Sunday, February 21, 2010

Those Crazy Kussaqs

Winter in the bush of Alaska can be a blessing and a curse depending on the weather and where you live in the bush. Coastal regions tend to get more wind and sometimes more snow, but definitely more wind. For that reason, I'm thankful that I moved farther inland from the coast. Eek is inland about 12 miles from the coast and settled in nicely amongst flat interior tundra landscape, about 45 miles west of the Kilbuck Mountains. The Eek river is a vital asset to the people here. During the winter time, it provides a necessary highway to hunting and ice fishing grounds. The cold winter season allows people to travel to other villages via snow machine over the bumpy frozen tundra. In the case of Eek, many people travel to Bethel and Quinhagak throughout the season.
Those of you that know me at all, know that I need time to play outside. Especially after teaching 4 grades in all subjects for 8 - 10 hours a day. I've found Eek to be a very nice playground for my recreational pursuits. Aside from fishing throughout the fall, I've been biking, x-c skiing, and sometimes skijoring with Katja. The trail system around Eek is well used and there are a couple of options for directions to go. I've been biking farther away from the village than I travel on my skis. I purchased a pair of "skate skis" this year and they have allowed me to ski much longer than I normally do. So when the snow gets too deep for biking, I break out the skis and Katja and I skijor on the river and trails around the village.
This year, the weather has been rather mild as far as temperatures and the amount of snow that we have experienced here in Eek. The warm temperatures melt the snow, turning the trails into ice roads when it freezes again. With studded ice tires on my bike, I can cover ground pretty quickly. Yesterday, I rode up to a nearby fish camp 6 miles up river away from the village. It was about a 12 mile round trip, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you are traveling over snow and ice, it is quite a workout for me and Katja both.
When ever I run into natives, especially my students away from the village out on the tundra, I am greeted with the same concerns that sound like this. "What are you doing out here?" or "You rode out here on your bike?" and sometimes, "Don't get lost!"
Fortunately, there are many trail markers out on the tundra. The lakes are sometimes as much as a mile across and have small trees planted in the ice to guide travelers across safely. Out on the tundra, there are many types of markers, such as poles, old oil drums, etc. Obviously I haven't gotten lost yet nor have I gotten frost bite. So get out there, get your fix, and thanks for reading my blog.