Mumford and Sons to the Rescue

Cabin pole almost peeledCabin Wall

For the first 10 days of my Arctic adventure I peeled 25-foot log poles, using a drawknife, in a clearing 50 yards from the new cabin site and prayed that the mosquitoes that swarmed around me would keep the grizzlies in the high mountains. Dad and Heimo worked down a narrow trail at the cabin site, swinging axes, notching logs, driving in 12-inch steel spikes, and practicing their Wisconsin accents. Since we arrived, my dad and Heimo (a former Wisconsinite) had been performing their own rendition of the musical “Guys On Ice”, making jokes about ditching da wife and heading to the tavern to thrown down a few PBRs and cheer on the Pack with da boys. Though their humor was pretty feeble, they cackled like little kids, and I admit that the first few times I laughed with them. But by day two, I was completely sick of it and eager, despite my fears, to get as far away from them as possible. Though Heimo said that with all the noise, an animal wouldn’t get within half a mile of us, this was my first time in the Alaskan bush and my head was full of big bad grizzlies. I wore a bear bell around my neck that clanged as I worked and had a loaded shotgun leaning against a nearby tree. But what saved me was Mumford and Sons. I turned the volume up on my Kindle and blasted them across the Arctic landscape.

Do bears like British rockers?

bush plane drop-off
Bush Plane Drop-off
Coleen River and Brooks Range from the air
The Coleen River and Brooks Range from the Air

My Hot New Ride

Gritty Gal with the Helio Courier Bush Plane Heading Out to the CabinGood-bye Fairbanks and ice lattes! Today I leave for the wilderness.

This morning we are flying out to the cabin in this (pic attached), a 5-seater helio courier plane. The skies are clear so the views should be amazing, and I hope the trip will be a smooth one. On our route out, we will follow the Yukon River to the town of Fort Yukon and then fly north across the Porcupine to the Coleen River, and then north again to the cabin. There we will land on a gravel bar and use a canoe to transport our gear across the river to the cabin site. It’s a 3 -hour flight and, during that time, we will fly over a great chunk of the Alaskan Interior. I will not be blogging again, but rest assured that I will be making plentiful notes and will write again as soon as I am back in Fairbanks in early August.

Foraging in Fairbanks

Gritty Gal at the Local Club in Fairbanks, Alaska
Everything is wild in Alaska.

Spent my first day at the Fairbanks dump—don’t ask. Not exactly the wilds of Alaska, but still I met many wild and colorful characters, scroungers, and vagabonds, with their vehicles full of all their worldly possessions. They mistook me for one of them and inducted me into their club. We talked scrounging, self-sufficiency and how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One guy said he’d decorated his entire cabin with stuff scrounged from the dump.

I got a quick tour of Fairbanks, as my dad and I rushed across town in Heimo’s gas-guzzler of a truck gathering cabin-building materials for Heimo and provisions for our trip. We went on a wild goose chase for some twelve-inch cabin spikes and a Thermacelle insect repellent lantern, guaranteed to keep all mosquitoes away. Apparently it works, though, because every store we went to was sold out. Our search led us all across the city and to the far corners of town. It was here that I found probably the most amusing of Fairbanks’ many quirks: “Show Girls,” the local club. I couldn’t resist including a photo. I guess everything is wild in Alaska.

Alaska Bound

Gritty Gal and her backpack outside her home in Lodi, Wisconsin
After weeks of preparation and packing, I’m finally ready for summer in the Arctic.

I find myself at the beginning of a journey, bound for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s last great wildernesses.  My father will be my travel companion and together with my dad’s cousin, Heimo Korth, a veteran of the Alaskan bush, we will learn how to survive life in the wilderness.

In Alaska, my home will be my tent, my bed will be a mat, my bathroom will be a hole in the ground, my water will come from the river or from a spring, and my food will be whatever we manage to kill, catch or gather. Over the course of the next year, I will be making four trips to the Alaskan Arctic, staying for one month each season. For my first trip, we will help Heimo Korth build a new cabin from scratch and then head for the high country in search of caribou.

And, so, unlike most kids my age, I will not be spending my summer vacationing at a summer-house, tanning at the pool, shopping with friends on State Street, or binge-watching Pretty Little Liars for hours (as I may have under normal circumstances). Instead I will be 130 miles above the Arctic Circle, 3 hours by bush plane from Fairbanks, in one of the most remote and isolated places in the world, swatting clouds of mosquitoes, and praying I won’t encounter an angry mother grizzly (a sow) protecting her cubs or a territorial moose. In other words, I will be in the middle of nowhere.  There is a better chance of reaching Santa at the North Pole than reaching Aidan Campbell in the Arctic.