Elm Street’s got nothing on winter in Gustavus

In recent weeks movie channels have been showing the best of the best in the horror film genre, but TV doesn’t do it for me. I’ve been to the Twilight Zone – it’s Gustavus, Alaska, in winter. During the summer, Gustavus is a bucolic outdoor wonderland at the entrance to Glacier Bay, with friendly, hearty people. But for a high school student stuck there in January on the third lap through the same pair of underwear, it’s purgatory.
Gustavus was the last stop of a three-town, six-game, twelve-day basketball road trip my senior year. We were already behind schedule thanks to snow and ice in Juneau and failed runway lights in Yakutat, so in Skagway we tried to make up a day by playing two games before the boat left that night. The girls played first an hour after we arrived, then we played. Once we were finished losing, we sat in our soaked uniforms and watched the girls win again, then won our second game in over time. There was no post-game talk because we had to catch the ferry to Juneau. The next morning the girls continued home because Gustavus couldn’t field a team. We flew in a fleet of six-seat planes to a small cluster of homes buried in winter.
We were 2-2 on the road-trip when we entered…The Twilight Zone.
Trails through 15-foot snow drifts were carved to connect buildings. Vehicles were buried.
“Take ‘er slow going around some of these corners fellas. Don’t wanna surprise a moose,” we were instructed by a bearded local.
At the one store in town, room-temperature Gatorade was $2.50. Chilled Gatorade was $2.75. We saved the quarter because it was 15-degrees outside. There was a pep rally for the team in the school’s lunch room. We were invited, and the twelve of us almost doubled the attendance. Their coach looked at us and said they were going to take it to us with a crooked, sinister smile.
Doo-doo-doo-doo Doo-doo-doo-doo.
The gym had no bleachers, and the denizens of the sleepy, frozen town of less than 100 sat on the sidelines. They cheered for every score, even ours. We blew the five-member team out both nights. The second night I caught a kid in the nose as I pivoted to hit the outlet man, so we played 5 on 4 while that kid laid on the sidelines and bled into a jar under the supervision of the local medical expert.
The next morning we couldn’t leave. White out. Day eleven was spent shooting around and taking turns on the one pay phone, using calling cards we bought when we were in civilization, to call girls from Petersburg or our parents back home.
“We’re still stuck in Gustavus.”
“Oh, when are you leaving?”
“We don’t know.”
“Alright, well, keep us posted.”
Our parents had been conditioned not to panic about delayed travel. We scrimmaged that night because there was nothing else to do. Day twelve – white out, no flights, same clothing. Day thirteen – white out, no flights, same clothing, no washer or dryer.
Day fourteen – white out, twelve dudes, same socks, same jeans, and no more pre-paid phone card minutes.
We spent another 1440 agonizing minutes, walking between the school library and our home – the floor of their weight-room, which was a loft the size of a snack bar in the gym.
Finally the weather broke and we fled The Zone to return home where clean clothing and mattresses waited.
I do want to reenter The Zone one day, but in the summer, when Gustavus is at it’s best. I’ll be without my high school filter and will have plenty of clean clothes.


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