29-Mar-2003 -- I flew from Anchorage to Barrow on Friday in hopes of getting to the confluence over the weekend. The weekend was supposed to be sunny and relatively warm for Barrow. Highs were to be around 15 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. My friend Andy Swartz who lives in Barrow was in charge of getting two snowmachines and recruiting anyone else who might want to go along. We figured the more people and snowmachines we had, the safer we would be. The temperatures were well below zero in Barrow, and the weather can be pretty unpredictable. The only other person to join us was Brad Heaston, since everyone else was not interested, sick, or had to work.
We put on as much warm clothing as we could find and headed out of Barrow. The GPS said the confluence was approximately 26 miles from where we where. We made a stop by the search and rescue shop in Barrow, and picked a personal locator beacon (in case we got in trouble). For most of the residents in Barrow, going 26 miles out of town is no big deal, but I wanted to be safe as possible in such cold weather. Anyway, there aren’t many ways to leave Barrow on a snowmachine, since it is the northern most city in Alaska, and the United States for that matter. So we headed South. Southeast to be correct. It was too cold to leave the GPS out where we could see it while we were riding, so we would find the direction while we were stopped, point the machines that way, and try to keep that bearing as long as we could. I hate to admit it, but Andy did a pretty good job staying on course. Maps are essentially useless on the frozen tundra as there are no discernable landmarks.
It was pretty uneventful for the most part. We saw a few caribou on the horizon on several occasions but not much else. It was the same view in just about all directions once Barrow was out of sight: flat, snowy, and deserted.
The tundra was a bit rough and bouncy on the snowmachines, so we didn’t move that fast. We probably averaged about 15 to 20 miles per hour on the way there, but the bouncing around on the tundra was taking its toll on me; I was getting tired. About 5 miles from the confluence, the weather seemed much colder than when we left. The visibility was getting bad, and the wind was picking up. I started wondering whether this was such a great idea or not, but we were too close now. It seemed that about 15 minutes later; we were there. We took a few quick pictures, but the batteries on the camera didn’t last long in the cold, so the pictures aren’t that great.
Just when we were thinking we were real frontiersmen while we were at the confluence, an Eskimo out on his snowmachine chanced upon us. He was worried that we were lost (I imagine we looked pretty silly to him walking around with a GPS in our hands trying to find a spot in the snow). He was very friendly and said he was out hunting. I think he mentioned looking for foxes and wolverines. We told him we were fine, and he cruised on off like he was on a Sunday drive. So much for my ego of being on the edge.
We made it back to Barrow in less than two hours, but I was completely exhausted. The bumpy tundra and holding on to the machine had really beaten me up, and I was ready for a hot shower. It was fun, but I won’t be back to that confluence any time soon.