Alaska is home to many native people and in turn corporations for their people. One particular group, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, who represents the Inupiat people in the farthest northern reaches of Alaska, has employed a small group of us (headed by head women's basketball coach, Ryan McCarthy of UAA) to run a series of camps throughout their villages.
Our first stop has taken us to Point Lay, Alaska. A village of 247 people bordered by the Arctic ocean to the north and large expanses of tundra and mountains to the south. It is one of the most isolated places in the world, and we are here to share the one thing we have in common with the Inupiat people, our love for basketball.
Anchorage to Point Lay
Our adventure began in Anchorage, well unless you're our 5th man, Garry who flew all the way from Washington D.C. to come do camp with us. Garry is Ryan's agent (yes coaches can have agents too), and is apparently a no mercy card player. We began our first day of travel with a 6:05am departure from Anchorage to Kotzebue. "Kotz" as the locals abbreviate it to, is a village on the "nose" of Alaska. Think Sarah Palin's famous line of "I can see Russia from my house", which is less applicable to her home in Wasilla, but more realistic to say from Kotzebue (however you still can't actually see Russia).
We arrived a little over an hour later, landing on a miniature runway bordered by water on one end and a hill on the other, that required 80-90% of the airplane's breaks to stop in time (typically on a normal size runway the planes only require 20% to stop). With all our gear a trek to the nearest restaurant seemed daunting. Thankfully, we were offered a ride from a local, which isn't surprising in a small community such as Kotz, as the only way the residents survive the year is by working together. For example, in Barrow, Alaska where Alysha Devine, one of our camp team members was raised from ages 4-11, the villagers kill a whale once every year to help feed the community through the winter (more on this in the next post).
Our pilot was meant to pick us up shortly after we landed from Anchorage, but due to fog he couldn't land, leaving us abandoned at the same little restaurant for breakfast and lunch, a lifetime first for all of us. Finally, after 6 hours of waiting, he made it in to carry us away to Point Lay.
Now, basketball players and coaches are not small people. The average height of our group towers at 6'0", and the small plane that we were to squeeze into looked like it was designed for children. Claustrophobic? Slightly.
The engines revved up regardless of our anxiety, and we lifted into the sky for an amazing view of the village below. We flew past Red Dog Mine, over the Brooks Range, and finally to the small village of Point Lay on the northern most coast in Alaska. The Arctic Ocean looked chilly as we circled the runway where a beautiful, natural breakwater sheltered the town.
Our guy Steven, the building manager for the school, picked us up from the gravel runway and drove us through the main road of town (it took 3 minutes from start to finish). We passed the one store in town, where a gallon of milk will knock $10 from your wallet, and then through two neighborhoods in town. We were amazed to see more bikes than people scattered about, and even a few dogs, which apparently stay outdoors during the frigate winters where temperatures drop so low it no longer snows, the ocean freezes, and cars don't start.
Stay tuned for more of our Top of the World camp experience, where we hope to bridge a relationship through basketball, with people whose way of lives are far different from our own.