Monday, July 02, 2007

Of Airboats and an Aborted Camping Trip

I have the perfect camping formula for today’s hurried families—time to market the aborted camping trip. We've had a busy June with soccer, kids' camps, more soccer, visiting relatives, my bad back, and a few races to run or coach. Last Friday the edict from the family was delivered--we're going camping! No getting out of this one.

Got home at 4:30 and we hadn't even begun packing! Everybody ran around the house yelling and getting stuff together, and somehow we made it out the door by 6:30, on our way to Granite Tors campground, on the Chena Hot Springs Road. Saw a moose along the way but hardly any traffic, so event though it was Friday there little need to worry about reservations. The kids immediately set up the tent and we fixed a camp meal of potatoes, turkey ham, and vegetables thrown into aluminum foil and into the coals of a campfire. After cleaning up, we even had time to fish for grayling on the Chena River.

"Dad," one of the kids asked. "do they have airboats on this river."

"Nah," I replied, looking at the pristine looking water and steep hillsides, "not up this far."

A few minutes later we heard the telltale roar of an airboat--which are usually 12-15 foot flat bottomed skiffs equipped with an airplane engine and propeller. The airboat was parked next to some RVs stationed on a gravel bar a couple hundred yards upstream from the official recreation area campsite.

These machines are great for navigating shallow water. And they can be useful on waterways such as the heavily braided, sometimes a mile wide, Tanana River, or on corridors in vast wetlands of the Tanana Flats, situated between Fairbanks and the Alaska Range. However, airboats if not used properly can be ecologically destructive, and can an utter annoyance to anything else within a mile, especially in a relatively quiet canyon in the upper reaches of the Chena. The engine revved a few times and the boat sped off, to our relief.

Although we got skunked fishing, we saw lots of grayling, and pondered the upcoming salmon migration. One kid even had a couple bites. We headed back to the campsite, and I was glad to be out there. It was quiet and peaceful.

After some fuss getting everyone settled, I closed my eyes at about 10:45 and quickly fell asleep. I was aware of some commotion within the tent but was out.

Then at 11:20, Tamara said, "He has another bloody nose..."

Groggily I looked around and saw that indeed my son was experiencing his second nosebleed of the day. I was wrong again, because actually it was his third because I had slept through a brief one that they had stopped only 15 minutes earlier while I was enjoying my 30 minutes of sleep.

We kept providing him with tissues hand having holding his nose. Looking around the tent, however, I could see that he was already covered in blood.

RRRRRORORORORORORORORO! The airboats came ripping back. It was 11:30 and they're yukking it up on the river around like it's NASCAR day at Talledega speedway. What a bunch of complete freakin' idiots! So I’m call out to the Interior Alaska Airboating Association. These guys probably belong to your organization, so you may well be guilty by association.

Let's see if they hear. Yes, that's you: you support a bunch of mindless buffoons who have the collective intelligence of a stringer full of pithed burbot. Not only that, your mama's are probably ugly.

Then, from the modern day tin can version of Hooverville (i.e., motorhead Alaskans on vacation) came the rattle and buzz of fireworks. It's 11:45 at night and we're at the purportedly quiet camp ground in a major recreation area, and these morons, who no doubt have wives, girlfriends, and sisters of questionable morals are letting off strings of fireworks and revving they're airboats. Obviously they are testosterone driven. Some sort of mating dance no doubt.

Meanwhile, beyond this outrage, my son's nose continued to bleed. This could go on all night, not to mention that the kid is fast signaling delectability to an active population of grizzly bears. The bruins have been particularly ornery this year, and there have been seven bear killings in defense of life and property in this area over just the past month, not to mention an unreported tent mauling within a days march for an able grizzly bear.

We're outta there! Our bug-out took about 20 minutes to complete while we parked the bleeding kid on the picnic bench, amidst the continued intermittent RROROWAARRERRRRR! of the airboats and fireworks.

Some Alaskans. They go crazy between the Summer Solstice and 4th of July when any cerebral mediation between pineal and gonads is shunted to the fastest possible hormonal pathway.

By the time we got the car packed he had about 20 bloody tissues in the fire pit, and my younger son and I spent a good 5 minutes trying to burn those so as not to attract any bears after we left. Not to mention that it was an unsightly mess. However, the tissues were just damp enough not to burn, not to mention matches were scarce so we used the camp stove to light twigs that burned out upon tissue contact. Oy! Eventually we got most of them before the campground host came around to see what was going on.

We're going home! that's what. I didn't want to spend a lot of time explaining the issues. He could hear the airboats so we just pointed to the kid, who by now was getting lightheaded.

Once in the car I could focus on helping him stop the bleeding. Basically pinching his nose like one of those awfully mean-19th or early 20th century teachers--or maybe Mo of the Stooges might--or how his snarky little kid-disliking principal in Fairbanks would have liked to--not letting go for a good 10 minutes, hoping upon hope that my wife wouldn't hit a wandering moose, lest I go flying out the front windshield ass first into the midnight’s setting sun.

The bleeding stopped at about 10 or 15 minutes down the raod, and I could sit facing forward to enjoy our quiet trip back to town. The sun was behind the Chena hills, but it provided an effervescent orange-blue glow the entire way home.

We get our months of dark, but this light, you can't beat it. Got home a little after 1 AM.

It was ever quiet in the woods at home. No traffic, no airhead in loud boats, or any machinery of any kind. We whrew the kid in the shower and enjoyed a wonderful few hours of sleep before the sun woke me up again by 6 AM.

Let’s see, pack, drive, set up camp, eat camp food including roasted marshmellows, fish, clean up, sleep, and return, all within 9 hours. Priceless! Let’s tell Madison Avenue, or at least the Visit Alaska tourist promoters in Anchorage that we’re onto something.


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