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Mining for gold, finding stories instead

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Posted on: December 12, 2013

By many standards, Christopher Brophy’s trip to Alaska this year to mine for gold was not a success. He didn’t make a lot of money. The work didn’t suit him. He switched boats midway through his stay, leaving behind the junior high school friend who’d recruited him into the adventure.

But while the longtime Hyattsville homeowner and former restaurateur may not have literally struck it rich, he came back with many tales to tell. They form the basis of his new self-published book, Dirty Weather & other Nome stories, which went up for sale on Amazon at the end of October.

The adventure started last winter. Brophy, 54, was between jobs when he saw a Facebook post by an old friend of his, Ted Maschal. Back in junior high, Brophy said, the pair had a penchant for getting into trouble, though Maschal could usually talk his way out of it.

“He’s always been an interesting chap,” Brophy said. The same might be said of Brophy, whose past adventures include setting sail for El Dorado (actually Eldorado, Md., pop. 59) from a point on the Northwest Branch near his Hyattsville home. More recently, he owned and operated Rhode Island Reds, a restaurant at the southern end of Hyattsville on, yes, Rhode Island Avenue.

Meanwhile, Maschal, who now goes by the name Ted Danger, had gone on to a career as an explorer, diving off the coast of Honduras and working on mining boats in Alaska called dredges. Danger mentioned in a Facebook post that he was going up to Alaska to mine the ocean floor for gold and Brophy asked him if it was like the Discovery Channel’s reality show Gold Rush.

“Yeah, that’s me. You want a job?” Danger asked Brophy.

“I was looking for a partner,” Danger later said. “I was kind of surprised he was able to do it since he didn’t have any diving experience. It’s not a good place to learn.”

In fact, Brophy had never used an artificial breathing apparatus underwater until a few days before coming to Alaska, when he practiced in the shallow end of a swimming pool at Catholic University. Danger, by contrast, had extensive diving experience and had taught several scuba diving classes.

Nevertheless, with the permission of his wife and more than $2,500 from Kickstarter to fund the trip, Brophy left to join Danger in Nome, Alaska, at the end of May.

Once there, he soon learned that he disliked both the work and the company.

“Living in close quarters, I’d had enough of [Danger],” Brophy said. “We’re two old guys so we didn’t really make money together. The work didn’t really appeal to me too much.”

So he found work as a deckhand on a more successful dredge. Brophy said the crew members were blunt with him from the beginning about his role: “Don’t  have any misconceptions about being able to dive and make good money on this boat because you’re only going to work for salary,” they said. “You’re too old and your eyes aren’t good enough.”

Still, the work was steady and allowed him to see more of the state.

“Alaska is really a frontier and a fascinating place,” Brophy said.

Brophy also got a firsthand look at how reality shows about miners are made, when he became involved in an incident filmed by Discovery Channel’s “Bering Sea Gold.” Brophy was on the boat with his partner, who wanted to be on a reality show filming in the area. But the producers seemed to think Brophy and a nearby man were more interesting.

“We were anchored next to each other,” Brophy said. “And I just threw a rock over and the cameraman said, ‘Oh yeah, have a rock war.’ And so we were throwing rocks at each other.”

Brophy returned home near the end of August, with plenty of stories for his Facebook page, Brophy Amalgamated Publishing, which led to the book.  Even though the trip  didn’t turn out quite as planned, he remains philosophical about it.

“You do have to understand [mining for gold] is a crapshoot with really bad odds.”

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