Alaska World's Most Dangerous Roads


Alaska

Comedian Sue Perkins and adventurer Charley Boorman travel across Alaska to the notorious Dalton Highway, where avalanche units operate throughout the year.


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Transcript


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This programme contains some strong language

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Five billion kilometres of roads network our planet.

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I don't like the drop down this side, 300-400 feet drop.

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Instant death then.

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Yet the desire to communicate and trade means new routes

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are being forged through increasingly challenging terrain.

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-Keep as close as you can.

-I know but am I OK with that drop?

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Across Arctic tundra.

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Zero visibility on the pass, we are mid-drift.

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Over mountain passes, through jungle...

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These roads fight a constant battle with nature.

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Let's just calm it down.

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But their very existence is testament to man's ingenuity

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and driving them requires courage and determination.

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Aw, whoa!

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Petrol-head Charley Boorman and comedian Sue Perkins

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have been thrown together to drive across Alaska.

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Their route will take them through the Arctic wilderness on the notorious Dalton Highway...

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..built in the 1970s to supply the Alaskan oil fields.

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This eight-day journey will show them the beauty...

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Oh, my God, there's an animal, there's a moose, there's a moose. Look at it.

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-It's huge.

-Unbelievable.

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..and the ferocity of Alaska.

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-This really has changed, hasn't it?

-It's almost impossible now.

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-Ultimately their very survival will depend on them working together...

-Don't worry.

-I'm just tired, man.

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..in extreme conditions...

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There's nobody here but you and God.

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..avoiding gargantuan trucks...

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You're a speck on the road to them, you got to be out of the way.

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..on one of the world's most dangerous roads.

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Let me drive quickly, Sue. You cannot stop here, get out, quick.

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Alaska is a vast inaccessible country with very few roads

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and to cross the entire state most people would fly.

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But Sue and Charley are attempting to cross Alaska the hard way.

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They're taking a domestic 4x4 on a route only ever intended for 18-wheel juggernauts.

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Starting on the Pacific Coast they'll travel north past the great

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Denali wilderness onto the town of Fairbanks where they'll meet the Trans Alaskan Oil Pipeline.

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It's here the real challenge will begin as they take on the perils of the Dalton Highway, the road

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that cuts through frozen wilderness to reach the rich Arctic oilfields.

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The route north will cross the Arctic Circle and wind

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through the Brooks Mountain Range before finally crossing the frozen tundra to reach the Arctic Ocean,

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the source of Alaska's oil and their journey's end.

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But their start is a small town called Whittier back on the Pacific coast.

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-This is the first car I may need a stepladder to get into, I've been dwarfed by a bumper.

-The size...

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A caribou would just bounce off that.

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Apparently up in Dead Horse, where we're going which is not particularly a great name to go to.

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-Not welcoming is it.

-They're just over minus 22 at the minute.

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I've been nightclubbing in Glasgow, that doesn't hold any fear for me.

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-No.

-I'm sort of frightened by the icy roads, I've never been before.

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These massive trucks have the right of way and they're coming down

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apparently laden with God knows how many tonnes of equipment.

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And it's 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle or something.

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I've never been to the Arctic Circle and the people, you know...

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Hairy, the men are like bears, I mean this might be the only climate

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on earth you feel your masculinity is eroded, you may feel for the first time you're not the alpha male.

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-No, I can't see that.

-Some bear-like man comes in with a couple of colt 45s.

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You're going to feel... You won't be pack leader here is all I'm saying.

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Do you want to do rock, paper, scissors for who's going to drive?

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-I can do that, ready.

-Ready, one, two, three.

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It's Alaska.

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OK, here we go.

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Nine thousand, million miles to go.

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These two have vastly different levels of experience when it comes to travel.

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Charley has explored six continents and circumnavigated the globe in search of adventure.

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Until now, travel for Sue has been about holidays and culture.

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I thought I'd do this nice easy Tarmac bit and you can do the really scary bit with the ice trucks coming

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towards you and sub-zero conditions on the road, I'll do the pottering around suburban community waving.

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They're on good safe roads now but for the last 500 miles of their journey

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Sue and Charley will be at the mercy of Arctic weather

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on a road built for huge commercial trucks to haul freight for the oil industry.

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The first hurdle on their road is Mt Maynard

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which blocks the route from the sea to the interior of Alaska.

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Luckily during World War II,

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the US military dug a two-and-a-half-mile tunnel straight through the middle of it.

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There's a green light, go for it.

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-But this one's red.

-That one's green.

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-Yeah, but this one's red!

-Yeah, but go for it,

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-see it's a green light.

-That's man driving.

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It's a single lane tunnel so it could be a short trip if Charley gets this wrong.

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The tunnel was designed to operate at temperatures of minus 40 degrees.

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It's the first tunnel in the US to use jet engines to ventilate the shaft.

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-Can you just see light?

-I've got tunnel vision.

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I hope that's not a car coming our way, oh, lights.

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-Oh, yeah I knew there was something missing.

-How do you turn the lights on?

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No idea, nope that's the windscreen wipers, this is good.

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-Bit bored of it now.

-Yeah, gone slightly tunnel crazy.

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Daylight.

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It's slightly overwhelming, isn't it?

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Sue and Charley are attempting this trip in spring known locally as "break-up"

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because the solid base of ice which holds the land, the lakes,

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the rivers and the roads together begins to melt and fall apart.

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At the start of their trip the higher temperatures will clear

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the roads of snow and ice, but as they head north the thaw will make their route far more treacherous.

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-Look at that, isn't it beautiful?

-That's a glacier there.

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Oh, this is that lake.

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-It's completely frozen.

-Yeah, completely frozen.

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In the 1940s the tunnel gave rail and then road access to the interior of Alaska.

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Hundreds of years before, Portage Lake formed part

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of an ancient trading route used by Native Americans.

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Today the lake is used for winter sports and John Markel an ice expert

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is on hand to explain what dangers lie on the road ahead.

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It's interesting to find out what kind of conditions we have here.

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-So sheets of ice?

-It probably is, we get layers in here.

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They need to determine how thick the ice is and Sue proves adept with the ice-pick.

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Jesus, do not get in the way of someone with an axe.

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She's a natural axe murderer.

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Yeah, done it a few times but always got away with it.

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A lot of anger there.

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-You better believe it.

-The coffee was strong this morning, wasn't it?

-Yeah it was, yeah.

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This is actually the hard layer, let's see if I can get through that with a drill.

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You have a drill? Ooh, yeah,

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oh, John, that is,

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semi-arousing if I'm honest with you.

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-So there's at least 19 inches there.

-Two foot.

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Whoa, there we go.

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Yeah, that is through.

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We could pretty much drive a bulldozer out here and it'd be fine.

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There's different ways of getting across the ice according the density?

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So we're approaching break-up, what's the best method then?

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Keep off it!

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At this time it's tricky wherever you go in Alaska whether it's this lake or down the highway.

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This ice is still thick but it's April and every day gets six

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more minutes of daylight than the last and it will quickly disappear.

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How long does this take to melt?

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This in break-up right now, this thing could be gone in two weeks around this time of year.

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I haven't really got the gliding thing!

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I walk like a grandma, look at this.

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Once we get into total break-up suddenly even the roads become

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unstable, they have to carry much lighter loads down these roads.

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You're saying the further north we go the more unpredictable the terrain is.

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As the sun returns above the Arctic Circle your days get longer and longer

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and everything starts melting and starts breaking down and soon it's summer time again.

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It's the circle of life.

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Hakuna matata.

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This first part is not too bad.

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It'll lull you into a false sense of security.

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Their route takes them through Anchorage where over 40% of Alaska's 710,000 people live.

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They then head north into the vast interior towards North America's highest mountain.

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There's Mount McKinley, look at that.

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Oh, my God, that is incredible, isn't it?

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Look at that!

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Cocooned in their car Sue and Charley can only

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glimpse at the natural wonders on either side of the road.

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Ever landed on a glacier before?

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-No.

-Me neither.

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To experience the real Alaska they will have to abandon their 4x4 for a couple of hours and take to the sky.

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Oh, wow, look at that.

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Charley is a keen flier and this proves an irresistible opportunity

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for him to show off his aeronautical prowess.

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This is an otter.

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Is it? I heard you prefer beaver.

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I do prefer the beaver, but one can't be too choosy, you know?

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Yes!

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Their pilot Paul has been flying this route for over 20 years

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ferrying climbers to inaccessible spots in the mountains.

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Do people climb mostly in the summer?

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The main months

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are May and June because the conditions are best

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and you get more sunlight, in the winter it's the coldest place to be in the world.

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Today he's picking up a party of four climbers from the Ruth Glacier.

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Oh, my God, that's beautiful.

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I feel completely humbled by this.

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Beyond belief really, I love it up here.

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I thought the Dakar rally was fun but this is unbelievable.

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It's one small step for a woman.

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That's cool. Hi, everyone.

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Is it your first trip up here?

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Not mine.

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Are you just constantly in a state of wonderment? It rearranges your mind.

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-It does.

-So where you guys from?

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-Chevak, Alaska, is where we grew up.

-Just north of Anchorage.

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We just drove through there we're heading up the ice truckers road

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to Dead Horse, so we're just having this incredible experience.

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Just when you think it can't get any more awe inspiring...

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You're right, we live here and this is awe inspiring.

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But this flight up was incredible.

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Yeah, it's amazing, it's a lot bigger then I realise I think.

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It's so rare than I'm dumbstruck

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and I can't think of anything to say but this is the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen

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the landscape is just so overpowering you want to sink to your knees

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and it makes me tearful and joyous at the same time.

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I don't know, maybe this is the context some people get from religion

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that I personally get from the outdoors and just looking at it speaks more powerfully

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and more beautifully then I could ever so I'm just going to keep quiet.

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Oh, my God, there's and animal there's a moose, there's a moose.

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-Where?

-There's a moose in there.

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Wow, isn't he beautiful, he's a big fella.

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-Very big fella.

-Right, get the gun!

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Stop! Not even in jest!

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-I got a good shot from here.

-I've got a good shot from here.

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It's common to see wildlife by the roadside but moose represent a real danger to drivers.

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He is a big old bull.

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They can weigh up to 600kg each and high speed collisions cause

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hundreds of accidents and several fatalities every year.

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Sue and Charley are now heading for Fairbanks,

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the main transport hub for the Dalton Highway, a road with a fearsome reputation.

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We're going to meet some truckers today and do a safety briefing which you have to do.

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I can already hear the boredom in your voice over you doing a safety briefing.

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What an insult to the Boorman name!

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I spit on your safety briefing!

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Do you know where I've been?!

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The oil industry requires tons of fuel, food and equipment and the Dalton Highway was built

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specifically as a supply route to the oilfields.

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The trucks hauling the loads are immense and capable of carrying up to 45 tonnes.

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Avoiding them is the golden rule.

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The road has many steep hills and vicious corners and when heavily loaded, these colossal trucks

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would simply lose control if they tried to brake on the icy roads.

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When travelling at speed they literally cannot stop.

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So this is the sort of monster we're going to be coming up against.

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Our little northbound four wheeler approaching that,

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tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of haulage vehicle.

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Tim Ricards is the safety officer for a haulage firm that has over 150 trucks on this route.

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-So Charley and Sue, I understand you'll be driving up on the Dalton Highway, next couple of days.

-Yes.

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OK, it's not like any road you've ever been on, you obviously have some experience in driving in some

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other countries but the Dalton Highway's

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probably the most treacherous road you're going to find.

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You got a lot of factors working against you right now.

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In addition to the weather, you've got to factor in that this is the last

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week and half of what we call ice-road season.

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It's the last push to get freight that has to go over that ice road up north

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so there's a lot of traffic you're dealing with,

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a lot of people up there right now with agendas and their agenda does not concern you.

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You are in four-wheelers, you're a speck on the road to them you got to be out of the way.

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The state crews maintaining the road come along

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with the plow and spread that snow out, now your road

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may look six feet wider than it really is but what you've got is a ditch

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that's been filled in with snow that looks nice

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and flat, if you think you've got a an extra four or five feet off to the right and you meet a truck

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coming towards you and you move over it will suck you into that ditch.

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So we're travelling on the most dangerous road at the most dangerous time

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with trucks in the middle of the road and no place to pull over

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-apart form a snow-covered ditch?

-And they're probably 200 pounds.

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When we have a new driver going up on the road we give them a cheat sheet

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that's got mile markers that are listed, there's hills that you'll want to call out on,

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on the CB because quite frankly there are hills and corners you cannot meet traffic on.

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Can we take one of your cheat sheets?

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I'll give you whatever you need to have to prepare you for the road.

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Now, just now.

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I've got a window into what's coming and it's turned my stomach.

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I didn't know about the etiquette of the whole thing on the CB and making sure everyone knows where you are

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and what you're doing where you are on the road and he's just filled our heads with a tonne of stuff to do.

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I'm a little bit concerned.

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-Hey, Tim.

-All right, you made it.

-Yep.

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This is what the inside of these trucks look like.

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-It's nice, isn't it?

-OK, so a little CB etiquette, so pull the mic off,

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you want to keep it short and to the point so

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let's say you're meeting a tractor one of the big trucks,

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one of ours so you're headed north and they're heading south.

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-Hey, south bounder.

-Very good!

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That sounds like a come on though.

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No, that is exactly what you'd say, hey, south bounder.

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-Hey, south bounder.

-You're going to talk to them so let's say

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you're meeting them and they're coming with an oversized load.

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Hey, south bounder, you've got a massive load so we'll get out of your way.

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-Yeah, that's good it's a little wordy.

-Still sounds pervy!

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In all seriousness you got to communicate on the radio, and the

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people up there they live and die by communication on that radio.

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The Dalton Highway is one of the most remote and exposed roads on the planet,

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with just two fuel stops and two towns on the entire 500 mile route

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The road was originally closed to the public

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and now everyone attempting it is advised to carry spares and winter survival equipment.

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The route begins in the rolling hills of mid Alaska, crosses the Yukon River

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and the Arctic Circle before reaching the halfway point and overnight stop at Coldfoot.

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Winding through the Brooks Range the road reaches the highpoint at The Atigun Pass before dropping onto the

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vast open wilderness of the Arctic tundra where the only signs of man are the road and the pipeline.

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Many of the bends and hills on this road are so notorious they have been given names by the truckers.

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Knowing where you are at all times is imperative on the Dalton

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so the whole route is marked with mile markers counting down to Dead Horse.

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This things called the roller coaster,

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and this one here's called "Oh, Shit Corner".

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It's a downhill steep turn and one here called "Black Backside of Mickey".

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I don't want to know how it go that name but I'm sure Mickey remembers.

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The Dalton Highway now has stretches of Tarmac but the majority of it is gravel.

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It's frozen solid in winter but begins to break up in spring.

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There's our first big truck.

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He's a big boy.

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OK, there you go,

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your first bit of excitement.

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-It was tanking along, wasn't it?

-Yeah.

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That came out of nowhere.

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These big trucks see four wheelers as just an annoyance

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and then if we don't know the etiquette of how to chat and stuff like that,

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you know they get more and more annoyed.

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You've got your etiquette down though, haven't you?

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I hope so,

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we shall see.

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I don't want two tonne of angry truck up my ass because you've

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said something terrible on the CB.

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I'm quite apprehensive about the whole thing.

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So look, there's the pipeline, that's what this road is all about is that pipeline right there,

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it's a hell of a pipeline, isn't it?

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Those are the only two visible landmarks this highway

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and that pipeline,

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there is no other infrastructure.

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When the price of crude quadrupled during the 1973 oil crisis the US government moved

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heaven and earth to exploit the oil resource under Alaska's frozen seas.

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The Dalton Highway was completed in September 1974 in an astonishing 154 days.

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The pipeline the road was built to service has the capacity

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to pump 1.8 million barrels of oil each day

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and 85% of Alaska's revenue comes directly from this resource.

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This one may be where we use the CB to see nothing's coming so we

0:23:070:23:10

can pull in because that was quite a nasty little bend.

0:23:100:23:12

Yeah, but the conditions for us are pretty favourable at the moment.

0:23:160:23:22

Yeah, I think we need to get into the habit.

0:23:220:23:25

Give us your best CB voice then.

0:23:260:23:28

My best CB voice.

0:23:280:23:30

Do a practice but not on the CB.

0:23:300:23:34

OK, er...

0:23:340:23:35

This is...what do I say?

0:23:370:23:39

Four wheeler south bound mile 52,

0:23:400:23:44

checking curve, anybody about?

0:23:440:23:48

We're north bound.

0:23:480:23:50

We're north bound? Shit.

0:23:500:23:51

This is four wheeler heading north

0:23:550:23:57

just approaching Grayling Lake,

0:23:570:24:01

please advise if we need to pull over.

0:24:010:24:04

It always sounds pervy the way you do it.

0:24:070:24:09

There it is, there's the Yukon.

0:24:120:24:15

Completely frozen solid.

0:24:150:24:17

Look at that,

0:24:170:24:20

a valley of snow.

0:24:200:24:21

20 new bridges were built to complete the road

0:24:210:24:25

and the last one spanning the mighty Yukon River wasn't finished until 1975.

0:24:250:24:30

-Look at it.

-Amazing.

0:24:320:24:34

It's so wide and snaky and such a long way off break-up by the looks of it.

0:24:340:24:38

Late in the day, Sue and Charley reach the Arctic Circle.

0:24:380:24:42

Everywhere North from here gets at least one day of permanent darkness

0:24:420:24:46

in the winter and one day of permanent sunshine during the summer.

0:24:460:24:50

Look! Oh, my God. It's a lynx. It's a lynx, oh, my word.

0:24:540:25:01

Blown away now, just blown away.

0:25:010:25:04

Wow, well done for spotting it.

0:25:040:25:07

They still have 300 miles to go.

0:25:090:25:12

So far the weather has been on their side and Sue and Charley are growing in confidence.

0:25:120:25:17

There are now trucks stacking up behind them

0:25:170:25:21

but Sue and Charley have their eyes glued on the treacherous road ahead.

0:25:210:25:25

-This must be Oh, Shit Corner.

-Oh, Shit.

0:25:270:25:30

It just wraps around and around, and you're chugging up the hill.

0:25:300:25:36

It just came on me then,

0:25:360:25:38

where were you on the CB? I could've been mown over by a truck. You're supposed to be giving it,

0:25:380:25:42

"Hey, loverboy, we're coming up on Oh, Shit Corner."

0:25:420:25:45

-I'm not very good with the CB.

-You've got scared of the CB.

0:25:450:25:48

I'm scared of all the truckers. I don't think they like me.

0:25:480:25:52

This is four wheeler north bound to the truck behind us we're just pulling over to let you pass.

0:25:520:25:58

-Shit, fuck, we're fucked now.

-It's all right, don't worry.

0:26:020:26:06

I'm just tired, man.

0:26:060:26:09

Right, do you want me to get on the radio to him?

0:26:090:26:13

Hi, north bounder, this is north bound four wheeler.

0:26:130:26:16

We are in a ditch having pulled over rather unsuccessfully.

0:26:160:26:20

'We are, can you unpickle us?

0:26:250:26:29

I love you.

0:26:300:26:32

They'd been warned about the lack of hard shoulder

0:26:390:26:41

but it's only now they realise the snow on either side of the road is covering a 3ft drop.

0:26:410:26:47

Oh, our lovely car!

0:26:490:26:51

That sound is the sound of suspension giving way

0:26:540:26:57

and that's the axle.

0:26:570:26:59

Never felt love like I feel love right now.

0:27:030:27:05

What are the roads looking like up here?

0:27:050:27:08

-Are they looking OK?

-The ice pack's starting to melt, it's going to be slicker up there.

0:27:080:27:14

Right, so really look out there.

0:27:140:27:16

There'll probably be a lot of water on it and water be spraying

0:27:160:27:20

it'll be pretty exciting. It'll be pretty easy for you to do that again.

0:27:200:27:24

-OK, thank you.

-You guys be careful going up there.

0:27:240:27:27

Thank you, you're a real gentleman.

0:27:270:27:29

-What a guy, huh?

-He's the new Mr Perkins, I'm telling you now.

0:27:370:27:43

I can't believe how you just turned that charm on so remorselessly just, bam, straight into it.

0:27:430:27:50

I'm permanently on the CB going "We're coming this way, is there any traffic?"

0:27:500:27:54

you haven't picked up the CB once and that why I hurtle into the destruction of death every second.

0:27:540:27:58

Oh, I see, it's my fault now because I didn't pick up the CB!

0:27:580:28:03

I'm on a 20:1 gradient blind because you're too scared to

0:28:030:28:08

get on the CB to another man because he might think you're a bit gay.

0:28:080:28:11

I'll see if there's anything.

0:28:110:28:12

It's passed ten in the evening they pull in to the truck stop at Coldfoot.

0:28:220:28:27

My membership to feminism is going to be rescinded

0:28:340:28:38

because of two cardinal errors, firstly I drove a car

0:28:380:28:43

off the road proving that this woman is a really bad driver and secondly, I then

0:28:430:28:48

rung up, I CB'd a driver and put on this sort of horrible,

0:28:480:28:53

sickly saccharine girl voice to try and lure him in like a honeytrap,

0:28:530:28:59

I was the damsel in distress basically so I sort of behaved like...

0:28:590:29:04

..maladroit and hooker at the same time.

0:29:050:29:08

Sue and Charley have been cooped up together for almost a week now

0:29:120:29:16

so Sue takes the opportunity to meet one of only 75 people who live along the entire 500-mile route.

0:29:160:29:24

Hi, Jack, I'm Sue. It's nice to see you.

0:29:240:29:26

Hi, Sue, how do you do?

0:29:260:29:28

Jack Readoff and his family have been here since before the road was built.

0:29:280:29:33

He's a subsistence hunter and trapper

0:29:330:29:35

who relies on the surrounding land and animals for his existence.

0:29:350:29:38

We're allowed one moose per year we're very limited.

0:29:380:29:41

-And that's for subsistence?

-That's for subsistence hunting, one moose, one dall sheep, hopefully we'll get

0:29:410:29:46

a couple of caribou.

0:29:460:29:47

We start hunting caribou here within this next month right before they leave.

0:29:470:29:52

Right, so you need a big freezer.

0:29:520:29:54

Well, the outdoors is a freezer.

0:29:540:29:56

Jack's father bought this cabin from two gold miners

0:29:560:29:59

who built it in 1932.

0:29:590:30:01

So this is our home here.

0:30:010:30:03

-Close this door here so we don't let the heat out.

-Take my shoes off.

0:30:030:30:06

That's a bear I killed when I was 12.

0:30:060:30:08

-This is the bear you killed when you was 12?

-12-years-old.

0:30:080:30:12

I was in braces.

0:30:120:30:14

I was in braces and running around and didn't know a thing from a thing.

0:30:140:30:18

People in this village typically take one bear every year.

0:30:180:30:23

About half the people like bear meat and half the people don't.

0:30:230:30:27

We'll walk down the trail here.

0:30:270:30:29

This would be the kind of habitat where lynx would pass through.

0:30:290:30:33

They would follow these hare trails.

0:30:330:30:36

Lynx is a cat and it's got excellent vision and excellent sense of hearing

0:30:360:30:41

but also an excellent sense of smell, so they'd hunt through these kind of habitats.

0:30:410:30:46

-I saw a lynx yesterday.

-Did you really?

-It was mind blowing.

0:30:460:30:50

There's a ptarmigan track, you can see the wing marks.

0:30:500:30:54

Jack learned his hunting skills and appreciation of the natural environment from his father.

0:30:540:30:59

My dad said when they began building

0:30:590:31:02

the Dalton Highway, "That's the beginning of the end,

0:31:020:31:07

"they'll destroy this country," and he left. He lives in South Africa.

0:31:070:31:12

I don't want to see this country destroyed.

0:31:120:31:16

I don't have any intention of leaving, and so I will

0:31:160:31:23

continue to fight for maintaining this wilderness characteristics.

0:31:230:31:28

We're running out of wilderness in the world

0:31:280:31:31

and the Dalton Highway is one of the last wilderness roads that doesn't...

0:31:310:31:35

We have a pipeline here and a road, but it's basically wilderness.

0:31:350:31:40

It seems to me that Alaska is the destination for people wanting to make a fast buck,

0:31:440:31:49

whether it's gold, oil, through big game hunting.

0:31:490:31:53

Alaska does have that problem.

0:31:530:31:56

The people of Wiseman were highly opposed to that road and pipeline being built through this valley.

0:31:560:32:01

They were concerned that trophy hunters...

0:32:010:32:03

and that the rape and pillage would begin,

0:32:030:32:07

and to a large degree we've been able to hold the over-harvest back

0:32:070:32:12

but we're starting to lose ground. They've just increased the bag limit on caribou to five,

0:32:120:32:16

coming from a one caribou limit to five caribou, including cows on July 1.

0:32:160:32:22

They can kill cow caribou with three-week-old neo-nate calves,

0:32:220:32:26

which I feel is a complete travesty.

0:32:260:32:27

-What happens to that three-week-old calf?

-It dies, it dehydrates and dies.

0:32:270:32:31

And caribou populations are easily over-harvested,

0:32:310:32:34

and within five years I estimate that the herd will be decimated.

0:32:340:32:38

The final and most challenging leg of Sue and Charley's journey will wind north

0:32:470:32:52

through the stunning Brooks Range and up over The Atigun Pass.

0:32:520:32:57

They will then journey out across the exposed arctic tundra,

0:32:570:33:00

160 miles towards their destination of Dead Horse,

0:33:000:33:04

Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

0:33:040:33:07

They're heading towards the Atigun Pass.

0:33:140:33:17

At 68 degrees north and over 4,500 feet above sea level

0:33:170:33:21

it's the part of the road most often blocked by snowfall and avalanche.

0:33:210:33:25

Here comes a truck. Ask him what conditions are like?

0:33:250:33:30

Hi this is north-bound four-wheeler calling to the south-bounder we just passed,

0:33:300:33:34

can you let us know the conditions of the Atigun Pass up there?

0:33:340:33:37

Thanks very much, we'll give it a go.

0:33:470:33:49

You too.

0:33:520:33:54

God, you're good at that.

0:33:550:33:57

I'm just being polite!

0:33:570:33:59

This route is exposed to the full ferocity of Arctic Storms,

0:34:050:34:10

with frequent hurricane force winds of over 70 mph.

0:34:100:34:14

Avalanches are a huge problem

0:34:210:34:24

and on average 4,000 feet of road are covered up by 12 feet of snow each year.

0:34:240:34:29

The Alaskan State Department of Transport have machinery

0:34:310:34:34

that can clear more than 3,000 tonnes of snow per hour.

0:34:340:34:38

Over here you've got this machine which, if there's a big avalanche,

0:34:430:34:47

it just chews the ground up and then just spits it out

0:34:470:34:50

over the other side of the road.

0:34:500:34:52

All the snow comes in and then that big wheel at the back

0:34:520:34:56

pushes the snow right out and right over, off the road.

0:34:560:35:00

Sue wants to speak to a Dalton veteran

0:35:060:35:09

so, as Charley follows on behind on four wheels,

0:35:090:35:12

she hitches a ride on Dave's 18-wheeler.

0:35:120:35:14

Woo! Dave, it's a pleasure to be in your vehicle.

0:35:140:35:19

I'm glad you could join me.

0:35:190:35:20

He's got eight years of experience driving this route

0:35:220:35:26

and today he's carrying a load of drill pipes up to the oil fields.

0:35:260:35:29

-How big is this truck and how much does it weigh?

-Right now we're about...

0:35:290:35:35

-78,000 pounds.

-78,000 pounds!

0:35:350:35:38

Yeah - of pipe and everything.

0:35:380:35:41

We're not real heavy. Could be a lot heavier,

0:35:410:35:45

but just wanna take it easy, you never know when there might be a slick spot.

0:35:450:35:49

So presumably this is a real black spot for accidents?

0:35:510:35:54

It can be, yeah.

0:35:540:35:56

I know guys that have died up here, not necessarily on this hill, but on the road.

0:35:560:36:00

What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you on the road.

0:36:000:36:04

I guess just being in a blow, a severe blow.

0:36:040:36:06

We call these delineators here, these reflectors on the side.

0:36:060:36:10

You can't even see one delineator. You're just crawling.

0:36:100:36:13

You're looking out your side window, with the window down,

0:36:130:36:16

doing five miles an hour. It gets kinda scary, especially if you're by yourself or close to it.

0:36:160:36:23

You have to respect the road, always pay attention.

0:36:230:36:26

If you don't, you're done.

0:36:260:36:29

The roads up here are a lot nicer in the winter time than they are in the summer time.

0:36:290:36:34

These are all covered in ice, nice and smooth.

0:36:340:36:37

Once the ice goes away, this is what you get to deal with.

0:36:370:36:41

Between the rough roads and the mud and the water,

0:36:420:36:44

it can be pretty scary.

0:36:440:36:46

The first time I came up here I decided this was God's country,

0:36:490:36:53

that there's nobody here but you and God.

0:36:530:36:55

And you've always got your friend over there - the Alaskan pipeline.

0:37:020:37:05

Oh, yeah, you see that a lot on this road.

0:37:050:37:09

-It kind of keeps you company.

-That it does.

0:37:090:37:11

And if it wasn't for that, then you wouldn't have a job, all the truckers wouldn't have jobs.

0:37:110:37:16

That's right, this road wouldn't be here,

0:37:160:37:18

the majority of Alaska wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for that pipeline.

0:37:180:37:22

It's pretty contentious that drilling, isn't it, on the tundra?

0:37:220:37:26

Oh, yeah, there's a lot of issues with that,

0:37:260:37:28

whether or not it interferes with the wildlife.

0:37:280:37:31

I, myself, I don't see where it affects it at all.

0:37:310:37:36

But I guess for you it's important they keep oil flowing

0:37:360:37:39

-for as long as possible because it's what feeds your family.

-Absolutely.

0:37:390:37:43

Oil has fed my family for...

0:37:430:37:47

well, this'll be three generations.

0:37:470:37:49

Thank you very much for letting me have her back.

0:37:530:37:56

Cheers, Dave. Happy trucking, my lovely.

0:37:560:37:59

Heading north and gaining altitude the outside temperature has dropped by over 20 degrees.

0:38:070:38:13

It is freezing cold up here.

0:38:130:38:16

Oh, I'm going to freeze to death!

0:38:210:38:23

You can just see up here...

0:38:230:38:25

Oh, the wind chill is so extreme.

0:38:250:38:29

I don't know if you can make out the cross here at the side of the road,

0:38:290:38:32

but this highway is littered with these,

0:38:320:38:35

and that represents another person who's lost their life...

0:38:350:38:38

..on the Dalton freeway.

0:38:400:38:43

-Oooohhh!

-Oh!

0:38:510:38:53

Oh, my God, you would just never survive that, would you?

0:39:000:39:03

The state road crews are busy melting the frozen culvers under the road

0:39:070:39:10

that allow meltwater to drain away.

0:39:100:39:13

-Charley. We're just heading up the road.

-Hi, Charley, welcome to the Arctic.

0:39:130:39:17

-It's a pretty amazing place.

-Yes, it is.

0:39:170:39:20

It's the only place in the world you can have floods and avalanches in the same day.

0:39:200:39:24

So what are you doing here?

0:39:240:39:27

Well, there are culvers that take the water underneath the roadway

0:39:270:39:32

and they freeze up during the course of the winter with the overflow ice

0:39:320:39:35

and then as the spring time melt starts to occur on these southerly slopes

0:39:350:39:40

the water comes up and it floods underneath the road, we actually have to thaw these out with steam.

0:39:400:39:46

So, that's the steam.

0:39:470:39:50

Wow, look at that, that's amazing!

0:39:500:39:53

250 pounds, 275 degrees.

0:39:530:39:58

My God! So that pipe is really hot?

0:39:580:40:00

-Oh, yes.

-Oh nice, oh lovely!

0:40:000:40:03

Have you heard anything about what's happening up the way?

0:40:030:40:07

In an area about five miles long,

0:40:070:40:10

in what they call mile 68 to mile 72 of the gas pipeline,

0:40:100:40:16

the road is completely drifted over with 50-60 mile an hour winds,

0:40:160:40:20

-Oh, my God.

-Blowing snow. It was drifted up about four or five feet deep,

0:40:200:40:24

There were 25 trucks stranded there throughout the night.

0:40:240:40:27

It'll be blowing probably... er...

0:40:270:40:31

60 or 70 miles an hour. There'll be no visibility, there will be blowing snow, blizzard conditions.

0:40:310:40:36

We need to get up pretty quickly then...

0:40:360:40:38

You better get the hell out of here, Charley!

0:40:380:40:41

This is northbound four-wheeler calling out to the plough we just passed,

0:40:480:40:53

can you give us an update on what the weather's like approaching Prudhoe, over?

0:40:530:40:58

Thanks pal.

0:41:000:41:02

"Blowing all to hell," is what he said.

0:41:020:41:05

Wow, this is really starting to blow, isn't it?

0:41:220:41:24

Yeah, this is really kicking off now.

0:41:240:41:26

Here we go.

0:41:260:41:29

-Just nice and gently.

-Yeah, I'm trying to. I'm going four miles an hour.

0:41:320:41:36

OK, I'll try and drive on the trucker's grooves otherwise we're going to skate all over the place.

0:41:390:41:45

That yellow line is detectable in the middle, so that's not a bad place to be.

0:41:450:41:49

Wow, this really has changed, hasn't it?

0:42:010:42:03

This is almost impossible now.

0:42:030:42:05

This is going to make getting to Prudhoe pretty difficult, I think.

0:42:050:42:09

Keep your eyes peeled on call outs and stuff.

0:42:090:42:13

We might just have to call out every corner because the visibility is so bad.

0:42:130:42:17

This is dangerous.

0:42:200:42:22

It's a real blow, isn't it, just how everything suddenly changes?

0:42:220:42:26

It's just like we've been subsumed by tundra.

0:42:260:42:29

Right, there is somebody out there.

0:42:360:42:39

This is four-wheeler northbound, we're on mile marker 336,

0:42:430:42:47

just checking to see if anything's coming.

0:42:470:42:51

This is four-wheeler northbound, I can see you just now.

0:42:510:42:55

We'll go nice and slow to let you by

0:42:550:42:59

Go just here, cos we can see. That's not too close, that's about right here.

0:42:590:43:04

Er, we just saw you and we're just trying to make it easy for you, that's all.

0:43:170:43:21

Try and keep more in the middle, more in the middle, yeah.

0:43:370:43:41

OK, you start calling out.

0:43:470:43:49

Yeah, I know, but I'm approaching the brow of the hill

0:43:490:43:52

so I've got two options I either stay in the middle of the road and I don't hear anything.

0:43:520:43:56

This is northbound four-wheeler just checking if anybody's nearby.

0:43:560:44:00

Well, this is certainly the most scenic way to get irritable bowel syndrome.

0:44:000:44:05

Don't, I've shat my pants already.

0:44:070:44:09

Mile 68 - we will. Thank you very much.

0:44:160:44:20

OK, thank you very much for the information.

0:44:230:44:25

There's so much snow around

0:44:270:44:29

I'm starting to lose track of where the road begins and ends.

0:44:290:44:33

It's like someone has draped a white sheet over my head.

0:44:390:44:42

But I'm still carrying on driving at 45 miles an hour

0:44:420:44:45

and my eyes are really struggling now.

0:44:450:44:47

We were so complacent.

0:44:510:44:54

We were so complacent. We just thought, "How hard can it be?"

0:44:540:44:58

This is four-wheeler heading north, heading towards mile 68

0:45:060:45:11

where the big drift is, please advise if anyone's around.

0:45:110:45:14

OK, how far from that drift are you?

0:45:180:45:21

OK, we're pretty close to you as well.

0:45:240:45:27

OK, slow down, keep going.

0:45:270:45:30

OK, there you are, there you are. We can see you, we can see you.

0:45:300:45:33

Keep going, keep going, Sue.

0:45:360:45:38

-You just said slow down...

-I know, just gently, gently.

0:45:380:45:41

Yeah, then let me just deal with it, OK? Cos you're sending me a bunch of mixed messages.

0:45:410:45:46

OK, thank you. Thank you, sir.

0:45:520:45:54

-Go, go, go.

-I can't see where I'm going.

0:45:570:45:59

Just go up there a bit, more into the middle there.

0:45:590:46:03

This is the snow drift.

0:46:030:46:06

Shit!

0:46:060:46:08

-I'm stopping, this is fucking crazy.

-OK, let me drive quickly, Sue. You cannot stop here, Sue.

0:46:090:46:15

Come on, get out, quick!

0:46:150:46:16

-Quickly.

-I'm putting it in drive.

0:46:210:46:24

Come on, quickly. Run, You cannot do this.

0:46:240:46:26

Quickly, Sue.

0:46:310:46:33

Come on!

0:46:370:46:39

It's my lucky hat, man, and I'm not leaving it.

0:46:390:46:42

We are a white out.

0:46:440:46:46

Oh, fuck! Quick.

0:46:460:46:48

We're stopped here.

0:46:480:46:49

Right get the diffs on and I'll radio.

0:46:530:46:55

This is northbound four-wheeler.

0:47:000:47:02

We are stuck in a drift approaching mile 68.

0:47:020:47:05

I repeat, this is a northbound four-wheeler approaching mile 68, in a drift.

0:47:050:47:10

We have zero visibility, calling all southbound trucks

0:47:100:47:15

to get on the radio and let us know if you're coming down.

0:47:150:47:18

You're perilously close this side.

0:47:250:47:28

That's it, you're getting there.

0:47:280:47:30

This is northbound four-wheeler approaching mile 68,

0:47:380:47:43

we have zero visibility on the pass, we are mid-drift.

0:47:430:47:46

This is calling out to all southbounders, if you can hear us

0:47:460:47:49

let us know where you are, as we are down to zero delineator's visibility.

0:47:490:47:55

OK.

0:47:560:47:57

-That's it.

-Yeah.

0:47:590:48:01

This is bad.

0:48:010:48:03

This is bad. This is zero visibility.

0:48:030:48:06

You're reacting to so many stimuli,

0:48:100:48:12

it's the wind, it's the snow drifts, then it's ice then it's oncoming trucks,

0:48:120:48:15

the lights changing...

0:48:150:48:18

Fuck me, this is bad.

0:48:220:48:23

Just to advise there are big drifts at 64 and 68.

0:48:260:48:32

Only 68, Sue.

0:48:320:48:34

Let's just calm it down.

0:48:470:48:48

This northbound four-wheeler, just hitting mile 353,

0:48:510:48:56

just wondering if there's any southbound guys out there we need to keep clear of?

0:48:560:49:00

This is pretty tough, so it's good to hear a friendly voice coming through the CB. It's cheering us along.

0:49:080:49:15

We're going as far as Prudhoe.

0:49:380:49:42

Roger.

0:49:490:49:50

You might want to blaze a trail for us

0:49:500:49:53

because we're having trouble in some of these bigger drifts.

0:49:530:49:56

Look at those glowing big old lights.

0:50:130:50:16

He's going to lead us in.

0:50:160:50:18

Tell him he's a hero.

0:50:280:50:31

-He's a hero.

-You're a hero. You've sorted us right out.

0:50:310:50:36

It's good to have somebody who knows the road on our back.

0:50:360:50:39

-You all right?

-Yeah.

0:50:570:50:58

-HE EXHALES

-Wow!

0:51:070:51:10

You get very shouty in a crisis, Charley.

0:51:100:51:13

I know. Well, I try to be shouty so that I can get the person to do

0:51:130:51:17

exactly what I want them to do, straight away.

0:51:170:51:20

You made it!

0:51:260:51:29

You are just a saviour.

0:51:290:51:31

Oh, no, no, no.

0:51:310:51:34

Just a normal person, trying to make sure that other people enjoy their trip.

0:51:340:51:40

We did. We weren't enjoying it at mile 68,

0:51:400:51:43

but when you turned up it became a whole lot more fun, I tell you.

0:51:430:51:46

It can get a little interesting at times, it sure can.

0:51:460:51:49

It sure can. You're a star, mate, you really are.

0:51:490:51:52

You talked us through it cos we were panicking a bit there.

0:51:520:51:56

Yeah, you could kinda hear on the CB!

0:51:560:51:59

Yeah, I lost my... Well we couldn't see anything!

0:51:590:52:02

We didn't know what was up, what was down, what was left, what was right,

0:52:020:52:05

and then, just, there you were.

0:52:050:52:08

And that's the way the road is,

0:52:080:52:09

sometimes you can see OK, then the next second

0:52:090:52:12

you're wondering where you're at and why you're doing what you're doing.

0:52:120:52:17

Well, I know why you're doing what you're doing cos you're really good at it,

0:52:170:52:20

But I don't know what we were doing out there!

0:52:200:52:23

We were like a pack of clowns with four wheels underneath us.

0:52:230:52:26

Oh no! Well, you have yourselves a great time.

0:52:260:52:29

-OK, take care.

-Take care, Sweetie.

-Take care.

0:52:290:52:33

Be safe. Thank you very much sir, you're a star.

0:52:330:52:37

I tell you what I'm sort of a combination of buzzing and elated

0:52:370:52:42

and really tearful. And the tearful bit I've felt all the way along

0:52:420:52:46

but the elation just is that thing where you've come that close to being dead,

0:52:460:52:50

that close to being mushed off the road by 76,000 pounds worth of unrelenting juggernaut.

0:52:500:52:57

You know, you don't get these highs unless you experience that terror, and I don't know...

0:52:570:53:02

I'm not as used to it as Charley, you know?

0:53:020:53:04

I think I'll just stick to the funfairs.

0:53:040:53:07

After 1,000 miles we've ended up here with the stink of aviation fuel

0:53:070:53:10

and loads of sort of crappy beaten up trucks and it's just a wasteland.

0:53:100:53:14

It's about minus 20 and the wind chill's unbelievable.

0:53:140:53:17

This isn't a trip for tourists, the destination is bleak.

0:53:170:53:20

The destination is business, the destination is money.

0:53:200:53:23

There was a couple of really dodgy moments and it's really bad weather

0:53:230:53:27

but we did it and I feel a great sense of achievement.

0:53:270:53:30

I feel a little bit embarrassed about being a fledgling on the road,

0:53:300:53:33

but we did it.

0:53:330:53:35

The next morning, the storm has passed.

0:53:370:53:40

The permanent population of Prudhoe Bay is just over 200

0:53:420:53:45

but at any one time there can be up to 10,000 oil workers housed here.

0:53:450:53:50

It's a company town, constructed purely to service the men

0:53:520:53:56

and machines of the oil industry.

0:53:560:53:58

There is a total ban on alcohol and almost everything you see here -

0:54:030:54:06

every nut and bolt, every vehicle,

0:54:060:54:10

even the accommodation blocks have been driven up the Dalton Highway.

0:54:100:54:14

But Sue and Charley's journey started on the Pacific

0:54:160:54:19

and won't be complete until they reach the frozen Arctic Ocean.

0:54:190:54:23

Well, this is the road that leads to the ocean so I'm just going to follow it

0:54:230:54:27

and see how far we can get.

0:54:270:54:28

Yeah, it's not particularly far away. It's only a couple of miles.

0:54:280:54:32

Buckle up, reduce speed.

0:54:320:54:33

It's like a checkpoint.

0:54:350:54:37

OK, restricted area. Ah, tush! We've been on mile 68!

0:54:390:54:43

There's a box there, where the stop sign is.

0:54:430:54:47

-Just here?

-Do you see? Right by the stop sign there's a button.

0:54:470:54:52

'Uh, you haven't got a badge?'

0:54:520:54:54

No, we wondered if we could get to the ocean from here.

0:54:540:54:56

'No, we can't allow you on the field, sorry.'

0:54:560:55:00

Is there anyway that we can see the ocean from around Prudhoe Bay?

0:55:000:55:03

-'If you don't have a badge we can't let you on.'

-And there's no other way we can do it?

0:55:030:55:08

-'Uh-uh.'

-And even giving you my best English accent and a cheesy grin won't cut it for you?

0:55:080:55:13

'It's a great English accent, but I'm sorry, no, we can't.'

0:55:130:55:16

-Oh, bless you!

-OK!

-Listen, I understand a voice can only go so far, you have a good day.

0:55:160:55:20

Oh, that's a shame, it's a shame. We're going to have to find another way,

0:55:200:55:24

I don't want to end it here, I really don't. I just think it's too... It's not fitting.

0:55:240:55:29

Look, I reckon we go to the airport and we find a plane.

0:55:290:55:33

Surely they must fly around here all the time.

0:55:330:55:36

-Oh, my gosh.

-Light!

0:56:130:56:16

-Oh!

-Oh-oh!

0:56:160:56:18

Oh, my God, that is incredible.

0:56:180:56:21

The whole way to the sea. Look, we're just dropping down into the sea now.

0:56:210:56:26

God, look at that.

0:56:280:56:30

-What a journey, well done.

-Cheers, well done.

0:56:300:56:32

This has been a journey of over 1,000 miles and I think

0:56:320:56:35

it's going to take me about a thousand lifetimes for me

0:56:350:56:39

to process some of the things that I've seen along the way

0:56:390:56:42

That's the light at the end of the tunnel and I want to walk right into it and get a bit of heat off it.

0:56:420:56:47

What this road is about is communication, we've had to find

0:56:470:56:50

a way to communicate along the way, we've had to develop a shorthand to help each other out.

0:56:500:56:55

But when it came to it, I couldn't have found a better companion

0:56:550:56:58

to kind of make up for my inadequacies, as it were,

0:56:580:57:01

and we ARE very different and we have a very different mindset

0:57:010:57:04

but actually when push came to shove in that ravine in that cold and when there was zero visibility

0:57:040:57:09

he was perfect.

0:57:090:57:10

Kind of takes your breath away a little bit emotional actually.

0:57:100:57:16

I think for me it's been a secret ambition to come and drive the ice road

0:57:160:57:20

and it's been a truly kinda magical experience.

0:57:200:57:23

There were moments of yesterday's drive that I really didn't enjoy

0:57:230:57:27

and I must say I've been around the block a few times

0:57:270:57:29

and that one really was a moment that has ranked the top three

0:57:290:57:36

of sort of, "Oh, my God, I think I'm going to die," moment

0:57:360:57:40

but you just put it down to some of life's great experiences

0:57:400:57:44

and I've been fortunate enough to have a few of them.

0:57:440:57:47

I can't stop staring at that sun.

0:57:470:57:50

Just over there, the next stop is the North Pole.

0:57:500:57:54

All right, I'll race you there.

0:57:540:57:56

Nah, you go ahead.

0:57:570:57:59

I think the greatest irony of all is that the oil industry, which I am ambivalent about, at very best,

0:58:010:58:07

has provided the road by which one can travel and see the most pristine wilderness on the planet.

0:58:070:58:14

And it's exactly that kind of contradiction which sums up this place probably perfectly.

0:58:140:58:20

There's a fox, an Arctic fox just there.

0:58:200:58:24

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:490:58:52

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:520:58:55

Comedian Sue Perkins and adventurer Charley Boorman travel across Alaska to the notorious Dalton Highway - a dirt track built in the 1970s as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Highway maintenance is a full time job here with avalanche units operating throughout the year. As Arctic conditions close in on them, the pair have to rely on the help of hardcore truckers for whom the highway is home. The rules of the road are: keep the CB radio switched on, don't exceed 50mph, and when an 18-wheel truck comes thundering down the rollercoaster of a road towards you, get out of the way!


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