In Alaska, a Tale of an 800-Mile Walk With the Dog
Ned Rozell and his lab, Jane, hike along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
A few months ago Ned Rozell decided to take his dog Jane on a nice long walk.
But Mr. Rozell, being a robust, outdoorsy kind of guy, wasn't satisfied just taking his beloved Jane a few times around a city park. He took her the entire length of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
To put it mildly, 800 miles of mountains, moose, hares, and bears give a dog plenty of opportunity to sniff, chase, and bark.
Rozell originally thought he'd have to quit his job as a science writer for the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to take this odyssey with his 10-year-old chocolate lab. But his boss suggested he write as he hiked.
So for 18 weeks, readers of the Alaska Science Forum, printed in several Alaska newspapers and on the Geophysical Institute Web site, were treated to weekly on-site science columns on topics from mosquitoes to mountains - and updates on the adventures of Ned and Jane.
These readers also learned more about the giant straw through which the United States draws about 7 percent of the oil it uses. This year marks the 20th anniversary of its construction.
Rozell wrote his stories on a palm-top computer. When he would come across civilization en route, he'd hook into a phone and fax his material to Fairbanks.
In these articles he avoided some already well-trod ground such as the environmental controversy surrounding the pipeline.
Since the time a pipeline was proposed in the wake of the 1968 discovery of oil around Prudhoe Bay, critics have lamented its impact and the potential for environmental disaster. Nonetheless, since Congress approved the pipeline in 1973, and its completion in 1977, it has given the Alaskan economy a tremendous boost.
Rozell's walk began on May 4 in Valdez, where the pipeline dumps almost 60 million gallons a day of gooey cargo at the tanker port. When he said goodbye to his girlfriend, who had joined him for the first few miles, he realized he had to face continuing his journey with only his dog.
"In walking away from her, I was walking away from my favorite hiking companion ... walking away from the known, into the unpredictability of Alaska," Rozell said in one of his columns.
During the months ahead, he would traverse three major mountain ranges and 800 streams. Ultimately, he would cross into the Arctic Circle, leaving the protecting company of trees far behind. The weather - very cool at the beginning - would turn much warmer inland, before becoming icy at the end.
The two hikers reached their destination - Prudhoe Bay - on Sept. 1. Rozell is now taking a three-month sabbatical to write a book about his trek.
"Early last summer  I drove up north of the Brooks Mountain Range and it was just gorgeous," Rozell says. "I thought, 'Man, what a perfect place to walk with a dog.' "
His first challenge was getting permission for his monumental walk. He approached Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, created to build and now to manage and operate the pipeline. They told him he must contact the dozens of public and private landowners along the pipeline route.
Rozell got permission from major landowners, and walked around the areas where he couldn't track down owners - a distance of only about 50 miles.
"I probably could have walked the entire distance on highways near the pipeline, but Jane isn't good around cars. But the pipeline pad [the gravel road constructed to enable the building and maintenance of the pipeline] is worry free and easy to walk."
Some might ask Rozell how he defines "worry free." Take bull moose, for example - creatures Rozell admits can be "very big and very threatening," and more dangerous, in some ways, then bears.
One moose he and Jane startled appeared on the verge of making a very important decision - stampede Rozell or take his business elsewhere. Rozell is very grateful the moose chose the latter, saving him from having to use his rifle.
Less frightening but certainly more persistent were Alaska's voracious mosquitoes. In one of his science columns he remarked, "Enough mosquitoes perch on my tent these nights that they could airlift Jane and me to their favorite bog if they all latched on and lifted at once."
Some of the most harrowing hiking took place during the last 10 miles of the pipeline, for which Rozell's girlfriend again joined him. "A 20 m.p.h. wind carried cold raindrops that smacked into the skin." Later, he wrote, "Driving rain became driving snow; snow that seemed to be spit from the Arctic Ocean."
The silent partner
For more the half of Rozell's trek he had company. Friends, reporters, photographers, and fans would join him, sometimes for days on end. Others would make the food drops so crucial to his trip.
Rozell was grateful for the companionship. But he saves his most impassioned words for Jane, who he says, "has been my silent partner through 10 summers, three pickup trucks, and seven girlfriends. Her velvet-soft ears soothe my hands every morning, and her sleeping form next to me keeps me secure at night."
When camping near the Yukon, Jane's barking from within the tent was enough to tree a mother bear and her two cubs, forestalling what could have been an unpleasant encounter. Always one to do her share, Jane carried her own little backpack with her own supplies for the trip.
In love with Alaska
Rozell, who grew up in New York, near the Vermont border, fell in love with Alaska when stationed there with the US Air Force. He returned in 1986 to attend college and got a degree in journalism.
"Alaska is so vast and so different. ... There are a lot of places where you can go and get the feeling you're the first one who's ever been there."
He also likes "the people who are attracted to Alaska - usually people who aren't looking for a conventional way of life, who are independent, but who are very good people too and will help you out in a jam."
He plans for his book to be "a snapshot of 1997 Alaska. It's all going to be related to the hike and the people I've met."
And there should be plenty of information in it about his hiking buddy - whom he calls "the most famous brown dog in Alaska."
* Ned Rozell's science columns and pipeline reports can be found on the World Wide Web at www.gi.alaska.edu