Extreme Road Test - 2003 Hummer H2: Leg 1, Day 3
Cold Foot to Deadhorse, Alaska
Walled with particleboard, our micro-sized cell in the crew quarters afforded a restless sleep, leaving us cranky in the morning. Seeking sustenance, we stumbled across the dirt street, away from the industrial trailer assemblage that looked like desolate Nevada brothels Lego'ed together--sans the women, of course.
Late in rising, we missed the true breakfast and instead caught a brunch buffet consisting of sloppy Joes, tater tots, and apple crisp. An oil-slicked meal only a desperate pipe worker could love, Joe retaliated against our cuisine criticism before we could leave the driveway. The gastrointestinal assault had us crying for mama as we bounced and shuddered our way up the final 200-odd miles of the craggy Dalton Highway.
Scenery changes were more dramatic today, with lowland tundra plains, rolling hills, snow-capped Brooks Range mountains, and finally more tundra. The wide road runs parallel with the pipeline, winding its way through the otherwise virgin landscape. Occasional rain showers and rock slide debris slowed our forward progress at times, but mostly it was a straightforward journey.
As miles rolled by, the powerful (yet thirsty) 6.0L V-8 ingested petrol at a rate of about 10 mpg and we watched the driver's information display aggressively count down the fuel range. Again, we arrived at our destination with but 1-2 gallons to spare. A collection of prefab and industrial buildings, the Deadhorse township is an outpost on the frontier. Essentially existing to house workers and provide services for the oil companies, Deadhorse is all business and not much pleasure.
Oddly enough, we were in the very area where gazillions of gallons of crude are pumped, yet there was a scary absence of gas stations. We found a gas station (the only station) that redefined the term "self-serve." The unmanned building with an ATM-type payment machine carried warnings about bears, and its heavily sprung door even had a large dent replete with paw mark. Arriving minutes before 6 pm, we began fueling just before the $20 "after hours" penality kicked in. As it was, the bill rang over $60. Ironically, the oil must flow hundreds of miles south for refinement, then be brought back north as gasoline, hence the staggering price.
Two hotels exist in town, with the Arctic Caribou Inn being the more luxurious. Apparently built by a double-wide trailer company, the Inn was a sprawling grid of 160 serviceable rooms, complete with a bathroom, clock, television, and ample standing space -- a huge improvement over the previous night.
We met a 31-year-old German motorcyclist at the Arctic Caribou Inn who had just arrived after a five-month 26,040 journey from Argentina. You can check out his adventure at www.panamerica.co.uk. His BMW R100 RS PD bike was as caked in road dust as the rider. A brave road warrior, this London-based software engineer on sabbatical is now heading to New York. And we thought we were on a long-distance adventure...
For adventure seekers, the Inn offers bus tours to the Arctic Ocean, where tourists often choose to jump into the frigid waters for induction into the famed Polar Bear Club, a loose fraternity of chilled survivors. Having come this far, we wanted -- and needed -- to drive the coast, but heightened, post-9/11 security makes that very difficult. Working through numerous channels, we were able to secure tentative permission to cross the restricted, corporate land the next day.
We discussed our plans over chicken teriyaki in the Inn's buffet-style dining room. Fortunately, the meal set well, and we were able to prep images and text for uploading in the evening via our Iridium satellite phone.