Not quite Ice Road Truckers

Breaking from our usual routine of doing yard work, we set out on a short adventure for the day.  The weekend was going to be rainy anyway so it was the perfect opportunity to take a road trip.  We packed up some Fudge Stripe cookies, Cheetos, a six-pack of Cokes in the bottle and a Boar’s Head ham sandwich.  We grabbed the bear spray, bug spray and rubber boots just in case we decided to venture off the trail.  We set off in the truck to explore.

As usual, we quickly got into our habit of discussing everything and anything.  We never tire of being together, talking about things that have been and things to come.  Before we knew it, about an 45 minutes into the trip, we came to the spot that we’d had to turn around at the previous year.  Chris has been pining away to do this trip since we got here about this time last year.  The fire was nowhere to be found but the smoke was so thick that it obscured the road.  The fire fighters encouraged us to turn around as so we did.  This day though, the air was clear.  The only white we saw were the low clouds.  The burned trees were shiny black and spindly.  We fell silent, taking it all in.  Looking at the deep scar on the earth.

Out of the dimness emerged the pipeline snaking up the side of a hill before it dropped back underground.  I pointed it out and reached for my phone to snap a grainy pic through the windshield.  It’s just a pipe but it never ceases to amaze me.  It reminds me that we’re in Alaska.  I think about the men and equipment that it took to erect it.  It’s truly a wonder of the world.

image5

It wasn’t long before we were on the actual Dalton Highway.  The same highway that the Ice Road Truckers use.  We were ecstatic just at the idea of being someplace we’d never been before.  Before we’d moved to Alaska, we’d watched the Ice Road Truckers series.  I asked why it was called that since we were clearly on pavement and Chris replied that there must be portions of it that go over ice in the winter.  We’d drive for long periods of time without seeing another vehicle.  We mostly passed semi-trucks who were going so fast that I feared they would tip over on the turns.  It was so shocking to see them coming roaring at us after not seeing anyone for such long periods.  I wondered if I should’ve called Mama before we set off to tell her what we were doing.  Being in Alaska, it was often advised to do so since there’s such remote areas that if something did happen, it could take weeks before they’d actually find you.

image4

Just as quickly as we reached the highway, it dropped off to dirt.  Well, on a dry day it would’ve been dirt but it was a sloppy mess.  Chris started laughing.  I joined in, wondering how our new truck was going to hold up and picturing us washing it.  It needed a good coat of wax before winter anyway.

The temperatures stayed in the 50’s all day.  Winter was coming.  We fell silent for a bit, the radio having long ago gone to static.  I tried scanning but got nothing.  Chris said to plug in her phone.  I did and began to remove all the songs of mine that she hates, taking a break from being on the lookout for critters.  She said that we’d turn around once we hit a half a tank of gas.  I leaned over and took a look.  We’d used just over a quarter of a tank.  There was nothingness all around us.  Spruce and birch, thick at times and then spots of open tundra.  I wanted to see a lazy bear or a munching moose but then again, I didn’t really for fear of them running out in front of us.  I always think of that as a “careful what you wish for” thing.

When the Yukon River came into sight, it was exciting.  We’d made it to the Yukon.  It just sounded fun.  Crossing it however proved to be anything but.  We clunked down this pretty steep bridge over the swollen river.  Chris asked what the bull horns were for that were mounted to it.  I wondered if it was single lane.  It was super narrow.  We hadn’t even checked if anything was coming but luckily nothing was.  Chris said that the bridge was wood.  I sat up on the edge of my seat, thinking that I could somehow help.  She said it was slippery with all of the mud on it.  It didn’t seem slippery to me so I chalked it up to her being nervous about driving the bridge.  At the end of the bridge, we squealed at the sight of the services sign.  We pulled in and sat in the truck staring at the dilapidated trailer that had a huge FOOD, LODGING, GAS sign.  There were two motorcycles parked out front and several big trucks.  We’d passed two other motorcyclists with Chris saying how sorry she felt for them and me admiring them and wanting to do the trip as well.  I spoke up and said that I wasn’t going in.  It was a place of nightmares.  Chris wanted to top off with gas.  I thought we should try and go further.  We had to pee.  We left but found that across the street was a park information hut an toilets.  We shot across the road and once we’d parked, I popped the door open.  It was suctioned closed with mud.  We laughed and were so proud of ourselves for making such a mess of the truck and being on such an awesome adventure.

image1

It wasn’t as fun going to the bathroom.  It had seen better days but served its purpose.  We hopped back in the truck and then discussed whether we should try the place across the street to get gas.  I was afraid to go in.  Chris was afraid of running out of gas.  It was a single pump with an above ground tank.  I told her we shouldn’t use it.  We started back on the road and I changed my mind.  She pulled over and then decided to go back.  We pulled up and hopped out again, tippy toeing into the trailer so as to not cover ourselves in mud.  When we entered, there was only two guys sitting at a table eating.  Not the crowd of rowdy men I’d pictured in my head.  A young girl with the sides of her head shaved but long in the middle hair, greeted us.  We asked about gas and handed her a twenty.  We had just under three quarters of a tank so it wouldn’t take much to fill it.  She took the money and wished us a nice day.  As we walked out, I felt stupid.  Chris said she was glad we stopped.  We pulled up to the pump, and I heard Chris say “Gross”.  We kept having to wipe our fingers off from the slop of mud when opening the door so I figured she was trying to get the gas door open.  I hear her explain “Oh my God”.  I lean over and see the $5.49 on the pump for the gas.  The $20 didn’t get us quite to a full tank, but it was ok, it would be enough to get us there but more importantly, to get us back.

We were quickly on the road again, with the pipeline at our side as it had been for quite awhile.  At the top of a hill, the landscape changed.  The trees disappeared and large formations of rock grew up out of the ground.  We found a pull off and decided to snap a few shots.  We walked up a short trail with signs of native Alaskans hunting caribou and describing the tundra.  We marched up to the top and took in the surroundings.  Then it started to rain.  We jogged back to the truck and hopped in, a skill we were acquiring as to not get mud on the back of our pants from the bottom of the door jam.

We fussed with our hair which was wild and crazy looking from the run and the rain.  I popped the visor mirror open and saw the curls forming.  My hair is getting long because I’ve been struggling with stylists in the area.  I saw Michael in the mirror as I always do when the curls appear.  I snapped the cover down to close the mirror and popped the visor back up.  We hopped back on the road and I saw a spot of tundra that was turning red.  It was too late, the camera was wet and we wanted to get back on the road.  The colors of fall in Alaska would show every so often and I would still wonder at the fact that it’s just August and fall is here.  I’ve not even harvested the garden yet, what little we can harvest since the summer was pretty wet this year.

Chris began to get worried that we’d somehow missed our ending point where we’d turn around and head back.  I told her I didn’t think we had.  And no sooner had we just about given up hope, our gas gauge reaching for the half-way point itself, that we saw the Arctic Circle sign.  We cheered as we pulled in “we made it”.

image3

We hopped out of the truck again, hiking up our pants.  I asked Chris what the arctic circle was.  She laughed and said it was some map thing.  I said it was the top of the world but didn’t really know what significance that meant.  We laughed and took pictures of the sign.  Chris said, “there we are!”  I didn’t get it.  She could tell and said, there’s Alaska.  I still couldn’t find it but finally found it and realized there was a star on it.  Duh.

image2

We checked out the signs that were similar to the signs we’d seen on our last stop.  Look for caribou, fox and waterfowl.  As we were getting into the truck, I heard another couple exclaim “we made it!” and I smiled.  We weren’t so unique but it was fun to think that there are others like us.  I climbed in and again proud of myself for not mucking up my pants.  My floor mat was quickly getting sloppy however.  Chris climbed in and looked at me.  I didn’t want the adventure to end.  I asked if we could go to Coldfoot, the next town up.  It was another hour or more away.  We turned on the GPS and tried to find it.  We’d not researched it.  The GPS couldn’t find it.  We questioned whether it was even in Alaska.  Maybe it was Canada.  We didn’t bring our passports.  How big was it?  Could we get gas there?  We decided we wouldn’t risk it and headed back.

We drove about 5 minutes and I asked Chris if she wanted me to drive.  I hadn’t driven all day.  I kind of wanted to be able to say I drove the ice road too.  So we pulled over and switched.  I was pretty slow at first because I wasn’t used to the four wheeling on the road. It was sloppy and slippery and rutty at times.  Then the trucks would roar by with very little room for mistakes.  The road went from slop to pavement every so often and like most of Alaska, there are no guard rails or any such thing.  I believe the mantra of Alaskans is “Good luck”.

We pulled out our sandwich and had lunch on the road back even though it was around 4:00.  We’d been snacking the whole way up.  It was great.  We  had to stop at the same place we’d gotten the gas from to pee again, before the wooden bridge to cross the Yukon River again.  I sat at the edge of the road, looking both ways for a minute and then gunned it.  I shot up the bridge, gripping the steering wheel for dear life, hoping that a giant semi-truck wouldn’t meet me at the top.  As I approached the end, I felt the rear start to weave.  I thought I was going to throw up.  Chris put her hand on my leg and said to slow down.  I eased off the gas and made it onto the road with a thud off the bridge.  Shew.

We continued to keep a watch out for wildlife but never saw a single animal.  That was the only disappointment.  When dusk started to settle in, we switched back.  I don’t see so great at night so Chris took over.  We talked about some hard subjects.  My cousin recently passed away and I cried for her.  For her mama.  I thought about us as kids, running around.  I don’t understand the selection process of why some people go and why some people stay.  I cried about Michael.  I usually go there.  I miss him.  I cried about my dad and the life he’s chosen to have since his stroke.  And all I could think on the trip and the trip back was that I want to write.  It’s been too long.  I miss it too.  I may not be great at it but I love it and want to write again.

We looked up Coldfoot.  It’s in Alaska and so is Deadhorse.  I’m not too keen on going to a place called Deadhorse but we’ll do it.  I want to go to Prudhoe bay.  Maybe next year.