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Golfing the Arctic Circle

ARCTIC BLAST: The mission: a round of golf near the top of the world. The foursome: three boomers and their dead buddy’s ashes. They’ve got one RV, a full tank of gas, and plenty of rum onboard. Hit it.

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(From left) Jim Thompson, Vic Zast, and Dan Johnson—with their late pal Mike Allen (in urn)—gear up for tee time in the Arctic Circle.
Drivers needed: (from left) Jim Thompson, Vic Zast, and Dan Johnson—with their late pal Mike Allen (in urn)—gear up for tee time in the Arctic Circle.

Say you’re about 65 years old, more or less retired, and looking for something to do with your buddies.

Something special.

Something that involves golf.

And let’s say one of your buddies is dead, but you don’t want to leave him out.

Well, then you’d probably come up with the exact same plan as Vic Zast. You and your buddies would rent an RV, pack up your dead friend’s ashes, and drive 4,314 miles in 16 days across three time zones, seven states, two Canadian provinces, and two territories—the last 500 miles on a tire-chewing gravel road—to play three holes of golf in the Arctic Circle.

And you’d plan it so that you reached your destination—a town called Inuvik—in time to tee off at midnight on the summer solstice.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

A couple of years ago, when he was recuperating from open-heart surgery, Vic read a book called Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. The book is grim. It opens with a guy freezing in a car, his severed hand in a Styrofoam cooler by his side. But for reasons Vic can’t explain, it convinced him that he needed to see the Arctic Circle.

It might have had something to do with the fact that he was lying in a hospital bed, confronting his mortality, and suddenly felt the desire to go to a place where for one day a year the sun never sets. Or, as Vic says, “it might have been the painkillers.”

Either way, he couldn’t shake the idea. And though he looks like a harmless guy, with his spiky white hair and gentle grin, when Vic gets a notion like this in his head, he’s dangerous.

He knew such a journey would not be easy. For one thing, he’s lousy with directions. Also, he’s the kind of guy who would rather hold it in for 4,314 miles than go to the bathroom in the woods. But Vic believed he could make it work, somehow, if he could convince his two best friends to come along.

His buddies humored him. Sure, Vic, they said, whatever you want. After all, the guy was recovering from open-heart surgery. No point in getting him upset.

“I thought I’d say yes and hope that it goes away,” says Dan Johnson, a 64-year-old retired accountant who lives in Highland Park.

“I thought it was a joke,” says Jim Thompson, 66, a retired ad executive from Leo Burnett who lives in Lincoln Park.

They figured Vic would sober up and do the math. They figured he would realize that 4,314 miles is roughly the distance from here to Sweden and that at an average speed of 50 miles an hour—a highly optimistic estimate—they’d have to spend 86 hours on the road. They figured the cost of the project—$8,500 for the RV and about $3,500 more for fuel—would stop him.

If nothing else, they figured, he’d come to realize that the Arctic Circle does not have a lot of public restrooms.

They figured wrong.

Their 24-foot RV—stocked with Myers’s rum, Temptations CDs, and an urn full of ashes—pulls out of Chicago on June 5th.

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