The Arctic Part 1: South Bend to Toolik

As mentioned previously, a large part of my job (and probably the main reason Adrian hired me) is to take care of his field equpiment in the arctic throughout the field season. So in late May, I left South Bend behind for Alaska.

We traveled a full day from South Bend to Chicago to Anchorage to Fairbanks. I had a rather bizarre first experience in Alaska. After finishing my first dinner at the Pumphouse Restaurant near the airport, I was lounging on the resturaunt’s back porch overlooking the Chena River. Suddenly an overturned kayak and paddle came floating by. This was shortly followed by a police officer asking if I had seen the kayaker. I later discovered that Alaska has the highest rate of recreational deaths in the US. In this case, as best anyone could tell, someone had stolen a kayak from a local resident and on attempting to make a gettaway, capsized and likely drowned. Weird.

The next morning Adrian and I zipped around town picking up miscelaneous supplies and then set off North on the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway (or Haul Road) was built in the 70’s after the discovery of oil deposits in the arctic. It serves as a supply route along the trans-Alaskan oil pipeline, which criss crosses the road every so often. It has been recently dramatized in the reality television Ice Road Truckers and called one of the world’s most dangerous roads. This is an exageration. I found it to be a relatively safe, albiet long, dirt highway. The trucks were by no means traveling too fast or reckless and were actually in constant contact with us via radio. There were no sharp corners, precipitous drop-offs, large herds of wildlife, or roadside homicidal maniacs as I have encountered on many other roads in my travels. The only potential danger was a short section along a heavily snow-covered mountain that could have possibly caused an avalance. But otherwise I felt far safer on the Dalton than I ever have on the Florida Turnpike going past Orlando during rush hour.

We pulled into Toolik Field Station in the early evening. Since moving from Florida, I’ve been fairly undaunted by the cold Northern weather. It was an interesting new experience and I always reassured myself that as the Summer came, the snow would melt and I would again be able to put on my swimsuit shorts and tee shirt and frolic about. Little did I know that in late May I would be regularly plowing through several feet of snow just to get from my bed to the bathroom. Toolik had yet to see the Spring and needless to say, it was cold. But it quickly redeemed itself by having a never ending supply of amazing food and drinks whenever I wanted them. Eventally I settled in to life at Toolik and our work began…

Cruisin on the Dalton Highway
Cruisin on the Dalton Highway

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