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June 5, 2015

Atigun Pass

The Dalton Highway is a 450 mile un-improved road that runs roughly from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. It was built when the Alaska Pipeline was contstructed, so it loosely follows the Alaska Pipeline from central Alaska, up and across the Brooks Range, and then down to the shores of of the Arctic Ocean.

To call it a "road" at all is being generous. Although some short sections are paved, it is a mostly a narrow, dirt road. 18 wheelers race up and down the road, ignoring the 50 mph posted speed limit, and mostly just driving down the center.

When it's dry, the road is dusty and every 18 wheeler that passes blasts the hapless motorcycle rider with a shower of dust and rocks.

When it's wet, the road deteriorates into a soupy gumbo quagmire, that's taken down countless riders.

I know this now, because I've driven the road from one end to the other. And back. To hell and back again.

I know people that have gone down on this road. Flown back east to recover, and then flow back out three months later to continue the voyage. I don't look down on people for this. It's a very rough road to drive on. There are no cars at all. The only car I saw anywhere near the Dalton was upside down on the side of the road.

To have crashed on the Dalton is no shame. The road is so dangerous that the police are afraid to patrol it.

In the morning, we awake in Deadhorse Alaska. We sleep in little modular construction hotel that's hard to describe. Impossible to imagine.

Last night, it never got dark. You have to close the blinds or you'll never sleep. Now, we meet for breakfast in a small dining room with other adrenaline junkies we have met on the road.

All of these people come here, as far north as one can drive. To the outter boundaries of the earth. But why? Why do they come here?

That's what the shuttle driver asked me yesterday when he drove us through the BP checkpoint to the Arctic Ocean.

"Why did you come here?" He asked.

"Because I can." I replied.

Like, the first thing that I wanted to make abosultely clear is "Because I'm not driving a shuttle bus full of psychopaths at the North Pole," right? Like...let's make sure that this much is clear. I'm not a shuttle bus driver, so I can go wherever in the holy fuck I want to. Let's start with that.

But in all fairness, it was an innocent enough question. I don't think that he was being eruide or bold. I think he honestly wanted to know why, out of all of the places that we could have gone...why choose to come here? To the barren tundra on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

And that's a pretty deep question for a shuttle bus driver to be asking. Like, I'm not laying on some shrink's couch fielding these questions....I'm shooting reindeer on the Arctic Tundra with a 600mm lens. I wasn't really expecting this.

But if I have to honestly answer the question, I'm here because life is short and we only go around once. I'm here because I got so sick of work that I quit in the middle of the night almost exactly a year ago today.

I sent them an email and told them all that they could go fuck themselves. That I quit. And then I went down to Colorado Springs, through all of my shit into my truck and left town, never to return.

Somehow, I'd decided that I needed to drive to the Arctic Circle. I think that we'd been watching a reality show about Alaska, and then I saw a photo of some people standing in front of a sign that said Arctic Circle, and I sort of decided that, if I could ever get out of this nightmare at work, that I'd roll north and get my picture taken in front of that sign.

And then, when I got to the sign, the closest place to spend the night is in Coldfoot, Alaska. And, if you're in Coldfoot, you may as well go on into Deadhorse.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 5, 2015 at 10:38 AM


Ah yes! I remember it well.

Posted by: sl on June 6, 2015 at 11:24 AM

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