Alaska: What will Get Frostbitten First?

Nick Watt travels 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle through Alaska to find out just how remote you can be and still be in the USA. With a climate so unkind that the U.S. government pays Alaskan residents a share of the state's oil profits, Nick wonders: is it all about the oil or is there something else that draws people from around the world to lay down roots in the last frontier? How remote is too remote, and could he live there? Nick starts his journey in Anchorage with his sights set on Point Barrow, the most northerly point in the United States. Before gearing up for the long road ahead, Nick stops by Gwenie's-a former brothel turned restaurant. There he shares a beer with a gang of old timers who reminisce about the early days when oil was first discovered and offer Nick some advice on how to stay warm up north (bear fur coat). Ignoring their advice, early the next morning Nick sets course for Mt. McKinley. Only a few miles out of Anchorage, Nick finds himself in the "real" Alaska-no office buildings or bars, just beautiful snowcapped mountains and breathtaking forests. Partway up the mountain, Nick runs into a group of young adults, all transplants from the lower 48 states, and tries to understand why they've chosen to live in Alaska. Their answer is simple: it's the view. Further up the road, Nick makes a pit-stop in Nenana, home to the "Nenana Ice Classic," a statewide lottery in which residents try to predict the exact minute that the ice on a nearby river will finally thaw. Nick unwisely ventures out onto the ice before placing a bet of his own. The next morning, Nick gears up to take on the Dalton Highway-a treacherous 425 mile road built for and by the oil industry and the only way to reach his next stop, Prudhoe Bay, by car. Only a few miles in, however, the slow pace challenges Nick's patience and he decides to turn back and head to the nearest airport. Upon landing in Prudhoe Bay, a town built with the sole purpose of supporting the nearby oil fields, Nick is surprised to discover that no one actually lives there full time. Most of the population only stay for three to six weeks at a time before taking time off for somewhere a little warmer. Nick visits with the only shop keeper in town, gets a pep talk from the post master-one of the only women in town-and enjoys dinner with a group of tired oil workers at the end of a long day. Nick then travels further north to Barrow. Unlike Prudhoe Bay, there aren't any roads connecting Barrow to the rest of the state. It's completely isolated, just about as remote as you can get. But he discovers something unexpected: a vibrant community made up of Inupiat natives, transplants from the lower 48 states, and immigrants from far flung corners of the globe. After mingling with the locals it's time for Nick's final destination: Point Barrow, the most northerly point in the United States. To get there Nick enlists the help of Gabe, a young Inupiat hunter, and together they begin the last leg of the journey by way of snow machine. Along the way they stop in Piqniq, a small Inupiat camp, to snack on Inupiat delicacies. With a tummy full of whale meat and seal oil, Nick finally reaches Point Barrow and the Arctic Ocean. It's so remote even the natives have left, leaving only a few whale bones behind. Nick thinks back on all he's learned along this epic journey and determines that there's no such thing as too remote for Alaskans, well, except for Point Barrow. For them, helping one another against the odds and being a part of something bigger than themselves is the real draw of the cold, icy north. Personally, he couldn't do it.

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