Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wolves, Ranchers, Animals Lovers, and the Great Pyrenees

You might see a wolf out on the trail sometime soon if you haven’t already. With the wolf population rising in the West, along with the continuing rise in the human population, there will likely be more confrontations between ranchers and wolves and between dogs and wolves. Scanning the internet, I saw that many ranchers were using guard dogs to protect their herds instead of using poisons, leg hold traps, and helicopters. Many were using the Great Pyrenees in particular. The battle for resources between wolves and humans is going to increase and more wolves are probably going to be slaughtered to make way for more cows and more people. Wolves kill livestock because they need to eat and probably don’t want to die, just like us, so maybe we can understand that.
     One on one, a Great Pyrenees can’t stop a North American wolf, though they always fight to the death trying, only to eventually wind up with their throats ripped open. Wolves are too big, too fast, too smart, and too wild. They kill for a living. As a result of this, there have been reported cases of dogs being killed while trying to protect livestock. Perhaps steps can be taken to improve the Great Pyrenees, even though the breed is already good at what it does, guarding the herd.  Maybe a little Airedale terrier blood mixed in to make him faster and feistier, or Irish Wolf hound to make him taller, or French Bull dog to make him smell bad. I don’t know for sure, but I see a sort of symbiotic continuum here. Maybe this would be good news for everyone. Animal lovers would have wolves, wolves would have their lives, ranchers would have their livestock, and the Great Pyrenees would be will fed and cinch his page in American history.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Exploring places no one has likely gone before

When I wake up around 6:30 in the evening the rain has stopped and the sun is breaking through the clouds, fantastically glowing and heating up my tent. I hurry outside excitedly and lay all my wet things on branches in the sun and dry air before it starts raining again. I build a great big joyous fire, cook some lentil beans for dinner, and take some time to relax and contemplate. I think the storm front might be dispersing. I lean back against a tiny alder tree and suck up the warmth of the fire as I smoke one of my cigars. I only need a few puffs to start getting queasy, since I rarely smoke. Then I put it away to save for another evening. The radiating warmth on my body combined with the incredible scenery and the narcotic intensity of the nicotine is like paradise, a lucky break. But before it lasts too long, the mosquitoes are back, biting my face. “Little bastards,” I say as the air warms and they become more annoying. They’re always active after a cold rain. But I deal with them, they can’t kill me like the cold can.
     Before bedtime I go down to the creek to wash up. Getting the grime off makes me feel better and as I’m walking back to camp my dogs come trotting through the brush looking for me. I let them get a long cool drink, pat them on the head a few times, and head back to camp. “Come on pups,” I say. “Let’s go.” And I take off with the dogs hot on my heels. 
     Before going to the Brooks Range I was starting to believe there weren’t any more places left to explore, but now I believe there are some long stretches through obscure mountains where you would be the first one to discover them if you wanted. I start to nod my head at the mountains around me. I’m gaining confidence about my ability to trek across this country. I’m getting a hint of some purpose to this journey, a feeling I didn’t have in the beginning. With each mountain pass I climb and each river I cross, I get closer to my goal of crossing all of Alaska on foot, and finding my place in the world.

Drying out after the rain, Smoke Creek, Brooks Range, Alaska

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cold Summer Day in the Alaska Outback

The strange daytime darkness is ominous, and the cold wind blows the rain ripping into me, slanted and digging, as I search desperately for shelter after hours of hiking across the vast taiga. But finally, to my relief, I find a huge spruce where it’s dry underneath – a tiny miracle. I sit under it with the dogs and my pack, shaking catatonically for a few minutes like a monkey in the rain. It’s too cold to sit outside for long and my fingers begin to hurt. Everything in my pack is wet except my sleeping bag and my thermal under wear, stuffed securely in plastic bags. The bottom of my tent is wet by the time I get it set up, and my ground tarp too, so when I crawl inside I lay on my sleeping pad to keep off the soaked floor. The dogs lay in wet corners, but they don’t seem to suffer since it’s much warmer inside without the wind. They’re just happy to be out of the cold rain and resting, like I am. Once I zip up the door and the temperature inside rises a few degrees, steam begins smoldering off the dogs’ fur like smoke. They shiver for another fifteen minutes and I cover them to help warm them faster, and to help dry out my wet gear.
      Since I let myself get so cold, it takes me about a half hour to stop shivering. I only have one dry set of clothes and I don’t want to get them wet now and then have nothing dry to sleep in. I don’t lay out my sleeping bag either, since I still hope the rain will stop so I can go back outside, build a fire, and dry out some gear before bedtime. Meanwhile, we doze for about an hour on the wet floor of my tent, drenched to the bone, with saturated garments draped over us and the icy rain pelting my tent like the hint of some sort of grinding doom.

A nice spruce where you can stay dry

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Greatest Fear Traveling With Dogs

Moving through the airport on my way to Alaska in 2009, I was concerned about my dogs being put on the wrong flight and winding up somewhere like Beijing, Marrakesh, or Bangkok, or them suffocating from pounding heat. Events unfolded smoothly though. My driver pulled up to the departure gate, I paid a sky cab ten dollars, he loaded the dogs and my gear onto a big flat cart, and then he wheeled it to the ticket counter. Next, a baggage handler came out from back to take my dogs to the plane. “Everything will be all-right,” he said as he eased the dogs away. I stood watching them until they were out of sight. Jimmy and Will were peering through the slots in the sides of their kennels with unremitting concern. It hurt parting from them like that. Maybe they thought I was abandoning them.
     I boarded my plane with the dogs underneath without any delays. Once in the air my life was in someone else’s hands. If anything went wrong with the plane, I wouldn’t be able to do anything to save myself or my dogs, and that scared the hell out of me, almost as much as being alone or not ever doing anything with my life.

Heading home