Infertile Genetically Modified Mosquitos.  I just saw news that genetically modified mosquitos are going to be released into the wild.  What can go wrong with that?  We all hate mosquitos, but science doesn’t always work out the way people think.  I mean, look at that excellent documentary: Jurassic Park!

But this news did remind me of an encounter Stephanie and I had when we were living in Alaska.  In Alaska, some people joke that the state bird is the mosquito.  Rumors fly of caribou being driven mad by mosquitos.  I even read about a scientist in the artic that got bit up so much he had to be hospitalized.

I once helped a neighbor re-roof his house.  I felt a few bites on my back, but figured this would be just like Colorado – a few bites and they move on.  Stephanie counted 47 bites on by back when I got home.

We went on a mountain bike ride once in the summer, just a mile or so from our house.  We got to an area that was kind of swampy, and the track got rough.  When we slowed down to walk our bikes over some rocks, they attacked.  You feel things hitting your exposed skin.  It takes a few seconds before the pain begins.  Then a few more seconds while your brain processes what is going on.  Then you try to swat them, but realize with increasing dread that they are actually inside your bike helmet. They are buzzing around your head, ping ponging between your eyes and sunglasses; they are in your ears. They are on a feeding frenzy, and you can’t get rid of them.  And more are coming at you. This is not 10 or 100 mosquitoes, this is the motherload of hungry, frenzied, blood sucking mini-vampires. Panic sets in. 

At this point, Stephanie drops her bike and runs ahead to a clearing.  I try to pick up her bike, but can’t handle hers and mine at the same time.  And the mosquitos are still biting me. I am starting to feel the panic rising too.  I ride up to her on my bike.  Her helmet is on the ground, she is crying profusely, sobbing as her arms are flailing around her trying to get them off.  I drop my bike and we regroup a bit.  I ask her if she is going back to get her bike.  She just gives me an angry stare from her swollen, crying eyes.  OK, fine, time to man up.  I run back as quick as I can, grab her bike, then run back to the clearing. 

As we bike back to home, I can still hear her crying in front of me.  

A few years later, we are RVing in Fairbanks.  It is a hot and beautiful summer.

Fairbanks RV Campsite
Stephanie, July 4, 2005 in Fairbanks.
Loading up for the trip North

My job takes me to different areas for the Trans Alaskan Pipeline, and their HQ is in Fairbanks.  I’ve even been to the North Slope in winter.  We decide that since we are so close, we are going to drive up past the Arctic Circle and go camping in the land of 24 hour daylight.  Maybe even go up to Prudhoe Bay and touch the Arctic Ocean.

Trans Alaska Pipeline. Stephanie on the left, Heatpipes on vertical support member to the right.

So, we set out North from Fairbanks.  About an hour out of town, the pavement ends.  From here on there is just a two-lane rock and dirt road that winds 414 miles up to the North Slope.  It is called the Dalton Highway on maps, but locals know better.  Calling it a highway is an overstatement.  It is the Haul Road.  18 wheelers constantly fly along the road hauling supplies to and from the North Slope.  Summer, Winter, all year long.  They do not stop, there are no truck stops or gas stations.  They just fly up and down the road, 100s of them each day.

We were in our Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is roughly the same height as a wheel on the 18 wheelers.

Every few minutes you would see a cloud of dust racing toward you and you do your best to stay to the right and more importantly, stay on the road.

The Haul Road.

Usual conversation around this point.

“Oh Shit”, “get over to the…”, “can you see anything?”, (rock impacts on windshield) “no, I hope we are still on the road”, “I think so, not sure”  “You OK?”.

There were some very nice sights on the way up.  We crossed the small pullout for the Arctic Circle, crossed over the Brooks Range, and passed “The Last Tree”.  Trees just do not grow past a certain northern limit.

South of the Brooks Range
The Trans Alaska Pipeline, Brooks Range.
Driving through the Brooks Range.

We eventually got to a camp site on the North Slope I had chosen.  It was about a mile off the haul road, badly marked, and rustic to say the least.  It looked like it had been abandoned 10 years ago. We were the only ones there.

The first order of duty after the long drive was to hit the outhouse.  We sprayed on some 15% DEET and ventured out of the Jeep.  There was a slight wind, so it took about 10 seconds before the mosquitoes picked up our scent.  They kind of hovered in a skeeter haze just an inch from our skin. DEET is good.  Stephanie took first honors and went over into the outhouse.

About 30 seconds later the door slams open and she comes running out with her pants half down.  “They’re biting my ASS!, They’re biting my ASS!”.  After she thoroughly chews me out for bringing her up here, I go into the outhouse and liberally coat the inside with 30% DEET.  I offer myself up as an experiment, and find that this brings the bite level down to a more reasonable 1-2 per minute.  That will work.

We then setup our tent for the night.  Well, not really night; we are in the land of 24-hour daylight.  The sun just loops around the sky, and never sets.  It is a beautiful place.  We try to stay outside to enjoy the view, but the mosquitoes just do not stop.  We are totally exhausted from the drive, and find a little peace sitting in the fully closed Jeep to eat dinner, then head into the tent to sleep.

Camp site. North Slope.
Camp Site.
Much happier after dinner in the Jeep and some wine.

We wake up about 2 hours later drenched in sweat.  The tent is like a sauna.  We try to get back to sleep, but after about 30 minutes we agree that this is not working. 

We are exhausted after yesterdays long drive, the lack of sleep, the heat and all the mosquito drama.  We are done.  We agree to forgo the trip farther North; we are heading back to Fairbanks.

I’m done.

As I break camp, I notice the wind has died down.  The mosquitos are swarming me.  I put on 30% DEET, and they are still swarming me in a mosquito cloud.  The occasional brave one gets through to steal more of my blood.  I get done with the tent and shove everything in the Jeep.

Did I mention there are no gas stations up here?  One last task before we head South to safety.  I need to refill our gas tank from the plastic jerry cans we brought up with us. Even though it is 90+ degrees out, we put on long sleeves and pants to protect ourselves from the skeeters.

Now the problem is, there are mosquitos buzzing and biting me while I try to fit the too-short nozzle of the heavy jerry can into our gas nozzle. I can’t even get the gas started, and I am getting bit!  There are buzzing in and out of my ear, I have sweat dripping down my face, and we are using the best DEET we have.  I can feel be blood flying away from me to nourish the next generation of blood sucking devils.  This is some next level stuff.

A “North Slope Filling Station”

After a few false starts where I end up dropping the jerry can and running around the car waving my arms, Stephanie stands behind me and swats the mosquitos off of me.  If feels like she is merely slapping me on the head for fun, but I am OK with this.

Done with the refill, we get back in the jeep and blast the A/C.  I have never been so happy to be back inside a car.

We head south for a few hours, back up into the cooler elevation of the Brooks Range.  We pull out, have a beautiful peaceful breakfast with NO MOSQUITOS, and then curl up in the Jeep for a nap.

Breakfast in the Brooks Range