You can find Part 1 of this story here
The inside of the Arctic Oilfield Hotel looked like a camp that you might see in Antarctica. It was complete with everything needed to keep you entertained and sane during the brutal winter: x-box room, free fancy laundry, board games, all you can eat snacks. We wore required medical grade latex booties over our shoes because it was mud season, and let’s be honest, working in the oilfield required getting down and dirty. We were the only visitors to the camp who weren’t on business. As one of the only females in town, especially a young female, the members of the male dominated population assumed that I was there visiting someone. It couldn’t be that I was actually working right? They referred to Andrew, my spouse, in jealous joking derogatory oilfield slang of “grunt” as we ate in the cafeteria. “Someone drove up to see you, huh?” Andrew just smirked gracefully and went along with it. Fox News blared and echoed in the cafeteria at every meal as three T.V.s lagged behind one another. I felt eyes on my ass at all hours. I couldn’t make a trip to the parking lot without catching bewildered looks from the hotel rooms above. If I had dressed like a roughneck, in my Carhart overalls, would they have treated me any differently? Sadly enough there were no women around to even ask. The general store was full of Playboy magazines, snuff, and typical roughneck man-wares. The only goods geared toward female patrons were tampons and a pack of plastic wrapped Hanes panties. I was relieved to find older females working at the general store counter and post office. They joked like two vultures in cahoots about how attractive the young working men were. Even though they looked haggard, I wondered if they could have almost any boyfriend they wanted where the pickings were so slim. What an interesting existence as a female it was up here in the Arctic.
But these blue-collared men were what kept the Alaskan and American economy strong. Most of the workers were just biding their time, keeping their head down, till they could go back to R&R with their families in the lower 48. They bought Alaskan t-shirts to take home to their toddlers who surely missed them. For most of them, this outpost was a temporary steppingstone to taking positions closer to home. “Don’t believe hell freezers over? You’ve never been to Deadhorse” they said. Living in Alaska, I learned that Alaskans strongly favored further drilling because it created much needed jobs and economic prosperity.
The fact that these men pumped oil the entire length of Alaska from The Frozen North to the southern port of Valdez was an engineering feat in and of itself. Think about how big Alaska is. The pipeline was built during the 70s, just tall enough as to not interrupt caribou migration. It was warm enough that the product didn’t freeze, warm enough that muskox gathered under the pipeline during the winter. Really these workers weren’t here to intentionally disrupt the wilderness, it was just the effect of them trying to put food on the table for their families.
On the day of departure fog lifted from the tundra like cotton batting. “The catch” when driving the Dalton Highway, was that once you arrived at the end of the haul road, your destination, Deadhorse, was only half of your drive. Because when you decided to leave, you had to head south down the same dirt gauntlet that got you there. But each time I glanced out of the window I saw something new. An Arctic fox turned to watch us pass with a lemming in its mouth. Musk ox congregated on the road and encircled their young. When they ran they looked like mops on the move. A lost caribou stumbled through the valley of the Atigan Pass. Many of my questions were still unanswered about my environmental concerns. Like the streams that varied from trickling to roaring, time wouldn’t stop to let anyone figure out better solutions. We, the humans, were left in the muck of the best we could do; not many people cared about the Arctic because it wasn’t in their backyards, but their plastic and the cars that got them to work every day were. The issue was out of sight and out of mind. Like those in a position of power, I hadn’t thought of a better way to feed society’s need machine. Hell, my inner being was entangled in the mess too. I had that same inner desire to go, do, have, and see more. Alaska was just a two month stop along the path that was taking me closer to my goal of seeing every country. I was every bit as reckless as the roughnecks and their big billfold C.E.O.s.
The tires bit the dirt beneath me as we barreled southward. Braided glacial streams caressed their gravel beds like the lines in a waffle cone. Each mountain took on a character of its own, one a cathedral, the next a bowl. Breathing in the beauty of the Arctic’s tundra, and thinking of the oilfield, I daresay that I hoped for a future of compromise where nature doesn’t decidedly lose when humans pester, probe, and extort it.