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SPOTLIGHT| Diane Barnes-Reynolds | Arctic Adventure

What Inspired you to go to the Arctic Circle?

I know it sounds crazy. Everyone I told laughed. They thought it was a joke because of the extraordinarily cold weather at the Arctic Circle. But when you live in the paradise that is Tampa, where else would you go? And it was quite an amazing adventure. I only regret that we couldn’t take our daughter; and I can’t wait until we return when she’s old enough to join us. In the meantime, she had a nice visit with her grandparents while we were gone.

My husband took this trip a couple of years ago with his father and brother. He was so excited when he returned to plan another trip, and he insisted that I see the things he had seen. I was reluctant at first because of the potential cold extremes, but I figured, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space. 

How long was your trip?

12 days

What kind of transportation did you take to get there?

Planes, trains, and automobiles.

What transportation did you use once you arrived?

Light aircraft, snowmobiles (referred to by locals as “snow machines”), and dog sled.

Did you see any wildlife? Polar Bears, Moose, etc.?

No polar bears. You have to venture to the Arctic Ocean to see them. But we did see herds of caribou, reindeer (which are just domesticated caribou), moose, fox, snowshoe hare, and raven. 

Did you have to buy an entire new wardrobe to prepare for the extreme temperatures of this vacation since you live in Florida?

I didn’t own much in the way of winter gear before this trip. Everything we purchased had to be rated to -40 degrees. The trick, of course, was to layer. If there’s one thing Alaskans know how to do well, it is indoor heating. We had to be able to peel layers in order to be comfortable inside. I was nervous about withstanding the temperature extremes, but was very lucky the area was experiencing what the locals called “a bad winter,” which meant rather mild temperatures for that time of year. The coldest temp while we were there was -11 degrees. That was cold enough for me. 

What cities were you able to visit? Tell us about your experiences there.

We began by flying into Anchorage and stayed for 3 days at a ski resort in Girdwood. We then returned to Anchorage and caught the Winter Aurora Train for a 12-hour ride to Fairbanks through some of the most awe-inspiring country you will ever see. The Alaskan Railroad trains are the only ones that you can flag down to pick you up along its route. It will even stop in the middle of the wilderness to drop passengers off, where someone is usually waiting with a snowmobile and trailer to tow supplies home. We then used Fairbanks as our home base for the remainder of the trip. We ventured to other locales and returned to Fairbanks for a night before setting off on the next adventure.

One day, we were set to take a tour from Fairbanks into the Arctic Circle by van, but all of the roads were closed due to ice conditions. We had to wait until the afternoon and then took small aircraft into the Arctic Circle. After covering some beautiful country following the Yukon River, Alaskan Pipeline, and the White Mountain Range, we encountered total white-out conditions for the remainder of the flight. We stayed the next few days at Camp Coldfoot, which is about 55 miles into the Circle and is rustic by the most generous description. The Slate Creek Inn is basically a bunch of trailers welded together and set across from the Coldfoot truck stop, made famous by the show Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel. We awoke each morning and followed the overwhelming smell of bacon to the truck stop’s café, built by the very truckers who carry supplies up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. We ate our meals with the truckers and several modern gold miners. The Inn originally served as the housing quarters for the workers who built the Dalton Highway and the pipeline.

On our first night in the Arctic Circle, we drove to the small town of Wiseman (population 13) and stayed until around 2:00 a.m. watching the Aurora Borealis. Later that morning, we ventured north on the Dalton Highway, carefully pulling aside for each truck to pass, through Atigun Pass, as far as Alaska’s North Slope, which is where I raised the Firm’s flag for a photo op. We returned from Coldfoot on another light aircraft, again in white-out conditions. 

This time I was in the co-pilot seat. It was pretty amazing to watch and listen to the pilots navigate their way solely by instruments. We spent another night in Fairbanks, and then we ventured to Chena Hot Springs, where we swam in the warm waters of the natural springs while our hair froze in the sub-zero temps above the water’s surface. While there, we also went snowmobiling, took a dog sled ride, visited with the resident reindeer, and took a tour of their power facility. Chena uses geothermal power from the hot spring to run its resort and to heat its greenhouses where fruits and vegetables are grown and brought fresh to your table in their restaurant.

For the final leg of our trip, we returned to Fairbanks and visited the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska. My favorite exhibit there is “The Place Where You Go To Listen.” In this small white room, you can listen to the sounds of our planet, from the bell tones given off by the aurora, to the bass of rumbling tectonic plates. Hearing it was a moving experience for me. That evening, we visited the International Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks and headed home the next day to Florida.

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