From the thriving Metropolis of Chitina, the McCarthy Road follows the old Copper River & Northwestern Railway route to McCarthy & Kennecott. This old timber trestle bridge, circa 1907-1910, is one reminder of the old railroad.
The CR&NW ran 196 miles from Kennecott to Cordova, with 129 bridges, and carried over 207 million dollars of copper ore from 1907 to 1938.
Many of the rails and ties are still visible, and quite a few tires have gone flat on the gravel road from driving over railroad spikes.
I drove down to Wrangell-St Elias last weekend for five days of R&R. The weather was beyond beautiful, and I figured that I needed to take advantage before the temps started to drop below the zero mark.
I took two film cameras, so for those of you who need instant gratification… well, you’re sort of s*** out of luck. The 35mm has been dropped off, but the 120 is still hanging about the cabin. Eventually, I’ll try to get some of them uploaded, if I don’t get distracted and move onto something else.
And to really mess with your heads: I have Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray spinning out from the turntable as I type this. And we’re not talking about an iTurntable, either.
Driving down The Rich past Delta, I spotted someone sitting on a backpack down in the ditch. I stopped, and looked in the mirror to see someone standing up in the weeds alongside the highway, lifting a pack to his back. I reversed down the road and rolled down the window.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“Paxson? Who goes to Paxson?”
“Me. You go to Paxson?”
“Well, I’m going by Paxson.”
I pulled back the tonneau cover, and he tossed in his backpack. “I’m European,” he says to me. I had to laugh at that. One word out of his mouth, and I knew he was from Europe. Was he afraid I’d confuse him as Inuit?
Turned out he’s from Romania, Transylvania, to be exact. “You have heard of Transylvania? Dracula?” I assured him that I had, indeed, heard of Transylvania & Dracula. After a summer of working in a cannery on the Kenai, Vlad, of course his name was Vlad, had been hitching, hiking and camping around Alaska for the past three weeks. Another Romanian, who had worked in the cannery had joined Vlad camping in Denali, but he lasted only one day camping. “It was too cold for him, so we parted ways. Sometimes it is best to travel alone,” he told me. Yeah, I know how that works.
He just peppered me with questions about Alaska, and for the most part his questions were not the usual ones. He even asked me a couple that I had never been asked before, which doesn’t happen very often. I kept trying to ask about Romania, and he answered all my questions, but he clearly had very little interest in talking about his home. Then Vlad asks, “Do you know where the library is in Paxson?” I was convinced that I had misunderstood him, so I asked him to repeat the question. “Library. You know… books?” I don’t think I’ve ever so much as seen two books together in Paxson, let alone a library.
One of the many things that people don’t quite get about Alaska, is that a dot on a map with a name next to it does not mean that the dot represents an actual town. Paxson is simply the junction of two highways. There is a lodge and a gas station, “But no library,” I said. “Paxson is very small.” In the end, all Vlad wanted was an internet connection so that he could reserve his flight out of Anchorage. His plan was to hitch for 50 or so miles, then hike and camp a bit, then hitch another 50 or so miles. I have to admit, I liked the plan, so I suggested he ask to use the computer in the lodge. I figured that they had to have one.
Just before Summit, I spotted two caribou and pointed them out. Vlad missed them. Then there were three more, and I pointed them out too. “No, my side of the truck,” I said. Well, Vlad missed those as well, and he gave me a look that clearly said that he thought I was jerking his chain.
“We’ll see more,” I said. He obviously did not believe me. So I added: “Trust me.”
It was about this time that I realized, that as a defacto tour guide, I should probably slow down when I see a caribou instead of zipping by them at 70 mph like I had been. Sure enough, a mile or so further down the road there were three more caribou about 40 yards off the highway. I slowed down to a stop and pointed them out. One was a nice bull, and Vlad took a couple of pictures. Then, as we were both looking on, Vlad let out a very audible gasp. Suddenly there were 25-30 caribou standing out there in the tundra. I have no idea where they came from; they were just there. The Transylvanian was convinced that they had simply stood up, which is certainly possible. But I think the terrain was so broken up out there, that we didn’t see the small herd until they walked out in the open. Either way, it was pretty cool. When I eventually drove off, Vlad said, “OK, I trust you now.”
Damn right, Count.
When we drove up to a couple of buildings standing next to each other, I announce our arrival to Paxson. “Ooookaaay. I see,” Vlad says. “Paxson is very small.”
That’s what ‘They’ are calling it: Extreme. Sounds intense. I wonder if I have ever experienced an “extreme” aurora. Maybe what I’ve been seeing all these years has only been rated at average. This could be mind blowing, life altering.
I was walking out of the Post Office when I noticed two motorcycles parked next to my Beetle. The riders were German tourists. “Nice bikes,” I said. “They’re filthy,” the older of the two Germans replied in good, yet heavily accented English. They were that. The BMW’s were absolutely caked with mud.
“The Haul Road”, I said, and the younger rider grinned. At least he was having fun, I wasn’t so sure about the other one. He looked pretty grumpy.
It turns out that Atigun Pass had snow. I picked out the words: wind, snow, drift, miserable, and several words that sounded like German cussing from the older rider when I asked how the ride went. The happy German simply said, “Ice Road Truckers,” with a huge grin on his face, then he gave me a thumbs up. Crazy bastard.
I asked if they made it to Deadhorse, and was roundly told off for the question. “Nein, nein. Snow. Wet snow.” There were several more sentences that followed, which I didn’t understand, but the tone came across as a tad negative.
“Well, it is September.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that only a tourist would be surprised by snow north of the Arctic Circle in September.”
“Why do you live in this place?” Mr Cheerful asked.
“All the tourists leave by the end of September,” I said. “It gets a lot better then.”
It took a couple of seconds, then the younger rider laughed out loud and slapped me on the back. “I like your car,” he said still chuckling.
“Thanks. I drove it all the way to Deadhorse once.”
At that, the Germans shook their heads and went into the building with a stack of postcards.
Yeah, I can be a bit of a shit at times. At least the Germans made it to Coldfoot. You have to give them that.
A deadly combination of unpredictable weather on the North Slope has made Atigun Pass more dangerous than ever. Record snowfall mixed with now warmer temperatures has turned this wicked pass into a devil’s slide–slippery than ever and at all time high for avalanche risk.Amazon Instant Video
For all my fellow college hockey fans out there… I believe there are two of you… The University of Alabama Huntsville could possibly be the first casualty of the changing hockey landscape. As a fan of the Farthest North Program, I’d really hate to lose the Southern Most program. Since I believe that losing any Division 1 program is not good for college hockey in general (with the possible exception of NoDak) I’ve decided to trumpet UAH’s cause a bit.
Personally, I think facebook is an evil entity, but I suppose it has its moments. For those of you who social network: UAH Boosters have a “Save UAH Hockey” page on f/b. For those of you who try like hell to avoid social networking, there is this link to sign the petition to buy the Huntsville business community time to come up with a way to help suppliment the University’s hockey expenses.