“Fairbanks State of Mind”

Posted On March 4, 2012

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After weeks and weeks of work, I finally got three days off and subsequently high-tailed it out of Coldfoot. I caught an afternoon flight down the Fairbanks for some good ol’ R&R. Between bouncing around bars, eating different foods, staying in a nice hotel, and enjoying the fun of the real world, it was a really nice break from the simple and limited Coldfoot lifestyle. A few of my friends from Coldfoot met me down there, and we spent quite a lot of time together. I had three action-packed days, but I’ll try summarizing here the high points of my time.

Fairbanks:

One of the first things I did was rent a car and drive around town shopping for supplies and booze. Fairbanks (and Alaska in general) is quite a peculiar place to have a car. Because much of the winter is extremely cold, and cars have trouble starting their engines at extreme temperatures (below zero), the local custom usually involves leaving your car running. Parking lots in Fairbanks typically have a whole host of abandoned cars in them, idling to keep their engines warm. How strange. Even weirder, some businesses have plug outlets in the parking lot, so that you can plug in your car’s engine to keep it warm. I got to experience some of this absurdity while I drove around town. It was quite the cultural shock.

A bunch of cars plugged in:

An hour’s drive east of Fairbanks lays Chena Hot Springs Resort, a cute little complex of wooden buildings that serve as a fancy playground for the rich. They have all sorts of Alaskan themed tours there, including dog mushing, snowmobile tours, and even a tour of this ice castle they build every year. But the main attraction is the hot springs bath, a naturally occurring hot springs that also powers the entire resort on geothermal energy. My friend Dan Smith from Coldfoot accompanied me into the hot springs. The temperature of the water was about 108 degrees, while the air temperature was about 8 degrees. Consequently, even though I felt super warm in the springs, my hair and beard became icy with frozen water vapors.

After Chena, Dan and I stopped for a few beers at the Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, a tiny little town north of Fairbanks. The brewery boasts the title of America’s northernmost brewery. While we were there, I picked up a case of the “Coldfoot Pilsner” to bring back to camp.

That night I attended the annual ice sculpture festival in town. A huge portion of the even was centered on a bunch of fun ice sculptures, like giant ice slides, a “hedge” maze made out of ice blocks, and even a hockey rink ringed by giant ice cubes. But the main attraction was the professional ice sculptors. These men and women used only a single block of ice to carve masterful statues that towered ten or twelve feet in the air. The detail was exquisite.  Below are pictures of my favorite pieces, though the real wonder of it all was getting to see these things in the first-person.

While in town I happened to spend the time accumulating the right paperwork, and I was able to walk out of the DMV with my very own Alaska driver’s license. It was a little sad surrendering my California driver’s license, but alas I’ve been in Alaska nearly a year now, so it was about time. Hilariously, the address on my new license reads “MI. 175 Dalton Hwy. Coldfoot, AK”. I can’t believe I actually live in such a ridiculously remote place sometimes.

Some redneck artwork in the Wal-Mart:

There’s way too much I did in Fairbanks to include all of it here. My last night in town I spent at UAF (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) with my friend Valerie, who I met over the summer. She showed me all the glories of going to college in a snowy place (the complete opposite of my college experience), and I had a blast sliding down gigantic hills on mere pieces of cardboard. I definitely had a good time, though it did feel a little strange being at a college again… reminded me a lot of my old life… which wasn’t even so long ago.

Well, I’m back in Coldfoot now, back to the arctic, back to work, back to no cell phone reception, back to the same old same old. It’s March now and it’s getting sunnier and sunnier every day. Soon spring will burst onto the scene (in about two months). And right behind that will be summer. I know it’s out there… now I’m just waiting.

Lastly, a map of Coldfoot:

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