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Of Moose and Men-ll

Deer Park Tribune of Deer Park, Washington

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Scratches on the Wall

This is the second article in a five-part series about the author's recent moose hunt in Alaska. When my pilot, Tim, dropped me off at his office and went back to the bar. I was pretty sure his promise to pick me up at 9:30 the next morning and fly me to where my friends waited on the King Salmon River was a hollow one. Sadly, I was correct. After a long night on a short couch, the phone in the office rang at 11 a.m. and I answered it. It was Tim, telling me he had been "unavoidably detained" and would now pick me up "in the early afternoon." He sounded as if his bout with Jim Beam had taken its toll.

His late arrival would present another unanticipated problem for me as I needed to use a bathroom — bad — and there wasn't one in the office or anywhere nearby.

After a frantic search, a black garbage bag, a wastepaper basket and some slightly used napkins were pressed into duty, but no sooner had I sat down than Tim's girlfriend came driving up. Not wishing to greet her while sitting on a wastepaper basket in her office with my pants around my ankles, I stumbled out the back door and stashed my emergency toilet under the porch. Then, I returned to the office, still very uncomfortable but thankful to have escaped a huge embarrassment.

Tim, his girlfriend told me, was now going to be detained until 3 p.m., so I begged a ride into what served as downtown in King Salmon and practically crashed through the door of the only cafe in town. Evidently, the proprietor knew the look of desperation on my face and he pointed down a dingy hallway to the bathroom.

Later, I had a pretty decent hamburger while Tim's girlfriend went to the post office outside of town. She picked me up on the way back to her office and I spent the next hour repacking my gear.

I had spent a lot of money on chest waders, a dry bag, rain gear, a sleeping bag and wool clothing before leaving Spokane and it was a bulky lump that I wanted to compact as much as possible.

On another fly-out trip in a small plane years before when 1 was hunting caribou, the pilot had thrown a fit over the number of "non-essentials" I had packed. If and when Tim finally picked me up, I didn't want any further delays. My buddies were waiting for me somewhere on the King Salmon River and I imagined they were wondering what had become of me.

Tim called again at 4:30, right about the time I had begun to wonder if I would be spending another night in his office. His girlfriend and I quickly threw my gear in her station wagon and headed for the airstrip. We loaded my gear as well as a couple coolers of food in the big-tired Cessna, Tim ran through the safety check, and we were off at last.

On the flight across the tundra, we were seldom over 150 feet over the ground. There were snow-capped mountains on the horizon, but it was flat ahead of us for miles as we flew over the spongy landscape dotted with short willows and high bush cranberries. In another few weeks, there would be nothing but snow and ice, but for now, on a bright blue day, the prospects seemed far away.

After a 45-minute ride, could see out blue and white dome tent and then Brian and Mark on the river near the raft.

Tim set the plane down carefully on a long gravel bar. I was amazed how easy it seemed on such an irregular surface. The four of us quickly unloaded the plane and once the "runway" was cleared, Tim took off again with barely a wave. I didn't much like the guy after the events of the last 24 hours, but I had to admire the way he handled his plane and how efficiently he had loaded and unloaded it.

So — there I finally was — the beginning of what I figured would be the adventure of a lifetime. The three of us were on the King Salmon River, an expanse of murky glacial water winding its way toward Bristol Bay.

Where the tent stood, the river was 75 yards across, but flying in, I had seem that it split often, growing and diminishing, depending on the whims of the current and the direction it chose. In many places the water had cut as many as a half dozen new channels, but there was always one with more water than the others. If we were to successfully navigate the river, we would have to pick our channels carefully lest we end up in water too shallow to float.

As things turned out, Brian, who had already killed a moose earlier in the season close to Anchorage, was more than competent at the oars of the raft and finding the right river channel would be the least of our problems.

Next week, "Of Moose and Men, Part 3.

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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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