Our Trip to Barrow.
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This trip is one of many that are started by my travel buddy Carlos. He tends to come up with random cities and why we need to go there. Of course, the reason for Barrow, it is the northern most city in the United States, and there is a Mexican restaurant named Pepe's North of the Border. Because many of my trips are on stand-by basis it is often a challenge to get to where we want to go. This trip in particular because I had to use an airline that I have never flown on, Alaska Airlines.
The flights with Alaska Air started in Seattle.
Just then Ron Jeremy walked by and Carlos noticed him. He asked me, "Is that Ron Jeremy?" I turned and sure enough there he was on his way to Las Vegas. That was the catalyst that fired the trip into overdrive. We have a close friend that would have enjoyed meeting Ron Jeremy and we called him. He is a pilot for Continental. After we told him who we saw he asked, "Are you taking the Continental flight to Anchorage?" We were dumbfounded that there was a Continental flight and we did not consider it. So we ran and got stand-by tickets for Continental and found that they were wide open. Here we go! We lost the day in Fairbanks and just spent the night there but we were on our way. Landing in Barrow was amazing.
Our plans for Barrow were simple, a morning walk around town, dinner at Pepe's North of the Border, and a morning flight back to Anchorage. Well we underestimated how cold it got at the Northern tip of Alaska. In the middle of a heat wave it was -10*F. I have endured this temp before but not for extended periods. We walked from the hotel to the elementary school were we knew one of the teachers. The distance was maybe a mile. Boy were we happy when we made it to the school. We all had frost on our eyebrows, I had frost all over my goatee. Even our eyelashes had frost. Whooee! So Liz, Carlos' wife signed in as a visitor at the school office and the rest of us sat in the lobby waiting. In walks Mike a resident of Barrow. He immediately looks at us and asks, "Who are you?" It is a small town. Mike rolled out the hospitality carpet and welcomed us to Barrow with an offer for a quick ride to the town Store. We accepted and realized that Barrow is much bigger when it is 'Stupid Cold' outside. We spent maybe an hour in store and a bonus was that the town heritage center was right across the street. We went next door and learned more than we expected to learn about the local heritage of the Inuit and Eskimo life. We were offered an invitation to return the next day as an Eskimo family was preparing to sew the seal skins together to prepare the boat for whale season. An amazing process in which they use about 8 pelts that have been cured for a year to become the hull of a wooden frame boat for one family. We thanked them but we would not be there as we were catching the first flight back to Anchorage in the morning.
Well we were getting hungry and decided to find a spot to eat and there is a restaurant next to the famous Whale Bone arch in Barrow. It was a delicious meal. We then wandered out onto the ice that is normally a beach in the summer. The sea for the beach is the Chuk Chi sea, a.k.a the Artic Ocean. It was frozen solid. We learned that the ice on the ocean moves over the water and when the conditions are right the ice just slides onto the land buckling onto and over itself creating ice tsunamis that the locals call Ivu. They had just finished clearing the sea-side road of all the ice and there were still some areas where the ice was 10-20 feet high. We had our fill and were heading back to the Heritage center where we ran into Mike again. He went home and got his Big truck which could seat us all, albeit a bit bunched together, in one vehicle. He gave us a full tour of Barrow from the end of the road that leads to the marker where the U.S. is at is northernmost to the Air Force Early Warning Base to the Satellite Dishes at the southern end of town. The dishes are so far north that they are pointed at the horizon. The satellites orbit over the continental U.S. thus they sit very low to the horizon in comparison to the City of Barrow.
The sun was near the horizon and we returned to the hotel. We took a few pictures around the airport and took some time to relax and get some rest after a lot of travel. We planned to then for our evening visit the most famous Mexican restaurant in Barrow, Pepe's North of the Border. We found a very nice restaurant owner. She had visited Barrow on an electrical engineering trip of several months and has not left since. She has been visited there at the restaurant by many famous people, athletes, politicians, actors, and of course the rest of the traveling world. We stayed long after our meal, and spoke to her about the history of the restaurant and the history behind the trip that led here there. We had accomplished what we had set out to do.
The following morning as we were getting ready to leave for the airport. As we gathered in the hotel lobby Carlos on a whim called the airport to find out how it looked for us on the stand-by list. That is when we heard the worst news of the trip. The first of only two flights had canceled. The planes used to get in and out of Barrow were Boeing 737 Combi's. They were airplanes that were configured to carry additional cargo where the seats normally go. The main cabin of the plane was limited to the back half of the plane. The plane we arrived in Barrow only held 30 or so passengers. Knowing that the flight had canceled worried us quite a bit. The next flight did not leave until 7:30 that night. So, what to do? We decided to head back to the heritage center. We encountered a local Eskimo family sewing seal skins together. They had been curing for a year. They were using caribou sinew to put the skins together. Once done they would use the skins to form the hull of a boat that they would use to go whaling. We sat and watched as the Eskimo women would work. The total length of time it would take them would be more than 14 hours. We saw only a couple hours worth of work. Later before we left we found out that the local elders were being celebrated. There was quite the party. We attended for a while.
The day was nearing its end when we found our way to a Pizza place. It overlooked the Chuk Chi Sea. It was still frozen. We had pizza to our fill and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the uphill battle we call stand-by travel. The flight was full and we did find that the Combi Airplane had been reconfigured to hold 70 passengers. We waited patiently and succeeded. We had seats but only to Fairbanks. There was a delay with the flight probably because of the earlier cancellation. In Fairbanks we were happy to hear the agent make the announcement that all stand-bys could stay on the flight but would just have to move seats. We were happy to move. Then it hit me, my luggage was only checked to Anchorage, not Denver. I would have to reclaim my bags in Anchorage from Alaskan Airlines and then re-check them with United. I ran off the plane reclaimed my bags and made it to the united counter 12 minutes from the time of my departure. United would not check my bags so I ran for the gate. The flight was delayed because the plane had been changed and they were processing all the seat changes. I made the flight. It was a happy feeling to make it on the flight. The easiest part of the trip was here. Sleeping on the overnight flight from Anchorage to Denver. The trip was a complete success after a canceled flight, messed up luggage, severe temperatures, long stand-by lists, and a quick glance at a porn star.