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Jim Friend: Canadian Arctic
oil field in Prudhoe Bay

The Dalton Highway, Prudhoe Bay, And the Most Interesting
Canadian In the World...

Story by Jim Friend
Photos by Frantz Noel and Jim Friend

ude, you know you want to fly up to Fairbanks and rent a 4x4 and drive it 500 miles north up a mostly dirt road next to the Alaskan Pipeline to an uber-isolated and legendary oil field town on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Duuuuude, I KNOW you do. You ain't gotta lie to kick it.

So I was messing around for a month in Southeast Alaska last summer and while I was in Juneau, ran into a fellow from Quebec I'd like to call Frantz. Frantz was bicycling from the tip of South America to the northern-most point of Alaska. Do I need to say that again? Yes, he was riding his BICYCLE from the Weddell Sea (pritnear Antarctica) to the Arctic Ocean, as a leg of his final goal of biking around the world. Freaking COME ON.

the midnight sky at the airport in Fairbanks, Alaska
For those afraid of the dark there exists a "maison d'etre." Fairbanks at midnight.

You know, I always like to feel hardcore when I spout off that I've run a marathon or two in my life, or have climbed a few monstrous mountain peaks under less than ideal conditions with screaming winds and the like. But I'll tell you what, the next time I'm rubbing my liver-spotted knuckles on my now-emaciated pectoral muscle with my gray-haired-head kicked back a bit and a little smirk on my face explaining to someone how much of a BEAST I am [{(not)}], I'll be thinking of Frantz, and how Google Earth can't even calculate a number of how many miles it is from one end of two continents to the other (try it). Sheesh. COME ON. Just when you think you've about got International Awesomeness covered, here comes along Frantz, the Canadian CHUCK NORRIS.

Grumble grumble...

Anyway, I met this GSP of the bike world at a hostel in Juneau and he told me after a couple of days of hanging out that if I was in Fairbanks in a few weeks, it'd be great to get together and travel north. A few weeks later, I decided that would be the perfect way to end my Alaska adventure, so I flew up there from Ketchikan and on the road up to Prudhoe Bay we went.

the writer's rented vehicle and road sign on Dalton Highway
Hit the road Jack. Notice the cleanliness of the vehicle, a merely temporary phenomenon.

Let's do this simply:

July and August: If you want to take the 4x4 trip up to Prudhoe Bay from Fairbanks, the best time to drive there is July and August. They get snow on this route every single month of the year, but you might catch a reliable break during those two months to such an extent you'll be able to take a nice trip without having to build an igloo and kill wooly mammoths to survive.

4x4 rental: To get started you'll want to call up the car rental agencies in Fairbanks and ask if they rent 4x4's for gravel road use. The rates are pretty reasonable for this sort of adventure. You'll need to have proof of full coverage insurance for your own vehicle, or you'll have to buy their supplemental insurance, which depending on the rental agency might or might not be available.

the Alaskan Pipeline
The Alaskan Pipeline, for which the Dalton Highway was built. It needed a pal.

Gas: Once you get your vehicle, make sure you have a full tank of gas before you head out, because when you hit the Dalton Highway, there are only one or two place to get fuel along the route up to Prudhoe Bay, and they might be closed when you pass by if you're heading out late. At one point there's a stretch of about 300 miles with no services at all. You don't want to be running out of gas out there on the road, that is for sure. Once you get to Prudhoe Bay, you're set, they have a gas station there. There are a few places to get food along the way, notably Coldfoot, but you might want to pack a few snacks if you don't want to drive the whole way up in one shot.

Wolves: One thing about Frantz was that he had a way with wolves. We'd be driving along and he'd get quiet for awhile and then say, "Stop the car, Jim." Then he'd get out and walk toward the hills and start with this howling noise. The first time I thought, "What a freak," but then after about 10 minutes I'd see these heads pop up over the the horizon near the rising crescent moon and they were silken-haired gray wolves. They'd come down to Frantz and get close enough to where he could talk to them. He'd never tell me what he was saying, but it was clear by the time they left that we would have no problems with them. Such were the conversations he'd have with them…the freaky-wolf-vibe was gone from that trip, we would be safe. And if it came down to it, I knew they would protect us.

NSA listening post at Prudhoe Bay
Prudhoe Bay also has an NSA listening post. One day we saw the X-37b land here so the pilots could pick up a bucket of baby seals. Delicious.

CB's and right of way: Your 4x4 will probably come equipped with a CB radio so you can at the very least listen in to the truck drivers talking to each other. Remember that the Dalton Highway is owned by the oil companies, so you need to yield to the truck traffic. Keep your CB on. Sometimes the truckers will warn you from a distance to pull over to the shoulder because they're bringing up a wide load. If you're CB is off you're going to be in for a big surprise or two, and a lot of cursing on the radio about your near-future life disposition.

sign for one of the hotels in Prudhoe Bay
If you like to drink beer, you can't do it here. Call the number for proof.

Lodging: You can stay in a hotel in Coldfoot if you like. Prudhoe Bay has a hotel or two as well. Or you can pitch a tent and sleep wherever you like along the way like we did,

Wooly mammoths: Once I woke up and looked out of the tent and saw Frantz riding a wooly mammoth. I didn't believe it at first, and passed it off as a dream, but when we got in the 4x4 in the morning, there was a giant ivory tusk in the back seat. Frantz said it was a gift.

Embrace the awesomeness: Get ready for the freakiest, most magical HD tour of the natural world you've ever witnessed, all to the unbelievably weird backdrop of a sun that never sets. The Arctic is completely, utterly amazing.

Tour in Prudhoe Bay: They still offer a sort of a tour of the oil fields, and it's worth taking. There's really not much else to do in Prudhoe Bay except drive around and trip out. You can't swim in the Arctic anymore because the oil companies' insurance providers decided it was a virtual certainty someone would eventually die while doing this, surely being skewered by a narwhal, but you can take your shoes and socks off and dip your feet in the water if you like. I did.

snow vehicle used for work on the tundra
One of the many varieties of snow beasts used for work on the tundra. If the boys at the research station in Antarctica would have had one of these machines on The Thing, they would have prevailed.

Animals seen: Moose, arctic fox, white lemming in the mouth of the fox, reindeer (or maybe you call them caribou), musk oxen, narwhal skewering a tourist (some folks call it a sling blade), 50 billion mosquitoes.

Summary: This trip was a blast, one of the best I've ever taken. Do it, it's totally amazing

the writer and Frantz at a welcome sign in Prudhoe Bay
The author and Frantz stand victorious. When he was in Australia the aborigines dubbed him "The Soul Stealer." This picture was taken just before Frantz rolled out on his Prudhoe Bay to Quebec City leg of his trip. That's 4,713 miles; on a bike.

Things I learned about Frantz on the trip, mostly from other people:

When the Canadian Navy goes to war, they ask for a drop of Frantz's sweat. Then they drip it into the ocean just ahead of the fleet before it sails. Now I ask you this: Has the Royal Canadian Navy ever lost a war? The answer is "no."

When Quebec was debating secession from Canada, René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois asked Frantz if they should. Frantz's answer was "no." End of story.

wrecked vehicle near the pipeline
A casualty of the North Slope Haul Road sits next to the pipeline. Ouch.

Nearby Manitoba held a referendum in 1998 to change its name to "Frantz-itoba." Frantz said he was having "None of it". One year later in 1999, the Inuit population to the north voted to call their new federal territory, "Nunavut." Not a coincidence.

PetroCanada recently offered Frantz a job in the oil shale fields squeezing oil out of the rocks with his bare hands, but Frantz said "no" again, because was busy riding his bike around the world at the time.

musk oxen on the Dalton Highway viewed from the writer's vehicle
Musk oxen on the Dalton Highway. I would have said "musk ox" but this one was so big it counted as two or three.

The Canadian Space Agency announced in 1985 that if the 'Canadarm' robotic manipulator on the Space Shuttle Discovery ever gave out they planned to replace it with Frantz's left arm.

Taught the Haida to save money on woodcarving tools by teaching them to carve totem poles with his fingernails.

Also teaches the bi-annual Polar Bear riding school in Yellowknife. Three inch spurs required. Saddles prohibited.

the writer on the shores of the Arctic Sea in Prudhoe Bay
The author crouches next to the Arctic Sea in Prudhoe Bay. The Inuit taught us to do this to avoid a Narwhal attack.

The phrase ''l'esprit de l'escalier" was invented after noted mountaineer and author Reinhold Messner ran into Frantz and his bike on the summit of Makalu, because that's all he felt afterward.

Once proclaimed over a cup full of Talisker within sight of the Arctic Ocean, "Cheers to us. We're awesome." Indeed... indeed.

Original author and signator of the Statute of Westminster.

Amen.

Related Articles:
Victoria, Canada: Canadian Winter Festivals; Canadian Rockies; Nova Scotia; Alaska Cruise; Holland America Alaska Cruise; Alaska's Mighty Interior; The Aleutians; Sitka By The Sea


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"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

stars

"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

stars

"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

stars

"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

stars

Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

* * *

Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

* * *

Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

* * *

I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

* * *

I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

* * *

Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

* * *

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

* * *

Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

* * *

Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

* * *

These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

* * *

Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

* * *

Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

* * *

This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

* * *

What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

* * *

Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

stars

Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

* * *

Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

* * *

Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

* * *

Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

stars

Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

* * *

Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

stars

Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

* * *

Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

* * *

Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim

Stay tuned.


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