More than a decade ago – long before the current reality TV craze we were chatting with our friends Audrey Bradshaw & Larry Csonka about maybe doing a show that might be called “So You Think You Want to Own a Fishing Lodge?”. The idea was going to be for the show to let folks know what it really takes to make a remote wilderness lodge such as Alaska’s Anvik River Lodge happen. One of the processes that would be high-lighted is the pre-season preparations of shipping and expediting supplies for the season. Here’s a glimpse of this process from Blair’s point of view……………
Few things are sweeter than the taste of a cold beverage on the river. Out in the normal world most would drink it without considering what it took to get it there. On average every beer or soda you drink at the Anvik River Lodge is moved by us about a dozen times. It’s another task that we here on the Anvik river take part in every spring before coming up to the lodge. The loved and hated expediting season…
The Purchasing: I must admit that every year during this process I feel a little bad for the cashiers at Costco & Sam’s Club. I feel bad for being the herd of people with fourteen, filled to the brim, flat-bed shopping carts in the checkout line. But like I try to tell people in line, “These groceries aren’t going to buy themselves”. Its what it takes to make a trip out to the Anvik River Lodge possible. You can never truly appreciate something until you’ve had to physically touch it and move it up to a dozen times. As we stand in the store and we’re staring a particular item – a thought always pops in our heads “Do we need it so bad that we want to move it 12 times?” – from the shelf to the cart – to the conveyor belt – back to the cart – to the truck – from the truck to the garage – into the packing box – to the crate – from the crate to the boat (up the river it goes to the lodge) – from the boat to the storage shelf at the lodge – from the shelf to the cooler – and finally to your hand. Sometimes we can cut out a couple of steps and only have to handle things 9 times though.
When you’re at Alaska’s Anvik River Lodge keep in mind that everything here was brought by us. The little things like trash bags to band-aids we have to think about months in advance before we actually use them. There’s a lot to be said for experience and we’re going on our 22nd season of this process. We create a master list of every possible thing we may need over the next five months and head to the stores to get it.
The Packing & Shipping: The devil is in the details with this process. We are always trying to make everything as efficient as possible. For instance, if we choose to ship certain items on the barge as opposed to bypass mail our packaging techniques and systems are different. I’ll address the barge shipment first before bypass mail just so everyone knows what we are talking about.
We try to send as much as possible on the barge, it’s a little slower than our bypass shipments but it is a bit less expensive. And on the barge we can ship non-mailable items such as boats, roofing materials, tractors, recumbent bikes, alcohol etc. Most items we ship on the barge are packed in crates that we build ourselves. The crates are made of either ¾” or ½” plywood cut to either 4’ or left at their original length. We do this so we can disassemble all the 2/4s and plywood, collect up the screws, and use it all on building projects at the lodge. That way we are making the most efficient use of every pound we ship out to Anvik. Even the pallets we have to scavenge, (which is getting much harder thanks to the DIY pallet project fad) we haul up to the lodge for projects.
After we build a crate we tight pack it with groceries and supplies. And I mean tight pack. We’ll send anywhere from five to fourteen of these crates out each season depending on projects at the lodge for the year. Prior to shipping we silicon the seams, wrap them in plastic to keep the contents from getting wet and band them shut. We learned about all of this the hard way in the early years.
Once we have all of our crates built and loaded we deliver them to Carlisle trucking where they in turn haul them north of Anchorage about 400 miles to Nenana. In Nenana they’re loaded onto Ruby Marine’s barge and are shipped down the Yukon to the village of Anvik. This leg of the trip usually take about a week to 10 days depending upon river and weather conditions.
As we anticipate the arrival of the barge in Anvik we get as many things done as possible. Most projects hinge on the arrival of the barge freight. For instance, any building or repair projects that need to be done can be started but rarely finished until the barge gets in with the bulk of the building materials. Once our barge freight gets to Anvik we disassemble the shipping crates and haul the contents up river in two 23ft. Wooldridge boats. This is a minimum of 6 hours round-trip travel time plus another couple of hours for the time it takes to unpack and repack the supplies onto our boats – making sure the weight and balance are good and we’re maximizing the payload on each boat. The barge will usually arrive in Anvik sometime within the first 10 days of June, which gives us two to three weeks before we open for the season. A few years ago the ice conditions were so thick that the Yukon wasn’t navigable until well into June. The barge got to Anvik on June 22nd – three days before opening day that year – talk about hustling, you have no idea.
One of the other forms of shipment we use is a system called Bypass mail. Bypass mail is unique to Alaska. The federal government understands that getting everyday items out to bush Alaska is very expensive. When you’re paying $10 a gallon for milk, if you can even find milk, it can be almost too expensive to live. The Post office will ship grocery items to approved companies (stores, lodges, and other businesses) at priority speed but at parcel post prices. In our case we have to pack boxes that are not more than seventy pounds, stack them on pallets, and shrink wrap them. We then have to use a very large scale to weigh the pallets, submit our total weight to the post office, and wait for an air carrier to approve the shipment and receive it. After we drop it off at the air carrier they have 72 hours to get it to Anvik where we will receive it on the other end and begin the process of hauling it 75 miles upriver to the lodge. Most items in this particular group include produce, meats, as well as other perishables.
Transporting the Staff & Dogs: The final method we use to get items to the lodge is on our private charter flight through ACE – the same company that transports our guests to Anvik from Anchorage. The crew, the dogs and most fragile and super important items such as our office files, computers etc. and some garden starts go on this flight. We also include items that we donate for Anvik’s annual “Clean-Up, Green-Up” day and picnic. Once the snow melts the whole community comes together to clean up debris and garbage that’s been covered up by snow and ice over the winter. It is another awesome tradition that Alaskan communities have. This day signifies that summer is upon us and is everyone celebrates with hard work, games, prizes and good food. It’s our chance to be able to give back to this great community and so fun seeing the pride everyone shows in making Anvik beautiful this time of the year.