This is what I love about Alaska, you can see when someone needs help by a simple glance. Remote travel and risky endeavors are a part of the Alaskan life. The further away you get from “society” the more people are willing to give you the shirt off their back, the beer out their cooler, and the strong back to get you home safely. Reading stories like these warms the heart, you never know when your the one who needs a hand in the backcountry.
Story by Nathaniel Grimes.
“Lonely Boat on a Dark River”
It goes without saying that every season and every hunting trip yields some pretty interesting experiences (both good and bad) to talk about around the campfire with a cold beer and good friends.
This one is no different. For me, the moose season has always frustrated me. Every year I spend hours upon hours at the range with countless rounds of my choice ammunition, practicing shots from different positions and various distances. I put a lot of work into making sure I am ready to make a clean shot on the fly IF the opportunity presented itself.
But as always, the dreaded thought of coming up empty handed once again lingers in the back of my mind. You tell yourself it’ll be different this year and the hope of success, and the thought of finally getting to take that first picture with your first moose comes back up and seems to push all that doubt out of your noggin.
The day for the river trip finally arrived. I had the gear and boat all packed up and my two friends were ready to get on the river. We had no specific place along the Tanana river we wanted to set up camp, or where we would even start for that matter. We just wanted to get out there and make it happen.
After a few hours on the river we find a pretty nice little flat spot just before the mouth of the Wood River. We had heard quite a few success stories coming out of that river so we decided to give it a shot. Filled with optimism and false hope we pitched out tents and settled in. Tomorrow was finally opening day.
It’s 5am and we are all up, sipping coffee and waiting for first light. After breakfast we hit the river. We spend most of the day going up and down the Tanana to see what areas look the best for our first sit. We eventually find a spot we figured was as good as any and set up. Hours go by and that hope quickly starts to fade.
Faced with sheer boredom and a tiny bit of depression due to the lack of instant gratification, we head back to camp and start making food. A few hours go by and now it’s dark as crap. While having a beer with “the boys” we hear an owl across the river hooting quite loudly. “You should shine a light over there and try to see the eyes reflect”, my buddy says. Also curious, my other friend pulls his light out and turns it on….Not what we thought to find.
As soon as he turns the light on we see, in the river not 20 yards from us a boat, silently floating past us. “What the @#&*?!” was the chosen response from all three of us. While holding all of our flashlights on the boat, we yell out to the boat incase there was anyone simply just broke down and floating back to Nenana. No response.
This is where it gets interesting. “Someone fell out of the boat!” One friend yells. “Not likely” I replied, “If someone fell out, the boat would more than likely still be running and spinning clockwise. I bet you it floated away from someone’s camp.”
We jump in my boat and head out after the lonely boat. We catch up to it and I hop in the driver’s seat. Inside was a beautiful 300WinMag, 2-30 gallon tanks of gas and 4 or 5 lifejackets. I turned the key and it started right up.
“Let’s take this back to camp and call the Troopers.” I suggested. Well see now we’re in a bad spot. We are in the middle of the Tanana River, in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black. If a sweeper or sandbar hand been in front of us we wouldn’t have been able to do anything. I tell one friend to drive my boat behind me and the other friend to sit on the bow of the boat and shine a light on the river for me.
While driving the found boat I notice I have to fight the steering wheel to keep it from making a hard right turn. As we get closer to the camp I see more of the river and don’t see any sweepers in front of us so I give the throttle a little push. Bad idea. The boat violently kicks hard right and we shoot out into the middle of the river. After a few expletives are shouted, we look up and see a small light in the distance. Couldn’t have been any bigger than a shop light, waiving back and forth about 2 miles up the river.
We slow down to let Jimmy, my friend that is driving my boat catch up. While idling our boats next to each other we decide that these could be the people that this boat belongs to. “Screw it man let’s go there and see if they know anything.” Jimmy said. So here we go, 3 young guys, in 2 boats, in the middle of the river with practically no light to navigate with. About 45 minutes nervous driving and 1 or two close calls with some sandbars we were around 15 yards from these guys who are waiving their headlamps and shop light while yelling hooting and hollering.
“You guys lose a boat?” I said with a comedic and slightly smug tone. Immediately we see the look of sheer amazement and disbelief rush over everyone of their faces. “Holy $%^& you found our $%@(>,% boat!! Oh my God!!!” They’re all yelling. As we step up on their mini dock they begin opening their wallets and shoving rather large wads of cash along with a few beers in our faces.
We politely decline to accept the money and tell them we didn’t do it for money, we did this because “Alaskans take care of each other”. The boat owner stepped up and said, “Well let me pay you guys back by showing you my best moose hunting spot in the morning. I’ve hunted this area my entire life and I own almost 200 acres here. You boys are welcome to stay here anytime and hunt on my land as you please!”
The next morning we wake up and get our gear in the boat. The boats owner drives up to our camp and says, “let me ride in your boat and I’ll show you my best spots today as well as give you an extra 30 gallons of fuel.” We agree and off we went.
Unfortunately, after all the spots he lead us to, we still did not see any sign of a bull moose. 3 days later, we pack up our camp and head home. Even though unsuccessful, we were extremely happy. We saved a group of people on the river and made friends with them. We had a super fun 3 days getting to know them all and getting more experience with the surrounding sloughs and creeks.
All in all, this was an experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. This is what it is all about. Alaskans coming together, helping each other, sharing knowledge, lending a helping hand with no strings attached…It’s just what we as Alaskans do. I hope you all enjoyed this story and hope it inspires you to continue to be there for one another in any way you can. Good luck to you all this year!!!
Well guys, we can all learn something from this story… you never know when you’re going to need a hand. It pays dividends to treat people in the field like your life depends on it, because it really could. I’ve rescued, self rescued, and been rescued…. and to all those reading this. Thank you. Nate, good luck shooting the biggest bull of your life this year. “May the karma come back, and the bulls be big.” – Austin