With just 4 days to go before I leave for Katmai, the race is on to get all the details ironed out. Unlike all the other national parks I’ve worked at in Alaska, this time I’ll be stationed far away from most amenities. Even in Denali, I could carpool with coworkers to drive 4 hours round trip to Fairbanks to pick up groceries every couple months. But in Katmai, I need to order almost everything ahead of time and make sure I pack any and all supplies, medicines, and anything I think I might possibly need over the next few months.
It’s been a process.
First, I had my family mail me my old uniforms from Florida where I’ve been storing them the last 6 years. Fortunately, everything still fit, although mailing them was hella expensive. I’m going to try to avoid ever having to do that again. With my uniform stipend from the park service, I ordered a few additional items I would need for this park, which they ship to the park directly.
The one tricky piece was figuring out uniform boots, since I no longer have my old ones (I wore them to death years ago). The NPS uniform options have changed, and the new selections didn’t look promising. I was advised that most employees just buy their own, so I knuckled down and went on a hunt around town for brown, polishable, waterproof hiking boots.
Turns out, the options are extremely limited here. My local REI was a no-go. The local boot store mainly had men’s boots that didn’t go down small enough to my size. I visited 3 other shoe stores with no luck before finally taking my chances with ordering online. I decided on a pair of Oboz Yellowstones, since I had some experience with their fit and they were significantly cheaper than any of the other options I could find (yet still shockingly expensive by my standards). So far I’m pretty happy with them, though I can tell they’re going to take some time to break in.
Next, I had to figure out how to order my groceries. Thankfully, a good friend of mine who works at Katmai provided a ton of helpful tips, so I took her advice and spent the last few weeks assembling an online order of nonperishable food from Target, and frozen food from Fred Meyer.
The hardest part has been figuring out just how much I eat! And then multiply that by several months… Since I’ve been living with my partner the last couple years, I have a better sense of how much we eat together, than I do of my own food consumption. But I gave it my best shot, and ordered what seems to me like a large supply of various beans, rice, canned vegetables, carbs, snacks, and other staples, which will ship right to the park.
For frozen food, the process has been a bit more opaque. Because frozen food has to be shipped in a chill box from Anchorage via air cargo, I attempted to order just enough cold food (frozen fruits, veggies, tofu, and cheese) to fit in one box. Then you’re supposed to contact Fred Meyer Bush Orders, which sends someone to pick it up and take it to the air cargo company, who will then call me and charge me for shipping. I’m still in the middle of this process, so we’ll see what I end up with later this week. 😬
If all goes well, when I arrive in King Salmon, my food will be arriving around the same time, and will hopefully last me most of the summer. Unless I’ve wildly underestimated how much I eat, which is entirely possible. Ha.
And then we pack…
With all the ordering done, the final step is to pack everything I need to bring from home: Uniforms, civilian clothes, tent, sleeping bag, camp cookware, rain boots, hiking boots, sandals, running shoes, camera gear, laptop, batteries and chargers, comfort and entertainment (for me, that’s books and craft supplies), and toiletries.
It feels like a LOT. But at the same time, it’s also interesting to see what your bare essentials are (or should I say, bear essentials?) and which things are nice additions to have. I’ve managed to fit it all in 2 bags, plus a carry-on in my test-packing this week, so unless I’m forgetting anything major, that should do it!
So what’s the takeaway?
One, I think, is that it takes a good amount of preparation, perseverance, and organization to get ready for a season in the bush. I’ve had about 3 weeks to figure it all out, and my life has been consumed with check lists, piles of things, and lots of sticky notes.
Two, it’s kind of expensive in the beginning–but hopefully I won’t need to spend too much more once I get out there, and then I can save, save, save (since there won’t be anything to spend money on)!
And three, hopefully this is useful for anyone else trying to figure out how to get ready for a summer in rural Alaska. Having done this a few times already, I think I have it pretty well dialed in, despite some of the new challenges associated with each park.
I’m very much looking forward to being done with this stage of the game, and moving on to the actual work. 😅