Bering Strait: gateway to the Arctic Ocean

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm


-Mike, our ice guide takes us to the edge of the shorefast ice in Wales, Alaska -

You will find few places left on earth where people remain so intimately dependent on their environment. The native communities along Bering Strait do not hunt for sport, but they hunt for meat to supplement their diets particularly when the small bush planes stop bringing in outside food as winter weather sets in. You eat what you can hunt and what you have left in storage. No last minute trips to the grocery store here.

In case you were wondering, Bering Strait is a fairly narrow channel that connects the Bering Sea to the Arctic, and Wales, Alaska is so close to the Russian coast that you can see it across the strait on a fair day.

It has been an amazing experience to visit with villages of Wales and Shishmaref in Alaska where my boss, colleague and I went to talk to students in the schools and conduct some research on the sea ice. The smaller community in Wales has a runway accessible by snow machine, and strong winds frequently change the availability of open leads in the ice. People have noticed changes in snowfall patterns and thickness of the ice, as confirmed by our most recent ice core measurements. The ice is thinner in Wales this year. Whalers are readying their crews in hopes of catching another bowhead whale this year – hopes buoyed by seeing a few beluga whales a few days ago. We also saw some bearded, ringed and ribbon seals out on the ice and our ice guides referred to them half-jokingly as juicy steaks.

The changing Arctic affects these communities in a very real way that is hard to imagine as an outsider. Shishmaref is facing erosion problems as waves batter their coast, no longer protected by ice. Changing sea ice affects animal migrations and can sometimes shorten hunting seasons, as described by some hunters we talked to. However, in a world where elementary school students continue with their ski meets in 30 to 40 mph winds in freezing temperatures with bear guards on the lookout for polar bears during the event – it struck me that people here are tough, and they live with an interesting dichotomy of resources. For example, most people do not have running water, but almost everyone has a cell phone and are internet-savvy. Despite the strong relationship to their environment here, I get the feeling that not too many students have ambitions to study this fascinating ecosystem that they live in. Doubtless, the resilient spirit of the communities will continue to adapt to changes from natural and human-based impacts, but as a biologist I feel that I’m no longer just interested in what the walrus are doing – but also in how the people adapt.

Living in the sticks

In dogs, house, wildlife on March 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

It has been a little bit busy since moving to Alaska and starting a new job, hence the absence from blogging. It is also still bitterly cold some days, but the dark winters are fading into bright spring evenings which makes the cold much more bearable.

As my husband and I promised, we finally got the dogs a house with a big yard in Alaska. It’s not so far from town, but we do live on a dirt road that has been appropriately named for its notoriety for getting cars, trucks and trailers stuck in deep snow or mud. Personally, we have only experienced the snow trap (at great expense) and this spring when the snow melts we will see the full extent of the mud problem.

However, there are benefits to living off the beaten road and having several acres of wild Alaskan land. For instance, we sometimes get to see the auroras off our porch.

Aurora from home

And we occasionally get visitors to our yard.

watching the moose

Moose cow and calf

And sometimes those visitors decide to sleep in our yard overnight and stop at our place the next day for breakfast. Chloe and Connor go nuts when we see moose – and this results in much barking, whining and leaving of nose prints all over the glass windows. However, they will listen to voice commands to leave them alone when they are outside with the moose, which I can imagine is difficult for them because their first instinct is to chase it. Fortunately the moose are large enough to be intimidating up close.

connor is vigilant

Arguably there’s a price for living out in the sticks – but so far we really like it and we would love to be able to share the experience with others.

A girl and her dog – journey 4150 miles in 8.5 days to Alaska

In dogs, life, travel, Uncategorized on October 29, 2012 at 3:29 am

It has been a while – but Connor and I are currently in Alaska. We made the trek together in late August/September and it was quite an adventure. I am a pretty wimpy driver. Before attempting the drive from northern Virginia to Fairbanks, Alaska the furthest solo drive I made was only 4 hours long. Needless to say, this road trip was beyond my tested endurance levels, so I planned to cover no more than 550 miles a day, with 8 hours on the road.

Planning is key when setting daily goals. It also helps to set up pet-friendly hotel bookings in advance so that you have no surprises on your trip about whether your puppy would be welcome in your room. When traveling alone, I highly recommend bringing your puppy with you. Connor is no mean guard dog, but he’s big enough to make someone think twice about approaching me.

You cannot plan for every possible situation on such a long trip, but here is a check-list that may be helpful for future Alaska-bound travelers:

- Have a valid passport (and in visa/ green card) for border crossings

- Have a health certificate and rabies certificate for your dog completed within 30 days of travel

- Have roaming enabled for your cell phone for calls (I disabled data roaming services)

- Inform your credit card company that you will be traveling to Canada

- Join AAA (great for hotel discounts and car emergencies!)

- Check tires (including spare), carry a can of tire inflation slime in case of punctures

- Check all fluids (I carried spare windshield fluid, and engine oil)

- Have some windex and paper towels/ rag to clean your car as needed (I tried to wipe off the bugs from the bumper and windshield each night)

- Book hotels (especially important to ensure pets are welcome at your nightly stops)

- Have cash on hand (some gas stations in remote areas don’t accept cards)

- Have snacks and drinks packed (also for your dog)

- Enable satellite radio (I had a free trial subscription to SiriusXM) or have a good selection of CDs or music on your Ipod available. Satellite radio worked well all through the drive until I got to Tok, Alaska – at which point I had to change to cds/ my Ipod

- Have a good GPS (I had the one that came with the car and a GARMIN portable GPS – the car’s GPS worked reliably in rain or shine; unfortunately my GARMIN lost signal at inopportune times so I gave up using it after the first day)

- Carry something for self defense (just in case – I had easy access to several self-defense ‘tools’)

- Carry a first aid kit, and sleeping bag

- Have a copy of the Milepost. Incredible resource for navigating the Alaska Highway.

Here’s Connor at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Boy did we have a drive ahead of us!

Finally, there are a few things I learned during our trip:

  • Road trips are better when you have company – even if he sleeps through most of it.
  • Make frequent stops to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery. You may never be back in the same place again.

  • Yes, you can make it through bumpy rough roads and scary fog. If you quit in the middle, you’re simply stuck in the middle of nowhere. Just take a deep breath and carry on.
  • Be prepared for good and bad things to happen. Sometimes you just have to roll with it
  • Don’t pass up an opportunity to stop for food, ask for directions or take a bathroom break – especially the further north you get. Sometime opportunities are few and far between.
  • Keep a camera in easy reach, and take lots of pictures! Pictures can help you remember  what you’ve done and how far you came.


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