When we first started planning out this trip 8 months ago we had no idea that it was going to take us this far. Alaska certainly wasn't in the original outline, but as we researched and mapped our course out, we realized it could be done. Once Alaska was on the table we researched and planned intensely about all the mountains and glaciers we could find.
We had read that there was a highway that would take you into the Arctic Circle. And if you kept on driving for a couple hundred more miles, you would eventually find the Arctic Ocean. The catch? It's a long 416 miles on a gravel road, known as the Dalton Highway. At that moment, we knew that this highway up to Arctic Ocean would become our "turnaround" point for the trip.
After leaving Denali we began our final push for the north. We drove a couple hours and made our final "big" city stop in Fairbanks before getting on the Dalton. We stocked up on food, ice, and gas, because there are only 2 service towns along the highway: Coldfoot, which is about halfway, and Deadhorse, which lies on Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Ocean.
We of course knew that the further north we went the more expensive things would become, and driving over 400 miles down a gravel road with a trailer is just asking for trouble so we better be prepared.
Now the Dalton Highway is truly only there to get to the town to Deadhorse, which is the start of the Alaska Pipeline. The town only has 10 permanent residents, but also plays home to thousands of people who work for the pipeline. The road follows the pipeline as it winds it way south all the way to Valdez. A truly impressive structure when you think about it.
We reached the start of the highway early in the afternoon with the sun shining bright. As we made our way down the road we quickly learned not to trust the short spurts of asphalt. The asphalt had pot holes that looked cliffs and frost heaves that you didn't want to hit going more than 10 miles an hour.
Our first camp spot was right beyond the Arctic Circle, which oddly enough had the worst bugs we had seen so far. We set up our bug net in a hurry so we could cook dinner, and then watched hundreds of misquotes coat the walls of the tent. As you can imagine...lots of itchy bumps came from that camping spot. The next morning we woke up early and decided to make a 300 mile push to Deadhorse.
Our first mission in Deadhorse was to find gas. After a circle of the small town we found gas for almost 6 dollars a gallon....we were a long way from our $1.75 gas back in Knoxville! We decided to set up camp on a small gravel pull off and head to Camp Deadhorse to get our tickets for the shuttle to the Arctic Ocean. Since the road to the ocean is owned by the oil production companies up there, the only way to access the land is by a private tour.
The next morning we woke up, put on out bathing suits, and headed towards the shuttle. We knew the water was going to be cold...I mean it is Arctic Ocean after all, but when we arrived at the shore we were shocked to see giant icebergs still floating in the water. Maybe a wet suit would have been more appropriate attire.
Despite the ice, we still threw our shoes off, stripped down to our bathing suits, and took off running for the water. A very, very quick dip later, we were running back for the shore as official members of the Polar Bear Club (yes, there's a certificate and everything).
We were lucky enough to have people on the tour take pictures of our Arctic Plunge, shown above!
With our dry clothes on and certificates in hand, we made it back to the car, officially ready to be south bound! After another 400 miles or so down the gravel road, and about 50 caribou sightings later, we had made it back to solid road, without a single breakdown!