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Monday, December 12, 2011

"Mail it to yourself..."

Getting what you need from the outside world is always a challenge when living in the Bush. I remember arriving in Togiak for the first time, all the way from Louisiana. It was the two of us, three dogs in kennels, and (if I remember correctly) nine pieces of luggage sitting there on the tarmac. We didn’t know where we lived, we didn’t have cell phones, and we didn’t really know if we were even in the right place! The thought crossed my mind to get on the next plane back to Dillingham, but it passed. Soon the district maintenance man dropped by to pick up freight and kindly offered to take us to our new home… where we had nothing to eat, sleep on, or entertain ourselves with…
I learned that day that if we were going to make it in the Bush, we had to learn how to master shipping, shopping, and travel. Everyone has a favorite method, and if you ask around you can learn from the best. If you have a big family it’s all about quantity. A good friend of mine shared that Three Bears packs and ships what you buy at straight cost. This is a huge time saver when you are talking $2000 worth of groceries to pack, and totally worth a drive to the valley. Some folks keep it simple and shop at Walmart on Dimond where there is a Bush mail department (I despise Walmart on every level, but admit this is pretty sweet). It’s a simple process: you shop, roll your cart(s) to the back of the store, fill out a COD form, and leave. They pack and ship it through the USPS for shipping plus 20% of the purchase. Other stores will do something similar, but these are the best in my opinion.
My favorite method is “the tote.” Rural Alaskans love their totes!! Here’s how it works: I buy 20 lidded totes of various shapes and sizes, a pack of 100 zip ties and a roll of packing tape. Shop till you drop and fill your totes, paying special attention to weight (I try to even out cans especially). Then I drill holes on the lip of the lid (not from the top, this way they’re still water proof) through the bottom, 6 for medium sized and 8 for larger totes. The best part of this method is I get totes in the village! They are great for storage, laundry baskets, fish gut buckets, and suitcases!!
Anyway you cut it, rural Alaskans depend on the subsidy of bypass mail and reduced costs for instate shipping. I’ve mailed about 400 pounds of supplies to myself already and estimate the shipping to be a little over $200… that's a steal considering can of corn in the vil is $3+...