I am gaining weight, fattening up, on purpose.
Fattening up because it’s easier to carry the calories around my waist than on my back. Fattening up because we’re planning a trip through the remotest spot in the good ole’ USA by fair means – no gas, no plane, no wheels, no boat, no skis, no sled, no dogs, no horses, no mules, no camels, no porters, no hunting, no fishing, no foraging.
No food drops, no help from anyone but ourselves – that is, if we’re smart, tough, and, above all, lucky. And our feet are good and we don’t run out of food.
You see we plan to walk 600 miles carrying all of our own food and all of our gear necessary for the duration – hopefully three weeks. That’s 30 miles a day on average, camping above the Arctic Circle in the heart of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve – NPRA – America’s wildest place.
Everyone knows Alaska is wild. Half of all the US’ area designated as National Park is there. Half of all the designated Wilderness, too. The biggest National Park (Wrangell-St. Elias), the biggest National Forest (Tongass), and a Wildlife Refuge the size of South Carolina (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). And yet the wildest place – defined as farthest from road or village – is in an oil and gas reserve. This makes it a spot with a life span and at $70 a barrel oil that life span is getting shorter by the tank-full.
The remotest spot is a bit south and east of Lookout Ridge near an obscure stream named Benjamin Creek on an even more obscure river called Itevluk. From here it’s one hundred and nineteen miles south to Ambler, one hundred and twenty miles north to Atquasak, one hundred and nineteen mile northeast to Umiat. Everyplace else, the Nunamiut village, Anaktuvuk Pass; the Alaska Pipeline and its service “Haul Road,” the Dalton Highway; the richest zinc mine in the world, Red Dog; our intended starting point, Point Hope; and our finish, Wiseman; are all more than 150 miles away.
There are no trails here, unless you count the “winter trails”, old track vehicle scars left over from the wanderings of seismic crews exploring NPRA for its oil, gas, and coal deposits during the last four decades. But these trails aren’t really trails. They are long, boggy, parallel ponds that have in places melted into the tundra and remained, or grown over in soggy tussocks. They are no good for walking and under the winter snows they disappear. So our planned 600 mile trek across America’s wildest landscape will cross empty country.