BootsnAll Travel Network

Goodnews Bay

March 2nd, 2010

approach.jpg Broke again.  Home remodeling does drain the bank account.  Oh, well.  Time to go back to work. This time I have 3-month gig teaching in Goodnews Bay a remote Yup’ik Eskimo village in Western Alaska.  I’m filling in for a teacher who has some medical issues and needs to be near a hospital.

gnb.jpg So far, so good.  The village is in a gorgeous setting between two rivers with mountain chains to the north and the south.  Of course, there are no roads here – access only by small plane.  I have a class of six fourth-graders and each one of them is happy, eager to learn and well-behaved.

gnbgirls.jpg My timing has been good.  After a week of classes, it’s spring break for a week. Of course, it’s not quite spring and since it has been below 0F with tremendous winds, it is really just a late-winter break.  But no matter, I’ve got free time and there are mountains and valleys to explore.  A couple of the teachers have sled dogs, so I hope to get some mushing in.  Maybe I’ll go ice fishing, and if I’m lucky, I’ll go caribou hunting.

In the meanwhile, there are some tremendous hikes.  Today I did a U-shaped route up a ridge behind the school and followed it up and around, down a valley, and then back up to another ridge top, down again through the village and home again.

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Manaq: Ice fishing

May 11th, 2009

pike.jpg While break-up season is definitely underway, there is still a bit of ice and snow about.  The frozen-solid Johnson River had been covered with a few inches of water for a few days before the solid ice layer was able to float to the surface.  That floating ice then became a snowgo trail and has been good for about a week now – although traveling on it is becoming more and more risky each day. But Thursday after school I took the school snowgo and with another teacher on back, cruised down the river and met up with some of the locals to go jigging for pike.  Sonya, the other teacher caught 3 within 5 minutes.

groupmanaq.jpgsonya.jpg Read the rest of this entry »

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Time To Break Up

May 11th, 2009

ski.jpgI’ve lived in Alaska most of my adult life and absolutely love winter, but I’ve never experienced the season hang on as long as this one.   On April 24 I skied from Akiuk School to my home in Nunapitchuk.  While the snow was soft in the afternoon, it was still getting close to 0 F at night.  But then things just changed like that.  By Saturday morning, the snow cover on the river changed to slush.  By mid-afternoon, the slush had turned to a few inches of water.  There was still a few feet of ice below the water, but the overflow now made the commute practically impossible.  Break-up season had begun.

slough3.jpg By the time I finished my second cup of coffee on Sunday, I knew that I had to move back to the school by mid-morning if I hoped to haul my stuff in a freight sled behind a snow go.  I put my skis on and skirted the river’s edge until I came to the tundra trail to Akula.  The skiing on it was actually not too bad.  Just before Akula, I had to cross a couple of lakes that were each a couple of hundred yards across – but the snow trail, while thin, was still good.  I then was able to follow the trail to Akiuk. By the time I got to school, fired up the snowgo and hooked the sled up and then retraced my route, the snow trail across the lakes had turned to slush.  By the time I got back to Nunap, loaded my gear and supplies in the sled and returned to Akiuk, the slush was now a few inches of water.  I had never skimmed a snowgo over water and I now had a heavy sled to deal with too, so I just cranked the throttle and blasted my way over.  No problem!

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Winter on the Kuskokwim Delta

April 28th, 2009


Well, once again, I was out of money, so it was time to head to an Alaskan village and do some more long-term substitute teaching.  I was able to get a Special Ed job at Kasigluk-Akiuk, a Yup’ik Eskimo community in the western part of the state.  The school has about 80 kids from pre-school throught the 12th grade.  There are no roads here, and since I arrived in winter, I have only known this place covered with ice and snow.  For the first month, I lived in the school as there wasn’t any housing available.  The commute was easy, but I really couldn’t relax as there was no privacy – especially because it was basketball season and there were teams from neighboring villages staying at the school every weekend.

There are two other villages very close by and some of the teachers at the sites get together once a week for dinner and again to play basketball.  Carey, a 2nd grade teacher from Nunapichuk, had a 3-bedroom house to herself and invited me to share the place.  It meant a commute of just under 3 miles each way – not so bad it you can drive, but I would have to walk or ski most everyday.  Keep in mind that there are no roads, so I had to set out over the tundra in the dark.  At least a couple of days a week the snow and wind would be so intense, that you couldn’t see where you were going.  On a good day, I could ski the crossing in about 15 minutes, but once I got caught up in ground blizzard and it took me over 2 hours to find my way. From that point on, I carried a compass with me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Takin’ A Pre-Winter Break in Honduras

October 22nd, 2008

It wasn’t all about whale sharks.  Winter in Alaska was just six weeks away and the summer here was wet and miserable, so we all needed some sun and fun before the darkness set in.  Utila was our first stop, and after booking with Cap’n Morgan’s Dive Centre, settled in for the night. The island is fairly inexpensive there’s lots of 20-something europeans, americans, and aussies all about.  Yep, there’s a fair bit of partying. At 6ish the next morning we boarded the Miss Cary and motored across to Jewel Cay and got our rooms at the Hotel Kayla. Nothing fancy, but more than adequate.  Well, except when the commodes didn’t flush.

We did a 10-dive program and it was fairly first-rate.  Good equipment, good boat, good crew, good guides.  My lame pictures don’t do justice to the reefs, which were in surprisingly good shape.  You’ll see better ones online.  We did see whale sharks as we were cruising between dive spots and were able to jump in the water and swim with them a little bit before they sounded.  Darn cool.  Another day we came across a pod of over 100 dolphins and were again able to put on mask and fins and play around with them for some time.  That experience is up there as one of the highlights of the trip and of my life- and I’ve done a few things over the years. The dolphins were jumpin’ and divin’ and whistlin’ and twistin’ and turnin’ all around us for about a half-hour.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Russian River Falls

July 18th, 2008


The trailhead to the Russian River Falls near Cooper Landing, Alaska, is about a 45 min. drive from my house.  The trail, an easy 3 miles long,  is one of my favorites as the rewards (the falls or Russian Lake) offer spectacular scenery and a good chance to see brown bears.  This one showed up just as we were ready to hike out.  We stayed another couple of hours, of course.


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Sea Kayaking Admiralty Isalnd

May 18th, 2008

cary.jpgI was tempted to stay in Angoon after school let out for the summer just to have the time to do some more exploring in a sea kayak.  Mitchell Bay, a saltwater inlet, extends about 20 miles into Admiralty Island just east of Angoon.

narrows.jpgYou have to time the tides just right as you enter the bay, as the entrance is very narrow. Run it in the middle of an incoming or outgoing tide, and you have to brave standing waves and large kayak-tipping whirlpools.  So you need to know when the slack tide is and you have about a half-hour on each side of slack to get into the bay.  Then you’re stuck on that side at least until the next slack tide – 6 hours later.  But the bay is worth it.  Bears and more bears.  Great scenery and there’s often no one but your paddle party around. You can portage your boat over a series of trails and then paddle some connecting lakes and cut through the island to the east side and then paddle to Juneau.

bear.jpg jan.jpg

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January 31st, 2008

It’s end of January and I had been back home from the North Slope of Alaska since the end of October. We didn’t get any good snow until the middle/end of December, but since then the skiing has been incredibly good. Did manage to get a few outstanding back-county telemark days in and got out to Tsalteshi Trails nearly every day. I do love to ski!
Sad to report that I again find it necessary to earn a few dollars. More than a few. So it’s back to a village to replace a teacher who didn’t want to finish out the school year. This time, it’s Angoon, a Tlinket village in SE Alaska on Admiralty Island. The island has the highest concentration of brown bears on the planet, although they’re taking a long winter’s nap right now. Read the rest of this entry »

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Subsistence Whaling Aftermath in the Arctic

October 1st, 2007

whalebones.jpgYesterday afternoon, Rusty, Emily and her son Henry and I set out for an afternoon beach walk to a point where a lagoon connects to the Arctic Ocean – about 4 miles from Wainwright. This past spring, the villagers harvested some 20-30 beluga whales. They had come across a pod of whales and used their power boats to herd the belugas towards the shore and commenced to shoot and harpoon the lot. Although whaling is not permitted for commercial harvest (Norwegians, Icelanders, and Japanese take a certain number of whales for ‘scientific’ purposes – and then sell the meat), aboriginal Alaskans are permitted to hunt whales and other marine mammals for subsistence purposes. Last year I encountered Australian aboriginals and Pacific Islanders taking dugongs (manatees)and sea turtles off of the Badu Island near Papau New Guinia. Each culture’s perspective on what animals to eat or not certainly reflects learned mores. Eating dog may be as repulsive, as eating pork, or beef, or insects, or whales depending on societal, ethnic, and religious values. Who can really judge? Well, maybe a vegetarian.


It was actually pretty gruesome to see the rotting remains of the little white belugas. I suppose it has something to do with the intelligence of whales, but I sure do not like to see them slaughtered. I have no problem with hunting moose and caribou and etc. – and maybe it is just my modern cultural perspective, but traditional or not, killing whales seems so unnecessary. I doubt that so many animals could have been killed using purely traditional means, and most certainly those who lived along the Arctic more than fifty years ago didn’t have grocery stores (however meager) and restaurants to supplement their diets as they now do.

Maybe the white-bread suburban culture of mainstream western society is as senseless – and if you think about the real consequences of the complacency of middle-america with wars, pollution, and republican family values of racism, greed, and ignorance, the end result is more destructive to the planet than what has happened here.

Global warming? The Arctic ice pack is usually already formed this time of year – all the way to the shore here. It’s been that way for thousands of years -but that’s changed in just the last 3 years. In the spring and summer, polar bears follow the retreating ice and wait for seals to surface and then kill and eat their prey. Both bears and seals also need the ice to rest, but the ice is still more than 300 miles away right now. As winter approaches, there is a concern that the bears will be too far from land when the temperatures really do drop. The thinning ice cover has already reduced the polar bear population as the animals have more open water to swim across to find new places to hunt. This year, the number of bears that are lost could be catastrophic.


On our hike, we came across Eskimo Jim, who was also out for a beach walk. Jim had fashioned a home-made spear to protect himself against wolves or bears. it’s getting to be that time of year when polar bears come in off the ice – although, as I mentioned in a preceding paragraph, the ice remains further away than it has ever been this time of year. Consequently, as the Arctic warms, the occasional brown and black bear finds its way to the north coast with increasing regularity.

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Saturday School – Eskimo Style

September 29th, 2007

Alak School closes early for the summer as many of the Inupiat Eskimos move to fish and hunting camps upriver – or set out to go hunt seals or go whaling. To make up for the lost school days, we have classes on several Saturdays and today was our first. Rather than have a boring day of math, language arts, science, and etc, we structured the day to be a bit more fun. We had Eskimo dancing and drumming, extended wood shop time, swimming, and had some students begin painting a mural on a wall near the gym. Some of the teens set up an apparatus to practice a traditional sport – 3 variations of high kicking: kicking an object with both feet, with one foot, and then with one foot, but just using one leg to jump.

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