Some 330 miles above the Arctic Circle sits Barrow, Alaska (also called Utqiagvik). It’s located in the North Slope Borough and is the northernmost city in the United States. The population is just over 4,000 people. Many of those are Alaska natives. Not very many tourists find their way to Barrow. It’s mostly locals, oil pipeline workers, government contractors, search & rescue staff, and scientists. There are medical personnel and teachers too.
This summer, my whole family visited Alaska … and ultimately made the trek to the top of the world! The main reason for going clear up to Barrow was because it was one of the few places in Alaska that my late father, Alan Baldwin, had not flown. He covered and zig-zagged the state as a bush pilot for the Alaska Mission of Seventh-day Adventists (now a conference). Dad even flew to Little Diomede Island, St. Lawrence Island, Kotzebue, and Nome. He flew floats in the summer and skis in the winter.
Right after my parents got married in the 1960s, they moved to Anchorage. While my dad flew Eskimo children and supplies, my mom taught elementary school. Dad always wanted to get up to the very top of the 49th state – Point Barrow.
The only paved surface in Barrow is the runway at Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport. All of the vehicle roads are dirt or mud. This is due to pavement problems caused by permafrost. Most residents have four-wheel drive trucks or ATVs. They plug them in to keep the engines from freezing!
All of the homes and buildings are built on pilings because of the polar climate. Most of the structures are either converted shipping containers or pre-fab houses. There are limited hospitality services. The native people rely upon whale, walrus, seal, fish, caribou, and polar bear.
There are no hills, no trees and no gardens. Besides the Arctic Ocean, the entire landscape is flat tundra. Barren might be a better name than Barrow.
Once the sun sets in mid-November, it doesn’t rise for over two months! The sun isn’t spotted again until late January and that’s slightly over the horizon for a short time. It gets extremely cold and windy. Whiteout conditions are very common. The lowest recorded temperature is minus 56 degrees F. Barrow averages only 120 days per year of temperatures above freezing. There are annually 160 days of sub-zero temperatures.
Conversely, during the summer the sun never sets! Thus Alaska was given the name, “Land of the Midnight Sun.” When we were in Barrow, the sun had just begun to set again. The sunset was at approximately 1:15 a.m. and the sunrise was near 3 a.m. We stayed up for both.
It’s very easy to get behind on sleep. We played football on the Whalers field in the middle of the night without needing lights. After working up a nice sweat, we did an authentic, polar plunge into the Arctic at 1 a.m. Wow, that was chilly!
My family thoroughly enjoyed our return to Alaska and remembering dad. It was wonderful to hear mom’s stories. We found where their Anchorage house stood (torn down for a parking lot). Mom’s school and church combination building has become law offices.
Dad and mom had many Alaskan adventures. Besides serving as a bush pilot, dad was the assistant treasurer of the Alaska Mission and manager of the Book & Bible House. Together, they started the first ever Junior Camp held above the Arctic Circle by any church. It was on the shores of Lake Selawik. Back then, the church members would drive their cars right onto the frozen lakes and proceed to ice skates around bonfires. Those were some of the best times of their lives.
While we always miss dad, we know that those who die in the Lord never say goodbye for the last time. We look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus.
“…but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)
Alaska is really amazing, but it will be even more exciting to explore other galaxies and the universe someday. The Christian life is truly an adventure whether in the mission field, at home or for eternity!
One of my favorite verses is John 10:10, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”