Utilidor, school, NAPA, Brower’s Cafe, a bus ride, and the airport: last day around town in Barrow

Please don’t laugh and don’t scoff

Today we took the day off

     We travelled round town

     And toured underground

The famous Utilidor trough.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I just finished an assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

Bethany and I took the day off today and went around Barrow. 

We slept in, ate breakfast, and went to Barrow Utilities and Electric Cooperative, Inc.; they supply water, gas, electric, and sewer service in an area notable for technical difficulty.  We asked for and received a tour of the Utilidor.  Really an engineering marvel, it deserves a post of its own during the next week.  In short: the water pipes don’t freeze in the permafrost because the water circulates.

With temperatures soaring close to positive Fahrenheit and minus 15 Celsius, we walked with our hoods down, and I unzipped my parka.

We stopped at the elementary school where Bethany has been teaching. In a climate as unforgiving as the deep Arctic, and with polar bears a real consideration, the school includes a very large indoor playground.  She picked up her pay slip, and said her goodbyes.  I talked to a woman from South Africa who enjoys picking up a few words of a lot of languages, and taught her a very short joke in Spanish.  I spoke with one of Bethany’s colleagues, originally from Mexico, in English and Spanish.  We turned down offers of lunch (shepherd’s pie, a popular dish here).

We walked another mile to the NAPA store, which will also get its own post later in the week.  I learned more about whaling, and found out one must pass an FBI background check to purchase most whaling supplies.

We decided for lunch at Brower’s Café.  The building, erected in 1881 as a shelter for stranded whalers, now functions as a very decent restaurant, with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American dishes.  I introduced Bethany to the cook, a man who coached batting for the Mariners for twenty-five years, retired, and decided he disliked doing nothing.  We ate a very good chicken curry.

Out back of Brower’s Café we found the whale bone arch we’d posed at this summer, and had our picture taken, again.

Winter at the Brower's Cafe whale bone arches


The two bones in the background came from a bowhead whale; they stand outside of Brower's Cafe in Barrow, Alaska

Another mile into the heart of Barrow’s business district, I stepped into the Wells Fargo Bank, the northernmost bank in the country, the only such financial institution on Alaska’s north slope, serving an area the size of Wyoming.  From here, all finances go south.

Then we just rode the bus around Barrow.  The town has a public transportation system consisting of a couple of small buses that run one fixed route, including housing five miles outside of town.  Elders, like us, ride for free. 

We got off by the airport in an unsuccessful bid to 1) photograph the sticky hangar door made world-famous in Discovery Channel’s show Flying Wild Alaska and 2) check in early.

But we walked back to the hospital housing, well exercised and ready for supper.

Packing after six weeks went easier than I had hoped but came with emotional difficulty.  Well-wishers stopped in to see us one last time before we left.

I’ve enjoyed my time here.  I don’t have plans to come back but I won’t rule it out. Life is too full of uncertainties.


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