Thursday, August 28, 2008


You all realize that having been to ANWR, I now automatically win any discussion we have about whether or not we drill there. It's simple; I just say "Have you ever been there?"

  The argument is that the area that has oil, compared to the rest of ANWR is like a postage stamp on a football field.
Well, sure, but what about all of the roads, traffic, and another pipeline? And what about all those other oil leases that you guys still need to drill?

  To be honest, it probably would make little or no difference to nearly all Americans. These photos aren't even from anywhere near the section that they want to drill.
The thing that worries me is the precedent it sets. If refuges suddenly aren't refuges as soon as someone finds oil, gold or uranium, then will the same go for national parks, national monuments, state parks, and so on? (National Forest already means very little.)
  Anyone who knows me would probably have already guessed where I stand on this issue, but I thought I'd let you know anyway.
(That white lichen takes 50+ years to grow. It's what caribou eat all winter long.) You can't take fossils, plants, soil, or anything at all from this wildlife refuge. The only thing you can take is wildlife, as long as you have a hunting license. Strange, eh?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Part 4: Epilogue

I'll keep this one short. I slept wonderfully and woke up here.

I walked 10 miles.

Then I got a ride for the last 60 miles. He asked me if I cared if he smoked. I told him, no, I don't mind if he smokes (which was actually a lie). He said that he wouldn't have given a damn whether I cared or not anyway.

In total, I think I walked about 35 miles over those 27 hours. What a great trip. Nothing like uncertainty about the future to make you care again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Part 3: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Arctic

So hitchhiking is no problem, right? As we saw earlier, I got this thing down. You stick out your thumb and some crazy person gives you a ride. Easy.

Maybe. Here's a mile-by-mile account of what happened:

412: Left Deadhorse camp at 11:00 am. Walked five miles.

407: Steve stops. He works at Atigun camp, 165 miles to the South. This is a good start.

334: This happens.
 And so did that thing where you can't get the wheel off even after removing all of the lugnuts (remember that, Tracy?). After a while hammering it with the wrench, it came off and we changed it.

324: It happens again, on the same wheel we just swapped. The Visitor's Guide to the Dalton Highway recommends always bringing two spare tires with you. We only had one. Steve flags down an Alyeska semi truck, who radios pump station #3 (forgive the jargon). They send vehicles for us. Each vehicle only has room for one of us, so I get in one and Steve gets in the other.

320: I'm riding with Paul, who gets an update on the plan for their two new passengers via his CB radio.

k-k-k-k-k (radio noise)
Paul: Yeah, Pete's got the CH2M guy and I have the hichhiker.
Other Guy: The other one's a hitchhiker?
Paul: Yep.
Other Guy: Hold on a sec.
(several seconds later)
Other Guy: Send him on his way next time you stop and bring the CH2M guy into the pump station.
Paul: OK. (to me) Sorry, dude.

314: Paul drops me off, it starts raining and I start walking. Here's what pump station #3 looks like.
312: I see one of our tour vans pulled over to watch a herd of Muskoxen. I talk to the driver for a few minutes. Unfortunately, he is Northbound.
309: A pickup truck pulls over. Their cab is completely full of people dressed in camo, and the bed is full of compound bows, plastic storage boxes, and tarps. One says "You can ride in the bed until we see caribou." I ride, and it's really cold.
286: We see caribou, and I start walking again.
281: Neil stops. He is driving a familiar looking red pickup. Stopped behind him is Steve from mile 407.
"You're the one Steve gave a ride to earlier. He's not supposed to give rides to hitchhikers. I'm his supervisor. I don't mind. I like Steve. Steve is a good worker. We work at Atigun Camp. I'm in charge there. Get in."
I wave to Steve and climb in with Neil. He continues.

"Yeah, I'm in charge at Atigun Camp. Have you eaten dinner? Do you have food? We'll give you dinner. We eat well there. You can't spend the night though. Security would never allow that. Do you have any weapons? I'll take the knife. Do you have ID? I'll take your ID. Be careful out here. There's a grizzly that stays near Atigun Camp. You need to be careful if you don't have a gun. ThatYeah we'll give you dinner. I'm in charge there."

Dinner at Atigun camp was rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and steamed vegetables. There was about six kinds of dessert and every kind of drink. Neil insisted that I have some tea or something. And that I take some more food with me. I chose a peach and a Twix.

"Come back next time you're passing through and tell them you're here to see Neil. We'll feed you."

Not bad hospitality for a place that looks like this.

(Since the photo was taken, the place has grown to about 4 times its size and is surrounded by a 4000 volt electric fence which "will knock you on your ass", according to Neil.)

250: Back on the road.

249: A northbound pickup pulls over. "Hey, careful, there's a grizzly just off the road up ahead."

248 and 1/2: The grizzly and I make eye contact. He is probably 400 yards away. He goes back to digging, and I go back to walking and watching, with pepper spray in hand.

248: Another northbound pickup. "I heard there was a grizzly bear out here. Do you know where?" I point. "Oh my gosh! Do you have a gun?" I show her my bear spray and she just shakes her head. "Be careful!".

248: (still): She comes back. "I'm taking you just two miles back the way you came to get you away from this bear. I don't feel good about leaving you here."

246: "Be careful. Are you climbing the pass tonight? You're crazy. How are you going to sleep? Be careful! Good luck!"

At this point, I thought it was time for a photo.

That's bear repellent in my left hand, a day pack in my right, and a garbage bag wrapped around my frame pack since I left my pack cover in Steve's car. Taken at about 9:00 pm.

245: I crest the continental divide at about 4,752 feet and latitude 68° 7min 46sec North. It's snowing, and I'm tired. I decide to call it a night.

Stay Tuned for part 4! (yes, that's right. part 4.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Just to tie up some loose ends before the exciting conclusion, here is my gold nugget. Looses some appeal in its true perspective, but looks great in macro!

Dave and Morgan made it back safe, sound, and on schedule. Dave said it was "long, hard, and kind of cool". Morgan hated it.

And here is an interesting article about Anaktuvuk Pass getting back to its roots.

Part 2: Tundra Tom and the Seismic Sleeper

At Deadhorse Camp, sometimes we sleep in a house on stilts and sometimes we sleep in a trailer on skis. I was in the latter. They hook those things up to caterpillar tractors and pull them across the tundra. The seismologists get out during the day, do their research, and then at night the tractor pulls them to their next camp. Weird. Well, I got to sleep in one even though it was sitting on gravel in a parking lot. Here's the scenic view from the window:

Sorry I don't have a photo of the outside of those things, but the house on stilts is visible in the last photo from the previous post (in the background on the right).

The next day it was time for an Arctic Ocean tour. You see, one used to be allowed to drive all the way to the Arctic Ocean, but ever since 9/11, the only way to see Prudhoe is to take a tour with a security guard who would rather be doing something else. Ours sounded like a bored Rod Decker. It made me bored, as I took boring pictures of boring oil drilling equipment.

And then a stop at the Arctic Ocean, where we weren't even allowed to get out! Rod Decker said that there had been polar bears in the area and that it wasn't safe. He pointed over to a hill where he insisted that a wounded polar bear lay. "That little white spot is the polar bear's shoulder", he said. Whatever, Rod. I'll count it on Megafauna Monday even though you're just trying to get us to forgive you. Here's what the Arctic Ocean looks like from the imprisonment of a bus.
I was really annoyed at that orange thing for being there, but now I kind of like it.

I guess sometimes you have to make your own tour if you want to enjoy it. In fact, you almost always have to make your own tour, so here was mine: Walk across the tundra and look at animals. The Muskoxen were out that day...
Here they are a bit closer.

And a loon or the Loch Ness Monster or something...

And then, are you ready? Arctic foxes!

They barked at me a lot. Tours are so much better when they're free. Two more of the Tundra:

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Part 1: He's Got a Digit to Ride

On Saturday, Aug. 2, I thought it would be a good idea to hitchhike to the Arctic Ocean. And it was, but that wasn't always apparent during my trip. It was a journey fraught with peril and hardship but ultimately fruitful beyond my second-wildest expectations.

Leaving was easy. I just made this cool sign, stuck it to the back of my pack, and started out the door of the Coldfoot Cafe in the rain. It was about 10:00 am. I hiked for two miles before Ben stopped for me. Here's the inside of his truck.

The first thing he asked me, before where I was headed or my name, was "are you running from the law?"

"Me neither", he assured me.

We exchanged a little conversation before "Do you have a camera?" (Yes) "Does it take video?" (Yes) "Make a video of this" (OK). I recorded a few seconds of Ben driving a truck and he said "Are you going to put it on youtube?" (I don't know) "Put it it on youtube" (Um...ok) "Sweet".

Yeah, it was only minutes before I realized that Ben is quite mad (as in crazy). I should have known as much when he stopped his oversize load on a blind curve so that I could climb into the cab of his rig. I hadn't even had my thumb out.

Ben is 29. He has been married to Anastasia, his Russian email-order bride for one year. He says she's the greatest. "Does your camera let you view the video?" (Yeah. I'll show it to you when we stop) "Show it to me now." (....Ok) He watches the video, glancing at the narrow gravel road now and then as it speeds by at 70 miles per hour. Wanting to devote his full attention to a boring video on a small screen, he stops his rig in the middle of the highway and holds my camera. "Cool". Another trucker zooms past heading South. He asks Ben over the CB radio if everything's alright. Ben's voice drops two octaves as soon as he picks up his own CB mic to say "Yeah I'm watching a video." The entire 4 and a half hour ride he doesn't once fail to use his extra manly CB voice when he pushes that button.

Ben brings up a series of topics that make me uncomfortable, including Why Mainstream Christianity is Better than Mormonism, Which Girls at Coldfoot Like to Sleep Around, Things that Could Happen to a Hitchhiker, and What is the Best Way to Hide the Body of a Hitchhiker if One Were to Murder Him. He asks if I have any weapons, and I show him my skinning knife and my bear spray, which I have kept handy since leaving Coldfoot. Then he brings up a topic that will last us the rest of the ride: Hilarious Conspiracy Theories, from which I learn that:

1. George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, and a bunch of other former presidents are Illuminati, and they orchestrated the death of JFK who was anti-Illuminati, but still deserved to die as he was a known attendee of The Church of Satan. Our entire government is run by Illuminati. They will kill Obama soon.

2. Benjamin Franklin was a "fag", even though he did many good things.

3. Every time you drink a soda, a little bit of aluminum enters your body and ends up at the top of your brain inside your skull. It collects there over time.

4. Every tetanus shot contains 59% mercury (which I thought was more than enough to kill several humans) and, guess where it ends up? Right next to the aluminum.

5. These metals form a sort of antenna which receives transmissions from the government, who controls all of our thoughts.

(And Ben probably thought that I wasn't paying attention.) He makes me promise to type "Illuminati JFK" into youtube and watch all of the videos that come up. These topics were so distracting that I almost didn't notice the herd of 20+ muskoxen that we zipped by at about mile 330.

Finally I saw what I was looking for.

I say to Ben: "Thisismystopthanksbye" and he lets me out. I grab my things and never look back.

**Coming Soon**
Parts 2 & 3

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gold Nuggets, The Animals are Back, and One Epic Jouney

Q: How big is the gold nugget you found.
A: To the untrained contiguous-state eye, it doesn't look very big. But the more bits of Gold I find here the bigger it looks. I'll post a photo sometime.

The animals are back! These last two weeks I have seen: One black bear, one grizzly bear, about thirty dall sheep, about fifty muskoxen, four artic foxes, thirty-eight caribou, three moose, a wolf, and a polar bear! (Yeah, I know.) Spreadsheet and revised score forthcoming...

I have found the secret to seeing all these animals: go North. I hitchhiked to the Arctic Ocean this weekend (and back) and met many colorful people (that means some really cool and some really crazy people) and many misadventures. Can't wait to give you the full version. Here's a teaser: some of the best conspiracy theories I have ever heard were from a trucker I met on Saturday.

Also on their way: lots more photos!