This year there was no trip to the outside for New Year’s because BIA funds were low. I had bought a used ski-do, so on a school break I took my own trip to Gambell with an Eskimo friend.
Hunting had been slow in Savoonga, so we each pulled an empty dog sled in order to bring some walrus meat back from Gambell.
As we were passing through the mountains, my companion stopped and pointed back. “If you ever come through here alone, just go past these four little mountains, , then veer left for fifteen minutes and you will see the village.” It was very unusual to get such tips, and I was soon to find out why the Lord orchestrated that.
Near the end of our eight hour trip, we paused for a break. “Look here,” my friend said. I went over to him. He pointed at the snow. “See, there has been a polar bear here recently. They are also probably having trouble hunting and are coming inland. They will hunt and eat anything, so be careful.” I was glad I had my rifle with me.
In Gambell I visited with the Bible translator, Dave Shinen, who had become my spiritual father. He took me with him when he went out in the cold wind to fire up his little generator. It didn’t want to start, so he was squatting over it, trying to coax it into life.
Suddenly he stood up, looked me in the eye and said, “If you want to know the will of God, tell Him what you want, then tell Him you will also accept the exact opposite if that’s His will. That will leave open the whole spectrum of possibilities between those two points for the Lord to do what He knows is best.”
Then he squatted back down to work more on the generator.
What caused him to say that out of the blue? I didn’t know at that moment, but am sure that God prompted him, for ever since then I have lived by that principle of surrender to God’s wisdom! This was a significant reason God had for my making this visit.
The next day, Sunday, the other Eskimos from Savoonga left Gambell in the morning to return home, but I wanted to stay for church and for lunch with Doug, the nurse.
“I can easily follow the tracks of the Eskimos to get back home,” I thought. “No problem.”
At about 3 pm I was all packed up and my sled loaded with walrus meat. The trail the others had left was plain and easy to follow. It was getting dark, but my ski-doo had a good headlight.
As I began to go up into the mountains, however, the wind picked up. Soon it became a ground blizzard, the snow blowing hard across the tracks, making it difficult to follow them. I went slowly, squinting into the growing darkness and snow.
Suddenly I shot out of the snow onto black ice. A pond! There was no trail to follow across the clean, wind- swept ice. I turned to the left and followed the shoreline around the pond until I could see where the Eskimos had exited the ice. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The wind got stronger, making it even harder to follow the trail. As I went further up into the mountains, the trail got steeper, harder to navigate, especially with the heavy load of walrus meat holding me back. I came to a point where I couldn’t go further.I decided to dump the meat so I could go on. “Better to lose the meat than die with it,” I thought.
After off loading the meat, I gunned the engine and was able to make it up the steep slope to a flat place, but then the engine stalled. I pulled the starter rope and it came off in my hand!
Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, with polar bears looking for food, a pile of walrus meat nearby, no one knew where I was and my ski-doo was broken.
I knew I had to have some shelter or I would freeze. It was only about ten below zero, but with the powerful wind, the chill factor made it feel much colder.
I turned the sled with its handle at the back towards the wind. Then I took the hood off the ski-doo and propped it up against the handles of the sled. The strong wind held it there and if I sat on the sled, it would shelter me some.
I turned to get my bag of supplies, but the strong wind ripped it from my hand and the contents spilled out, skittering across the snow. I opted to chase and catch the sleeping bag. My food was gone, but I could live for a while without it. The sleeping bag was much more vital.
I took my rifle scabbard off my back, climbed into the sleeping bag, and sat down on the sled with my back towards the hood, shielding myself from the brunt of the storm. Then I set my rifle on my lap so I could be ready if a bear came during the night.
This was one of those times when there was no guarantee I’d survive, but I was calm in the Lord. More than one Eskimo had died when caught in similar situations. If I died, I go to him. If I lived he had more for me to do.
It was a long night. I tried to sit so that my body had minimum contact with the sled to keep heat loss low, just touching my heels and my bottom to it and the back of my head to the handle on the back of the sled. Even so, several times in the night I had to get up and run about, jumping up and down to warm myself up a bit. It was good I had on sealskin pants and boots along with a good parka.
Morning came with a cobalt blue sky and a strong sun shining red and gold in the frosty air. I got out my toolbox, took the cover off the starter mechanism and was able to get the rope reattached. The motor started on the third pull.
I put the hood back on the ski-doo, tied my sleeping bag to the sled and took off. The trail was now partially covered by the blowing snow, but enough was left to follow it until I got up among the last mountains where the snow had covered it completely. There I followed my friend’s directions: go past these four little mountains, turn left and go for 15 minutes.
Sure enough, there, down in the distance was the village, a tiny smudge on the edge of the shore ice. I turned my ski-doo towards it and raced home.
In my excitement I forgot to periodically warm my face with my hand to prevent frostbite, and arrived home with frozen cheeks and forehead.
When I reached my little house, I was looking forward to warming up, but found that the kerosene had run out while I was gone and it was just as cold inside as out. I went to find the janitor and he helped me fill that tank and get it started.
The Eskimos were both angry with me and amazed. They were angry because they’d been worried and had come out looking for me but to no avail. And they were amazed that a white man could survive out in such weather, fix his broken machine and come home by himself!
Of course it could only have happened with God’s intervention—He prepared the way, gave me the information I needed, and protected me in the night. It was an example of His care that I remembered often, a four star God sighting.
Picture: My snow traveler and dog sled loaded with walrus meat