9 Essentials for Living in the Alaskan Bush

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A dog sled team training on the frozen Kuskokwim River

Now that we have lived here a couple years I find myself echoing some of the same advice to new teachers each fall. We learned the hard way, and I hope that the information I’ve collected here can help someone in the future avoid some of our mistakes. Albeit, most of our mistakes have turned into great stories, (like how you should ALWAYS choose priority shipping, or you will end up with a fridge containing only Jello and wild caught salmon) but they didn’t seem so funny at the time.

I’ve compiled a list of ‘essentials’ for anyone thinking of making the move to rural Alaska. Now, most of these I think would be pretty universal, but remember that Alaska is a HUGE state- and has a lot of diversity in its land. Make sure you do your research and ask questions about the specific location you will be moving to. We live in the Kuskokwim Delta of South West Alaska, and it is vastly different from say, the Northern Slope.

 

Essential #1: Good Quality Winter Gear

Don’t wait until you are here to get your winter gear. Cold weather comes early, and especially if you come from a more temperate climate, you are going to want that heavy coat sooner than others. Your winter gear needs to be from head to toe. Wind chills are intense and frostbite is a real threat. Think, Hat, Balaclava or face cover, Scarf, Heavy Coat (longer is better!), Snowpants or Snowskirt (my personal favorite!), wool socks and good snow boots.

If you haven’t had to buy good quality gear before, the price tags can be a little scary, but don’t skimp- try and shop sales, or if you know far enough ahead of time, see if you can get anything from last season. Online you can find great quality stuff from Lands End (my favorite) LLBean, or REI. There are also several stores in Anchorage that ship to the Bush and have a great selection.

 

Essential #2: Ice Cleats

Where we are at there is a ton of ice, and in the winter there is no plowing, so Ice Cleats are essential for walking anywhere in the village. We decided to skip the cheap elastic type pairs at a neighbor’s suggestion and got the heavy duty “Stabil-icers”. It has been worth every penny. They have held up great for two winters getting daily use. And when you have to go out and walk the dog multiple times a day they are a lifesaver. I had fallen several times in the week before they came in the mail, and not once since.

 

Essential #3: Good Rain Boots

The last clothing essential would be good rain boots. There is a lot of debate about brands, but really you just want to avoid the cheap pairs that will split after a few uses. It rains a lot in the spring (and right now in the fall!) and at least in South West Alaska that means mud- and lots of it. I literally only wear my rain boots and winter boots outside in Alaska. I have other shoes I keep at the school, but I avoid wearing them outside. Not everyone does this, but I have found I have to clean my shoes a lot less, and it is much simpler.

 

Essential #4: Blackout Curtains

Regardless of where you live in Alaska, there will be days where the sun is out longer than you want to be awake. Blackout curtains for at least your bedroom are lifesavers. I have them in every window in our apartment and try to close them before it gets too late, otherwise it is so easy to find yourself still awake and full of energy at 1am.

 

Essential #5: Candles/Lantern

Electricity isn’t always a given in the Bush. It can go in and out, and especially in the winter time you want to have alternate sources of light. We have multiple candles as well as a couple battery powered lanterns that have gotten a lot of use.

 

Essential #6: Extra Water

The water situation is different everywhere you go, but we have learned that it is important to have extra water at all times. We have piped water, but when things break it can be days before they are fixed or a part comes in. So we have containers with extra water for drinking as well as non-potable water for other uses.

 

Essential #7: Alaska Airlines Credit Card

While not strictly essential, you would be hard pressed to find someone out here who doesn’t take advantage of this card. Travel is expensive and airline miles are gold. In addition to miles you also earn an annual companion fare for only $99 plus tax. You pay an annual fee for the card, but it is more than worth it to us.

 

Essential #8: Amazon Prime

Another negotiable essential, but with recent changes to shipping rates for almost every company out there, Amazon Prime is becoming more and more my one stop shop for everything. Prime doesn’t guarantee two day shipping to us, but it does send priority, which means we get things in about a week if all goes well.

 

Essential #9: A Good Sense of Humor and Laid Back Attitude

Things are always in flux when traveling and living in the Bush. I was a serious type A personality prior to moving here, and it hasn’t always been easy, but relaxing my attitude and remembering to laugh has made this whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

 

Like I said before, Alaska is an extremely diverse state and not everywhere in the Bush is identical, so needs vary. What are some things that you have found to be essential? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

 

*I have not been compensated by any of the brands mentioned, I just seriously love their products! As with everything, you can take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Year Three Alaska

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Snack time on the first flight!

It has been a long time since my last post, but I have long since given up on the dream of writing over summer vacation- we are simply too busy soaking up every moment we can with friends and family. And that’s okay. At least I keep telling myself that!

It was a long trip back, with an overnight in Anchorage, and I was really nervous about traveling with a 10 month old. The baby has been flying since he was only 4 days old, but now that he is mobile I can’t just strap him in the carrier and bank on him sleeping on our 4(!) flights back to the village from the east coast. Lucky enough on our first flight there were enough open seats that the other person in our row opted to move. It’s a six-ish hour flight from Newark, NJ to Seattle, WA, so having the extra seat in our row was a godsend. If tickets weren’t so expensive I would just book the baby his own seat.

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Baby Boy loved looking out the plane window!

Once we got back into Alaska, we had a 14 hour layover in Anchorage. We learned that there is a little known rule in the fine print that if you have a layover longer than 12 hours Alaska airlines short checks your luggage. For us that was almost 200lbs including a cooler that had to be frozen. After paying to keep our luggage in the storage at the airport until the morning, we called our hotel and grabbed a shuttle downtown. We have stayed in teh airport during long layovers before, but figured that it would be more comfortable to get a hotel. It was seriously the best decision we could have made. We were all able to relax, shower, and even go shopping downtown. We stopped in at GCI and got new phones. Our old ones wouldn’t connect to the 3g in the village, even though it has been available for about a year and a half now. New iPhones in hand, we are now connected!

The next day we left the hotel at 3:30am on the first shuttle, and headed back to the airport. We dealt with our luggage, and back through security again, and we were on our way. We arrived in Bethel on the first flight, and then took a shuttle over to our favorite charter service Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures. It’s refreshing to deal with great customer service, and it doesn’t hurt that they tend to run on time, and cost less than the other airlines to the village!

Unfortunately we were on weather hold due to fog- something that is rather common in South West Alaska. After a couple hours the fog lifted enough to take the short hop to Napaskiak. It was still pretty low though, and even in our tiny busy plane we were skimming the bottom of the clouds!

We have finally settled back in to the beginning of our third year here in Napaskiak. Although I haven’t put away the suitcases yet, they are (mostly!) empty, and our boxes with food and household goods have started arriving. I didn’t do an inventory at the end of the year like I did at the end of our first year, and I thought it would be okay. Mostly we are okay, but I did run out of canned potatoes, and I didn’t buy any over the summer. So only one thing isn’t too bad, but it’s surprising how many recipes call for potatoes!

It got me thinking about how influential the way we grow up is on things like how you cook. I was so used to hearty Irish cooking, that dinner to me is usually some variation on ‘meat and potatoes’. If Alaska has taught me anything, it is certainly how to be flexible and think outside my normal cooking box. And now with an almost 1 year old, I’m even more conscious of creating meals that tick all the nutritional boxes, while dealing with a limited supply of food- particularly fresh foods.

I have a cook book that really frustrated me in the desert section too. Normally I love ‘easy’ recipes that use ingredients that everyone has, but here I tend to make all baked goods from scratch. It’s just more sensible money wise to buy staple ingredients in bulk that can be baked into anything as opposed to premade mixes. However this cookbook is all about starting with cake mixes! It drove me up a wall. I did look up how to make my own premade cake mix, and I think I’m going to have to put some together in jars or ziplocks or something.

In other news, Nathan has started teaching, and finished the first full week of classes today. It is so exciting to see him grow in confidence as a teacher- the difference I see in him (and his overall demeanor) from year one to now is amazing. Teachers don’t get enough credit- I swear it is one of the hardest jobs out there, and it takes a special person to go in every day into what can be a battlefield and foster learning and growth in their students, not to mention dealing with the enormous mountain of bureaucracy and paperwork on top of it all! So a huge thanks to all the teachers out there! You guys rock!

The new school is coming along too. We took a tour of it the other day, and even though things need to be finished, it is beautiful, and huge! Nathan will be able to teach all of his classes in his room without having to move because there aren’t enough desks. And the library is beautiful! The library now is located in the lobby of the old school, and there simply isn’t enough room. I went in the first week to organize the books that had been messed up over the summer, and it took two days. Having a separate space for the books away from just anyone who passes through the school will hopefully help with the organization.

They are hoping to be in the new school before too long, so we are going to keep our fingers crossed that everything keeps going well! I plan on a bigger post (with lots of pictures!) about the evolution of the school construction once it’s open.