Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Nome, Alaska

Nome has some interesting sights.

For the second year, I’ve made a trip to Nome to visit a friend, Dan McEnerney. Besides trading lies, the object is to hunt ptarmigan and chase salmon. Nome by itself is interesting, not to mention its incredible historical draw for amateur gold rush students, such as myself.

The flight to Nome on August 24th was via Kotzebue, Alaska. Kotzebue is a town roughly 200 miles north of Nome, and takes about 90 minutes of flight time from Anchorage. Looking forward to seeing some of the Alaskan countryside, I booked a window seat. Shortly after leaving Anchorage, however, we flew into a thick layer of clouds and I didn’t see the earth again until we were on final approach to Kotzebue and at an altitude of about 500 feet. 

My view of Kotzebue on August 24th

Not a problem, I’d still get to see Kotzebue. Or not. The wind, which had made the landing exciting, was driving a dense rain. As you can see, there wasn’t much to see for the forty-five minutes we sat on the ground. Those getting off the plane were eager to do so, and took little time to depart. The new passengers were considerably more relaxed about boarding, dribbling on board a couple at a time. Long after the baggage handlers had departed, new passengers continued to amble on. After awhile it became apparent the flight crew had gotten off the plane and were out rounding people up off the streets. “Say! You wanna go to Nome or Anchorage? We’ve got a couple of empty seats.”

The flight on to Nome is listed as a 25 minute flight. The short length of time, plus the weather we bounced through, made a hectic flight for the attendants. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will begin our in-flight service in a few minutes. We have orange juice or water; that’s it. Think about it now, so we’re not screwing around asking what you want as we run down the aisle.”

If possible, the clouds were even thicker on the flight to Nome. In fact, we never got out of the clouds. The captain announced that “some bouncing” was to be expected as we descended. Anyone who has ever flown can tell you the term is “turbulence.” If the flight is expected to have the plane lunging up and down and side to side, the pilot casually mentions there will be “some turbulence.” I guess bouncing is worse. At any rate, we were not disappointed. Roughly fifty feet above the Nome runway we popped out of the clouds and immediately flopped down. I’m not certain, but I believe I actually heard the seeing eye goose that led us in honking. Applause erupted as we narrowly missed extending the runway. Hey, any landing where you don’t plow dirt is a good one. 

Has anyone seen our beach? It seems to be missing.
Dan met me at the terminal and explained an early fall storm was blowing in off the Bering Sea. Weather-wise, he explained, this trip would be vastly different than last year’s. He was right. The next day brought high winds with stinging drizzle interrupted by occasional periods of slashing rain. Not to be daunted by a little inclement weather, we decided to do a little beach combing. Unfortunately, the storm had also produced a surge tide of four to eight feet, and there was no beach to comb. We amused ourselves by watching the waves splash over the sea wall along Front Street as we continued out the Nome-Council Highway. (Highway is a relative term, here. It is actually 72 miles of nicely compacted gravel.)

Last checkpoint of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race

We made it as far as the Safety Roadhouse by 2 pm and were greeted by Tom, the barkeep. “You’re the first customers all day,” he advised us. “Had a couple of drive-bys but nobody stopped. I was just about to close down. My ride is on the way.”

The Nome adventure continues in next week’s post.

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