Last weekend (Valentines weekend) I went out for a drive to test out my new sled and
see if it will hold up to the trail before being loaded. It also gave me a chance to try out my impromptu 22 gun sock/ strap. All I did was zip tie the legs and loops of an old pair of pants together which created a sleeve for the gun to go in giving it some protection and creating a loop for me to put over my shoulder. I ended up putting it in the basket on the back of the snow go with my snowshoes and go bag. My plan was to just head out maybe to the dump and back and possibly a little further. I brought a fellow teacher, Kelly, along
who suggested that we take the Ambler trail for a ways.
About 7 miles down the road. Kelly taps on me and says, “Let’s go to Ambler!” I had not planned on going but since I had my go bag and it was Saturday I figured why not?
9 miles out of Shungnak we came on two Skier/Mushers from Norway. They were on a trip along the Brooks Range. They started in Kotzebue and had been slowly working their way along the trails, staying in schools when in villages and tenting it when on the trail. Their ultimate goal was to continue much further but circumstances back home had forced them to set a new end point for their trip in Kobuk.
Given the distance they were unsure if they would make Shungnak before evening but were sure they would be in on the following day if not. They also mentioned that there had been a high volume of traffic coming from Shungnak towards Ambler which I attributed to the funeral we had had the day before.
We had heard about a woman who had been hit by a drunk driver on the Ambler trail a few days earlier. Almost exactly 10 miles from Ambler we came on a the wreckage. I am told that one or both of the drivers were driving very fast and one or both also did not have head lights (the wreck happened at night). I am also told that one or more of the Ambler high schoolers were present, though not drivers as well as the woman’s young child. Out of respect I am not going to post pictures of the wreck but I will say it was a strong reminder to be mindful of safe driving and of other drivers. The front end was fairly collapsed and the skis were bent backwards. I do not know where the other snow mobile was but I assume it was removed from the sight.
I have since learned that life support was discontinued and so there will soon be another funeral. This woman was roughly my age. She had children. She was the cook for the school and for a time worked at the post office. It is sad what happened and I know that it will effect the community as deaths often do.
Another half mile down the road. We came upon another wreck. This one of a plane which had crashed in the Brooks Range years ago. Apparently it had been dragged down to the main trail, for what reason I am unsure, and there it sits. There were many names carved in the paint, some I even recognized. I found part of the fuselage, a wing, and part of the tail section.
After a short bit of confusion when the trail diverted from the trail markers (short cut), we got out first view of Ambler. Driving through, it looked much the same as the other villages, though perhaps a bit larger. The last census put the population almost identical to Shungnak so maybe it was just because it was different.
While the town might not have been larger, the school definitely was. I was very impressed by all the shoes hanging on the line outside. Then I walked into the school and was blown away by the entrance. If Kobuk school looked like a hotel entrence then Ambler looks like a lodge. It was complete with a mix of local and thematic art as well as a display case featuring many unique pieces.
The more villages I visit the more I think that our school entryway needs to be upgraded. We don’t have a bad entrance but if we don’t want to be shown up we might need some upgrades.
We got the grand tour from the principal. The school has roughly the same number of students we do however it was built to house not quite twice what we were. They have many amenities which we do not including Kelly’s personal dream, a functioning library. I also noticed that they had real walls with room labels on them rather than the movable walls we have. While movable walls are nice, and the magnetic factor can be helpful, I prefer the clean white wall color which makes posters and pictures pop and makes the whole place look brighter.
Continuing with the tour we saw the office which continued with the open looking theme. I thought it looked great, like the front desk of any professional business. W have an office also but it is in its own room which just gives a little more of a closed off feeling.
More than anything I think it was the hallways that helped with the open and generally bright feeling of the place. White walls to give a bright background, colorful posters both butcher paper and laminated and wide. I don’t know how wide they actually were but they felt twice as wide. I also noticed that the halls and many of the classrooms had white tile floors. Kobuk had tile also and I think that the shine and reflection adds something to the brightness of the place. And all posters, banners, wood signs and most bulletin boards were all following the yellow and blue color scheme.
Something else they have that we don’t, a cafeteria. Originally it was the gym but when a new gym was built this one was retained for meals and as an alternate when the new gym is in use.
Just like Shungnak, the teacher housing was, at one time, the old school. It has since been remodeled into functional rentals for the teachers. And provides for a short commute and ensures that space is available for the teachers.
After the tour we went to Ambler’s main attraction, the lodge. Although it was not significantly larger than our store, it had a variety of things we did not. In the back there were different kinds of nails, screws and fasteners on a revolving display. In the front a gun rack with rifles and shotguns and in between all kinds of odds and ends including some professionally tanned furs.
But the best part of the lodge was behind the counter where there was a grill. Here you could order from a reasonably diverse menu and have a hot meal. I got a bacon cheese burger, my first since Christmas. With fries it was $20 and worth every penny. The patties were quite large and really good.
They also have rooms which can be rented although we did not get a chance to see them or ask how much they cost.
At this point the principal asks if we were planning to stay the night. I laughingly told him that we had not planned that far since we didn’t even know we were coming until we were 20 minutes down the trail. We went back and forth on it several times but by the time we had visited with friends on staff it was starting to get dark. We were also told that there would be a charity basketball game to raise money for the family of the woman who had died in the snowmobile crash we had passed (which explained the traffic the skiers had mentioned). So we decided to stay the night.
I was not overly worried about driving home in the dark .All the trail markers have reflectors on them which actually makes them easier to find in the dark as long as they are standing and it is a clear night. But thinking of the wreck and knowing there would likely be many people traveling and that it might be better to be sure I could see them coming, staying just seemed like the best plan.
So we settled in to watch the game. The gym was separate from the rest of the school and was known as the ‘Grizzly Den’, their maskot being the Grizzlys. Here too it was the little touches that stood out to me. The carved wood sign. The large professionally done lettering on the walls. It all brought the place together.
The first game in the series was elementary or peewee basket ball. For this they brought out yet another item I would like to see back home, a hoop extension. This backboard and hoop attached to the regulation hoop and made it a couple feet lower so that the younger kids who could not throw as high had a reasonable chance of making shots. I need to look into pricing for these because they seem like they would be a good investment.
After the game we got set up in the school. Kelly found a fold down chair in the library and fell asleep dreaming of books and I found a roll away bed in the science room. I should point out that the science room was home not only to a number of microscopes in glass cases but also a chemical stock room and fume hood! We have the microscopes but no glass cabinets anywhere in the school. And although we have some chemical supplies and a chem cupboard, I could only dream of a stock room. And there are no words for what could be done with a fume hood. I can’t imagine what it cost. I am told that several sights have them and in some places they are being used to store papers! I would kill for one and I don’t even teach high school. Do I sound like I am gushing, because I am.
The next morning we took of at first light which this time of year is about 930am. There was a decent amount of snow coming down as we left but we soon left it behind. The sunrise was absolutely stunning. The pictures don’t really do it justice. The horizon was filled with pink and the sun itself looked like a huge camp fire on the horizon.
Just out of town we saw a moose down the rive. He watched us for a while. We watched it for a while. Then it skipped off across the frozen river and off on its way.
Poor Kelly had to put up with my frequent picture stops. As I pointed out we were on a picture tour and every hill provided a stunning landscape. Every turn down the trail gave a new angle of the sun’s pink glowing reflection off the snow.
We passed the Skiers about 5 miles from Shungnak but they made it in in the mid afternoon.
I have a odometer on my snowgo and a watch on my wrist. School to school the trip was 25.5 miles one way. One way, with all the photo stops and pulling a sled, took a little more than an hour. And round trip took a little less than half a tank of gas. We will have to go back soon, I am already hungry for another burger!