Day 7: Back to the interior

Day miles: 529
Trip miles: 3532
Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) to North Pole

I was up early this morning to settle up with the hotel and have some breakfast before the oilfield tour. The day begins with opening the shades to see the sun. Notably, there is no sunrise here. Google says,

These days, the sun never sets in Deadhorse, AK.
The next sunset is in 40 days.
1:28am (AKDT) Jul 29 2011

Deadhorse isn’t a walkable town. I decided I would leave my gear at Deadhorse Camp rather than try to find a place to leave it at the Arctic Caribou Inn where Tatqaani Tours is. This meant it was very cold riding the bike between buildings. Fortunately I followed a couple in their vehicle, as I didn’t know the way and probably would have gotten lost and colder.

I ran into CJ and friends again, the three adventure riders out of Wisconsin that I had met in Fairbanks. They were coming on the same tour so we got to catch up a little and joke around. They show a short film at the beginning of the tour, which is mostly a BP propaganda film. As best I can tell, extracting oil actually improves the environment and helps endangered species reproduce, growing up healthy. I’m not really sure how, but that’s the way it is.

The only buildings we weren’t allowed to take photos of were the security shacks, which was a little amusing as they’re just a shack. There’s nothing fancy there to plot against. Anyway, you spend the whole tour in the bus except for a stop at the failed “East Dock” where you can take off your shoes and put your feet in the water, if you want. I still don’t understand why I would want to do this. It sounds cold, and taking off my boots and two layers of socks didn’t sound that great either. I guess I’m just not any fun. I took a few photos, but I had brought my wide angle lens and the road was pretty far from everything.

The tour was full of interesting information from our security office/guide about people working up on the slope and the history of drilling up there. Occasionally we stopped so people could take pictures of a bird or some other furry animal of some kind.

The strangest part was being on the edge of the continent. It had been three thousand miles of driving since I left Seattle and I was five hundred miles from a city. It isn’t that rare to spend an entire day heading away from civilization, but to do so averaging sixty miles per hour takes you awfully far away. The town, the landscape, the bleak ocean, everything adds to the feeling of remoteness. While talking to a mechanic working on the stove at the camp about my trip, he remarked, “so you’re doing your fathers bucket run.”

I suppose he was right, I always wanted to go to Alaska, but so did Dad. Thinking about this started shaping the rest of my trip after Deadhorse as well. Other events, like the float planes at Moon Lake and the people in Manley had reminded me of my father, I knew he would enjoy these.

While overhearing someone talk about themselves too much on the tour, for a moment I lost faith. They were preaching their accomplishments out loud to another rider. I started to wonder, why was I so far away from home, which has recently firmly returned to Maine and so alone, out here? I’m not the sort of person who measures themselves against other people, but sometimes I fall into the trap of doing so. Reaching Deadhorse was also a personal challenge.

Somewhere on the trip I caught a video on public television about Alaska bush pilots. One of the pilots being interviewed, when asked about the dangers of being a bush pilot, stated that he realized he could die anytime he flew, but he was alive. Flying, dangerous or not, was a reminder that he was alive.

Driving my motorcycle up the most remote highway in the United States, to the edge of the continent, hundreds of miles from civilization; this is not a safe or smart idea. But these are the challenges that define us. I’ve had many conversations with other motorcycle riders who want to take a trip like this since I’ve left, and my advice to all of them is that they just need to go. That’s it, go. That is how I ended up standing on the ice of the Arctic Ocean.

After the tour I managed to find and figure out the gas station, as well as track down a gift store. I checked in with CJ about their plans, which were to camp just north of Coldfoot. I told him that I’d camp with them if they showed up in Coldfoot before I finished dinner.

The ride south was easier this time. I was familiar with the road and the weather was about fifteen degrees warmer. I caught a picture of a bear but I’m not sure what kind it is. I’m pretending it is a Grizzily/Polar hybrid because they sound cool.

I didn’t see CJ by the time I was finished with dinner and gassed at Coldfoot and it was only about 5pm so I decided to make Fairbanks that night. Five or six hours later, I was back in the city. I stopped at the first hotel I found and was told that most of Fairbanks would be booked but I could get a room fifteen miles down the highway at North Pole. I had driven through North Pole on my way north and thought the town looked pretty cheesy, but I just wanted a bed, so off I went. I eventually found the place in the back of a mall parking lot. The sold me a “mini-suite” at the price of a double, which meant I got a fridge. Whatever, I just wanted a bed. I dumped all of my gear in the shower, ordered pizza delivery and got some much needed rest.

2 thoughts on “Day 7: Back to the interior

  1. Ron

    a question, as we are planning a trip to Alaska later this year (all of August and into September). Understand the excursion you mentioned with the oil company is no longer available. Is there any other way to get a look? (Guess Artic Inn was running it and they are out of business). Or is it worth doing? We’re interested in a general look at the area, including wildlife. Would appreciate your thoughts…

  2. Bryan McLellan Post author

    The issue was that you couldn’t pass through the security gates on the edge of town without taking the tour. If you could, I probably wouldn’t have taken the tour but in hindsight it was worth it to travel at a fixed speed and be told a bit about what you were looking at.

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