If you have time to read only one posting, click the following link to read the entry for the last day of our journey.
Day 27, Tuesday, September 10, The Arctic, 6600 miles from home, preliminary posting
It is almost midnight, and I am tired, so I will be brief now, but fill in more details and photos later. In apologize for any errors in this posting because I don't have time to edit it.
The featured piece of the January 2002 cover story of the National Geographic was a multi-page spread about Sonntag and my journey to the Arctic, labeling the story, An Incredible Journey. Indeed it was an incredible journey with that incredible dog, and his magnificent sister, Kessie, and I am not taking about the trip to Alaska when I say that. But if what happened today as Leben, Erde and I made our way to the Arctic is any indication, that 2000 trip wasn't even a dress rehearsal for this one, it was an audition, to see if I was up to this one.
Our day started at 4:00 when I was awaken by Erde's frustrated attempt to escape the tent. I suspected that maybe she had not shaken her gastrointestinal bug, and I was right. I will again spare my readers the details of what transpired next and leave them for some future writing. Erde remained outside for the next here hours until I got up for good, tethered to a 15-foot leash, either of her own accord or because in her racing one way or another to find an unspoiled spot, her leash got her tangled up and confined to a small spot in our campsite.
Although our plan was to get on the road to the Dalton Highway and the Arctic by 8:00, a round trip of 400 miles, or hours10, and return to our base camp by the 8:30, the end of usuable daylight, we were already behind schedule by the time I got up. Regardless of any schedule or plans, I decided that Erde's health was far more important than any goal we had , especially since her gastro problem was now in its fourth day, we would be in Denali for five days in two days, far from any vet, and I could not not feed her until the problem cured itself. Although this was our only chance to make the Arctic, I decided to find a vet and see if they could see Erde today.
As luck would have it, I drove no more than 100 feet beyond the entrance of the camp and spotted the Aurora Animal Clinic. As luck would further have it, although they were booked solid for the next several days, they had an appointment open at 10 a.m., five minutes away. The vet, a Dr. Poets cn (pronounced Peach) examined Erde, ran some tests, and diagnosed problem, which she probably acquired not from the treats he gets from me despite her pancreatic insufficiency problem, but from the scavenging she does at every camp, more interested in the scraps left behind by the previous campers or their neighbors than the gourmet dog - and often human - food she gets from me. The vet gave her some metronidazole to take, and an emergency prescription in the event the problem recurs when we are far from a vet, and we were on our way.
By the time we fueled up on water, coffee and gas, it was noon. We would never make it to the Arctic and then back again by 8:30, and i hate driving in the dark on these moose-band bug truck-frequented roads that are treacherous enough as it is. I had a decision to make. Should I cancel the Arctic goal, cut short the Denali expedition by a day or more to accommodate the Arctic goal, or risk driving the Dalton Highway in the dark. To save a precious 5 minutes, I decided not to fill the extra 5-gallon gas tank I bought yesterday. After all, I reasoned, the next gas station, two in fact, are 140 miles away, and my tank can go 205 miles on Dalton-like dirt and gravel roads. I will refill my tank the remaining 60 miles to the Arctic Circle, and then refill it again when we return. In fact, I really did not need the new extra gas tank after all since I already have an extrav 5-gallon sitting on my roof rack. So off we drove.
If I had any memories of the absolute splendor of the Dalton Highway,n which I have driven in its entirety four times, twice with Leben and Erde, they had receded. What a road! And when I say road, I refer not only to the views but to the ūber challenges of the road itself. The road has been much improved since I last drive it in 2001, but it is still not a road for the less confident drivers to take.
Over my adult life, in all its aspects, as those who know me know I have encountered many dramatic moments, some of which, admittedly, I brought on myself. Maybe all of which I brought on myself. Today, I finally encountered a random series of events that will probably go into my memoir, if I write one, as the most drama-filled day of my life, and by a wide margin at that. I want to do justice to the events that occurred, so I will defer saying anything more until later. It will have to suffice here and now to say only two things. First, we did make it to the Arctic, at precisely 5:15 Alaska time, basically completing our journey to the ends of the road in the northeast (in Labrador) and northwest (Alaska), 14,600 miles so far, camping out every night, and not including the trip we still have ahead of us in Denali and then to get home. The two below photos will serve as proof that we made it there. (Leben and Erde had already been to Inuvik in Northwest Territory and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska (a.k.a. Deadhorse, so redoing those miles was not necessary.) band second, Erde made it back to our base camp in Fairbanks safely in just 45 minutes beyond the 10 hours I estimated it might take. But what a day. If I hsd known the risks that I would encounter and th decisions I would be called on to make. I might have stayed at our base camp trying to get to page 12 of the first of a dozen books I brought with me.
After I try to assimilate the days events and make some sense out of them, I will make a new posting instead of revising this one. It is 1:30 and I need to get one rest for a busy day tomorrow. I am just thrilled to be back here safe and in my tent with my two incredible dogs sfter completing our goal
P.S. Leben's wheelchair has been fitted with his new replacement wheel, which arrived by express delivery in a fairbanks yesterday. His temporary wheel has been retired.
Also, somewhere at home, I have photos of Leben and Erde as four-month old pups at that same Arctic Circle marker.