Lots of money was made gold panning up here. The tourists come back every summer for it.
Having successfully escaped Kotzebue, we flew to Nome. I know this is going to shock you as much as it did me but the flight actually departed and arrived on time. I nearly fell out of my seat! They even had my bags, I was awe-struck...I figured my odds of winning the lottery were better. We received a warm greeting in Nome where the FAA sent over one of their technicians to meet us, give us directions, and assign us a government owned vehicle. He gave us a tour of the facilities and proceeded to give us the low-down on Nome. He was your typical ex-military type: thin as a rail, smoked a lot, had a moustache and use the f-word more often than any other word in his sentences. All in all, he was a very nice guy and more than happy to tell us all about the town. We asked him for directions to the hotel and he said, "jump in the car" it is easier to show you. 15 minutes later we had done the full tour including a row of bars, the AC store (their local grocery / Wal-Mart hybrid), the good restaurants, et cetera.
Here's the Government vehicle I took way, way, way offroad
is definitely a "wet" town and was still reeling from the increased tourism due to the Iditarod finish. As a matter of fact the last person came in the morning we arrived, a full week behind the winner. She received the coveted "Red Lantern" award which signifies that all the mushers have arrived. This year was particularly tough on Iditarod mushers as the field was whittled down from 86 to 53 during the course of the race. They were out in -60s and -70s, got lost, stuck, and hurt. It takes and incredibly dedicated person and dog sled team to accomplish that.
We loaded up our equipment and got to work setting up. No problem there and we were done in no time. Eric indicated an area slightly out of town where a herd of reindeer had been spotted in recent days. We drove all over the city and went to the end of every road. When we were in the area where the reindeer had been spotted, we stopped at the end of the road and decided to continue on the ice. The Government vehicle we had been assigned had 4-wheel drive and a CB so if we
Here's the official Iditarod finish line. The last musher finished this morning.
got in trouble we could always call Eric for help, which he half-expected.
Neither of the other two in my party had driven a 4-wheel drive vehicle. I offered to drive but they mocked me saying, "Oh sure, we're going to let the San Diego guy drive!" After about three minutes that's exactly what they did. I drove for about five miles until the road was truly undriveable (lots of fresh snow for me to sink into). We slid all over the place -- sideways, downhill, and nearly got stuck a couple of times. When the wheels started spinning I would give it more and more gas figuring that we had a better chance if we kept our momentum. We never did get stuck and, while it was a very bumpy ride, it was a lot of fun. We went back into town without having spotted the elusive reindeer and went back to work. We spent a couple of hours tidying up there and we were done.
That evening there was a dinner for the final mushers that we wanted to attend. However they did not have enough room and tables as almost the entire town of Nome
Road - but don't use
This road sign told us not to drive any farther. It says "If you must use this road: expect extreme cold / heavy snow, carry cold weather survival gear, tell someone where you are going." Needless to say the other guys weren't interested.
showed up for the event. I would like to think it was because of the end of Iditarod season for them but it was likely the Shrimp dinner for $10 that made it so popular.
We went to dinner at a real dive called "Fat Freddie's" since we couldn't get into the Iditarod banquet and all had Alaskan King Crab. It was good but not great. We're really hoping to get some great crab in Dutch Harbor which is the last stop on our trip. It's also the number 1 seafood port in the US so are chances are pretty good. After that we went to the Board of Trade bar which was founded by Wyatt Earp himself when he left Tombstone, Arizona. It was neat and full of memorabilia. Later on we went to a place called Airport Pizza, easily the best restaurant in town, and had desert and coffee. Eric, the local FAA guy I mentioned earlier, had invited us to a bar called ANB (Alaskan Native Bar) where he was playing in a pool tournament. He had been so hospitable and willing to help us that we felt we owed him a visit. We got bum
This is labeled the "Nome National Forest." It's a bunch of shrubs that were put out on the arctic ocean. They have an odd sense of humor
directions three times before we finally found it.
The pool tournament was over but he was there playing Texas Hold 'Em poker with a bunch of his friends. They invited us to play and since the buy in for 100 chips was only $5, we agreed. It was an elimination game so we kept playing until one guy had all the money. At one point I had to go to the bathroom and asked the bartender where it was. A lady at the bar yelled, "Just piss off the balcony." She turned out to be the Mayor of Nome. Different Breed.
We played for a long time until it was down to just me and the Mayor's husband, Terry. He and I had been doing very well and gotten very lucky throughout the evening. He ended up winning the last hand and we called it a night. Nome has been the best of the small cities we've visited, it had amenities, stop signs, and even a stoplight -- ok, not a stoplight -- but it was fun nonetheless and the people were genuinely nice.
The next day we jumped on a plane to Bethel via Anchorage. I started up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me and found out that he was a musher and had just finished his first Iditarod. His name was Bruce Linton and he finished 55th out of 58 but at 43 years old, I was duly impressed with his accomplishments. Not only had he run the Iditarod but is a three-time Ironman competitor and has diabetes. He is the only person to ever have finished both...very impressive. He told me about his journey and I was mesmerized by his stories. This year was his learning year, he just wanted to finish.
All in all Nome was a great stopover. Bethel will be in the next installment and is expected to disappoint. Stay tuned.
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