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If Summit’s not enough adventure, how about the wilds of Alaska

Tom Zebarth
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Recently, a friend at work announced that this will be his last season in Summit County. He is heading for Steamboat, where the living is still wide open, reasonably free of many of the more noxious trappings of civilization and he hopes not as “Disneyland” and “white bread” as Summit County has become since he first arrived.

To hear him describe how it used to be, it does seem like many of the rough edges – to some the charms and attractions – of the High Country are being legislated or public opinioned out of existence.

“I love you just the way you are – now change!” seems to be the mantra of each new set of arriving “locals.” I guess he’s decided to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, that they’re taking paradise and turning it into a parking lot. And he plans on getting out before the saloons start requiring coats and ties for gentlemen after 7 p.m. Some places even frown on patrons wearing their boots indoors. Can you imagine?



I think the smoking bans are what really drove him over the edge, and he does have a point. Life in Summit County is not as raw as it was when the miners first came over the passes after the Civil War, and it gets tamer every year. For purists and those seeking real adventure, it’s probably not the place to come to pit yourself against nature and the elements anymore.

I guess if you happen to pass out into a snow bank, there still could be an element of danger and suspense to your chances of survival, but the roving patrols of city cops will probably escort you safely home before the Pomeranians out on their last pee-pee start circling you. Somehow that just doesn’t fit my picture of the romance and adventure of survival at the extreme rough edge of nature.



But I don’t think my buddy’s going to be satisfied with Steamboat either. If he’s serious about pushing the survival envelope and hobnobbing with real tough guys, Alaska is the place to go.

I’ve been reading some new stuff by Slim Randles lately. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend “The Long Dark: An Alaska Winter’s Tale.” It’s not a long book – only 142 pages – but it’s a quality guy read.

Think of the old television show “Northern Exposure.” The central figure the book revolves around is a bush pilot, who is the secondary source of sustenance and survival for the hardy souls, men and women, who try to survive as trappers miles out in the Alaskan bush or as adventurers on insane winter climbs of some of the nastiest mountains on the planet. The primary means of survival, of course, either is or isn’t in the guts of the individual. Some make it, some don’t.

What parts of the story stuck with me? How about a frightening encounter with a grizzly? How about the race between a dog sled and a snowmobile? How about the descriptions of serious and long-term cabin fever? And the story has a town, Kahiltna, a composite of little Alaskan towns the author is familiar with. And each quirky character is entertaining in his or her own way. I enjoyed their humor and the companionship and really didn’t want the book to end. These were people I wanted to know and would enjoy sharing a “Long Dark” with – assuming I’m tough enough, of course.

Randles is proving to be a very good author. I got hooked on him through his second book, “Raven’s Prey,” which is a very enjoyable thriller, also set in Alaska.

His writing is sparse, yet exceptionally descriptive.

The following would be considered sacrilege by my American lit teacher of about 100 years ago, but I am reminded of Earnest Hemmingway – specifically “The Old Man and the Sea” – in the way Randles’ books and chapters are short, yet you come away with a vivid and complete mental picture of the character, setting and action.

If you don’t agree, read just chapter 10 of “The Long Dark” and let me know what you think. I believe this is fiction writing at its finest, not to be confused with the efforts of some current authors who take 700 pages of convoluted prose to tell a weak story, and you still can’t figure out what the heck happened and why when it’s all over.

Give Randles a try, and then maybe your next gig will be in Alaska, where the men are still tough, the women even tougher and Pomeranians wouldn’t even be considered good bait.


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