Has it really been 70 days? I've been reading over the blog and it's amazing to see the extent to which Fairbanks has manifested over the last couple of months. It was exactly 52 days ago, that I took the opportunity to spend a glorious day strolling along the Chena River. It was a lovely walk from what I recall, and from my blog post, it was a comfortable 60 degrees F, (that's about 15 degrees C).
Today I set myself a challenge; to re-walk the Chena River, 40 degrees C colder, in average -25 degrees C. Once again, it was set to be a gloriously clear day, with very little wind, but don't be fooled. Clear skies make it seem even colder, so wrapping myself in my usual winter clothing, closing off every orifice to the bitter atmosphere, tightening every strap and double-knotting my two hardy hiking boots, I set off. Was I challenging myself too far? Could this 3 hour walk be done by a British tourist?
I decided to start from downtown and head my way along the river, back towards Billie's Backpackers, the opposite direction to last time, not just for interest, but for my own self-satisfaction that the more I walk, the closer to warmth I get. From the centre of downtown, the Chena River is almost closed of ice, bar a small narrow passage, which was offering as a small paddling pool for a few city ducks. The water maybe cold, but it still must be a refreshing contrast to the overall dry climate that Fairbanks has to offer it's population.
Every berry has a silver lining, or so it seems, as I was making my way downstream. As the sun was starting to set, it casted the last of it's dimming light on the river bank foliage, which as you make you way out of the city center, consists mainly of frosted berry trees. The walk by now was starting to cause great discomfort, especially where my fingers were concerned. Jerry's gloves that he had sold to me for the reasonable price of $25 seemed to work, but only if you kept them on, which I know sounds obvious, but if you're taking them off periodically to take photos, then it doesn't matter what gloves you have, ultimately your fingers will go numb at some point.
The route seemed very familiar, as I made my way passed the Riverside Theatre and the Dog Park. Unlike last time, there was very little life in this little canine heaven, apart from one lady and her pet, taking advantage of the rather large open area. As I continued my rather quick stroll, and the speed was only to ensure I wouldn't get too cold, I turned round to see that the Aurora Energy plant's emissions were being affected by the cold as much as I was. When it gets really cold, like it was today, there is a downward convection of warm air, which is why the water vapour seems to be spreading laterally in the sky.
Turning back to continue the walk, knowing I had a lot more to go, I started to hear increasingly loud natural sounds; splashing or squeaking, I couldn't work it out. I knew it was coming from the river bank, so I took an opportunity to get a closer look. Well, I was in for a big surprise! There, by the river's edge, was about a hundred ducks. They looked almost cold, some of them crawling and shivering, although I put that down as a way of dispersing the water off their feathers. The river by this point was starting to steam, as if the channel was one large natural kettle.
The rest of the walk soon left the Chena and I was on my direct journey back to the hostel. By this point, the sun had set, and I was well and truly cold. My nose, numb as if it had just been trapped in a car door, was stinging, as was the tips of my fingers and maybe one of my toes, although I couldn't work it out. I know this may seem like the first time I have moaned about the extremity of Alaska's winter temperatures, but then I have never put myself through this kind of challenge. I was starting to think that if I paced my walking out, I could catch the next bus, but then decided not to. I wanted to complete the challenge, although I knew I wasn't proving myself to anybody, and it wasn't like there was a special reward for me when I fianlly returned.
I say that, but this evening was sort of a treat, gastronomically speaking. Some of my fellow hostellers were preparing what seemed to be a banquet. Daniel (yes, another one) was making pizza, from scratch! He seems to have done this "a thousand times" and I must say his confidence in the whole operation suggested this was, indeed, the case. After doing all the cooking, he somewhat made the rather bad decision on letting me cut it; you can imagine the mess I got in!
Later, we made cookies! These were just as successful; peanut butter, as it seems every American treat has to include, was the overall flavour. We tucked into these, whilst other members of the hostel went out to check the Northern Lights. Tonight, the forecast was a number '4' which is very good, but alas, we didn't seem to have much luck here in Fairbanks. I have one more week to get some good aurora snaps, although I have to admit, I've seen these lights quite a few times now, and it will take something extra special to get me out there at 3am!