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18 September, 2002

Homeward Bound

Today was basically a travel day and since I've already talked about the Haul Road in past entries I thought I would spend most of today's entry with a short discussion of a new place on the Dalton Highway and then introduce the new member of our team, Todd Sformo.

When I was here in the spring, the Dalton Highway was very much a backwoods road. Dirt and gravel most of the way, it was an adventure just to travel a few miles. On this trip I found that the state of Alaska is working very hard to turn the Haul road into and actual highway. Since I was here in May, a large section of the road has been paved and I would guess that the entire distance between Fairbanks and Coldfoot will be paved within the next two years or so. The statement here is that the entire Dalton Highway will be paved by the year 2007. I have mixed feelings about a paved Dalton Highway. While it would be nice to travel without the toll on the vehicles and the operators, a paved road will take away some of the character the road has now and certainly some of the adventure of traveling the Haul Road.

We did visit a new wayside on the Haul Road. After many recommendations from people who travel the road regularly, we stopped at the Hotspot Cafe. The cafe is just north of the Yukon River bridge and includes the cafe itself, a souvenir shop, minimal auto repair facilities and a small motel. Most of the Hotspot is built from leftover pieces and parts of the pipeline and pipeline construction camps. The item of note with the Hotspot is that they serve the largest hamburgers I have ever seen. There has always been a problem with hotdogs fitting the bun, but before stopping at the Hotspot, I had never seen a hamburger that would not fit a bun. I strongly recommend a visit to the Hotspot Cafe fo anyone traveling the Haul Road.

My second task for today is to introduce Todd Sformo. Todd is a PhD student in Dr. Brian Barnes lab here at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but Todd will be spending a good part of the next year at the University of Notre Dame with Dr. Jack Duman learning lab techniques for the isolation of antifreeze proteins from insects. Todd has a research project that deals with the overwintering abilities of the Birch Shield Beetle, otherwise known as the Alaskan Stinkbug.

Todd is what is commonly identified as a non-traditional student. Born in Buffalo, New York, Todd earned an initial Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy. He then went on to earn two fine arts Masters Degrees. One degree is in Art History and a second in Creative Writing. Todd and his wife Barbara then moved to Alaska where they have spent their lives in many parts of the state. They spent their longest periods of time here in Fairbanks and in Barrow were Todd spent time as a teacher for multiple grade levels. To challenge himself once again, Todd began study in the field of Biology several years ago which led him and Barb to the University here in Fairbanks.

The one observation I can make about Todd is that he has such a personable character that he is a pleasure to know and work with. It seems that everyone else thinks so as well since everyone in Alaska seems to know Todd. Everywhere we go at least one person says hello. So if you should happen to be in Alaska or in South Bend, Indiana over the next year, say hello to Todd and get to know him. You will be glad you did.

This is the Hotspot Cafe just north of the Yukon River Bridge on the Dalton Highway

Todd Sformo

under the red poncho is Todd showing either dedication to the project or just plain silliness collecting stinkbugs in the rain in Fairbanks.

This sculpture was created using a drill bit from an oil rig.

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