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An Arctic Summer Vacation



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Linda Wertheimer.

If you think back to your school summer vacations, you might remember idyllic camp adventures, or working as a lifeguard, slathered in sunblock.

Well, author and adventurer James Campbell and his 15-year-old daughter Aiden are making a different sort of memory. The kind where you spend nearly a month 130 miles above the Arctic Circle. They are in the foothills of the Brooks Range in Alaska where they're helping James Campbell's first cousin Heimo build a new cabin for the winter.

Living off the land, catching grayling from the river, it's not your average summer for a teenager from Wisconsin. We spoke to them by satellite phone, and James described a typical day for us.

JAMES CAMPBELL: First thing we do is we build a smudge fire. We built a fire that smokes a lot and we sit around it to escape the mosquitoes. I usually make some hot cocoa for my daughter, who sleeps in a little, and I give her a cup of hot cocoa and then we eat, well, whatever is around. Sometimes we make blueberry pancakes or salmonberry pancakes. We go out to the tundra and harvest berries and we make some pancakes, and then we head out to the cabin site, where we peel poles and lift huge logs and work quite hard.

WERTHEIMER: Could I speak to your daughter for just a second?

J. CAMPBELL: You can. She's right here. Just a moment.

WERTHEIMER: Aiden, is that you?

AIDEN CAMPBELL: Yeah, it is.

WERTHEIMER: Tell me, are you liking this or would you rather on the whole have gone, you know, to the Jersey Shore or Cape Cod?


A. CAMPBELL: Well, this is an experience for sure. It's not easy. Everything involves labor. Like, we have every trip to the river every day to haul water for dishes. And just drinking water, we have to make the long trek to the spring, and the banks are just littered with mosquitoes, they're all over. But...

WERTHEIMER: So the mosquitoes are really bothering you, too?


A. CAMPBELL: Yeah. They are. But I always wear my head net. I haven't taken it off much.


WERTHEIMER: Hard to eat through it. You can drink through it but hard to eat through it.

A. CAMPBELL: I've had some trouble with that. I've been trying to drink water, or spit - I end up doing it right into the mosquito net.


WERTHEIMER: What happens with the rest of your summer when you get ready to pack it up and leave the Arctic Circle?

A. CAMPBELL: Well, the first thing I'm going to do - well, we're going to do, is we're going to go back to Fairbanks and we're going to eat a huge meal with all the best things - big chocolate malts, big meal, maybe some sushi, some ethnic food, something different from grayling.

WERTHEIMER: Let me talk to your dad again.


WERTHEIMER: Mr. Campbell, I wondered, do you think this has been a good experience for the two of you, or is it something that you can imagine doing again?

J. CAMPBELL: Yeah. You know, it's I think it has been. Obviously, there have been some times when our patience has been tested and when Aiden gets a little irritated with her old man and I get a little irritated and impatient with her. But I do think it was meant to be an experience for her in self-sufficiency and I guess independence, but also a bonding experience for us. It's been a really enriching experience.

WERTHEIMER: James Campbell and his 15-year-old daughter, Aiden. The Campbells are writing a book about this experience, which will be published sometime next year.

Thanks so much.

J. CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.