Thursday, July 31, 2008

Found a gold nugget.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

If There's One Thing I've Learned from Survival Movies,

it's that if you don't respect the land you're in, it will kill you.

In May or June I visited the Eskimo village of Anaktuvuk* Pass. It is a windswept valley located miles above the northern timberline in the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Only 400 people live there in pipeline-funded diesel-generated comfort, with a high school that cost more than the entire state of Alaska and the school's heated, Olympic-sized swimming pool. (This was all part of the Native Claims Settlement Act of the 1970's, a deal from which the Alaska Natives are still making a fortune.)

One of the buildings I noticed during my two hours there was a tiny National Park Service office, and asking our tour guide, I learned that every once in a while hikers will travel from Anaktuvuk Pass to Wiseman, 60 crow miles over moutainous, soggy, tussocky, mosquito dominated terrain. I did an overnighter in these mountains this month, and two days in that country is enough suffering to wash away weeks of work-related stress. Still, I have thought off and on how fun it would be to buy some topographic maps and make that trek as well. But not enough to plan anything. For one thing, I don't own a satellite phone or emergency search and rescue beacon, and wouldn't risk the trip without one of those things.

I have a friend here at Cooldfoot named Dave who washes dishes in the kitchen. Here he is on Michelle mountain last month:

Dave came up here from Buffalo with his friend Morgan and they have discovered a new hobby this summer which they hadn't really tried before: hiking. Dave ran track in high school and he trudged up Michelle mountain in about half the time as the rest of his group. Based on this and other day hikes, Dave and Morgan decided to try their first backpacking trip. From Anaktuvuk Pass to Wiseman.

Morgan has never backpacked before. He is an avid smoker and a diabetic. Dave was asking around for a compass 30 minutes before his flight was scheduled to take off. Dave's pack weighs about 50 pounds. One of the items in his pack is a 6 lb. can of peanut butter. His sleeping bag is rated to +20 degrees, a temperature reached regularly overnight in Anaktuvuk Pass. On Friday I brought my handheld GPS receiver to where he was packing and tried to give it to him, but he refused. "I want to have my own little 'Into the Wild' experience", he said.

I haven't read the book. Did it have a different ending than the movie?

I brought the GPS to Morgan instead and showed him how to use it. I am not sure whether he was paying attention or not. I told him to keep it at the bottom of his pack if he wanted, but to at least bring it. He did, or pretended to.

(Anaktuvuk: Yupik Inupiat Eskimo for "land of lots of caribou droppings". No joke.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Megafauna Monday (and other failed goals) weeks 8, 9, 10, 11?

I think we're up to 11. The trouble is, all of the animals have moved farther North and to higher elevations. Migration and all, you know? These last four weeks I have seen like 4 moose, a bear, a porcupine, and a red fox. Pathetic. Here's my spreadsheet. (Sorry to let you down, Billy.)

But while we're on the topic of goals, there are several I have accomplished so far:

-Solo trip through Gates of the Arctic National Park.
-See Arctic Ocean
-Eat caribou
-Pan for gold

But those are far outnumbered by things I still need to do:

-Swim in Arctic Ocean
-Bear encounter on foot
-Solo trip through ANWR
-Go hunting for the first time ever
-See a wolf
-See a musk ox
-Eat moose
-Find Gold
-See Aurora Borealis
-Bigfoot sighting
-Marry an Eskimo girl

To be fair, here are things that I have accomplished that I hadn't planned on:

-Go to Barrow
-See a lynx
-Watch the entire first season of Flight of the Conchords

Which are very worthwhile things in their own right. But still, the season is half over now, and I have a long list ahead of me. Wish me luck.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

To Atone for my Truancy

Well I'm sorry that I am not painting a better (or at least more consistent) picture of Coldfoot for you. You know how it is. Maybe. But one person's picture is always incomplete anyway. I don't really paint, but whenever I draw pictures I tend to focus more on shapes than on light or on proportions (this is another way of saying that I am a lousy artist). So you're always better off looking at several different pictures anyway. I mean, isn't it the disagreement between our two eyes that gives us depth? Both pictures are different but both are accurate.

Wait! Don't go to sleep, I'm getting to the point of this post. Here are two other blogs kept by my coworkers here.

Maxwell Vincent Crabb tells of his merry exploits as a cook in the kitchen.
"Of course, I do have mosquito netting, but I took it down, as Courtney kept referring to it as 'Princess canopy'."

Kari Rasmussen has a blog as well, with a very clever title.
"The lack of darkness feels like it is one long day with naps, work, and hiking at any time you please."

Also notice that they need to update even more than I do! And in case you missed it, a fellow named Travis came through Coldfoot recently, and gave us all a shout out on his travel blog. There's photos of the Dalton Highway, the Pipeline, the man himself crossing the Arctic Circle, and one of me straining against the wind, just a few days before cutting off my hair. What a grand day out that was.

Yeah, sorry, I cut off my hair.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not a City in China

A friend and I were discussing different questions we sometimes get asked while guiding, and one that has come up for me several times is "How much do you get paid?"
Now that's a question you normally would hesitate to even ask a close friend, let alone a stranger. So we decided that a bold question deserves a bold answer.
"It's a moderate hourly wage, plus room and board, plus tips. It's a great way to save money because there is nowhere up here for me to spend it."
Well, maybe they were planning on tipping anyway, but now I've reminded them just in case they forgot. The last guy who asked how much I make ended up handing me a $10 bill just moments later as he got on his airplane. Now I don't mind when people ask anymore.

Monday, July 7, 2008

He is so 1982!

I don't know but I've been told, if you keep on dancing you'll never grow old.

--Steve Miller Band, "Dance, Dance, Dance"

    Alright, if you haven't already been put off by a quote from Steve Miller Band, then read on. Yeah, I turned 26. The thing I have been hearing the most from people is some variation on the theme of me having peaked, and now being past my prime. Well I just want everyone to realize that Haile Gebrselassie set the marathon world record when he was 34 years old, and still competing today at 36. That gives me like, at least 8 more years, so get off my case already. Oh, and Ann Trason set the women's record for the Wasatch 100 mile race when she was 38. Her time has been undefeated for ten years.

    So the thing about being 260 miles from any sort of store is that you have to improvise and make things out of other things. Now imagine how great a costume party would be under such circumstances. In fact, rather than imagine, check out these photos (we live in a visual world and I am a visual girl).

I chose "ninja" for reasons ranging from comfort to plain old awesomeness.

 This costume drew many compliments until I stepped outdoors into the light and someone said: "Are you just wearing your underwear?" Sadly, the answer was yes.

Andrew, my tent-roommate chose the timely "Saudi sheik" costume, complete with machete for beheading infidels (too soon?).

We briefly discussed whether or not it would be a good idea for him to run 1/2 mile down the road to the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline and start climbing on it in that costume. The infidel in that photo (Max) is dressed as The Unicycler.

There were many other inventive costumes including Morgan as a knight ...

Jeff as a highly suggestive unicorn ...

The '80s were a recurrent costume theme, as you can see from several costumes in this photo ...


As well as in Phil's choice of costume, "Prince" (my favorite one of the whole night).

Seriously, where does a guy get a purple cape in the middle of the Arctic? (Also note the wristband.)

There were a couple of geographically specific costumes as well: Andre as a trucker and Chad as a bear attack victim.

There were some other great costumes which are too numerous for me to chronicle. The thing about costumes, though, is they beg to be danced in! 

There are many things of note in this one, particularly 1. Rambo drinking vodka mixed with Cranberry juice, whatever that's called. In just a few minutes, he will spill it all over the floor. 2. Me dancing with my arms in the air somewhere in the back, intoxicated by pure rhythm and 3. Lancelot chatting up Flava-Flave.

 But if that wasn't enough, there was also Pin the Horns on the Musk Ox.

And a PiƱata! This one is meant to look like me, and I was little frightened to see how accurate it was. It's even creepier when hanging from a tree.

It made me a little uncomfortable beating that hideously handsome thing to death. So I had my eyes covered to avoid developing PTSD.

And was spun around for an added challenge. (By the way, these photos were taken at midnight under an overcast sky).

I tried my hardest, but my the thing was nimbler than I expected!

It even managed to elude my signature move, the Flying Uppercut of Fury*!

Eventually I conceded victory to my disembodied likeness, who hung mockingly, gently swaying from the breeze and the slight graze he suffered at the end of my wiffle bat.

Luckily the Purple One rescued us all from a night devoid of sugar, and charged the fake TR head with unrestrained, unblindfolded rage! (And a machete.)

What an ordeal! Well, back to dancing... 


Yeah, sorry, that's the same photo from before.  

Anyway, what a great party. Mr. Frodo sure seemed to think so!

Oh and thanks to Kari for taking all of these photos and sharing them with me, and for helping put this ridiculous party together. She's the one dressed as a reverse cow in these photos.

*To execute a Flying Uppercut of Fury, hold down the X button while pressing up and down repeatedly. It helps to hold your breath as well.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Megafauna, week 8

The animals are on strike. I was told this happens during the warmer months. This past week I have seen: one bear. That is all. Just one grizzly bear. Oh well, at least it was a bear. I'll do the graph thing, etc. in conjunction with next week's Megafauna monday.

Also on Monday: pictures from my Costume Dance party!