The Dalton: Part 2



“If you think about it, you’ll hesitate and bitch out….”


It’s early morning, on the 4th of July weekend and instead of swilling beer and singing patriotic songs, I was standing in nothing but small blue briefs, surrounded by fog, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.


“….so don’t think about it, just jump”


Brandon's, (the tour guide for the mornings’ trip the arctic ocean) words of wisdom had seemed so simple sitting in the warmth of the tour bus an hour earlier. Standing almost butt naked on the edge of near freezing deep blue water, I again questioned my sanity.


Technically, you can’t go swimming in the near freezing water near Prudhoe Bay. I and a few others did happen to “fall in” though. The fact that we were dressed in our swimming gear is besidesthe point. An Argentinean man, tanned, sinewy and about 50 years old strides casually into the near freezing water, armed with goggles and a swimming cap. He smiled ruefully at the cold before breaking into a lazy backstroke. Determined to not to be out done by a baby-boomer with an amazing moustache, I girded my loins and made a run for it.


As I plunged into the water, all sorts of expletives crossed my mind. Some of them around the fact that I was wearing just underwear (my swimmers were conveniently at the bottom of one of my panniers back in Prudhoe bay) and that there were more than just a few women watching. Once fully submerged though, I couldhave almost sworn that the Titanic soundtrack could be heard in the distance and I finallyappreciated why Rose refused to share her life raft with Jack.


As I stepped (ran) out of the water and tried to stride (again, ran) confidently back towards the small group of people who had left the warmth of the small bus, I started to mumble the typical male excuses around “It’s rather cold…” Laughter sparkles in Amandas' eyes as she throws a towel at me and shares a laugh with her mum.


I had met Amanda and her family the day previously at Coldfoot camp and played leapfrog with them the entire way up to Prudhoe Bay. The family of 5 make the pilgrimage every year up the Dalton highway to observe the more than 170 different species of birds that live along the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.


I start to feel warm in the cold arctic air and think perhaps that I am blushing, then realised that its impossible to blush to your toes, particularly considering that I could no longer feel my feet. I hurried to throw my clothes back on and get back to the warmth of the bus.


As I furiously began to rub various parts of my body, (eliciting somewhat inappropriate and disapproving looks from a nearby family of 3) Brandon continued his rolling discussion of the Trans-Alaskasn pipeline, the very reason I was able to fall into the frigid of arctic water so conveniently.


“The pipeline is about 800 miles long and cost about 77 billion dollars to make….. in 1977”


As we drive slowly back to the Prudhoe bay hotel, it again struck me just how desolate this place is, despite it being run by a staff of several thousand in peak times who work mainly in shifts of 2-3 weeks on then with a similar amount of time off. There are some roles, particularly those that involve oil, that the “on time” can run into the months. Apparently the time off (and the money that goes with it ) is worth it.


“It’s not a bad place, just rough on families, the lack of beer isn't the best thing in the world either” comments a worker who asked not to be named. Since oil was found in 1968, there has been a constant stream of people and infrastructure pouring into this tiny area some 250 miles north of the Arctic circle. The pipeline itself pumps some 45,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil each and every day, inhuge steel pipes that were specially made in Japan with such precision that even the welds are X-rayed before each piece is put into use, let alone the stringent requirements a replacement part