Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Prudhoe Bay and the Dalton Highway

Oh my goodness. There's always so much to blog about until I sit down to actually do it. Then I can't think of anything. Then I start writing and can't stop! So, let me give you an update on my life. I am sitting in the basement of the lemon road house (for those of you that don't know what that is, it's where I used to live in Virginia) and the lights are all on to ward off scary, yucky bugs and it's four o'clock in the morning. I left Alaska yesterday morning at six am. I flew into Anchorage and then on to Seattle. I had a ten hour layover in Seattle before flying to Virginia to get here at 6:30 in the morning. The fabulous Anne came and picked me up. I hadn't slept much and so I slept all day today and woke up with a headache which led me to taking some migraine medication which had a lot of caffeine in it. Thus I am sitting up at four o'clock in the morning and wishing I was sleeping because I need to get stuff done tomorrow. Today? Whenever. So, let me back up to my last four/five days in Alaska. After I got off the highway, I had a few days in town doing city tours and transfers and optional tours and such. On the 17th (the day I was originally coming back to Virginia) I instead headed north to the north slope. I flew up to Prudhoe Bay to take over the charter that we were running up there. We had been hired by Alyeska to transport pipeline workers from Prudhoe Bay (the oil fields where the Alaska pipeline begins and where pump station one is) to pump station 2, a trip of about 60 miles one way. They were doing some work on the pump station. Anyway, Jake was up there and I flew up and spent a glorious almost whole day with Jake learning how to do the run. Oh my gosh! It was SO much fun! I landed at the airport in Deadhorse. Jake came and picked me up and we went to the hotel. We dropped off my stuff and Jake finished up some laundry.

Once I had gone to make my lunch (or rather, gave Jake a convenient excuse to eat two pieces of Boston creme pie considering that I ended up leaving my lunch at the hotel when we left for the pump station...) we went back to the hotel (a tragic mistake, as that's where my lunch ended up staying) so Jake could grab his laundry from the dryer, then we headed out of Deadhorse. I read a great saying in Deadhorse: If you think hell doesn't freeze over, you've never been to Deadhorse. This was printed on a thermometer. Great, isn't it? Anyway, so Jake had me drive from Deadhorse to pump station 2 so I could see how to get there. On the way, we saw some beautiful bluffs:as well as some musk ox (muskox?):It was VERY windy when I got to the north slope. You should see the tundra when it's waving in the wind. It looks like the ocean. It's really quite beautiful. The north slope is flat. When you look out to the horizon, it's like looking over the ocean. Depths are very deceptive out there. Something that is 10 miles away looks at least half that distance. One of the security guards was telling me that there are spots on the tundra that are like quicksand. You have to be very careful. They will swallow you. Apparently, people have died in these tundra traps. The north slope is so interesting. There are no trees. None. Not even the scrubby little pipe cleaner trees that grow in the permafrost. (One small political note: I was initially against drilling for oil in ANWR. Since seeing the north slope firsthand, I can say that if we're going to drill anywhere, that's the place. There's nothing to destroy and it's easy (relatively speaking) to recover. It's stupid to let a vast oil reserve sit there going to waste. Okay, I'm stepping off my soapbox now.) So, Jake and I got to pump station 2. It was much less windy and much warmer there. We went into the security office and Jake introduced me to Jesse, the security guard. He's such a great guy! We chatted with him for a while and then went back to the motorcoach to take naps. It was a really nice day spent reading, chatting with Jesse, sleeping and taking care of the motorcoach. Around 5:30 we picked everyone up and drove back into Prudhoe Bay. We saw more muskox, some caribou, and a white fox and a red fox. (One small tour note: We spend our entire drive looking for moose and caribou and bears when we're giving tours. I go to the north slope and there are animals everywhere. Oh the irony. Anyway....) So, the motorcoach had been leaking antifreeze. This is not okay - especially when it's 30 degrees outside. So Fred, our fabulous and amazing mechanic who I just adore, drove up from Fairbanks to check out the engine. I wanted to stay outside and chat with him but the wind was still blowing and I was freezing so I went inside with Jake to eat dinner. Fred finished up and came in and joined us. (You know, Jake, Fred, and I have had some interesting experiences this summer. It was Fred that brought Jake a new tire when Jake's coach blew a tire during our Eagle run.) We were actually joking about how they weren't going to let Jake and I run together anymore because bad things kept happening. But you weren't there so you didn't get to enjoy that conversation so let's move on. After dinner Jake and I talked for a while then went to bed because I had to start the next morning at 4 and Jake very kindly and graciously agreed to get up early and come with me on my first run. I was SO grateful. I just wished he could have stayed the whole time. Anyway, so we got up the next morning and it was freezing. We did a pre-trip then went and ate breakfast. They fed us like royalty up there. You wouldn't believe the massive amounts of food they had available. I ate my divine breakfast, made my lunch, and we went back to the motorcoach. I drove around and we picked up everyone and headed off. Jake sat in the jump seat and gave me pointers about the drive. Back at pump station 2, we dropped everyone off and then went back to park the coach and say good morning to Jesse. After saying good morning, we went outside to enjoy the beautiful sunrise. We found some great seats! Jake popped the hatches open on the coach and we climbed up on top and sat on the roof of the motorcoach and watched the sun rise. I watched until I got too cold, then I went back inside. Jake and I read together a little and then far too soon it was time for me to drive Jake back because he had a plane to catch. We talked on the way back to Prudhoe and before I knew it, we were back at the hotel. In spite of me begging him not to leave me (okay, so he had no choice), Jake went in to pack and get ready for his flight. I can honestly say that the hardest part of my summer was watching Jake wave at me from the door of the hotel and walk inside, away from me. I held it together pretty well until Jake left and then I lost it. I cried all the way back to pump station 2. Fortunately, I had it pretty well together by the time I got there. I spent a rather lonely first day at the pump station. My next two days were pretty much the same schedule. After getting over my separation anxiety from Jake, I rather enjoyed myself. It turned out to be a lot of fun! My second morning in Prudhoe, I left the cafeteria and I was walking toward my motorcoach around 4:50 in the morning. I looked up and the northern lights were dancing overhead while the sun was coming up over the arctic ocean behind me. It was an unforgettable moment. I got to run this until Saturday. On Sunday, I left Prudhoe Bay and drove the motorcoach back to Fairbanks. I had so many people telling me how awful the Dalton highway (aka Haul Road) is. Esther, the key lady, asked me if someone was coming to pilot me back. When I said no, she asked if I'd ever driven the road before. One of the drivers in Fairbanks who gives a tour to Prudhoe was going on and on about how messy and snowy the road had become and how he'd never want to drive it at this time of year. So, to say I was nervous about the drive is an understatement. But I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. So, I slept in on Sunday until about 6 and then left about 7:30 for Fairbanks. I stopped at PS 2 to say hello to Jesse and pick up the batteries I'd accidentally left charging there the day before. Jesse insisted on me taking some hot chocolate with me. As I was getting ready to leave, Jesse was standing in the open door of the security office telling me how I was leaving at just the right time because it was snowing on Atigun Pass and in a few days it would snow and stick. As he's saying this, I see the misty rain is now turning to snow. So, I left pump station 2 and this is what I encountered:It wasn't like this the whole way, but it started sticking to the ground just past PS2 and stayed that way until I was over Atigun Pass. It doesn't show it in this picture, but it was snowing. And you know what? The road was great! Atigun Pass, a spot people were speaking of with a terrified reverence, was easy! It had guard rails, for heaven sake! I actually didn't realize I'd made it over the pass until I checked my mirrors and saw the sign saying "Atigun Pass" for the people that were northbound (I was southbound). The drive was incredible and the road was in great shape! I definitely had nothing to be worried about. Here are some pictures I took of the drive:This is a picture of the Brooks Range. It was covered in clouds, unfortunately. Every once in a while, I would glimpse tall, snow covered peaks peering out at me from behind their veil of clouds. What I could see was really beautiful.This is the trans-Alaska pipeline. It was covered in snow. I took a ton of pictures of the pipeline because I was so amazed by it. I saw it almost the entire drive. I'm really impressed with the pipeline and the people who built it. I have a newfound appreciation for them and for it.It wasn't until I came down Atigun Pass and below the tree line that I really recognized the lack of trees on the north slope. I hadn't realized how strange it was without them until I was back in them.

This is Coldfoot, AK. Yeah, it's an actual place. Like people live here. There are houses and a post office. I believe our guests overnight here when they do a Prudhoe Bay tour. I think the white building may be where they stay. Wow, and our Taylor highway guests think Tok is rustic!
Being up above the arctic circle was cool. Driving across the arctic circle was even more cool. They have a big sign and visitor center but the road to it was very narrow and I wasn't sure there was a place for me to turn the motorcoach around in so I didn't venture up the road to get a picture of the sign.This is just another shot of the pipeline. Seriously, most of my pictures are of the pipeline because I was just that impressed by what they built in such a hostile, unforgiving environment.This is just outside Fairbanks. By the time I got to Fairbanks, me and my camera batteries were running out of energy. It's about a twelve hour drive from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks. It's almost 500 miles. It was a beautiful drive. I'm so glad I did it. I guess the life lesson I can learn from this is that we can listen to people and let them scare us out of taking risks or we can prepare ourselves and jump in with both feet. If we're never willing to take a few risks we can miss out on some of the most amazing experiences life has to offer. Oh great. I'm starting to discuss the deeper meaning in life. It's time to end this blog.

Good night! Or good morning. Either way, it's time for me to go to bed.

1 comment:

Batista said...

There is talking about long driving. I like to go for long drive. Thank you for your views.