Saturday Night

I’ve been sick.  Like, curled up on the couch with tissues scattered around me, moaning kind of sick.  It’s not fun.  We haven’t been able to enjoy the weekend because of it.  But last night, the Northern Lights made a strong appearance.  As we sat watching the live feed from Poker Flats, Lee wanted to get out to go see them.  Some place high.  I wanted to go too.  Even though I was sick, I figured I could stay in the car with the blanket wrapped around me and my pillow, tea, and tissues and still be able to enjoy them.

Now, I’m going to stop the story here to explain something about my husband.  Sometimes, when he gets really excited, he’s like a little kid.  You know, when kids get so excited all reason leaves them and they do something irrational and impulsive that, in the end, causes a problem, but at the time, their little-kid mind couldn’t foresee anything bad happening because it wasn’t actually thinking?  I love this about my husband, most of the time.  His child-like excitement and wonder about things makes me feel excited too.  Unfortunately, this childlike wonder and impulsiveness can sometimes get him into trouble.

Back to the story.  So Lee and I loaded the car with camera equipment, a warm blanket, my pillow, and some tea.  Off we went, headed to Murphy Dome.  From the top of Murphy Dome (about a half hour north of us) you can see the whole sky.  We made a stop in Goldstream Valley, along with about 20 other people, and then continued on to Murphy Dome (there were just too many people in Goldstream).  I was cozy in the car, looking at the Northern Lights as we drove and watching to make sure Lee was watching the road and not the Northern Lights (this was a challenge).  Up up up the mountain we climbed.  Farther and farther.  Now, the further we drove, the farther away from town we drove.  Up up up.  Near the top, we could see the naval radar dome and the aurora all around.  About one hundred yards from the top of Murphy Dome, to the right, the aurora burst out over the radar dome.  It was spectacular, blue, green and red.  And Lee, in all his impulsive, childlike enthusiasm, saw this sight too, and decided that he had to turn the car toward it.  Yes, he needed to pull off the road immediately so he could capture that image, not stopping to consider that there was no one else around to pull to the side for, or that there was no side of the road, only snow drifts.  So you can imagine, the car, turned sharply to the right, went WOOSH and then THUD.  Straight into a snow bank. Lee said, “Uh Oh.” and then continued with the impulsiveness by throwing the car into reverse and flooring it. This happened all so fast that the only thing I could spit out was, “Rock it!”  meaning, when you are stuck in snow, you need to gently rock it.  But the flooring of the gas made the front right tire spin itself about a foot and a half down into that snow bank.

I had to take over.  I told Lee to let me get out, made him get out so I could drive and he could push, and was certain that we would be out in no time.  This didn’t happen.  We were so thoroughly stuck that nothing worked.  Lee took out the floor mats and tried to shove them under the tires to give them traction.  That didn’t work.  Lee tried digging out a path to reverse through.  That didn’t work.  We even found our throwing shovel in the back seat for added digging assistance (thanks Dayle!).  That didn’t work.  This was probably 20 minutes now.  One truck drove down the road from the top of Murphy Dome.  Upon seeing us stuck, it sped up.  I was getting nervous.  How would we get out of this?  Would a tow truck even come this far out of town, and if so, what on earth would they charge?  Another 10 minutes later, an SUV came down the road, slowed down, rolled down the window, and asked if we needed help.  Finally, hope!

Out of the SUV stepped the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  Jessica and Ray and their dog Marty.  They had a strap in the car for tying down snow mobiles.  Lee got down on the ground, hooked it to the frame of the car, and Ray backed their car up to try to tow us out.  I stood in the road with Jessica.  Lee drove.  Ray drove.  The car started to roll back, my arms went in the air in triumph, and wait…. Ray’s car stalled.  He started up, tried again, and cablammo!  The strap burst into a million pieces.  Hope faded.

It was decided that Ray and Jessica would take one of us to the top of the dome to ask if anyone had a tow strap (a real tow strap that many Alaskans carry in their car for just such occasions – believe me, it just got added to the shopping list).  Lee suggested I go.  But I passed that one right back to Lee.  I was sick, in my pajamas, and had no desire to go begging for a tow strap.  Plus, Lee was the one who had gotten us into this mess.  So Lee got in the car with Jessica and Ray and I got on my knees to continue digging.  It was futile.  There was just way too much snow.  About 10 minutes later, they returned with a tow strap.  Thank goodness!  They hooked it up, and voila!  The car came out of the snow bank.  Relief washed over me.  We shook hands with Ray and Jessica and thanked them for giving up their Saturday evening to help us.  And continued on up to the top of the Murphy Dome.

The stars were barely visible when the aurora first came out

A satellite passes by as the aurora comes out, brilliantly, during twilight.

Start to get the feeling that this will be a good night! The sky is lighter to the south (right side) because of light pollution from Fairbanks. I kind of like the color gradient it makes this time of night.

Watching the aurora down in the Goldstream Valley. Lights from the homes on the hill, some purple at high altitudes, brilliant night!

The aurora was very active on the horizon to the northeast. I almost missed that the entire sky above me was pulsating, with color! I've never seen any other color, but green with pulsating aurora. This was really filling the sky; you can see the constellation Orion bottom center, and the Pleiades cluster up and right.

Taken in the winter of 2012 on Murphy Dome. I definitely drove our car into a snow bank on this lovely evening. Luckily the aurora stayed out long enough that even after all the digging, flagging down cars, and towing the car out of a ditch we still were able to watch the show.

I won’t be letting Lee forget this adventure any time soon.  But the aurora was worth it. Thanks, Ray and Jessica, wherever you are!

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5 Responses to Saturday Night

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