It was New Year’s Eve in Fairbanks, Alaska and what could be more perfect than sitting in a warm hut over a frozen lake ice fishing as the stroke of midnight as a part of our North American Travel Scholarship with Grand #1!
We made arrangements with Rod through his guide service to meet him at Chena Lake Recreational Area around 9:45PM for our four hour ice fishing and Aurora watching experience. Prior to leaving our rental we had to remove the electric warming connection to the engine – thus preventing the oil from freezing in the darkness of the new year. After turning the car on and allowing it to warm up we finally started our journey to the lake along snow packed roads in pitch darkness.
As we entered the park our headlights captured several groups of huddled, dark shapes walking quickly in the same direction and we figured that this must be the right place. As we emerged from the car, the chill of the nighttime air assaulted us as we scrambled to bundle up to join the tribe that was lake bound. As we made the descent down to the lake the bright blue moonlight cast an ethereal glow on the snow covered lake and the plywood huts approximately 50’ out on the lake. Each tiny hut had smoke curling out of the chimney.
As we entered Rod’s hut we were instructed to select one of 16 spots on a plywood bench. Due to the warmth of the iron stove we were able to quickly shed several layers of clothing and began to get to know our other hut-mates. Several were from China, others from Germany – it was a very international crowd with several people being non conversant in English.
Rod got each of us equipped with a fishing reel, bait, and quickly lifted the black plastic lids off of our fishing holes below our feet. After a little bit of instruction we all dropped our line down into our designated frozen well. Every so often we would twitch the line to entice the fish to bite. As we were fishing Rod put 16 links of reindeer sausage into a cast iron griddle to cook on top of the stove. The reindeer had been killed by Rod in the prior season and prepared at a processing plant in Fairbanks. And, periodically, Rod would stick his head outside to see if the Aurora was on display.
As the minutes ticked down to midnight, the reindeer sausage had been consumed and we were now enjoying the fruits of our fishing labors, including my small catch. We paired the flash fried fish with several bottles of Mumm Napa sparkling wine which had been kept “ice cold” in the snow just outside the door of the hut. At the stroke of midnight, with everyone holding a plastic cup of sparkling wine we wished one another “Happy New Year!” in at least three languages and briefly touched our glasses to one another.
Now that the fishing had been productive and the sparkling wine was consumed it was time to turn our eyes to the sky for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. However, on this cold new years, the Aurora proved to be very elusive and we returned home around 2AM realizing that seeing the Northern Lights was not a given!
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.