Our fifth wheel and the truck

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle!

G’day all.

I left my last blog as we were headed down the road to Tok with the legendary pancakes, but I will have to take everyone else’s word that they are wonderful as I didn’t make it. Norm did try the reindeer sausages but they were too spicy for him - he suffered for the rest of the day. I don’t think he will be in a hurry to have them again!

We went to the fudge place in Tok - if you take your toursaver book you get 1/4lb of free fudge. BUT… I love fudge so we walked out with 1¾ lbs of four different fudges! Our free 1/4lb + a lb that we bought (some chocolate fudge for Norm and some peanut butter fudge for me) and then if you bought a lb you got another ½ pound free!!! I am in heaven!!! And they were all soooo good.

Leaving Tok we drove to Delta Junction for two nights with the intention of taking a day side trip down to Paxson to visit a glaciated area. And the best laid plans of mice and men!! If this life teaches you one thing it is to be very flexible although having been a teacher for so many years I was already pretty good at that. The weather was appalling and it would have been a very long drive to Paxson so we decided to postpone it till we are in Glenallen and then we can come at it from a different direction - which won’t be as far anyway.

We visited the Visitor Centre in Delta Junction to receive our certificates for surviving the Alaska Highway as this is the official end of the highway. 

Jim, Jan, Norm and I went for a hike which was absolutely brilliant. We went to Lost Lake and hiked around to Moose Pond and yes!! we did see a moose. In fact we saw one moose and then a bit later we saw a mama moose and her baby.

This would have to be the worst place we have visited so far for mosquitoes! Seriously, as soon as you stopped and lifted your hands to take a photo at least a dozen giant ones would sit down to a meal. I guess it would be one way to lose weight! Just joking!! So apart from the pesky big mosquitoes it was a lovely walk and the scenery was just gorgeous.

We also got our first view of the Alaska Pipeline. This pipeline is an amazing feat of engineering and while I don’t want to get bogged down in facts and figures - here are a few -the pipeline was 799 miles long when completed but as the hot (160F) oil flowed down it for the first time it expanded to 800 miles. It goes from Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle south to Valdez. .It was built to cope with 2,000,000 gallons or barrels a day but is now handling about 500,00. Originally it had a life expectancy of 20 years but is now 35. It was designed a mile at a time to take into account all the environmental factors. It is above ground in places where the permafrost is just below ground and below ground where there is no permafrost. Where there is permafrost, the support structures have a system that draws the heat out of the ground (from the sun and the heat from the pipeline) to ensure that the permafrost doesn’t thaw. The pipeline doesn’t run in a straight line but actually has zigzags and u-shaped bends in it to allow for expansion and contraction. Obviously the pump stations have to pump the oil through the pipeline but the number five pump station actually has to slow the oil down. Number four pumps it up a mountain and of course gravity plays its part on the downward journey so the oil is flowing too fast which then has to be slowed. Very interesting!!!

After leaving Delta Junction we set out for Fairbanks where we stayed for four days. There was so much to see and do in Fairbanks but as usual we didn’t get it all done. Sometimes just the boring everyday stuff gets in the way and sometimes you just need to stop and take some time out and recharge the batteries.

Did you know that just out of Fairbanks there is a town called North Pole. Yep and it is all about Christmas. We didn’t get a chance to visit but we did drive through it on the way to Fairbanks. We would have stopped however the roads are not very RV friendly - three roundabouts quite close together!

Okay so in Fairbanks we took a hike, a boat ride, visited the Pioneer Park, did some of the boring stuff and of course we took a day trip to the Arctic Circle!!!

First of all - the Arctic Circle!!! I really wanted to do this trip and having the generous hubby that I have of course he said yes so a 4.00am alarm woke us for a quick breakfast so we could be ready for our 4.30 pick up. The plan was to drive up to a town (?) called Coldfoot and then fly back to Fairbanks in the afternoon.

Our guide on the drive up, Emma, was sensational and was so knowledgeable about all the things that we wanted to know. It was Emma who provided much of the information about the pipeline and its structure and construction. One more interesting thing about the pipeline. When the oil companies finish with the pipeline, everything, and I mean everything has to be taken out of Alaska and the environment returned to its previous state. This means that every nut and bolt, whether above ground or below has to be hauled out - a very significant clause in an agreement drawn up in the 1960’s.

Anyway, thanks to Emma’s knowledge I am now able to determine the presence of permafrost from the type and size of the trees, I know that permafrost is only about 7% water and can be just below ground level or way down and can vary in its depth.

One of the highlights of the trip was a big black bear that we came upon in the middle of the road. Emma came to a stop and we were all madly taking photos as he moved across the road and into the ditch. As he climbed the bank on the side of the road he kept stopping to look over his shoulder at us. When he got to the tree line he looked over his shoulder again and disappeared into the undergrowth. Just as we were about to take off he stuck his nose out again and then made his way along the top of the bank and then down to the back of the truck. According to Emma he was standing behind the vehicle and had probably been fed by humans in the past and knew where to go to get a meal - or he could smell the food in the truck - 11 people!!! Anyway eventually he made his way back into the scrub but did leave a very discernible paw print on the muddy bumper.

We arrived at the Arctic Circle and with due pomp and ceremony, Emma laid out the red carpet with the white dotted line. She made sure that she aligned the dotted line with the actually line of the Circle and then we all very ceremoniously stepped across it into the Circle with a warm welcome and handshake from Emma. Such fun and many laughs as people performed for the cameras.

The good part is, that when we eventually take our cruise down to the Antarctic we will be able to brag that we have been to both Circles!!!

Given that, with the stops that we made along the way, we were driving for about six hours from Fairbanks to Coldfoot it was a very short one hour flight back. Unfortunately we couldn’t see much on the way back as it was very cloudy under 9000ft where we were cruising.

This is a very harsh environment and I found it difficult to comprehend how people can live here all year especially when the temperature can get down to -70F. We did watch a video in Coldfoot and these people are amazing in how they deal with the extreme weather.

I am debating whether or not to finish all the Fairbanks stuff in this post or continue it in the next one but as we are driving along the highway towards Denali National Park and we are drawing near our morning tea stop I think the finish it now has won out!!

Take care one and all and thoughts and prayers go to my mum who is once again having health issues. She is a special lady and we send our love to her.


PS No photos just yet.  We are off to spend three days boondocking (no power, water, sewer, phone or internet) in Denali National Park.  Just excited.  Hope we are in the 30% - will explain that comment later.  Bye for now.  Photos added 12/7/12.  At last!!






No comments:

Post a Comment