Alaska Can Be a Pure Bitch

Hope Travel Blog

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Seven years of bears experience. Every day- guiding countless tourists amongst some of the biggest predators on Earth today. I’ve had my close moments but nothing that made me fear for my life. I guess everyone gets complacent, even those of us who promise out of pure determination to never take the bruins of the north for granite. That would just be stupid.
 
Resurrection Pass: a beautiful trail that treks up a mountain range, crosses two rivers and offers amazing biodiversity with varying ecosystem changes from tundra to rainforest, from taiga to wetlands.
After a very late start Andrew and I started our bike trip just before sunset. We planned on traveling the entire trail in three days, from Hope to Cooper’s Landing. "That’s okay" we thought, "an easy five miles and we should be at a recreation cabin; we'll be at a fire and smores".
Our shuttle left and we were off. Finally, after nothing but a season of thankless work, we were off- a welcomed wilderness vacation from the needs and demands of an Alaskan lodge. We chose the most wild and untouched trail on the Kenai. We needed a wild experience  more now than ever before. Such a feeling can be summed up by Henry David Thoreau “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and the most interminable, and to the citizen, most dismal swamp. I enter the swamp as a sacred place--a sanctum sanctorum .There is the strength, the marrow of Nature.” It turns out, we got what we bargained far and much, much more.
 
Alaska can be an unforgiving, unassuming bitch. A good friend that stabs you in the back when you need them the most. After less than a mile we discovered that it wouldn’t be an easy biking trip. The trail was water logged, pure uninhibited mud. Our smiles and good-spirits turned south. We knew that it wouldn't be "an easy five miles" to the cabin and/or smores. Instead, we faced a long night. Every step would mean mud up to our shines, at times up to our knees.
 
We knew that we had to move forward, we joked and smiled with every step. As they say, "This is Alaska. Ain't Nothin' Easy." Anyone who comes to know Alaska knows her most intimate details and thoughts. Like a sensual women,  anything worth experiencing takes effort and determination. We trekked up and down hills of rain soaked mud, devils club and darkness. With every yard we conquered, the sun retreated twice as fast. Our laughs stopped and a lump in my throat replaced my smile. We were now hoping we weren't the next chapter in "When Bears Attack", or as I used to call it "When Dumb Hunters Ask for It."
 
I had never before felt empathy for those dumb hunters and tourists. Those stories make a very harsh name for the, usually, gentle giants. What I came to learn, however, is that sometimes, the risks we take out of carelessness and/or over-confidence can bite you on the ass (much like the bears in such books).
We stopped, partially by fatigue, partly out of fear. "Let's go back and try to call the shuttle. If nothing else we'll sleep closer to town. We'll be frozen but at least we won't have to trek through darkness in the home of Alaska's most dangerous, most loyal (word) ally: bears. We made the smartest choice in the situation we found ourselves in. We turned back the way of reliance and safety.
 
"What  the fuck is that?!" I heard Andrew shout with a nervous twitch in his voice. A shadow covered the base of the long hill we just climbed. My glasses had been fogged up since fifteen minutes into hearing our shuttle leave the parking lot. All I knew was that Andrew, a proud, sometimes stubborn guy just saw something that turned his voice from his usual confident, calming self into one full of doubt.
 
I frantically rubbed my glasses on my outer layer as fast as I could and put them back on to find that the base of the mini hill that we just climbed now had a very big, very bearlike silhouette. Yes, I had arm hairs standing on end and my heart pumped; however, it wasn’t uncommon to run into these bruins on a regular basis. We decided to just wait a few minutes for the bear to pass and go back the way we came. It was just too dangerous to hike in the dark.
 
Ten minutes can change a lot in a person’s mind. Every raindrop glistening from the light of our flashlights now came to life as if they were all creatures staring  at us with bright, shiny eyes. The best thing for us was to get back on the road system and fast. We knew that making a little noise would push the bear by us so that we could hike back the way we came. Air horns blasted and rocks were thrown to be sure that the bear wasn’t anywhere near the trail. Just our luck tonight. We heard a few branches break. Even though we knew the bruin was nearby we were both convinced that there was enough room for us to pass without any further incident. There were many times that I had passed bears without confrontation. The next few seconds would shred the last ounces of confidence and everything we knew about bears would be tossed out the window.
 
We got to the bottom of the hill and started to smile again. All of that worry for nothing. Just like every other bear, in every other situation we have even been in, the bear minded its own business and a chance encounter was just enough to get our blood moving. We moved slowly towards the spot where the bear appeared. With a loud roar (more like a  lion than a bear) and branches breaking to our right, we backed up as fast as we could.
 
In normal cases, “do not run” is the first rule in bear safety. However, this was no normal bear. It didn’t want us to pass. Maybe it had a Moose or Dall Sheep kill that it was ready to fiercely protect, or maybe it was injured. In any case, this bear’s actions were nothing near ordinary. We ran backwards, slipping into mud, our bikes crashing into our shins and knees. We reached the top of the hill and decided that we better keep walking into the eerie night and hope that we reach the cabin unscathed.
 
My glasses had fogged up and made them beyond functional. With my headlight sitting on my desk, I clinched a flashlight in my mouth. My jaws were cramped, my quads burned from walking in thick mud, my hands were numb underneath gloves frozen solid by the cold September night. Every thirty seconds or so, I looked back to make sure the bear wasn’t following us but knew it didn’t matter because without my glasses I couldn’t distinguish a bear from a burning bush. Every  once in a while, my feet would slip out from underneath me and the bikes handlebars would punch firmly into my gut and ribs. We were in trouble.
 
In that moment, all the technology on our backs and in our hands meant nothing. Our senses were at peak levels. We could smell every plant and every river. We could hear every branch crack and every wind gust. It was as if we had time traveled back to when nature and man where not separate entities. Every moment counted, every one of normal lives’ woes meant nothing.
 
After four hours of false destination hopes, animals (or our own imaginations) crossing all around us and deepening mud holes, we reached our cabin. The one room log cabin lifted our fearful moods and put smiles back on our faces right away. We took a few shots of whiskey before we took off our muddy clothes. We deserved to take the edge off. The bottle of Jim Beam that was supposed to last us three days met its end on the first night.
 
The next two days were relaxing as we explored the area and photographed everything we could see. We  said our goodbyes to the cabin and rode back to the trailhead. What took us nearly five to six hours of hiking in the dark took only an hour on our bikes. The mud had given way to the sun and, for the most part, left us only with muddy boots.
 
I still think of that night as one of the most dangerous and stupid nights of my entire life; yet, I remember it better than any other moment in my entire life. I sharply remember the clothes on my back, the smell of the air, the growl of the bear. As amazing as the first night I got laid was or how scared I felt the first time the Frontier Airlines flight landed in Alaska with me in it, I can’t remember the most intimate details. Every once in a while, nature throws Alaskans a curve ball to let us know who is in charge. It is true, Alaska can be a pure bitch; however, I still love her with everything I have and everything she has forced me to become.
  
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192 km (119 miles) traveled
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photo by: NomadNate