Saturday, December 2, 2006


That's how many miles the trail is from the AC store in Bethel to our house in Nunap. How do I know this with such precision, you ask? Well there can only be one answer to that question...we got our snowmachine! Oh glorious day!!!

We had been kinda-sorta planning on flying into Bethel today to pick it up, but our neighbor and superstar-teacher Eric called at noon yesterday and told me that with the weather being so nice, he and Kenny had decided to ride in that afternoon, and suggested I call and see if there were any flights I could still get on in the afternoon so I could get the machine and meet up with them to ride back. I called around and had no luck, at which thought I figured it just might not be meant to be. Then, he suggested that it might be possible to borrow someone else's machine, and if Sara and I both rode in, one of us could bring it back while the other rode ours...common sense, of course, but the thought hadn't crossed my mind. Would anyone let me drive their snowgo to Bethel and back? And could Sara get out of work for the afternoon? All I could do was ask.

So with Eric warming up his machine for himself and Kenny, I ran up to school to see if we could figure out a plan. Sara was in a class, which I rudely interrupted, and she was down with taking off and riding in. So now a ride. She had happened to be in Carey's class at the time, so we asked if we might be able to borrow her sweet, sweet Ski-Doo...and she graciously let us (thank you, thank you, thank you!!!)

With that, and after gathering a few things and bundling up, we were on our way. Eric with Kenny in the lead, and Sara and I following. The trail is pretty well defined, and a bunch of the markers are up, but I'm really glad I had someone to follow. Riding the trails here isn't exactly like trails back home, with maybe a mile or two between bars and roads and houses all along the way. 8 miles or so out from Nunap you go by Atmau, but other than that there's nothing until you get to Bethel. Other than that, it's a pretty nice ride. Not too bumpy at all, no major obstacles, only a few tricky banks to go up or down when going on to or off of water. Snow conditions could have been a little better...the snow from last weekend's big snowstorm had been turning to slush during our 30 degree days this week, refreezing overnight, and leaving a lot of packed ice on the trails. Being the uber-rookie snowgo driver, I just followed Eric whenever he went a little ways off the trail into the fresh snow to be a little nicer to the skis and treads.

So, an hour and a half or so later, we were on the outskirts of Bethel. Eric and Kenny's real purpose for the trip was to head down past Bethel to Kenny's old village, Napaskiak, to get his snowmachine, so it was time to split up. Mind you, I've been to Bethel a grand total of three times, two of which were just flying through, and neither Sara or I have no idea where to go or how to get there by snowgo. But, we could see where the airport was, and with some pointing in the direction of the correct trail from Kenny, we just headed that way and played it by ear, agreeing to meet Eric and Kenny at the AC store whenever they got back from Napaskiak.

All was fine, we followed the trail to the highway, which we crossed after a little confusion, and finally got ourselves to the airport. Now, I don't know if I've ever explained the Bethel airport here or not, but here's the problem. It's basically a long strip of hangars and terminal buildings for individual little charter and air cargo services, all lined up along the side of a runway long enough for a large jet to land. All we knew about the location of "Everets Air Cargo", where our machine was located, was that it was at the airport. Somewhere. So we started along, riding on the side of the road, looking for a sign saying Everets. Just a building or two in, and we were at Grant Aviation, which I knew from Sara's stories was pretty cool and usually very helpful, so I stopped and asked if she wanted to go in and see if she could find out where exactly Everets was. She did, and when she got back the directions were shaky at best. "The other end" was basically the jist, so we headed down the road expecting to eventually run into it. Until we got to JP Air (and brats...yeah, it's on the sign), which is basically the end of the row. Confused, I went in and asked for directions. And then drove around for a while. And came back to JP. And drove around again, the same direction, but a little farther, at which point we found Everets and got our sled. (Note: Yes, I said sled. For you upper-Midwestern folk, you know what I'm talking about. It's slang for snowmobile. Here, I've slipped and said "sled" a few times and people have just looked at me funny. Probably because here, people often tow actual sleds behind their machines, hence it not really making sense to use the same colloquialism. Even "snowmobile" isn't used here. It's snowmachine. Or snowgo.)

So, half the battle was won - we found our sled at the airport. Now for the other half of the battle...getting into Bethel proper and finding the AC store to meet up with the guys. So we backtracked to where we had split up before, and headed towards town in the other direction, simply aiming for what looked to be a commercial part of town. Not that there's that much of Bethel to choose from, but still. Anyways, I soon saw what I thought I remembered to be the slanted roof line of the store, having passed it in a cab a couple times, and we made it there having to travel only a couple of blocks on the side of a fairly busy road. After about an hour or so, Eric and Kenny got back from their extended trek, I picked up some coolant and oil, and we got on our way. We had originally hoped to get back before dark (maybe an optimistic goal, considering the limited amount of daylight available this time of year), but the sun was well set before we left the AC parking lot. No matter, there were four snowmachines now, meaning plenty of headlights, and with Eric leading the way we made the haul back just fine, and no worse for the wear.

And with that, we have our smowmachine. It's pretty darn sweet, if I do say so myself. It's a 2000, but it's in great shape, and it just rolled over 1000 miles on the way back last night. Not to mention, I could definitely tell the difference right away driving the 500 compared to Carey's 380 on the way there. Lots more "getup", if you know what I mean. No pictures yet, unfortunately. But I'll be playing around with it this afternoon, and I have to go get gas and stuff, so I'm sure I'll have pretty pics to post tonight or tomorrow.

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