Wednesday, June 19, 2013

You can hike Alaska trails, but can you haul?

Anyone who's ever lived in the Alaska Bush has endured the pain and suffering of perpetual hauling along a difficult trail.  And anyone who's done it has more than one story to tell.  Everything has to go however far it is along an individual's trail and few have ever taken that trail in without pulling some kind of contraption behind, loaded with building materials, or food, or a piece of furniture.  We haul with snowmachines and we haul with four-wheelers, some haul with airplanes and others haul with dog teams. Some simply walk pulling a little red sled behind.  

It's incessant and insidious. I don't think I ever went to the East Pole without a fully packed sled behind the snowmachine. I always came out lighter though.  After all the troubles hauiling things in, no one would ever think of hauling anything out unless it was broken and you couldn't fix it yourself.
There's the ancient Action Packer.  (The gray box
on the right,  smart ass)

And, we all are looking for better ways to do it, sometimes even inventing a new method.  I have a friend who actually built a back-packing harness so he could carry 4x8 sheets of plywood on his back.

We examine other people's loads carefully looking for those better ways, some way someone else is doing it that would make our hauling if not easier, at least more efficient. One of those improvements was the Action Packer that came out, maybe a couple of decades ago.  The first models were one size, a size that fit perfectly and snuggly into the sled I usually hauled with.  This was after the cabin had been built and I had a large heavy-duty plastic sled with high sides. Even then I had a welding shop make a heavy aluminum band that fit like a U along the sides and around the back of the sled, so the towing pressure was on the metal and the back of the sled, not in easily broken-out holes that anchored the hitch in the plastic. Hauling during construction was done on a steel-runnered heavy sled, stout enough for what one friend called combat hauling. Once all the heavy stuff is in, you can go to something lighter. The Action Packer looked perfect and over the years has proved to be tough enough for the trail as well.  I still have the two I bought in the early '90s. 

But, isn't it the nature of man, that we can't leave well enough alone, that we have to keep improving, even to the detriment of the original product?  Over the years those boxes grew larger, and there was a smaller model too.  I admit to buying one of each of those, but what I found was while I could carry more stuff in the larger one, when I reached the cabin I couldn't lift the damn thing because it had too much stuff in it, so I had to lighter my goods up the steps onto the porch and into the house.

Then the manufacturer decided to put wheels on them.  Anyone worth his Haulers Anonymous card knows those wheels won't last long on the hard trail, even inside the sled.  They never even tempted me.  
The new more expensive and decidedly breakable version.

Today I saw the latest generation, and for the second time in as many trips laughed out loud in the supermarket.  That's the one in the picture.  Now it has wheels and flip-down legs that fold out so it can stand higher.  My bet is those legs won't last long on the trail either. But that wasn't my first thought. The first thought, the one that made me laugh, was that pretty soon these things are going to be self-propelled,  a small engine and maybe bigger mud-bogger wheels, or at least the wheels and a towing rig so they can be hauled without using a sled or trailer.  As a matter of fact they could make the wheels interchangeable with skis so the box could be used summer and winter.  If this new version costs $79.99 on sale, imagine what that the next generation would cost.  I think I paid about $20 for the ones I have now.

At any rate I thought it was worth a second trip into the store with my camera to get a picture of this monstrosity.

Now, I realize, most people have never experienced the joys of hauling heavy, often cumbersome and clumsy materials along a winding, hilly, moguled trail, praying you make the top of the hill and screaming as you hope you live through careening down the next one, so for your edification, here's a short story I wrote after a particularly arduous day on the trail to the East Pole:

Author's note:  Please forgive the names.  It was written in a rush and I didn't want to stop to think of better ones.



The meeting began even before the boys had the big H.A. banner hung at the back of the little community hall stage. The room was packed with rough-looking bush folk, the kind of people who lived alone in the woods and mountains and spent a whole lot more time on the trail than they ever spent in a bath.  Crosby Stills was clearing his throat to begin the HA pledge when the rear door opened and closed quietly.  He was the only one who saw the stranger enter.  The newcomer sat down in the back row so quickly few others made out who he was.  In the row right in front of him Spuds McWhortle elbowed his partner Gravy Dickens and they nodded to each other.  They had noticed the stranger at each of the past few meetings as he sat quietly in the back, entering just as the meetings began and leaving just before they ended.  They understood.  Just being here meant you were admitting you had a problem you didn't want others to know about.

Crosby cleared his throat again and recited the pledge to the murmurs of those in the audience following along.  It began as each added in his own name:  "My name is Crosby Stills, and... I'm ... a hauler...," and went on from there.

When the pledge was finished the boys congratulated each other, shook hands around and then looked again to Crosby at the podium.  As he had done at every meeting since the first, he asked them to donate some money to keep the group in refreshments and literature and the like to which most of the poor woods folk laughed or looked at the ceiling, anywhere but directly at the speaker.  Then he called for the meat of the meeting.

"Anybody want to make a Testimonial?  Anybody new who ain't spoke yet?"  A few of the boys turned toward the back where the stranger sat, but there was no movement from that quarter.

Ringo George raised his hand.

"Ringo?  You talked before."

"Got more to say.  I ain't testifyin' or nuthin',  just want to discuss something."

"Okay, Ringo, you got the floor."

Ringo uncurled himself from the chair he was wrapped around and strode to the podium.  He stood for a minute, nervously scanning his audience.  Then he focused on the top of the wall at the back of the room and said, "My name is Ringo George and I'm a hauler and I got a little complaint here I think we ought to discuss."  The others leaned forward in their chairs.  "Come on, Ringo, what is it?" somebody shouted.

"It's about this support we're supposed to give each other.  Now, when a guy gets the urge he's supposed to go see somebody else, am I right?  And that guy's supposed to talk him out of it, right?"  They all nodded agreement, though some seemed to hold back just a little.

"Well," Ringo went on, "I ain't so sure some of us is too good at doin' that part.  I mean if a guy comes to you and says he's got the urge, by all rights you ought to be talkin' him out of it, right?"

"All right, what happened?"

"I'm gettin' to it, hold on."  He paused for a few seconds, as if to decide something, figure out how he was going to say what he had to say.  Then, "This last week I had the urge awful.  I mean I had to move.  I had to move things, lots of things, much as I could pack on my little sled.  I mean I had to HAUL.  I did what I was supposed to do.  What it says in all the brochures.  I went down to this guy's cabin, wantin' to be talked out of it.  Now, I ain't sayin' who, 'cause I don't doubt any one of us mighta done the same.  Well, I says to this guy, I says, 'I got the urge.  I gotta pack that sled and I gotta haul somethin' somewhere."

Spuds dug his elbow into Gravy's ribs:  "He said the 'H' word," and they both laughed.
Ringo didn't even hear them.  "This guy listened to me and smiled and acted like he was understandin'.  I kept on talkin' and kept on tryin' to talk myself out of it, but he wasn't sayin' nuthin'  finally I run out of things to say.  Now, this is where he's supposed to talk me out of it, right?  Well, he still didn't say nuthin'.  I ain't gittin' no support at'all and just about when I'm fixin' to up and leave, my neighbor, my friend, my support mind you, the guy that talked me into comin' to these meetings in the first place, he says 'Ringo, don't go.'  Then, of course, I argued a little, like I needed a little more convincin'.  To that he says, 'I done my part.  You oughtn't to go.'  Then he waits a minute for this to sink in and then if you can believe it he says this: he says, 'If you're so bound determined to go, I got a couple of gas cans out there at the trail head.  Maybe you could haul 'em in for me.'"

The "H" word again.  A few stifled laughs punctuated the general of agreement that ran through the hall.

"That ain't support,"  Ringo said and left the podium to take his seat.

Crosby assumed the podium.  "Thanks for that, Ringo," he said and then to the rest of the meeting, he said, "We gotta help each other.  That sorta thing doesn't help anybody."

"Helped the guy needed the gas," somebody shouted.

"Boys, this ain't funny.  We got a problem and we gotta lick it."  He stopped and looked around.  "Anybody else want to speak?"

Another hand went up and another figure walked toward the front, only this body was hunched over and the man hobbled a little.

"Did most of his haulin' on his back," Gravy told Spuds.

The new speaker leaned over the podium.  "Name's Nash Young and I'm a hauler," he said.  "While we's on the subject of neighbor helpin' neighbor, I got a story to tell.  Like all of us here, I was haulin' stuff on the trail regular.  Seemed like every day it was a trip or two.  One day I got to my place and was unloadin' and this guy comes walkin' into the yard.  Seems he's buildin' a place up the crick a ways and he says howdy and looks over my kit.  We had a cup of coffee and jawed a while and then he left.  The next day I come in with another load and here he comes again only this time he's pullin' a little hand sled.  I was unloadin' and I come to a box didn't look like any of mine.  He says it looks like one of his and sure enough we find his name down in a corner.  How it got into my stuff, I'll never know, but there it was.  I just throw the stuff off the pile onto the sled, never looked to see what's what 'til I git it back to the cabin.  Musta got some of his stuff mixed in.

"Well, next day it happened again, only this time it was a sheet of plywood and sure enough when I was unloading, there he was right on schedule to pick it up.  Seemed like every day from then on somehow I'd get somethin' of his mixed in with mine.  Couldn't figure how in the heck I was doin' it.  Then one day I had some trouble on the trail, got stuck a coupla times and all that.  Had to make a third trip that day what with some perishables left out and I got out to the end of the trail way after dark.  That's when I surprised this old coot.  He had the tarp up on my pile and he was just slippin' a window underneath where I'd be sure to grab it first thing next trip.  He'd been doin' it right along, takin' advantage of my disease to git his own haulin' done.  And I done it for a long time without eve thinkin'.  Haulin' was haulin' and if I hauled another guy's stuff by accident, well that was okay.  It was feedin' my habit."

Again some of the boys had a little trouble restraining their laughter but at least aloud they all agreed it was a dastardly deed indeed.

Crosby returned to the vacated podium.  "Anybody else want to talk?  How about you, stranger?"  He nodded toward the back of the room.

The newcomer unlimbered himself.  "I guess it's time, isn't it?" he said and received agreement all around.

He walked toward the front.  A few in the room recognized him.  "Tell you what," Young said to Ringo, "don't always think I'll make it, but if he can, I can.  That man's compulsive."

By this time the stranger had reached the stage.  He leaned on the podium and looked out at the gathering, hesitating.  finally, he began to speak.

"My name's Augustus Birch-Alder, and I guess I'm a hauler."  He stopped, looked around the room.  "This is my first time talkin' here.  I been sittin' in the back listenin' and I guess what I gotta do is tell my whole story here."  He stopped again and looked across the faces in front of him.  It's not easy to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and tell them about your weaknesses.  They'd all been there before, they'd all done it and they all tried to make it easy for him. 

"I don't mind tellin' you boys the judge sent me here.  It was either this or jail time, so I opted for here.

"I started like a lotta guys.  I wanted to move to the woods, get away from town and people, live clean and free.  I went out to my land with jest a backpack and what I could haul in a red sled."  More than a few pairs of eyes in the place expressed an understanding for that.

"Well, I got out there, set up my tent and commenced to livin' the good life.  Started cuttin' trees for my house and lived with it for quite a time.  I even got to eatin' the local flora and fauna.  Then one day I got to hankerin' for some fresher food and also thought maybe a box of nails'd make things go a lot easier.  I dragged that sled to town and filled it and dragged it back to my place.  I unloaded, looked at the pile, then looked around.  What I thought was, maybe a few shop-cut boards'd make things go better so off I headed to town again.

"I brought in one load of lumber on that little sled but right there I decided I was going to need more, so I went right on back to town.  This time it was moren' I could drag myself, so I bought one of them snowmachines and I could haul ten times the stuff.  When I seed how easy it was with that little machine, I took to that trail like there was no tomorrow.  I mean I started haulin' bigger and bigger loads until I got 'em so big I couldn't haul 'em with that little snowmachine no more.  That's when I went and bought the Cat.  Now that dozer was a haulin' machine.  The stuff I dragged down that trail, you wouldn't believe."

By now the boys in the hall were quiet, listening.  Not even the worst of them had gone so far as to buy a bulldozer.

"I never knew it was happenin'.  I just kept draggin' stuff down that trail.  The pile of things at my place got bigger and bigger, but I just kept to that trail.  Then one day something strange happened.  I knew it soon's I woke up in my tent, but I couldn't figure it out at first.  It was late enough, but it was like the sun didn't rise.  I got dressed and went out and it scared me, I'll tell you.  There I was standin' out, but no sun.  I thought it never come up.  For a minute I thought this was the end of the world.  I was about to start prayin', and then I took a few steps down the trail and that's when I realized what it was I'd done.  I built that pile of stuff I'd been ahulin' down that trail so big it went and blocked out the sun.  That's how much stuff I hauled down that trail.  When it blocked the sun I knew I had to do something.  I was in trouble.  I hightailed it out of there.  I headed right for town, no Cat, no snowmachine, no sled, not even a backpack.  I just ran to town.  And that's where the trouble come.  I never should of tried to quit cold turkey.

"I run right to my woman's house.  She's right next to a store so I didn't even have to bring groceries all that far.  I did fine there for a couple of days  and then one day while she was to work, it come over me again.  I didn't even know it, I wasn't even all that aware of what I was doing.  But, I started haulin' with a vengeance.  I grabbed a kid's little red wagon and I started haulin'.  In two hours I had all her living room furniture and half a bedroom down to the corner.  I was headin' back for the dining room table and that's when the police come.  'Fore I knowed it I was spread-eagled on a car, read my rights and accused of grand larceny.  They hauled me off to the hoosegow and up before a judge before I really even figured out what I'd done myself.  I tried to explain to that judge and I think he was beginnin' to understand.  Said he had a weekend cabin in the woods once but he never did get everything he wanted out there.  Said he finally give it up.  That old judge he give me the choice of jail time or meetin' with you boys here.  Meantime, whilst I was coolin' my heels in that jail I gets this note from my woman sayin' she can't abide no man steals her furniture and good-by.  So here I am.  Don't mind tellin' you boys, I'm a broken man.  Lost my woman, lost my pride, did jail time and got no place to live, less'n I haul some more stuff out to that cabin site.  All I got in the world's that mountain of stuff out there, but I know if I go, I'm going to need more of somethin' and the whole thing starts up again.  I come here for help.  I'm a hauler and there ain't no doubt, no doubt at'all."

He stopped, shuddering, staring into the upturned faces.  And then the voices of understanding began returning to him.  They each walked up and shook his hand, said it'd be all right, he was among friends, they'd all been there, we're here to help.  Augustus Birch-Alder stood there shaking, but gradually the boys brought him around again.

Crosby Stills cleared his throat.  "We gotta thank Augustus for that one.  A horror story for all of us to remember.  Thanks.  It helps all of us to know there's others been on that trail with a heavy load.  Thank you, brother.  It's the first step to recovery.  We're here to help with each step and drag the others along with us as we go."

He stopped, looked around and then spoke again.  "I guess that's about all the business we can take for tonight.  How about if we quit and have a little refreshment?"  Everyone agreed.  Crosby looked across the room toward the door that led into the kitchen area.  He hollered, "Okay, Maggie, you can bring the cart out now."

Maggie, the cook and waitress and just about everything else around the community hall, backed into the room pulling a cart full of snack foods and a big coffee urn. 

As the cart came full into the room, Gravy Dickens stood up and took a step toward it.  "Here, let me help," he said.  Nash Young, catching Gravy's drift offered, "I'll give you a little push."  Spuds McWhortle just a step behind Gravy shouted, "If anybody's gonna haul that cart across this room, it'll be me. 

Gravy shouted back, "I was here first," but few of them heard him as he went down under the stampede of feet trying to get to that cart.  Three more jumped into the fray pushing, pulling, gouging, kicking and, yes, hauling that cart across the room.  The whole thing almost turned into a full-fledged brawl before they finally wrestled the cart to the serving table.  Maggie crawled out from under the tangle of arms and legs on her hands and knees, her hair disheveled and looking like she was ready to dive back in herself.  She stood up and walked over to where Crosby Stills was watching.

Maggie knew.  Crosby knew.  Some of these boys was going to need a whole lot more therapy than anybody thought they would.

Copyright © Tim Jones

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Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

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Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve