Tuesday 22nd July 3:00 p.m Fairbanks, Alaska
Well, my cute roommate Laura from Kansas left the next day, *not as a result of anything I said or did* and was replaced by two Chinese guys; cool guys but not as cute as Laura. The Chinese have left today to hike around Denali National Park, and for the moment I have the cabin to myself. That will most likely change when the Alaska Trails shuttle arrives from Anchorage in an hour or so. Myself and the Swiss guy Eugene both have a feeling that today's bus will be full of hot girls coming to stay here. We're both even considering shaving for the occasion!
It's been soooo nice immersing myself in the backpacking world again, being surrounded by like minded people, the young and the not-so-young, all full of stories of where they've been, and dying to hear of places they haven't been to yet. A few of my favourite personalities pulled up stumps here this morning, headed to either Dawson City in Yukon, or Barrow to the north, or south to Denali and Anchorage. I'm curious to see what sort of people arrive to replace them; that will determine whether I spend yet another few days here, or whether I hit the road as I feel I probably should.
Sunday night, I heard the Spanish girl Rose say that she was headed for the Arctic Circle. She was considering renting a car the next day.
"Hey Rose, you want a passenger tomorrow?" I called out.
"Sure" she said, and therein I learnt a lesson. By jumping in so early in the planning process, I became less of a passenger and more of a partner in the adventure. What's the difference, you ask? Well, a passenger *for example Toa, the Japanese guy we took with us* would make a contribution towards fuel. Ten or twenty dollars would be considered sufficient. A partner pays half the car rental, half the insurance and half the fuel! I don't want to sound like a scrooge, but I spent about thirty-eight times as much on transport yesterday as I've spent in total so far. Yes, I blew the budget, but there was no way around it. Rose and I walked to the rental office together, both signed our names, it wouldn't be fair to expect to pay less than half. So there you go- forty-five dollars later I've set foot across the Arctic Circle. Impressed? You'd better be.
We took off from Fairbanks with a quarter of a tank of gas, both silently assuming that we would fill up at Livengood, sixty miles or so to the north. Much to our surprise, Livengood- although somehow deserving of its place on the map- is a tin shed with a guy inside fixing his bulldozer. That is Livengood; no shop, no phone, no houses, and no gas. Anyone who knows me will be able to imagine me grinding my teeth as we were forced to backtrack over twenty miles along the highway, then pay $3.25 a gallon- twice the going rate- to get enough gas to see us safely to the Yukon River. The one saving grace was the cup of home made lemonade that I bought from a couple of kids while ol' mate was gassing the car, but I feel I may have been overcharged for the lemonade as well. I was relieved to escape without having bought one of their tshirts.
I'm not going to try to make the drive to the Arctic Circle sound interesting. It wasn't. The sight of the Alaskan Pipeline was cool for me, meandering its way acoss the landscape. Other than that, it was a long rough drive through the same sort of countryside that I've spent dozens of hours traversing over the past weeks. We were keen to spot some wildlife, and kept a list of the animals we saw. There were crows, dragonflies, one mouse, and loads of unidentifiable insects that we brought back to Fairbanks embedded in the windscreen of the rental car. At the Arctic Circle, there was a sign that said "Arctic Circle' and we all had our photos taken there, then returned to Fairbanks. The little Daewoo went back to the rental company this morning with over six hundred extra miles on the clock, and I marvelled at what an anticlimax the Arctic Circle was.
My two complimentary nights here at Billie's have expired, and I've been doing a little work around the place to ensure a continued rent free stay. Between Sunday and today, I've applied two coats of protective oil to the picnic tables and the upsatirs deck. Billie seems happy to have a fairly informal agreement with me, and I told her to call me if she needs a hand with anything. She keeps saying things like "Don't work too hard. Save some time for fun" or "If it gets too hot working there, take a break and do some more later." Why can't I ever find a boss like that?
Tonight, I'm undertaking my second challenge of the trip, although it hardly sounds difficult. I'm being collected here at nine and taken out to dinner. Tara, the Hawaiian girl I met Saturday on the shuttle bus, has left me a message on my website messageboard, challenging me to join her and her friends for the evening. She also pointed out that she prefers to be known by her actual name, which is Terra. So I've done my work for the day, and since I have the cabin to myself, I think I'll indulge in an afternoon nap, and sleep off the seven strips of bacon that came with my eggs, hash browns and pancakes this morning. Cholesterol, what cholesterol?
P.S. Thankyou to the people who have already helped out towards the upcoming ferry trip down the Inside Passage. I'm sure it will be worth it. Let's hope for nice weather, and you might see some really special photos. That will be about a week away, I'd say.