know what goes on behind closed doors until you’re the one that’s in the relationship. That is what I have discovered about my relationship with Alaska, its a completely different person behind closed doors. Oh, and it’s a pretty big place too, the culture varies from area to area, just like whole separate states. In fact Alaska is so big you could fit Texas, California, and Montana in it.alaskasize One of the things that gets you is the light cycle, believe it or not, the highest depression and suicide rates on the North Slope occur at the onset of the never ending daylight. The first three weeks, they say. Really though, it’s pretty much light out all the time now, even when the sun is below the horizon, it doesn’t get dark. So sunset at 11:07 pm means nothing to me accuweather, thank you very much. I didn’t mind the dark so much, or the cold, but the light, its a killer, literally.

foodprices

The good ol’ AC (Alaska Commerical Company), the heavier something is the more it costs, we don’t buy juice like this anymore, too expensive.

The food, the prices here in Barrow are the worst, milk cashing in at $10.00/gallon. I bought strawberries the other day, $7.99/lb, I could have bought a cantaloupe for the screaming deal of $9.98. Gone are the days of running into the grocery store every night. We order dry goods in bulk and have them cargo shipped here. Thank goodness we are living in itinerant quarters, we spend so much just to eat healthy here.

The processed foods are the cheapest in town and most convenient, especially if things like running water, even power are an issue. Obesity, dental disease, and diabetes are the hallmark medical conditions of the Slope. This town runs off of Coke, Cheetos and Marb Reds. I don’t want to be here on the day they run out of Coke, Cheetos and Marb Reds.

In 2012, Anchorage was rated the 2nd most dangerous city for women in the country. The crime rates here can be obscene, in all parts of the state. The state has a 15% Native population, Barrow is actually about 65% and the North Slope as a whole a bit larger than that. Unfortunately, violent crime, substance abuse and suicide are about 3 times higher in the Native community than that of any other racial group. This is not to say that the other racial groups within those communities do not also contribute. I think like minds will flock together regardless of race, and in these tiny, rural communities, it takes a special couple of kinds of people to get by and all figure out a way to survive, whether its positive or negative. I watched a play called WinterBear last week written about the struggles facing the Native community, it was pretty moving. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khQ5s7sFFdA

The isolation in itself can have pretty detrimental effects on people, in turn causing people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. There are many social services that are unavailable to support the people in the tiny isolated villages throughout the state and in turn the people of those communities may not have access to care they need. Even my health insurance helps foot the bill for off-slope medical care, that’s how limited the services are here.   Many homes still have water delivery, some don’t even have running water, which means HoneyBuckets, and in arctic terms, that means a 5 gallon bucket with a plastic bag in it.

Strong enough to hold 250lbs!

Strong enough to hold 250lbs!

Some villages don’t even have grocery stores, relying on Bush Mailer orders delivered by bush planes. No paved roads in many places, much of the state is accessible by air only, some places can be connected by a dangerous ice road in the winter. I want to drive that road before I leave this state.  Certainly no fast food, internet that invokes memories of 9th grade, having to wait until my parents were off the phone to dial up, no stoplights, the road is shared by snow machines and atv’s of all varieties. There is even a delay in the phones when I talk on the phone, emphasizing even more how far off the beaten path I am.

alaskaVillageDump

Sampling from an Alaska Village Dump for possible toxins leaching into ground water.

There’s not even recycling in Barrow!  In fact, waste in general is a huge problem in many of the villages, check out The Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge. It drives me nuts to throw away everything, there are dumpsters about every 20 feet along the roads and its free! Somehow, I still have to look at a pile of garbage that is accumulating between my building and my neighbors. (I don’t think it’s the drunk one that I have to occasionally assist in calling a cab) I’m pretty sure who it is, the dirty diapers are a pretty good clue.

This place is rough, all of it, and in a way that’s what makes it so beautiful. The people are rough, the weather is rough, the terrain is rough. For some reason though, once Alaska has you, it has you for life, and you’ll always come  back.


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About the author and the adventure

Blogging 101: Why am I here?

Well, honestly I just graduated and took my board exams and now I have a lot more free time. I’ve never publicly written, but after I decided to move to Barrow, Alaska, many people told me I should write a blog about my adventures, I never started that up, until now. I’ve lived in Barrow AK for seven months now and I feel I have acquired enough adventures and experience to be able to share what it is like living 350 miles above the Arctic Circle, however I write not just about Barrow but all of Alaska, because whether I like it or not, this state is my home and has been from the time I was born.

I wasn’t born in Alaska, I was born in Virginia, my father in the Coast Guard, we moved to Kodiak just 3 days after I was born, we lived there for 2 years until my parents split up and my father re-stationed in Mobile, Alabama.  My mother ran off with another Coastie to Vermont and took me with. I lived in Vermont for about 13 years before I was shipped off to my father who now resided in Washington state, he had bought a home in a little town called Hansville. It was there at 15 years old that I met my (ex) husband, he was my neighbor, I remember clear as a bell the day he chased me down to the beach on his bike while I was walking my dog, I remember what he was wearing, the color of his bike, what I was wearing. Little did I know, that 8 years later I would be married to this awkward freckle faced red head and making a very fast move to Wasilla, Alaska.

I didn’t last in Wasilla, I hated it, I wasn’t ready to come back to Alaska, we had moved here with no plan, no money, and were living with his parents. I didn’t leave him when I left, I left the state, I guess he didn’t see it the same way and asked for a divorce, but I was the one that ended up filing the papers and going through with it.

By this time I had established myself as a Vet Tech by trade and went back to work in Washington, I shortly after became pregnant with my son (while still married-what a mess) my sons father and I are still together. We moved from rural Kitsap County to Seattle where I began work at a holistic clinic and began going back to school. I loved that clinic, I learned so very much from them, but as I continued on with my education I felt I needed more, I began a soap business, an amateur chemist mentored by a wonderful professor. Just as I was about to really get the business going and profiting, fate stepped in and told me that it wasn’t time for me to settle in to a venture in Washington.

I came across a position on the North Slope for a Vet Tech, looking by pure chance because my boyfriend, had on a whim decided he wanted to try his hand at commercial fishing, so I decided to look for work in Alaska too. Funny thing is, my job panned out, his didn’t, and here we are in Barrow, where the closest tree is about 400 miles away, did I mention my boyfriend is an arborist? I am lucky to have found someone that is willing to follow me to the edge of the earth, whether we make it through the journey is another matter, but you only live once and I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime, and nothing was going to stop that, even if it meant the end of a relationship.

I hope to share a piece of Alaska that not many people get to see, I want people to gain a greater understanding of the strong cultural, socioeconomic, and general lifestyle of the North Slope, it is unlike any other and although pictures and stories don’t do it justice, its a start. While these stories will mostly be about life on The Slope, I will also talk of my lifetime of experiences that brought me here, along with my journey through the world of Veterinary medicine, I might even throw in an occasional soaping tutorial and recipe, and who knows, I may even get the opportunity to make some awesome soap out of the unique fats and oils you can only find in the arctic, whale blubber soap anyone?