Friday, March 31, 2006

Travelogue, part 3

Okay! So as you may have guessed, the gaps between these entries here have been the result of a combination of being busy in the evenings with Trivia preparation stuff, and busy during the day with, well, work. So I'll try to wrap this bad boy up here today, seeing as Trivia Insanity officially begins tonight and then you'll be lucky to see many posts from me at all for a couple weeks, aside from a link here and there and some Trivia commentary. So...where was I?

Ahh yes, the flight to the village. Well, up to this trip, I'd never flown on anything smaller than the little commuter jets and prop-jobbers that fly between Mosinee and Chicago/Minneapolis/etc. And to tell the truth, I was a little nervous...not scared really, I was looking forward to it, and I don't mind flying at all...but having never been in a single prop Cessna or whatever, I didn't know what to expect. Well, after my experience in Alaska, let me tell you...I'm in love. I'd much rather fly in a little 6 seater than on a 737. Partially because you're flying so low (500-800ft) that you get to see everything, but also because being the fat kid that I am, it seems like my standard seat is going to be the one nearest the center of gravity - next to the pilot. Now, you need to understand something...I grew up on flight simulators. Ever since putting around, shooting down Zeros playing "Aces of the Pacific" on our family's first Compaq 386, I've been a fan. So sitting in the co-pilot seat, yoke in front of me, conscious of the fact that I'd better not accidentally stretch my legs out and hit the rudder pedals or move my knee the wrong way and bump the fuel mixture or the throttle...THAT's the only way to fly :-) Not like the cabin on a big ol' jet, where you might as well be riding on a bus, watching the ground scroll by like a Google Maps satellite picture. Seriously, it was hard deciding whether I wanted to be looking out the window watching the tundra go by, or watching the navigation system and the instruments. I'm a dork, really. It's okay, I've come to peace with it. But now I've rekindled the dream I've had in the back of my head since I was, oh, 8 years take lessons and one day get my pilot's license. I know, add it to the list, right? Well I'm serious about this one...

Anyhow, after sharing that flight with a few other folks headed from Bethel, we were met at the airport (well, airstrip really...not much there :-P) by a guy with a van who drove us the short distance into the village and dropped us off at Sara's house. My first impressions of the landscape were's really a beautiful place, and quite different from what I'd pictured in my head. Not that I had pictured it as being un-beautiful, mind you. It's just different. And it was pretty cold, as well, but I'm certainly no stranger to that, and I really don't mind it that much. What I did notice, though, was the wind. It's crazy, we could hear it howling outside most of the time while I was there. Though Sara said it wasn't all that bad in comparison to some days, because the entire house wasn't shaking. So, I guess there's at least that. Hew. But anyway, we finally got to her house, and I have to say...we didn't do a whole heck of a lot for a few days. Which was absolutely, 100% fine by me. By the time we got home it was Friday afternoon, and with the cold and wind outside, and not much to do even if the weather was nice, it made for a weekend of bumming around the house...just enjoying doing normal, couple-type things we've missed out on with our wacky hella-long-distance relationship. There were cooking adventures, there was movie watching (Star Wars, of course...rapidly becoming tradition), and there was plenty of time just sitting around, reading, getting a feel for what it'll be like next year. Guess what? I'm really looking forward to it. Duh, right? ;-)

Well, come Monday morning, it back to reality...well, for Sara at least. Back to work! So she headed off, and I kept myself entertained through the morning with a book. It was fine, but I was certainly glad when she came home for lunch and asked if I wanted to head over and check out the school for the afternoon. I'd actually been thinking the same thing, and wanted to ask if I could, but didn't know how appropriate it would be for the teacher's dopey-ass fiancee to be sitting in the corner putzing around on the internet while she was administering tests to her students. Turns out, it was fine. So I jumped on the back of the 4-wheeler and was shuttled down the road to school. Note to self: #1 purchase in preparation for moving to Alaska: a good set of goggles. I was amazed as just how many 4-wheelers and snowmobiles (snowmachines/snow-gos there...kinda like the bubbler/waterfountain thing) there were around. Really, while there are a few trucks and SUVs around, there's not really not much use (or roads, for that matter) for them, and things we use here for recreation and diversion are the primary mode of transportation up there. Kinda fun to see full-blown "traffic" of 4-wheelers through the village around the time school lets out :-) Anyway, when we got there, I was able to meet most of the other staff and get a quick tour of the place, etc, which was nice. I spent that afternoon, and Tuesday afternoon as well, in the corner, typing emails and such while watching/listening to Sara in action. Pretty interesting, actually. I was even given a job (read: busywork) put in charge of putting together a classroom sign for the books they're reading. Yeah, hand me some construction paper, scissors, and a gluestick, and I'm set. I'm all about being the world's oldest 1st grader :-)

But I had something I wanted to do, and time was running out. You see, I have this habit of coincidentally doing most of my major traveling/adventures/etc. during the same couple weeks of March. I've been to Russia, Ireland, Scotland, paintball tourny roadtrips, and more, all randomly falling in the same few weeks of March of the given years. I've never made it to a "Spring Break"-type spring break, in Mexico or Florida or anything like that, but I've had plenty of my own spring break trips. Well, this year I was in Alaska, within easy reach of the Bering Sea, which gave me an idea. Since I'd never made it to the beach for spring break, I resolved to change that now. So we hopped on the 4-wheeler for a riding tour of the village, with our destination being the frozen beach. Now, it was cold, but by no means was it any more frigid than it had been at any point in Wisconsin this winter. And I was fairly seriously bundled up, fur hat, borrowed wool scarf and all, but this is where I made my determination that some shopping needed to be done. As we took off through town, it wasn't long before the cold wind in my eyes and my breath redirected through the scarf resulted it a couple of problems. Not only were my eyes watering, resulting in a rather painful eyelid-freezing situation, but a serious layer of ice had formed on my glasses, making any kind of "seeing" next to impossible. So yeah, if nothing else at all resulted from the trip, it's good to have this practical knowledge of the situation to be able to prepare for certain things I may not have previously considered :-) Anyway, we took a driving tour of what there was to see of town, framed by a beautiful sunset, and got to the beach in time to take a few pictures. Yup, that's the one I posted a week or so ago as a "test". Nice huh? I got to hang out on the beach for spring about you? I know, you're jealous, it's okay.

Well, after heading home and warming up, that was pretty much it. The next morning was Wednesday, and I was headed out. We said our goodbyes and reminded ourselves of the fact that we're indeed now in the home stretch...only a couple more months to go. The weather was beautiful, clearest it had been since I arrived, so flying out wasn't going to be an issue. We got the call that the plane was on the way, and I was picked up and taken to the airport, getting in some last good pictures of the tundra, the mountains, and the airport now that it was actually clear enough to see any of these things. When I arrived at the runway, I noticed the plane, aside from the front seats, was packed full of boxes. I was the only passenger headed from Quinhagak to Bethel that morning, so we were going to make a stop at a neighboring village along the way and drop off a delivery of mail and other goodies. I was in no hurry, and excited to be getting back in the Cessna, so this was a treat. The other village, Eek, was right along the way, and I had a good time chatting with the pilot. We really didn't lose that much time, either, making the extra stop, so I was in to Bethel with a few hours worth of time to kill before the next leg of the trip back.

And really, aside from my luggage being misplaced (resulting in a very tired second trip back to the Appleton airport Thursday night and a nice discount next time I fly with United), the trip back was about as uneventful as the trip out had been screwy and frustrating. So I'll pretty much just skip it, ok? Can you tell I'm a little less enthusiastic about my retelling of the story at this point? Sure you're pretty perceptive. But yeah, on the whole, it was a fantastic trip. Great to see Sara, fun to see where she's been living all this time and to see and experience things I've only heard about, and interesting to get a taste of what I'm in for come this fall. Should be a grand old time!

I'll post a few more pictures (and bigger versions, being able to upload them directly from my computer at home) sometime tonight or this weekend...but there you have it! And if I remember anything else I left out, I'll just post again. But for now, I'm ready to get back to my normal random, cranky blogging :-)

Thanks for reading!!!

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