I think I’m going to have to start telling this story a little bit out of order. Or rather, it’s already time to stop thinking of this as a day-by-day chronology, and start looking at big-picture topics. I know I've only been in Alaska for six days, but still.
First, an overview of the two days before the drive to Coldfoot:
On May 11th, the morning after I arrived in Fairbanks, Joe and I were driven to a cultural museum by one of our direct supervisors, Jenny. When we got there, we also met Bryant, our other direct supervisor within the BLM. Shortly after, the four of us went upstairs to a conference room where we met several others who’d be working with us in Coldfoot, but more importantly at that moment, there were bagels and cream cheese and coffee.
I’m not sure who was there when we got there, and who arrived after, but altogether I met Bob, an employee of the National Parks Service; Chad and Jacklyn, volunteers with the National Parks; Kristin, employed by the Fish and Wildlife Service; Ryan and Sarah, volunteers with Fish and Wildlife; and Linda and Ray, and Walt and Kathy, two pairs of volunteers serving as campground hosts at Yukon River Crossing and Marion Creek, respectively.
We were all there for a marathon training session; the topics included the purposes and activities of each represented agency, the mission of the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, and the experiences of and issues faced by the various people who have lived in or visited Northern Alaska, including modern day oil companies and native peoples, as well as tourists and travelers.
I can’t really make that training session sound interesting, or the one that followed on May 12th. Not without relating my own experiences to shore up the information that you can read anywhere else. However, the topic of the day on May 12th was driving the Dalton highway, which we did as a group on May 13th.
So before we drive the Dalton highway, let’s finish up in Fairbanks. At some point on the 11th, Joe and I were issued a vehicle by BLM. Essentially, we signed a form (I think we probably did, anyway) and Kelly handed us the keys to a big, ruby red Chevy pickup. (I really wanted Ruby Red to be our call sign on the CB radio, but apparently we don’t do that sort of thing in the federal government.) With our new wheels, we were able to get our own meals around town, go grocery shopping, and get from the barracks to the training sessions on our own.
We had a couple meals on base. Dinner was $8 and was only served from 18:00 until 18:45; we were served fettuccini alfredo with shrimp, grilled zucchini and squash, and… memory fails me. Probably bread? Definitely a dessert. My plate was full and I got a salad as well. I was probably thinking that it would be one of my last big meals, and I wanted to make sure I had some greens and fresh tomatoes.
Our breakfast on base was $6, and probably less healthy. Cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and all of it greasy and delicious. Oh, and some kind of pita pocket filled with all the stuff I mentioned before, plus salsa. Most importantly, there was coffee.
On the 11th, we took our truck to a grocery/everything store called Fred Meyer. It’s like a Walmart, and Fairbanks has two of them, and a Walmart. We were there to stock up on food to last us through the first four weeks of our summer. Kelly told us to ask for the bush delivery department, which…
Hang on, yeah, I should just mention that grocery stores in Fairbanks have bush delivery departments. They do not deliver bushes; they pack up deliveries of food that are being sent on small planes to the bush. Just so we’re clear on that.
Anyway, I asked someone at the meat counter about the getting boxes for bush deliveries for our own groceries for our long drive ahead, but he informed us that department was closed for the day. However, he had tons of cardboard boxes we could use that he was just going to collapse and recycle. So he wheeled out a cart of empty boxes, and we selected two each, the ones with the least visible chicken blood soaked in, and filled up our carts with the cheapest pasta, rice, beans, Ramen, hamburger meat, hot dogs, frozen vegetables, canned tuna, and many other high-calorie, low cost foods we could find. Joe splurged on pork chops. I made sure I got a big jar of ground Folgers.
Joe’s cashier asked him where he was going. Mine didn’t, but I told her anyway. She seemed amused by my excitement about it, but not really that interested.
The other interesting outing was to the Large Animal Research Station in Fairbanks, or LARS. LARS is at least partly maintained and operated by a woman named Emma, who is a friend of Jenny. Emma gave a group of us a tour of the facility, which runs a little bit like a small ranch. But the animals here are kept alive, and also, they are caribou, reindeer, and musk oxen. I have pictures of this place on my phone, but my phone and computer aren’t speaking to each other, so they are locked here with me for now.
To wrap this all up, by the evening of May 12th, Joe and I had most of our luggage in our truck, along with a couple boxes full of food, and some more in a freezer at the BLM building in Fairbanks. We’d been briefed on how to safely drive the Dalton Highway, we had a satellite phone (“sat phone”) and bear spray, and knew how and when to use the CB radio. I’m pretty sure our dinner was burgers at Carl’s Jr., which Joe confirmed is exactly the same thing as Hardee’s.
Next post: the Dalton Highway. There will be pictures.
Thanks for reading!