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Back to Alaska

Just returned from a carefully planned week in Alaska that did not go as expected. The main purpose for the trip was a three-day excursion to the North Slope, the state’s largest borough in land mass, covering the northern fifth of the state. Travel and accommodations had been arranged a month earlier and I was especially looking forward to the jaunt above the arctic circle.

I traveled from Denver to Anchorage (where I had lived a year, 2009 -2010) for a short layover then proceeded to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second largest city, arriving Sunday afternoon, August 6th. Monday was a day for resting, seeing Fairbanks, and getting ready for what was next.

Tuesday I got up early to get to the Air Service that flew Cessnas to the many small towns and villages covering mid and upper Alaska. Required to be there at 7:00 AM, (even though my plane to Nuiqsut did not leave until 8:30) I was on time, checking in my luggage: a backpack and camera tripod.

A month earlier I had arranged with the air service for a flight to the North Slope to leave Fairbanks on Tuesday morning and return on Thursday. But that Tuesday, after waiting nearly two hours in the small building, the flight was cancelled because of weather conditions at the destination. Ricky, the young man at the service counter, explained the decision whether to “go or not go” is made at the last minute based on the latest weather information. He suggested I come back the following day and try again, and if the weather cooperated, I might get out. If there was any chance to get to Nuiqsut, I was determined to try. I said I would be back.

My original plans for a two night stay in Nuiqsut allowed a full day to explore the small town. But now I had to change my itinerary; if I could get there on Wednesday, I would stay just one night and head back for Fairbanks the following day on the return flight still in effect.

On Tuesday I was again at the air service at 7:00 AM and checked in my two items of luggage. Restless, I went outside to watch the planes being fueled, some being loaded with freight. Back inside at 8:15, Ricky told me the flight to Deadhorse (at Prudhoe Bay) looked good. From there I would catch another plane for the short hop to Nuiqsut. A guarded sense of excitement welled within me. I’d seen other passengers boarding one of the many Cessna Caravans crowding the tarmac behind the small building and flying away hither and yon across the midsection of Alaska. I began imagining myself on one of the small planes, gazing over the landscape, passing from boreal forest to tundra and onward to the northernmost rim of the continent.

But it was not to be. Fifteen minutes after I’d spoken to Ricky, he called me back to the counter, saying the flight was cancelled because of “low ceiling [at the destination] near the ocean where a lot of cloud cover gathers” that may obscure a landing. Although I could have made another attempt on Thursday, I decided flights to Nuiqsut were too unpredictable and even if I made it to the North Slope I could not risk being stuck there and not making it back for my scheduled flight home Sunday evening.

I was disappointed but still had hope the Alaska trip would be of value, that somehow I would get some new ideas for my next book. I don’t believe things happen by chance and that whatever happens is not as important as how one responds. I would try to get as much as I could from my time in Fairbanks.

As I’ve written previously, the Alaska trip was intended to “gather information and gain a vision of what’s ahead.” I’d hoped that once I got back home I would know “the direction to go” with the new book. Despite my failure to get to the North Slope, I believe the week in Alaska was worthwhile. There are many new ideas spinning in my head that were not there twelve days ago.

Fortunately, I’ve never (not yet anyway) had a problem with “writer’s block”. When I sit down at the computer I can usually spin a story the right direction and turn out a half page or more at a time. I never sit for more than forty-five minutes without getting up and roaming the house to stay limber and refresh my mind.

The book I’m working on is following a different track from my first novel. I won’t rely fully on the “by the seat of my pants” approach like last time. Rather I’m trying to learn from the criticisms made of Alaska Deadly, many levied in positive reader reviews. If nothing else, the trip to Alaska has stimulated a great deal of thought and self-scrutiny that I believe will help me in my work and result in a better book.

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