Guy Grieve's Alaskan adventure
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A FEW days ago I travelled along the single dusty road to the tiny airstrip where I boarded a plane that started me on my 8,000 mile journey home.
LAST week I hooked my huskies up to the sled for the last time. It was time to return them to their owner, as I was in the last stages of dismantling my camp. I was not looking forward to saying goodbye to my team, and I attached them to the gang-line with a heavy heart. We set off at full speed, swerving and skidding down through the woods, then out across a frozen lake and on towards the slough trail.
I AM now just weeks from the end of this boreal odyssey, and have been shuttling to and from my cabin returning my numerous borrowed tools and sundry bits and pieces, from shotguns and knife sharpeners to axes and snares.
HAVING gone through the ice once and been lucky enough to escape alive, I now travel with extreme caution on these rivers, particularly as the spring thaw is underway. But now is the traditional time for ice fishing in the sub-Arctic, and with only a few weeks left of my stay here in Alaska, I was keen to give it a go.
IT IS now only a matter of weeks until my time in this wild place comes to an end and I can at last allow myself to start dreaming of home.
ALL THE trails I have struggled to maintain through the winter are now rewarding me, at last standing solid and free of windblown snow. My dogs are also at their peak of fitness, and effortlessly carry me to and from my nearest village, a distance of around 50 miles.
THE FIRST TIME I met Guy Grieve, I thought his wife was a fool. He and I were in the office canteen and he was telling me of the one-year adventure ahead of him in the Alaskan wilderness.
EVERY day the conditions change here - subtle variations which, if ignored, could kill you.
I DISCOVERED yesterday that perfect days really do exist - even in the wilds of Alaska. From the moment I got up everything went to plan, and no lateral thinking, improvisation or endurance was required. It seemed as if the fearful sub-Arctic had decided that the new boy had been taught enough painful lessons for the time being, and should be given a day off to have a bit of fun.
AS THE cold grey light of another sub-Arctic morning softly lights my cabin, I scrape the frost from my window and check the thermometer outside. It’s -50 again.
SINCE setting my beaver traps a couple of weeks ago I have been checking them every day to see if I have caught anything.
THE WEATHER has got even colder and has been hovering between minus 40 and 50 for the past few weeks. I am spending my time doing essential chores, swaddled in layers of clothing and moving very slowly. It is vital that I do not allow myself to sweat, which could lead to dangerous heat loss and, gradually, I have learned a way of moving that uses the least possible energy. From felling a tree to dragging the wood back to camp or even just walking, every movement is based on economy.
I NOW have the husky team comfortably ensconced at my camp.
SINCE Bradley Scotton and his magnificent flying machine dropped me back at camp, I have been busy making my cabin warmer.
DON happened by as I stood outside his cabin looking out over the frozen Yukon. Since our terrible journey out to my cabin a few days before - which resulted in my foot almost getting frostbitten - I had reluctantly accepted that, for the time being, I’d stay in the village. The exceptionally warm weather for the time of year has led to heavy snowfall, which weighs down upon the river ice causing overflow.
NOTHING can happen here unless you first create a trail.
EACH night at around 7pm I get into an old truck of Don’s and drive along the town’s only road to Glenn’s dog yard.
MY LEFT hand has healed up beautifully, thanks to expert attention given to me by a local nurse named Kathy, who tells me casually of her early life in Swaziland and Rwanda - while painfully irrigating my wound with saline pumped from a large syringe. When she is not looking I bite my hand and grimace as a small crowd stand around and laugh.