Sep 7, 2008

Alaska Part 1: The Last Frontier of bears.

Bear Country

Alaska is huge. Too huge to write about in one blog post so I will break it up into a few.

Firstly, its an awkward destination as its not a stop-over or transit point, its out of the way and you have to want to go there. I have always wanted to go to Alaska and it didnt disappoint. If you ever get the chance to go then go.

The Americans bought Alaska from the Russians for 7.2 million dollars in 1867. That really pissed the Canadians off because if you look at a map, geography dictates it should be theirs.

After arriving in Anchorage late at night it was decided best to hit the bars to find a place full of locals and get a perspective of what kind of person Alaska attracts. 15 minutes later we were at a table with fire fighters and oil workers drinking straight shots of Wild Turkey.

Alaska is the last frontier of the USA, iconic in the American psyche for its sea change ideal. Its hard to meet people that are actually born in Alaska. And they seem proud to have moved here for the money, the green life, escaping the mainstream or the law.

We hit the highway with stinky hang-overs early the next day, and once suburban Anchorage disappeared behind us we were in to the wild. The forests gave way to massive valleys, gigantic dry river beds and snow capped peaks. Alaska's nature was already in the steady stages of Autumn and it was only the end of August.

Alaskan autumnal beauty

On the road the conversation centred mainly about the threat of a bear attack. Before the trip even started, the fear of bears steered our decision to tour in an RV ('Bertha' our RV, deserves her own blog article: coming soon.) thanks to its armour plating.

Aussies have lots of deadly animals to play with, but they are animals you can attempt to avoid or even evade if you have the chance. But bears run faster, swim better and climb quicker than a human. They are 10 times stronger and need to eat more than their body weight before hibernation, and it was Autumn...

Our foray into the wild was in a fully loaded RV equipped with toilet, shower and emergency Moet Chandon. And whilst our laptops, ipods and blackberrys sucked the power from our ever whirring generator on our first night, we all lay awake with thoughts of impending bear death: will they eat through the metal to get to us or just try and roll the RV into the river?

Paranoid view from the back door of the RV

I couldnt possibly imagine how much sleep deprivation we all would have suffered if we decided to camp instead. And despite our relative luxuries, Denali's isolation was total.

There's a bear in there...

We woke bright and early to catch the bus to Mt. McKinley/Denali. Its an eight hour return trip and you can hop on and off any bus on the road when you like. The bus rambles along both a treacherous and scenic route as the driver explains the terrain and looks for potential animal sightings.

Soon we were parked up along side a male moose, complete with blood red horns which is a sign he was fighting fit for mating season. Paris Hilton was in the bushes behind the moose, or so thought a huge group of paparazzi snappers blocking our view. I wish the moose charged them.

Paris Hilton (top right)

Denali National Park is not only famous for Mt McKinley/Denali, North America's highest peak (6150m) but recently made famous in popular culture by the book (and now film) 'Into The Wild' by John Krakauer, where its based. Its a true story about a young man named Christopher McCandless, who cashes in his college funds and leaves his promising life behind to live a basic natural existence in Alaska, and winds up in Denali. His journey becomes an essay to explain the basic human attraction of the search for returning to nature and the book speaks for adventure-travelers in its depiction of wanderlust at its most extreme.

Mt. McKinley/Denali

We decided to jump off the bus and have a little trek. 5 minutes in and bear-paranoia seized us one by one. We noticed some dark figures in the river bed below us and positioned ourselves for a better look. On closer inspection we saw two people sitting in the middle of the dry river bed as if they were just there, having a it was the most normal place to do such a mundane thing. Suddenly they stood up and started to point toward the other side of the river. Two huge grizzly bears were running after each other, seemingly oblivious to the fact that two free meals were only 300 meters away.

Only bears for company

The couple at the river bank simply walked away unnoticed. And then I realised that my bear-fear had been for nothing. In Australia we will swim, walk, go anywhere, despite the amount of deadly animals waiting to bite us. We talk down sharks, spiders and snakes because we have learned to respect them. The Alaskans dont care about bears because of the same reasons. Suddenly I loved bears.

Happy bears

We spent five days in Alaska, too much to tell in a single blog post. But the best experience was Denali by far. The isolation, beauty and massive bear population all added to the appeal of the place. And to think what would posses a man to leave it all behind and live simply indescribable.

See my Alaska pics at: