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Shooting the Steese

This past Saturday I got another chance to shoot the frozen white rapids of the Steese Highway. I went in to Fairbanks  to meet Stephanie and the boys who were arriving that night. The drive from Circle to Fairbanks is one of the things I love about living in Circle. It is an interesting, beautiful drive through some very wild and remote country. And Saturday’s drive was incredible. I had planned on leaving early to take some pictures along the way, but ended up leaving later than I intended. I was chasing daylight for the first hour or so. The more I drove, the lighter it got, the faster I went, the more exhilarated I became. This road is a driver’s dream. Snakey winding road with countless corners, rapid inclines and declines, hairpin turns, straits, and an almost zero population. The weather was incredible, the road was clear, and I had an amazing time.

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It wasn’t the first time (or even the second) I had been Out for a Drive in the past couple of weeks. This past week we had a guest from Fairbanks named Bernard (not his real name) drive up for a meeting in the evening. He had driven to Circle in the morning and declared his intention to drive back at eight that same night. Another community member and I both explained to him that he shouldn’t attempt this because the road summits two mountain passes between Circle and Fairbanks that regularly become closed due to the wind that blows snow drifts over the road. Road crews plow the roads every day, but they make their last pass around three in the afternoon. We told him he should stay the night and drive back the next day. But Bernard wouldn’t be deterred. He said that the road was clear that morning, and he felt confident that he would be fine.

My phone rang at two o’clock in the morning. It was Bernard’s wife calling to tell me that she had not yet heard from him and that she was worried. He left Circle at about eight PM, and should have arrived in Fairbanks between eleven and twelve. He was two hours overdue. The only thing for it was to load up some gear, get in the truck and go find him. He was there where I expected, at the top of Eagle Summit sitting in eighteen inches of snow. Stuck. He said he was so surprised to see me, which I didn’t understand. I told him, “Well, Bernard, it’s the middle of the night, we’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s twenty degrees below zero, and your wife is worried. I couldn’t not come looking for you.” An hour of shoveling and pulling later and he was free.    

As I drove the dark quiet miles back to Circle, I remembered a phenomenon that Steph and I experience a number of times in our first few months in Alaska. We reeked of cheechako, I’m sure, and I remember going for walks or being around town and having someone take what I thought at the time was a hostile tone as they asked, “Why are going out there without a gun?” or “You need your Carhartts on in this weather.” At first I was taken aback by this until it was pointed out to me that far too often, people in Alaska have been called on to go out into the wild to retrieve others who have foolishly gone out and gotten themselves into trouble. No doubt it only takes a few times of risking one’s own life correcting the foolishness of others to make people feel entitled to correct such foolishness when they see it. From now on I will not be shy about telling people to stay put when they want to drive the Steese late in the day. I dragged in that night from fetching Bernard at about seven in the morning, just in time to get up for work.

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Stephanie, Jacob, Tobias and I all made it safely home to Fairbanks tonight. Everyone is glad to be here. Jacob recognized he was home. He came right in and went to his slide and explored all of his toys. I was glad that Jacob hadn’t forgotten about me either. He’s been staying pretty close to me all day today, and I’m delighted. snowSMALL.jpg

Posted on Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:48AM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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