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Off the Road

November 10, 2021
Getting on the plane to the village

When I woke up last Friday morning, I heard the wind howling and thought “We’re not getting out of here today.”

Denise, our hostess, checked the weather and told us the wind was only blowing 22 mph. The plane wouldn’t leave if the winds were over 35 mph. The winds were supposed to keep getting stronger and were predicted to be 35 mph at 10 a.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30, just before sunrise.

I was out of ramen, my underwear were all used up, and I hadn’t had cell service since we got there. I was ready to go home.

I never thought I would find myself in a native village in rural Alaska, but that’s where I spent the week. Population 900, the town is on the Lower Yukon delta. It takes 3 airplanes to get there – a jet to Anchorage, a smaller jet to Bethel, then an 8-seat air taxi to the village.

Two years ago, I was working for a Fortune 50 company, supporting executives who had 10,000 employees in their departments. Now I was giving a presentation to 5 Yupiq Tribal Council members in a community center with cracked linoleum flooring in the most remote place I had ever been.

The Community Center

I couldn’t have been happier.

The last sheet piles being driven for the dock. There were 1000 total.

My friend and I went there to see the progress on a big project funded with money from a grant she had written. The grant not only paid for construction of a beautiful dock that will make unloading barges much less treacherous and will save the river banks from eroding, but miles of hard-surface roads in a community that had only had muddy, rutted roads before. Everyone kept taking us around to show us the lovely, new roads. Little kids rode 4-wheelers towing their friends on sleds. Dogs ran alongside us, some barking happily, others a little menacingly.

The town is tiny. There is one hotel located upstairs in the Community Center building. It has six rooms and bathrooms down the hall. There is one restaurant, and that is a rather new development. Some homes still don’t have running water or sewer service. People still get their food by hunting, fishing and gathering. Few people have cars, because there isn’t anywhere to drive except around town – there are no roads connecting the town with anywhere else. People ride 4-wheelers or snow machines or walk. The only way to travel there is by a small airplane, or on a barge during the months when the river isn’t frozen.

Denise is part of the construction crew. She is my age, tall, thin and strong. She has been working in rural Alaska her whole adult life. She has a home in Florida but doesn’t mind spending her days in the gravel and mud. “I really care about this,” she says.

Life is so funny. If you told me two years ago I would be doing this, I would never have believed you. Now I wake up every single day thinking about Alaska and how to help the Native people there get what they want.

We got out at 9:40 and flew at about 2700 feet, under the cloud layer. I knew the elevation because I could see the tiny plane’s instrument panels from my seat. Everyone could. The inside of the windows kept icing up. We landed in Bethel and the pilot said “I hope it wasn’t too warm back there for you!” Haha. I was wearing leggings, jeans, snow pants and had a little lap robe, along with my gloves, scarf, hat and neck gaiter, so I stayed warm enough.

Many people in the area have commercial fishing licenses.

There was a guy at Bethel checking his luggage that included a massive moose antler rack. Of course there was.

The flight to Anchorage gave us views of the frozen rivers, Denali and a couple glaciers. I got tears in my eyes seeing them because it was a glorious, beautiful experience I never thought I would have.

God is good. Alaska is huge, and I left a piece of my heart there when I climbed on that tiny plane.

The cheesy grin says it all. My first time on a snow machine.

  1. November 10, 2021 10:34

    This is great. I was hoping that you would write more about the trip (saw glimpses on Instagram). Purpose driven work really is the best.

    • December 7, 2021 08:42

      You have gotten to do such great things through your purpose-driven work. It’s admirable!

      • December 7, 2021 09:04

        Thank you. I’m very grateful to have had those opportunities.

  2. Robin permalink
    November 10, 2021 11:21

    ♥️♥️♥️ What an adventure. I’m glad you were so moved by it.

    • December 7, 2021 08:42

      I loved it. I hope to go back someday soon – I bought a big puffy coat just in case. The one I was wearing was fine for 20 degrees, but it’s -18 up there now.

  3. ANNIE PETERSON permalink
    November 10, 2021 15:57

    Awesome, thank you for sharing Sue Bob!

    On Wed, Nov 10, 2021, 12:31 PM Suebob’s Red Stapler wrote:

    > Suebob posted: ” Getting on the plane to the village When I woke up last > Friday morning, I heard the wind howling and thought “We’re not getting out > of here today.” Denise, our hostess, checked the weather and told us the > wind was only blowing 22 mph. The plane wou” >

  4. Julie Cohen permalink
    November 12, 2021 02:37

    Awesome, Sue. You’re such an great writer. Thank you for sharing this unique and fascinating experience!!! 🌷

  5. November 14, 2021 13:52

    Amazing & wonderful!!

  6. November 15, 2021 12:14

    Magical. What village were you in? I lived in Fairbanks for 5 years as a child, and my brother and his wife live in Juneau. MUCH bigger than your village, but still no way in and out of Juneau by road. I didn’t really understand until I flew there, and saw the mountains and glaciers pretty much as far as my eye could see. And that was July.

    We are hoping to have an Alaskan vacation in 2022 or 2023. My idea is to fly to Juneau, spend a day or two there, then fly to Anchorage, and take the train from Anchorage up to Fairbanks, past Denali. My husband has never been, and my daughter only once when she was 3, so she doesn’t remember any of it. It really is a very different world. I have not spent any time in the little villages, but I know that the roads and dock being built will be a great help, especially the dock. I am glad you are loving your job. What an amazing thing.

    • December 7, 2021 08:39

      I’m amazed how many people have lived in Alaska! I never thought about it much until I started working there. I appreciate you reading and commenting so consistently over the years. It’s so nice.

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