Sunday, April 24, 2016

Becoming Alaskan

It was a blissful Sunday off.  I slept in, had lots of coffee, got some Skype time in, and got ready to get ready for the first bike ride of the season.  A lot of air goes out of those tires after a winter in the garage, but I was ready with my shiny new bicycle tire pump.  It took a LOT to get that darn front tire inflated to the right psi, but finally I moved onto the back tire.  Eventually I got frustrated because it just didn't seem to be working.  Sure enough, I caught the glint on the garage floor of a little metal piece (the name of which my non-mechanical self is clueless of so we shall call it 'the nubbin.').  I was pretty sure the nubbin not being attached to the bigger nubbin coming out of the tire was the problem (I have since been informed the bigger nubbin is the valve).  So I tried to reattach it, which was not only unsuccessful but had the woeful result of completely deflating the tire.  Called the local bike shop, but they were closed.  I did get some remote support (and chiding) from "Captain Dogbite Fleming" in Edmonton (famous for leading everyone into many 24 hours of adrenaline races, a 24 hour relay race for bike teams that we participated in Canmore Alberta, and petting a strange dog and getting bitten right before the race start.  It was actually when I saw him in my hospital attached to an IV pole for the subsequent infection that he managed to convince me it would be a good idea for me to join the team the next year.  That says a lot about our friendship.  Anyway, thanks to the team expertise, I managed a few more years of avoiding my own bike maintenance.  Until today.  Well, tomorrow.  I decided to salvage what was left of the afternoon and go for a hike and maintain the bike tomorrow.  I told Captain Dogbite I was off to hike with the bears.

I was kidding...but of course that's not how it turns out.  I hadn't even made it to the trailhead when I had to pull over and grab a picture of a brown bear lumbering along the river.  I couldn't believe my good luck!  To see a bear already this year, just wandering around, and happily on the other side of a river.  The other thing was...I had already seen my bear so my hike should be nice and bear free.
Double good luck.  I realized as I sat on the side of the riverbank and looked at this beautiful blond bear (she was golden when she stepped into the light) that I wasn't afraid that she was going to run down the bank, swim across the river, leap out, and eat me.  She was happy to just go about her day and do her own thing.  That said, I had no intention of pushing any boundaries, but it was nice to see the bear at a safe distance, and enjoy the moment.

I finally got to the Nature Center.  The nature center starts where the highway ends.  The trails go all the way down to Girdwood if you can go that far.  I wasn't super excited about my hike, it was a late start and I had just been here the weekend before.  But, soon enough I realize that everything in Alaska looks different even if you walk the same trail a few days later.  

I am moving faster than this time last year (that would be pre-knee surgery), and so instead of the viewing decks or the first couple of yurts, I decided to walk as far as I could in a half hour and turn back.  To my surprise, I found myself in unfamiliar territory before then (which means I can go at least twice as fast as last year!).  In a lonely little stretch of woods, I saw a furry hump toward the corner running down the path!  I froze.  But what actually emerged around the corner was this.  Not a bear at all, a lovely pup that I happily stopped and petted.  Alaska dog owners tend to be polite, they apologize if their dog even approaches, but I was very happy to be greeted by this furry non bear, and spent a few minutes petting my non-bear friend.

I was hoping I could get to Echo Bend.  But only half hoping because there was a report of a grizzly in that general area.  Not a warning to stay away, just the standard 'bear seen, carry on with usual precautions.'  But, I had already seen a bear, and a not-bear-dog so I relaxed into my walk.  I realized again that I wasn't as nervous to be out in the woods as I had been last year.  Had my bear spray, was meeting people every 10 minutes or so, and realized I was becoming a little more at home out here..this is how I WANTED to feel last year, but couldn't always pull it off.  Maybe, I thought, I'm becoming Alaskan.

It was right about the 30 minute mark that I made it to Crow Pass, right along the river.  I made my way down to the river to enjoy the peace of quiet of it all for a few moments.

After that I headed back the way I had come.  I did note a patch of what I think was poo in the trail.  But I don't know animal poo well enough to know if the poo-ee had hooves or paws, so I just made note of it and carried on.

I met a couple coming that asked if I had seen a moose -- people were reporting one around.  No, I said, I had not seen the moose.  The wife asked if I was hiking alone, and I said I was but lots of people about and would be careful.  I decided to poke down some of the side trails to see if I could find the moose.  I found some beautiful reflections, but no moose.

When I made my way back to the main trail, I ran into the same couple I had just been speaking with, coming from another side trail, and they said they had just seen a black bear with cubs a quarter mile back.  No thank you was my first thought.  The husband said it was several hundred feet off the main trail, a safe-ish distance, and hey, bears are always on the move.  So I continued along my journey, cautiously with this new information.

Turns out, bears are indeed always on the move.  In this case toward the trail rather than away from it.  I was walking down the path and saw movement, and there was bear, all of 10 feet off the trail.  Bear was happily eating plants.  I stopped in my tracks, took a step backward right onto the crunchy pile of leaves, and got a look from bear.  "Hey bear," I said, because that's what people always say in books when they are alerting a bear of their presence.  Keeping in mind most of these books are written by people who have been attacked by bears, perhaps I should draw from a different reference in the future.

Just about the time momma bear looked me over, I gratefully welcomed two hikers who had stopped about 20 yards behind me...notable now behind a big branch.  Momma bear must have realized we were all basically tourists, and went back to doing her thing.

We all stepped further back the trail, around the bend, and actually had a nice view of the bears from over there.  Thank you Sony for your extra megapixels.  Here is baby bear.

Well, three bears.

One little bear ran waaaay up the tree, and momma nested at the base of it.

Here's a close up I cropped of the little guy who went way up in the tree.  But, one doesn't want to disturb bears, so we headed backwards down the trail and left the bears to enjoy their afternoon.  Kinda the best day ever, pretty rare to see a momma and cubs and not get your butt handed to you by momma overall pretty happy.  Think I better get the tire fixed for next weekend, I might be all out of good luck for a few days.

Soon after, I was headed home to BBQ away the last of my Sunday afternoon.  Got talking to the hikers from the trail (sure was nice to walk back as a group) and might have even made a few friends.  When I got home and told a few friends in Canada about my awesome adventures, one of them said 'you say this like it's normal.'  Yup.  I think I might be on my way to becoming Alaskan.