March 2006

written by Kathy Sarns Irwin ~ photos by Kathy and Pat Irwin


We had a mix of hard SASTRUGI and soft smooth snow, not bad riding but not easy either. It was work for me. As the day wore on the wind picked up, a constant cold reminder that if you sat down too long you would die. We hugged the bluff that separated us from Kotzebue Sound and noticed that the snow machine tracks did not take any short cuts across the open areas. If there was a curve in the peninsula, they hugged the land. No short cuts. We paid attention to this and did the same. We also noticed that the snow machine tracks were like a wild animals' tracks. They did not wander or do random loops like the recreational riders near Anchorage. The people out here had a purpose and they did not waste time or energy. Another reminder that this was not a recreational hub.

As we came around the windy curve of one of the many extended frozen bays, we saw a gray weathered cross standing in the snow up on the land. There was nothing else around except snow and wind. We got off our bikes and walked over to look.

Her name was Alice, and she died in 1952, eight years before I was born. The wind picked up around us and I felt tears forming and was not sure why. Was it the wind bothering my eyes? It felt very sad here.

Later we would talk to our friend Dick Griffith who had skied by here in the 80s on his trip across Alaska and Canada. And the first thing he asked was if we had seen Alice's grave. He shook his head and said, "That was so sad."

The thought of that place haunts me as I write this. Knowing her grave is out there all alone right now, the wind playing a sad melody, reminding me of my own mortality.

We paid our respects with our silent prayers and rode away into the white wilderness, our lives forever touched by Alice.