August 26, 2014

Arctic Ocean Adventure

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” 
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets

Full Arctic Foot Dip
The season here at the Yukon River is drawing to a close and I can't say I'm super upset about it. It's been a fun ride; I've met lots of cool people, read a ton of books, seen some local wildlife, and learned a lot about the area, but it's time to move on and I'm feeling the keen pull of a new adventure.

Until this past weekend I'd only left the Yukon River Camp (YRC) once since May. Between bad weather on my days off and lack of transportation getting out of here seemed like an impossibility, but this past Saturday I caught the Dalton HighwayExpress van from YRC to Deadhorse and Prudoe Bay for a chance to dip my toes in the Arctic Ocean. Yes, it's a super touristy thing to do, but I wasn't going to leave Alaska without doing it, having been so close.

The Mountains Outside Atigun Pass
Close is a relative term I guess because the van ride itself was 12 hours each way, which is the equivalent of driving from my old home in New Hampshire to South Carolina, the difference being that we were going about 40 MPH tops and had to pull over for every big rig that passed (and there are a lot of those up here). My day began at 9am on Saturday as I boarded the van, which already accommodated three passengers from Fairbanks. We stopped at the Arctic Circle sign (not super impressive but a good landmark) and then at Coldfoot Camp (about four hours from YRC) for some food before making the big push to Prudoe. We passed through the Brooks Mountain Range, which I think everyone should see at some point because they're AMAZING (I'm already planning to come back and hike), then to Atigun Pass where one of the passenger departed for a hiking trip. After that the mountains that began as "Man From Snowy River" in the south and became "Lord of the Rings" in the north began to peter out, and then the rolling hills and finally the wide open tundra, where the only thing obstructing your view is atmosphere and the curve of the earth. We saw some Caribu and some Caribu hunters before hitting Deadhorse, a small industrial "town" housing more than 3,000 men and women who work the pipeline. Deadhorse Camp was cozy and I got a TV in my room, an unknown luxury which meant I stayed up too late.

Mountain Sheep!

At 5:30am I woke up, got dressed, packed my things, and headed to the dining room for some French toast before meeting with the security guard who checked my ID before letting me board the Arctic Ocean bound shuttle.

TIP: You cannot drive to the ocean itself so if you want to see the ocean while in Prudoe Bay you need to make reservations on a tour 24 in advance. The van needs to pass through a security checkpoint to get to the water, but it's pretty informal. All you'll need to do is have a reservation and then present your ID before the tour. Call 877-474-3565 to make reservations.

The ocean was cold and large and bland, but worth the trip if only for the story. I dipped my toes in, saw some polar bears from super far away, and then hit the road south. The ride back was more eventful then the ride up, in large part because we were joined by three ladies from New
Zealand who began cracking beers as soon as we got on the road. We saw mountain sheep, a very recent plan crash in Atigun Pass, some more beautiful mountains, and a black bear about ten miles north of YRC.
The Brooks Range

So it took me two days and 24 hours of driving to see the arctic ocean, Was it worth it? Of course and I would have regretted being up here the whole summer and not seeing it because really when is the next time I'll be in Alaska? Probably no time soon.

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.