FIRST TRIP to Alaska: Sam B.

In Travel Stories by scott

Rosemary B. at the “arrivals terminal” in Hooper Bay, waiting for a ride (1976).

“During the summer of 1976, we were living in Phoenix, sweltering in the heat. To escape our situation, we thought, why not Alaska. We didn’t have the funds for a trip, but maybe we could find a job. A newly formed REAA, the Lower Yukon School District, was advertising for teachers. After sending a request for applications, instead, we received back contracts for positions in Hooper Bay. We had to look it up on the map. We can do this!

“Sometime in late August, we jumped on a Western Airlines flight to Anchorage. I will never forget getting off the plane and seeing the Chugach Mountains for the first time from the terminal. It was an awesome sight. Since that first landing, we have flown into Ted Stevens at least a couple hundred times, and when seeing the mountains, I always remember that first flight.

“After overnighting in some one-star hotel, we boarding a Wien Air Alaska flight to Bethel. After a short stay in Bethel, we got on a very small chartered plane for the flight to Hooper Bay. Expecting to see more mountains, we flew over miles and miles of nothing but flat, green tundra, pockmarked by hundreds of sloughs.

“On the way, I saw four small white specks on one of the sloughs and asked the pilot what they were. Claiming he did not know, we made an abrupt U-turn and rapidly descended about 2500 feet until we were about fifty feet off the ground. The specks turned out to be two pair of swans, our first swans. I’ve always believed that the pilot knew exactly what they were. He was just welcoming us to bush flight. Over the next ten years, we would have many memorable small plane flights over the Yukon Kuskokwim region and North Slope.

“I don’t exactly remember what we were expecting for our arrival in Hooper Bay, but whatever it was, we were not prepared for what actually happened. The airport (of sorts) is about a mile from town, paralleling the Bering Sea. The runway was a rough, gravel strip of land. If you ran off the runway, you would end up in the sea. The terminal was a Wien shack, used to store mail and packages if no one was there to meet the mail plane.

“Upon landing, we unloaded our stuff and went to the locked shack to wait on a ride. We had been told that someone always comes out to meet a plane. Unfortunately, ours was not a scheduled mail flight, so no one bothered to make the trip out. Afterwards, we wondered if this was some sort of new teacher test.

“After waiting for an hour or so, we realized that a ride was likely not coming, so we loading up all our belongings and hiked into town. Even though it was late in the afternoon when we finally got into town, luckily, a secretary was still at the school who knew who we were, but was not expecting us. After a bit of scrambling, she was able to set us up in teacher housing, and our first full day in Alaska was over. It has been smooth sailing ever since.”

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