[Archive] [Northwest to Alaska 3]

Northwest to Alaska
Chapter Four

by Peter S. Oleson

So there Dago and I were, standing in front of L.A. International Airport. (Where the big jet engines were definitely roaring.) I didn't like it one bit, and I don't think Dago did either. He had a little trouble in the baggage hold and came out pretty cramped in his bent up little home-made cage. Where the hell was Santa Anna from here? Diane had told me to take a bus from the airport. I was suffering badly from culture shock and there were a shitload of buses. I walked up to a cab driver and asked if he would take me and the dog there. He said it was okay with him, so we were on the road again. It was a long way. When we got there he wanted 37 bucks, and feeling magnanimous, I gave him 40- having only been in a cab once before, the only thing I had to go on was stuff I had seen on television. He didn't flip me off or anything, so I guess it was all right.
Diane and I had a joyous reunion, Dago was pretty happy, too. A dogs memory is uncanny, isn't it? An evening of chitchat and I settled in there at Diane's sister Patty's house on the living room floor. The house was pretty small and Patty had two young children. She was divorced and the kids spent their days at a day care place or at school. Diane and I had the run of the place then, and we bicycled around a lot. The city is a funny place, though. There was so much to do and there was nothing there I wanted to do. I wanted most of all to get out of the city. How could people stand being so together like that?
We didn't have much money, as usual, and we were having more fun than anything else just bicycling around. So we figured we could bicycle back to Wisconsin, and catch a ride to Alaska with my parents, who were going to spend a month driving up the Alaska Highway and back in August. We were pretty revved up, now that we had a plan. We bought two ten speeds, pretty good ones for the time, which was Spring of 1973. We got handlebar bags, saddle bags, all kinds of bags, and brackets, tire repair stuff, and we lifted a Safeway plastic carry box for Dago to ride in.
Somehow we got the gear whittled down to a manageable size, although it became obvious there was going to be a lot of stuff we were going to have to do without. We made a few test runs around town and talked Diane's brother Larry into giving us a lift out of town. Larry and his buddy were headed to the mountains above Bishop, so we packed the bikes, gear, and 4 humans with a dog into Larry's Pinto. Yeah, it was pretty crowded, but we got there OK.
We said goodbye to Larry and we were homeward bound.
The trip north out of Bishop led us up a big valley and eventually into Nevada. The days were hot, the sun beating down. It wasn't too bad though, the humidity was quite low. It became a problem keeping Dago in his little basket. He had easy going while we climbed the long slopes, miles and miles of uphill pedaling and walking to get to the top of an equally long downhill coast. These downhill coasts were his biggest problem; he wanted to run. I had the sleeping bags and tent on my bike, so Diane had to haul the Dago in his box on hers. The little fart would leap out of the basket while we coasted, pushing Diane's bike severely sideways. We would stop and put him back in the basket and start up again. He would jump out again. I got tired of it and just let him run. When we'd get to the bottom of the slope, we would sit and wait for the dumb dog. He always showed up, and he was always ready to ride for a while.
We ended up in Carson City one evening and looked at a huge ridge to the west to get to Lake Tahoe. We decided to camp there and take the mountain on in the early morning. That was a good idea, the road was steep with switchbacks and most of it was too steep to ride. The ride down made up for it.
You could really get whipping down that mountain. We stayed in a campground right in town and settled in for a day or two to check the place out. We found out Elvis was in town, but we didn't want to spend the money. We did hit a casino and plugged a couple of nickel slot machines for a couple minutes so we could get some free drinks and hit the 24 hour, all you can eat, $1.99 buffet. It was not bad after a week or so of freeze dried with the occasional hamburger. The Lake was a pretty neat place, very easy on the eyes, but there were too many people. As we pedaled up the east shore, Dago pulled one of his patented leaps from the basket, so I let him run for a while. Then this moron cuts us off and jumps out of the car and lays some rap on us about being a sheriff. He was pissed off because the dog was running. Told us he was going to take us in. I didn't give him any grief, I had the .44 Magnum I had bought in Alaska in my saddlebag and I didn't think I needed to get in any confrontation that might lead to its discovery. So I made a big deal out of scolding the dog and putting him in his box. The "sheriff" was placated enough to allow us to continue, but I noticed him driving back and forth past us for a while.
We camped two nights later at a little creek off the highway only a few hundred yards from where the Donner Party perished, although we didn't know it at the time. I had some hooks and line, but no fishing pole, so I cut a switch and did the Tom Sawyer thing in that little creek you could jump across. Unbelievably, I caught two nice fat trout and we dined in style with fresh fish cooked over the fire.
We traveled north to a campground full of people at a lake I don't remember the name of, but there were a lot of people there. We spent the evening with a bunch of firemen from Sacramento. They were neat and trim, drinking beer, we were funky looking, as always, but it clicked. They wanted to know all about Alaska.
We took what we considered to be a shortcut out of there the next day, and it soured us on continuing by bicycle. It was an unimproved road on the map. What it really was was a five mile sand trap. Have you ever tried to ride a bike through sand? Diane hated me that day, the route being my choice. If the truth were known, I hated me that day, too.
We finally got to Susanville, only to be caught up in a windstorm that kept blowing our tent down. We finally slept with the tent down on top of us.
We went to a used car lot in Susanville the next day and bought an old Chevy 2 station wagon for $200. It had a howl in the differential that I knew well. The same howl the old Dodge had on the way West.
We had heard that we were headed into a desert if we kept to our chosen route, and bicycle riders need a lot of water, so we compromised ourselves and went north by car. It was a wonderful drive. Southeast Oregon was a desert. There wasn't much there. Idaho was nice, we went up into the mountains and spent a few days. The Monuments of the Moon(?) place was uhm...otherworldly. We saw Old Faithful and my love of all things Native American got a big boost at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. We spent a whole day there. It was interesting to see pictures of Natives from the 1800's in a display with the clothes that they were wearing. Not as interesting though as the lives that they must have led. Hunter gatherers in a paradise, led by magicians and mystics.
On the way East, the Bighorns were beautiful. As were the Black Hills. We were running a route parallel to the one we had taken West only 9 months before.
We arrived in Wisconsin happy but broke. We were in the place of our extended family though, and we decided to take advantage of that. We announced our intention to marry and let it be known that we needed only money. I got ahold of my good friend Lorenzo Funmaker, a full blooded Winnebago. We were very good friends. He was delighted to be my best man. Diane asked her best friend from her foster home years to be her maid, and we were set.
We were married by a judge who I had lied to in the past, we both knew it, I wondered all the while what he was really thinking as he read us those vows. The reception was at a tavern/hall that my grandmother owned and I had worked at cleaning and washing dishes for God knows how many years.
The day of the reception, the bartender called and asked if we knew a "goddamned Indian" named Lorenzo who was drunk as a lord and passing himself off as my best man. I told George that I would be upset if anyone tried to harm my good friend. He got the picture.
What a night that was. The County let my brother Otis out of jail to be there, we had German beer on tap. A real eye opener for the old folks, for sure. One Eyed Brent (who once went to an X rated 3-D movie 3 times- once using the red lense, once the blue, and once trying both. He never did get the 3-D effect, but he loved the movie) fell in the river in front of the bar after I told him to throw an empty bottle of brandy into the river. He was shitfaced, and he wasn't the only one. We polka'd till the wee hours. It was an event.
For our honeymoon, we took my little brother Eric, then 13, on a bicycle trip from the middle of Wisconsin up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Dago came along. Eric only had a regular one speed bike, he had a hard row to hoe, being so young. We had the time of our lives those next couple weeks, I wish I could run them over in real time, not just in my mind. We camped out, we cooked over the fire, we were so happy, it was almost sickening. We were pedaling through some small town in Michigan early one Sunday morning when Dago decided he had to move his bowels. He didn't want to stop running, though. He was up in the lead, as usual, and we all happened to be watching as he kind of flared his legs out and started a hopping kind of thing. He did what he intended to, but we had to stop for a while, until the laughter was under control. What a dog.
Our destination was the Porcupine Mts. Park up there in the UP, home of the Yuppers. We got to the Porcupine Mts. and left our bikes at the Ranger Station. We took off afoot and found a nice place to camp, at a shelter on a creek out there in the boondocks. This particular place had never been logged. We walked out the next day to a service road. The bugs were horrible. The wind blows across Lake Superior from the north, and I think that it blows all the mosquitoes and flies with it. Alaska has a reputation for being infested by insects, but it doesn't hold a candle to the UP. It was hard to breathe without swallowing them. Forget about cooking. We managed, though, and we had to camp in a little campground with barely room for our tent.
There was a garbage can there, and apparently it was checked nightly by the local black bear. It was also right outside our tent. Diane woke me quietly to inform me that a bear was rooting through the garbage. I kept the dog under the covers of my sleeping bag and peeked out of the tent and sure enough, the bear was going through the garbage can about ten feet away. We didn't wake Eric, and the bear eventually left.
All good things end, and we ended up back at home. We left with Mom, Dad and Eric for Alaska soon after the trip to Michigan. We all traded off driving duty, the Alaska highway was all gravel then, I haven't been down it since. I hear that it's paved now. We took in the sights and hit Fairbanks, and Mt. McKinley. I understand that it's called Denali now. We ended up in Haines waiting for the ferry. We caught out first salmon there. Humpies were running, we didn't know the difference. We had a great time.
We caught the ferry to Ketchikan, with a stop at Juneau. I couldn't wait to get back to Ketchikan, but you can never go back to where you were; all things change. Ketchikan was the same, but I wasn't. We had to find a place to live quickly, my folks had to leave and my boss wanted me back at work ASAP. We bought a cheap old travel trailer that we found sitting in the parking lot of the local Grocery Store. There were about a dozen trailers sitting there that people were living in. I had never noticed them there before. We figured that we could find a better place later. The trailer would do for now. I think we paid about $50 a month to park it there. We thought at the time that we wouldn't be there very long. We were wrong.
We bid goodbye to my parents and Eric, they headed back to Wisconsin through Canada. With two exceptions, a matter of a month or two, I have been here in Alaska ever since. As far as you can get from America by road without paperwork. I don't think that I'll ever go back to America. But it seems, over the last twenty-odd years that America has come here.


To those of you who have followed my adventures here in this place that Mr. Hunter has so graciously allowed me, thanks for reading them. This chapter is a little departure from the previous ones.

I want to tell you about hunting and killing.

In case you are a new reader, I'll give you a short background, at the risk of boring older readers, if there are any. I grew up in Wisconsin, descended from an abundance of European pioneer types. The tradition of hunting was very strong in my extended family. People dated events from things that happened during hunts: "Let's see, that was the year after Big Earl got lost in that spruce swamp and caught his wool pants on fire trying to warm his ass." You get the picture. I got to go along after I was Confirmed.

I had an old 30-30 that I inherited from my father. It was cantankerous and later on, after I had passed it along to the next young hunter, it became downright dangerous. With that gun, I discovered some of the joys and embarrassments of hunting. The joys were easy. The incredible closeness of the party, sleeping in the same wood shop, eating at the same table. A raucous and irreverent crew to be sure, spanning three generations. Waking, eating, and hitting the road in cars and vans full of companionship to arrive before dawn in the frozen cold splendor of northern Wisconsin in November.

As the car doors opened, all extraneous noises stopped almost simultaneously. We all knew by then where each of us was off to, and as we peeled off from the trail in our separate directions, we all became alone and we became hunters.

That year was the year that I got to help clean my first deer. I was on a stand with my Dad and we had a doe tag, so we could shoot anything we saw. My Dad saw a doe through the trees and for the life of me, I could not see it. He was pointing and explaining while I was squinting and swaying to see the damned thing. I never did see it. My Dad did. He shot it twice. That was the last time I ever sat in front of a guy who was shooting a gun. That muzzle blast is merciless. I couldn't hear out of my left ear for hours. We gutted out the deer, which my Dad had severely gut-shot. It wasn't a lot of fun, I gagged a few times, to the amusement of my father, but it didn't take long; it wasn't a real big deer.

The next year was the first time that I saw a legal deer and actually had a shot at it. It was then that I met my first embarrassment. A huge buck walked up to two does that I was watching while trying to hold perfectly still there in the middle of the logging road. They for sure would have seen me if they hadn't been so intent on each other. As I slowly raised the rifle to lay the blade on the bucks chest, I discovered that I had a bad case of the dreaded "Buck Fever". There was no way I could hold that damned gun still long enough to pull the trigger. It was such a perfect chance, and I was so imperfect at it. As the sight passed across the buck one more time, I let it rip. I immediately went to re-cock the gun and ended up standing in the middle of the road with the gun's bolt in my hand watching my trophy buck heading for the hills.

My dad shot that deer as it beat a hasty retreat from me. He was about a half a mile away. The deer ran right to him. It was so big that it earned him the nickname "Buck", which is what I refer to him as now, all these years later. I, on the other hand, had failed the test, and was pitifully aware of it. I was a square peg in a round hole at school, but this was different; this was family.

One year, I think I was in college at the time, I stayed the week of Thanksgiving up at the camp to hunt with two of my uncles- Bud and Don. There were only the three of us from Monday through Wednesday that year and we had a tag to take a doe. My uncles decided that I needed to finally draw my first blood, so we road hunted, looking for a deer. Those old guys had much sharper eyes than I did and Tuesday afternoon they spotted just a head sticking up through the brush, back among some trees. They squinted and hemmed and hawed for a while, commenting on whether or not the deer they couldn't see was big enough to take. It seemed to me in my anxiety that they were taking entirely too long but they finally agreed that a deer with ears that big had to be a monster.

They let me out of the Jeep and I leaned on the hood to lay the scope right at the top of the doe's neck. I had a different gun by that time, a 1917 Enfield from WW1 that I inherited from my Dad. He got it mail order years before. At least before the Lee Harvey Oswald induced legislation banning that kind of thing. Come to think of it, I am sure he ordered it out of the Sears and Roebuck. Anyway, I had the same rapid heartbeat, adrenaline overdose reaction that I had had before. This, though, was a matter of family honor. Thank God I got to use the hood of that car to help hold the gun up. I shot and the deer dropped in its tracks. We walked over to check it out and found a doe with simply huge ears for the size of its body.
Bud and Don went to the car to get the cleaning implements and I could hear a lot of muttering back there. I kneeled down beside the doe and petted it's dead head and felt absolutely rotten about shooting it. My heart was galloping, there was blood on the snow and I should have been ecstatic. What the hell was wrong with me? I told the deer that I was sorry, wished it luck in the afterlife and promised it that it would not go to waste. That was the first being I had a hand in killing, if you were wondering.

My Uncles came back, still muttering. Neither one wanted to admit allowing me to shoot that little doe, so they kind of decided that they wouldn't count that one. We cleaned it out, and I got my first good look at how a big animal was put together inside. They put the tag on the doe's leg, but left it unsnapped. They told me to snap it if we got stopped. I was instantly aware that I was now a violater. That made me feel much better. It being the late 1960's, I had been doing a lot of other kinds of violating for quite a while already. We got back to camp OK and within an hour, that deer was butchered, cut, wrapped, and in the freezer. It was forever after known as the "grasshopper". In our hunting annals, that year became known as "The year Pete shot the Grasshopper". Notice there is no mention thereafter of Bud and Don's part in it.

A quite a few years passed before I took another animal. The first trip to Alaska and it's abortive end, the trip back (currently under construction), the move further north to the Kenai Peninsula (still in my head), and the birth of two wonderful daughters came between the taking of that little doe and my first moose.

My mom and dad, along with my sister and her family moved up here to Alaska around 1980. I had moose hunted every year since moving to the Kenai, but had not mastered the art. It's a lot different than hunting deer. Moose are usually found in the early morning and the late evening. My Dad and I had been at it together for a couple years and drove way out the pipeline road to Chickaloon Flats and found a nice spot about a mile or so from Trapper's Lake. We decided to just sit by the Blazer with our chairs back to back in the mornings and evenings and watch the road. I should explain that the "road" is just a cat trail through the wilderness and was 4 Wheel Drive only. To get where we were, you had to ford a couple streams, cross a couple primitive bridges and go through kind of a lake the road went through that was almost over the hood. There wasn't a lot of traffic. It was the service road for the natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage, and it was only open to the public in hunting season.

The morning after we got there, a cow with two 2 year old bull calves walked out in the road about a quarter mile from us. Dad sent me after one. He was still getting used to his new artificial leg and couldn't do any fancy stepping anymore. It was pretty easy, I shot one and the other got away. I got the butterflies and heartbeat again, not as bad though. Cleaning a moose is a lot bigger chore than cleaning a deer. A moose, even a two year old, is a big thing. You can't lift it, you can't drag it, you have to deal with it where it falls. This one fell on the side of a hill. We had to tie it to two trees to keep it from rolling down the rest of the hill. Naturally, it went downhill from the road when I shot it. You have to get the hide off a moose as quick as possible to keep the meat from spoiling from the body heat. Also, a moose has an abundance of intestines and blood. So much that you can easily find yourself over your ankles in gore. The smell of gore draws an infinite number of meat eating insects and flies looking for dead meat to lay eggs in. The meat eating insects would just as soon eat you as the dead animal. Bears also love the smell of gore. The smell is horrible. My Dad gagged, and I got a little revenge chuckle out of that. I had to carry the quarters up the hill, though. That was no fun. I was still carrying on this family tradition of hunting, but I was finding very little joy in it.

I moved further out in the boonies shortly afterwards, and my parents and sister moved back to Wisconsin. The cold and dark may have gotten to them, maybe it was just too different here with no extended family. So we were pretty much alone. We didn't have much money, hell, we didn't even have electricity for a few years. Moose and salmon became a major food source for us. We had a freezer at a neighbor's about 2 miles away where we could keep our meat. The summer and fall became a time to collect firewood and harvest salmon to get through the winters. Moose became nearly necessary to get by.

Otherwise it was cheap hamburger, hot dogs and stringy chicken. Diane did her best to liven up the meals. During breakup, it was a mile and a half walk through the mud to get to the truck to go to work. It was kind of fun, although tedious. Killing became a job, it was something you did to get by. I began to hate it, but I still pretended I didn't, even to myself.

Things got better, though gradually. Our house was small and home made. We were blessed with a fine, although noisy, son. I bit the bullet and paid for a line extension so we could have electricity. The state improved the road and the school bus could get to the end of the driveway. Eventually we added on a real kitchen and bathroom and put in a well. With the improvement of the road came new neighbors, but I guess you have to take the bad with the good.

The State of Alaska decided one year, that they would extend the season on moose by allowing a
special season for people who hunted with a bow and arrows. Many, many years before, I had been good enough at that particular sport to win a turkey. So I figured, what the hell, I'll give it a try. I dug out my old recurve bow and bought a half dozen arrows in town and tried to shoot a cardboard box that I had set up. Every shot I took went way high. I lost a couple of arrows. I figured that if I shot way below the box, maybe I could hit it. It worked! If I knocked the arrow just so, and pulled back, and aimed at the ground in front of the box, I could hit it.

In subsequent years, the State would require a proficiency test, and I imagine that that was because of people like me.

I was revved up, this was different than just killing, this was one on one, me against the moose. So I put the broadheads on my remaining arrows and when the day arrived, I went hunting. I cruised the neighborhood in my battered old pickup and saw a bunch of moose that evening. None of them had horns.

I went around a corner and into some old growth and was commenting to myself that this would be a perfect place to spot a moose. The local equivalent of the forest primeval.

As I rounded the corner, I saw, to my right, a young bull. He looked to be an immature 3 year old, exactly the type of animal that the powers that be wanted to be harvested. The rule that had been laid down by the State was designed to allow the taking of genetically "deficient" animals, and this one fit the bill. I got out of the truck and pulled out my bow and arrows. I walked toward the moose slowly: these local yokel types of moose are somewhat used to the presence of people. I got to within 30 feet of him and he was looking at me as intently as I was looking at him. I drew back and aimed at his foot level right behind the front legs and let the arrow go.

The arrow hit him right in the side of the chest and went halfway in. It was a mortal hit. He turned and trotted over the hill he was on and stopped with his other side exposed. I came up over the hill and saw him looking back at me. I was totally involved in the killing moment. I again aimed at his foot level and let loose another arrow. Another perfect hit between the ribs. He was walking dead and we both knew it. He strolled downhill and laid down and laid his burden down. I was right there with him, I had killed him and I watched him die.

A lot of things went through my mind as this all went down. It was the most personal thing I think I have ever done. Eye to eye. Killer to prey. My training since youth demanded that I should be the victor, but as I sat there and watched another being die, heart pounding, I knew deep down that this was the end of it.

I have pretended to hunt every year since. I take my gun and I go out where there are no people.
I sit and watch.

I have seen the moose breed and calve. I have heard the bears fight for turf. I have seen the cranes and the geese fight, flock and fly. I have seen the grouse fluff up and advertise their availability, I have seen both black and brown bears going about their way, and I am much happier now that I do not have to see them die.

I am, as always, PSO.

P.S. Somebody, anybody, send me some e-mail, I hunger for contact. Do we have anything in common?

Peter S. Oleson

From [poleson@ptialaska.net]