View Full Version : To the Arctic Circle and beyond!

07-15-2010, 08:24 PM
So this June I drove from San Francisco to the Brooks Range within the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Since my artwork involves photographing the sun, the main reason to head up there was to photograph the 23-24 hours of daylight!

I was worried about the lack of repair shops along the way, so on my way north I stopped at Upscale automotive near Portland and had them give it once over. Luckily everything was fine. Also I brought tools, extra belt, air and fuel filters, plus the DAD and my laptop just in case.

The van did great for all 8,000 miles!!!:bounce:
It handled the ruff roads well ( glad I upgraded the shocks and sway bar and got A/T tires) and since it has such a great range, a second fuel can wasn't needed. Got from around 23-24mpg on the 50-60mph dirt roads to 22-23mpg on the faster highways.
The 118"wb doesn't give you that much space but 4 of us were comfortable in there. I converted the cargo van into a low budget camper/darkroom. A 2 seat sprinter bench gets moved to the outside of the van at camp for more room at night. In the lower 48 states I used to just change the paper on my camp table, outside, under the stars. But in Alaska in June there are no stars! The sun is always up! When I need to change my light sensitive paper negatives I have a curtain that goes behind the front seats and then velcro'd light blocking panels over the back and sliding door windows.

One of the crew is a bike messenger and therefore we needed to bring bikes for the all the trails. Also if we ended up getting stuck way far out, someone could go bike for help. After looking at getting a hitch and one of those swing away bike carriers, my friend ended up finding a $7 bike holder from a Salvation Army thrift store. With a little modification, it wasn't pretty, but it worked just fine.

If you ever get the chance to get that far north I highly recommend it!
In photography we talk about the "magic hour", that moment when the sun is low and the light quality is warm and beautiful. This was more like the magic 8 hours! It was tricky the first half of the trip to remember to go to bed, and we got sun silly. Many times the empty bottle of whiskey around the campfire was our cue to get to sleep.:cheers:

Anyway here are some sprinter focused photos for you all...Sprinters rule!

07-15-2010, 08:35 PM
Here are a few more shots.

in order-
From the top of the Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway

The Dalton and the oil pipeline after a thunderstorm

Maria reading in bed at midnight in the Arctic circle

The awning shot, with the Brooks range in the background

Hanging out on an ice sheet by Galbraith Lake Alaska

Included is a shot of my low budget awning that is really just a projection screen I got off of craigslist.
It uses 2 studio photo clamps and then a couple of tent poles. It proved pretty useless on this trip, as the sun was at such a low angle, but it works great in the mojave desert in southern CA. I forgot to take more photos of the awning system. I leave for another trip in a week so I'll try to get those to the forum.

07-15-2010, 11:27 PM
A movie screen for an awning! :lol::cheers: Now THAT is creative thinking. I'm gonna have to watch out for one. Let us know more about this and what its shortcomings are.

Great images! An adventure you four will not soon forget.:thumbup:


07-16-2010, 03:55 AM
Awesome trip and pictures! Thanks for sharing. I've been wanting to do that trip for ages.

07-16-2010, 05:32 AM
Nice shots and write-up! I too like the projector screen. And I see you have mosquito netting fixed over the back doors; I do that too when its buggy, makes a huge difference, I use a cheap bed-net from Walmart.

07-16-2010, 02:26 PM
8000 miles. Ever heard of photoshop?:thinking:
My father broke down up there in his VW Rabbit. Had to be towed to Fairbanks, 435 miles.

07-16-2010, 05:29 PM
Great pictures :clapping:.
We have been thinking about a trip over the Dolton to Prudhoe Bay for next summer :hmmm:.
It is, after all, in our back-yard (about as much as Death Valley is in San Francisco's back-yard); and our Sprinter has 7 trips over the Alaska Highway under it's belt in the past 3 years so we do know about driving the North Country.
My only trepidation has been encountering speeding overloaded semi trucks, especially in the mountains on the wrong side of the road (if there is a "wrong side" on a narrow gravel road; folks tend to take whatever line offers the fewest chuck-holes). In times-past that danger was legendary; although truck traffic has been greatly reduced in the past decade as the North Slope Oil Fields have been in steep decline.
:popcorn: For us, and the other Forum Members who may be planning such a trip, could you comment on your experience with road-hazards from other traffic?

07-16-2010, 07:21 PM
Glad you like the photos...now for too much writing...

I"m heading out of town next week on another camping trip. I'll be sure to take more close up photos of my cheap awning system and post them on the forum.

We got up to the Artcic Circle right as the mosquitos started coming out. It was still on the early side (early/mid june) so it wasn't really so bad. but for sleeping the netting really work well. I just used those rare earth magnets to hold it onto the perimeter of the back door opening and the driver and passenger windows. Totally worth the effort. On another note about mosquitos, our group did a test- one of us used no bug repellant, one used a 40 deet cream, one used 100 deet jungle juice, and my girlfriend used that avon skin soft. By the end of the trip we were all using the 100 deet jungle juice...

More on driving the Dalton Highway-
I was prepared for over 400 miles of washboard, pot-holes, and speeding semi trucks. The reality was surprising. The Dalton was actually pretty easy. The dirt sections were fairly smooth and there was hardly any washboarding. But saying that, I have to admit there were many times where I'd turn a corner maybe a bit fast and then a semi was heading fast going the other way and I was forced with driving over some serious potholes. Usually all of us in the van would quickly shout out "F***!?!!!" and then the front suspension would bottom out on all potholes (any upgrading possible in lessening the bottoming out ?).

I was talking to the park ranger at the visitors center in Coldfoot, and he was actually lamenting about how over the years, road crews are slowly taming the Dalton.

A Few important things- if you see a semi, SLOW DOWN and your windshield will be spared(though my hood got pretty chipped up). Bring plenty of supplies. Watch out for bears! Saw a bunch of black bears and a couple of grizzly bears, also moose, fox , and even a lynx!

We went into the north slope area but didn't go all the way to Prudhoe Bay. We heard from other travelers that the reality is you are driving into a company town and that the tour was a rip off. Though I wanted to swim in the Arctic Ocean, once there, I probably would have wimped out. We also had heard there was a good 50 mile section of really really bad road right before Prudhoe Bay.

I highly recommend heading up there. Camp near some rivers, hike around in the brooks range, and don't stress out if you break down. If it happens it happens, just do your best to make sure the van is in tip top shape.

On the entire drive from San Francisco to the Arctic Circle, the worst road section was on the way to the Alaska border on the Alcan.

and as for digital photography and photoshop...
well, they can't do what my cameras do.
I am literally starting fires in my cameras.
Here's my website to see what I'm up to- www.chrismccaw.com

10-08-2010, 06:58 AM
sorry for the delay.
here are photos of the the super low budget projection screen awning.
it works.

kinda a pain in the ass, but not much more then a tarp and some poles, and rope...
You need a ladder on the rear doors or some kind of roof access to make it happen.
I got this 8 foot screen off of craigslist for $50 cause it had a crease in the fabric.
I love craigslist!
I then used 2 tent poles and a 1" aluminum tube adapter with those pin things through drilled holes in the bottom of the screen.
It is a cheap alternative to a fiamma. I used these photo clamps I had back when I worked in a studio to clamp the structure to the rain gutter. Sections of old walnut frames helps with the clamping action. I hope the photos explain it better.
simple but not recommended in wind.
maybe someone can improve on the idea.

works well in the mojave desert.
It was useless in Alaska.


here are the photos-

10-08-2010, 07:21 AM
some more photos....
the screen rests on 1 1/2'' angled aluminum.
hope the photos help explain.
any questions please ask.

10-08-2010, 06:17 PM
Interesting. Love/sad on your stuff about the "disappearing" family farm. My family went threw the same thing with commercial fishing a while back .... I only get to enjoy sport fishing every now and then :cry:.

Just for every bodies else information here is what I am doing similar to your "screen" awning.

On the "to-do" I am going to mount hooks on the side of my van just below the rain gutter. They will be positioned on the slider side so that I can use bungees to mount a certain size tarp on to the side of the van. Then will use tent poles and stakes with string to use it like an awning.

After doing all the projects on my van I have become accustomed to drilling/cutting into the sheet metal :rolleyes:.

10-08-2010, 07:17 PM
amazing #1: Those cameras. By the look of your imagery, you're shooting something like eight hours at F 1,000,000. :clapping: Tell us more.

amazing #2: That you got four people, a bicycle, those cameras AND that dolly thing to Alaska in a 118 :bow:

Thanks for the details on the awning mount. Why didn't it work in Alaska but it did in the Mojave? Insects?

10-09-2010, 04:56 AM
Love this projection screen idea. Now i know why i've been saving that old wrinkly screen.
Thank you.

10-09-2010, 05:17 PM
Glad you all like the idea.
Now I hope some improves on it.

I wanted an awning that I could store inside the van.
For my 118 van that translated to an 8 foot screen. that stores on the side wall of the van behind the drivers seat. The biggest problem is the weight of the screen. It is kind of heavy.

Next month my friend is planning on screening his film on the side of my van while we camp at the salton sea. Dual purpose awning/screen!

The main reason the awning didn't work in Alaska is that the sun just circled around us at a rather low angle so most of the time the shade was moving around alot. Plus it wasn't that warm out.

Thanks for the comments about my family's farm photos, it's a sad situation.

10-12-2010, 06:32 PM
Thanks for sharing your fantastic photo skills, personel experience, creativenes recyclable igenuity(projection screen) and last but no least much thanks for the remote pictures from our very own "Polar Bear Garden".
Much appreciative and keep the goodies coming.:bow:

10-21-2010, 07:36 PM
The screen as awning is a great idea. I like that it's white on top - reduces heat build-up under it, I'd bet.

I also like your bike rack - important for us to have one that swings out of the way on the back door too. What brand is it?

10-22-2010, 04:33 PM
the bike rack was one of those meant to go on the trunk of a car.
I was looking at the swing away ones and then my buddy went to a thrift store and found the rack for like 7 bucks.
With some modifications it carried 2 bikes on the right rear door and it was easy enough to open and close the rear doors.
Sometimes the cheapest possible option actually works.

The screen makes for a good awning if you have a second person helping you get it up there.
Wish it was lighter.
The fabric is much quieter then a tarp, and yes, in the mojave desert the white tip reflects much of the heat and the other side of the screen is black providing some much needed cool shade.

10-22-2010, 04:47 PM
Awesome pics..thanks for sharing:thumbup:

01-18-2011, 04:46 AM
Sunburned GSP#389 :drool: :clapping:

That's spectacular, lots more information in there than I realized at first.

02-21-2011, 07:19 PM
For an awning I used sailcloth with a vinyl welt sewn into one edge to go into a awning rail fastened above the rain gutter and two grommets? in the outside corners that are big enough to take the threaded ends of painting extension poles. Guy ropes hook over the top of the poles.The poles collapse to 4 feet and you can also adjust the height when in use to drain off rain or shade from low sun.

welt and rail etc http://www.rochfordsupply.com/shop/Boating_and_Marine/Awning_Rail/index.html