Korby's Connections: Remembering a friend and a crazy venture
February 4, 2022
Last June, I lost a close friend, Gary Ross. It wasn't officially recorded as a direct Covid-19 death, but the damn pandemic was surely a contributing factor.
Sorry about the curse, but it is deserved. He was a couple years older than me and had cancer scares, diabetes, tremors and, finally, heart issues which were ultimately his undoing. Gary's wife died about a year earlier. Since her illness was at the height of the pandemic, he couldn't even visit her at the hospital until she went into intensive care. He also had a sister with a heart ailment who had surgery delayed due to Covid. Gary was her caretaker as well. She died shortly after he drove her to the hospital. I'm sure both events contributed to his heart issues too. With Gary's trauma - happening over about a year's time - there is only so much a person can be expected to take.
But this is a happier tale. Recent winter weather reminded me of this 40-year-old story. The two of us were having a late supper at the now closed Iverson Inn on Minnesota Highway 210, probably around January 1980.
Gary loved hamburgers and Pepsi. It's what they served after his funeral, for God's sake. Iverson served the best hamburgers and fries in northeastern Minnesota. Their beer wasn't bad either. I probably had two.
After polishing off two gigantic Iverson burgers and, for emphasis, his signature Pepsi burp, Gary said, "We should go and shovel the snow off the roof of Monk's hunting shack."
Tom "Monk" Montgomery's hunting shack was in the Brimson/Pequaywan Lake area about 60 miles northeast of Cloquet. I thought it was a fun idea but also knew there were incoming weather alerts. So, I asked "When?" His quick answer was, "Tonight!"
Everyone should have a friend like Gary. He'd go on traveling adventures at the drop of a hat. He weighed risks but would do things spontaneously, not always sure of the outcome. Quick calculation, I figured the earliest we would get to the hunting shack would be midnight. Gary drove a 1968 Chevy. It had a lot of rust. The forecast was for 6 inches of snow ending by midnight, and below-zero temperatures by morning. I agreed to go, but a bit reluctantly. We went home to Cloquet to pack our required gear.
Monk's hunting shack was about 2 miles from any plowed road. It had no running water or electricity, an outdoor biff, but had propane lights and a wood heater/furnace. We'd have to snowshoe to our destination. We both brought warm clothes and both had big, old-style Alaskan snowshoes. A lot of fresh snow greeted us in Brimson. No one had been on the logging trail to the hunting shack for several weeks. Gary parked the Chevy where he hoped the county snowplow would cooperate, and he'd be able to drive it out of the snow banks the next day.
Strapping on the snowshoes and hooking our sleeping bags to our backs, we prepared for our journey. Gary had packed a couple of Pepsis and granola bars for the trek. He said to not lock the car doors, to make sure we could get into the car the next day. He was afraid the locks could freeze. It was now partly cloudy and the moon was even peeking out. With the fresh white snow, it was awe-inspiring and a little scary.
Once I started walking, I knew I had dressed plenty warm. With snowshoes and some practice, I'm sure you could go a long way and not get tired. We never practiced, maybe using them twice a winter. Snowshoers have to be careful to not trip or step on the insides of their snowshoe frames. I caught myself, before nearly falling, a couple of times. We pressed on, reaching the river and bridge over it. It was about halfway. The river was solidly frozen and the "bridge" was a larger version of the car ramps mechanics use. These ramps were each about 2 ½ feet wide. Wide enough for a truck tire to pass driving over, straddling the creek. It was a little tricky going over with the snowshoes. I tried to not think about the latest edition of Outdoor Life magazine, about a hunter crashing through ice with snowshoes on ... at least, I don't think the water would have been over my head.
Approaching the shack, there is a clearing. While talking to Gary, I tripped and fell. I tried reaching down through the snow for something firm to help push myself up. The snow was so deep that I couldn't reach below the fluff. My only option was to try to crawl to the nearest tree to prop myself up. Gary laughed so hard he almost fell over, but we made it successfully to the shack.
I don't remember it taking very long to warm up the shack with the woodstove, so we could take off our jackets and choppers. The lights worked swell. Outside temp was probably around zero. I was already starting to dread the idea of shoveling a trail to the outhouse in the morning, and stripping down to use the facilities. As the cabin warmed up, the mice seemed to regain their energy and were happily prancing on the shack floor. We rolled out our sleeping bags on the bunk beds, stoked the stove, and dreamed about if the Chevy would start the next morning. We were both tired.
In the morning, after stoking the furnace during the night, the cabin was quite cozy. We did our duties outside and then tackled the roof. There were shovels on the property and a ladder to get onto the roof. The snow was about 2- to 3 feet deep but we polished it off, pushing it over the edge, in a couple of hours. We packed up our belongings, strapped on the Alaskans and headed to the Chevy with a sense of accomplishment.
I had my fingers crossed in my choppers when Gary tried firing up the Chevy. It hesitated momentarily, but started. We headed back to Cloquet knowing we had a story we'd be retelling for years.
I miss Gary, the shenanigans, and reliving these tales. More than 80 people have died in Carlton County, and more than 11,000 in Minnesota, directly from Covid-19. Many families have been indirectly affected as well. We're all looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. Protect yourself and others. Follow the established guidelines, please, and thanks.