Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Biking the Haul Road

Starved for adventure by too much familiar in my East Coast life, I leaped at the chance to join my uber-tourer friend Joe on a trip down Alaska's "Haul Road," (officially called the Dalton Highway), which ran south from Deadhorse 414 miles before joining the Elliot Highway for the 85 mile trek to Fairbanks. The road was constructed in 1973 to service the newly created oil pipeline which ran 900 miles from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay all the way to Valdez where it could be loaded onto tankers. For much of the route - through the tundra, the foothills of the Brooks Range, over the Range's Atigun Past (splitting between Gates of the Arctic National Park on the east, ANWR to the east), past the "farthest north spruce tree," down the Chandalar Shelf, through Coldfoot, over the Artic Circle, and across the Yukon River, before ending in the unfriendly defunct mining town of Livengood "Liven' good in Livengood" - the road parallels the pipeline. Both pipeline and road seemed generally viewed as tremendous feats of engineering that had somehow mastered a remote and inhospitable landscape. While production is down as the oil field ages, Prudhoe Bay once produced 20% of US oil. And thanks largely to Ted Stevens and a diet of pure federal pork (in spite of so many Alaskans' disdain for government), every Alaska receives an annual permanent fund dividend check ($1300 last year); Alaska Natives of the Arctic enjoy a huge cut of oil revenue, making the North Star Borough one of the state's wealthiest; and shift work on the North Slope is a booming industry even in this recession. The trip promised to bundle a new conceptual landscape around energy and wilderness with an anticipated breathtaking physical landscape. Not to mention some good physical challenge.

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