Fairbanks

When a person assiduously takes care with good food, comfortable home, walks me around, appraises what i wear, what I carry, what I may need in the future, and, go out of the way to help me, there is no option but to humbly surrender myself like a child. This was my insight under the care of Prof. Anupma Prakash in Fairbanks for three days filled with warm hospitality, meeting the Indian community, visit to the university, and few drives in and around the town.

My first day at Sven’s place had started with a phone call from Lagos, around 5 am. By the way, it is not easy to have a peaceful night in a country that is 13 hours away from home, especially, when you still want to be social. Not to disturb my camp mates in other tents (some of us have just slept, around 3 am), i walked to the dining area to attend the call, and continued in the warmth of the four walls for the rest of the morning. Made breakfast and chocolate drink from the food in the left over shelf. The Czech guys left for Anchorage to fly back to their country. Next few moments, i was day dreaming of my possible successful summit of Denali and leaving happy and fulfilled like these five Czech guys. For a moment, i recalled the words of Hemant (with India hikes), my trek leader in Tunganath-Chandrashila trek, “the Poles are good climbers”. I wondered how these East Europeans came up with that without any high mountains of Himalayan scale.

Nick, the cyclist from Los Angeles packed small boxes of rice, lentils and other non perishable food stuff. “They are expensive in the Mom and Pop stores on the roadside. So, I bought in the supermarket here and packing to post to myself by the US Postal Service to the post offices on the route i am going to ride. That is how i ride light”. This was a rescuing wisdom for me. He enlightened me about how the USPS works and how a bicyclist can utilize the flat rate of priority mail.

Before i wanted to rearrange my heavy luggage and parcel some food to onward post offices, following Nick’s wisdom, i caught up with facebook, after 10 days. I saw the message of Professor Anupma of University of Fairbanks whom i wanted to meet for courtesy, as we both belong to geoscience community, and also have common friends. Also, meeting an Indian in this farthest place from India would be a cheerful moment. So, i gave a courtesy call to the Professor, and, that call changed the way i spent my time over the next three days in Fairbanks.

GUA_7069IMG_3614A model  or real, i do not know, but this  exhibit at the airport lounge clearly shows how much of Alaska life is depended on small aviation jets.

GUA_7065Fairbanks airport

GUA_7063This is called as passion for aviation.

At Sven’s place, i was too comfortable with the people i met and was hoping to share more travel experiences by taking that day off. But the voice on the other side, of Prof. Anupma said, “pack all bags and checkout. I am coming to pick up”. After riding continuously in rain on the Dalton highway, i could not have asked for more, especially, her words “ghar mein gharam Indian khana khao (have hot India food at home)” pulled me like a magnet. So, i packed and bid bye to some of the fellow travel mates and rode those 5 miles to reach Prof. Anupma’s house in a nice neighborhood next to the musk ox form.

My first outing in Fairbanks was for a dinner at Mrs. Veazey’s house. There i had experienced my first ever party in an American’s home. I guess, it was about 15 people. The food, aaah…, cannot ask for anything more. The Alaskan Salmon, fished and prepared by Tom (?) was my favorite among all other super tasty dishes. He talked about those one day bicycle rides from Fairbanks to Anchorage. As the drizzle calmed down, the towns panoramic view was revealed from the window of this house located on the slope of the mountain. As i soaked in the spruce forested slopes and the distant low profile dispersed buildings of the town, Mrs. Veazey announced that her daughter’s friend’s Mom is going to be on TV. So, we all connected our eyes to the TV while still relishing the food. Soon the lady appeared and shared her wisdom for few seconds. According to what i understood, she was one of the pioneering members of “second chance reentry..”, a social reform movement with the inmates of New York jail. The short video clip was certainly moving.  I liked Mrs. Veazey’s smile, warmth and joviality. After the sumptuous food and sharing the stories, we left for home, though i wished to stay some more time in that lively atmosphere.

In those days of midnight sun, one cannot estimate the time by looking outside the window. With a very comfortable bed and room for myself after 11 days in the tent, within no time, i slipped into sleep.

GUA_7052GUA_7095GUA_7046Some sunset scapes (around 10 pm).

The next day was the day of judgement- what to carry and what not to from here onward. So, i scattered everything in the floor of the garage. Took out 12 kilograms of unwanted food, cloths and extras including the tripod. Left some food items and packed the rest in the USPS flat rate large box to ship them to New Jersey. Prof. Anupma took time out of her evaluating somebody’s Ph.D. She took good look at my luggage, gave few useful tips and some useful handy stuff which i was not carrying. She called her cyclist friend Mr. Martin, who gave few more tips in addition to giving me a light weight “Patagonia” rain jacket.

That afternoon, we visited the Lals, who hosted a party at their home to celebrate 4th of July. There, i met the Indian community of the University of Alaska, actually, an Indo-American community (mixed up by marriage). I was delighted to see the Emeritus Professor Naidu, under whom, my Professor at Andhra University (Prof. M.J Rao) had studied. It is indeed perplexing that i heard about Prof. Naidu and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 22 years ago, during my first year M.Sc (Tech) class. Now, here iam, shaking hands with him in Fairbanks. Strange destiny indeed.

IMG_4262Sharing a smile with a child at 4th of July celebration with the community of University of Alaska. Downtown Fairbanks is in the distant background on the left.

IMG_4223IMG_4217With Prof. Rajiv of Dept. of Mining Engineering  and Prof. Anupma, Associate Dean of CNSM and Professor at Geophysical Institute.

IMG_4340 a  once again, miniature flight at the party…

IMG_4327Marshmallow timeIMG_4330 Waiting for the fireworks with the little canon from the archives. Mr. Steve had finally succeeded in operating it.

My bicycle trip had generated enough curiosity among them. They know that the Americans do these kind of activities. Probably, they are seeing an Indian doing this, for the first time. When i was introduced to the elderly ladies, one of them asked “what your parents are thinking about your ride?”

Prof. Naidu connected with me very soon as we share the same language. When i left saying goodbye to everybody, he walked to me and put some money in my pocket, a traditional way of elders blessing the kids. Felt very nice to experience this tradition, almost 30 years later.

Later, we drove past the Reindeer farm and visited the botanical garden of the university. Sure, the summer is short lived in Alaska. But, what more do these plants need than living with a glory like this.

GUA_7017

GUA_7026GUA_7019GUA_7020GUA_7018GUA_7011GUA_7009GUA_7014GUA_7006GUA_7007GUA_7012GUA_6995GUA_7004GUA_7003GUA_7002GUA_6998GUA_6993GUA_6991GUA_6994GUA_6980GUA_6988GUA_6986GUA_6975GUA_6974the giant cabbages of Mat-su valley

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The next day, i packed my panniers, shipped the unwanted important stuff to New Jersey by USPS and drove in the University.

GUA_7059GUA_7035IMG_4207IMG_4213IMG_4208GUA_7033a pig used to clean the wax in Alaska pipeline

GUA_7032GUA_7031tools used in early gold mining days

GUA_7029

a totem pole- native art of Alaska.

The night before i left, Prof. Anupma made “masala poori” and packed them for 6 servings, which were to be my main food for the next two days.

IMG_4226A

Happy and flying high- was my feeling that morning as i bid “bye” to Prof. Anupma. For a moment, i thought about what to say to her. Should i say “Thank You”? Any word will be an understating of my respect for her care as an elder sister. So, to keep that relation alive, i left by wishing her a good day.

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