Sunday, July 13, 2014

Baptism of an Arctic Warrior Part III: The Polar Bear Dive

Day 2 started bright and early. So early in fact, that it started on May 16, 2014. The Sun hadn't set on Deadhorse Camp for almost two months by the time we woke up on July 7. For us though, it began at 5:00 AM with a flat tire.

Now, since technically this is the same tire that we filled up with air at Happy Valley - and because I don't want anyone to accuse me of exaggerating later - I'm going to keep our flat tire count at a solid "two" right now. A case may be made that this was our THIRD flat tire, but again, let's avoid even the appearance of exaggeration by keeping the count at two.

At lengths it was time for the tour. Prudhoe Bay is only about 10-15 miles north of Deadhorse Camp, so the trip to the Ocean and back can't be that long, right?  The tour guide tells us: "Oh, the tour is only about THREE HOURS." What could make a thirty minute round trip with a few minutes at the Ocean a three hour tour, you ask? Well this of course:

SEE?! A DUCK! A DUCK IN THE ARCTIC! HOLD THE PHONE! STOP THE PRESSES! And look! It's got a nest! Let's stop here for fifteen minutes and look at it.

On top of that we had to dodge some serious traffic as we made our way through the oil fields. Deadhorse Camp and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields honestly reminds me of Afghanistan more than anything else. It looks like a deployment zone: crappy dirt roads that are much to small for the huge vehicles that ride on them; the temporary housing units that are all mobile and shanty looking; and the food is GREAT and you get as much as you want just for staying there. Oh look at this next pic: there goes AN ENTIRE BUILDING on the back of a truck. No big deal.

I didn't get many pictures of the oil fields for two reasons. First, there was a guy who I SWORE was an ISIS or Taliban agent here solely to blow up the pipeline. This guy was a big with a mean look and a RIGHTEOUS beard. I thought for sure he was on this tour in order to case out the fields and report back to his higher, so I was keeping an eye out. Second, I was slapping myself on the head repeatedly and chanting juvenile pre-game cheers to keep me from getting cold feet (so witty).

FINALLY, after TWO HOURS of bird watching and truck-dodging, we made it to the beach. THE BEACH! Eternal glory was just one ice-cold dip away.

And then this happened:

The water was a bone-chilling 30 degrees, and the ambient temperature was just below 40. You can hear the wind in the video, and it never let up.

I was 100% sure that I was going to go into shock from the water temperature. Sir Billy Fix It was talking to me throughout the entirety of the video footage, but I couldn't hear anything except my own pulse in my head. I just kept thinking, "I'm going to be the only Army Officer in Alaska to get hypothermia in the summer." Then I thought, "Worth it." A moment of pain and discomfort is worth a lifetime of glory.

There are some other parts of this experience that warrant special mention. The first is that the scary terrorist-looking guy was the guy in the video that went into the water with Mr. Smooth Talkin' Newman. He and his buddies turned out to be extremely cool guys from Los Angeles, California. They were on a massive road trip, and the Arctic Ocean was just one stop for them. Turns out later that if it wasn't for them, we'd probably still be at Deadhorse.

The second mention goes to the above group of Chinese tourists that were on an Alaskan adventure. Like the bros from California, this was just one stop for them. We might have never crossed paths again after this chance encounter at the edge of world, but Destiny had other plans.

Finally, after all of it: the years of fearing and avoiding the harsh, unforgiving conditions of the Arctic; camping 14 days in the mountains of Alaska during the dead of winter; surviving two winters and numerous winter training exercises stationed in one of the most remote locations on Earth; a 14-hour long drive with the Prudhoe Bay Crew; a THREE HOUR LONG DUCK WATCHING BUS RIDE; and finally a Polar Bear Dive into the Arctic Ocean on the worst possible Arctic summer day -- after all of it, I can finally claim my fears conquered and the title of ARCTIC WARRIOR. Excuse me while I add it to my list of hard-earned titles on my blog profile there on the right of your screen.

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