In Coldfoot we’re a bit between seasons. All of the usual winter folks have left but the summer hordes of tourists and truckers still wait for the snow to melt. On my second day here, the activity in the camp drifts lazily through the day. I haven’t started work yet; Chad, the guy who everyone sort of agrees is in charge, purportedly left for Fairbanks a few days ago and hasn’t come back yet. My co-workers tell me great things about Chad, how he keeps Coldfoot running smoothly. He actually has a house here, out back by the summer tents, and apparently his version of a getaway involves sneaking down to Fairbanks every couple of months. Michelle joked yesterday, as she was dialing hotels to try finding him, that when he stays in Fairbanks he uses a fake name, just so people can’t find him which gives himself a short reprieve from an endless job. Except I’m not so sure she was actual joking….
So until this mysterious “Chad” returns (no one knows yet when that’ll be), I’ll probably be hanging out for the most part. Jason, the guy who is in charge of running the Slate Creek Inn and all the cleaning there, said there might be some work tomorrow, doing all the deep cleaning now that the winter is over and prepping the lodge for summer guests. But today has just been all fun in the arctic. Derek, another of the workers here, and I decided to dig out of the snow a certain storage tent, that purportedly had a ping pong table inside.
When we got inside, random tables, chairs, books, supplies, and behold—a ping pong table—greeted us. It was a find on the same magnitude as discovering King Tut’s tomb… except King Tut’s tomb wasn’t cool enough to have a ping pong table. We dusted everything off, pushed some stuff aside, and started practicing our game. Soon Cory showed up, then Kristen and Jason, and we all just lounged around. Underneath the ping pong table lays an old pool table which we’ll hopefully be able to resurrect to.
Inside the “fun tent,” as I dubbed it, I also came across a bicycle, worn and used and forgotten. Cory said it used to someone’s a few summers ago, and everyone just leaves their stuff when they leave. I brought the bike outside and inspected it. Beside the fact that the handlebars were duct-taped on and the brakes didn’t work, its condition was surprisingly good. So I started riding around camp through the slushy snow and mud (which believe me was no small feat). I rode over to the Dalton Highway, and then across that to the Visitors Center, which doesn’t reopen until the end of May. Although the bike sure is janky, I’ve mastered it pretty well and it’s a whole lot of fun to ride, especially down hills without any brakes! (Kids, don’t try that at home)
After some bike riding I met Cory and Kristen over by the summer tents. Everyone has been signing up for tents to live in for the summer, so I put my name down for Tent 1, which resides right behind Chad’s house in a little grove of trees. Since most of the summer workers haven’t arrived yet, I currently have no roommate. Cory’s tent is right beside mine, and he and Kristen have been scavenging cool furniture to fill their tents with.
After pimping our tents a bit (my tent is still pretty pathetic, the roof’s all caved in because of the snow), we went and visited the dogs again. I interacted with them as best I could without getting as dirty as I did yesterday. Kristen, with no sense of shame, jumped into the middle of the pack. Dogs playfully jumped all over her, some nearly tackled her to the ground; they were just so happy to see a person! And wow did she get absolutely drenched in mud—mud that’s a combination of melted snow, churned up dirt, and all the dog poop that is lying around. She ended up trudging back to camp and had to have an impromptu laundry day (and shower too). Cory and I just laughed.
You can easily tell that summer is on its way to Coldfoot. Snow, still piled high in many places, is clearly melting. All the eaves on the buildings drip madly as the snow on the roofs melts under the 18-hour sun. Sometimes it can be quite a challenge walking into buildings without getting ice water dripped down your neck and the back of your shirt. But alas, even with the muddy snow, everyone enjoys the days. My rough count is that there are only about fifteen people up here right now, but that number will be growing soon enough. Until then, we’ll just play ping pong and roll in the mud with the dogs!
**Alaska Fact of the Day: Admission into the Union: January 3rd, 1959 (49th state). State Motto: “North to the Future.” State Nicknames: “The Last Frontier,” “The Land of the Midnight Sun,” and more derisively “Seward’s Icebox,” a term used by Secretary of State William Seward’s opponents who felt that his purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 was a waste of money.**