FAIRBANKS — Get a load of this: My wife, Kristan, thinks I’m crazy because I collect bungee cords that I find lying on the side — or in the middle — of the road.
Can you believe that? Who in their right mind would pass up a perfectly good bungee cord lying on the side of the road? Anyone who does is the one with mental health issues, if you ask me.
Would you pass up a perfectly good blue tarp on the side of the road? What about a perfectly good roll of duct tape? Or a perfectly good pair of work gloves?
During the past 10 or 15 years, I have collected literally dozens, if not hundreds, of road-killed bungee cords from Alaska’s roadways. The quantity, not to mention quality, of road-killed bungee cords stretches the imagination.
My wife thinks that risking my life — as well as hers and our son’s — by stopping and dodging traffic to retrieve a bungee cord in the middle of the Johansen Expressway at rush hour or doing a U-turn at 55 mph on Chena Hot Springs Road when I spot a bungee cord on the other side of the road is stupid.
“Someday you’re going to get us all killed stopping for a %&$#@*& bungee cord,” I have heard her yell at me on more than one occasion.
Kristan also questions my need for more bungee cords, which is absolutely absurd, considering every true Alaskan knows you can never have too many bungee cords.
“Are you ever going to use any of these bungee cords?” she has asked me many times in an irritated tone.
In my defense, I use the bungees I find all the time, mainly to keep pieces and parts of my old Volvo from falling off. As I write this, there is a bungee cord holding part of the bumper on, as well as a pair of bungees holding up the plastic oil pan cover that fell off two years ago while driving to McCarthy, which is why I always keep a couple of bungees in every one of our vehicles.
My 12-year-old son, Logan, also questions my passion for collecting road-killed bungee cords, but that’s just because he’s not old enough to truly appreciate a good bungee cord when you find one.
“Dad, there’s more to life than bungee cords,” he told me once as I was admiring a particularly handsome bungee I had just picked up.
Using my best parental restraint, I did not punish him, or even admonish him. He’s too young to realize the power of bungee cords. When he gets older, I am confident he will come to realize how practical and prudent his old man was for collecting road-killed bungee cords.
To his credit, Logan has accepted his role as my right-hand bungee collecting man. We have retrieved enough bungee cords over the years that we have it down to an art. I don’t even have to come to a complete stop any more for him to reach down and pluck bungees off the road. It’s quality father-son bonding time.
If you think about it — and by the time you get done reading this you will know that I have given it a lot of thought — bungee cords are a lot like people. No two bungee cords are alike. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some stretch better than others. Some are in better shape than others. Some work and some don’t.
For example, I have found bungee cords with no S hooks in them, one S hook in them and two S hooks in them. The other day, I found a bungee cord with one S hook in it, and I found the other S hook lying five feet away. Sometimes the hooks and cords are in perfect shape. Other times the hooks are mangled from getting run over multiple times or the cords are snapped in half.
Most of the bungee cords I find are the black, rubber, stretchy ones with metal S hooks on each end, though I do occasionally find the fancy, colored, elastic ones with the plastic-coated hooks on the end. I prefer the black rubber bungees myself. They’re more durable, last longer and stretch better.
Summer, especially during hunting season, is the best time for collecting bungee cords. That’s when people go camping and strap things down to their cars, pickup trucks, four-wheelers and RVs. They hit a bump or frost heave, one end of a bungee cord pops off whatever it’s connected to and the rest is history. You find bungees in the winter, too, but not as many, though they do stand out more against the snow than the asphalt. Bungees just don’t stretch the same in the winter as they do the summer, as anyone who has tried to stretch a bungee at 40 below probably knows.
As luck would have it, I live on probably one of the best bungee cord collecting roads in Alaska — Chena Hot Springs Road. It’s filled with dips, frost heaves and potholes that promote the release of bungees. The Chena River State Recreation Area, which is just 10 miles up the road from my house, attracts hordes of campers, picnickers, hikers, canoeists, rafters, fishermen and hunters in the summer and snowmachiners, skiers and dog mushers in the winter, all of whom use bungee cords to strap stuff down to their vehicles. It’s almost as if God put me on Chena Hot Springs Road for a reason.
Road-killed bungee cords are not strictly an Alaska phenomenon, either, I recently discovered. Last month, we spent two weeks driving a hand-me-down minivan to Alaska from New York and I was amazed at how many bungee cords I saw lying along the interstates. There were hundreds of them.
It was all I could do not to stop and pick up each one of them, but we’d probably still be in Montana somewhere if I had, not to mention the fact Kristan probably would have filed for divorce somewhere in South Dakota. There also was the matter of stopping on the interstate when you’re going 75 mph in traffic that resembles a can of sardines. All I could do was pass them by. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Of course, I shouldn’t be making any of this public because now everybody, or at least those who call themselves real Alaskans, will start collecting bungee cords they find lying on the side of the road, which will mean fewer bungee cords for me.
But that’s OK. Judging from what I’ve seen, there are plenty of bungee cords to go around. Besides, there are only so many parts on a Volvo that will fall off.
Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587.