One Year Later

Posted On April 28, 2012

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On a gray, snowy day in April last year, a small, two-prop Piper aircraft with the tail designation “Zero Foxtrot Sierra” touched down on a remote landing strip somewhere in the Alaskan arctic. It discharged a curious passenger, turned south, and flew way. A year later, that passenger is still in Coldfoot. What a ride it’s been since I disembarked from that plane.

It was a year ago this day I arrived in Coldfoot, and somehow, I still find myself here. Looking back on it, I’m actually a bit shocked. I never thought I’d be spending a year in the arctic. Hell, I’ve been here about seven months longer than I thought I would… and I don’t know yet when I’m leaving.

The truck lot, throughout the year:

It’s hard for me to write about this now. I mean, I’ve experienced quite the plethora of un-relatable experiences, met quite the crowd of characters that have ended up in this corner of the world, and tasted the brisk arctic mountain air in all seasons. It’s humbling. It’s elevating. Without knowing it, it’s exactly what I always wanted. I discovered a world for myself that is all but forgotten to the rest of the planet. Coldfoot’s got a quirky charm; it’s a little bent, just like the people here, but it functions, and it steals your heart. I know I can’t go back to the real world without the power of this place keeping a small unfilled hole in my soul for itself.

Shockpoint Mountain, throughout the seasons:

Rather consistently, I’ve spent a year of my life writing about my daily activities on a week by week basis. It’s tiring, really, I’m exhausted from it. My family and friends urged me to start a blog so they could keep in touch with me and keep pace with my life. This blog has lasted a hell of a lot longer than I ever thought it would. Even though I’m not leaving Alaska yet, I’m going to turn the final page on this blog. I’m pretty spent from writing it—the winter was brutal and extremely monotonous at times, and it just doesn’t seem fair to force myself to write about this place anymore. It’s exotic here, or so people tell me, but frankly for me now it’s just my humdrum life. I don’t think I do it any justice trying to add the flair and show for an internet weblog. The novelty of being here has finally worn off.

The pond:

After being here so long, more than anything I feel older. A lot older. I feel worn out now, not only in the body but in the mind; the arctic isn’t a very hospitable place to eke out an existence. I’ll be happy to leave, but hell, I’ll miss it like crazy. Its addicting being here, you learn to love the cold, to revere the darkness, to worship the summer, and to savor the coarseness of it all. It’s not easy being here, but damn, do you feel alive. During the dark times when it was in the negative fifties and sixties, that adrenaline rush you get by standing outside in the murderous winter… it gets into your blood. I don’t expect you can ever shake off that terrifying feeling of realizing you’re so close to death. It’s strange, but I can’t help to like it.

I reckon this may all sound like a goodbye, but I’m not going anywhere, and from time to time I’ll be around. After today I still plan on going about my life the way I’ve always gone about it: waking up, looking for something to do, and trying to find the ability and courage to simply do it. If given the chance to graduate college again and move to the arctic for this long, I’d choose the same for myself without a hesitation. For up here, I have lived bravely, lived strongly, and lived happily; for what else can a person hope to live their life?

Coldfoot Mountain:

The Brightening World

Posted On April 18, 2012

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Notice the lack of snow of the roof of the cafe building:

A picture of the same roof, a few days earlier. As the snow melted off, it formed into giant ice sheets and slowly slipped off the roof:

At the mid-point of April, the melting has rapidly accelerated and mud has replaced the hard packed ice and snow. I’m caught off guard by how fast these changes are taking place. The winter was months of monotony, but now every week Coldfoot looks shockingly different. A day ago, the thermometer went as high as fifty degrees!

Today I saw a fly buzzing around in the lounge. It’s the first bug I’ve seen all year. But if the flies are coming back, soon too will the damn mosquitoes. Right now we’re enjoying that rare time of year when it’s warm out but the mosquitoes are conspicuously absent. It’s won’t last much longer though, I guarantee it.

Last night I stayed up late playing poker, and didn’t depart the game until about 1am. Looking out the window at that time, there was still a faint glow of sunlight in the sky. At the rate things are changing, the stars and the darkness will completely disappear by next week. The longest day is not too far away…

The creek, beginning to thaw:

A look at the loading area behind the cafe (this is what I walk across to get to work every day):

The Crew-Quarters (CQ) Building. This is where I’ve been living for about eight months now:

A Bike Ride for All Seasons

Posted On April 12, 2012

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Easter In Coldfoot:

Images of winter literally melt away before us. This white land, once locked up so tight, is rapidly shedding its jacket of snow. The parking lot, as I also remembered it when I got here at the end of last April, is devoid of ice, instead filled with a muddy mixture of water and dirt and leaking truck oils. Ice that carpeted the decks all winter has all melted; blocks of snow loudly dislodge and slide down the roofs, crashing to the ground below. And everywhere, snow turns to water and drip… drip… drips down, forming more quagmires of Coldfoot mud. The thermometer pushes forty degrees on warm days, and with my winter-weary eyes I begin to perceive the faint outlines of a new summer. It is a glorious thing to behold.

A few days ago, I dusted off the last remaining bicycle that survived the summer. The ice that once coated the highway during the winter had all melted. Thus, the time was right for the first bike ride of the year.

During the summer, we escaped the camp by travelling up and down the highway on bicycles. For us coworkers, the bikes were our tools of freedom, our chariots across the arctic. I became so familiar with every bend and dip of the road, grew comfortable with the shouldering mountains, and thrilled in the chance to ride up and down the Dalton.

But the winter trapped us indoors, the harsh cold world outside was barely fit for walking, much less riding a bicycle. As I rode down the highway just the other day, I realized that it was truly spring in the arctic. The physical and psychological burden of winter had nearly vanished, and once again, armed with merely a bike, I was free to roam the world that I’d been trapped in so long. To be on that road again, surrounded by the trees and the pipeline and the distant, vigilant mountains, I found myself surrounded by old friends. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with these folks—it’s been nearly eight months since I last spent time with them.

Summer is coming. And I can hardly believe it.

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