March 2006

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

8.The Ritz

A few hours after the moose hunter, we heard a couple of machines come up behind us. One of the men almost jumped off his machine before it stopped, he was so excited to see bicycles. His behavior was different than others we had met so far that were reserved with very few words.

They had thought we were on motorcycles because our tire tracks were so wide and thought that was crazy, but this was incredible! He went on to explain that it had already been a very unusual day, when he had gotten a early morning call from a sister whom he did not know he had. "she had been raised by white folks" he said and was so excited he had a new sister. We looked at this blue eyed, sandy haired man referring to "white folks" and realized we were in a land where we didn't know anything anymore.

His quiet friend just smiled and said nothing and eventually started burning garbage as we continued to talk about all kinds of things like how far to the shelter cabin and what are the chances of us missing the turn to go overland, and when will he meet his new found sister.

I had learned to put my down parka on as soon as we stopped, so I would not get hypothermic. After a while they left on their machines in a flurry of blowing snow. As we started out again I kept the coat on for a long time before I got warm again. After about about an hour we saw a message scratched into the snow for us, from them.

"God Bless You" it said.

A warm feeling washed over me knowing that we were not alone and these nice people were thinking good thoughts for us.

Since people had said there was a stove at the shelter cabin, we began to look for wood. We found 2 pieces in 5 hours, and strapped them carefully to our bikes.

We finally made a right turn up and over from ocean to land. And the wind from the Sound began to blow against us. I put my rain coat over all my layers to help keep the cold fingers of wind out.

(we were told it actually rains out here this time of year in between the sub zero temps, so we had brought rain coats) I had as many hats and face masks that I could wear. And the snow was terrible for riding, fine sugar and we were spinning in place. That was a very long 5 miles across. Eventually we began to drop down hill to the ocean, and when we saw the tiny cabin around 8pm it was like seeing the Ritz Carlton.

The cabin had been completely trashed by a brown bear the previous summer. Later we learned he had gotten in and couldn't get out so had broken all the windows and smashed the stove. So we put our two pieces of wood next to the other meager pieces of wood that had been wishfully stacked near the broken stove. Pat can fix anything and he could not fix that stove. I proceeded to sweep up the broken glass, spam cans, garbage, and torn up insulation. Thankfully there was part of a broom so we could clean up. And thank fully someone had replaced the windows. We don't think many people actually sleep here on purpose. So we made it nice for our stay. It felt HOT inside out of the wind- I didn't even put on my down jacket. Then when boiling water, some spilled on the table and it froze before it hit. So I guess it wasn't actually warm, but being out of the wind was such a relief!

That night around midnight a man stopped by to check on us, as he said he would as we had seen him near Kotzebue. He was hauling a boat all the way from Kotz to Buckland! He wanted to make sure we had made it to shelter cabin. We were thankful for his concern.

We slept well, and were glad that bears hibernate in winter.