Growing Up Alaska: Trapping Class

One of the advantages of growing up in the middle of nowhere, the social norms were not always the same. One of the after school clubs that I attended was a course on trapping and caring for your furs. Done today in an urban setting, this would probably be met with as much red tape as red paint, but where I grew up, this was a way of life.

And if the fur trade wasn’t enough to get a club like this banned in most places, the fact that we brought guns to school would have caused clueless people to lose their minds. As it was, for the class, we had to show up to school early and were required to demonstrate the gun was unloaded before turning it in to the principal who locked it in his office.

After school, after the bus had left, we could check our guns back out, load up on our snow machines and drive to the edge of the school grounds where we reloaded the gun and checked in with the instructor.

Now, this wasn’t a class that just anyone could participate in. You had to have good grades, taken the marksman class and passed the arctic survival class. Even the rumor of misbehaving could get you kicked out.

We were all excited as this class occurred over a month. Twice a week we went out after school as a group and learned how to track animals and set traps. On the weekend, one of us would be chosen to check the traps with the instructor. Seeing that there were four of us, that meant we each had a weekend.

Now, I already had my own trapline and had for a few years already, but, like I said, this was going to be a fun class and I am always open to learning something new.

We sped through town, following our instructor before turning off the main trail to follow Crooked Creek. After we were a couple of miles out of town, we started on our trapline that was marked with special blue ribbons so people knew who ran it.

We’d stop and check traps, look at signs (prints, hair, broken branches, etc.) and practice building trap setups. Like the last two weeks, we had caught nothing, which was fine with me. Out instructor promised to bring in a couple of animals to practice skinning if we didn’t find anything soon.

We wrapped up and were heading home, zipping along the trails and having fun. The instructor left us as we reached the creek and turned to head to his home farther out of town.

We weren’t racing, but playing follow the leader. One person would make a path in fresh snow or turn down side paths and we all followed until, without saying anything, another would take the lead.

We were almost back to Central and I was in the back, having just led the last few minutes. The kid in the lead took us back and forth across the creek before going up the bank to a trail that split off through the woods.

We all drove similar snow machines that we owned, except the kid in front of me who was using his dad’s workhorse of a snow machine, an Arctic Cat Jag 3000. It was faster than our machines if opened up on a flat stretch, but was much heavier and wider so it didn’t handle as well in the deep snow.

I heard the crash before I saw it as I came over the bank. There, wedged between two large spruce trees was the Jag. The other two snow machines made it through, but the Jag was just a little too wide.

My friend had smashed into the handle bars and windscreen, messing them both up and coming away with a hurt shoulder and chest.

Our other two friends had heard the crash too and turned around and came back. We all sprung into action from our arctic survival first aid class and determined that our friend was not seriously injured or in dire need of first aid attention.

What he did cry about though, was that his dad was going to kill him for wrecking the snow machine. We tried to assure him that it wasn’t that bad as we straightened out the handle bar and tried to repair the windscreen.

The only thing we couldn’t figure out was how to free the snow machine. We lifted and pulled and jerked on, but nothing worked. We even tried to pull if free with another snow machine, only to pull the back bumper off!

This was met with wails from our friend who sat off to the side, holding his chest. This just proved to us that the only way we were going to free the snow machine was to cut down a tree.

We chose the one closest to the creek since it was already leaning a bit that way. We took turns whacking away at the tree until it started to fall. It went slowly at first, but once it moved over enough, we ran and let gravity do its thing. The tree tumbled down with a loud crack and crash as the trunk twisted itself off and the tree fell across the creek.

We went back to study our work, only to find that the tree had broken itself just above where the snow machine was wedged between the trees. While this did nothing to help free it, it did make it clear that the hull and the cowling had both been smashed in by a few inches on each side.

We’d been at this for over an hour and we were sure our families were going to start to worry. It would take a little longer for my family to worry as I lived nearly 8 miles away and it would be another 30-45 minutes before anyone began to wonder about me, but none of us were willing to leave our friend behind.

It was suggested that if we cut down the other tree, we might be able to free the machine, though none of us really thought it would, but knew we needed to do something. We decided to cut a wedge much lower on this side and prayed the tree wouldn’t twist and fall back onto the snow machine.

We were just about to tackle the second tree when we noticed that our friend that had wrecked his machine was gone. One of the boys spotted him walking up the trail and we took off in pursuit.

He’d decided that we would never get the snow machine free and he was just going to walk home. We assured him we could get his machine free, we just needed a little more time, but he was determined to go home, so one of the boys that lived close to him gave him a ride home.

It turned out that they did have to cut down the second tree to free the machine and our friend did get into trouble, but not nearly as bad as any of us thought. As it turned out, his dad had secretly let him use the machine knowing that his son would likely mess it up in some way. He’d expected a bent ski or blown engine, but the wedge worked. The cowling never would latch down properly again and the snow machine had a tendency to overheat, so he was able to convince his wife to spend money on a new machine.

And that machine became our friend’s machine. Until he blew the motor, but that is a different story altogether.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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