How I Honeymooned Your Father, Part VII: So Real

If you’re just tuning in to our Alaska adventures, here are the links to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI. Where did we leave off last? Our first full day in Alaska was over and we woke up at dawn on our second day to find moose in Eagle River. We didn’t find moose and we luckily didn’t run into a bear, after three hours on CLOSED trails. Why were they closed? Bears. Why were we on those trails? Insanity. What do we want? Moose. When do we want them? Anytime for me!

Alaska

We followed our hike with Country Eggs Benedict (without reindeer sausage.. again) at Bear Mountain Grill. Delicious! We spread our maps and guidebooks over the table. I honestly don’t remember what we had been thinking about doing that day? We had another night in Eagle River and had played around with certain drives, but Cassidy had the good idea to head in the direction of Homer. We wouldn’t get to Homer, not until the next day anyway, but part of that drive is so, so scenic that we knew that doing certain parts of it early would give us more time the next day. Time to pull over and eat Alaskan food and look for weird animal tracks and breathe in the air and take photos and fly away on clouds. You know, typical Alaskan stuff.

My dream, for quite awhile, had been to visit the The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

Alaska

The problem was that I had left one of my cameras and – oh yeah – my PURSE back at the Eagle River place. I grabbed those things and we doubled back on our journey to this dream of mine. I was so excited in the car. I couldn’t feel exhaustion!

After our 5:00am wakeup, three hour death-defying hike, and breakfast, I admit that I dozed off on our way out of Eagle River and Anchorage. I kept waking up and seeing water and mountains. It was like a dream. I’m still not convinced it wasn’t.

Alaska

The above picture is Beluga Point. We pulled up there, and, we saw whales. I’m sorry. WE SAW WHALES. WE SAW FREAKING WHALES AT BELUGA POINT. Yes, I’m yelling. What are the chances? I woke up out of a dream into another dream. We saw 4-5 beluga freaking whales at Beluga Freaking Point. I don’t have photos. I was too busy waking up from one dream into another. I was too busy staring. FREAKING WHALES. From one dream to another. From my heart to yours. Freaking beluga whales.

So then, after that magic, Cassidy started calling people about booking a dog sledding adventure on a glacier for later that day, after the conservation center. It is super-expensive and requires going into a small plane and I have a small plane phobia for valid reasons I shouldn’t talk about right now, so I was nervous. He was about to book the dog sledding (with super-famous Iditarod dogs/trainers), but I told him to hold off on it for another hour or two. I wasn’t ready, for some reason.

Alaska

So then, after FREAKING WHALES, we pulled into The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. There was a bit of a line, and even though it’s not a zoo, it still felt slightly like one. Because parking lots and humans and fences. That said, they do amazing things for wildlife there, like reintroducing herds of bison back into the wild, and you know – saving lives – so it was all ok. There’s a wildlife park in Maine that is smaller, but is a place that is a sure thing for seeing moose. I have taken friends up to Maine, and swung by that wildlife park on the way back if we didn’t see moose in the wild. It’s not ideal, because it lacks the mystery and surprise of finding wildlife on your own – in the WILD – but if you just want to see moose, and stare at them, and see them, and stare at them, and do all of that some more, it’s perfect. Perfect!! Sometimes, I just want easy access.

Alaska

Cassidy took the above photo. Want to see what’s on the other side of that story? Yes.

YES.

And so, Cassidy patiently waited while I talked to this young bull moose for about 17 hours. He took pictures of me in my happy place. I know there will be moose later on in this series that are much bigger (imagine that, though!) and were in the wild, but still. I got to see this guy so closely. I could hear him breathe. He looked at me so many times. I sat next to other moose-crazy people and we stared. I think I bought him dinner, or at least I should have, for all the ogling I did. Sorry, moose!

I FREAKING LOVE YOU.

OHMYGOD, HE’S LOOKING AT ME! HOW’S MY HAIR?

Are you looking at ME, sir? I know you are because there’s no one else next to me.

They’ve all moved on, but I’ll never move on. Seriously, how’s my hair?

Finally, the moose and I got ready to part ways. I got an idea in my head that I had to go tell Cassidy. He wasn’t next to me anymore though, because he didn’t have the stamina to watch one young moose for 17 hours, but I have so much stamina.

He’s like, “PLEASE DON’T GO.”

..but I had to go.

And boy, was this place the stuff of dreams.

Ok, two more moose photos. I can’t help myself.

So the thing I ran from the moose to tell Cassidy? It was that I had made up my mind that I was IN for the dog sledding after the conservation center. I was feeling so heartened by my up-close moose experience that I was ready for a Cassidy dream.

Before that, though, there were FREAKING MUSK OX. Or as I like to call them, Banthas.

You’re probably wondering if there were any Jawas on top of the Banthas? Or maybe you’re wondering if I ogle humans the way I ogle animals and food. I’m happy to say I don’t! Not obviously, anyway. I’m much classier than it seems.

SO GOOD! SO CLOSE. SO REAL.

I mean, seriously awesome here. The musk ox were another life dream!

So Cassidy needed to find a cell phone signal to call the dog sledding place to confirm a 2:00pm appointment (remember, this is only day two and we’d been up since 5:00am), and I wandered off to watch bears. Did you ever notice how Zen they are?

Do you want to see 1,000 photos of bears? If so, I’m your girl. I could narrow these down, or you could just use this as a breathing exercise. A meditation. An anti-anxiety picture show. All you have to do is breathe in and out and look:

And that’s a wrap on that! Not to be upstaged by moose, banthas musk ox, or Yogi Bears, the bison were so awesome! This big guy in particular was staring at me for 20 minutes. People would walk by and look at him and say, “Hey big guy!” Or “Hey, he’s really looking at you, isn’t he?” Indeed, he was, for some of it! I kept thinking he looked older, refined, and British.

If you had to name this guy, what would YOU name him? Wilford?

And then, of course, elk! They weren’t as ill-tempered as the ones at the Reindeer Farm only the day before.

Then an orphaned baby moose. Sad, but this center is taking care of him/her.

And this awesome lynx – so hard to photograph! It wouldn’t stop moving at all.

And then this tundra wolf that I thought looked just like someone’s beautiful dog.

That’s it for the conservation center! So close. So real. Too close? Too real? Sometimes. Sometimes not.

Next up, well, we have a 2:00pm scheduled dog sledding adventure on top of a glacier. As one does! How will we get there with my small plane phobia? What on earth (literally) will we see on our way up? The truth is a dream inside a dream.

See ya SOON!

Part VIII

How I Honeymooned Your Father, Part VI: Once Upon a Dawn Dreary

If you’re just tuning in to our Alaska adventures, here are the links to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V. Where did we leave off last? After our first full day in Alaska, we climbed glaciery parts, celebrated our survival with two types of ice cream in a random beer lodge in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, and then we were followed home by an exquisite double rainbow.

Just the usual stuff.

Then we wound up back in Eagle River, Alaska, looking for moose at dusk. We had enjoyed ducking into the Eagle River Nature Center when we were checking into our cabin, and we learned the startling truth that one of the moosiest trails of the nature center would most likely be closed later that night, and early the next morning, due to salmon spawning/bear stalking.

As you know from my previous post, we did see two cow moose along the Eagle River after our first full day in Alaska. Then we had midnight pizza, set our alarms for some terrible pre-dawn hour, and wouldn’t you know it? We woke up to find moose. Every morning was a mad dash to figure out purse vs. backpack, as well as raincoat vs. fleece, 50mm vs. extreme zoom lens, or both, and what snacks/water to bring. You never really know how long you’re going to be out when you leave your home away from home in Alaska. It’s just how it is. With a big hug and goodbye for Cooper, the resident dog where we were staying, we left the cabin for the nature center. There was one other car there, but it was otherwise darkish and quiet.

We had talked to a nature center employee and had looked at the animal roster for the summer, so we could see where the most recent moose had been spotted. We were armed and ready! Well.. “armed” with a camera and a loud bottle of aspirin to shake to alert bears of our arrival. No bear spray for us! We went walking – slightly cold, slightly wet from morning dew, and me slightly not in the mood for heavy hiking with my giant lens digging into my hips? Oh well. We got to the first observation deck. CLOSED! We ducked under the chain and sign and walked onto the deck, anyway. Bears be darned.

Worth it.

We could definitely hear some sort of large animal thrashing around the woods and the stream, but with the trees and the lifting darkness and thick fog, we could only hear life. Life and also silence. My mind was still blown that I was in the middle of Alaska – pretty much another planet – and out in the darkish wilderness. We were alone. We didn’t really know the lay of the land here. Heck, we barely do on our own four acres of New England property. This was something else in every way.

For one thing, if we ran into a bear, it was our own fault for ignoring the “CLOSED” sign.

So we went walking. I often walk a step behind people, especially Cassidy. He has much longer legs than me so it never quite aligns. I also just like being the last. Somehow I don’t mind that my risk is being snatched by a bear from behind. I see the whole world back there – and I stop to take a zillion pictures anyway. Also, I’m totally scared, not only of bears, but of breaking the nature center rules and THEN getting attacked by a bear. It’s so much worse to be a rebel without a good cause. I’m usually much smarter in real life, I promise. But what happens in Alaska stays in Alaska. Well, hopefully not. Hopefully we all live to tell the tales and caution our children against walking too close to bears. Even the mild-mannered, New England bears we have at home should not be trifled with, and they generally only want to eat your trash or your butter lettuce.

(our garden)

(not our garden)

We looked on a map post and found a trail we wanted to take. The problem? It had a large bear sign warning, as well as a closed chain. As if to prove this point, there was a GIANT pile of bear poop right next to the sign. Just to say, “don’t do it.”

(not bear poop)

So we did what any non-smart hiker would do and we took that trail. Oh boy, did we take that trail. We were not even halfway through our 2.5 hour hike and my heart was pounding so wonderfully – because of early morning exercise, and the promise of moose, and the more legit promise of bears. Boy, did my body shake and did my heart pound. It really reminds you that you’re alive, and that you should probably stay that way too. Cassidy kept shaking that aspirin bottle. We kept walking.

Near the end of the hike, we were walking right on fresh bear & moose tracks. Ahhh, it was so thrilling and scary and awesome and terrible! In the distance, we heard a wolf howl. Huge salmon were swimming right up to us. Another planet.

I want to let you in a secret. We didn’t see any bears. We didn’t see any moose. Oh, but to be that close!! And here’s a tiny spoiler – all that stuff is coming later anyway. This morning hike was something else entirely. Visiting another planet.

An Alaskan morning looks like a changing painting, and I can barely keep up.

I’m happy to try to chase it. Or just get all caught up in it.

How do you follow a dawn like this? What’s it like to have an entire, open day in Alaska – stretched out in front of you like a moose and bear-filled painting of magic and clouds and the most vivid colors I’ve ever seen on this planet? It’s good.

I can tell you, but it’s so much more fun to show you:

(the cause of all the bear drama)

(moose tracks!)

THIS:

Then the sun rose above the peaks and it was time to start the rest of our day, and the rest of our lives, really, because we were so probably close to imminent moose, bear, wolf (oh my) death at that point. The rest of the day? Didn’t disappoint.

Next up, what’s my weakness? MEN! Just kidding – I heard “Shoop” on Sirius radio last night. Before that, even, it was in my head. What’s my other weakness? Ice cream! No, wait. Sigh. Next up.. coming soon. What’s my weakness? MOOSE!

See ya SOON!

Part VII