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Ray Smith tells his tale of riding with the wolves in Alaska

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And now another story from "Dark Winter Nights," the show and podcast that highlights true tales from Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

RAY SMITH: Some of y'all that might live out of town a little bit, you know what it's like to do chores outside every day, all winter long, and all the things you might come across, like critter tracks and wolverine. Oh, maybe a lynx every now and then.

MCCAMMON: We've been bringing you excerpts from the show with winter themes at their core. This one was told to a live audience in 2015 by Ray Smith, a longtime truck driver who's since died. The music you'll hear under it was also performed live.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: Well, in winter of '12 into '13, seems like most of the time we were up doing trapping and everything, we always saw a lot of large wolf tracks that winter. And that particular winter was a long one. If you remember the spring of 2013, we had winter till June.

MCCAMMON: Smith lived in a rural area outside Fairbanks. And one night that May, his friends had been leaving him messages telling him to come hang out at a local bar close to town, where another friend was playing music.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: So when you live that far out of town, every time you go to town, you want to make it count. You need to get groceries or something. And I thought, well, I am kind of low on chainsaw gas. So now I got a reason to go to town.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: It was pretty late - around 10 p.m. - but at that time of year that far north, it was still light out.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: And that particular night, it was kind of cloudy and foggy and half-rain and half-snow. And, like I said, that's the time we had winter all the way to June. So we still had six-foot snow banks on each side of the highway.

MCCAMMON: Smith turned a corner.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: And in the fog, in my lane in front of me, I sees a pair of legs. And I look a little closer, get a little closer. I'm like, wow, somebody's dog got out.

MCCAMMON: He knew someone who lived around there who had a German shepherd. He thought it might be theirs.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: So I got a little closer, a little closer. And I see another dog. And then I realized, those are not dogs. Those are wolves. And I see three of them. And then I get a little closer to them, and I see four more in front of them. And then I noticed there's still a couple more in front of them. Man, the goose pimples were getting bigger by the mile.

MCCAMMON: He beeped his horn.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: It didn't even faze them. They didn't turn around to look at me. They didn't do anything. They just stayed right in my lane. And I want to add, by the way, they were all in the southbound lane. None of them were over there in the northbound lane.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: Eventually, a few moved out of his way, and he started catching up to the others.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: The guy on the right - he came over by my right-hand door. And he's looking at me through the window, and I'm looking at him through the window. And I thought, well, I got electric windows. So I started to roll it down a little bit.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: And that's when he started biting my mirror. So I rolled it back up. So now I got one guy on the right, and I got, you know, six in front of me and three behind me. And I'm in my Volkswagen thinking, you know, I should have brought the truck.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: Smith wasn't sure what to do. For a little while, he kept driving and they kept running, until gradually the wolves started peeling off and jumping over the snow bank on the side of the road. He went to town and saw his friends and had a lot of fun telling them about the wolves. He went home, but he couldn't shake the experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: I couldn't think about anything else. I stayed up late still thinking about it. I went to bed dreaming about it.

MCCAMMON: That night wound up impacting his life in more than one way.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DARK WINTER NIGHTS")

SMITH: And I found out that this story is worth anywhere from two to five beers every time I tell it.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: So thank you, wolves. You know, I'm a truck driver most of my life. I got a little - almost 2 million miles on me. But that mile and a half there was one I'll never forget. There's nothing like that at Disney World and - only in Alaska. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAMMON: That's the late Ray Smith, who told his story in front of a live audience in 2015 for the show and podcast "Dark Winter Nights," hosted by Rob Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.