Dave Hitt (left) and Lawson Burgfeld (right) drove from Jackson to the Arctic Circle last summer and had the adventure of a lifetime. Submitted photo
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Jackson men have trip of a lifetime driving to the Arctic Circle

by Elane Moonier ~ Features Editor

Two old friends embarked on a trip of a lifetime this summer and had quite an adventure on their 10,200 mile drive to reach the Arctic Circle and return back to Jackson. Dave Hitt and Lawson Burgfeld, both retired military men, have known each other since childhood and have birthdays just two days apart.

While they were celebrating their birthdays in May, Dave put out the idea that they should make a trip to Alaska because neither of them had been there. Lawson said if they were going to Alaska, they might as well go to the Arctic Circle, and the men decided to do just that.

Dave began gathering information and maps and doing some research about making the drive, and they discovered the best time of year to go weather-wise would be August. Dave volunteered to drive his truck and do most of the driving, while Lawson would navigate and alternate driving. They opted to drive about eight hours a day and spend the nights wherever they could find accommodations.

They left Jackson on Aug. 6, heading northwest to Wyoming and Montana. Along the route, they made stops to visit every National Park that they came near, and among them were Glacier, Big Horn, Chimney Rock, Denali and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Lawson said the scenery was incredible.

“There was not a day that you could not roll down the window on the truck and take a picture of something that would make a postcard,” he said. “We saw antelopes, bears, elk, moose, longhorn sheep and other wildlife.

 With all the stops, and crossing into Canada, the drive to Alaska took nine days. They had prepared well for this part of the journey, with extra gas and spare tires, and the roads were generally good except in areas where work was being done, Dave noted.

There was only one night that they were not able to find a motel and had to sleep in the truck at a rest stop. The mosquitoes was so bad they couldn’t roll down the windows, and they had been warned about hungry bears looking for snacks in vehicles. They left very early the next morning.

In Fairbanks, AK, the men spent the night at Ellis Air Force Base, a privilege of former military personnel. Next on the agenda, was the drive from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle, which was due north 186 miles.

Dave said he had heard a lot of stories about this road, and none of them were positive, but he didn’t believe it could be that bad. He learned that no company would rent a car for driving on this road.

Using navigational tools, they headed for Circle, about 25 miles away, only to find out it was a town named Circle and not the Arctic Circle. They finally got on the right road and saw the sign that said ‘Arctic Circle 186 miles. They left at 8 a.m. and by noon, they had traveled only 86 miles.

“Boy was I wrong thinking it could not be that bad. It was the road from Hell,” Dave said. “It was extremely rough, gutted, muddy and bouncy.”

“There was no concrete on the road because of the freezing and thawing and permafrost,” Lawson said. It was more like a small chat substance, and there were holes the size of bushel baskets. You could drop off and take the axle off your car.”

As if that was not a big enough problem, it was at this point that the oil gauge light came on in the truck. They knew they had to check the oil to see what was going on, but when they raised the hood, they discovered the dip stick was in a spot where they could not easily reach it.

Dave pulled out a bottle jack to stand on, and when they finally got the stick out, it indicated there was not a drop of oil. In the 86 miles they had traveled, there were no gas stations or any business where they could buy oil. The only option was to turn the truck around and baby the vehicle all the way back to the truck stop where they had started.

When they arrived there several hours later, they bought two quarts of oil and added it, with nothing still showing on the stick. They added two more and then another one to get the right level. Dave said the irony of this oil problem was that they were driving right alongside the Alaska Pipeline most of the way.

Feeling better about this, Lawson said since they were this far, they should go on back up the road to the Arctic Circle. Dave agreed, but later said this was a “stupid idea.”

Hours later, they finally arrived at the Arctic Circle, but all they discovered there was a sign that said ‘Arctic Circle” and a porta-potty. At this same time, two women came driving up in another vehicle and agreed to take their photo, proving they had arrived.

The men made short work of their visit and headed back south to Fairbanks. From then on, they stopped to put oil in the truck about every 300 miles because of a broken oil line.

Somewhere along the way, they passed through several Indian reservations, including a Crow Indian reservation. At this stop, Dave was approached and hugged by a woman who proclaimed,” We are so proud of our tribal veterans.”

He was cordial, but a little confused by this remark. He does have a Purple Heart military license plate on his truck, but he couldn’t get the connection. Then he saw the Jackson Indian spear on the back window, and realized that the woman must have seen it also.

The trip back home was easier than the trip out, both men agreed. They completed their adventure on Aug. 28, having been on the road for 22 days.

“It was the trip of a life time,” Lawson said. “Everybody ought to do it once.”

Despite the problems, Dave said he would do it again, but he had some advice to anyone else who plans to drive to the Arctic Circle.

“Go in somebody else’s vehicle, and wear hearing protection so you don’t hear all the swearing,” he grinned.

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