In His Honor-A Memory

Making Like Anthony Bourdain

“You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” Bill said.

I replied, “Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.” We were cruising the Holland America website exploring excursions for our Alaska vacation. As always, the conflict between my craving for adventure and Bill’s practical nature had to be taken into account. I added, “Honey, this ATV tour really does look terrific! We can fit it in the day we arrive in Denali. We’ll get to see a glacial moraine and a braided river!”

“Neither of us have ever ridden one of these things.”

“No, but I’ve driven a snowmobile, you’ve driven a motorcycle, and the website shows this is a level two adventure—perfect for us! If it were really dangerous it would be a level three. Please, please, can we sign up?”

My husband nodded. I added the ATV tour to our list of excursions and clicked “buy”. We started counting down the days until our departure for the fiftieth state and the vacation dreamed about for years.

After a scenic all-day train ride from Anchorage to Denali National Park, Bill and I checked into our rustic cabin, grabbed a quick dinner, and hopped on a van for a short drive to the Black Diamond ATV resort. Three handsome young men garbed in mud splattered rain suits greeted us as we clambered off the van and stumbled over water-filled ruts to the resort office. The tallest of the group yelled, “Okay, peoples, first you watch safety film, then you grab helmet, gloves and raincoat!” They herded us into a drafty shed with our twenty or so fellow adventurers.

“See, honey, they obviously have been doing this a while or they wouldn’t make us watch this safety film and oh, uh, read this two-page liability release form…” The mandatory film was a well-produced infomercial for a popular brand of ATVs. There was some mention of things like wearing a helmet, following instructions, using the hand brakes. The liability release form was vague enough that one couple decided to wait in the van rather than experience the adventure.

We donned our gear, laughing a bit at the awkward fit of the helmets and the dirt-encrusted gloves. Chatting with our guides, we discovered that they were college students from Bulgaria working in Alaska for the summer to learn the tourist business. The crew hustled our crowd to the muddy yard to select our ATVs.  “Womens take big machines! Much safer! Mens, little ones goes faster!” shouted one of our guides.

I pulled myself up onto a big, green four-wheeled ATV. Somewhere during our suiting up, I think we were told how to start the machine, but between the guide’s rough accent, his distracting smile, and the muffling of my helmet, I missed most of the instructions. Bill sped off while I was still trying to find the on switch. After a few minutes my guide strode over, turned on the engine, and urged, “Go quick! You are behind!”

I gunned the engine. My ATV roared out of the yard and onto the gravel-strewn trail. In seconds, I was running off the trail and skewing into dense brush. I clamped down hard on the hand brake and shuddered to a stop. I jockeyed my weighty machine back and forth to regain the trail. After a few minutes of strenuous effort, I gunned the engine again and set off to find my group.

The trail took a sharp left turn. I pulled to the left with all my strength. I negotiated that turn only to be confronted by a ninety-degree right turn and an ill-placed boulder. I yanked hard, but the ATV knew I was no match. The big green monster bounced over the boulder and flew off the trail and down the steep hillside. I hung on with an iron grip as the monster sought level ground. We traveled faster and faster smashing over wildflowers and boulders alike.

“Oh, my God, I’m going to die my first day in Alaska!” Suddenly an image flashed before my eyes. Just the week before while watching the Travel Channel, I had seen host Anthony Bourdain in a very similar predicament. Frantically, I recalled his heavy ATV rolling over him twice as he crashed down a steep sand mound. “What did Anthony say he should have done?”

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” I leapt off at the next bounce. The monster galloped downhill. I was airborne for a few seconds and then I hit the ground hard. Opening my eyes, I found I had landed in a large patch of brilliant purple fireweed. The dense foliage and the daypack I had cleverly worn front-wise broke my fall.

I moved my head and each limb in turn. “Nothing’s broken!” I extricated myself from the smashed blossoms and stood up. A head appeared above me on the trail.

My guide looked at me with a quizzical expression and asked, “Why you drive off trail, lady?”

After figuring out that I was not the litigious sort, my dark-eyed escort said, “Lady, maybe you ride with me now. I got plenty room. You have more fun, okay, lady?” Georges and I quickly caught up with our group.

“Honey, I drove off the trail and crashed my ATV, so Georges suggested I ride with him,” I explained to my shocked husband. After a quick hug and a shake of his head, Bill chased off after one of his new buddies. It turned out that Bill took to ATV’ing like a grizzly to ground squirrels. He sped around turns, raced up hills, splashed through puddles and generally behaved in a totally un-Bill manner. I escaped my adventure with only bruises and scrapes. Word of my derring-do soon spread within our tour group and I dined out on the heroic story for several days.

A couple of months later, we acquired coveted tickets to a lecture given by my favorite chef, author, and adventurer. His talk was funny. I bought his latest book and stood in line to have it autographed. As I waited, I rehearsed a fifty-word version of my amazing story to share with him.

I sauntered up to the signing table. “Chef Bourdain,” I said, “Remember the ATV accident you had in New Zealand, you know, the one where you almost got crushed on the sand dune? The exact same thing happened to me in Alaska, only I remembered what you said you should have done and I jumped. So, here I am!”

Tony favored me with a blank stare.

“You saved my life!” I gushed.

My hero’s mouth turned up in a scornful smile. He scrawled something illegible in my book. In his jaded eyes, I could see the question, “What the hell kind of numbskull middle-aged broad talked herself into driving an ATV in the wilds of Alaska?”


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