Alaska's haul road

| November 01, 2006

Ranking up there with tourists and Scenic Byway signs for Spears is the University of Fairbanks Toolik Camp, a summer research facility in the tundra north of Atigun Pass.

There are better uses for his tax dollars, Spears says, than funding six-figure salaries for professors and jobs for students “counting mosquitoes.”

“See how big that deal is down there?” He points to the lakeside complex. “Hey, buddy – that is a money pit!”

As we near Prudhoe Bay and midnight, heavy clouds and light rain try in vain to squelch the 24-hour daylight. But it’s dark enough for Prudhoe Bay and the adjacent commercial complex, Deadhorse, where we will stay, to glow on the horizon.

The Prudhoe Bay Hotel resembles a dormitory or barracks. Muddy boots sit drying outside the doors in the halls. My room is reminiscent of a sleeper cab, with a small TV on a ledge above the foot of the bed, though sleeper bunks are more comfortable than these sagging springs. A bath is shared with the adjoining room.

The most noticeable feature is the window treatment – black plastic duct-taped to block the summer sun for those who like their sleep with no cream.

The $110 rate seems high, but everything in Alaska tends to be expensive. And when you consider the food – free to guests – it’s not a bad deal. When we arrive hours after full-service dining has closed, the room’s spread of pastries, fruit, soup, beverages and more looks like a food-laden mirage.

Breakfast doesn’t pass without more discussion of Alaska: Dangerous Territory.

Slater, assuming the deep voice of mock authority, imitates the voiceover from a segment about a Carlile heavy haul that had wrecked on its first outing: “This is the second attempt to get this load up this treacherous road.”

He mentions a driver who referred to the road as the “Kamikaze Trail,” echoing the old Sam Little song of the same name that celebrated the road.

Spears chimes in: “He’s the only one who calls it that.”

I spot Spears after breakfast, stuffing pre-wrapped sandwiches and other goodies into a paper sack like some crafty homeless person. He assures me it’s cool – there are the sacks, and use one of those Ziploc bags for the carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs.

Suddenly the seven hours between breakfast and a Coldfoot meal don’t seem so intimidating.

We step into Carlile’s terminal, where Spears is assigned an empty dry van. He points to a large photo on the wall – three trucks in line, the first plunging into roaring water that bisects the Haul Road.

“That’s from a company training video,” he kids. What’s not visible is the submerged cable and its connection to a dozer that would pull each truck through the washout.

While strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions, it does not welcome comments reflecting racism, vulgarity or spam. Violations of this policy can be grounds for removal of a comment or banning a user from the comments system.

Comments are closed.