Alone Across Greenland
Credit: Sebastian Copeland
The DEW Line – as in Distant Early-Warning Line – was a string of remote satellite outposts set up by the U.S. and Canada to monitor Soviet airborne military activities during the Cold War. Roughly following the 69th parallel across Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, the line consisted of 58 radar stations spread over nearly 6,000 miles. The Greenland ice sheet is host to two such stations: DYE-2 and DYE-3. With the advent of satellite monitoring, however, the stations quickly became antiquated. In the mid-'80s, they were briefly recycled for scientific purposes, but the prohibitive maintenance and operational costs, together with limited scientific applications, made these structures obsolete. They were permanently retired by 1991.

It was close to midnight, 16 hours into a long riding day, when the distant monolithic silhouette of DYE-2 appeared on the horizon, jutting from the ice some 20 clicks ahead. After days of nothing but sky and ice, the sight of a structure breaking from the elemental harmony felt like a stain on a canvas. We were 17 days into our trip and had covered 144 miles that day – our personal best thus far. Riding over rough ice can rattle your fillings and give your knees the taste of old age. Moving at speed over the windswept ridges of sastrugi that can reach a foot in thickness is like strapping a jackhammer on your back while figure skating. It gives the right and left hemisphere of your brain a chance to meet. As I stepped out of my bindings, my walk felt more like a wobble.

Standing erect in front of us, and cut against the dark red sky, the ominous structure of DYE-2 lent a postapocalyptic vision to the white starkness. Six stories high and dominated by a huge plastic radar dome, the building perches 30 feet in the air, supported by eight columns designed to adjust with the shifting level of the ice on which it's built. Frozen in time, it feels like a relic of a lost civilization. In that moment, Eric and I could have been the last two humans on the planet.

Upon retiring its operations, DYE-2 was abandoned, as if in a rush, most of its contents along with it. The inside is coated with frost and has the creepy feeling of a haunted space. The kitchen is still stocked with soft drinks and beer, coffee cans, and trays of eggs. The bar is lined with old, half-empty bottles of booze. The ashtrays are littered with cigarette butts, and there are adult magazines in many of the private quarters. The paint is peeling off the walls in strange circular patterns, probably due to the cold.

After a few hours of exploring, it was time to resume our journey. We were finally leaving Greenland's southern tip behind, pushing deeper into the heart of the ice sheet.