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Ride of the Hell Bitch

Cars have names. Bud taught me that. Sometimes you just have to discover them, and some are quicker to give up their names than others. It didn’t take long to discover the name of this one. I bought it with one purpose in mind: to get me up and down the Steese successfully and fast. It’s a utilitarian buggy with no frills. I recently put new, larger wheels on it to match the winter tires we already had. With it’s black paint, black shell, and black wheels and tires, it looks a little nefarious. As I was driving over mountain and down a few weeks ago it came to me; this is the Hell Bitch, the name of Capt. Call’s horse in Lonesome Dove. I’m not wild about the name, but from the moment it occurred to me, I knew it couldn’t be anything else. 

4:00 Departed Circle

Today I left at the top of the hour, bent on making it home. The odometer on the truck read 191168. The outside temperature was 7˚F. It was cloudy and snowing lightly. The weather report and the road report both looked good.

4:21 The bridge over Birch Creek

This is a mid-century steel bridge and a great spot on the river. Birch Creek is a national scenic wild river, and even though I’ve seen little more than what can be seen from the bridge, I can see why it is so designated. Scenic. Wild. A national treasure. On or around this bridge I have fished for pike and grayling with Jacob, gone swimming, collected water as a primary water source, had cookouts, taken pictures, peed over the side, held Jacob while he peed over the side, had cookouts on the bank, spent a full night canoeing, and spent at least one night helping wayward hunters out of the mud.

4:41 Steese Roadhouse, Central

The Steese Roadhouse is one of the few places I have visited in Alaska that has felt like the stereotypical Alaska. It is the real Northern Exposure. They have great burgers, community dinners, and special holiday events plus gas and spirits.

5:01 Eagle Summit at the igloo

At Eagle Summit, there is an emergency shelter that looks like a white plastic igloo. Stephanie and Jamiee have stopped to look in it, but I never have. Hopefully will never need it. There is also a parking area with an outhouse. This is where I ended the Pinnel Trail hike and where I camped on the night of the solstice one summer. Many memories.

5:06 Milepost 101

Tonight I stopped here for a pee break and to call home and let ‘em know I made it over the hill. Stephanie told her hairdresser about my weekly perambulations, and her hairdresser offered, insisted we borrow, her satellite phone. A generous offer, and given the circumstances, one I’d be foolish to decline. There is an old mining camp with some relics of mining equipment by the stream that runs here, and this is one of the stops along the Yukon Quest trail. 

5:25 Twelve Mile Summit

Here is where the Pinnell tail begins, and where we often stopped during our first trips to Circle. There are blueberries to be picked in this area. It seems the more we made the drive, the less frequently we stopped along the way.

5:31 Montana Creek plow station

After driving in inky blackness, the lights of the Montana Creek plow station blaze like a compound or some maximum security prison. This compound is staffed by three guys in ten day rotations. They plow the roads or clear with a snow blower every day. We depend on these guys, and they mostly do a great job. I’ve made it a priority to get to know them and make sure they know me.

5:47 Pavement

At about mile marker 56 (counting down as you head to Fairbanks), the constant rumble of a gravel road becomes a steady hum of pavement.

5:52 Davidson Ditch

Tonight as I drove I was getting so sleepy. I was taking corners like Lewis Hamilton and nodding off at the same time, so I stopped at the Davidson Ditch pullout to catch a cat nap (19 minutes).

The Tacoma has a moon roof that frosts over completely. But staying in one place with the heater on full allowed it to thaw. What woke me was the drip, drip on my face. Time to get home.

6:20 Long Creek Roadhouse

A quaint looking place. Stephanie and I had breakfast here once, and she has stopped in a number of times for a snack, though I never have.

6:26 Bridge over the Chatanika River

There is a little campground there at the Chatanika River bridge. Stephanie and I camped there one night, in the rain, after seeing the Indigo Girls in concert at the Blue Loon. I was good date-night camping sans kids. On other occasions we have stopped to let the kids throw rocks in the river, as we did with the Watsons.

6:33 Chatanika Road house

We’ve stopped here for lunch or dinner a couple of times. A very Alaskan looking place, it is a popular destination. I remember having breakfast there one morning and marveling at how hard the people at the bar were drinking. Cool place.

6:41 Cleary Summit

This is the last little push before town. There is a ski area here, and there used to be this abandoned ski lodge/chalet. Stephanie and explored it a couple of times. It had an incredible view of the valley that looked off in the distance toward Circle. Though never really a possibility, I told Stephanie that I’d love to buy it and restore it as a home for us. And so I was disappointed when it was burned down in a pointless act of arson last year.

6:48 the corner and the weigh station

This is where I consider myself having arrived. The Steese highway stops at a four way intersection. Right takes you up the haul road to Prudhoe Bay, straight takes you to Fox, and left takes you to Fairbanks.

6:55 the Fairbanks skyline

After running three hours in the dark, the Fairbanks skyline is impressive. Not that there is much skyline to it. More than the lights, in the wintertime, every building has a plume of exhaust rising from its roof. The larger the building, the larger the plume, and the largest plume comes from the city’s power plant. Each plume is illuminated by winter's low hanging sun for a dramatic image.  

7:04 Home

Ingnition off. Home sweet home. 2 hrs. 41 minutes driving time.  3 hrs. 4 minutes total time.

Up the stairs and in the door. Stephanie and the boys are making cookies. She is at the mixer with one boy at each side, each standing on a stool reaching hopeful fingers toward the bowl.

Posted on Friday, November 7, 2008 at 10:52PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments3 Comments

Reader Comments (3)

i think you left some things out...

4:42 stop at Steese Roadhouse for a drink. beer.
4:45 change my mind, order a Jack & Coke.

6:21 stop at Long Creek Roadhouse for a Midori Sour. Get it to go. Need to be at the Chatinika River Bridge by 6:26...which is actually just the Tanika River, but between the Jack & Coke and the freezing weather my speech (and typing) is slurred.

6:34 stop at the Chatinika Road House. I'm cold again and need a little 'liquid heat' for the home stretch.

10:30pm i'm awakend by stephanie and the boys knocking on the glass of the truck which i have passed out in after a long evening of driving.
November 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterwatson
Watson, you know me all too well.
November 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
Pictures, we need pictures. The description of smoke plumes coming out of every house in Fairbanks skyline in the winter demand pictures....Oh and of Sarah!
November 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDad

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