Later that night, Dan unrolled his sleeping bag inside the tent, "What a crazy day this has been."
"Yeah," Trevor said. "I can still taste the acid in my mouth from throwing up."
"You were about half as nuts as that man, Buffalo," Dan said. "Why'd you go up there and eat that raw fish anyway?"
"I don't know...just seemed like the thing to do at the time," Trevor said, chuckling. "Only I didn't plan on puking my guts out."
"You sure were funny," Dan said.
"Why not?" Trevor said. "We're in Alaska to have a good time."
"I never figured on a bunch of grown men out in the wilds living like real pioneers," Dan said. "I guess you're right...we're here to have fun, but be careful."
"Have I done anything wrong in the last two weeks?" Trevor asked his brother. "No! I'm watching what I'm doing, so don't worry about me. I'll be Buckskin Trev and you be Dogface Dan, and we'll have the times of our lives, okay?"
"Sorry," Dan said. "I wasn't trying to give you a hard time, but you do go charging off sometimes...."
"Maybe, but I think before I charge now days," Trevor said.
"That's true," Dan said. "I'll give you credit for that."
"Anyway, I think they like us," Trevor said. "Heck, they walk around with a grin on their faces all the time. If they didn't want us here, we'd feel it."
"If you keep pulling off stunts like that fish deal, they'll want us here for the whole rendezvous, just for laughs," Dan said.
"Sure, why not?"
"I give up, you're nuts...."
"Come on...I'm just having a good time," Trevor said.
"I know, I know," Dan said. "Let's get some sleep."
Early the following morning, Flapjack Jones clanged the breakfast bell, "Come and git it or I'll feed it to the bears."
"That smells good," Trevor said, rubbing the cobwebs out of his eyes.
"We'll be right there Flapjack," Dan said.
After eating, Buckskin Trevor asked Curly, "What's on the agenda for today?"
"How'd ya' like to shoot a flintlock rifle at some buffalo targets?"
"Does a grizzly bear have teeth?" Trevor joked. "Count us in."
"Follow me down to the shootin' range for a few lessons," Curly said, throwing a rifle over his shoulder.
They followed the frontier man along a path, over a ridge and down a bank to a clearing near a river. The soft, spongy soil sank with each footstep. A group of men stood on a firing line facing cardboard buffalo targets fifty yards away. One of the buckskinners walked up to the line, marked his sights, aimed and fired. A click sounded as the hammer came down on the flint. An instant later, smoke belched out the chamber and a loud crack split the air.
"Mark a score, bull's-eye," the judge called out.
"Got a couple of green horns here," Curly said. "Let 'em step up to the line for a shot."
"Okay, Buckskin, come over here and load this rifle," said a man named Slim.
"First, ya' clean the barrel with this cloth at the end of this rod. Then you pour a shot of black powder down the muzzle. After that, wrap the ball in this grease cloth. Stick it down the barrel and tamp it down. Check your flint and you're ready to fire."
"Am I ready to stand on the firing line?" Trevor asked, minutes later.
"All clear at the firing line...go ahead Buckskin," the firing judge said.
The rifle jerked as smoke belched into the air.
"Miss," the judge called out.
"I aimed square into the target," Trevor complained.
"Here, let me show you rookie," Dan said, stepping up.
Seconds later, the older boy aimed the rifle on the firing line. Dan squeezed the trigger. The rifle spit smoke and fire.
"A miss," the judge called out.
"I don't understand it," Dan said. "I aimed right at the target."
"Let me try again," Trevor said, stepping up to the line with another rifle.
The boy set himself on the line. He aimed high and pulled the trigger. The flintlock belched smoke and flame.
"Mark a score, bull's-eye," the judge called.
The skinners cheered.
Trevor beamed as he backed off the firing line.
"Way to go," Dan said, patting the new rifleman on the shoulder. "I saw how you shot high to hit the mark. Good thinkin'."
For three hours, the men fired volleys into the targets for points in the rifleman's contest. Trevor shot four more successful rounds. Later, each man and several women competed in Seneca runs. That test of skill involved running through the woods, firing at a point, and running off to the next target while reloading on the move. Targets hung in trees, or along the ground. The boys returned to camp in the late afternoon.
"What are those skinners doing over there in that bunch?" Dan asked.
"Let's find out," Trevor said.
The mountain men kneeled in a circle six feet across. A stone in the middle was the target. Everyone bet a quarter on the line and took turns throwing a brown object the size of a golf ball. Whoever tossed the object closest to the stone, won the match.
"What's this called?" Dan asked.
"It's called 'moose turd pitchin'," a skinner replied, laughing.
"Yeah, okay, whatever you say," Dan stammered, grinning in surprise.
"Jist don't git it between yer fingers," Trevor joked.
More buckskinners walked into camp as the evening drew near. A large kettle of moose meat stew simmered over the fire. Gravy filled with carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peas, and corn bubbled over the flames. The boys stepped into line for dinner. With the first bite, Trevor said, "Flapjack! Ya dun it agin'. This here's the finest stew I ever ate. I wanna' say that right here and now."
"That shor' goes double for me," Dan said.
"Yer shor' 'nuff welcome," the cook said, smiling with pride.
The main event of the evening took place near the blazing bonfire in the middle of camp. Buckskinners gathered around for the arm wrestling contest to see who was the strongest man in Alaska. The hat maker, Shorty, accepted all challenges. His black beard and red stocking cap made him look even more ominous.
Several men tried and failed to move the champion's arm. Grunting, each of them struggled for a few moments, but fell to Shorty's strength. The boys watched until Yukon Jack pointed over at Trevor, "Hey, Buckskin, ya' been standing around here all day. Now, git in there and give ole Shorty a run for his money."
Trevor turned pale as a ghost. All eyes turned to him. He looked left, then right, and back over his shoulder, "Me?"
"They want you," Dan said.
"Why don't you go out there?" Trevor said to his brother.
"'Cuz you're stronger than me," Dan said. "You know it."
"That's easy for you to say," Trevor said. "That guy's big enough to stop a runaway train with one arm."
"Come on," Dan said, pressing his brother. "Go out there and give it your best shot."
"Okay," Trevor said, huffing out his chest and striding toward the giant. "All he can do is break my arm."
The boy rolled up his sleeve as he looked up nearly a foot, to stare into the eyes of his opponent. Blood rushed to Trevor's face as he took a deep breath and listened to the judge explain the rules.
"You men ready?" the judge asked.
"Yes, sir," Trevor said, scowling at Shorty.
Shorty growled into the boy's face.
Trevor roared back.
Shorty scowled, then spit off to the side.
Trevor swept his hair away from his forehead and clenched his teeth. He braced himself against the log and glared at his opponent. The boy locked his feet into place and slammed his arm down on the stump.
The mountain men cheered for the arm wrestlers.
"Okay, Shorty," Trevor snarled, through clenched teeth.
The monster of a mountain man gnashed his teeth and bellowed a hideous growl.
The giant locked hands with the teenager. They glared eyeball to eyeball. They breathed into one another's faces. Finally, the judge said, "GO!"
"Come on, Buckskin!" Dan cheered.
Shorty grunted and grimaced.
Trevor strained with all his might.
"Take it to 'em, Buckskin!" Dan yelled when he saw his brother move Shorty backward.
"Go Buckskin!" several men and women cheered.
The men hooted and hollered. Dan saw them supporting his brother. Trevor held the mountain man. Seconds later, the older boy watched several men nudging each other while they viewed the contest.
"Come on, take him," the older boy shouted.
Trevor strained, but the giant began pushing the young boy back. Slowly, Shorty pressed him down until Trevor's arm touched the stump.
The crowd yelled. "Way to go Buckskin!"
"Way to go!" Dan yelled, running up to grab his brother by the shoulders. "He'll get you next time, Shorty."
Trevor walked away, eyes blazing, "Did ya' see that?" he gasped. "I held him for awhile...I thought I was going to win...I must be stronger than I thought. When I get older, I'll beat Shorty."
"No doubt about it," Dan agreed.
The older boy smiled as he and his brother walked away from the stump. The men gave Trevor a round of applause and came up to shake his hand. As the boys left the circle, Buffalo sauntered up to the stump where Shorty stood. The boys turned to watch the action.
"I see ya' done whupped on my friend fair and square," Buffalo said. "But, I'm gonna' feed 'em more fish and he'll whup ya' next year."
Trevor grinned as everyone laughed at Buffalo's words.
"Now, I'm gonna prove I'm the strongest man in Alaska," Buffalo growled, glaring into Shorty's eyes.
"Trevor," Dan said. "Do you think Buffalo can take him?"
"I don't know," Trevor said. "Shorty's as strong as an ox."
The crowd watched Buffalo step up to the tree where Shorty waited. The two mountain men stood face to face. Buffalo raised his fists up to his waist and puffed out his chest. Shorty stuck out his chest. The two giants glared into each other's eyes. The veins in their necks stood out as they gnashed their teeth at each other. Shorty uttered a low, grunting sound, yelling into Buffalo's face, "Do ya' think ya' kin whup me midget?"
Buffalo growled, not happy with the insult.
He stomped around in a circle, still face to face with Shorty. The fish-eating mountain man said nothing. He stared, glared and grunted. The crowd cheered the two skinners.
Buffalo edged up to the stump, still glaring at Shorty until the bigger man stepped up to the block. The giant rolled up his sleeves. His right arm bulged with muscles. With a loud bellow, Shorty slammed his elbow down on the wood. Buffalo ripped off his shirt, threw it down on the ground, and locked fists with Shorty.
The judge stood next to the men, "You know the rules," he said.
They grunted a few more times and gnashed their teeth.
"On your mark, git set...GO."
Both men grunted, straining into each other.
Buffalo pressed into Shorty. Veins popped out on his arm. Shorty's neck bulged under the strain. The two men fought hand to hand. Their eyeballs strained and their faces turned red. Neither man moved.
"Come on Buffalo," Trevor cried out. "Get 'em!"
The two men fought to over-power one another, but each held his ground, not budging more than an inch. Suddenly, Buffalo bent over and planted a kiss on Shorty's struggling hand. The crowd shouted and laughed at the top of their lungs. Shorty lost his concentration and fell to the smaller man.
A smile spread over Buffalo's face when he looked over at the defeated, sweating Shorty.
"Ya' shouldn't have called me a midget," he snarled.
"Three cheers for the mountain men," the judge called out.
Later, the mountain men gathered around the bonfire to sing songs and tell stories. The flames burned brightly in the evening air. Each time someone threw on more wood, sparks exploded in all directions. As the evening grew long, the flames flickered more quietly. The embers danced in rows along the burning wood. Often, a pop from a wood knot burst out of the fire. As it burned down, skinners walked away into the night toward their teepees.
Late in the evening, the brothers sat cross-legged by themselves. They were talking when Gonzo walked up behind them, "Boys, we've been real proud to share our camp with you," he said, putting his hands on their shoulders.
"Buckskin, you done real good today. You and Dogface makin' a trip like this says there are still boys out there fightin’ to be men."
"Thank you," Trevor said.
"We play around a lot," Gonzo said. "But, we're here for the same reasons you are...we want to carry on the tradition of adventure. That's what ya' proved today Buckskin, and I want ya' to know that everyone here tonight saw that when ya' challenged Shorty. Ya' showed character. We respected that. Yer a couple of real mountain men."
"Thanks, Gonzo," Trevor said. "I always wanted to be a mountain man."
EXCERPTS from: Motorcycle Adventure to Alaska: Into the Wind By Frosty Wooldridge , Copies available: 1 888 280 7715
Frosty Wooldridge has motorcycled all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and territories as well as 10 countries in Europe. Next book: How to live a life of adventure: Exploring the World, available June 2010.