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Unhinged Alaska

Long haul down memory highway

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last weekend an old buddy turned up that I hadn't seen for a few years. He and I spent many years working together along the high arctic Haul Road. Needless to say, after a few adult beverages around his campfire, we started reminiscing about some of the bizarre events that we encountered while rambling around up there.

The first thing that came up was the work environment. It mostly sucked.

To sum it up, we didn't have anything close to four seasons. We had a "So damn cold that if you inadvertently bumped into something an extremely vital body component could snap off" season (this trepidation was amplified due to the lack of personal relief facilities available along the Dalton Highway). We had a "Hey, this whiteout's not so bad, I can see my dashboard" season. And we had a "Super-Glue mud, moon crater-pocked road, miles of dust, mosquitoes the size of vampire bats chasing herds of tourists without a frickin' clue" season.

The second subject was some of the funky critters we came across. Take, for instance, a diminutive winged maniac that was only about a foot tall and had the same IQ as his beak. This micro raptor had a death wish and we figured that sooner or later he'd end up as Mac truck grill cheese.

Why were we so sure that he was destined to be splatter matter on the Dalton? Because the fierce attitude of the bird was flat-out greedy. He loved bunnies, especially those of the newly flattened kind. We anointed him the nom de plume of "Road Kill." Not only because of the mutilated cuisine he preferred, but because of the obstinate raptor's obvious future.

You see, once he pounced on a road pizza, he wouldn't move or let go. If he found some hosed hare on the highway, he'd put the talon grabbus on it and then near herniate himself trying to fly off with the thing. R.K. might as well have been taking a shot at air-lifting a rhino. What was worse was that, once he realized that he couldn't take the road stew to his penthouse, he'd just sit there looking like he wished that he had a cell phone so he could call for chopper support.

That's not a great Mensa move when your din-din is laid out in the middle of a straight stretch of highway.

My bud and I solemnly agreed that bird probably never made it long enough to pass on his genetic quality of having no discernible brainwaves.

Then there was Gertrude. She was one of our more distinguished matron grizzlyettes of the far north. Gertrude seemed to age 10 years faster than any other sow, every year, because she constantly gave birth to triplets that drove her majorly nuts.

One time, while we were rolling just south of Prudhoe Bay, we spotted a Denali-sized hairy butt waddling up a river bank toward the Dalton. We weren't quite sure it was Gert until three mini heads started peeping over the ditch bank to make sure Ma thought it was cool for them to follow.

We stopped and shut off the engine. Gerty gave us a quick look and wuffed at the kids to beat paws up to her. They came scrambling up the bank and, once she had the pack together, she proceeded to lead the petite demons across the thoroughfare.

Well, everything was going fine until the mutt in the middle decided to take a serious potty break smack in the middle of the highway. This caused a major disruption in the teddies-marching-across-the-road line up.

Baby bear in the back decided it would be a hoot to tackle little brother in mid-poop. Baby bear in front thought it would be equally amusing to cannonball on top of both of them. So, all hell broke loose.

Gerty was mortified and not one bit delighted that her triplets were tangling in the center of an access road usually full of eighteen-wheelers that could turn her caterwauling cubs into furry Frisbees. She bawled once and was on them like a NASCAR fan jumpin' a mound of free ribs. The results were awesome as the shaggy delinquents went flying off onto the tundra just missing orbit altitude.

The last time we saw the tiny trio they were high steppin' toward Barrow with Gert in hot pursuit.

Anyway, the stories went on 'til dawn and I made a ton of notes. So, maybe we can do this another time, unless the gendarmes threaten to show up again.

Nick Varney can be reached at NCVarney@gmail.com, unless he's still at the campfire.



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