Monday, February 1, 2010

Tuesday in Alaska
Monica's Travel Journal Continued
(part 8)
(I'll come back and add pictures in later!)

As you will recall, Lisa and Iran slept late Sunday morning and Monday morning. Lisa acted all upset Monday morning, when at nearly lunchtime she awoke and found that I had been up for HOURS entertaining myself. She went on and on about wasted time that we could have been visiting with each other HAD SHE KNOWN I WAS AWAKE. So, then and there, we had made a pact with each other that from then on whoever woke up first would awaken the other, so long as it was at least 6:00am in the morning. So, when I awoke at 6:45 am Tuesday morning, I dutifully called to Lisa at her bedroom door. No response. So, then I turned on the hall light, knowing it would shine into her bedroom. No response. So then I went and let the dogs out. When I came back from letting the dogs out, I saw that their bedroom door was CLOSED! I let the dogs back in. The dogs practically knocked holes in the wall, rough-housing and carrying on with each other. Still Lisa and Iran slept on and on and on! So, I sat down at the computer and began blogging! Finally, around 10am Lisa and Iran groggily crawled out of bed. An hour later, Iran was off to work his second job. He was able to complete it fairly soon and, as soon as he got back, we hauled a bunch of stuff out to the cabin, including their laptop computer (so we could watch "White Fang" on it!). We brought a LOT of stuff and it was a LONG walk for Lisa and I to the cabin from the road. (Iran rode his nifty new snow machine, but, Lisa and I and the dogs were stuck hoofing it on foot...and, Iran, probably annoyed that we INSISTED on bringing a bunch more stuff to the cabin(!), let us haul it down ourselves! (Well, he might have brought a load on his snow machine, but we sure had a bunch of junk left to carry on our own, too!)

When Lisa and I finally drug ourselves through that cabin door we were SO HOT...we were dripping sweat under our bazillion layers of clothes. Lisa went straight for the Honey Bucket room to relieve herself. I popped in the moment she came out. It was zero degrees in the Honey Bucket room and I was so hot that it felt GOOD to peel down to bare skin there in the Honey Bucket room. When I came out, Lisa made some comment about how you KNOW you are hot when you actually ENJOY going into the Honey Bucket room and peeling your clothes off! We laughed long and hard over that, because it was so darn true!

Usually, I LIVED in the wonderful, puffy, down-filled snow pants that Terry (owner of the cabin and Lisa's co-worker) had graciously lent me. Seriously, I even SLEPT in those puppies! Since coming to Alaska, I had learned to be PREPARED...and make sure you have PLENTY OF CLOTHES on at ALL TIMES (even at night when sleeping under the quilts!)...so, I ALWAYS wore those down-filled snow pants. It was kind of like wearing a legged sleeping bag! They were my security blanket against the wilds of the Alaskan temperatures! But, after coming out of the Honey Bucket room, I was so stinking hot, that I pulled off my trusty boots and peeled off my beloved, borrowed, snow pants. Off, too, came my down vest. Soon,I was happily padding around in stocking feet and feeling much more comfortable!

Not long after we had all gone upstairs to see about some lunch, there was a knock at the door. Lisa glanced out the upstairs window and (mistakenly) proclaimed it to be Terry's husband...probably just coming by to see how we were making out. I went down to open the door, with both dogs hot on my heels. When I opened the door up, there was this tall, lanky, weathered old guy. He looked like the kind of guy you would see in a painting of Maine, on the sea shore, with a lighthouse looming in the background. When he opened his mouth to speak, his staccato words and sparse speech did nothing to dis-spell that original impression! The dogs, however, did not see him the way I saw him. Ransom, in particular, took great offense at his presence. She LUNGED for him. I snagged her by the collar and snagged Gabby, too. Ransom was snapping and snarling and barking VICIOUSLY at the poor guy...lunging, trying to break free of my death hold on her collar. Gabby was jumping around, too, dangling from her collar, but, at least she wasn't SOUNDING all KUJO, like Ransom was. Over the chaos of my dog, trying desperately to get at him and rip his face off, the guy, totally unfazed, remarked, "I'm Pete. I live in the cabin behind this one. There's a porcupine out there. Thought I'd tell you since you have dogs." No emotion flickered across his face. In fact, his face was a blank slate throughout the entire interaction. He never so much as glanced at my snarling, slathering beast. Just turned and left as abruptly as he had appeared...taking long, sure strides over the snow.

I was SHOCKED at how aggressive my dog had acted towards him. She is a jewel with strangers...wags her tail and goes right up to them befriending everyone she sees. She NEVER responds that way to ANYONE. I told, Iran, "I don't know what got into Ransom! Maybe encouraging her to bark at you yesterday has created a monster out of her!" To which Iran raised his eyebrows mysteriously and said, "Well, maybe Ransom knows something about that guy that WE don't know! Maybe he is a serial killer that has been stalking us and he just made up an excuse to come look at us more closely. Maybe he was planning on coming back late tonight and murdering all of us, but now that he sees how vicious Ransom is, he will think twice about coming back!" We all laughed long and hard over that thought. Poor Pete, from that moment on, none of us would ever be able to look at him WITHOUT seeing a stalking serial killer. And, like Lisa pointed out, HOW did HE know we were even AT the cabin? Much less, that we had DOGS with us? Obviously he had been watching with binoculars or something! Indeed, we had found a set of binoculars sitting up in one of the upstairs window sills of our own cabin--probably intended for the spouse at home to watch across the distant landscape for the returning musher and dog team. (All the cabin folk out there appeared to be mushers.)

We didn't have long to wonder over the mystery of Pete, though, because Lisa was having a FIT, telling me, "Hurry, Monica! Grab your camera and go get a picture of the porcupine before it gets away! HURRY!!!" Well, I didn't have my beloved snow pants on, and they usually take me ten minutes and at least one broken fingernail to don, since I am actually fatter than the inside of the pants!...getting them over the HIPS is always an iffy proposition! So, I didn't even TRY to get my snow pants on. And Lisa was in such a fervor, that I didn't even bother to lace up my snowboots. I just crammed my feet into them, grabbed my coat and my camera, and dashed out, with Lisa hollering, "HURRY UP, MONICA. YOU'RE GOING TO MISS IT! HURRY UP!!! WE NEED A PICTURE OF THE PORCUPINE!!!" I didn't even take time to find my MITTENS. I just raced out, bare handed, with boots practically falling off my feet. But, I was NOT going to miss getting a picture of a genuine ALASKAN porcupine!!!

I quickly realized that I should not have abandoned my philosophy of always preparing well before stepping foot out into the Alaskan winter. I nearly died, for a second time in as many days. You see, I was not FAMILIAR with the terrain around the cabin. It all appeared FLAT to me. How was I to know that there are HILLS surrounding that cabin that have simply been temporarily filled in by drifting snow? The ice crust on top looks all the same, whether it covers four inch deep snow or WAIST DEEP snow, as I was soon to painfully discover! About twenty steps away from the cabin, my small feet carrying my short, fat, heavy body dropped right through that ice crust. Suddenly, without fair warning(!), I found one leg buried to just over my knee. I wrenched my knee in my hurry to scramble out and valiantly try to let on as though it had never happened. There was stoic Pete...off in the distance, standing not far from his own cabin, supposedly looking towards the humungous porcupine that was between him and myself...but I knew that he was REALLY looking at the idiotic, out of shape, still sore from her brush with the death sled, old woman who, for some unfathomable reason, had purposely walked straight into a snow drift!

Mind you, wearing my bulky brown coat, against the white snow, I am sure I looked a lot like a small, frantic, brown toad trying to writhe its way out of some hideous snare! It was not a dignified site at all. Pete made no comment. Neither did he mercifully turn and go back into his own cabin. He just stood there. Inscrutable. Meanwhile, I was turning many shades of red! Lisa and Iran, bums, were in the cozy warm cabin, just sitting at the window letting me make an utter fool of myself.

After I fell through the crust a second or third time,Serial Killer Pete, gave a stiff, abrupt pointing movement of his arm and gruffly called out, "Snow's safe over there." Pointing back to the path which he, himself had taken to our cabin. Now, mind you, if he hadn't gone to the trouble of TELLING me where the "safe" snow was, I would have simply tucked tail and slinked back to the safety of the cabin, once I had wrenched my leg free that last time. But, having been TOLD where the safe snow was, I felt a moral obligation to GO TO the safe snow and continue my quest. Bad choice. You see, there was NO "safe" snow between where I was at the moment and where I needed to be to GET TO the safe snow! In fact, all the rest of the snow was even more unsafe than what I had already experienced! And, as I tried to gingerly step across the ice crust, thinking, light as a feather...light as a feather...you can do it...you can do-- WHAM!!! The ice crust gave way beneath my not so light, not so dainty boots and this time, as my leg sank groin deep in the snow, I fell forward, my whole body breaking through the snow, burying my precious camera several feet deep in the snow under my exhausted self...face in the snow. By now, my hands were SOAKING wet from the snow and fire red...and burning like hot coals from the intense cold (it was the usual, twenty degrees below zero, that day). I was sure I had probably just ruined my camera. Worst of all, though, I found that I truly could not wrench myself loose. I was buried groin deep in snow that felt more like concrete that has permanently set up. I looked helplessly back at the cabin as I flailed about futilely. I looked back up towards, Pete's place. Whether out of disgust, or out of consideration (thinking to spare me the embarrassment of seeing him WITNESS my humiliating floundering)--whatever the reason, silent Pete gave one last glance towards the porcupine (or me?) and silently turned and walked slowly back to his own cabin. It was a relief, I guess, that he did not continue to stand there bearing witness to my lack of grace and utter absence of athletic prowess...but, on the other hand, I did begin to wonder what would become of me. I was stuck. My tired, abused, sore muscles had finally given out completely. I had tested them to their limits two days earlier when Iran had attempted to do away with me on the sled. I had utterly no reserves left. I thought, "So, this is how it ends. Me, ungracefully stuck in groin-deep-snow, hands suffering flash frostbite while the rest of me simply slowly freezes solid until I am finally at one with the Alaskan earth...a tragically mere twenty feet from the warmth of our cabin!" Twenty feet that might as well have been twenty MILES!

There I stayed. Planted in Alaskan landscape. Despairing of ever seeing my children again. Thinking, so THIS is how dozens of people die of hypothermia in Nome every year. I was well versed on that particular fact--Lisa had mentioned it often enough...I just hadn't thought of them dying of hypothermia within SIGHT of their own cabin!...caught like some wild animal in a snare! At least wild animals can chew their own leg off, to escape...by now, I had sunk waist deep, so deeply entrenched in the snow, that even chewing my leg off was no longer an option!

No telling how long my delirious mind had been sorting through all these facts, before a familiar voice broke through. It was dear, sweet, Iran. Bless his heart! He had put on his boots and coat and had come to fetch me out of the drift. I noticed, to my chagrin, that he easily walked over the very ice crust I had sunk through like a jack hammer...never once disturbing its pristine crust! (Bigger feet, less weight means better dispersion of the weight! Do the math. Really embarrassing! I have no doubt that serial killer Pete could also have pranced all over the snow I had broken through without ever causing the slightest disturbance.)

Iran, grabbed one of my frozen hands and hauled me and my wet camera out of the drift and back onto safer footing. Then he asked, "Where's the porcupine?" I looked up. It was no where to be seen. I guess my floundering had caused such a spectacle that even the porcupine had thought it best to leave!

So, no picture of the porcupine.

I managed to make it back to the cabin without doing anything else embarrassing, but, it didn't really matter, because Pete was gone by then and Lisa and Iran already know I'm an utter klutz! When I got back inside, Lisa was reproachful that I had missed photographing the porcupine. When I got reproachful with her for not RESCUING me, she claimed she never saw me (or the porcupine)...I have NO IDEA WHAT window SHE was looking out of!!!

I noted, sadly, that my nice, heavy denim flannel-lined pants were wet and I had TONS of SNOW in my boots. I scooped out handful after handful of snow out of my boots and then laid them in front of the furnace to dry. I changed into a thin (but DRY!) pair of jogging pants. We went back upstairs and sat around the table discussing what we would do that day while Lisa set to work fixing lunch. Lisa fixed some delicious clam chowder and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Poor Lisa, BURNED the last sandwich black as coal. Of course, she INSISTED on grabbing the burnt one for herself. She had barely sat down herself to eat before Iran had finished HIS sandwich and had begun teasing her that she needed to fix him another one. As she was fixing him one, I tried to trade her half and half...so we could each have one good half and one burned half. She is stubborn as a mule, though, and would not hear of it. After I had eaten my first half, I was genuinely FULL and tried to give her or Iran my second half. Iran turned it down, because, by then he had conned Lisa into getting up to grill him another one. Lisa turned it down. I told her, "Lisa, if you won't take it, I'm going to give it to the dogs." She said, "Give it to them!" So, I called the dogs over, broke it in half, and was HANDING it to them, when Lisa screamed out, "Don't give it to the dogs!!! I'll take it!!!" But, alas, her stubborn, bluff-calling self was too late! Though, quick as lightening, I reflexively snatched it back out of the bewildered dogs' mouths, who wants a nicely grilled ham and cheese sandwich AFTER it has been licked by dogs...even as nice of dogs as we have?!!! So, I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders sympathetically at Lisa and handed the perfect sandwich back to the confused dogs as Lisa sat down sadly to chew on her burnt sandwich. I guess she had thought I was making an idle threat rather than a simple statement of FACT when I had told her that if no one would take my other half, I was going to give it to the dogs. I guess she thought I was just saying that to get her to take it, while I starved sacrificially. Wrong. I was FULL! Just like I had TOLD HER I was! And I wasn't angling to manipulate her when I said I would give it to the dogs, then...I was just telling her what I would be doing...and she said, "Go ahead!"...so, I did! And then got startled silly when she began frantically yelling for me to STOP!!!!

Once we finished eating, Lisa choking down the last bite of the burnt sandwich, which she declared should have been given to the dogs INSTEAD of the GOOD sandwich, we began discussing what to do with the rest of the day. My vote was to stay right there at that table in the nice, snug cabin and PLAY CARDS. I wanted to teach them how to play Nertz and I had also brought Phase 10, and Yahtzee, and Farkle, and Uno, and Blitz with me from Bolivar. After-all, I was expecting it to be pitch black dark round the clock and way too cold to go galavanting around outside...so, what else WOULD there be to do, but play cards! Still SORE from my harrowing experience in the sled at the mercy of speed-demon driver Iran, I was not keen on venturing out away from the cabin. Lisa, my NORMALLY CAUTIOUS, SENSIBLE, NEVER IMPULSIVE friend, however, was bound and determined that we should jump on the snow machine and go to Pilgrim (a ghost town, not accessible anyway except by snow machine in the winter or by four wheeler in the summer).

I asked, "How far is it to Pilgrim?"

"Seventy miles!" was the carefree reply.

"Ummm...excuse me, folks, but it is already almost 2:00 in the afternoon and it seems to me, since coming here, that the sun is pretty well totally gone by 4:00pm! SEVENTY MILES, Lisa? Are you CRAZY?"

Fortunately for me, Iran was not convinced, either. He suggested that we go up on Anvil Mountain instead. Since I had indicated I was dubious about leaving Ransom out in the dog pen--she not being ACCLIMATED to twenty below zero weather, Iran was quick to add that we could take the dogs with us.

I asked, "Well, how far would they have to run?"

"Two or three miles," Iran replied, (though, later, he would claim he said 'four or five'...but, Lisa and I BOTH heard him!).

Well, I often walk my dog four miles at a time, so, even though she isn't used to such bitterly cold temperatures and didn't have a thick coat, I had to admit that "two or three miles" would not kill her. So, I switched tactics and pointed out, "But the insides of my boots are WET!"

"Oh, wipe them out with a pair of wool socks. They'll be fine," came Iran's reply.

To Lisa's credit, she WAS momentarily swayed by the thought of my wet boots and she commented to Iran, "Maybe we shouldn't go out since Monica's boots are wet..."

But, now, I was feeling like I was the one holding everyone back. I'm not used to being the one that is a stick-in-the-mud...that's LISA'S role, not mine! I'm the one that is always game. But, as I wrote earlier, the ride in the death sled fundamentally, irrepairably, changed something deep in my psyche. I did not want to leave the warm, safety of the cabin. Now, the thought of zipping off on the snow machine in search of adventure, filled me with a dread that was foreign to my nature. But, I was relieved that we were now debating a "two or three mile outing" rather than a death-defying odyssey to deserted Pilgrim, seventy miles out in the frozen Hinterlands. So, I sucked it up...found an available pair of wool socks...and obediently rubbed the insides of my boots trying to wick the icy moisture out of their cloth lining.

If I had known then, what I know now, I would never have allowed those two crazy Alaskans to have coerced me out of that cabin. Hindsight. What lay ahead? A snowmobile wreck...losing the trail...finding ourselves lost on the mountain AFTER DARK(!)...my poor dog RUNNING non-stop for TWENTY FIVE (yes, that was not a typo, 25) MILES in twenty below zero weather as her back legs repeatedly broke through the snow crust (I felt her pain...Gabby never broke through, but she's ALASKAN, she KNOWS how to decipher the surface of the snow and instinctively stays on the "safe" snow...whereas as my poor, exhausted dog, kept trying to take the straightest line between where she was and where the snow machine was zig zagging along and consequently broke through the snow, repeatedly having to drag her hind quarters free, squirming on her belly like her master before her!). But, I digress. It only got WORSE. Let's see, there was the moment that Lisa and Iran finally ditched me and my loser dog altogether, stating I'd have to stay behind since it had gotten so dark that we could no longer see the dogs following behind us and we were afraid we would lost them altogether. Gabby kept up fairly effortlessly, but after TWENTY FIVE MILES of running without a break, my dog was nearly dead. Only Iran knew how to drive the snow machine, so he couldn't stay behind with the dogs. Conveniently, only LISA knew the old road we had stumbled upon...so, she had to go WITH Iran to show him the way. So, that just left me for them to jetison. I BEGGED AND PLEADED with Iran to PLEASE just leave ONE of our five MRE's (military survival meals) with me in case you guys don't make it back tonight! But, Iran INSISTED there was not time to unpack and get them out. I tried to get that backpack off the back of the snow machine, but the bungee was fastened too tightly and my hands were too cold. (Later, when they lost nearly everything OFF the back of the snow machine in their mad dash to find the car and come back and save me, someone speculated that the expensive BORROWED snow shoes flew off the back of the snow machine and were lost because someone had loosened the straps, but, I tend to be of the opinion that the way Iran flies over the bumps in that snow machine, it's a wonder ANYTHING ever remains fastened on the back!)

I hate to admit this, but, as they peeled out, I was secretly relieved that it was LISA on the back of that snow machine and not me! I was sure I would have eventually been jarred off it...and I didn't envy Lisa there, now that Iran no longer had to go slow enough for the dogs to keep up with us! (Did I mention that EARLIER in the ride, when we had gone air-borne over a hilly spot, LISA had thrown one arm up in the air like some happy bull-rider and had exclaimed, "Yippee!!!" I, holding on for dear life and slightly nauseated by what had just transpired, had sternly admonished her, "LISA! Don't ENCOURAGE him!!!" And had secretly wondered if the pod people had taken Lisa over, because this was NOT the Lisa I have always known!)

So, there I was...utterly alone...well, I did have two dogs with me. Gabby was in perfect shape, but my poor dog had frostbitten paws(though I didn't yet know that). (The fleece booties we had gotten her the day before had fallen off the minute she had gone running along the road to the cabin--two of them lost somewhere, buried in the snow...long before THIS particular odyssey had even begun!)

Ransom was SPENT. Bless her heart, she was just so relieved not to have to run any further! Gabby, meantime, was bent upon following the snow machine which had peeled out as though filled with rocket fuel. The first time she ran after them, I called her back and she obediently stopped on a dime, turned around, and trotted back to me. A few minutes later, she tried to run after them again. Again, I called her back and she came. I watched the dogs closely for the next two minutes and inwardly lamented that I didn't at least have one of the five MREs to fall back on to stave off eventual hypothermia. Then, I tested the head lamp Lisa had insisted on leaving me...her, work-issued head lamp.

She had told me, "Turn that on if you see headlights coming down the road so they don't accidentally run over you. People nearly get run over all the time in this dark up here."

Right. Like there were going to BE any headlights! I was out in the middle of NOWHERE on the remnants of a road that is IMPASSIBLE just twenty feet further on. Ummm, I don't think TRAFFIC is really going to be an ISSUE here! But, just in case, I took time now to make sure my head lamp would actually turn on. It did. I quickly turned it back off again because I figured I might NEED that light in the long dark hours to come.

I glanced around to see if there was any place to get out of the wind. (Lisa and Iran would both later make the remark that "it is such a good thing that there wasn't any WIND tonight, or things would have been a LOT WORSE".) Well, excuse me, maybe you ALASKANS don't consider it WIND when the little hairs on the fringe of my hood are slowly swaying ever so slightly to and fro...BUT WHEN IT IS TWENTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO, ANY AIR MOVEMENT AT ALL, IN MY BOOK, CONSTITUTE WIND!!! And that wind was creeping between the cracks of my goggles. I could FEEL it. And Lisa had scared me with enough stories about how people's FACES freeze with FROSTBITE from the WIND when they don't even REALIZE what is HAPPENING...and then they take their goggles off and discover their FACE is PERMANENTLY SCARRED BLACK!!! So, I figured, since I could feel the WIND coming in UNDER my frosted over goggles, that it would be WISE to find shelter from the wind. As you can see, I was quite BUSY with the work of SURVIVING and it is no wonder that I never noticed that GABBY had sneaked off again!!! That rotten dog, faked me out. She was there happily hanging out with Ransom one moment, but, the next moment, there was Ransom, nudging my mittened hand sadly...and Gabby was no where to be seen. I YELLED and yelled and yelled for her...but, she was long gone out of hearing distance by the time I realized she had left us. I yelled until I was too hoarse to be heard. Then, remembering that I had the same whistle/compass that I had given to Lisa (and made her PROMISE she would keep on her coat and train Gabby to come to the sound of in case she ever got lost in a blizzard or something), I grabbed up my whistle/compass that was clipped onto the zipper of my coat. I blew and blew and blew on that whistle, hoping she would hear and come back. I was amazed that the whistle never froze up...with the moisture of my breath and the subartic temperatures that is a marvel! Eventually, though, I realized the futility and dejectedly let my whistle/compass drop from my lips to swing once more from my coat zipper.

Before I had realized Gabs was gone, I had spied an abandoned car a short ways off. Now, alone with only Ransom there, I walked over to it and guiltily tried the door handle. It opened right up! It seemed socially incorrect to let myself into someone else's car without permission, though, so I had sat down next to the front driver's tire, thinking, that at least that would afford me some protection from the wind (I mean BREEZE...I was repeatedly told there was no WIND around during my ENTIRE week in Alaska...evidently I visited in the only week on record that has not been cursed by gale force winds). Ransom, laid down between my two outstretched legs (cozy warm in those blessed down-filled snow pants that Terry had graciously loaned me...that is probably the only thing that kept me from certain hypothermia that black, lonely, BREEZE filled night). Ransom was shivering. She probably could have USED an MRE about then...but, no, the MREs were all with Lisa and Iran, flying through the night on the back of the snow machine. Unfortunately, one of Lisa's treasured seal skin mittens, one of their nice walkie talkies, and three sets of expensive BORROWED snow shoes were not so lucky...unlike the stubborn MREs, they were all bounced and scattered...lost in the wake of the snow machine, scattered across the landscape of that dark, unlucky night.

I was devastated that I had let Gabby slip away. I knew she was running for all she was worth, trying to catch up with the snow machine. But, Lisa and Iran would have no way of knowing she was trying to follow. They wouldn't hear her over the roar of its engine and they would never see her behind them in the distance in that ink black night...and they were tearing through the snow way too fast for any creature to keep up on foot. And we were in the middle of NOWHERE. I knew, Gabs could never catch up. They would reach the car by way of that impassible road and then travel on from there, going away in the opposite direction of where I was, in order to circle around Nome and come back up the closed road from the OTHER direction. Lisa had said it would take an hour, maybe longer. I had assured them that I would wait there for them for two hours, but, then, if they still weren't back, I was walking to a shack I could see in the distance up the hill that had some lights on. (Probably inhabited by the owners of the "abandoned" car whose front tire I was now leaning against.) After they had left, though, I had realized that, since my jeans had gotten wet during my earlier fiasco in the snow (in pursuit of the elusive porcupine), I had wound up just wearing a pair of thin POCKETLESS jogging pants inside my borrowed down-filled snow pants. My PHONE was still in my jeans pocket IN THE CABIN. Mind you, there is NO cell signal what-so-ever either at the cabin or in the Hinterlands of Anvil Mountain, but the CLOCK on my cell phone would have still worked! Now, however, I was lost in the cold sea of darkness, without even any way to TELL when two hours was up. I was pretty sure I had already been waiting there three or four hours!

Honestly, though, after I lost Gabby, I truly was in the pits of despair. It broke my heart to think I had lost her. I knew she would never catch up with them, but, as fresh as she had still seemed to be feeling, I knew she would go a very long ways before giving up. I didn't think we would ever be able to find her. I don't remember feeling so sad as that in years. I just prayed, "Lord, please bring Gabby back. Please don't let her be lost." But, in the pit of my stomach, I knew she was gone forever. Lisa and Iran would come back and I would have to tell them their dog was lost. Lisa would be heartbroken. I was just sick inside. And, I realized, that, stupid me, I was WEARING a double ended dog leash slung across one shoulder crossed over to the opposite side of my waist. I had forgotten it was even there...until I had realized Gabs was gone. It would have been so easy to have put each dog on the leash, one on either end and HELD ONTO THEM. Why hadn't I thought of that??? Belatedly, I put my own dog on the least (as though the poor beast could have taken another step anyway!).

About forty five minutes later, I saw the faint silohuette of Gabby running happily along the road below. I yelled for her, and she swung around and dashed up to us! I snapped that leash on her so fast she didn't know what had hit her! All was right with the world again! I had BOTH dogs! I decided, it was time to escape the brutal Alaskan BREEZE, so, I opened the driver's side of the car once more and motioned for the dogs to get in and I followed after them. The hatchback of the car was overflowing with boxes of papers as was the entire backseat and back floorboard. The front seat was pretty cluttered, too, but the three of us were able to squeeze in just fine. Ransom curled up in the passenger seat while Gabby half stood with her hind feet on the driver's side floor and her front feet up on the console between the two seats--which meant her warm body was against me, which was fine with me. Gabby didn't look too comfortable, but, I figured, of the three of us, SHE was the one that was holding up the best, so, it wasn't a big deal if she was stuck in the uncomfortable spot, now! I still had them both on the same leash, too. We were confined to the car, but, I wasn't taking any more chances. The bucket seats of that car were really rather comfortable and the three of us soon had the interior of the car warmed up nicely...or maybe it is just that we were finally completely out of the BREEZE (wind).

About ten minutes later, I saw headlights coming down the road. By the time I got OUT of the car and down to the road, the headlights had already passed. (Inside the Mariner, I guess Lisa and Iran panicked about then...unable to find me where they thought they had left me...probably serves them right! I might had been where they had left me if they had given me an MRE to keep me from dying of hypothermia in the Alaskan BREEZE.) I wasn't worried, though, because I knew that just a little ways further the road was completely impassible, so they would have no choice but to turn back around and come back by me again. The next time their headlights appeared, I had my little headlamp on and I was standing where they had originally left me, waving my arms like fury! I thought about blowing my little whistle, too...but, thought that might be overkill!

Filled with relief, they pulled over. Lisa's first question was not, "Are you frostbitten? Are you hypothermic? Are you all right?"

No. Her first question was a worried, "Where are the dogs?!"

I had them CONFINED to some stranger's car, thank you, because I didn't want YOUR idiot dog running off again!!!

So, I trudged back up the hill and fetched the dogs out of the car. Lisa wouldn't let me back in the warmth of the Mariner until I had the DOGS with me!!! Good thing I had gotten Gabby back, or I might still be waiting at the foot of Anvil Mountain, shivering alone in the Alaskan BREEZE.

Did I mention that the scenery was BREATH TAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL while we were up on Anvil Mountain, watching the sun set on Nome, far below? No, probably not. The whole snow machine wreck, followed by abandonment in the middle of nowhere, after dark, in twenty below zero weather, without so much as an MRE to see me through the artic BREEZE, and the encounter with drunks, and the car wreck after and yet another encounter with the serial killer are all events of that night that tend to somewhat obscure one's memory of mere scenery!

Yes...the night was young. We thought our adventures were over, but the WORST was yet to come. Did I mention my feet were REALLY cold in my DAMP boots as I waited in the Artic BREEZE for my "friends" to come back for me????

But, back to the misery that yet lay before us...

As we all breathed a sigh of relief that near tragedy had been averted (my death to hypothermia and Lisa and Iran's death on a speeding snow machine in the pitch black night over treacherous ground that was nearly devoid of snow in patches...really ROUGH riding under the BEST of circumstances, which these, certainly, had not been)...Lisa suggested, "Let's run back to Nome and grab a tub of ice cream! Then we can eat ICE CREAM while we watch 'White Fang'."

Iran thought that was a horrible idea. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought that ice cream was just what we needed. The night had gone so horribly awry...nothing like some ice cream to set things aright again! So, I joined Lisa badgering poor Iran to double back all the way to Nome and get us some ice cream. Poor Iran. His nerves were shot. He had been stressed to the max. He was half frozen from driving that snow machine all day (first from Nome to the cabin fifteen very ROUGH miles away and then from the cabin to Anvil Mountain (both those trips Lisa and I were in the warm Mariner) and then 25 miles up and down all kinds of mountains and then the mad dash back to the Mariner so they could drive the long way back into the closed road and retrieve me and my pathetic dog and Iran STILL was going to have to drive the snow machine from where he had left it (where the Mariner had been parked) back to the cabin. He just wanted to get to the cabin and get in where it was warm and call it quits for the night...vegetating in front of the long awaited DVD! But, Lisa and I were craving ice cream. Poor Iran did not stand a chance...there were two women in the car whining about how they NEEDED ice cream. So, he swung the Mariner around and back to Nome we went. Now, mind you, if we had just traveled on to where the snow machine had been left and buzzed on from there to the cabin, our night would have ended on a happy note, in spite of being ice creamless. But, no...Lisa and I couldn't leave well enough alone. We HAD to have that ice cream...like the Israelites whining for meat when they had manna aplenty...God sent them the meat and it stuck in their throats. Iran got us our ice cream and we lived to sorely regret our failure to submit graciously.

Thirty minutes later, Iran came out of the grocery store carrying three tubs of ice cream (guess he wasn't taking any chances!) and one bag of chips (for him!). In case you are wondering, Lisa and I didn't go in the grocery store because we were too cold and tired! We were sure glad to see Iran crossing the street towards us, that bag swinging from his arm. He climbed in the car with an air of, "NOW can we go back to the cabin???" And Lisa and I smiled happily and began making plans of spending the rest of the evening tucked away in the cabin watching our movie! Iran drove us back to where he and Lisa had left the snow machine and Lisa took over driving the Mariner while poor Iran pulled his frozen goggles back down over his face and climbed up on the snow machine. Into the night we all went.

Three miles from the cabin our night went to pot. There, in the road ahead, or, rather, I should say, in the DITCH ahead, was a pickup truck and two guys trying to dig it out of the snow by hand. Mind you, if we hadn't gone back to Nome for the ICE CREAM, we would have passed this portion of the road BEFORE those two guys came down it.

Of course we stopped. Lisa and I were ahead of Iran, so we made it over to the guys a few minutes ahead of Iran. You could smell the alcohol a football field away. It was an older guy and a younger guy (who we later found out was the older guy's stepson). The younger guy was dressed in flimsy, thin, flannel pajama bottoms and sockless TENNIS shoes, up to his KNEES in the snow trying to dig their truck out with his HANDS. Hello! This is ALASKA!!! It is TWENTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO!!! What, on earth, are you doing running around in flimsy pajama bottoms????? Oh, yeah, that's right, you're TOO DRUNK to know the snow you are digging in is COLD!!!

Lisa, ever the health conscious nurse, offered them a shovel which they gratefully accepted. She tried to offer them seal skin mittens, too, which is when she discovered that one of her mittens had been lost out of her pocket during their mad dash on the snow machine to save me and my wimpy, Missourian dog. Iran got out a rope and tried pulling their truck out with the Mariner, but the rope snapped repeatedly. It was soon apparent that no amount of digging was going to get them out. They were going to have to be towed out--but it would take something more substantial than the rope we had on hand. So, loathe to leave them alone to lose their limbs to certain frostbite, we dumped all our gear out of the back seat to make room for them in the car...leaving our stuff by the side of the road...even the tubs of ice cream Lisa and I had so vainly insisted on having. Iran slid behind the wheel and we started once more down the LONG, winding strip of ice, that the Alaskans call a road...back towards Nome. We had gone about eight miles when WE slid off the road. We tumbled down a little embankment, hitting the wall of snow pretty hard. (Enough to make my neck hurt for the next couple of days, but, then, who would notice that when I had a lump just below my left elbow from being thrown off the snow machine earlier that day when we had wrecked coming down off Anvil Mountain (a story that didn't even get TOLD in this account, so minor was it in the cascade of terrible events that followed) or when EVERY MUSCLE IN MY ENTIRE BODY WAS STILL ACHING FROM MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE SLED OF DEATH...I mean, who has time to notice a slight case of WHIPLASH in the midst of all that...besides, that, my body was SOON to be covered in huge BRUISES from a sled dog ride that I TRIED to beg off from but was coerced into by my "friends"...but, now I am getting ahead of the story again! Let's just say, we hit pretty hard...hard enough to do $5,000 worth of body damage to the car, which, last I heard, the insurance company was not going to cover because they contend the damage was just due to the frigid temperatures in Nome...excuse, me, but the BODY of the car was CRAMMED into the front passenger wheel and had to be CUT away in order for the wheel to ROLL again...hello!...I think that would be IMPACT related, but, then, I'm not an insurance professional!)

So, here we were...quite a ways OFF the road, buried in snow practically up to the hood, with two very drunk strangers sitting in the back seat with Lisa. Fortunately, our killer dogs were in the hatchback, leaning over the seat, drooling on them to keep them from getting any wise ideas! Actually, the two drunk men were pretty shook up by this time. And the one in the pajama bottoms was half frozen. Iran, a quick problem solver, informed us he would WALK BACK to the snow machine (about 8 miles down the road where the truck was that the drunks had gotten stuck) and then drive into Nome to get help (because there is no cell signal out there...and, since the road does not lead to anywhere--as none of the roads out of Nome actually LEAD to anywhere--it was unlikely any cars would happen down the road to offer us assistance that night). So, off Iran went, into the cold night, determined to retrace his way back to the snow machine in as little time as humanly possible. And, there Lisa and I were...in the middle of nowhere, alone in the Mariner, stuck in the snow, dazed from the crash, trying to make small talk with the two drunks sitting in the seat behind us because we don't know what else to do at that point! And there is poor Ransom, in the back, just relieved that no one is making her chase the snow machine over any more mountains! And there is Gabby, perky as ever...head hanging over the seat checking out the two drunk guys...probably wondering why one of them is wearing pajama pants and tennis shoes without any socks. Me? For my part, I am sitting there thinking the two guys obviously must be tourists. Wrong! Turns out they have lived in Nome TWELVE YEARS!!! So, I still cannot fathom how they would go out to "look at the stars" with one of them clad only in flimsy pj bottoms. I mean, it baffles me enough when I see teenagers running around Wal-Mart in Bolivar wearing those stupid flannel pajama bottoms...but here in NOME when it is TWENTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO???? That, totally takes the cake! That's almost as stupid as letting your friends talk you into putting WET boots on to go for a "two or three mile" snow machine ride!!!!

But, there we sat...two weary women, two smelly German Shepherds, and two half frozen, amiable drunks, stuck in a snow drift...just another night in Nome. About fifteen minutes after we were struck with whiplash, headlights appeared in the distance on the road coming towards us. The drunks were so eager to escape confinement with two chatty woman and their smelly dogs, that they had dashed out of the car and stumbled through the knee deep snow up onto the road and flagged the motorist down before Lisa or I had time to react! Of course, in retrospect, letting the DRUNKS do the talking for us probably wasn't such a great idea...especially since it wound up being our stalker--serial killer Pete--behind the wheel. As I had already discovered, Pete is anything but emotive. Turns out he doesn't have much sympathy for a carload of drunks stuck in the snow. We could hear him abruptly telling them he didn't have room "for all of you" in his six door extended Suburban. "I've got to take my wife home. She just flew in on the 9:30. I'm not going back to Nome!" and, as his car began to roll forward, I elbowed Lisa and said, "Jump out and ask him if he will at least give IRAN a ride to the snow machine!" Lisa fell pellmell out of the Mariner and chugged through the snow up to his Suburban as fast as she could go and I could hear her pleading with him, "We got stuck ourselves trying to help these fellows back to Nome after they got stuck. My husband is walking back towards Banner Creek now to get our snow machine where we left it next to their truck...can you just give him a ride to his snow machine? He's walking the same direction you are going...and he can take the snow machine back to Nome to get us help...but, it's a really long walk to the snow machine...can you PLEASE just pick HIM up when you see him?" Pete grunted something that sounded a lot like he had no intention whatsoever of picking anybody up anywhere and drove off. Lisa hadn't recognized serial killer Pete. Afterall, I was the only one who had seen him face to face...and, so far was we knew, I was the only one HE had seen of the three of us...and, dummy me, I hadn't gotten out of the truck and raced up to the road. Course, if he HAD recognized me, he might have just shook his head at yet one more instance of my stupidity and gone on anyway! As Lisa got back into the car, I was really aggravated with Stinky Pete. I shouldn't have been.

Twenty minutes later we heard the sound of the approaching snow machine. Iran got off and told us that Serial Killer Pete had stopped and picked him up and driven him back to his snow machine.

About all Pete had said, was, "Your dogs back there in that car?" (so, I guess he HAD recognized Lisa!)

Iran had said, yes, they were. To which Pete had asked, "You need me to take the dogs into town for you?" Iran indicated that would be great! So, Pete took his wife on home and then came back for us. Iran headed on into Nome on his snow machine to get help. Meanwhile, Pete had us load our dogs into the back of his Suburban and then Lisa, I, and the two drunks piled in. He drove all of us back to Nome. He dropped the two drunk guys off at their house first. The two drunk guys had indicated that they had a friend that could tow their truck out for them. As they got out, they called back over their shoulder to us, "Hope you get your vehicle out." WHAT????....Lisa and I looked at each other in stunned disbelief. We were in the ditch because we had turned around, just three miles shy of our destination, to stop and help them and cart them all the way back to Nome. Now that they were safe and sound in Nome, evidently it was "everybody for himself"!

Next, Pete took us to Lisa and Iran's house. Lisa put a twenty on Pete's seat as we got out, even though he insisted we didn't need to give him anything. Lisa figured he had spent at least that in gas money making the round trip to Nome and back on our behalf.

Poor Ransom could hardly walk on her feet once we went in the warm house. She was walking fine outside on the ice, but the warmth of the house made her feet burn in agony. And, to my horror, as peeled off her little coat and the sweater I had layered beneath it, I discovered that the snugly fitting sweater had been rubbing mercilessly across her two front legs...leaving a band across each leg that was totally denuded of fur and skin. Poor thing. I was riddled with guilt as I lathered her feet and leg wounds with antibiotic ointment. (Lisa had called a musher friend right away to find out what we should do for Ransom's feet. The advice had been to put the antibiotic ointment on them and protect them the next few days from any chance of re-injury.)

Ransom was just glad to be home. Gabby kept trying to goad her into playing, but my poor dog didn't have any play left in her. None of us did...except Gabs...the Alaskan Every-Ready-Bunny of a dog. And, I realized, that we would not be going back to the cabin that night, so I would have to sleep yet another night in my contacts. Here we were in Nome...my contact solution and case and glasses were at Banner Creek in the cabin, along with the movie we had planned on watching the last three nights in row (first foiled by a TV that was too old for the DVD player we had brought, then foiled when we wound up staying later with Pastor Bruce and Gloria than we had planned and so had not made it back to the cabin and now foiled because we were stuck in Nome with no vehicle!). To make matters even sadder, our coveted ice cream was out there in the middle of nowhere alongside the road, by the truck the drunks had driven off the road. And my poor pup had frostbite and looked like she had been drug down the road behind a diesel and left for dead. And my eyes were really sore. I had visions of my contacts GROWING into my eyes. It had been over 48 since I had last had them out...but they weren't coming out this night! And my muscles ached from my brush with death in the sled behind the snow machine Sunday afternoon...and my left elbow was sore from the snow machine wreck...and my neck was stiff and sore from the car wreck...and my toes were half frozen from being in damp boots for HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS out in the snow and ice and artic BREEZE. I told Lisa, "Remember that movie, 'Weekend with Bernie'? I feel like Bernie!" She's too young to remember that movie, though, so the entire analogy was lost on her.

A long while later, one very frozen, very exhausted Iran came back. He and Pastor Bruce had been able to get the Mariner out the ditch, but the impact had knocked the serpentine belt off and so the vehicle had not been driveable and they had had to tow it all the way back to Nome. Iran came trudging into the house, carrying the bag with all the ice cream and the sour cream and onion chips and dip. Our delight at seeing the ice cream was quickly dampened by the news that Iran had discovered he had lost the borrowed snow shoes off the back of his snow machine. The next day, we would discover one of the walkie talkies was missing as well. And we already knew we had lost one of Lisa's treasured, expensive, seal skin mittens. And the car sat out in front of the house, totally undrive-able and a bit bashed up. And here we all were, in NOME, when we should have been relaxing, watching a movie and drinking hot cocoa back at the cabin at Banner Creek. Disheartened, we all trudged off to bed.

So ended the third night of my adventure...me laying on the carpeted bedroom floor next to my poor pup, too guilt ridden to crawl up into bed, wondering if either of us were going to survive having come to Alaska!

1 comment:

  1. It's cool to see others that know about Nertz. You should definitely check out http://www.playnertz.com/ , the site for the National Nertz Association. There is a bunch of interesting Nertz information, videos, and photos there AND you can play Nertz on-line for free. I recommend it to all Nertz players! So cool. =)

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