Friday, July 18, 2014

Welcome to Tetlin, part 2

After meeting the couple we were replacing, as well as the two park rangers who are Athabascan Native Americans, we were back on the road to drive 83 more miles west to the refuge headquarters in Tok. The road is paved, although there are areas of damage due to frost heaves. It’s a beautiful drive. We arrived at HQ and parked in the RV spot at the end of a row of cabins used by seasonal employees and volunteers. 

Although the site has access to power and sewer, the placement of both made it rather difficult to decide where to park. We knew we had to buy a power cord extension for the site at the visitor’s center so we parked close to the power outlet and didn’t immediately worry about being close to the dump access. The HQ maintains a really nice bunkhouse, which includes a living area with wi-fi and satellite TV, a kitchen, 2 refrigerators, and a washer and dryer. It also has a large enclosed porch area and provides 3-4 mountain bikes for staff and volunteers to use as needed.

The next morning, we shopped for and found the extension cord at, of all places, the Three Bears grocery store. We moved the RV to the other side of the sewer pipe so we could dump and used our new extension cord to reach the power outlet. During the move, we pulled up alongside the building and filled our fresh water tank. Later in the day, a second large RV arrived. We assumed it belonged to the other volunteer couple who would be hosting the refuge campground at Deadman Lake.

Patty and Ward are from Florida and are veteran public land volunteers. They have two dogs both mixed breed and both 13 years old. Next to arrive was Les, the summer maintenance assistant. He is from Arlington, VA and had volunteered at the refuge back in 1986. He travels alone so he stays in one of the cabins. He was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam but doesn’t fly anymore. It was July 2nd and after hours so several scientists and other employees that live in the cabins milled about and we introduced ourselves. We found the showers and the laundry facilities so we were set.

We went out to dinner at Fast Eddies Restaurant for pizza and were delighted to find that both the food and service were great. We ran into Gail and Bill, the couple we were replacing, and their partners Cliff and Nancy, who would be replaced by Ward and Patty. They invited us to join them at the Alaska music show across the parking lot. Sure enough, Alaskan Sweetgrass was an acoustic trio including two of the refuge’s seasonal employees, brother and sister Huck and Jordan. Huck plays banjo, Jordan plays the fiddle and they are joined by a local songwriter/musician on guitar. The group entertained us with tales about the building of Alaska and the AlCan highway, as well as jokes, poetry and blue grass and folk music. It was very entertaining and a wonderful welcome to Alaska. We highly recommend the show, which occurs every night of the summer for 90 days straight in Tok.

The next morning we walked the dogs down a wonderful path recently completed behind the headquarters. Low bush cranberries were abundant but only a few appeared to be ripe. We now know that they won't be ripe until the fall.  Frances, of course, found the squirrels and Keila just wanted to sniff around because snowshoe hares were playing hide and go seek with her.  We met Kay Lynn, the volunteer coordinator that Kathy had been pen paling with for several months.

We headed to town and shopped for groceries, the extension cord, a sewer hose extension, and mosquito repellent.  We found everything we needed at the local grocery store, Three Bears Outpost, but decided not to buy the sewer hose just yet.  We decided to be tourists at one shop in town because we had heard of a 5 lb gold nugget at the Jack Wade Gold and Gift Shop.  We were friendly and inquisitive enough to get an invitation to visit her house to learn more about diamond willow.  We each held the 24 kt lump of expensive mineral..  We finished the day with a short bike ride in what is a very bike friendly town, Tok.

On July 4th, we skipped the parade and other festivities in town in order to drive back out to the center to spend more time with the Bill and Gail.  We stopped at the refuge pull outs and read the interpretive signs to help prepare ourselves, discussing our questions for the current volunteers.  Bill and Gail were enthusiastic, energetic, and welcoming although not entirely ready to leave. They had a wonderful summer, learned a lot and had a lot to share with us.  Bill took us on an interpretive hike down a trail behind the visitor center to a pair of old trappers cabins.  They were even more interesting and intriguing than Joy had imagined after reading about them in the literature Kay Lynn had provided.  Joy suggested we ask if we could help inventory the cabins' contents since they had never been emptied.

After more research, we discovered that the next big project the refuge was working on was cleaning out the cabins and rebuilding the roofs, making them safer so visitors can go inside them.  Joy offered to use her metal detector on the dirt floors to see if there are any other treasures hiding beneath their feet and the refuge director told her to go for it. Kathy learned about the sprinkler system for the grass roof, the generator, how to fix broken sinks and some of the store activities.

On Sunday we washed the Jeep and the RVs by hand and brush. It took most of the day to remove the "Yukon gold" and the 4000+ miles of bugs we'd collected. We used dryer sheets to remove the bugs and, with a little extra elbow grease, worked like a charm. We cleaned the inside too before realizing it was going to rain. We re-read some of our materials, jotted down a few questions and waited for the night to pass so we could anxiously begin our new lives as paid volunteers.

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