After several days of hunting and hard packing, we had our winter’s meat supply hauled in from the two kill sites to our lake camp. Early next morning, my younger brother Alan and I, with our four pack dogs, pulled out bound for the highway with the larger of the boned-out young moose on our backs. Alan bent under 110 pounds. I, the big brother, was humping 140. Each of the huskies lugged around 40 in his panniers. Dog Woman—we always liked to have a “dog woman” or “dog man” along to keep the dogs quiet back in camp while we hunted—stayed behind to guard the second moose from bears. We figured to make the five miles to the highway, return to the camp in good time, and get our second load out by dark.
It was shaping up as an unusually warm fall day. Sweat ran in rivulets from every pore. With no rest stops, in but two hours our procession arrived at the ancient International Scout, parked hidden in the timber from the many sets of snooping eyes that would have loved to discover the Perry’s trailhead. Bone dry thirsty, as we spread out the meat bags over a latticework to allow air circulation, we guzzled down the only drinks found at the truck: One quart of grape juice, and one quart of pure, thick prune juice per packer hit our empty stomachs, dehydrated systems, and hot, racing metabolisms.
Before we could even leave the truck the effects lambasted me. Obeying the sudden, desperate “call of the wild” freed me of further complications. Alan didn’t seem fazed in the least. So we hit the trail, expecting to make the gentle ascent back for our second load in less than two hours.
However, Alan began to lag behind. Then behinder—and behinder. So commenced a five-hour walk back. A regular pattern settled in: I’d mosey at a slow saunter, find a comfy resting place and wait. In time, I’d hear his distant moans. Then, presently, here he’d come in little-old-lady steps, humped up like a goat in a hailstorm, the miseries of the devil tormenting his innards. It felt, groaned Alan, like he’d been blown up with a tire pump. The dogs milled impatiently. I kept looking at my watch and thinking about having to bring the last load out in the dark, two headlamps among three people. But there was nothing but to keep on the way we were. Alan, twice a state champion wrestler, was, in the words of an old coach, “tougher than poodle crap.” I doubted not that he was pushing to the peak of his pain threshold. This delay begged my patience. Inevitably, the prune juice had to eventually accomplish its ends.
Up ahead in camp, Dog Woman, even while banging on a pan and haranguing a big, black hairy gent bent on raiding our meat rack, thoughtfully picked campside berries and painstakingly cooked Alan and me each a bowl of some scrumptious desert concoction. She then laid the bowls in the fireside moss to cool and await our arrival.
Two hundred yards from Lake Camp, Alan, nearing his deliverance, called out to announce our soon arrival. Dog Woman yelled back her welcome. Having been trailing behind Alan, the restless dogs now burst around him. He, having shucked his pack and being preoccupied, was in no position to detain them. With a full head of steam up they blew through my attempts to hold them up so fast I felt like a turnstile revolving at a blur.
Dog Woman, preoccupied with the would-be thief, had given return of the pack train nary a consideration. So she was taken completely off balance to see the panniered animals bearing down on the camp. Charging in, the ravenous dogs dove straight for her waiting deserts. Faster than you can exclaim, “Jack Robinson” they virtually inhaled the bowls’ contents like so many furry vacuum cleaners. By the time I arrived, all whiskers were licked. The happy pack dogs grinned even as Dog Woman, her hands still thrown high, muttered indignant invectives.
By the time Alan pulled in, he was no longer humped over. But I think he had sworn off prune juice, at least chugged by the quart.