Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Free Riding Valdez Part II

What exactly do we consider free-riding?  Our definition definitely strays from Warren Miller's interpretation.  We consider free-riding to be skiing for free or as cheaply as possible.  This involves putting your faith in humanity and hoping your fellow man will hook it up.  Is this taking advantage of the good nature of good folk?  This is debatable.  But what goes around comes around, so when we have the opportunity to help someone else free-ride, we hook it up.

Everywhere there is good skiing there are free-riders.  Look for them and it is apparent.  They have real nice gear but it is well used and there is usually some tape on the outerwear.  The vehicle is overflowing with gear.  Much of it, you don't think is necessary for skiing: chain saws, stoves, tool boxes, down (lots of down), and a lot you can't ID.  There will be sleeping bags, pads, and tents.  Usually there is a trailer hitch and about 1.5 sets of skis per person.  There will be more booze than you think necessary, but this is the currency of the free-rider.  

When we left off last time, we were at ABA drinking it blue.  Baja Fogs, MGDs, Alaskans, other potables.  Cheese and crackers, meat sticks, other intoxicants kept flowing from the RV.  Thanks to team Altabird.  We wanted to chill, but it was time to work on lodging.  Matt was the name of the cook at Rendezvous.  Let's go find him.  We cruised the to the lodge at 45 mile.  We hit the bar in search of our contact and quickly found him.  He seemed nice enough but confused by our presence.  Garrett said this was the hook-up but Garret still hadn't showed up.  We decided to buy a round and get to know our new friend, but he was nowhere to be found.  No big deal, pump some quarters into the pool table and throw back some Black Butte Porters.  I can think of worse ways to pass time.  And time passed and no Matt.  Awkward.  

Dylan and Lars had napped heavily during the drive.  They were going strong but I was fading.  I went for a quick cat nap in the Jeep in front of the lodge and hoped they'd sort things out.  I slept lightly and was interrupted by dogs, fireworks, and the occasional beer run by Dylan.  Warm, cosy, and cramping.  Shit.  

Dylan and Lars came back around midnight.  No Matt, no Garret.  This free-riding business was starting to get stressful.  The had sussed out a dirt road  at 46 mile and had poached some plywood.  I had been suspect of the "plan" from the get go, so I had thrown in a 4-season tent, stove, and white gas back in Anchorage.  This cheap insurance was paying off.  Lars drove the short distance to the "campground" and parked the Jeep.  Lars and Dylan busied themselves by building a flat area in the snow with their Voile shovels.  Plywood on the flat spot, tent on the plywood, crawl, sleep.  Not ideal, but workable.  Sleep beckoned.  By so did approaching headlights, then approaching footsteps, then a flashlight, then nothing, then sleep.

10 AM came quickly again.  "Are there any Mad River boys in there?"  Garrett.  Finally some luck.  Garret had come in last night around 1 AM and had walked past the tent as we drifted off.  He had met with Matt and sorted things out.  Funny story.  Garret was a buddy of Matt and Garrett knew Matt cooked at the Rendezvous Lodge.  Garrett called the lodge and asked to talk to Matt.  Matt said, "No problem."  The problem was that this was a different Matt.  The Matt Garrett knew had quit the lodge the previous fall but still lived close by.  The Matt at the lodge was probably too fucked up to realize he didn't know Garret.  At any rate way, Garrett showed us to his buddy Matt's house which was only about 150' from where we camped.  

Accommodations were secure.  Relief.  Matt owns a few acres right along the Alaskan Pipeline right-of way.  46 miles out of Valdez there is no zoning, no property taxes, no worries.  Matt has quite a spread: green houses, root cellar, big log home, yoga studio. All of it is about half finished.  He has big plans and is a talented gardener and carpenter.  When he is done the place will be epic.  Cloudveil took notice of one of his creations in their winter catalogue.  There are no stairs from the kitchen to the 2nd floor bedroom, just a climbing wall set into two walls that make up a corner.  The "easy" route was well worn and the big jugs of the preferred route were significantly darker than the smaller pieces.

Breakfast was good.  Peanut butter toast or jelly toast.  Bars.  Avocado. Citrus.  Whatever was left from the Scandinavian adventure.  The sky was partly cloudy with patches of blue, but the highest peaks were still obscured.   We loaded up and went to see what the deal was at Rendezvous.  They wanted $250 for two runs on whatever we could see from their porch.  We talked it over and decided to go ahead with their "check-out" though we did not fully commit.  We went to talk to the GM, but he had left for a 20 minute lunch.  So we left too to assess the scene at Valdez Heli Guides at 35 mile.  As we drove, the skies got clearer and there would be no returning to Rendezvous.  At 35 mile it was perfect weather: bluebird, warm, windless, perfect. We had gotten "checked out" the previous day with VHG so now it was time to find out what they could offer us. 

We were in luck.  There was a group of 4 that was leaving at 3 PM so they had space.  Negotiations ensued and we arrived at $300 for 3 runs.  It goes against the free-riding mantra, but it is a good deal.  So we sucked it up and agreed.  In the interim we did beacon drills, talked to other clients, and made PB&Js.  I was chilling in the office when an urgent message came in from one of the guides.  "Get the Advil ready.  We are coming in for an early lunch."  10 minutes later the bird landed and out came a guide in obvious pain.  "It went from the best run of my life to the worst." "Everyone out!"  VHG has a portable garage type structure with DVD, heat, gear hooks, water, benches, etc.  We went in there.  The injured guide's clients came in.  Rich douche-bags from NY claiming to be from Park City.  The proceeded to use every phrase they had ever heard a bro-bra use in a ski movie.  "Chugach'd" "Slough" "Whipped by the dragon's tail" Their mood was joyous.  The seemed happy.  Douche #1: "Have you ever broken a guide before" Douche #2: "No this is the 1st guide I broke."  Classy.  I needed out and the sun was needed after cloudy winter.  The guide's screams could be heard from the bench I was chillaxing at.  No one knew how this latest development would affect our day.  I offered to drive the injured guide to the Valdez hospital, but his injuries were serious and my offer was graciously declined.

The guide loaded into the bird and was whisked away to the hospital.  After he got evaluated in Valdez, they flew him to Anchorage for emergency surgery.  He had broken his neck and needed to have 2 vertebrae fused.  There were potential shoulder and knee injuries but those evaluations would wait until the big injury was stabilized.

The office manager said it was unlikely that we would fly today, but said to hang around.  "Hurry Up and Wait" should replace "North to the Future" as Alaska's state motto.  I took in the sun and thought about that guide. 

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