Even after draping a blanket over the hotel room window, enough midnight light still crept through to give the room a late-afternoon glow. Hundreds of miles into the Arctic Circle, a night's sleep feels like a nap, with each bleary-eyed awakening failing to confirm that morning has arrived. The alarm toned at 8:15 am, and Kiwi bolted out to the lobby to negotiate passage to the Arctic Ocean. A tour bus was available, offering $40 transport for the 10-mile journey, but we needed to drive the Hummer H2 to the water's edge to truly claim we made it to the end of the northern-most road.
More phone calls and discussion than would seem possible resulted in a last-minute greenlight for the Hummer. We followed the tour bus through the industrial village, as an ornithological group took photos of the occasional duck or whatever fowl happed to be resting within 100 yards of the road.
We eventually turned onto a lollipop-shaped road that jutted out into Prudhoe Bay, with a large, loose rock turnaround at the end. Told we could park anywhere, we powered the H2 down a slippery stone banking and drove into the ocean. Any rental car could have made it to the end of the road, but the Hummer clearly could go beyond.
After a good laugh over our parking space from the bird watchers, we set up the Canon video camera to chronicle Kiwi's numbing dip in the Arctic Ocean. A couple other brave fools went running in the water, screaming in terror and excitement, splashing down, then immediately returning to shore as quickly as their frozen limbs would permit.
At a chilling 38 Fahrenheit (not counting the noteworthy windchill factor), it was downright nippy outside even with insulating clothes. In Prudhoe Bay, stripping down to shorts takes determination and ice cubes for brains -- even in the summer. Kiwi zipped the legs off of his Columbia convertible pants and bravely ventured into the icy environs. The water was reportedly in the low 30s, ensuring scrawny Kiwi would surely be in and out in a flash.
With a ceremonial farewell captured on video, Kiwi ran through the shallow water, dove quickly, then made a few labored strokes. The brief swim was followed by a Kodak moment and a sprint to the warm sanctity of the H2. Never have heated seats been more welcomed.
On the way out of town, we met with a local Polar Bear Club representative to have an official membership certificate signed, adding yet another dubious award to Kiwi's office wall. Though feeling the equal of arctic exploring legend Sir Ernest Shackleton, Kiwi's fur-lined ego was insulted by the cartoonish polar bear graphic on the colorful form. It serves as a reminder of just how silly this side adventure was.
Like good Americans, we popped into the Prudhoe Bay general store on a souvenir hunt. Distorting spatial physics as would Dr. Who's Tartus, the small building housed a large emporium of arctic essentials, including toiletries and cold-weather gear. A well-stocked newsstand showed Motor Trend to be selling well, though the automotive magazines were overshadowed by a sizeable adult selection. With a couple tchotchkes and an obligatory "Alaska Survivor Arctic Challenge" door magnet, we headed for our last stop, the hotel restaurant for road chow.
Back on the Dalton Highway by early afternoon, we faced more than 500 miles of driving before our day's-end destination, Fairbanks. Despite being sprung with a heavy-duty suspension, the 33-inch-tired H2 rode commendably across the graded surface. It wasn't until a protracted rough, broken surface that the ride became somewhat jarring.