Sharing A River

| April 07, 2005

“The U.S. Geological Survey has identified 75 bears along that short river.”

The Alaskan Brown Bear has an acute sense of smell. It doesn’t see very well, and it’s hearing is not the sharpest in the animal kingdom, but if you are standing out in the open water of a small, shallow river, it will know you are there. And this species is known to occasionally kill and eat larger animals.

“I used to worry about them at first, but you get used to them. There’s so much food I guess they don’t even need to think of us as food. As long as you don’t get between a sow and a cub, or between two males bristling over territory, they leave you alone. Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t want to know where they are when you are out in the middle of the river. They’ll drift along with the current and sometimes if you don’t stay alert they’ll be right up beside you.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever really gotten over being nervous having them there. They’re kind of scary until you get used to them, and even then you spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder. But now I’m just aware of them all the time. I used to take a gun, but I don’t any more. And they are very intelligent and curious, so they might find you interesting if they get close enough.

“The biggest of the bears on the Kulik are probably eight feet tall and maybe 1,300 pounds. I have a great respect for them. For me they are the king of the beasts. To be that close to them is amazing.”

Jolly got to fish the river again when he and his men went back after the winter freeze to finish the work begun the previous fall.

“It’s a different sort of life up here, and it’s a different sort of driving. We do solo and team, and we’re always looking for drivers who can handle Alaska. It’s not the same as down there,” Jolly says. “Take the traffic volume for example. Here you can go for hours and not see anyone, and there’s not a gas station on most corners. There’s a lot of planning that goes into loads going a long way on our roads. Leave Fairbanks heading north, and you have to take your own spares and impact wrenches and jacks. You get a flat, they don’t send the Goodyear man out.”

One thing you may like if you go north to drive. “We have an hours-of-service exception up here,” says Jolly. “We can drive 15 hours a day and be on duty for twenty hours. Down there you can drive 60 hours in seven days; here it’s 70. That’s necessary, because only in the best conditions can you do Fairbanks to Prudhoe in twelve hours.”

Married 23 years, Jolly now takes son Matthew, 18, a fine fisherman in his own right, along on trips to distant rivers and bays, and his wife Susan and daughter Amanda, 16, also love to fish.

“Matthew is like me; he loves this Alaskan country. He’s a guide in some pretty remote country, and he’s a natural when it comes to fishing. He caught an 86-pound King Salmon when he was ten. He’s got the touch.”

Dan Durnwald’s favorite picture from the lake is this one: his daughter and niece toss a bucket over Dad as Ann’s mom and stepdad enjoy the fun at a big family outing.

Rods & Barrels

Family Time at the Lake

When driver Dan Durnwald heads into the great outdoors (and that’s most weekends), he’s never alone. “The kids would never let me head out in the boat or camp out in the camper if they weren’t along,” says the veteran Heartland Express OTR driver who handles a 2003 Freightliner Columbia. Durnwald, with Kortney, 7, David, 4, and wife Ann, drives from hometown Bloomville, Ohio, to camp near the islands and waters of Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. (see our Destinations story).

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