Day 11: October 29
Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, Alaska
by Richard Truesdell
For a change, we got an earlier start as we began moving southward and out of Deadhorse by 8AM, just as some daylight started to illuminate the road surface. The mercury had risen to the mid twenties, almost tropical in comparison to the previous days since Tok.
A couple of driving hints are in order at this point. Thus far the biggest problem encountered thus far have been snow banks that the truckers have not yet punched through. Although the A6 is equipped with all wheel drive, it lacks ground clearance and real aggressive tires which would help in pushing through these types of conditions. Drifting snow is especially dangerous in two situations. On curves, where you want to minimize any quick steering or braking inputs, drifting snow is a hazard. Since oncoming traffic in winter is unlikely, and only one clear lane is usually tracked, blind hills and curves must be approached with extreme caution. If traveling with a partner (highly suggested), the front seat passenger should be looking far up the road for any oncoming vehicles. This allows the driver to focus clearly on the road surface and conditions 1000 feet ahead.
The other danger area appeared to be where turnouts are provided. For whatever the reason, snow drifts seem to accumulate near the turnouts. Avoid abrupt corrections with the steering and/or brakes. Good driving techniques and absolute attention to the road make any encounters far less difficult. When encountering drifting snow, reduce speed gradually and drive straight through. Do not try to drive around the drift as the road is less than thirty feet wide and you’ll want as much room to maneuver if you should happen to lose control and start to skid.
We are approaching the Atigun Pass at this point and Mark is attaching the light weight chains we’ve obtained for this trip. Although conditions look pretty good, they can change almost instantly in mountain passes and we see all the truckers in front of us chaining up. We may elect to wait and directly follow the truck in front of us up the hill. It is at this point, that we are very happy to have an Audi with AWD as all of our experiences thus far, in loss of control situations has resulted in either of us being able to regain vehicle control almost immediately.
Originally our plans were to overnight in the Coldfoot area but losing the day in Deadhorse, we decided to try to make the run back Fairbanks in 12 hours, conditions permitting. Before that, our plans included an overnight stay in a rustic Alaskan B&B in Wiseman.
Igloo Number 8, a B&B in Wiseman, an alternative to staying at the Arctic Acres Inn, is approximately 17 miles north of Coldfoot, three miles off the Dalton Highway. Igloo Number 8 is operated by Bernie and Uta Hicker. Their home is in the old Wiseman Dance Hall, dating back to 1910.
Out in back, they have a one room guest house which gives visitors a true taste of Gold Rush Alaska. Summer rates are $75 for a single. Winter brings few tourists and if you are planning to visit, you need call or fax to the lone public phone in Wiseman. The number is 907.796.9001. To write just address your requests to Bernie and Uta at Igloo Number 8, Wiseman, AK, 99790. There are approximately 30 residents living year round, half of which are home schooled children.
Uta commented that living in conditions this remote takes special qualities, it is not cut out for everyone. Bernie and Uta are from Barvaria, having met when they were kids and Bernie emigrated to the US 13 years ago. Uta followed almost ten years later.
For more information on Wiseman’s history, Bernie suggests trying to obtain a copy of Arctic Village by Robert Marshall (1933, still available in paperback). Uta suggests Koyukuk by Alaska Geographic Quarterly (1983).
Bernie and Uta related a story on how the previous owner of the Coldfoot facility "stole" their post office. It was a great example of Arctic politics and just how important mail service is to villages as remote as Wiseman. I plan to follow up this story line when I return to Albuquerque at Thanksgiving. We let the ViewCam run for about 30 minutes as both related their experiences and gave us an insight into their choice of lifestyle. As friendly as everyone was to us at the Arctic Acres Inn, I strongly suggest that since Coldfoot is a logical place to stop both to and from Prudoe Bay, that you stop in at least once.
Reaching Coldfoot at 3 PM, and after checking road conditions, we made the decision to press onward to Fairbanks. It is 32 degrees and snow is falling. I just called Mike and Sue and left a message to leave the lights on for us as we should arrive between 9 and 10 PM. Our fall back position is to overnight at the facilities at the Yukon River bridge, about 120 miles to the south. If we arrive there after 6 PM, we will call it a day and drive to Fairbanks in the morning.
Mark has just commented that with the accumulation of snow, this is the best test yet for the all wheel drive capabilities of the quattro system. It’s been about 30 miles since leaving Coldfoot and I’ve been typing away. We came up with a great idea for a comparison test or Motor Trend, the $35,000 challenge. How about a comparison between an Audi Quattro, a SUV, an AWD mini van and traction control equipped FWD and RWD sedans? I must remember when I E-mail a copy of this to Jeff Barttlet at Motor Trend to ask if Van might be interested in such a comparison test next fall. Maybe starting in Anchorage rather than a full blown trip up the Alaskan Highway. Logistics would be easier.
The above materials were typed from the passenger’s seat while Mark was driving. Thinking aloud, I thought that with all the recent controversy about child seats and airbags, what would happen if the airbag went off with the notebook in my lap. Tongue in cheek, Mark commented that it would give new meaning to the expression, "eating your words." I would venture to say that it will not be long before we see safety warnings on the visor stating that it is unsafe to operate a laptop PC while in the passenger seat of an airbag equipped vehicle.
We arrived at our home away from home in Fairbanks, The Forget Me Not Lodge. Sue and Mike were waiting. As we covered over 510 miles in a little less than ten and a half hours driving time, we were very thankful for the quattro equipped A6. The drive was without incident, not so much as a slip over the entire distance on icy and hard packed gravel. Kudos and thanks to our friends at Audi, a job well done.