Buffalo Drive
(continued)

Link to previous page
 
 
John and Mickie are now providing some really exciting outdoor adventures.
To learn more visit www.EdenLakeBisonRanch.com

 
The next morning we took off with them on the trip with the last two buffalo.  It was a great ride that day since the temperatures had warmed to the upper twenties.  Since this was my first time on a snow machine I didn't haul a sled, plus the new piston and rings could wear in.
From Manley it's 30 miles down the Tanana river and then 20 miles across land to get to Eden Lake.  Many people reading this wouldn't consider Manley large enough to be called a town. Anytime the only store and gas station is also the Post Office, you know it's small.  Mickie now lives 52 miles from here.  Well, with the loaded sleds it takes about four hours to The Homestead.  Running empty, about two to three hours depending on how rough you want to ride the snow machines.
This picture shows a section of the river that is glare ice.  Most of the river is covered with snow. I was surprised that after riding for miles on the river over the snow, how I felt insecure when I could see the ice. Being able to see the ice made it seem, for the first time, like I was really on a frozen river.  The ice was about four to five feet thick, but it still seemed different.
Here's a picture of a typical section of trail across land.  Sometimes we would cross a meadow and other times we'd be in wooded areas with trees and branches close on each side of the trail.  There are plenty of turns on this trail.  When we came out at higher speeds, the turns kept me really busy.  I had to slow down, turn the corner and speed up in the straights in order to keep up with the others who have made this trip over two hundred times in the last six years.
This is the section called Deep Creek.  You may recall the summertime picture in our last webpage of the bridge for the bulldozer to cross here.  The logs on the right side of the crossing are the remains of that bridge.  During most years the water comes as high as the front of the buffalo sled during the spring melt.  A new bridge needs to be built each year. 

To keep the sled from sliding sideways, Matt, Mitch and Mark pulled on a rope while John eased into position, then once he was straight with the crossing he used full throttle to climb up the other side.

Max was taking the digital photos and I was recording video.  The video footage provides a better perspective and sense of reality of this whole experience.

But if you want to see the real Alaska, you'll have to come up here yourself in the winter, as well as the summer.

 

We're across Deep Creek and only 15 miles to go.
We went ahead with Matt and 800 pounds of barley seed.  Mark stayed back with John and the bison sled.  By the time we unloaded we heard them coming.  We unloaded the last two bison and the supplies from Mark's sled.  After a brief look around and a snack, we started back to Manley.

All 14 Bison were now at Eden Lake.

None got loose -- nobody got hurt -- John and Mickie were smiling.

Here's a picture on the ride back.  The bright yellow light is a reflector from the camera flash.  The reflectors are set in about every half mile for a race that runs down the Tanana River including the 2004 Iditarod.  Max is on the left, Matt is on the machine and John's on the right.
 
 
Here's John and Mickie's place in Manley.  It's mostly a stopping off or staging area for making The Homestead a reality; but then their Fairbanks property is that also, it's just closer to paying jobs.  Mickie was driving oil tankers and John still works for the State of Alaska on the road crew.   Also on the road crew are Mac, Pete and Mark.

John plans on keeping his job in Fairbanks for another three years and to fly out to The Homestead on his three days off each week. (Did I mention that he is a pilot and has a small plane?)

The Airstream trailer under the overhang is the one Mickie came to Alaska in 10 or 12 years ago.

Hey, on the right, just above the black box.  Take note of the little white shed.  I'll talk about it later.
We always had a plan for what we were doing the next day, but it usually changed several times as the day went on.  The bison had all been successfully transported, but there were still the two horses to get to The Homestead.  They were too tall for the bison sled.  John thought about ripping the top off of it and pulling them out in the sled, but was afraid that it wouldn't structurally hold up.
So, the latest plan was that Mickie would leave about 6:00 a.m. and walk the two horses out to The Homestead with her dog, Joy.  As it is a 52 mile hike, she'd have to camp out at least one night.  John would go out that night on a snow machine to check on her and then return to Manley so we could all double up and leave the next morning with more freight and the geese, chickens, turkey and dogs.

So Mickie took off on schedule and we began getting ready for tomorrow's trip.  About 3 or 4 hours after Mickie left with the horses, John drove out on a snow machine to see how she was doing.  She was about 12 miles down river but had to overcome several challenges.  There was an overflow on the river and the horses were heavy enough to break through it.

An overflow results when the river freezes, say five feet thick ice, and then as the water underneath reduces during winter, the ice settles downward maybe two or three feet.  As water begins to flow in the late winter or early spring, it may not have enough room under the ice and pushes up to the top through cracks or at the edges.  This overflow was about 100 yards across and a quarter mile long.  Near the source it mounded up in an ice flow about three feet thick.  On the shallow side it was about a foot deep.  The top of the overflow was several inches of ice covering a foot or more of slushy water, all on top of five feet of solid ice.

The larger horse, the mare, (and mother of the 1 year old colt,) was punching through the overflow, but worse yet, her colt slipped on the ice.  The colt tried to stand up but it was too slick.  Mickie finally had to tie a rope around the colt and drag it to the edge of the river off of the ice.  The overflow ice is thinnest at the edge and so all three of them had to walk out in knee deep icy slush, (and it was a little above zero degrees that day.)

That's Alaska!  This happened just five miles out.  I would have turned around about this point.
 
Meanwhile, John returned and we loaded the sleds.  About mid-afternoon we headed out to cut some firewood when John saw Charlie, the local bush pilot, landing his Cessna on the airstrip. 

We rode over and made arrangements for Cheryl and Cocoa to fly out to The Homestead with Charlie.  We could land on frozen Eden Lake.

Now John could leave that night and camp out with Mickie on the trail.  As we rode off to tell Cheryl, I heard an odd noise coming from the machine I was riding.

 

It turner out to be a broken bolt -- a 10 inch bolt.  It holds the rollers on the track.  Now we were down one snow machine.  I figured this would put an end to getting out to The Homestead.  John could ride out with Mickie and I'd have to drive back to Fairbanks for repair parts.

But a broken bolt didn't slow John down.  Within minutes John had the rollers off and was cutting off the threads from another 3/8" bolt to weld onto the 10 inch broken bolt.  About an hour later we were back in business.

So that night John left with his sled of freight and provisions for the night.  He found Mickie -- she had made it 30 miles to the start of the trail through the woods and had bedded down for the night.  I digitally brightened this picture so it looks more like daytime than it really was.  So here they are camped out and it was probably 5 or 10 degrees below zero F, but what's a few degrees anyway?

In California the missions are twenty miles apart since that's how far a man with a horse and supplies can travel in a day.  Somehow Mickie had walked thirty miles in freezing weather.  She had to deal with falling horses and slushing through the overflow.  She is a very tough, determined girl.  That's Mickie!

You might ask why she didn't ride the big horse to The Homestead, (well, I asked her anyway.)  She said that she tried riding the mare for a little while, but that the horse was so concerned about the colt that she kept looking back to see where he was.  Because of the mare's lack of concentration on the trail, she kept walking off into unstable areas -- so it was easier to just walk them.
 
The next morning I got up before dawn and finished getting ready.  I rode up to the community well to fill the water jugs.

The plan was for Mitch, Max, Matt and myself to take off on the two snow machines, pulling the sleds and head out for The Homestead.  John, who was already 30 miles in with Mickie, would head to The Homestead and open it up.  (The doors and windows were all boarded up so that bears couldn't get in.)

Cheryl and Cocoa would leave an hour or two later and fly out with Charlie.  Hopefully John would already be there or Cheryl and Cocoa would be out in the middle of nowhere trying to find the boarded up cabin by themselves.

Charlie said not to worry, if John wasn't there, he'd help her get into the cabin and get a fire going, then fly out to find John and Mickie and fly back to the cabin if necessary.  (There are no cell phone towers out here and no way to tell someone if you're going to be late, lost, broken down, hurt, or anything else.)
So we got an early start just in case.  In this picture Mitch and Matt are on the left and Max and I are on the right as we leave from Pete's cabin.  Right in between us, in the background you can see the wings of Charlie's plane.

On my sled is a file cabinet and an entire 8 x 8 foot shed that was standing just yesterday.  That right, it's the one I told you to take note of in a previous picture.

On our way to The Homestead, we met up with Mickie, the horses and Joy on the trail just across Deep Creek.  She only had another 15 miles to go.  She said she heard a plane to the south about a half hour earlier and guessed it was Charlie and Cheryl.

John had an early start from the trail head that morning so he should have been there long before they landed.

John had arrived early enough to get the cabin opened up, make a fire and even groom the snow on the lake and set some cones and markers to make Charlie's landing easier.  These pictures are frames from our video camera so the resolution is not the best. 

This is Charlie, (on the right), and John.  Charlie is a bush pilot that's been flying people into the interior of Alaska for some of the best big fish adventures you can imagine.  As you can see by the skis on his plane, he's set up for winter flying.  In the summer the skis will be replaced with pontoons.  If you want to take a real adventure trip, give him a call.  You can contact Charlie at his home in North Pole, Alaska, (just outside of Fairbanks,) at (907) 490-0000 or click here to see his flyer

The red arrow points to the cabin and the lake is the white area stretching from side-to-side just behind the cabin.

Although they don't own the lake they do own 320 acres that surround the lake.  The white area above the arrow is a dirt landing strip and another smaller lake behind that.  Beyond that there is nothing but raw Alaska.

By the time the boys and I arrived at the cabin, Cheryl had food cooking and we settled in to wait for Mickie.

About 3:30 that afternoon John and I were building a gate on the buffalo pen when Max shouted, "THERE'S JOY."

So we knew Mickie was not far behind.  I ran to get the camera.

John said to Mickie, "How are you doing?"  Mickie replied, "I just want to get away from these horses." 

Her feet were sore but she made it!  19 hours of walking to travel 52 miles, an average speed of 2.7 mph. 

". . . . It is my goal to live there someday. . . . .

Congratulations Mickie -- it must be "Someday"

March 25, 2002 @ 3:44 p.m.

The next day Cheryl and Mickie stayed at the lake and the rest of us rode back to Manley for a final load.  This time it would be the geese, chickens, dogs and one turkey.  (No, the dogs are not really tall -- they are standing on the cages that the other animals are in.)

It had cooled down again.  I don't think the daytime high was much above 15oF and possibly as low as 0oF as we rode back.  That's getting a little cold when you consider the wind as we drive is about 25 mph on the machines.

 

By time we loaded up it was time for dinner so we had a bite to eat at the Roadhouse.  7:30 p.m. and we are leaving on our 52 mile run.
I think this might be an area of the overflow.  We usually went around on the left, but with two days of warmer weather it was becoming slushy all across.

On the way into town Max was driving and I was riding on the back.  As we started to cross the overflow I felt the back of the snow machine dropping down about 6 to 12 inches.  It only took me a fraction of a second to get my hand over Max and push the throttle level to full.  We quickly turned the snow machine into a Jet Ski.

On the way back that night I was behind John pulling the animals in the buffalo sled.  As he sped through the slush he looked more like a jet boat kicking up a ten foot spray.  He got a little wet as the front of the sled, seen above, shoots the slush forward onto his back.
Here we are taking a break.  We are ten miles from Manley where the slough joins the Tanana River. All together, we made three round-trips for a total of 300 miles. Max drove about 200 of those miles and enjoyed every second of it. Except, maybe the last hour of this night when it was cold and he was really tired.  Mitch doesn't express himself much, but I'm sure he was as cold as the rest of us.

We made it to The Homestead at about 11:00 that night.  Tired, cold and glad to get off of those machines.

While we spent time at The Homestead, the boys learned some interesting cooking techniques.  Here's Mitch making corn muffins from scratch.  In Alaska, "scratch" means you start from a bag of dried corn.  The boys used a hand grinder to grind the corn into meal.  Mickie uses whole dried corn and wheat.  Commercial flour and corn meal won't keep as long as the actual wheat grain and corn kernels.

Oh, that's right!  I see a 36 can pack of Frisky cat food in this picture.  I forgot to mention the cat that made the trip the night before.  The cat really didn't appreciate riding out with four big dogs and the noisy geese.


We enjoyed a hot breakfast in the warm cabin.
Snow is melting in the pots on the wood stove for washing and cleaning.
In case you're wondering, the out-house is out in back.
While breakfast cooked, John put up his windsock to indicate the winds when he's in his plane.  He plans to continue working in Fairbanks and fly out each week on his three days off.
The picture below is real wide.  You'll need to scroll right to see all of it

Everything you see in this picture, except the bulldozer, has been hauled out on sleds during the winter.  The bulldozer was brought down the river on a barge during the summer and then driven down the trail the last twenty miles.  When they started this project there was nothing here except the small cabin, to the left of the house and to the right of the bulldozer.  This is the result of six years of a dream, hard work, a clear goal, and some good friends to help along the way.

I digitally pasted several pictures together.  I am actually standing between the dozer on the left and the buffalo in the pen on the right.  This is a flat view of a 180o view.  I guess if you can print this whole picture on several sheets of paper and then wrap it around, you could see the actual view.   I think I might even try that.

Note 2014: When this picture was taken you could barely see a scratch in the terrain from satellite images. Check it out now! That's 320 acres of work done by two people, but I think mostly Micki and one tractor.

 
While were there we toured their property.  Here we are on the lake.  You can see a cone on the landing strip.  Their cabin sits on top of the hill in the trees just to the right of me.

By the way, if you're ever going into the cold, buy industrial-strength outer wear called Refrigiwear, (www.refrigiwear.com).  It's not expensive and it works great!  It kept us very warm, even at -26oF and it's rated for temperatures much lower.

Next, we rode out to see a stand of timber that they will use to build another cabin.  They are thinking about building another cabin to rent to people who really want a wilderness adventure.

If anyone is interested in getting information about this, send us an e-mail and we'll get you in touch with them.

On the way back we stopped for a picture by the "Bison Xing" sign.

One night after dinner John told us the whole story about the bear they had to shoot from their sleeping bag six years ago.  On the way back from touring their property we stopped by the remains of the original old homestead cabin.  Although there's no tarp on the lean-to, the poles they set up that night six years ago are still there.  He showed us where they were sleeping, where he first saw the bear just two feet from his face, how John quickly jumped up and screamed at the bear -- momentarily scaring it off, how the bear came back an hour later, and how he came back a third time by sneaking clear around the back side of the lean-to.  By then it was early morning and Mickie spotted his silhouette through the blue tarp as he sneaked up on them.  Hearing the whole story in detail after dinner was really exciting.  Actually seeing the scene and getting it all into perspective was incredible.  If you ever go up to see them, ask to hear the whole story.

That's Alaska!
 
The next morning we said good-bye to Mickie and headed back to Manley.  I had noticed that the trail paralleled a small river for several miles and asked why the rougher trail was used instead.  On the way back, John told Matt and Cheryl to ride ahead and meet us where the trail meets the small river. Then he looked to me and said, "Ok Ed, follow me."

I was about to find out that you can't just haul freight off the river anywhere you want.  The river banks here are all real steep.  You'll notice Max is not on the snow machine here.  When he saw the hill he was off in a second.  "Dad, Dad -- Let me off", he shouted.

We had fun cutting through untouched snow for about five miles down the river.  We met up with Matt and Cheryl, ate lunch and took turns target shooting John's 45.

The boys were real impressed with this -- they'd never shot a gun before.  Mitch was first.  I shouted, "wait, wait, let me put a target out there."  I put a candy wrapper about 40 yards out.  Mitch nailed it with his first shot. 

Max didn't care too much for the kick and only tried a couple of shots.  John tells us that Mickie still can't believe that her San Diego-beach-girl sister actually shot the 45.

We all returned to Fairbanks, except Mickie; now happily living at her lake with her animals and thinking about the crops she'll be planting in a few weeks.

The next day John and Matt flew to The Homestead from Fairbanks in John's Cessna.  He dropped Matt off in Manley and gave him an hour head start on a snow machine.  Then he flew out to see how he was doing and flew on to The Homestead.  Matt made the 52 mile trip in 1 hour 45 minutes. 

Matt was bringing out a machine for Mickie to use at The Homestead and then he'd fly back to Fairbanks to go to school on Monday.

Here's a picture of Matt waving to his dad and a shadow of the plane.

It's hard to believe all of this happened in just nine days.

That's Alaska!

For your own Alaskan adventure check out Micki's Adventure Vacation Deals

Stay tuned for our next adventure -- how we helped a group of high school kids on a school bus that got stuck in ice on the Kenai Peninsula.
 
Go to home page
Index
Previous Adventure (Buffalo Drive Part I)
 Next Adventure  (Hunting lions in the Congo)

ã Copyright Nodland 1999