Day 211 – Denali Mountains, Alaska
The gray wolf leads his pack slowly, leisurely, and it’s as if we lock eyes when he turns his head to face me, though I remain unseen in my tent, well hidden in the tundra, staring intently through high powered binoculars.
“Magnificent beast,” I whisper, and record my findings in my special binder. It’s an ordinary binder that I bought at a stationary store in Fairbanks, but I’ve written “All About WOLVES!!!!” on the front. I had taped a picture of a wolf on the front too, but a researcher at the university laughed at me when he saw it, explaining that what I had was a picture of a fox. Consequently, my first note in my book reads, “Dr. Stevens is a DICK!” It was after that encounter that I decided, as I often do, to strike out on my own.
I return to my binoculars and watch the wolf drink from a stream. I am riveted, but tear myself away to take a note. “Wolves drink water!” I write. “Necessary for survival? More research required.”
It is my third week on the mountain and I’m nearly out of provisions. I have subsisted on nuts and berries that I bought inland. I regret packing so many frozen dinners for my trip. Thanks to the cold climate, they have indeed stayed frozen despite having no access to refrigeration. However, my lack of access to a microwave renders them useless. I decide it is time to venture out in search of food.
As I am a nature lover, I don’t believe in wearing fur, even when the climate calls for it, so I don a polyester windsuit over my Flight underwear and take tentative steps out of my tent. It is brutally cold, but if I can find small game to trap, juniper berries, or an Arby’s, this trip will be well worth it.
I straighten up and stretch, scanning the area both for food and predators. Neither fish to my left nor fowl to my right, I feel confident that my adventure will prove successful. Then I look forward and see the wolf I had just observed, not five feet from me.
“Magnificent beast,” I whisper again. Then I add, “Shit.” He stands still, but ready to pounce. I know sudden movements will prove futile and so don’t try them. If I try to run, he will give immediate chase and follow me relentlessly, like a fat boy after an ice cream truck. I slow my breathing in an attempt to calm my heart rate. I remember that wolves can be spooked by loud noises. I slowly drop my jaw and inhale from my diaphragm, gathering the breath support I will need to be heard through the forest. Neither of us move.
“DAAAAAAAAAAAYO!” I yell.
The wolf cocks his head at me and remains in place. The 80s calypso pop hit has not had its desired effect. I try again.
The wolf does not move, but I swear I see his eyes adopt a steely resolve. Slowly, I move my hand to my neck and grasp the zipper of my windsuit. With painstaking care, I gently pull the zipper down, never breaking gaze with the ferocious predator. Using the same slow, hypnotic movement, I shimmy my pants off. The wolf appears to shift uncomfortably at my strip tease, but does not back away. He doesn’t know why I need my layers free, in spite of the cold.
Hands trembling, I reach into the pocket of my Flight underwear. Mercifully, I feel the telltale folded cardboard and withdraw a book of matches. I do not break my gaze as I extract a single match and in one swift motion, I strike.
The wolf pounces just as I step away and drop the match. My polyester windsuit ignites immediately and a great ball of flames leaps up. Frightened, the wolf retreats. I know I am alone again. I am cold, but grateful for the fire, which has built in momentum despite burning through the windsuit. It is then I realize that my tent, just feet behind me, is up in flames.
Knowing nothing I own can be saved, I trudge resignedly to the site of the fire. I smell chicken alfredo, carbonara, pad thai, and macaroni and cheese, and realize my frozen entrees are being cooked. I gather snow to douse the flames after the trays of processed meals have had about 4 or 5 minutes to heat up. I don’t know what adventures tomorrow will bring, but with my food and my Flights, I’ll be ready…