Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adventure on the Ice

So here's a little story for your entertainment and at one little point to my humiliation. But it's such a great story that I just have to share it with you. It's a real experience I had so I hope you enjoy it. I shared this story for one of my english papers just this last semester at college and got a lot of wide eyes and comments about it. Oh and just as a side note, the italics in this story indicate what I'm thinking to myself. Oh and click on the collage i made so you can see it bigger.

I can't believe I'm actually going to die today! I honestly think I might! If not from the icy river, then from a heart attack! I thought. My eyes were scanning the vast, while landscape in front of me as I was driving with a complete stranger at about 70mph on the semi-frozen river. I had been in the same position for the last ten minutes. When are we gonna get there!? PLEASE be soon! Then WOOSH!!! "OH MY GOSH!" I screamed, "HOLY CRAP!" AHHH! The water came rushing up over the whole front of the old truck and its windshield.
It's amazing how your outlook on life can change just after a day, an hour, thirty minutes, or even a minute. It definitely did for me after that long hour and a half. I had been traveling all day since the wee hours of the morning. I was going to Akiak, Alaska, population 309, which is a tiny Yupik Indian village about 20-30 min. outside of Bethel. In other words, out in the bush of Alaska. It was the end of April 2005 and my sister was getting married, so I was going up by myself, a week early to help with wedding plans. I flew from Spokane, Washington to Seattle, to Anchorage, to Bethel and finally to Akiak. Four different planes, one being a small bush plane in the end. In Seattle I had a long layover, which ended up geing longer because they had to fix the plane. This worried me because I was going to miss my flight in Anchorage to Bethel. Well, I finally got on, and the captain said we'd be about 45 min. late. Great, just what I need is to be stuck in Anchorage alone with no flight, I thought sarcastically. I was sitting nest to two fisherman local to the area and told them my situation. Once we got into Anchorage, they were nice enough to take me and point me in the right direction to my gate. I was running through the airport and luckily made it at the last second. It was a full flight, all of which were mostly the local Yupik Indians. I sat in between an elderly gentleman that was already snoring, and a woman with her grandchild on her lap. Let's just say, it was a rather cozy flight in between those two...and a half. ha. I was relieved that I made the flight, but then immediately wanted to get off. There were extremely high winds that day to where the turbulence was nerve wracking for the first time in my life. I love flying and have never had a problem with it, but that days turbulence scared the poop out of me.
I finally arrived in Bethel, alive. Bethel's airport was so tiny it was the smallest I've ever been in. I walked off the plane outside and had to walk to the door, but barely could. The wind was SO strong that it was blowing me sideways and almost blew my legs out from underneath me. I would guess the winds were probably close to 50-60mph that day if not more. So after walking to the airports only gate, I entered the single room that consisted of the check-in, baggage claim, and waiting area all in one. Haha, wow this is THEE smallest airport HA! But it's awesome! When I got there I was supposed to go to the little bush plane airport next door and fly into the village because there were no roads inot the village at all. The only way to get to Akiak was by bush plane, boating, or driving on the river. The minute I walked into the airport the guy asked if I was the girl going ot Akiak. (We were the talk of the town you see, the wedding party from the lower 48). "Yup, that's me." "Well, there's a little problem. Since the wind is so bad, we can't fly the planes at all and it doesn't look like it's going to let up. There is however, a woman down at the river waiting to drive you to the village. Her name is Judy." "Uh...I have no idea who that is." I said. "She says she konws your sister and works with her too. So we're going to send you back in the cab down to meet her." "OK...?" Uhhhh....dangit, I really wish the wind wasn't this bad. I do NOT want to drive ON the river. It was starting to be a very long day. So I got down to the river and walked into a convenience store where I met Judy for the first time. "Now, we're going to have to walk down to the car. I couldn't drive it up onto the bank because the river is melting and the ramp is under water," she said. WHAT!!!! You've GOT to be kidding me!!!! "Uhhh...ok," I answered hesitantly. As we're walking to the river with all my luggage, I look over at where you drove up onto the bank and sure enough it was all water and no ice. Oh my this even safe? Am I gonna live? As I'm crawling down a ladder onto the river I'm looking around at the snowmobiles and a couple trucks left on the river. Oh please let it be one of these nice trucks and not an old one that will die on me. Better yet let's just take one of these snowmobiles. Less weight means less likely to fall through. I'll take the wind and the cold. Sure enough tshe points to the old rusted one with guns and antlers in the back. Ok ok, I'll live. So i get in, and out of habit I start to put my seat belt on. "Oh no honey you don't want to put that on just in case we need to bail." "Seriously???," a little worry and doubt in my voice, "Yeah, it's not a good idea." Oh my gosh that SO does NOT help my stress level right now! I can't believe she's serious!!! That makes me feel SOOO much better. Now I at least won't be trapped inside the car, just under the ice. Haha...? "So how long does it take to get to Akiak?" "About a half hour." Dang, I was hoping it would only be like 5 min.! Half hour on a river that's melting!!! I'm gonna die of stress alone. We started driving and there was absolutely no one on the river. We were going 65mph on the ice, and she was multitasking. She was smoking, eating chips, and drinking an energy drink to stay awake. "I got up at 4am this mrning and had to come into Bethel and now I'm just SO tired I'm tryin hard to stay awake," she said. "Oh wow! That's not good. Ha, yeah please do." Stress level rising...heck we all multitask but I think this situation calls for all attention on the icy/watery river right now. In front of me is this huge river. Everything is white except for the open water on the sides of the river that are an orange color. Ther's a ton of little tributaries branching offf of the river in every direction. "How on earth do you know where your going? Don't you get lost?" "No, I've driven it so many times." It was so bright and white outside that it was giving me a headache. Ah, this is making me so scared that we're going 70mph on ice! I am seriously going to die today! Then WOOSH!!! "OH MY GOSH!" I screamed, "HOLY CRAP!" AH!!!!!!!!!!! The water came rushing up over the whole front of the old truck and it's windshield! "Oh I'm sorry hun! That was my fault, I wasn't paying attention to where I was driving." "AHH!" No @#$%! My heart is going to explode. Ok I need to pick a spot over on the bank just so that I'll have a place to go if we break through the ice. Seriously now. The radio was on the local news and they were saying to stay OFF the river because it was getting too thin in so many spots. "Hmmm, they weren't saying that this morning when I was driving on it." This does not help me! Oh please just let this be a bad dream. Better yet just let me die right now, this is too much for me! I looked in gront of me and there was the orange water on the sides and then in the middle there were what looked like little sunken areas with crystal clear, bright, blue water over top of the ice. It felt like an eternity and I was sitting in the exact same position, white knuckled. "Are we getting close at all?" "You know I didn't want to tell you this, but we're gonna have to turn around because we're almost all the way to Tuluksak." Now, going north from Bethel there's three villages starting with Akiachak, Akiak, then Tuluksak. "Oh really!? Well ok...." Oh my gosh I'm NEVER going ot get there! So we slow down which was even more nerve wracking than going 70mph because it felt like we were going to fall through. On our way back though we see what looked like a wolf at first on the river, but once we got closer it was a Lynx. That was the coolest part of the whole drive. We're driving more and more and I see some antenna towers poking up over the trees and shrubs. YAY we're here!!! I'm so happy I could honestly cry. All of a sudden she let out a string of profanity. "What!? What's wrong?!" "We're all the way back to Bethel!" "Oh crap! Are you kidding?" "No..." @#$%! She's serious! I'm never gonna see my family again. Liz is probably worried SICK about me and wondering where the hell I am. Why did the wind have to be so BAD? WOOSH!!! "AH!!" We hit another sunken area, once again water coming up over the windshield. I honestly can't take anymore of this. I'm going to have a heart attack! So we slow down and she looks at all the eifferent ways that we can go. She picks one and we start to get closer to these tall posts stuck in the ice in a circle. "What are those? I've been seein a few of those." "Those are to mark off thin ice areas." And we're driving TOWARDS them??!! We're lost. She is so tired that she forgot the way and I'm still sitting in the same position silently freaking out and literally praying that I'll live. We finally see some fishermen on the river so we drive closer to the orange water in between us and the bank and ask them how to got to Akiak. They point to the area straight in gront of us. Hell no!!! NO WAY! NO! In front of us to our left is open water, what now was haunting my thoughts. To our right was ice, but marked off with the posts for thin ice. In between was the ice pathway getting more narrow in the distance. Right in front of the pathway was a huge crack in the ice. From the crack and on the ice pathway slanted down towards the orange water. We both just sat there and gawked at it, analyzing it. "Uuumm!" I said nervously. "Ok...we'll try it" she said. This is it...goodbye family, goodbye friends, goodbye world. I am honestly driving to my death right now. We are totally gonna slide into that water and drown if we go this way. We started slowly toward the pathway and drove over the crack. The car jolted up and down while going over the crack and the car started sliding diagonally toward the water which was leterally 4 feet to our left and the posts were 6 feet to our right. There was honestly nowhere to go! "Yeah um I really really don't think we should go this way!!!" I sang squirming in my seat and bracing myself for the first time. "Yeah we're not going this way at all!" Is she drunk? We backed up over the crack, once more jolting up and down. Oddly enough I feel relieved, weird I should still be screaming silently to myself. Oh wait I still am. So we finally get on the right track that she recognizes. THANK GOODNESS! HALLELUJAH! I'm going to live! I looked over my shoulder and saw a snowmobile jollowing us. Good! At least we have a witness that can get help if we fall through! I don't think anything could get any worse. It could. Remember I had been traveling nonstop all day. Well, lets jsut say nature was calling now, continuously. Yes, to my embarrassment I had to pee REALLY bad. "Um, how much longer do you think it'll take? Cause I really have to go to the bathroom." I asked worriedly. "Oh it's just ten more min. can you hold it or do you want me to pull over and you can go outside?" Pee outside are you kidding? It's freezing, way too windy, awkward and that would mean we'd have to stop on this ice. I might fall through. Definitely not, I'll wait. "Uh, no. I can wait." Not two minutes later, "Ok no, I really can't wait that long you need to pull over now please." So we had to wait for the snowmobile to pass us as we were slowing down. I didn't want an audience. Now remember, it was extremely windy and freezing too! I'll say no more other than it was awkward and cold. Luckily I had Kleenex in my backpack so always be prepared people! It'll save your life haha. Everyone does it though. Heck what CAN'T I handle now after this car ride of terror? So to my horror and humiliation I looked down and the wind had blown it onto my pant leg!!!! Whoever thought peeing outside would be so hard? haha. Oh please please don't let that be noticable! Please don't let her see that. So I got back in the car and we continued and FINALLY made it!!! I could see the bank and the huts. "Ok now we just have to find a way to get over there." My excitment immediately shot down. "Oh no!" I'm just RIGHT HERE and still....I'm gonna drown! Again, at least there will be witnesses. So she picked the best looking spot and we start to drive. The car was literally bouncing up and down as we were driving. I was bouncing all over in my seat! "Whoa!" she said. "Yeah!!" I said bracing myself. I looked out the window down at the ground and the ice was leterally breaking up into chunks! I was just waiting for the water to come through and swallow us whole. Luckily we made it through and onto the bank. The drive had taken us about an hour and a half!
Who knew Hell could freeze over? It did for me that day as I went there and back. HA! No no, now that I look back on it though it was THEE most exciting and adrenaline pumping adventure of my life. I actually liked it once i thought about it. Ha! Whoever knew that being on danger's doorstep could be so fun?! That was one of the best trips though that i've ever taken. Such a good story to tell. Heck, Judy was probably secretly laughing at me inside, thinking I was this wimp from the city that didn't know anything about the outdoors and the wild. Ha. The people though, there in Akiak, we're just SO loving and humble! They had nothing, but they had everything. Some didn't even have electricity or plumbing in their house. They hunt, fish, gather berries and get some groceries from bethel. Some go out to the river to get water, some have nicer homes. They were all so excited to see you, they would swarm you. Especially the kids and they were so cute! I love LOVE Alaska! It's so gorgeous and the people there are great. At least they are out in the bush from all I know. I would love to go back someday. Oh and P.S. I got to ride back to Bethel in a bush plane on my way back. I even got to ride in the front :-)