As someone who had never been to Alaska before, let alone a remote village in Alaska, I thought I would write about my first impressions from August 2013.
1. It is COLD.
You may be thinking, Well duh, it’s Alaska. I knew it would be cold; I just did not expect the shock of winter weather in August. Compare these screen shots of my phone’s weather app on the same day in August:
Nothing brings home the fact that you moved to the Arctic Circle like stepping off of a plane and experiencing a 60 degree temperature drop.
2. No pollution!
When I stepped outside in Fairbanks the first thing that struck me was the air. It tasted so clean! I felt like I had been drinking tap water my entire life and suddenly was given a bottle of ice-cold Dasani water.
3. Alaska = Wilderness
My flight to Galena was made up of three flights: Minneapolis to Seattle, Seattle to Fairbanks, and then Fairbanks to Galena. I flew out of Seattle as the sun was setting, so by the time we flew into Fairbanks it was dark. It was a perfectly clear night, so I eagerly watched out the window as our arrival drew nearer.
The announcement came over the loudspeaker, “We are now beginning our descent into Fairbanks.”
I peered out the window, expecting city lights to come into view. Fairbanks is, after all, the second largest city in Alaska.
We continued our descent and after ten minutes I still could not see a single light. Finally, as I felt the wheels come out, I spotted a handful of lights scattered around in the darkness. It was like a little village of cabins, each with a single lantern hanging in front of their homes.
Where is the city?! I thought. What kind of remote place am I moving to, if the nearest city looks like a small town?
We landed and taxied into one of the tiniest airports I have ever been to. That was when I realized that Alaska is a gigantic wilderness. Even its second largest city is smaller than the suburb I grew up in. (The population of Fairbanks is just 31,000.) I would be flying to a village 300 miles away, and Fairbanks would be the nearest city or hospital. And if this tiny city is called a city, what would a true village be like?
4. If this plane crashes, I’m dead.
After arriving in Fairbanks via Alaska Airlines I had to stay overnight, because my flight to Galena was not until 9:00 AM the next morning. Being cheap, I did not stay in a hotel. Instead I slept in the baggage claim area on a bench with my pile of luggage.
The next morning, I looked for the Era Aviation desk to check-in. After checking in they directed me to the “gate,” which is really just a bunch of benches next to a door leading to the tarmac.
“Don’t I need to go through security?” I asked
“No, we don’t do that,” she replied.
This was shocking to me. Even in flights within China or within Egypt, we ALWAYS had to go through security before hopping on a plane. Not in Alaska I guess.
I sat on one of the benches and eventually a few middle-aged bearded men joined me. I felt like I was entering an episode of Yukon Men. Eventually a pilot walked inside and told us to follow him outside. We stepped onto the tarmac and walked out to a tiny 9-passenger Caravan plane. We climb inside, crouching down as we attempt to fit inside and maneuver into our little seats.
The pilot climbs inside, shuts the door and tells us to buckle up. Then my first true Alaskan flight begins. Thanks be to God, there was minimal turbulence.
As we fly over mile after mile of pure wilderness, I am struck again at just how big Alaska is. I am reminded of the Alaskan survival movies I watched as a kid, and suddenly the idea of being stranded in the wilderness is much more immediate and terrifying. Even if I survived a plane crash, there would be nothing for hundreds of miles in any direction.
Brittany, welcome to Alaska.