by Anniel 6/14/15
The Bear and I had been married about four months when he got the yen for a wilderness adventure and some good fly fishing, so why not float the Little Susitna River on a belated honeymoon? After all, the year before he and a buddy had floated the river and had a great time, until the Bush Flying Service came to pick them up, flew right over the rendezvous point, failed to see them, flew away and left them to their fate. They were good for some local news stories until Bear’s boss called the flight service and suggested they recheck the rendezvous site if they knew what was good for business. The lost men were found and all was well.
In those days, tales of disappearing in the Alaska wilderness were common. No cell phones or GPS to save ones bacon. Just miles of, well, bush. So why not take a barely pregnant wife, complete with morning sickness, pack up the four-man Avon raft, pay the pick-up fee to the flying service in advance so they would be sure to get us, and head on out? Why ever not?
Bear’s first mistake, besides ever going, was assuming his bride was strong and knew how to steer a raft in a flowing river, so he put me at the front of the raft. You do not ever want to see the disaster of a swamped raft with all your provisions for the trip soaked. And your (did I tell you I was pregnant?) wife crying.
With that auspicious beginning we made it to the bank, hauled out our raft and goods, turned the raft over to empty the water, and I quit crying when I found that Bear, besides being a marvelous fly fisherman, was the consummate packer. Everything that should stay dry he had placed in plastic bags and canvas. We were in great shape and had traveled all of 200 feet on our five day journey. We spent the night there, repacked the raft and began our second day.
Thereafter I stayed at the rear of the raft, rowed as I was able, let Bear handle everything, including the fishing, cooking, and dishes. We had only one black bear swim out to see if we’d be good for dinner. My Bear popped that bear on the nose with an oar and he left to find easier pickings. My Bear caught wonderful Rainbow Trout for dinner every night, with leftovers for breakfast.
With no further trouble we reached the pick-up point, a brand new, not yet in operation, wilderness lodge, built by the flight service we were using. The lodge came complete with two absolutely filthy and idiotic caretakers. The, ahem, caretakers told us that a bear had attacked one of them three days before. They shot it and knew it was hit because of the blood stains by the fence they saw it climb before it ran into the woods. The man who was mauled had just returned to camp from a trip to the hospital in Anchorage for stitches and bandaging. The men had been catching and gutting salmon and wiping their knives on their already scuzzy pants. I suspect the black bear thought they smelled like dinner. No telling what the doctors and nurses thought, but they hadn’t made the patient take a shower.
Our plane did not show up to retrieve us that night as planned. The caretakers would not allow us to sleep outside in our tent because of the wounded bear and would not crank up the radio to find out where our plane was. They decided they could not let us into the new lodge to sleep on the floor, so we would have to sleep in their cabin with them.
The outhouse was about 100 ft. from the cabin and when I headed out, they warned me again about the bear. I opened the door of the outhouse and let it close behind me before I realized how absolutely disgusting it was and how truly awful it smelled. Nothing had been done ever, ever, ever to clean any part of the structure, not even ashes had been dumped in the hole. I did tell you that nasty smells make pregnant women nauseous, didn’t I? I whirled around, pushed the door, only to find it stuck. I could not get it open. I screamed for Bear, and no one heard me. I finally had to lean against the revolting surface, put both feet up and push with all my might to get the door to open. I ran out crying and gasping for untainted air.
When I had calmed down I went back to the cabin and pretended all was well. When Bear said he was headed for the outhouse I said I would go with him. We walked outside and he said, “Why are you coming along?” I cried, again, and let him go ahead. He pushed the outhouse door open, looked in and said, “Oh, the woods are better.” Yes, they were.
In the cabin that night I did not sleep. I lay on top of my sleeping bag huddled up so I didn’t have to touch anything at all. In the morning I said I was not hungry, and our plane never came, and the caretakers still would not crank up the radio.
Finally, in the late afternoon, Bear said he would go down to the river and fish so we could eat. He flicked out his line, and the plane immediately came. We grabbed our stuff and ran to the dirt strip in time to see other fishermen getting out. Bear started putting our things aboard, and said to the pilot, “Been a little busy have you?”
The pilot looked puzzled and said, “Who are you and where did you come from?” I was afraid he wouldn’t fly us in and started crying, again, as Bear said, “You were supposed to pick us up here two days ago.”
The pilot had the grace to blush as he mumbled, “Oh, you’re the people who. . .”
We finally got settled and the pilot mentioned he had just spilled some fuel oil but it was a short flight so the smell shouldn’t be too bad. Easy for him to say, HE wasn’t pregnant. I was still crying and throwing up when we landed in Anchorage. We went into the flight services office and I sat on a bench sobbing as Bear went tooth to toenail with the head honcho. Seems when they made the arrangements and Bear paid in advance, we were on the books, but no one bothered to write down where they were to pick us up!
At that point someone came over and handed me a free bottle of champagne.
I clutched it, still crying, as Bear called a cab for the 20 minute trip home. The cab driver started driving, put his right arm up on the back of his seat and said, all the while looking backwards at us, “I yust got here yesterday from Jugoslavia, can you believe that?”
As he left the road and drove down in the bar ditch to avoid the STOP sign I became a believer, closed my eyes, asked God to forgive my sins, and cried with my eyes shut the rest of the way home.
After we pulled into our driveway, I handed the bottle of champagne to the Jugoslavian, and said, “Welcome to America.”