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 Carol and Dick Stewart are full-time RVers from California and have been on the road for over 7 years in a 40 foot Fortravel Unihome. They are very good friends and you probably recognize their names because we have included articles from them in our old newsletter and in our book, Movin' On. They are spending the summer of 2001 touring Alaska for the second time. 
 Our Barrow Adventure
By Carol & Dick Stewart
We are in Talkeetna, the home of the bush pilots; it all began here just after WWII and an old broken down plane that Don Sheldon fixed up and soon found a business of running folks, medicine and goods up and down the bush country. His wife used to light the torches that brought him in in the winter time. Next climbers wanted a short cut ride to Mt. Denali to give them a boost up the mountain. And then there was another airplane, followed by more men flying and a whole new economy started. Even Wal-Mart and K-Mart deliver by air. I wonder if Nordstrom's does. Do they play piano music as they land? HO!!!! 

But an even greater excitement is going on in town and, this climber and photographer out of Boston, Bradford Washburn, is being feted here for the 50th anniversary of the first Mt.Denali  ascent. Bradford  is associated with National Geographic and knew Ansel Adams. His wife Barbara, claims the honor of first woman to climb Denali. So there have been slide shows, autographing books and Saturday they will be the grand marshals of a parade. Now the parade is part of an annual event here--the Moose Dropping Festival. It sounds rather coarse and not so nice, but we must remember we are off the highway and folks must be creative to have entertainment. We're not sure what all is going to happen, but we are assured by the locals who are flocking into town already that this is truly a Northern happening. 

Well, Dick's brother was with us for a week. He wanted to see a park; we took him first to the post office to mail the lower 48 cards, and then to the local Wal-Mart for groceries. Finally we took him to an old dairy that is now a hiking area and bird sanctuary with wonderful wild cala lilies and iris. There were bogs and a great wooden walkway. AND mosquitoes by the blue jillion. He said, "No, I want to go to a real park." "But Bill, all of Alaska is a park. There aren't parks in this state." 

Then we went to Barrow by plane. What an exciting place for July 4th!  It was 32 degrees and the wind was blowing.  Hoods on our wind breakers, gloves and hats saved the day. We saw seals being cut up for neighborhood distribution, a new school, a new grocery, with a pint of specialty ice cream at $17.00 and a roast of beef for $69.00. Orange juice fresh from Florida was $8.00.  Most folks don't shop here unless it is an emergency. The barge will be in any day now with a year's order of food and supplies.  Everyone is watching the ice floes for the ship. 

For lunch we ate at Pepe's, a world famous Mexican Restaurant run by Fran who is very generous to the town. She came as an electrical engineer for the pipe line and stayed on to cook, supply the water truck and company, owns two sightseeing hummers and in general is the happy lady leader of the town. But even she can't get medical care in town. The first nation health center can only stabilize the non native population, and then they fly out for long term care. 

We saw native dancing and singing and crafts. Dick played a game of skill with the men. The museum is new and quite nice so that many of the pictures are of living natives and we met them. 

In the afternoon the highlight of the day came with a seal skin boat race; each boat is paddled by about 12 men. We saw only one woman paddling. It's really the "men's job." About 15 boats participated and as they left the shore to go out about a mile around some ice floes, they were bumping and banging into each other. Oh, the water of the Arctic Ocean is so cold, that the first rule is that if anyone turns over, the first duty is to rescue the paddlers. Hypothermia would set in minutes. But it was a rowdy, rasty row out into the twilight and back with crash landings into the shore. What a treat to have this special event. 

Then our plane back to civilization was canceled, but not for long, just for a treat by Alaska airlines for dinner back at Pepe's. We had just fun in our over stay; we didn't mind a bit. But Bill knows about canceled flights. On this trip alone, he had 4 cancellations. If the plane isn't full, it doesn't 
fly. And our plane out was 50% cargo. There is little money in passengers, but the cargo is the money maker.' 

Our guide is the band and music teacher at the first class high school in town. He loves it there.  Where else can a person's back yard stretch for thousands of miles and everyday day is hunting day. All whales are communal property, and since they have harvested 21 this year (well within a safe number), the town does not have a polar bear problem.  How are the bears connected to the whale harvests? Well, the remains of the whales and seals (which are just a few bones, everything else is used) are put out way out of town. So the polar bears go to these dumpsters to eat instead of marauding in town.  Seems fair to me. 

These folks enjoy the seal and whale meat; they don't have to hunt; they love the whole community atmosphere, and with the additional money from the Permanent Fund, they are gaining economically. The houses look like they need care, but there are only a few DAYS good for doing outside work, and it is the same time when it's best for hunting, so the outside looks a little worn, but the houses (our guide said) inside look good. 

Well, that's our Barrow adventure. Monday we went to Mt. Denali and as the sun became dusk (not really setting, just a light glow all the time), we saw the clouds move away and the mountain spoke in all its glory. It's just so massive with so many peaks.  We did see a caribou in the park and on the way out another moose feeding at a lake.  Our animal sightings list is growing. 

Today our friend Nick caught a 32-pound King salmon from the shore. It will feed us for at least 3 weeks. There were at least 12 great fillets from the fish.  Every license holder can catch 1 fish a day for 5 days. And not only must one have a license, a person must have a stamp (extra charge) for each king salmon. 

Well, Brother Bill came and saw and saw moose and Barrow and the university museum and a bush pilot and Susan Butcher the Iditerod dog musher and her kennel of 70 dogs--all very friendly and sleek thoroughbreds. She is an articulate young woman and mom who just happens to love dogs. She has shown the world that loving race dogs makes winners. Her husband David, too, loves the race and the dogs. 

Bill went home rested and well fed on smoked salmon, reindeer sausage, Himalayan buffalo burgers, and clam chowder. This is the land of exotic meats. The difference between the reindeer and the caribou is that the reindeer is domesticated and caribou is not. Now sometimes a reindeer will get mixed up in a herd of caribou, and so it becomes a caribou. A rancher can butcher and sell reindeer because there is inspection and grading. But a person can't sell caribou because it is wild and there are no health standards for it. And yet they are really the same animal. Isn't civilization grand? 

The sun sets a bit now that we have come south a little and the earth is moving back on its axis and this neighborhood loses about nine minutes of daylight a day. Now this is different from sunshine. We would love some; the rain is profound here and it produces great rivers and trees. But the sun is weak even on sunny days; there is no heat from it, and the ground is cool. My portable garden is suffering form the lack of heat, not light. And so as dusk sets in at ll:00PM, it's time for bed. Thank goodness we have  light blocking drapes, but we are used to the long light by now and love every minute of it.