By David Peterka
Barreling down the beach in a beat up old brown Chevy Silverado, past an ever-changing landscape of obstruction and peril, Colorado Kurt shoots me one of his insane, coffee-fueled, crack-headed glances that penetrates the roaring, coughing unreliability of the dilapidated truck and the hazy Alaskan darkness that we both know won’t last for more than a few hours, and you know what he says to me? He says, “DAVE!” hoarse and hollering, “IF WE DON’T MAKE THIS…WE’RE FUCKED!” as we haul ass bouncing down into one of the many stream beds that haunt this endless stretch of beach, split the water wide open, slam into the opposing bank, lurch and crawl, and every last horse under the hood belching and blaring and begging for reprieve, pressured by two thousand pounds of dead and dying salmon. We emerge relieved, weary, but far from victorious because it’s been a long day and it’s a long way to the processor, and we’re riding in that same damn run-down disaster truck whose vital organs hit the dirt just the other night while Kurt navigated the same lonesome route, humbled locomotive innards rigged in place by an awkward combination of rope and duct tape—details lost in the tumult. An hour later, Colorado Kurt pounds the door and wakes the young guy from Washington who is stuck working the station, and he replies with grinding hydraulics, jarring forklift advance and retreat driven under the influence of that same burning “What the fuck am I doing out in Bristol Bay?” question that rots the mind at four in the morning, and a Sprite for the ride home.
We make our return in silence, move down the beach with care, absent-minded exchange of words just to keep our eyes open. Kurt tells me about his wife, beginning with “I ain’t gonna lie to ya, Dave,” and ending with some rambling story about how she’s not too pretty, but to him she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. I hang on his words in the flickering dawn, drift-boat spotlights dot the water by the millions, and we’re losing sleep by the second, when it spills over me warm and fleshy that this whole Alaska thing sure isn’t pretty, but right now it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.