Ray proved a real godsend the day I had my flat tire. My volunteer duties at the Centre had evolved from data entry of research papers to collecting plant samples of primarily willows, a genus that abounds in the far north. I had been unable to collect certain species on my list, and Ray suggested that I could probably find these down around Twin Lakes, a cluster of two small lakes about 17 miles south of the CNSC reachable by gravel road through muskeg and remnant boreal forest. I drove there without dififculty, gathered most of my plant samples, and started back.
About one mile from the CNSC as a bird flies, but about five miles away by road, I got out of my rental car to photograph a very lovely section of pond and stunted, wind-sculpted white spruce. I had a dandy time wallowing in photographic fulfillment, but upon returning to the car discovered that my left front tire was flat. I went into the trunk to grab the spare only to discover that the whole shebang was bolted down--so tightly thats I was unable to free what I needed. I had only my bare fingers, no tools. They weren't enough.
I had two choices: I could stay where I was, in the car, and hope that someone would come by and give me a ride back, or I could walk back to the Centre. The road was completely deserted. I might wait for hours or days. If a bear came by and really wanted to get at me, an immobile sedan would be no match for a bear's strength. He'd be able to tear off a door with no trouble at all.
I decided I might as well walk ,and get eaten on the way, rather than get eaten as I passively sat there waiting to be rescued. I took my borrowed starter pistol and camera tripod for protection, and began to hoof it.
I was uncertain that I had made the right decision. That very Sunday morning, one of the research assistants had reported seeing two males down there right where I had been, the second bear sighting in the area in about five days--not a good sign. I didn't anticipate a flat tire.
Recalling conversations with Ray, Joan and others, I knew that polar bears really hate to be startled--it tends to make them angry--I took great care to startle no polar bears. I walked down the road, singing show tunes in my best Roseanne Barr musical shriek. Or I yodeled. Or talked very loudly to myself. All the while glancing around nervously.
The road meandered around many ponds and many more tiny lakes. Beyond and behind stood forest, where anything, including bears, could be lurking. I knew I was going in the right direction because I could see the old Aerobee rocket launch tower at the CNSC, but what a windy path!
After walking about three miles, I saw up, ahead, a big old ugly tanker truck. A sewage truck. No truck ever looked so good. I could JUST see a tiny figure walking around. I jumped up and down and waved my hands to make sure whoever it was would not drive off without me. As I drew closer, and the figure grew larger, I recognized Ray. He had come out to the woods halfway between CNSC and Twin Lakes to empty a tank of something unspeakable collected from the latrines inside the CNSC. I rode back with him and a really nice guy working at the Centre, Markus, came out later with someone else, to fix the tire and drive my car back to civilization.
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