An Arctic Spring Break

In the vast barren white of the arctic plain winds blew snow across the seemingly endless gravel road that pointed north to Prudhoe Bay. Visibility was close to a quarter-mile and 18-wheelers appeared without warning, like a shadowy figure stepping out of a wall of smoke. The temperatures hung below zero with wind chills reaching negative fifty degrees. The trip was plagued with mechanical problems, extreme temperatures, and other odd ball adventures.            

This may not sound like the ideal spring break for many but, for Tyson “T dog” Alteri, Jon “J.D.” Cannon, Richard “Cunningham” Schultz, Lynda “Auntie” Price, Gwyneth “Georgia” Moody, and myself, Mark “Dr. Jones” Jones, we couldn't have asked for more.

The two vehicles making the 1,900 mile journey to Prudhoe Bay with a side trip to Manley Hot Springs were a $600 1983 Dodge van and my 1991 GMC pickup truck. The van, better known as “Cooter,” sleeps six people in two sets of bunks beds, with one person on the floor and another across the two front seats. Cooter also is equipped with a wood stove, tile and carpet, all installed by Cunningham and Jon. My truck was used for storage, vehicle recovery and pace truck – Cooter has no working speedometer or any other gauges for that matter. The week prior to departure was busily spent replacing spark plugs, buying studded snow tires and insulating the van. Then there was my truck that under went a 36 hour rebuild of the front axle and numerous other repairs with the help of good friend, Brian Meigs.

Sunday, departure day, finally arrived with great anticipation and last minute work. The van received new shocks and my truck a new power steering pump. J.D. packed the van cramming food, clothing, and keg into every last nook and cranny. I finished the power steering pump then Richard and I left in a hurry to pick up the girls, top off the gas tanks and hit the road.             

Forty-five minutes later Lynda's voice crackled over the two way radio “Coffee is ready honey.” In the van Jon brewed fresh coffee on the camp stove, hanging the pot from the ceiling to keep it from falling over. It was when we stopped for the coffee transfer in Wasilla that I realized I had left my bag of warm weather clothing in Anchorage. In the hurried frenzy to leave, my bag containing thick gloves, neck warmers, wool socks, wind breaker, fleeces, snow pants and long underwear was left sitting on the couch. Luckily, I was already wearing expedition weight polypropylene top and bottom long underwear and insulated Carhartt coveralls. It was decided that anything else I needed could be borrowed or bought in Fairbanks.

Nearing 4 o'clock in the morning a squealing noise erupted from the hood of my truck leaving me nervous and pissed off. Without fail the noise grew worse and the engine stalled, refusing to start once more. Forty miles and a few mountains away from Fairbanks the cell phone Auntie brought along managed to get enough reception to arrange for a tow truck to rescue us two hours later. In the mean time the wood stove was fired up and some much needed sleep was had.