Judging by the sound alone, one might be led to think that Juneau was at war. Seaplanes take off one after the other, gliding along the Gastineau Canal.
And dozens of helicopters fly over and around it on lightning missions. At the origin, the causes of this agitation are the gigantic cruises that dock every day at the city's docks, leaving it in the shade, as the sun goes down from behind.
The Alaskan Strangeness of the Juneau Capital
Armies of visitors disembark from each of the ships as they surrender to the first souvenir shops they find. But like almost every village in the state, Juneau is tiny. Catch unprepared the typical Yankee of the Lower 48, used to endless spaces and imposing metropolises.
Inspired by the sheerest ignorance, they offend the locals over and over again, asking them, in the middle of downtown Alaska, “where is juneau after all?” or the way to get there.
When elucidated, they get fed up with their minimal urbanism in a couple of hours and seek to make up for the disappointment with unforgettable achievements in the last US border They are the preferred customers of panoramic flights companies. Tourists with a craze for grandeur and matching wallets or mere willingness to spend.
Panoramic Flights. One of Alaska's Summer Mines
On a sunny day, its offices and hangars never rest. Reservations are made and more reservations are made, weighing after weighing and giving briefings after briefings from the early morning hours until late sunset.
Helicopter pilots, these, repeat the same routes, locutions and jokes until exhaustion, satisfied with the accelerated enrichment but still eager for the end of the season. Not as much as their sacrificed mountain partners.
Until some time ago, scenic flights were limited to unveiling the best scenery in Alaska. But the creativity of American marketing knows no limits. Starting in the mid-XNUMXs, scenic flight companies made landings on glaciers and the ice fields that feed them commonplace.
The Profitable Relationship between Panoramic Flights and Dog Mushing
And, shortly thereafter, they joined the main dog breeders and mushers from the Great North and enriched their adventures with baptisms "to be shipped" by Dog Mushing, in those same extreme places.
Over the years, this has become one of the most profitable packages whether or not it cost each hour and a half tour over 500 dollars.
But if the life of investors in the business is limited to managing and collecting profits, some of the participants lower in the hierarchy suffer very well to guarantee their dividends.
We took off from the surroundings of Juneau, for a second experience of the “modality”. As the helicopter ascends, we leave the alluvial plain of the Mendenhall Peninsula and ascend to the heights of Thunder Mountain.
Against the wind, the pilot conquers a final slope and reveals Lake Mendenhall and a wide valley painted blue by the homonymous glacier.
Meeting Godwin's Dog Mushing Camp
We then proceeded along the 19 km of the ice river to the high white expanse where it rises. There, we glimpse a huge white camp, semi-camouflaged over the snow, in which hundreds of dogs bark, excited by the sudden appearance of the aircraft.
We are welcomed by Ted Williams, the person in charge of the field that leads us to his malamutes and huskies favorites while talking about the romantic but arduous life of the team.
Ted describes the long periods of mountain retreat. He and the other members usually go down to Juneau only once a week.
And, in between those days, they put up with a little bit of everything, excited only by the money they make and by socializing with their colleagues and with the dogs they train and treat.
Visits from customers – who often appear in jeans and t-shirts – are as constant as they are ephemeral, and when storms do set in, helicopters cease to appear and isolation can last for weeks.
The Hard Subsistence of Many Affectionate Mushers
most of these mushers they are passionate about the sport and compete with their best dogs in major competitions, including the world-famous Iditarod Trail and Yukon Quest.
A few days before we get to Juneau, we met Greg Stoddard about the Godwin Ice Field, situated near Seward, in the highlands of the Kenai Peninsula.
Despite the deafening barks and howls, Greg explains us how the camp works but quickly cuts the way for clarifications and stories of the real mushing.
He confesses, without ceremonies, that the association with panoramic flight companies and the months spent on the mountain allow them to dedicate themselves full-time to training and competition, avoiding old financial constraints, the same as many of their colleagues mushers continue to suffer.
After a few minutes, he resumes interrupting the conversation to meet the new wave of tourists who have just left the helicopter.
She takes another short tour of the camp, gathers a team of anxious dogs and, given the basic instructions for driving the sleds, a colleague makes the canine team slide on a closed trail that is already well dug in the snow, encouraged by two leaders Siberian Huskies conflicting.
Taking advantage of a short break from the tour, a fifty-year-old “passenger” in a flowing dress with flowers and a straw hat asked to change from the sled to the post. musher and, in three strokes, it totally confuses the dogs with its incoherent commands. Until the end of the journey, the dignity of the mushing little improves.
None of the Eskimo peoples of the Greater Arctic ever thought that their millennia-old form of locomotion could be so infamously desecrated, but as long as cruises dock in Alaska and southern tourists disembark willing to spend, this strange Summer Dog Mushing will have to go on. .