Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thursday, June 21: The wakeup call comes way too early, but off we go with our backpack loaded with two meals, water and our new camera. We head for the airport where the tour company is--they do air tours up north too—and by 6:30am we are on the road in our nice, 24-passenger motor coach for our big adventure. Ron reports: “So we got up at 5am to start a 16-hour drive over bumpy roads to go to some place where there is nobody, no buildings—just a sign. Sounds like torture—I thought we were on vacation! Well, it is the Arctic Circle (66'33"); I guess that’s pretty cool. Seventeen souls hungry for adventure set out for a 410-mile roller coaster ride. Alan was our bus driver—guide, naturalist, storyteller, movie show-er, and general purveyor of goodwill to all. We were a captive audience, literally, and of all the hours of potential dead airtime in the bus, Alan cheerfully led us through topics ranging from Alaska’s great governors to all the different geology we were passing through (the tors were cool), every detail of the old mining days to the planning, preparation and execution of the infamous Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. He said he was acquainted with just about everyone in all his stories. He was the epitome of the great Alaskan storyteller, and the thing is, I think he was telling the truth! He really was a C-130 transport ground manager for the pipeline and had shot eighteen moose, innumerable caribou, and was project coordinator for many construction projects, including the pipeline. He is close to 70 and loves the Alaskan outback and telling everyone about it. We got to climb up on tors that have been pushed up by the permafrost; and meet people living off the grid. We got to feel the permafrost and the stunted black spruce that live there; every natural thing from here to there, we learned about! This potentially boring trip came alive with Alan telling us about the native cultures and every other imaginable thing about Alaska.” So, went the wonderful day! I can’t close without telling you 10 things I learned on our trip to the Arctic Circle: 1—Fairbanks is built on loess (fine, glacial soil) in the floodplain of the Tanana River, largest glacial-fed river in Alaska. 2—Fairbanks is in a sub-Arctic Desert, only 11-12 inches of rain a year (like Phoenix). 3—Moose are in the deer family and the largest are in Alaska, and they are fast, have good hearing and are fearsome fighters with their hooves. 4—There are more caribou than people in Alaska. 5—The pipeline is 800 miles long, half of it being above ground, and there has never been a leak caused by a designing problem. 6—The pipeline is immune to rifle shots and fire. 7—Eight oil companies went together to put in the pipeline to Valdez and, first off, the road to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. 8—Alaska has two types of natives, the coastal-nomadic Inuit and the Athabascan river people. 9—Alaska bought a money-losing railroad from the US and made it a paying proposition; it’s the last flag-stop railway in the US, meaning you can stand on the side and flag it down for a ride. 10—Alaska has more coastline than any other state in the union, and 96% of Alaska’s income is from oil. Oh, did I tell you our new camera didn’t work?!! What a déjà vu (happened on the Great Wall too!). but we met a couple of people on the trip that promised to send us pictures! What a nice, but LONG, day!

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