For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!— Walt Whitman
With a sizzling assortment of 10 electric vehicles, the first Arctic Road Rally sloshed and churned more than 1,000 miles in five days, from Alaska’s sheltered interior to the wild Arctic Ocean and back.
It started on Friday morning, Aug. 12, at Golden Valley Electric Association, the power company in Fairbanks. The destination 548 miles away was Oliktok Point (rhymes with “oil truck”), which is the northernmost drivable place in the United States, lying about 50 miles west and a tad above Prudhoe Bay.
I say “drivable,” but not without special permission on the last leg to Oil Truck Point.
The Dalton Highway leads from the interior to the North Slope. Pavement and towns are scarce, mud plentiful. Citizens band radio is a better bet than a cellphone.
The Mighty 10 were the first EVs to make this journey on what was once known as the North Slope Haul Road. It was scraped out to support the Alaska Pipeline, a big achievement of the 1970s, almost equivalent to the moon shots but with more hardhats and buffalo plaid.
Ford, Tesla, Rivian, and GMC Hummer were represented makes. A temporary charging corridor was established along the way, enabling their progress. The U.S. Department of Energy, Alaska Department of Transportation, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and ConocoPhillips played roles in supporting the rally and establishing the corridor.
“No one has driven this far north in a rally like this,” Rob Roys, chief innovation officer of Launch Alaska, told the Daily News-Miner before setting out. His organization and the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association administered details of the rally. These did not include such matters as graphic design for the cars and trucks, which is too bad. Along with a logo, the decal should have had a big number and a pair of tumbling dice–common on 1950s stock car racers–to suggest an uncertain outcome.
They started at 6.00 a.m., with departures staggered in order to make best use of the midpoint charging station. A clustered start would otherwise have ended up like everybody at the drive-up window asking for chicken and waffles.
Recharging was available at Seven Mile Camp, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities outpost at Dalton Highway Milepost 62. It’s just across the E.L. Patton Yukon River Bridge. Google Maps shows the distance as 134 miles.
Upon its flummoxed arrival at Seven Mile Camp, the Ford F-150 Lightning of the rally contingent had 37 percent of battery charge remaining. If it had been towing Barbie’s camper, we would be talking about 14 percent instead.
Here, please allow me to mention that my superior gas car arrives wherever, sniffing on fumes at 400 miles, and makes the Lightning look like a nightlight.
The rally continued for the overnight at Coldfoot in the southern foothills of the Brooks Range. Accommodations at the Slate Creek Inn are basic at best. Bring your own triple-milled verveine-citron soap.
Day Two presented a 239-mile slog through fog and mud and over the steep Atigun Pass (4,822 feet above sea level). Speed limit in good conditions is 50 mph and keep your headlights on. The midpoint charging station is shown as Brooks Range Gateway on the map.
“Rocks punctured tires. Stretches of road construction and soft, sticky surfaces bit chunks out of vehicles’ battery efficiency. A charging station malfunction north of Atigun Pass added hours to the schedule. But innovation and perseverance prevailed,” says the rally’s website.
ConocoPhillips hosted the party overnight at its Kuparuk River unit. Details are still awaited in the New York Post.
Day Three delivered the rally 50 miles further to the finish line at the ConocoPhillips processing facility at Oil Truck Point. North winds straightened the flag, keeping lookie-loos of the Pebble Beach sort at home, thank God. Nevertheless buoyant, the rallyists showed off their muddy EVs to pipe fitters, electricians, and the forklift driver.
Embarking on their Monday-Tuesday return, the Mighty 10 retraced all steps without side trips but also without being chewed on by Arctic mammals.
Electric propulsion has been introduced to the North Slope, and now EV progress is promised to the outlying towns that get by with their reliable diesel-powered microgrids.
Meanwhile, plan on another untamed adventure in 2023.