Monday, March 10, 2014

No place like Golovin. Or Nome.

The evening I spent in Golovin, in the company of the Punguk's, was among the most memorable of any I've spent in Alaska.  Or anywhere else.  Walter plucked me from the storm and brought me inside.  Kathy made sure I had plenty to eat and drink.  Tommy talked ceaselessly and for hours about hunting, fishing, war, intra-village communications, and every other subject that seemed dear to him.

Tommy's hearing isn't as great as it could be, meaning all I had to do was sit back and listen (maybe an occasional nod of recognition) to the way things used to be, as well as why they are the way they are now.  He flitted back and forth between past and present, describing Golovin and White Mountain in the 50's, learning to hunt, fish, trap, and skin, occasionally whipping out his cell phone to share pictures of friends and family outside.

I stayed up hours later than I should have, enraptured with this gift of a glimpse into the way things used to be in this very place.  Squint real hard and it doesn't look much different on the surface.  The most obvious change?  Snowmachines are faster, better able to take you deeper before breaking down and leaving you with an even longer walk home.

The wind hadn't abated much by morning, but at least now I could see.

Sastrugified puppy prints.

White Mountain sits on a hillside with some protection provided by both topography and trees.  It always feels good, warm somehow, to arrive here.  Even in a wind, even if you don't enter a building.

Knowing the wind was waiting for me in the hills, I didn't stay long.

Trails are marked for the dog race with orange-topped lath, which doesn't last very long.  Typically the locals begin to 'harvest' it minutes after the last musher leaves their village.  Tripods are much more common, as they are much more resistant to being blown down, over, or away.  The tripods through the Topkok Hills and along the coast to Nome are built closer to structures, and closer together, than anywhere else along the trail, testament to the frequency and force of the local wind.

The Topkok's aren't big but they are steep, especially with tired legs.

One of the few times on the trip where I legitimately envied those on snowmachines, and particularly their ability to throttle up to skip/surf across overflowed creeks.

I've never been seriously tempted to dig into this A-frame for shelter, largely because it seems like such an uninviting place to stop and then have to restart from.

Clouds billowing offshore signal your proximity to the coast.  This was the last hill before descending back to sea level for the final time.

If it's ~100 miles to get to Nome from Golovin, the trail is already drifting over, my flight out is in 24 hours, and a 'major wind event' is already happening (and forecast to increase), how long will it take me to get there?

The answer, of course, was "two fistfuls of Trader Joe's peanut butter cups, three of Mike & Ike's, a smattering of deep fried onions smunched into a wad of eskimo fry bread, all washed down with two Pepsi's, a Coke, and a Sprite."

Nomeite Phil Hosfstetter woke in the wee hours, checked my SPOT beacon status, then dressed and drove a handful of miles out to greet me where the trail meets pavement.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled to be greeted.  Little things mean a lot in the middle of a storm in the dark of night.

I followed Phil home and slept briefly on his couch before waking to share toys, stories, smiles, and blueberry pancakes with his lovely wife and beautiful, funny, gregarious kids.

Epilogue to follow.