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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!