I wondered what resources would be available to me. I was accustomed to shopping at a store where I picked up groceries each week. Now we were headed to a village that had no stores and received everything by airplane or a yearly barge order which I had missed. The idea of how many pounds of salt, sugar, flour, rice, or beans we would eat in a month never entered my mind. Now I needed to figure out stores in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Bethel to order from and hope that not everything would sit in a warehouse freezing. Dry goods would weather the temperatures, but not canned goods. I learned about Milkman, a dry milk, that was really good cold. How much of that should I order? Geez!
Since we had a two-hour layover in Bethel, the midway point to Marshall, our new home, we considered taking a taxi to the store and grabbing last minute items. However, traveling with a dog and cat in tow made everything a bit more challenging. Finally, a decision was made to schlep a box of groceries from Anchorage – what was one more box with all the stuff we had to cart with us? There were no hotels or restaurants to stay at while we setup a place to live.
The morning of August 24, 1972 we took off from Anchorage to Bethel. The flight was not always on a 737 jet but today there was a lot of freight (had our endless boxes been the tipping point?). Interestingly, when there was more freight than people the first 10-12 rows of the plane were utilized for the extra mail, boxes, and other large items. We found this a little strange but the differences in Alaska were so many we just accepted this as another part of the new normal we were beginning to understand. As the flight took off each of us took a deep breath and realized that we were very ready to finally settle into our new home. There were still many unknowns in this adventure we had committed ourselves to doing.
As we flew into Bethel the terrain seemed very flat; however, someone on the plane pointed to a spot they referred to as a forest. Stretching our necks to see where they were pointing, we heard snickering from where they sat. While we were gathering our pets, boxes and baggage to transport to the next-door smaller airlines, the pilot explained “Bethel had one tree with a little fence around it with a sign that said Bethel National Forest.”
The final task of our journey was helping load our luggage, boxes, cat carrier, and dog onto the smaller mail plane. An interesting factoid I learned about travel in bush Alaska was that dogs just jump on the plane as a passenger. The owner is responsible to hold the dog and keep the animal under control. Hidalgo was easy. Labrador retrievers just want everyone to be happy, including the pilot, so he will do anything to get the plane moving.
Flying in a small plane also involves being asked the question, “how much do you weigh?” Small planes are based on weight and how it is distributed, as well as the gross number of total pounds. I learned quickly this is not a time to be shy and take off the 5-10 pounds you are always trying to lose. Boxes, bags and freight were weighed on a scale but people are just asked. You could always tell, the people who were new to flying in bush Alaska because they would whisper their weight. I am a small person but I always added 10-15 pounds to my weight to make up for the person I knew was lying about their weight.
After everything was loaded and arranged – passengers, boxes and bags, dog, cat (who was constantly meowing), and the community mailbags – onto the Cessna 210 Sky wagon, it was ready to take off. The plane was full and we were glad we didn’t need to camp in the Bethel National Forest.
I rested my head against the side of the plane and began to think about where we would sleep that night. Would we have easy access to running water since many villages along the Yukon did not have plumbing? Had I planned enough food to get us by until the first order would arrive? How would we get our stuff to our new home? What would it look like? So many unknowns, no wonder I hadn’t slept much the night before. In an odd way I felt ready.