My visit to rural Alaska: Part 1

A once in a lifetime adventure

Abigail Faulkner | Photo Courtesy

Despite the pandemic, I had one of the most incredible summers of my life. I spent three weeks at a remote mining camp in rural Alaska. I slept in a shipping container with a bedsheet for a door and a trash bag for a curtain. I had to use an outhouse every day and used one of the grossest showers of my life.  I cooked for mountain men, driller and company organizers. And next summer I will probably do it all over again.

How did I get this opportunity, you’re wondering? Well, what happened was my aunt. She helps manage a company that supplies tents, groceries and cooks to these remote camps. 

She needed a bull cook, or helper cook, to go out and replace the other full-time cooks that were out there so they could take a break. I went out to a camp by the name of Johnson. It may be the most beautiful place I have ever been. 

I was in a small valley where the mountains just towered over you. There were three glaciers in the area, all of which you could hike to. There was wildlife in the area and there were several times I saw animal tracks in and around camp.

I took pictures to show you all but please trust me when I say I simply was not able to capture the breathtaking views as they were in person. 

Abigail Faulkner | Photo Courtesy

I am sure you have some questions and I will do my best to address all of them without leaving you a novel. 

A lot of people wonder what an average day is like. Well, if I was in charge of breakfast for the day, I would wake up anywhere between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the entire camp of 50 people. 

What time I woke up largely depended on what I made. If it was a breakfast that was already made and just needed to be heated then I could sleep in a little — think breakfast burritos. If it was a breakfast item that needed a little more attention, then I would wake up earlier — think blueberry scones. 

Each breakfast was served with a special which changed every day, scrambled eggs, bacon and a variety of other breakfast meats, breakfast potatoes, oatmeal, cut fruit, cottage cheese; and either waffles, pancakes or french toast. All of which were in a three-day rotation. 

By 6 a.m. breakfast was ready to be served. By 7:30-8 a.m. breakfast was done. And I cleaned up till 9 or 10 depending on how much mess I made. Between 8 and 9 the other cook rolled in to begin their prep for the day as well. 

I would spend the rest of the day baking that night’s desserts, stocking snacks, washing dish after dish after dish, cleaning the dining hall and doing any other number of tasks. 

We would aim for a break around noon, then depending on the intensity of the dinner, I would be back in the kitchen as early as 3 p.m. or as late as 5 p.m. to have dinner ready and prepared by 6 p.m. 

Dinner would be finished by 8 p.m. At which point I would leave the kitchen, and the other cook would finish cleaning up.

Rinse and repeat. 

There were other things that changed up the days: making a menu for the following week or ordering days when all the food came in.

I bet you’re also wondering how we got enough food to feed 50 people for a week out to the middle of nowhere. Great question! It’s kind of a nightmare. So, the first and most obvious step is making a loose meal plan around what we intended to feed for dinner and buying all the breakfast basics. 

Then we compile all of these things into a Costco order, then we put everything else onto a Fred Meyers order. Fred Meyers is the equivalent of Hornbacher’s around here. 

Once all the food orders were submitted, back in town people pick up all the groceries, hand shop all the things that were missing, pack all the groceries into boxes then bring those boxes to an airport to be flown out to the rural camp. 

To say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience is underselling it to you all.

“Why Abigail, how rural can it be?” You might be asking.

The answer is so rural. 

As in, not-accessible-by-car rural. I couldn’t tell you where the nearest road was if I tried. We had a dirt runway that bush planes landed on to bring us fuel, food and people. 

The absolute best part of camp was the people. Never in my life have I been welcomed like the people at Johnson camp welcomed me. They were so happy to have a new face. They appreciated how hard I worked and did so many small things to make my days easier. 

They are people I will never forget. I won’t forget how every night before dinner around 5 p.m. Liam would come into the kitchen and tell us about his family in Canada while he helped us wash the lunch dishes. 

I haven’t forgotten how my first week, Ryan would make me Mate in the mornings. It’s an Argentinian green tea that is caffeinated. He would prepare it for me the traditional way and offer me some before he even made some for himself. 

Or the way Jerimiah did any task I asked of him if I baked him some cheesecake. Like one day he got all the cottonwood off my bug screen. I didn’t even ask him to, he just went out of his way to do it for me. 

There were many others who were always there when I needed them to be. I haven’t forgotten Kari’s friendly smile, Jess’ thoughtfulness, Calvin’s good-spirited nature, Brody’s foosball skills or Tim’s showing me the ropes. There are many, many others and I could write a whole paper about how every one of the 50 people made the time away from home more bearable. 

But you’re not reading this because you want to hear me get all sappy about how much I miss all these new friends. 

You want to know about the cool shit I got to do. 

And oh boy did I do some cool shit. 

Not everyone gets to say that they had a private helicopter tour of the valley that showed the beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna and a detailed explanation of the project as a whole from the sky. But I did. 

Please check back tomorrow for part two of this series.

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