Journey to the Arctic Circle

Wednesday, February 22

Today we woke up bright and early to begin our 8 hour trip north to the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is defined as the Southern most points on the earth where there are 24 straight hours of sunlight during the summer solstice and 24 straight hours of darkness during the winter solstice. This phenomenon is caused by the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun. Here is a quick diagram to illustrate:

During the summer solstice, the arctic circle is constantly pointed at the sun which creates 24 hours of daylight. This is what causes Alaska’s famous midnight sun in the summer. The sun does set when it isn’t the summer solstice, but light is still visible on the horizon.

Our route takes us 350 miles north of Fairbanks along the Dalton Highway. The Highway was built to service the Alaskan Pipeline, which we paralleled for much of the trip.

You can almost hear our teeth chattering in the -10 degree weather.
The Alaskan pipeline had to be built above ground in many stretches due to permafrost. Permafrost is ground that stays frozen all year. The hot oil running through the pipe would thaw this ground, causing it to crumble and crack.

For the most part, the keystone pipeline was either underground or not very noticeable behind trees. However, there were times where it did appear as an eyesore in an otherwise perfect wilderness.

It is so cold that the snow is actually frozen to the trees.
Later in the day the sun started to peak out.
The road was totally covered in a packed layer of snow and ice for most of the journey.

There are a handful of outposts along the way, but most of them don’t have anything but shelter. Luckily, we were able to find outhouses to get the full Alaskan winter experience.

Nothing like finding a nice ice couch in the middle of the wilderness.

We made a few stops during our trip and one of them was right after we crossed the Yukon river.

“How the heck am I standing on the Yukon river right now?”
"Please don’t crack this ice, please don’t crack this ice, why did I have that big breakfast…”

After about six hours, we were about 50 miles away from the Arctic Circle. The sun began to set and we readied for our final push.

After 8 hours of driving on an icy road, we finally made it!

This flag travelled over 4000 miles for the express purpose of this picture.

As we made our way back to Fairbanks, we stopped a few times on the 350 mile route to take pictures of the incredible stars.

Even with some light pollution from a bridge off to the left, I was still able to see these guys twinkling.

About halfway through our return, we started to see something else in the northern sky. It started as a dim haze on the horizon and formed into something so incredible it deserves its own blog post…