The first couple of windy nights were fascinating. The first couple of blizzards were enthralling, especially the big one we had last week. It was the worst that I have seen so far…in a way.
Even knowing that blizzards, ground blizzards, and windy days are a part of the full coastal arctic tundra experience, I had my hopes up for getting out on the plane I had scheduled for spring break.
I began checking the weather reports, almost religiously, as the 10-Day Forecast became available. It looked so promising. Then a blizzard came and went and I checked again and it looked debatable. A few days later, everything was a go. The winds would be strong, between 20-25mph, but they weren’t crosswinds, and I’ve learned that crosswinds are important factors.
Late Thursday night, I frantically packed up whatever I thought I would need for a week-long excursion in Anchorage. Snowboarding, hiking, bars, hot tubs, mass, and a LONG hot shower. I was over the moon. Spring break at freezing temperatures instead of single digits, sign me up!
I planned to use my lunch break to run home, eat and grab my bags and coveralls for the bush flight, so I left in my fairly usual morning hurry. As lunch rolled around, students kept stopping by the room to grab something they had forgotten, a coworker that was traveling with me was calling the bush flight to check us in* and was planning to buy the concert tickets we were thinking of attending. By the time I got out the door, I felt rushed and only had about 15 minutes left of my lunch break. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
I set aside the oranges that I was going to give my students during their earned classroom reward, as a snack. Then, I grabbed the fruit that would spoil while I was gone and threw it into my blender. I had planned to make a smoothie in the morning, but had dallied too much getting ready and pushed it back to lunch. I opened the freezer to grab the frozen strawberries and the tuna hotdish in my plastic Glad Tupperware shattered to pieces on the floor. I should have stopped there.
The fruit wouldn’t fit in the single serve cup, I had too much. The blender kept getting stuck on the skin of the apple and needed more of my attention than I was willing to spare. When I finally got the cup blended, I threw in another chunk of pear or orange and squeezed on the lid. Too full. I turned on the blender and smoothie flew out, raining over my stack of clean dishes and splattering across my face. The counter took on the appearance of a fruit massacre and I was running out of time. I cleaned it up, praying that it was tidy enough to leave for the week.
At this point, I was still planning on flying out.
There had been talk of a storm, but the skies were clearer than I had seen them in days and the wind was minimal. Sure, it was cold…but this is the arctic, that wasn’t abnormal.
By the time I had locked up and was traipsing back to school, it was time to get my kids. My coworker had been waiting on me to make the phone calls and I was a hot mess with no more time. He kindly noted my full name, weight, and luggage to make the call. I braced myself for an energy packed Friday afternoon before spring break. I hadn’t remembered to bring their snacks.
1:30 in the afternoon rolled around and my students were enthralled by the story of Beethoven, while I continued checking the weather…nothing new. I couldn’t find why everyone was saying that we were under a winter storm advisory. Then, another teacher in the building showed up.
“I don’t think you’ll make it out today.” She said, pointing me in the direction of the front doors. (My classroom doesn’t have windows or a visual of a window to the outer world.)
Sure, it was blustery, I thought, but I’ve still got a few hours…and the sky is blue and clear…it is just a ground blizzard!
Then parents started showing up, taking their kids one by one…that is what I’ve noticed is blizzard release protocol. The younger students wait for their adults to pick them up at school and they all walk/ride home together. The older students are wished luck and given help if they need it.
3:00 p.m. Our 4:00 flight still wasn’t cancelled. The coworker traveling with me and I spent my P.E. time discussing the likelihood of getting out in between catching and throwing Frisbees with the students. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but a girl can dream, right?
Then 3:30 dismissal rolled around and I watched as the village adults showed up to gather their children, wind blew so strongly into the cunnychuck that it lowered the temperature and the visibility in the front hallway. Snow was everywhere. It was chilling, and exhilarating…but also it didn’t look promising for me.
When I made eye contact with my coworker, he shook his head and sliced the air twice with his hand. Cancelled.
Time to reschedule.
Thankfully, the bush plane company that I had booked, let’s you keep unused passages on file for up to a year, almost like a credit to the company. The flights go on file if you have a cancellation or if you call them and let them know you’ve had a change of plans. They never change price, so you don’t have to worry about paying the difference.
I had prepared for the worst and I bought flight insurance, for the first time ever, for my jet airplane. It was easy enough to reschedule, the only problem was…that the next available jet wasn’t going out until Sunday morning.
That’s not too bad, one would think. HOWEVER, there is no possible way to get to our borough’s hub, Kotzebue, from my village by the time the morning jet leaves. The only way to make the Sunday morning jet, is to fly into Kotz on Saturday and spend the night.
Still not too bad. Okay, not really, except that hotels are around $250-$280 a night and they are hard to come by, especially during spring break, and with bad weather.
I checked with coworkers, but their contacts were headed out of town. I checked Airbnb, but most of the places under $200 were booked. Then, I stumbled upon a place that would cost me the same as a hotel, about $250, but was someone that my coworkers knew and trusted. (I realized later, that I had met the wife of the man running the Airbnb already!)
Now my flights are rebooked and I have a place to stay in Kotz (which ended up being cheaper than I expected). I have more time to use up vegetables and clean my house. I get to read into the late evening and sleep in before shoveling and trudging to school to start everything all over again.
I plan on trying to fly standby on Saturday night! So, here’s to hoping I get out sooner rather than later, but here’s to “knowing” that I’ll be exploring Anchorage with a friend come Sunday afternoon (weather permitting). Stay tuned.
*Checking in on the bush flight just meant calling the local agent at the airport and telling her my weight and the weight/number of my bags.
Side note: Rescheduling everything was actually SUPER easy, just a few phones calls and the customer service for Ravn and Alaska Airlines were fantastic! I almost feel as if I didn’t do it right, because it went so smooth (switching my Ravn flight consisted of giving my name and the woman on the other end saying, “okay, you’re all set”). Stay tuned to see if it all works! The only frustrating part is the timeline, but that is just a part of living in a remote location. This flight cancellation has been one of the smoothest that I’ve had and although I’m bummed, I’ve come to peace with it…I almost expected it…it’s like a rite of passage.
Also, a huge shout-out to my coworkers. They sat in my classroom with me after school for a few hours as I went through my options and got everything sorted. They texted the Airbnb owners and made sure all of that got situated. They also volunteered to take me by sno-go to the airport and gave me the number and the time I would need to call to check in. THEY ARE AMAZING.