“Well that’s not a good sign,” I thought to myself as our ‘89 Ford Bronco sputtered and died in the middle of the notoriously rough side-road to Pilgrim Hot Springs, some 50 miles outside of Nome. It was getting dark, really dark. We were so used to the dim twilight of summer that this drizzly late-September night seemed to be the first time since May that we remembered what darkness was.
Zoe and I stepped out of the car and I took a deep breath— that lovely thick tundra air laced with a faint note of gasoline fumes à la Bronco. On our way in we had stopped multiple times to snack on the blueberries that extended indefinitely from the edge of the road, but now it was dark enough that we could hardly make out the outline of the Kigluaik Mountains rising steeply to the South. Zoe popped open the hood and I dug out my headlamp.
Outside of the radius of town, other vehicles are few and far between, and it was after midnight. I thought about the famous story from a few years back that made national news: Nome Man survives on Coors Light for 3 days while stuck in Alaska snowdrift.
Luck was on our side, however, and soon I saw headlights bouncing over the road, heading our way. There is an incredible serendipity that comes with living in a place like Nome. Amidst all the challenges of life on the Bering Sea coast, things just always seem to work out. “Nome Provides,” I like to say. It’s become my own personal motto, a Beringian “hakuna matata” of sorts.
The headlights drew closer, and soon enough I recognized one of the men in the car and I knew we were safe. Out hopped three experienced mechanics who isolated the problem using hair ties and a paperclip, and within 20 minutes we were on our way. Nome Provides.
“Can I drive to Nome?” This is one of the most common questions I get when talking with folks out of state. It can be hard to imagine what it is to live in a place where 300 miles of road (in the summer, at least) connect to nowhere else in Alaska. Nome, Alaska is like an island: remote, isolated, stunningly beautiful. There are many reasons to fall in love with Nome. For me, this isolation of location creates a small slice of recreational paradise backed by a vibrant community that have to depend on each other to survive.
There are three main roads that exit town, and they are generally clear from around May to October. The Teller Road is my personal favorite, heading 73 miles Northwest to the village of Teller, located on a picturesque spit of land at the base of Port Clarence.
The Council Road heads East, another 70-some miles first along the coast to Solomon, then inland over Skookum Pass and finally to Council, a former mining boomtown that now boasts a year-round population of 0. The setting is beautiful, and many families from Nome have seasonal camps along the Niukluk River where they spend long summer days fishing and preserving the bounty.
North of Nome is the Kougarok Road. It is a stunning alpine drive, passing by Salmon Lake and the Kigluaik Mountains. At 85 miles, it the longest of the three, but paradoxically has the least clear destination. The road peters out at the Kougarok Bridge, where 9 times out of 10 you will not see another soul for miles.
Each of the three main roads is well worth a trip, and countless excursions can be made from stops along the way. Flexibility is key, though, as anything from especially bad weather to a washed-out road to wildlife sightings might prompt a change of plans at the drop of a hat. Whatever you do, enjoy the journey, stay flexible, and remember that Nome Provides.