Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Haul Road

The Haul Road is a 415 mile road of alternating ashphalt, gravel, large potholes, small potholes, washboard and mud that bends, winds, twists, turns, curves and rises and falls. It traverses the lower Yukon Valley, northern tiaga forest, Brooks Range alpine tundra and North Slope arctic tundra, terminating in the Sag River Delta at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

As the road carves its path north to the oil camp community of Deadhorse, the gateway to Prudhoe Bay and the oilfields, it parallels the Alyeska Pipeline. The pipeline snakes across the vast horizon and then disappears underground in sections that are permafrost-free, appearing again as it ducks and reappears all along the highway.

We had anticipated not enjoying the constant views of the pipeline, but found ourselves walking alongside it when walking on tundra was not possible. This was an early surprise for us, being able to walk the gravel maintenance road that follows the pipeline. 

Every day, hundreds of vehicles passed us as we poked along, sometimes driving 50 miles in a day, and other times, only 5 or 10. We saw large trucks bearing all manner of load, trucks from 1/4 ton pickups to 500,000 pound loads that required five 18-wheelers to push one behind the other to inch the heavy load up steep hills, bearing names like Oil Spill Hill, Oh Shit Corner and the Rollercoaster.

On the occasions when we walked the road, truckers almost always pulled over to a near stop, as we pushed Zip in his carrier, garnering smiles, waves and honks. 

We also encountered cyclists, bikers, hitchhikers, race cars, vintage cars, a man pulling a cart and while we heard there was a man riding a horse, we didn't see him.

We'd read that the Haul Road was a nightmare to drive, but we found it a long, but easy drive. The last few miles into Prudhoe Bay jarred us with its washboard surface, and had us leaping to still ground upon our arrival into Deadhorse. 

We loved our time on the Haul Road and are eager to return to it again, making our way back south to home sweet Homer. 

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