This is a re-post from a year ago. We were fresh back from our trip to Alaska and in the midst of chronicling our experiences. Consult this handy reference for definitions of “cheechako,” “Outsider” and others.
I think it’s safe to say when we arrived in Alaska, we expected it to be teeming with wildlife and photography opportunities from the get-go. Initially, one of us looked upon this prospect with more favor than the other, as you will see. You’ll also see that my husband’s regard for me is tempered with the most basic reality. 🙂
Flush from the previous day’s festival atmosphere in downtown Anchorage, we pick up our car in the morning and decide to venture. The concept of urban wilderness isn’t entirely alien to Minnesota-dwelling Outsiders. However, given the non-homo sapiens population statistics kindly provided by the ADN, I find myself wondering if Bear Insurance would be part of the well-prepared cheechako’s travel kit. We have none.
Following Claudia’s example from yesterday, I look to the mountains and orient our rented conveyance (totally indicative of GM’s performance issues with today’s consumer) on the map. The Chugach Range cradles Anchorage against the mouth of the Cook Inlet, and I see Eagle River to the northeast of the city. Remembering that a high school friend had made this town her home after graduation, I am curious. We have also seen recent video of a moose kill as it happened outside an Eagle River resident’s bedroom window and as far as we know the bear perp is still at large. I start to feel like a nervous city slicker, but say nothing. Pete has come to shoot critter photos, after all.
We pull into the Eagle River Nature Center, following the Iditarod Trail without realizing. The lot is full, people are ready to hike and everyone’s dog is wearing a bear bell. The theory is, if the bear hears you coming, the bear will avoid you. Except if you threaten her cub(s) in some way, which evidently you are able to do by just being there. Huh. I wonder if dog tastes better than human to a bear. If so, does the bear bell signal dinnertime to a hungry bear?
We take a look at taxidermy in the headquarters, and I am not reassured. Brown bears, in particular, are gigan huge enormous. You’re supposed to make noise with a black bear and stand completely still with a brown bear and you will survive either encounter! I’m thinking this root theorem is what’s commonly known in Alaska as bullchitna. Is it that the brown bear’s attention span isn’t long and it will become disinterested in you? Could you get away with uncontrollable shivering or other potentially embarrassing bodily functions if you stand your ground? Inquiring minds want to know. Not. In. Person.
We decide we will defer lunch (another food group that is attractive to bears) until our return from the hiking trail. Out we set, Pete’s tripod clanking and me with a gimpy leg from a recent fall off my bike Outside before our trip. I think, “No wonder he doesn’t seem worried! He is able to out-run me!” The trail we select is an easy loop, less than a mile. Thank you, loving husband. It is punctuated with viewing platforms from which Pete hopes to get some photos of wildlife. Bette Midler singing “From a Distance” reverberates through my head.
We find ourselves not alone. It would seem we are accompanied by the entire population (human) of Eagle River. There are children and dogs galore, whooping, jingling, pooping and mingling. Everyone’s happy vocalizations ensure the absence of any and all critters who might be willing to have their photo taken. Even the song of the birds is stilled. While Pete is irritated, the black bear theory at least is definitely proven.
We tailgate our lunch from the cooler in the parking lot and decide we need a location less traveled for the rest of our day. The Eklutna Lake Trail is the ticket. Easy to navigate, check. Glaciers, check. Mountain view, check. Lakeside vistas, check. Only ten miles in from the main road, check. Happily, Pete gets this photo of a bush pilot swooping his little floatplane through the valley of the lake. We have authenticated our day in the wild with a quintessential Alaskan image!
Summary for our Chugach experience: no wild critter sightings with the exception of what might have been a bear’s butt as we came round a bend on the way home.
And even then, cheechakos can’t be sure.