Two weeks ago, Bob Fink’s lead dog, Spanky, saved his life.
After careening out of his Annie Lake yard with five dogs and a passenger, the Alaskan wilderness guide made a sharp turn onto the road.
The 59-year-old had been making the turn all winter, but a spring thaw and sudden freeze turned the ploughed road into a skating rink.
“The sled started sliding sideways like crack the whip, and the dogs were going like hell,” said Fink, from a friend’s cabin on Wednesday.
After crashing into the snowbank, “more a vertical ice wall,” the sled flipped over and Fink landed on his shoulder, hard.
But he held onto the sled.
“As a musher, you always hang on,” he said.
“And I had a passenger; if I let go and she went bouncing off behind the dogs, she could have gotten really hurt.”
Fink, who spent time working as a medic in the US Army, knew he was injured.
“I knew when I hit, I hit hard,” he said.
“I knew my collar bone was broken.”
Only a couple of hundred metres from home, the dogs were still screaming to go and Fink was dragging along behind the sled.
Normally, a dog team doesn’t stop on command, said Fink.
“But I’m a recreational musher and I trained my dogs to stop when I tell them to.”
Fink called out to Spanky, and the lead dog stopped the team.
“I might not have made it if that team hadn’t stopped,” said Fink.
But stopping was only half the battle.
Fink also had to convince his wound-up team to turn around and head home fresh out of the gate.
“I tried to pick myself up and ride the sled, to turn them around on the bush trail instead of the road,” he said.
“But I could feel my ribs grating back and forth and air leaking out of my lung.”
Fink called to Spanky to “come around” but the lead dog thought it was a joke.
However, after three or four calls Spanky realized Fink was serious and brought the team back to the yard.
“The thing that saved me is having a dog team that’s well trained,” he said.
“I was just hanging on.
“I almost passed out and I could feel my lung was starting to deflate.”
Back at the cabin, friends called an ambulance and Fink lay down in the sled.
With his medical training and wilderness first-aid background, Fink recognized he had a punctured lung, and had friends call the ambulance again to warn them.
“I basically performed my own triage,” he said.
The ambulance was on another call and took roughly an hour to get there.
Fink struggled to stay conscious.
“There were times I just wanted to close my eyes and rest,” he said.
“But I knew all I had to do was stay awake.”
When the ambulance attendants arrived they were surprised to find Fink was holding his own, a feat he attributes to a life spent living healthy and guiding outdoors.
“I never use machines to do something I can do by hand,” he said.
“Instead of a chainsaw, I cut wood with a bow saw. And instead of a car, I ride a bike when I can.
“You lose independence when you use machines; you don’t gain it, because you become dependent on something other than yourself.”
And using machines unnecessarily isn’t environmentally responsible, he said.
During the summer, Fink works as a wilderness guide out of Skagway, hiking and rafting along the Chilkoot Trail.
For the last two decades, he has spent winters in tiny rented cabins without amenities in the Mt. Lorne area.
He borrows four or five dogs from mushers for the snowy season.
It was this lifestyle that left Fink strong enough to successfully fight for life as his chest filled up with blood and fluids.
During the bumpy trip to the hospital, an advanced life-support team met Fink’s ambulance. At the hospital a tube was inserted into his chest.
A week later, he was released with a healing lung — and a $20,000 hospital bill.
Without any health insurance in the US, and none in Canada, Fink is responsible for the bill.
“It’s a lot of money,” he said, noting his mom was going to help him with some of it.
“And I immediately had friends talking about getting into their savings, but I wouldn’t let them.”
So, the Mt. Lorne community decided to host a fundraiser.
On Saturday night the community centre is holding a dance and a silent auction.
“Before we even started asking for donations for the auction, they started flooding in,” said Fink, his voice shaking.
“This is a wonderful community.”
Known locally as Yankee Bob, the bearded musher is often seen helping out at local dog races and community events.
After a few days with a midwife friend, who cared for Fink and changed his wound dressing, he returned to his rustic cabin near Annie Lake.
Walking every day to build up strength and endurance, the guide is getting ready for a hiking season that starts in Skagway, May 1st.
“I lost endurance in the hospital — I couldn’t walk 40 feet,” he said.
“But now I can easily walk a mile.”
The accident didn’t discouraged Fink from mushing.
“There’s no question I’m going back on a sled,” he said.
But it probably won’t happen until next year.
Fink’s fundraiser starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mt. Lorne Community Centre.
Entrance is by donation.
The auction includes some of Fink’s famous fur hats, his black bear pelt and his kick sled.
There’s also lots of local artwork, $500 worth of dog booties, an antler carving and a dog sled adventure donated by Michelle Phillips and Ed Hopkins.
Kevin Barr, Remy Rodden and the Interstellar Ska Propellers are playing at the dance.