Friday, June 29, 2007

June 29, 2007 - Barrow, Alaska: Where The Polar Bears Roam

As we landed at the Barrow airport, the flight attendent said "welcome to beautiful Barrow, Alaska!" and I smiled and kind of snickered...

What to say about Barrow Alaska...

You couldn't ever EVER pay me enough to live there. I should end my thoughts there. But was the trip fun? Of course! But my question is, WHY would ANYONE ever PAY to go to Barrow, AK? Please, save your money. If you want to go north, go to Greenland, where it's pretty (from what I hear). Or Norway. Somewhere nice, don't spend another $800 per person to go from Fairbanks to see Barrow AK. It ranged from 30-40 degrees, with a solid 20 kt wind with gusts to 28 kts. That my friends gives a windchill of 16-29 degrees on JUNE 29TH.

So now that my first paragraph was depressing, it really was a fun short trip, and I'm really happy that I got to go. But like I said, you will never ever see me residing in Barrow. The village is so poor and rundown, cloudy, foggy, cold, and windy. ALL THE TIME. Pretty much.

No polar bears. They had a problem with one just last week coming into the village. So it's definitely not too late in the summer to see them, even though the sea ice is now open. There are still icy lagoons everywhere.

Robbie and I worked for 4 hours on the ASOS station in Barrow. We had to replace the visibility sensor and box. Otherwise, we spent some time in the Weather Service Office. When we got back from the field today, Mike and the new guy, Terri, were about to launch the 0z weather balloon. Mike let me let it go -wahoo! I almost made the radiosonde crash into a building. Whoops. (I couldn't help it really, it was so windy!) It was pretty close but all went well and the balloon got up to 8mb. So that was exciting. The big weather nerd was content.

Some pictures for entertainment purposes:

Check out a topographic map of the North Slope and you'll see holes of water everywhere.

Me at the whale bones. I have another normal picture of this. (I'm also holding an ice cream cone in my left hand..)

A random shot of the village of Barrow

$9.00 for a gallon of milk!

Palm trees made out of whale teeth. (baline)

Robbie touching the Arctic Ocean

Our ASOS station - we fixed the gadget on the left

The weather office in Barrow

Weather balloon is ready for launch!

Hello from waaaaaay up north!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007 - "The Death Ride? More Like the Dumb Ride!"

Jim and I after the Death Ride

I'm really glad I went on the "Death Ride". It was absolutely ridiculous, but I laughed so hard during it that it goes down as one of the most fun rides I've done. I was pretty unsure about it when we got there, but everyone was really cool. The beginning of the ride was a decent uphill on a dirt road. We then turned left into a trail, which was so undeveloped it was tough to see what was even underneath all of the brush. We keep going uphill.. it was a lot of that. The trail flattened out into a fun, boggy mess... it was flat but technical. It was just tough because there were around 15 of us. That's way too people for one trail, but I got used to it rather quickly. I got to ride alongside THE famous Doug Burnside most of the way. He's been leading these Tuesday night rides for a REALLY long time, and this is his last summer before he moves to Mexico. What a funny old guy.. he was cracking wise jokes and comments the whole way up. He even hit my tire while we were going uphill.. which I replied "HEY now!!" to. Once we got on the rolly part of the trail, there were some puddles of mud which I happily flew through, splashing through the deepest part I could find. (I LOVE going through creeks and mud when riding.. some odd kind of entertainment comes from that) So, at one point I said to Jim, "it's not a mtn bike ride until you get muddy!" Soon after that, there was a larger mud puddle. Everyone went through the path of least resistance on the right, but I decided I wanted to go right through the middle of it and get soaked... well, instead I completely WIPED OUT in the middle of the puddle. It was HYSTERICAL. My bike and I flew off to the right, and I was laughing so hard I could barely get up. One guy who witnessed it said "Aw man! Where's the camera?!" I got some brownie points off of the guys for pulling that one. There was a VERY steep, long descent after that part of the trail, at which I was side by side with the infamous Doug. I went ahead of him, very focused and trying to stay upright. There was a huge rut that ran through the downhill that I did not want to get my tire stuck in.. it could have been disastrous. At one point, I began to lose my balance and thought I was going for an endo (over the handlebars) crash... but I was able to keep it together and slow down enough to clip out and abort the bike. It was the most impressive anti-crash I've ever done. Doug was also very impressed (he was right behind me, watching the close call unfold..) After that impressive downhill, we went into the "mile long swamp" and dang, they weren't kidding. It didn't look so bad at first, but the water would go from 3 inches deep to 2 feet deep from one step to the next. The mud just sucked you in. There were quite a few swampy parts that we tried to ride.. of the five I only made it all the way through two of them. We'll just say all that mud that I fell into earlier that ride was washed out, and so was my bike! I went as deep as my waist in some of the water. Someone commented, "ok, I can see the that ridiculous downhill being the 'Death Ride', but this part [the swamp] is just the 'Dumb Ride'". The marsh went through thick brush, tussocks, and everything you could think of. At one point, I went to go lift my bike up to carry it, and my entire back wheel just FELL OFF. I was slightly freaked out, because it could have been extremely bad for me to lose that tire WHILE I was riding. But someone helped me put it back on and everything was good from then on.

I could go on and on about the ride.. but I won't go on any further. Everyone on the ride was really fun. They all had very easy-going personalities and were out there to have fun. When I went to pee in the woods, I came back and they had hid my bike. That's a sure sign of some good humor. The Tuesday night rides are definitely something I want to do again.

I'm heading to Barrow tomorrow evening!! Will be back Friday night. Have a good few days, blog readers! :)

10pm ADT

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

June 19, 2007 - The True 24 Hours of Sunlight

At 7am on June 14th, 8 total strangers commenced at the UAF student center to spend 5 days out in the middle of nowhere on the tundra in the Brooks Range.. through rain, rainbows, tussocks, swampy land, ice sheets, rivers.. the whole package. On the way up there, we stopped at the Yukon River to make some lunch, as well as the Coldfoot Visitor's Center where I met one of NWS's river observers. She's someone who calls the station every morning with observations for us. So that was really cool to put a face with a voice.

Dalton Highway's crappy condition

The pipeline runs along the Taylor Highway

The excursion covered in grit

Coldfoot Visitor's Center

The road to Chandalar Shelf was nothing more than I expected.. screwed up from Fairbanks all the way up. Apparently it's in much better shape than it was even 5 years ago. That road in itself is why people own SUVs and big trucks. As we got close to the Brooks Range, *someone* started to get extremely excited about the big mountains and started taking a bajillion pictures. I have no idea who that fool was. ;)

Hooray for real mountains!

The beginning of our trek

My GPS said "--:--" for sunset time


One of many pretty flowers on the tundra

Our campsite on the first night

There's always a rainbow after the storm

Looking out into the distance from where we began our trip was unreal. It looked like a postcard. It looked like something right out of Backpacker magazine. It seemed like a big dream to me, kind of like how last summer felt once I went back to PA in August. I felt unable to take in all of the beauty. The feeling of taking my breath away didn't even really exist. It was just strange. Strange to be somewhere so quiet with strangers who were all in the same boat. Kind of like freshman year of college. Everyone kept their dorm room doors open so they could meet people because no matter where they came from or what they've experienced, we were all there at that moment and sharing it together. It was just like that. No one cared too much about what you did or where you were from. All that mattered is that we were going to survive together for the next couple of days with heavy backpacks and hopes of sunshine.

Chandalar River


Trekking across the still very frozen icepack

More pretty flowers

Mmm camp food

..the sunshine wishes did not pan out. Not for the first 3 days at least. It rained on and off. At least it didn't just rain "on" and never turn "off". But the two rainbows which showed, and the beautiful weather on the last 2 days made up for the excessive amount of rainfall earlier in the trip.

I'm not going to lie, the first day of the trip was awful. I hated it. I swore I'd never go backpacking again. My feet had already formed some "soft spots" and walking on tussocks was not my idea of a good time. I just wanted to go home. Home to PA. Home to people who know me well. But everyday things got a little bit better, and by day 4 I was wishing I didn't wish the first day away. On the third day, we went up to the top of one of the peaks, which gave a spectacular 360 view of hundreds and hundreds of miles of mountains. On the way up, a huge layer of fog raced up the mountain. Once it reached us, it just swept over us like an airplane, and boom, it was gone.. and all cleared up.

Rain's a comin'!

We thought we saw a bear across the way.. three of us swear it was moving, but I'm pretty sure now that it was a rock or a schrub or something. Nick is showing us how to use bear spray

I raced this fog up to the top of the mountain.. it was advancing QUICKLY!

An Arctic fox

Another rainbow.. but instead of a pot of gold at the end, I see my fellow hikers!

Another flower shot

Happiness is waking up and seeing the following.

Breathe it in

Pumping water for camp

Campsite number 2

There is a town up here named Chicken, because the people who founded it couldn't spell Ptarmigan


"Alaska eh? Cold up there?"

Only at night. Nights were chilly. Me, the "southerner" was cold at night. I'm estimating temperatures were around 40. It was warm enough to rain but cold enough to make me shiver under layers of clothing. The daytime was amazing once the sun came out. Had to be booking near 65/70 degrees. I got a lot of color on my hands and face during this trip. So now the color contrast between my belly and hands is outstanding. And it will only get better!

We trekked across a huge sheet of ice near the end of the hike. It was MUCH MUCH MUCH better than walking on the crazy swamp of a tundra that the land was.

Hiking along the icy cold river

Hiking on the ice pack

After finishing our time on the Chandalar Shelf, the eight of us drove up to Atigun Pass, which currently marks my "farthest north" point at latitude 68.129817 and longitude -149.478167. We found a lot of little lambs and dall sheep up on the Pass. Unfortunately, I can't officially mark any lat/lon anymore because I lost my GPS on the tundra somewhere between rain showers. It's disappointing since I JUST bought that thing at the end of April, but hey, I'd rather lose a material something than an arm or leg. Though if we were talking about my camera, THAT would have been different. So no more maps, and no more exact biking mileage. And the summer goes on..

On the way home, we stopped at the Hot Spot, an amazingly delicious burger joint with serious bear problems. I didn't see a bear though. Not yet. I have at least three trips into Denali which I already have on my tentative agenda, so I know for a fact I will see bears there. It's not that I'm LOOKING for bears, but they do make for good stories.

Little lamb up on Atigun Pass


Everyone on the trip was really fun. We were from ALL over. Not one of us was a Fairbanks native. It was overall an awesome experience, of which I think I'll only appreciate more and more with time.

I'll have more pictures hopefully sometime in the near future. One of the group was a crazy photographer and took over a gig of pictures over the course of those days. I'm looking forward to sharing them with you (maybe some extremely silly pictures too) whenever I get a hold of them. Hope everyone had a good week - and special thanks goes out to my loyal readers who wished me luck before the trip, and/or just patiently waited for me to update once again. Here's to you!

midnight ADT.. and the sun is still shining.