Thursday, July 21, 2011

Journey to Rural Alaska: 150 pounds & a lot of free time

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When the plane landed and the passengers began to depart, there had already been several things making this trip different than usual. First? The front half of the plane was devoted to cargo—windows non-existent, stairway up to the rear of the plane, all of which worked to all passengers to check three fifty pound bags free of charge (well, let’s just say it was included in the price of admission).

Packing and planning for this trip (both mine and Curtis’s) started weeks ago, both in planning for food and dress. One day we sat in the kitchen and sketched out a rough menu plan. Figuring fifty pounds would be gear, that left the other 100 for food, drinks, and any other item we didn’t want to purchase at exorbitant prices out in what could officially be called “the middle of nowhere”.

We aimed for themes: Mexican food options, Italian food options, Mediterranean was unfortunately nixed when things started getting to heavy, but a little bit of Asian food made the cut. Produce, perhaps the most over-priced, low-quality item barely available in the bush (the name Alaskans use to refer to anywhere off the beaten path in Alaska, which usually means you have to fly to it), is hard to bring in any large quantities because it’s delicate and doesn’t keep as long as all the processed goods.

Our first shipment went in with Curtis, who left two weeks before me, and included all sorts of goods from tortillas to spaghetti sauce to trail mix to pre-packaged orange chicken. After he was sent off, we had an accumulation of goods that didn’t make the cut: a couple pounds of pasta, a package of pita chips, four cans of tuna. After he evaluated the pantry at the apartment given to him to stay in while out of town we reevaluated my drafted list again: there was already plenty of pasta, some baking staples, lots of peanut butter but no jelly.

While I packed on Tuesday for the trip, I was constantly adding and removing items as the weight limit loomed in the balance. Add a book, take away a can of tuna; add a raincoat, remove a can of refried beans. It’s a funny thing planning at the mercy of a weight limit, and my back will likely remind me for the next several days that lifting fifty pound bags on and off a scale repeatedly is not the kindest thing I have ever done for it (even if I was trying to lift with my legs). It reminded me of the often cited hypothetical question "If you were headed to a deserted island and could only bring three things with you..." Except in this case I was headed to a place cut off, and 150 pounds was all I could take.

After landing, meeting up with Curtis and gathering the bags to the car, we made our way to his apartment. Because of the travelling nature of many people that work at this hospital, they have housing available nearby that is roughly furnished and decorated (more on that later), available to the many employees that come and go. And when I say the housing is nearby, I mean it is literally right next door. There’s a cute little boardwalk that leads from the complex to the hospital, and driving from one to the other would undoubtedly take longer than walking.

Interesting fact about the apartment complex? Curtis’s parents, who lived in this same small town for a decade, had their children here, and worked at this same hospital--they lived for a few years in the apartment right next door. It’s funny to try and picture how things were different thirty years ago, and funnier still to realize that there was no way to predict when they were young and on an adventure that thirty years later their son would return to this same place—literally right next door.

I am interested to see how these next couple weeks turn out, living in a tiny town cut off from society with a laptop, a stack of books, an online class and some curriculum materials. I can be pretty good at entertaining myself and keeping busy, but two weeks is a lot of running, reading and thinking. In some ways I think it will be good to slow down, to be cut off and free to wander and explore. In other ways I am a person that thrives on productivity and here there are no mountains to climb, no walls to paint, and no errands to run. It’s just me, the sound of the rain on the boardwalk, and the far off buzz of the hospital.

Perhaps it will be cleansing to be away from it all for a while.
Perhaps it will make me appreciate all I have.
Either way, two weeks of anything can’t be that bad...
...just requiring a bit of patience and creativity, and a pantry full of food.

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