• freelance writer - current project

    "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say" - F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Last Ice Dancer

    My current project involves research about a four-masted schooner called the C.S. Holmes.

     

    The idea for a future book about the remarkable sailing vessel the C. S. Holmes came to life while I was at sea. In July of 2016, I was using the aft deck of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry the Columbia as a base camp for a trip through the Inside Passage from Juneau to Bellingham, Washington. One of the people I met during the three-day voyage was Brad Barker. Brad told me in 1936 his Uncle Clark signed on as a crew member aboard the Holmes. Young Clark Runyan kept a diary and produced a photo album of scenes from his trip.

     

    The C. S. Holmes was owned by the reputable Seattle-based fur trader Captain John Backland Jr. This master navigator annually piloted his craft though the treacherous and historically unforgiving Arctic ice as he delivered supplies to remote coastal Alaskan villages. In 1936, the Holmes was contracted to retrieve the engine and propeller from the plane Wiley Post and Will Rogers crashed into Walukpa Lagoon near Barrow the previous summer.

     

    By the 1930s, all other supply boats north of the Arctic Circle were ships equipped with some sort of mechanical propulsion. The C. S. Holmes, however, was the last true Arctic trading vessel without an inboard engine.

     

    Barker was not a writer, but expressed his desire to have a story written up about this unique and adventurous captain and his ship. I enthusiastically volunteered. Barker’s initial thought was the creation of a historical novel. That was an idea I fully embraced. During my teaching career, I found a lack of authentic fiction portraying northern Alaska. I hope my future book will fill some of the void.

     

    Narrative opportunities like this don't come around often. I feel honored as I piece together the tale of the C.S. Holmes, and retrace the interactions between the crew of this spectacular wooden boat and the resilient people of the remote and beautiful lands of the Arctic.

     

    (Top Photo: C.S Holmes courtesy Bainbridge Island Historical Museum)

    Research Update....

    My research chronicles the events of the C.S. Holmes and its sailors from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s, with particular emphasis on 1936. By that year, US prohibition had ended, but the effects of the Great Depression still lingered. Germany, under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, was set to host the Winter and Summer Olympics. Japan remained in control of Manchuria, a part of China it had seized in 1931. The Earth's inhabitants were closer to the next planetary war than they realized. Technological advancements in communication and transportation were rapidly bringing this strange world closer to the Native people of the Arctic.

     

    One of my philosophical beliefs can be stated as “the path is the goal.” I'm finding such satisfaction doing the research for this project, and I'm meeting the most amazing people along the way. I've interviewed family members of the ship's company, including Captain Backland's children John and Nellie, Clark Runyan's son Pat and Grenville Broom's son George.

     

    Visiting with Patrick Okpeaha at his Barrow home in August of 2017 was certainly a highlight. Patrick, the grandson of Claire Okpeaha, told me his grandfather had witnessed the Post/Rogers crash and ran to get help. Despite battling shore ice, soft sand, flowing creeks and marshy tundra, this forty-something-year-old man traveled the 12 miles from his family's seal hunting camp at Walukpa to Barrow in less than three hours. That act of physical prowess and bravery led to the world being alerted about the tragedy.

     

    Since beginning research about the C.S. Holmes, I have been able to locate eight journal accounts from four different crew members, three captain’s logs, a 21-minute, silent movie of the Holmes in action, stacks of significant newspaper clippings, scores of historic correspondences and quite an array of old pictures. I’ve also added to an already large collection of reference books.

     

    The final product will take years to complete. Each day I discover new information and come across fresh leads to follow.

     

    (Middle Photos: On the 82nd anniversary of the plane crash, I retraced Claire Okpeaha's steps by running to Barrow from the Will Rogers/Wiley Post Memorial at Walukpa Lagoon. I used fancy, lightweight synthetic clothing, and sleek running shoes, and still couldn't match Claire's time, even though he ran in skin mukluks! )

    Lastly...

    Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this endeavor has been expanding my knowledge of the area I have called home for nearly my entire adult life. My wife Annie is Inupiaq, and was born and raised on the shores of Port Clarence, a body of water the C. S. Holmes passed on its yearly trip north. I have spent time in many of the places the Holmes brought supplies to, and am working to visit the rest.

     

    Through careful study, I've seen sod houses and ice-block reindeer corrals come to life before my eyes. I've read original letters written by some of the first teachers and missionaries such as Thomas Lopp and Eva Richards, become familiar with northern reindeer herders like George Ootenna, Kusiq (Waldo Bodfish Jr.) and Alva Nashoalook, read stories presented by old whalers, in particular Charles Brower and James Allen, and learned about young Natives Howard Rock and Percy Ipalook, men who would go on to help shape the future of their people.

     

    (Lower Photo: During the summer of 2018 my daughter Mallory and I, along with our dear friend David, took six days to walk from Teller Reindeer Station (now known as Brevig Mission) to Wales, Alaska, which lies at the westernmost tip of North America. From the top of the 2300-foot Cape Mountain we looked across the Bering Strait to the United States' Little Diomede Island and Russia's Big Diomede Island. We also spotted the Russian mainland, some 55 miles away. It was easy to imagine the C. S. Holmes sailing past here on her way north to Barrow.)

     

    (To read my Nome Nugget Newspaper article on the C. S. Holmes, and its Captain John Backland Jr., see WRITING SAMPLES below)

  • Most Recent VOCATION

    "Journalism is literature in a hurry" - Matthew Arnold

    Journalist/Newspaper Photographer

    June 2014 - April 2017

    The Nome Nugget newspaper is an independently owned newspaper based in Nome, Alaska. It is the oldest newspaper in the state. I was a member of the Nugget staff for nearly three years, and covered local, regional, and some state-wide sports, as well as other events around the Bering Strait region. I was proud to work for longtime editor Nancy McGuire. The late Ms. McGuire allowed me to process all the Nugget photos and work some of the weekly layout.

     

    (Photo: I did anything to cover a story - like shooting the Nome River Raft Race up close from my kayak)

     

    To read some of my articles. go to WRITING SAMPLES below. To see samples of layout I produced, see LAYOUT EXAMPLES below. To see a few of my favorite pictures, go to PHOTO PORTFOLIO below.

  • Alaska Press Club

    "“Winning isn’t getting ahead of others. It’s getting ahead of yourself" - Roger Staubach.

  • Backcountry Guide

    "Life is a great adventure, or nothing" - Helen Keller

    Explorer and Backcountry Guide

    1977 - Present

    My greatest passion in life is spending adventure time in the wild places of the world. I have been seeking "the Road Less Traveled" for over four decades. My first real, self-guided adventure was a solo, 300-mile bike trip from Wisconsin to Michigan at the age of 16.

     

    I have worked as a ski instructor at Smuggler's Notch Resort in Vermont, as a tour guide for Vermont Bicycle Tours, as a whitewater canoe instructor in Maine for Hurricane Island Outward Bound, and as a kayak guide in Glacier Bay National Park for Alaska Discovery.

     

    For 15 years I owned and operated Bearing C Bikes, a local bicycle repair and sales shop. Also, for several summers I was the proprietor of INUA Expedition Company of Nome, an outfit that brought small groups through the Seward Peninsula's Imuruk Basin via sea kayak.

     

    The past few years I have enjoyed supporting world travelers as they pass through Nome, getting out into the backcountry with friends and sharing adventures with my daughter Mallory.

     

    (Photo: Members of the 2017 Imuruk Basin Expedition on a seven-mile crossing from the Agiapuk River to Canyon Creek, where the 1933 Hollywood movie production "Eskimo" was shot.)

  • King Island Kayaker

    Skush Puppy Productions presents....

    Inupiaq Kayaker in North Carolina

    My daughter Mallory is a descendant of the people of King Island. She is learning to paddle the craft that was once essential to the Inupiaq of western and northern Alaska.

  • SKI and biathlon coach

    "A pair of skis are the ultimate transportation to freedom" - Warren Miller

    Nome Nordic - 2005 to present

    Visit Nome Nordic website at www.nomenordic.strikingly.com

    Nome Ski and Biathlon provides healthy winter activities for young people in Nome. We are a club that raises 100% of our own funds. Our coaches work as volunteers. We use the sports of skiing and biathlon to encourage lifelong access to the outdoors. Nome Ski and Biathlon is a proud member of the Western Interior Ski Association (WISA), which coordinates the rural state ski and biathlon championships.

     

    Our competitive racers work hard, and have had success at many levels. We have had nine athletes win WISA Skimeister Awards, and our squads have taken home 14 WISA Team Trophies. Our athletes have competed in the Youth and Junior World Championships USA Team Trials in 2008, 2015 and 2016. Seven of our members have participated in the Arctic Winter Games, and have traveled to Nuuk, Greenland, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Grand Prairie, Alberta, Whitehorse, Yukon Territories and Fairbanks, Alaska.

     

    (Photo: Members of Nome Ski and Biathlon, winners of the 2017 WISA Sportsmanship Award, standing on a Bering Sea pressure ridge)

  • PAST VOCATIONS

    "To Serve, to Strive and not to Yield"

    The Outward Bound school's motto. Adapted from the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

    Public School Teacher

    1984 - 2014

    I have devoted nearly my entire adult life to serving the people of the Seward Peninsula as an educator. My first teaching years were spent in the remote Inupiaq village of Brevig Mission, Alaska. There I met my wife Annie. We left the region for five years while she completed an Elementary Education program. She became the first person from her village to earn a college degree, and currently is the cultural studies teacher at Nome Elementary School. We both taught in Brevig Mission for seven years before moving to Nome.

     

    Teachers must be versatile in Alaska's bush. I have worked in nearly every grade, and in nearly every subject, ranging from kindergarten to high school algebra, geometry and biology. My favorite position, however, was that of first grade teacher.

     

    During my career I coached cross-country skiing, cross-country running, wrestling, basketball and volleyball. I guided three co-ed volleyball teams from Brevig Mission to district titles. I helped the Nome girls win the 123A West State Volleyball Championship in 1999.

     

    I retired in 2014, thus concluding a teaching career in rural Alaska that spanned 30 years.

     

    (Photo: Three-week Experiential Learning Block. The high school students of Brevig Mission built two replica traditional kayaks with me and Marc Daniels in 1995. In this picture the high schoolers invited all the students of the school to come celebrate.)

    Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

    2010 - 2014

    While with the NVAD I attained EMT-2 certification. I also obtain National Certification as an EMT 1. During my tenure with the department I responded to a variety of emergency calls.

     

    [Photo: Annual Christmas Eve present delivery to needy children. EMT Santa Keith with one of his reindeer (Mallory) and an elf (Annie), 2012]

  • Life Experience Resume

    "Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning" - Thomas Edison

    Keith William Conger

    PO Box 1333

    Nome, Alaska

    (907) 434-2268 (Text and Cell)

    congo6@gci.net

     

    EMPLOYMENT

    • Nome Nugget Newspaper – Writer for the Nome Nugget Newspaper. June 2014 - April 2017

    • Nome Public Schools, Nome, AK - Duties have included setting up, and teaching in, a charter school, teaching High School Math, teaching first, as well as fifth – eighth grades. 1998-2014

    • Bering Strait School District, Brevig Mission, AK - Duties: High School Science, including Biology; all subjects in the Middle School, and K-2, plus coaching duties. 1984-86, 1991-98

    • HS Volleyball Coach – Brevig Mission (Co-ed), 1984, 1991-1995; Nome (Girls), 1999-2001, 2003-2004, AK State Champions 1999, ASAA Region I Co-ed Volleyball Coach of the Year. 1992, 1994

     

    COLLEGE DEGREE PROGRAMS

    • Johnson State College, Johnson, VT - BS Biology, Summa Cum Laude. Graduation, May 1991

    • University of Wisconsin, Madison. BS Elementary Education (Area of Concentration - Math). Graduation – Dec, 1983

     

    OUTDOOR EMPLOYMENT AND EXPERIENCE

    • Bering C Bikes, Nome, Alaska - Owner and operator of a bike shop that specialized in repair, retail sales, and bike tours. 1994-2008

    • Nome Community Center – Outdoor consultant and kayak tour guide. Summers 2005 – 2006

    • Norton Sound Health Corporation, Passage Project, Nome, AK – Lead guide, and equipment specialist for a youth kayaking program. Summers 1996, 1997

    • INUA Expedition Company of Nome - Owner and operator of a sea kayak tour business that specialized in 8-day trips exploring the Imuruk basin. Summers 1994-1996

    • Alaska Discovery Inc., Juneau, AK - Guide and Assistant Guide on 5-8 day, wilderness adventure sea kayak trips around Admiralty Island and Glacier Bay National Park. Summers 1992, 1993

    • Smuggler’s Notch Ski Area and Resort, Jeffersonville, Vermont - Duties included: Head Ski Instructor for the children’s program (ages 3-12), and adult ski instructor. Winter 1988, 1989

    • Vermont Bicycle Touring, Bristol, VT - Duties included leading 3-day, and 5-day van supported Inn-to-Inn bike trips throughout the state of Vermont. Fall 1988

    • Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, Rockland, Maine - Assistant instructor on 2, month-long, multi-element, expedition-style courses (team building, backpacking, map/compass, flat and whitewater canoeing, rock climbing, ropes course). Summer 1988

    • City of Sheboygan, Sheboygan, WisconsinLifeguard. Summers 1979-1983

     

    VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

    • Nome Public Schools, Nome, AK. School Board member. Elected October 2015 - April 2017.
    • Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department, on-call volunteer. 2010 – 2014

    • Western Interior Ski/Biathlon Association. President of a group that promotes rural Alaskan skiing and biathlon, including the rural state championships. Winter 2008 - Present

    • Nome Ski and Biathlon Club, Nome, AK. Volunteer, Cross Country Ski and Biathlon Club Head Coach, ages 6 – 18. 2005 – Present

    • Nome Sportsman’s Association, Nome, AK. Board Member of a group that helped establish and maintain Nome’s shooting range. 2008 – Present

    • Arctic Winter Games, Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada, Ski Biathlon Team Head Coach; Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, Canada, Snowshoe Racing Team Assistant Coach, March 2012; Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, helped manage biathlon range, March 2008

    • Boy Scouts of America, Nome, AK. Started and maintained a boy scout troop, acted as Scoutmaster, 2004 -2006

    • Special Olympics Alaska, Nome, AK – Ski coach for a Special Needs Girl. Winters 2002 - 2005

    • Sadler’s Ultra-Challenge, Parks Highway, AK – 5-day, 250-mile wheelchair-race. Support driver for racer. July 2004

    • Brevig Mission Kayak Club. Brevig Mission, AK. Suicide Prevention Project Coordinator. Building and paddling plywood and traditional Eskimo kayaks with Brevig Mission youth. 1994-1997

    • Ski-For-Light Program, Madison, WI – Cross Country Skiing with visually handicapped individual. Winter 1988

     

    EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION TRAINING

    • National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), EMT -Basic, Inital certification 2012, recert March 2014.

    • Norton Sound Regional Hospital, Nome, AK, Emergency Medical Technician 2. Dec. 2010, recert February 2012.

    • Norton Sound Regional Hospital, Nome, AK, Emergency Medical Technician 1. February 2010

    • United Bicycle Institute, Ashland, Oregon, two-week bicycle maintenance course. June 1994

    • George Gronseth’s Sea Kayak Academy, Seattle, Washington - Advanced Skills. June 1994

    • Professional Ski Instructors of America, Vermont. (PSIA-East) Registration Clinic, Associate Certification Clinic, Children’s Instructor Seminar. Winters 1988, 1989

    • National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Lander, Wyoming. Two-week Wind River Rock Climbing Course, with instruction and practice in lead climbing. July 1987

    • National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Palmer, AK. 30-day Mountaineering Course, with ice climbing, glacier travel, and peak ascents. June 1985

     

    VARIOUS PERSONAL EXPEDITION EXPERIENCES

    • Imuruk Basin, Tenth pilgrimage by kayak from Kougarok Road to Teller Road, July 2017

      Salmon Lake Derby, Nome, AK. 150-mile, 3-day dog sled race. Winter 2005

    • Nome - White Mountain and back – 4-day, Hut-to-hut, 150-mile skijor expedition. Winter 2002

    • Mount McKinley, AK - Muldrow Glacier Route. Organizer of food, equipment logistics. June 1989

    • Bike Tour. Leader of 2-person, Wisconsin to Boston trip. (WI to VT in first five days – Avg. 170 miles per day) . June/July 1986

    • Solo Bike Tours. WI to Michigan; three 6-day, 300-mile bike tours. (starting at age 16). 1977 - 1981

     

    NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS

    • Cross Country Skier Magazine. “The Western Interior Ski Association,” October 2009

    • Mushing Magazine. “A Ski Coach Sees His Team Go to the Dogs,” June 2006

    • Mushing Magazine. “Crosskates: Skatejoring in the North,” Sept/Oct. 2003

    • Mushing Magazine. “Innovation on the Bering Sea Coast,” March/April 2003

    • Sea Kayaker Magazine. “Alaska’s Imuruk Basin,” Dec. 1995

     

    GRANT WRITING

    • NRA Foundation. Biathlon Grants, in the range of  $3100 - $10,500. Spring 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018
    • State of Alaska, Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Suicide Prevention Grant, averaging $10,000 per year. 1994-1997

  • Favorite Quotes

    Words I aspire to live by.....

    Sixteenth Karmapa

    You are going to die. And you're not going to take anything with you except your state of mind. You die, but your state of mind continues. (paraphrased by Pema Chodron)

    The Lord's Prayer

    ..... Give us this day, our daily bread,

    and forgive us our trespasses

    as we forgive those, who trespass against us......

    From Laurel's Kitchen

    I remember reading a story once about a woman who was a terrible housekeeper. Someone gave her a beautiful lily which she brought home and put in a vase in her parlor. The lily, though, showed up the vase for being all tarnished and dusty. She took the vase and polished it, only to see the the table it sat on now looked terrible and had to be cleaned as well. At last she stood back and contemplated the gleaming table and white lily in satisfaction - but then the parlor itself was dim and murky by comparison. Before she knew what had happened, she was scrubbing down the whole house, washing curtains, throwing open windows, letting air and light pour into every dark corner.

    John Holt

    At one point a girl said that one of the things she did was to make candles, but that the only part of this she really likes was taking the finished product out of the mold - everything else leading up to this final step seemed only time-wasting, dull drudgery. In other words, "Disagreeable Hard Work." I said, " but why do you divide up in your mind in this strange way, your experiences of making candles? I should think it would be more natural to see the experience as one whole, and that if you like making candles, everything that you have to do to make them is also part of the experience, and therefore entitled to share in the pleasure of it."

    I.G. Edmonds

    There is a famous Zen story about a man who went to a Zen master. He wanted to be taught Zen. The Zen master said nothing but began to pour a cup of tea for his visitor, using a cup that was already full. The extra tea overflowed and ran across the table to drip on the rice-mat covered floor. Still the Zen master kept pouring until the pot was empty. Then he spoke at last. "You are like this cup," he said. "You are full. How can I pour Zen into you? Empty yourself and come back."

    Metaphor from glade skiing

    Look at tree, hit tree.

    Forest Gump

    Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.

    Zorba the Greek

    Better to be a lean moorhen on a pond than a fat sparrow in a cage. (character from the Nikos Kazantzakis novel of the same name)

    La0-Tsu

    Respond intelligently, even to unintelligent treatment.

    Pema Chodron

    There's a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down a river toward him. At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, "Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete's sake, turn aside!" But the boat just comes right at him, faster and faster. By that time he's standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist. Then the craft smashes right into him and he learns that it's an empty boat.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Cowardice asks the question - is it safe?

    Expediency asks the question - is it politic?

    Vanity asks the question - is it popular?

    But conscience asks the question - is it right?

    And there comes a time when one must take a position

    that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,

    but one must take it because it is right.

    Nikos Kazantzakis

    True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.

  • Contact Me

    LinkedIn

    congo6@gci.net

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