All of the Lights

Being a warm-weather person, it makes perfect sense that I would go up to sub-freezing Alaska to see green lights in the sky. But ever since I found the Borealis Basecamp randomly on Google Maps a couple of years ago, I knew I had to make it up there in the middle of winter to see the aurora.

In a very rare moment for me, I actually did go with someone for this trip. Earlier this year Natalie came over, and I talked about this place. Just like that she agreed to go, and we made the reservation. We were going to be in the middle of nowhere Alaska just north of Fairbanks on a November.

This geodesic dome was going to be our home for the next three nights and four days. One thing I learned was that as much as I think I’m reptilian and need warm weather and sun to survive, my fat ass does adapt well to 15-degree (-10C) weather. Let’s just make sure there is no wind. Natalie on the other hand, with no meat. Well she might as well be dressed in a burqa.

Borealis Basecamp is essentially a bed and breakfast — breakfast is included every morning as are the daily activities. On the first day, they picked us up from our Fairbanks hotel (since fucking Delta has only one flight in and out of Fairbanks daily which comes in at 12:30 am) and shuttled us to the camp about an hour away. Unfortunately the domes are not equipped with a kitchenette (only a kettle), so the only option for dinner which is non-inclusive was their on-site restaurant. The food was excellent there, but the prices were a bit steep.

Day one activity was a six-hour snowmobiling tour through the forest. I think I found my new calling. At one point, I did go 40 mph down a hill and going airborne on the bumps. It was so much fun, but damn I didn’t realize how sore my body would get. Another byproduct of being in the cold was the snot flowing like a faucet down my nose which ended up freezing on the inside of my helmet. I’m sure they had fun cleaning that up.

We did have a lunch break halfway through, but being the good Korean boy I am, I did bring Shin Ramen since we did have the kettle. The only thing missing here was rice and kimchi.

The second day was an hour-long dog sledding experience. One thing that surprised me was how effortless the dogs made it look. They just trotted down the path, knew exactly where to go, all the while pulling us on this rickety-ass sled.

But what about the raison d’être, the actual aurora? Another feature of Borealis Basecamp is they have someone who stays up through the night and calls each room to alert us about the aurora. Now, for those of you who are observant, you will notice that in these photos and videos there are a lot of clouds. And putting two and two together, you will realize that clouds do not make for the best conditions to see the aurora.

And while it was cloudy for 95% of our stay, at around 1:30 am Saturday night/Sunday morning, the second night of our stay, we got the phone call. The motherfucking aurora!

I’ve seen so many of these photos and videos of the aurora and thinking that the brightness of it all was basically equipment manipulation, that in reality it really wasn’t that bright. And I’ll admit, since the shutter speed on these photos up here range from 25 to 30 seconds, it does show up brighter than what I actually saw. But they were still pretty bright. Here is a shitty, blurry cell phone video that pretty accurately represents how bright it appeared:

After an hour the light show ended, and the clouds blanketed us again for the rest of our stay. But we got it!

I would love to say that things like this and the total solar eclipse were reality-changing experiences, but they really aren’t unless you want them to be. But they are awe-inspiring nonetheless, and I am glad to have seen both.

I’m going to try and forget the journey home which involved me waiting in the Fairbanks airport for 13 hours since they have no lockers and because of the one-daily-flight-out-of-Fairbanks-for-Delta, I couldn’t check in my luggage. But I Alan Cumming was on my SEA-LAX flight, so I guess there is some consolation?

I know I have to make it back up to Alaska because there is so much that I need to see. But for now, I am perfectly content.