Dick and I grabbed our backpacks and headed to the cabin to give the pilot space to load the hunters gear. As we’re walking away, I tug on Dick’s jacket sleeve,
“did you see those two hunters giving our gear the evil eye?”
“Shush, they can hear you.”
“Well they did”, I whisper back.
“And why was the pilot all worked up over the weather? The weather is great.”
”We’ll be fine, the pilot is just being over cautious.”
“Well, this sure is a perfect day and we are going to have a great week.”
We walked about twenty yards to the cabin.
I add with a bit of excitement as Dick opens the door.
” Oh great! the door opens out, so the bears can’t push the door in
“ Not a lot of light in her and why is it so cold in here?!”
Dick fires back, “Well what do you expect, it’s a cabin in the woods!”
“I know, I just made a comment that there’s not a lot of light in here, and it’s much colder in here than it is out side.”
“Ok, ok, let it rest!” he said in a grumpy tone.
Dick – I thought, “Oh! crap, It’s going to be miserable, with all Betty Jo’s complaining, This hunt should have been set up with the boys instead of with Betty Jo”. The boys, were Rob and Tom. I met them when the Navy transferred us to Kodiak. They were junior high school age then, I used to take them out deer hunting, climbing the mountains around Kodiak, off the road system. They both loved the wilderness. They were grown now, Tom a maintenance man at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, and Rob a big game guide. After arriving at Kodiak Betty said that she wanted to go with me, on hunting trips or outings. To go camping she had to have amenities, like shampoo, make up stuff, mirror, even the butane curling iron, etc. She said she didn’t need to have all that stuff and she was willing to rough it. Of course that was years ago, my mind still held her to it though. Of course with the boys we complain or bitch in a heartbeat, never thinking much of it. When Betty complained, for me it was not like that, I felt that I had to take care of it, and I couldn’t, it was just frustrating.
What’s his problem? he was all chipper when we landed.
We leave the door open so we can see inside the cabin, and hopefully some of the outside warm air will come in..
I blurt out, , “No table and chairs! Where do we set and eat!?”
“do you have to pick very thing apart, we should have stayed home!
As I silently have a look around, I see your typical Fish and Game cabin, a basic box, twelve by sixteen feet, made of wood planks, with a plywood floor.
the only table in the cabin is made up of two four foot long, by two feet deep shelves fastened in the corner of the room. Above the left end of the shelf is a very small dirty window.
“Looks like they would have put in a larger window.”
“The windows have to be smaller than the bears.” Dick said in a frustrated voice.
Oh, I didn’t think about that, that is a good thing.”
There are two sets of wooden bunk beds, three high—no maitresse—ouch! thank goodness we have nice thick pads.
“How on earth can six people fit in this small space? There are several large nails along the walls for hanging stuff, typical Alaskan hardware.
Dick said, “Lets wait until they leave to get the rest of our stuff.”
“Look at that old rusty stove, do you think it works!?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the stove!”
“Knock, Knock, Hallo” one of the hunters is standing in the door holding a small heater. “I didn’t see a heater among your gear.” He said.
“Oh, we will just use wood in the heater,” replied Dick.
“Well, the only wood I’ve seen is the cabin itself. “That old oil heater is totally unusable. It’s rusted up, it was never a wood-burning stove. (Dick takes a step back and sticks his hands in his pockets, and his jaw is set, lips tight.
I’m concerned that he is going to tell the guy to get out of the cabin. This guy doesn’t slow down.) “It gets really cold in this cabin at night and with the cold front moving in you won’t make it without some heat. I can’t leave you out here without this heater. There’s not a lot of fuel left in it, but hopefully, it will last if you only burn it a couple of hours each day. How long will you be here?”
Dick said in a stern voice, “Seven days.”
The fellow’s eyes widened and his voice softened as he lifted the heater toward Dick, and with a plea, “Here, I beg you to take it.” Dick pulled his hand out of his pocket and as he reached for the heater he asks, “can I have your address so that we can return it.
The hunter hands Dick his business card with a look of relief, and said, I wouldn’t burn it more than an hour each day, I wish you the best and have a good hunt!”
Dick said, “I appreciate your offer and we’ll be sure to get it back to you.”
I stand in the doorway and watch him run back to the plane and climb aboard. Dick joins me at the door and we both watch as plane disappear out of sight.
Without a word, Dick picks up the heater and is looking at the fuel level. He definitely looks worried and without a word, he sets it back down on the floor, and said, in a matter of fact voice, “Let go get the rest of our gear.
In my most enthusiastic voice I begin to chatter away.
“You know, that was thoughtful of him to leave us his heater, that’s why they were staring at our stuff and he did say that the cabin gets cold in the evening well… it’s not evening and it’s already cold in cabin. Looks like Fish and Game would have told us to bring a heater, don’t they know the heater in this cabin doesn’t work? Did they say anything to you about the heater?”
In a stern voice he said, “No!” lets just get the rest of our gear, I need to get the boat ready before dark.
“Are you ok?” I ask in my wee voice.
‘Yes! I just want to get the boat inflated and hook up the motor before dark!”
What’s his problem? .
He will be more relaxed when everything is in place, and I wont complain anymore.
Darkness comes on quickly and early this time of year in Alaska. It’s 1:00pm, let see, sunset is 4:30:pm, but when the sun dips behind that mountain, the pilot said sunset will be around three o’clock. So, we rush out to gather the remainder of our gear.
Dick lugs our nine-foot Zodiac boat and the five-horse motor about twenty yards down the lakeshore to a place just a in front of the cabin. It will take him a couple of hours to manually inflate the tubes and attach the motor. While he is seeing to that chore, I will gather up our guns, clothing, most of our food, which is freeze dried, candy bars, trial mix, energy stuff and coffee pot. I’ll leave the ice chest and the large grub box for him to carry in after he puts the boat together.
Oh my goodness! Where do I put this stuff? Lets see…the blue graniteware coffee pot will go in the corner. It has been used over many campfires. I wish I had the grub box so I can put everything in its place, and it sure would help to have the lantern. It’s too dark to do much of anything in here, but I don’t dare disturb Dick while he’s putting the boat together. I can’t figure out what made him turn all crabby, must have been what the pilot said about the lake freezing.
Lets see, I can put the two small butane cook burners, the mess kit of three nesting pots and the 8-inch skillet, they can fit on the shelf under the window. Our two tin plates, and the silver ware will go next to the stove. Oh yes, the thermos, and cups, will fit next to the coffee pot. The coffee pot! has the candles and matches in it. Oh Great! Now…. where do I set them, so that I don’t burn the place down? That’s a scary thought, we don’t even have a tree to sleep under. There is only one place, the shelf where everything else goes. Ok! that helps, and I can hold my fingers over the flame.
The ice chest and grub box will set on the floor underneath the shelves, good! Now I know exactly where everything will fit. Oh, I wish I had some Windex for that dirty window and that so called table use some Clorox. Oh well, we are in the woods, and I must remember No complaining. I want this trip to be special for Dick.
Ok.. beds next. I unhook the bungee cord from around our sleeping pads, no! no! don’t tell me! These are not our best pads! I can’t believe that we have to sleep on these thin things for a week. The beds are made of sturdy hardwood and they have no mattresses. Oh well, too late to change them, at least our down filled mummy sleeping bag will be nice and thick. I need to shake them out good. Why do they feel so light, but down is lightweight, better check out the tags. Both are marked SUMMER! My goodness!.. Good to 30 degrees. Oh well, I think, we should be fine. After all, summer nights in Alaska can be pretty chilly, too.
There, I’ll use the lower bunk to lay out our clothes. We each brought three changes. Oh no! Where are our raincoats? We have to have our raincoats! It rains all the time on Kodiak Island. I am looking all over. This place is too small to lose anything. Thank goodness! There, next to the door is the red duffel bag, yes! Down wear is no good in the rain.
One kind of gets dirty when hunting. If the weather is warm we bathe in the lake. If too cool, we bring in water from the lake, heat it, and take a sponge bath. But I doubt that there will be any sponge baths on this trip. While doing my chores, I let the time slip away.
My hands are feeling cold, and there is not much light coming from the candle in the far corner. I better put on my down jacket and find my mittens in the pocket. There, already my hands feel warmer. I should check on Dick.
Just as I stick my head out the door he yells for me to bring the flashlight. “Where is the flashlight?”
“It’s in my backpack!”
His tone didn’t sound like I am so happy to be out in the wild woods, away from the city, being close to Nature. It is so dark in here I need a flashlight to find the flashlight. I am feeling around on the bunk that has all our stuff. Oh, there it is.
Off I go running to the boat. It’s almost totally dark and so cold.
Dick is working without his gloves, trying to fasten the motor to the boat bracket.
“Aren’t your hands freezing?”
He snaps back,“ I can’t do this with gloves on!”
“He is definitely, not a happy camper at this moment—best to leave him alone.
“Would you like for me to hold the light?”
With the help of some light he is able to connect the motor in a flash. “There finally! Working in the dark is a bitch.”
“You should put on your gloves before going after the ice chest and grub box,” I suggest.
“I will,” he says in a nicer tone.
“So do you need me for anything else?”
“No, I’ll be finished shortly.
Thanks for bringing the flashlight, sorry for being grumpy, but it’s just frustrating, I was hoping to be finished before dark. I’ll walk you back to the cabin, I’ll need the flash light to gather the rest of our stuff.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No, you go inside, it’s too cold out here.”
Even though I am back inside the cabin and now wearing, wool nickers, a wool turtleneck sweater, space socks, thick wool knee socks, one pair of space gloves under wool mittens (which are better for holding heat in), wool stocking cap, a down vest, and a down jacket, I am still cold. My boots are high top insulated mountain boots, and I can feel my toes getting ready to break off.
Having lived in Alaska for seventeen years , I know that the wilderness, despite its beauty, can be so unforgiving. People go out every year into the wilds, unprepared, and die from exposure. I can’t believe that the temperature has dropped so drastically in just a few hours.
Things aren’t working out quite as I imagined. Why did I think this was such a good idea? Dick’s in a pissy mood, and I am freezing. How can it be so cold in here? The pilot said he would be back if the lake doesn’t freeze up, and he didn’t sound overly confident that it wouldn’t freeze. I am so angry at Dick! How could he put our lives in such danger? He should have checked to be sure we had the proper heater, fuel and now the pads and sleeping bags.
I am feeling the need to get my thinking straight, to stop the panicky feelings welling up inside of me. OK. OK. OK. OK! We are being picked up in seven days: Are we counting from today or seven days starting tomorrow?
Oh, God where are you! what was I thinking? I don’t dare cry for my tears would have just turned to ice. But I can’t hold it in any longer.
Dick walks though the door with the ice chest, takes one look at me, and heads for that borrowed heater and fires it off. Next he zips open my sleeping bag and spreads it out on the lower bunks, “Come set, he orders, he wraps it around me. Then he sets the heater next to my knees and pulls my hands over the top of the heater. He’s giving me soft pats on my back. “There you will soon be warm.”
He looks at the small thermometer attached to his jacket zipper, removes it and hang it from the top bunk above the heater.
“Would you like some hot soup?”
Through my chattering teeth I say, “No thank you, I don’t feel hungry.
I would like a cup of hot tea, can you heat some water, the water bottle is on the floor next to the door.”
Dick sat on the bunk next to me, with both of his hands wrapped around his hot cup of tea. We were both in our own thoughts. I forgot how quiet the wilderness can be. Finally, He spoke,
“The tea was a good idea,
are you warming up?”
“Somewhat, my feet are so cold. I wish that I could hold this hot cup with my feet. I want to warm a pair of longhorns and extra socks to seep in. I will definitely need them in the morning before the sun comes up.”
I quickly undressed, and sipped into my warm long johns, and back into my wool nickers, and sweater, vest and coat.
“Can you hand me my down booties, there on the buck bed with our extra cloths.”
Dick was holding my booties and socks over the heater.
“Are you ready for bed? He ask in a soft voice.
Now I’m sorry that I had all those bad thoughts of him.
“ It’s been a stressful day and
we need our rest for the early morning hunt.”
“What time do we need to be up in the morning, and where will we hunt?”
“Oh, we’ll get up around five and I would like for us to be in the boat by 6 o’clock. We’ll take the boat about a mile down and a half-mile across the lake to the east foothills, where we’ll hopefully find a big buck for you to shoot.”
“ What about you?”
“I’ll get one too, those guys said the deer are plentiful over here.”
We need to be across the lake before daybreak, before the deer are up and roaming around, just like we always do.”
“So, are you ready for bed? Here’s your socks and booties, all toasty warm.”
“they feel heavenly, thanks.”
My teeth have finally stopped chattering.
Dick turns off the heater. We burned it for thirty-minutes.