Alaskan Adventures

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Although I have spent the last eight weeks of my Summercise internship in Nome, I sometimes forget that I am actually in Alaska! This village by the Bering Sea is a treeless grid of dusty streets, dirt hills and run down houses. However, three dead end gravel roads lead out of town, winding through mountains, coastline, tundra, rivers and valleys. Since I am living without a vehicle during my internship, I feared I may miss out on some of the out of town beauty! Luckily, Nome is filled with generous people and I have been able to experience many breathtaking and exciting adventures!

During my second week in Nome, six of us interns met up with a few boys we met at our hospital orientation who were willing to take us out of town! We loaded up into two trucks and headed 25 miles out of town to Dorothy Falls. The boys failed to mention that we would have to cross the Nome River in order to hike up a mountain peak where we would be able to see the falls. Determined to reach the destination, I took off my hiking boots, slipped into a pair of Crocs, hiked up my pants and waded across the river. Let me mention that this was no babbling brook, but rather a waist deep, ice cold, rocky river with whitewater rapids. Rolling up our pants did next to nothing, as by the time we got across the river we were soaking wet past our belly buttons. After several minutes, we managed to cross the river losing just one pair of Ray Ban sunglasses and a pair of bright blue Crocs.

We trekked up to the mountain peak for another 40 minutes until we could see the highly anticipated rushing waterfall known as Dorothy Falls! Our guides convinced us that the best view was from the bottom of the mountain, just beneath the steep cliff below us. We had come so far, we might as well go all the way! Resembling six uncoordinated mountain goats, we descended down the cliff on our hands, knees and backsides. When we reached the base of the falls, we realized they were right. The sun had not yet melted all of the snow, as white patches scattered the verdant landscape. The falls crashed into the Nome River that we had crossed earlier, which looked much more picturesque now than it did when I was fearing for my life crossing it. It made the blood, sweat and tears accumulated throughout our journey entirely worth it. For the first time, I started to realize all of the beauty that Alaska holds.

We drove a few more miles down the road to Salmon Lake. This is a popular destination site for camping, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and even a wedding that we stumbled upon. We spent our time at Salmon Lake enjoying the picturesque mountain views and enthralled by the fresh spring water coming out of a pipe in the ground. We emptied our camelbacks and filled them to the brim twice over with the best water I have ever tasted! This glacier water was truly a gift from above – literally.

A few weeks later, we had the opportunity to visit the Pilgrim Hot Springs thanks to Donald, a Summercise assistant and Nome native. Seven of us piled into his truck and headed two hours out of town. Within the first few miles we came across a herd of muskox! These awkward animals look like a cross between a goat and a pony, but can become quite ferocious if provoked. Eventually we found a small dirt path with a sign that read “7 Miles to Pilgrim Hot Springs.” Those last seven miles took us on a bumpy dirt path that bottomed out the truck for the next 45 minutes! It was all worth it when we arrived and were surrounded by an oasis of mountains and cottonwood trees. Finally real trees! We came across a church built in the early 1900s, which happened to be an orphanage where kids from Nome were evacuated to during the Diphtheria outbreak.

The environment created by the hot springs allowed for indoor plumbing and in the summer the ground was thawed enough to successfully grow their own food. The orphanage operated until 1941, and the ruins which still remain on the land give the serene oasis a slightly haunting essence. We bathed in the warm water of the hot springs for hours before heading back to Nome with our skin pruned and reeking of sulfur.

My favorite adventure thus far was the weekend we spent at Donald’s cabin. Once again, we loaded into Donald’s minivan and headed 40 miles northwest on the Nome-Teller Highway. When we arrived, we loaded our bags and blankets into a small, motor-less boat and paddled our way across a lagoon to a strip of land along the shoreline owned by King Island. Since King Island is no longer inhabited, descendants of the natives who once lived there are allowed to build on this particular shoreline. Luckily for us, Donald’s mom’s side of the family was from King Island and thus his family was able to build a cabin here! Just a few years ago, a bear had broken through the window of the cabin, destroyed the couch, and tried to get into the food. Claw marks on the cupboard doors still remain today! We enjoyed delicious caribou burgers and S’mores around a driftwood fire on the beach late into the night.

It is easy to lose track of time when it never becomes dark outside, and next thing we knew it was 1 a.m.! We managed to stay awake for another hour to watch the “sunset” – the sun briefly dips just below the horizon, yet it still remains light out. We walked down the shoreline to check out an abandoned Russian barge which had washed ashore a few years ago. Our weekend at the cabin was my favorite adventure because of the contentedness and sheer authenticity of the Alaskan land. Not to mention the countless laughs with the other interns and the natural, untouched landscape helped remind me that I am in the beautiful land of Alaska!

Many former Summercise interns often return to work in Nome years later, and until I ventured out of town, I wasn’t exactly sure why. Don’t get me wrong, Nome has treated me well and my internship experience has been priceless! The aesthetic landscapes and natural beauty just outside of Nome are enough to make anyone think twice about leaving. I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have experienced here and people I have met who have made these adventures possible!


Jackie Braun ’18 is a dietetics major and psychology minor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.