Column - Commentary
I Go To The Hills.....well, not really.By DAVE KIFFER
December 15, 2020
Clearly, she has this image of all Alaskans as being "outdoorsy" types. You know, out there everyday hunting and fishing - or selling our stories to Reality Television. Just a bunch of rugged folks "living off the land" or at the very least living off our story of it.
I guess it does kinda define the person you are. You know the phrase. Some one looks you in the eye and says - with all the gravitas of a Cabela's commercial - "I am an outdoors person."
Well, I like central heating. I like mattresses. I like indoor plumbing. I like having 783 channels on the cable, even though 782 of them have nothing on that I want to watch.
Push comes to shove, I am an "indoors person."
But I digress.
Anyway, my friend seemed surprised when I said 1984. After all, that was before she was born. Heck. that was before the Internet was born. That was before most of the digital world as we know it was born.
How do I know?
In 1984, I was working in a world in which newspaper stories actually had to be cut and pasted onto big sheets of paper before they were printed. With things like scissors and glue and X-acto knives. And words "inadvertently" got dropped off.
Like the time I sent down a page at the Daily News that had the headline "Senate passes Natural Gas bill" and the headline was too long, so someone cut off the word "bill."
That was a good one.
But I digress, again.
You're probably curious why I was "camping" in 1984. Anyone unfortunate enough to have told my life story knows darn well, that after my early teens I rebelled against the relentless "hunting, fishing and trapping" of my early years.
But even if you don't want to hear about 1984, I'll still tell you. Because that's what I do. I am an "indoors person" with access to a computer and the internet and waaaaaay too many stories to tell.
I was making one of those every-decade or so attempts to escape The Rock. The plan involved me and my then girlfriend stowing everything we could fit into a Volkswagon Rabbit and driving from Prince Rupert to Boston where we both hoped to get educated and become rich and famous. I was 25 at the time and had already flamed out of higher education once before. But this time I was determined to make it work and would even go "camping," literally, to get there.
It seemed reasonable, that we could drive cross-country and - instead of paying for hotels or motels or whatever - we could "camp." We took a tent. It took two nights of sleeping on the ground in wet and cold British Columbia campgrounds to dissuade us of that "adventure." If you are planning to drive several hundred miles each day, you really need to get a good night's sleep and even at age 25 camping was NOT a good night's sleep. I was trying desperately to keep my eyes open at noon on alonely, endless, flat stretch of eastern Alberta highway when I realized the tent wasn't working. So, we decided for the rest of the trip to stay in places that made Motel 6 look like the Ritz Carlton.
And that worked just dandy for the next couple of days. We slept in Notells, didn't get "bugged," and I slept just enought to stay awake even on the most relentless flat and boring sections of the Transcanada Highway.
(Don't believe me it was flat and boring? At dusk one night in Manitoba we saw another's car's headlights coming the other direction - it was a two-lane highway at that point. So, I dimmed our lights. We didn't pass the other car for another 30 minutes. At 96.5 kph!)
Then, as we drove into western Ontario, the car engine seized up and died. It turned out that when we had had a local mechanic check out the Rabbit before we had left Ktown, he had not replaced the oil plug securely and it eventually dropped off, and the oil went bye bye.
Since it was a Volkswagon and Volkswagons have been owned for generations by the kind of people who check their oil levels religiously (I am not one of the people) there wasn't even a check oil light, because, hey, you don't need to REMIND Volkswagon owners to check their oil, um Gottes willen!!
Oh, I don't know. Maybe, there was a check light blinking on the dash, but I was so danged tired from sleeping on the cold, cold ground, I didn't notice.
Anyway, what followed was two weeks waiting in a wet, cold tiny tent in Kenora, Ontario for a most of a replacement engine to arrive. And since we were paying for a goll-danged, nearly-complete different engine, we sure didn't have any money to pay for a motel room.
My girlfriend was the smart one. She sampled Kenora's charms, most notably the vinegar flavored fries and the half-priced day-old poutine (and the rain) for a couple of days and then hopped a bus for Boston.
I had to stay with my "injured steed," so I camped out in September in Kenora on the Lake of The Woods for two weeks. It turned out the be the wettest September in Kenora's history - but you already knew that would happen. I always take my inclement weather with me.
Anyway, the car finally got fixed and I hightailed to Boston, 1,700 miles in a little more than two days, ah youth.
So oddly enough, I haven't had the urge to go "camping" ever since.
I don't mind rustic accommodation. I have been known to "not-bivouac" in Forest Service cabins. But when it comes to "sleeping" on the ground with "only the sky" for my tent, or even in a tent for that matter, that would be a big fat Nosiree-Bob. Or Jack or Steve or whomever you want to Nosiree to .
Besides at my current age, camping is not necessarily a good thing. What you wanna bet that if I laid down on the ground to "camp" right now it would only be a matter of minutes before someone would come by and erect a tombstone? Even if I wasn't expired.
When you reach a certain age - and I can still remember reaching it a while back - getting back up off the ground is no longer a "given."
I used to wonder why old people were so afraid of falling. I understand it now. "I've fallen and I can't get back up" isn't just a punch line anymore. Heckfire, there are times when I have plopped down onto the couch and then immediately cursed myself for not having an easy "exit strategy."
Naturally, my non-Alaskan friend didn't want to hear any of this.
So, I just replied. "Yeah, 1984, I hadn't realized it had been so long. It's definitely time to head out into the hills."
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.