Noatak / by Caroline Van Hemert

We are on a quick stop for coffee and conversation at the Noatak Bingo Hall before heading out on our last 78 miles to Kotzebue.  Yesterday, in heavy rain and wind, the smell of wood smoke beckoned from the first cabin we’d seen on the river.  Ricky Ashby welcomed us with hot tea and caribou soup as we relaxed in his hand carved chairs.  He lives here alone for most of the year with no motors, no communication, subsisting on berries, fish and caribou.  He knew the many stops along our journey well, his extended family scattered throughout the arctic.  He told us a story of travel that would humble any modern day adventurer.  In the 1930’s, his grandparents, Inupiat from Noatak village, took a dog team to Wrangell Island in search of fox furs.  While on this reconnaissance  trip the Russian border closed and they were stranded on the wrong side.  They were forced to make their way around the globe, an epic journey that took them through Moscow, Tokyo, London, New York and Seattle.  Finally, two years later they returned home.  We never cease to be amazed.