July 6, 2014


The Long Long Dalton Highway
While I am still loving the Yukon River it has become clear that close quarters and boredom breed drama, so last Friday I escaped to the big city of Fairbanks for a much needed reprieve. You'd think that being out in the middle of no place with the wind and the trees and the river would be relaxing, but what I was really craving was anonymity. The chance to walk through a store and recognize no one, to eat lunch alone, to blend in with a crowd and go unnoticed for even a few hours.

So I caught the express shuttle southbound out of the YRC and honestly slept most of the way into town where I checked in at Sven's Basecamp Hostel.

Sven's is a really unique place unlike any other hostel I've been to. It has the air of a brand new facility both because of the cleanliness of the hostel and the enthusiasm of Sven and his sister, both of whom were very friendly and accommodating. For $27 I got a bed in what they call a tent but it really more of a safari tent with permanent wood walls. I could have also rented a tipi or a cabin for some extra privacy, but I was the only girl there anyway so I saved some money.

The first thing I did after checking in was walk down to Safeway, get some dinner, and sit on the bench outside people watching. You know what was the best part? Having someplace to walk to. I wish I were a hiker, someone like my sister who loves to climb mountains and trek far into the forest, but I am the sort who loves walking towards something, even through something and I hadn't realized how much I missed that aspect of New Orleans. The next morning I took full advantage of the city (It's really more of an oversized town) and I walked more than 11 miles. I went to Wal-Mart, the outdoor sports store, got my eyebrows shapes, sat by the river, and even stopped at the Cultural and Visitor'sCenter, which I highly recommend if you're in the area.

As it happened a friend of mine from Vermont way back in 2010 was in the neighborhood on her way out of Denali so we met up around 8pm when her train got in. I had this brilliant plan to check out Silver Gultch Brewery which Google Maps said was just across the rover about 2.5 miles from Sven's Hostel. After walking all day I suggested taking a cab, but, as it turns out, the brewery was all the way in the town of Fox nearly ten miles away and my blood pressure rose each time the cabbie's fare ticked up. $57! By the time we got to the brewery I was highly irritated but the beer was very good and my friend found a nice lady who drove us back to Fairbanks. We stayed up all night drinking whiskey and smoking poorly rolled cigarets with three Argentinian bikers and by 4:30am it was time for my to make my way back up the Dalton.
Cultural Visitors Center

So I show up at the office to catch a van or tour going north. I'm exhausted in that slightly tipsy, red eyes, why didn't I sleep last night sort of way and they tell me that they're going to put me on a plane to Coldfoot. Awesome! It's a little six-seater and the pilot stows my pack in the wing. We take off... and the next thing I know we're landing in Coldfoot. I slept through the entire ride, right over the arctic circle! I'm still exhausted but we (myself and the four others that were on the tour) pile into a van and we drive to Wiseman, a small off settlement with a lot of history, and we get a great tour around some of the original buildings. Then we're on to Coldfoot Camp where I sit and chill with one of the tour guides for a few hours. This is about the point I realized how badly sunburned my face was, the office must have though I was a mess! Eventually I caught a supply van down the Dalton the 120 miles to YRC where I slept for 14 hours and woke up rejuvenated and ready for a another three months at the river.

All in all a good adventure, I just wish I had been a bit more conscious for the second leg. I got to see a few moose though and the next time I cross the Arctic Circle I will be much more rested.

June 24, 2014

Free Time

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” 

The Alaskan summer is well underway, but the nights are still little chilly and I've kept all three blankets on my bed. When I was growing up we only had one car most of the time and it wasn't that reliable so we'd spend most days at home. There would be weeks where we didn't leave and I remember my mother half joking about cabin fever. My sister and I never really felt it. Being stuck at home was fine as long as we had books, movies, board games and weather that would allow us to periodically escape each other. Now I'm grown and living in the middle of east nowhere Alaska and I think I finally am understanding the real stir-crazy potential of cabin fever that my mother way hinting at.

Alaska is beautiful, especially as the weather grows warmer. We have wild roses growing through the front porch and the sky, with it's parade of puffy clouds, is the definition of vast. Unfortunately the mosquitoes seem to have formed loosely knit gangs that attack as soon as I step out the door, so long hikes are out for the time being, which means I'm largely house bound. I get up each morning and fast walk the 30 feet to work where I wait on a slew of interesting tourists and truckers traveling up and down the Dalton Highway. Most of them ask where I'm from which leads to a stock answer, something like “New Hampshire by way of New Orleans” and then they ask what brought me to Alaska to which I answer “Louisiana was getting hot so I picked the farthest point north.” It's like a script now that I recite ten to fifty times a day. And there's the issue. Each day here is very similar to the last one and the perpetual sunshine just adds to the feeling of a never ending loop.

Now, I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. If anything it's made me appreciate the little stuff, the slight variations like a cook that makes a special employee meal or a pair of chatty bicyclists. It also occurs to me that very often we are given things to occupy us, like television, shopping, driving, eating out. Did you ever read Fahrenheit 451? Bradbury wasn't just warning against a world where books were outlawed, though that's what people always pick up on, he was warning against a world where we no longer had the “leisure to digest” information. A world where we were constantly kept busy, so busy that there was no time to wonder about ourselves and our world, to analyze the information in books. I think that's been the gift of Alaska, that I have so much time to think now and, while it can be a little overwhelming, it's lead to some interesting choices.

My house in the woods
For one I asked my father to ship up my violin and now I practice every day, sometimes for hours if my housemates can stand it. I also have begun brushing up on my Spanish and learn at least one new word or phase each day. I still read too, at least two books a week. I take all the work I can now, giving up days off, so I'll walk out of the woods with a good chunk of change, maybe even enough to make a side trip somewhere between Alaska and Louisiana.

So I'm adapting, maybe so much so that my planned one month of city life will be too much of a shock.