Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vacation, Alaska..And Then Some



I'm cooling in the shade of a mountain, just above a busy river.

I am facing the glacial mountains and snowy peaks of The Gates of the Arctic.

I am out hiking alone today. I am covered in paraphanelia. My pack, with food and water, bear spray and rain gear is weighing me down, as are the wet Tussock grasses.

I wandered back to camp along the riverbed. I saw a few wolf and moose tracks,

as well as some caribou carcass (which says that their are either bears and wolves around, or hunters, bears and wolves), but nothing moving, bar a few birds.

The fog started to gently skirt the mountaintops at around 5pm, now I have lost sight of the road or anything more than 50 feet away from me.

The wind has picked up and the temperature has dropped. The fog, which at first reminded me of the harmless and serene SF Bay fog, soon worried me as it clouded in out camp site.

I just dragged the stove, chairs, water jug and pots and pans inside the camper. I am wearing 2 thermal tops, a long sleeve shirt, a wool sweater, and a coat, and I'm still not warm. This is how I imagined the whole trip would be. We will wait it out overnight or until we run out of things to read or say to eachother, I imagine, and hit the road tomorrow. I woke up to a frost covered world. Saw my breath inside the camper, and couldn't get the propane heater started.

A light snow has started falling and I still cannot see the road. We are stuck with the choice of heading North to the town of Deadhorse (180 miles or so) on a slow road, or heading back South through the Atigun pass which, if it's not closed, may be a bit wild with the snow. I am voting for the proximity to a shower, restaurant and hotel bar.
We are heading North. The cold and snow are overwhelming at times. The road was still quite drivable.

We saw three Caribou grazing by the road (the old man's photo, as mine look like a handful of granola at a distance of 300 yards),

and later saw a fox and what I think was a lemming just loitering about in the snow. Dead things started to line the road marking the end of the hunting season up here, and the land flattened out and started to resemble a combination of Kansas and the moon.

We pulled off the road into a dried-up creek bed. I nearly got the truck stuck in the mud, but no worries. We made it to Deadhorse as the snow let up a bit. I expected to see the town lit up like Vegas in the vast openness of the tundra. It, instead, epitomized the end of the line.

There is an airport here, 2 hotels which are really trailer-like containers, and a gas station. The town rests alongside the guarded oil reserve that is the contents and origin of the pipeline. There is a bit of static music on the radio, the first I've heard in what seems like ages. We checked into a hotel.

I took what was easily the best shower I had ever taken and had a good, hot meal in the cafeteria. This tiny, bleak oil town feels like a sprawling metropolis compared to where we've been. This grizzled place is so uninviting, but it's nice to know that in the frozen North, amongst sad and lonely oil workers, you can still get an ice cream cone.

Drills and pumps. Tool and die. End of the world.


I missed breakfast, which began at 4:15am for the workers, but was awake enough when the line of diesel trucks started outside our window.

I'm glad to be out of this place. I got the impression walking through the halls of this depressing motel that most of these guys wouldn't piss on me if I were on fire. We are back on the Dalton road now, heading out of town. Just passed a sign reading '240 miles until next services.' There is something comforting and also not, in that statement. Heading South. It's still grey and clouded over.

I still cannot believe that people live and die in Deadhorse. The guy cleaning the bathrooms at the motel told me that he couldn't wait for winter to arrive, meanwhile it must have been 30 degrees outside. I just read in the paper that Hugo Chavez is donating Venezuelan oil to native Alaskan families who can't afford to heat their homes over the winter. The irony is pretty staggering that families living below and oil pipeline are freezing. Viva Chavez!

And it continues....In the midst of all of my recollection I'm also packing up / selling on craig's list most of my apartment. Lexi and I are moving to SF next Thursday, and then I am going to Neil Young's house for a barbecue, no shit.