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.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for helping me vicariously extend my Dalton Hwy tour through you!

It's also good to know that even if the grizzly appears in Part 4, you made it back unscathed. ... or maybe scathed, but not enough to prevent blogging.
... unless someone found your camera and hacked your blogger id.

Okaaaay, on that happy note, I'll look fwd to Part 4.


Billy said...

i just got hooked on this blog. good stuff.