Ever wonder what a typical day in Alaska looks like? Let me share my yesterday with you. True story. All of it.
|Here's Mr. Grouchy Pants giving us a dirty look just for|
disturbing his meal and invading his territory.
I decided to leave that for another time, and we embarked on the next portion of our day. A friend of ours, Cody, owns one of those ATVs with a roof over it. It’s still open on the sides and back and has tires bigger that some semis I’ve seen. I sat in the front with Cody, who is a delightful woman, a teacher-by-trade who is also experienced in most outdoor activities. My daughter, Darice, and granddaughter, Molly, sat on a bench seat behind us. That meant Darice, who is almost six feet tall, could see over the roof, but had to make sure she didn’t knock her teeth out when we hit a bump, which was every 2.5 seconds.
And when I say bump, I don’t mean a little indentation in the road. No, this was a mountain trail—a primitive one, at that—with dips as deep as some of the boulders alongside the road. A long time ago, someone probably came up with the idea of digging them out and placing them beside the trail to give ATVs something to fall into and then bounce against. Just for grins, I guess. I must say it’s been a resounding success. We traversed eleven miles into the Chugach Mountains. Eleven miles one way with bumps every 2.5 seconds. And mud puddles. Tree branches. Curves. Steep inclines. And more dust than I’ve eaten in the past fifty years.
But all that amounted to nothing compared to what we saw along the way. The trail followed the shore of a blue glacial lake that glimmered and shimmered in the sunlight. We stopped at one point and walked to the lake’s edge. Molly tossed the biggest rocks she could find into the water, while I picked up half the Chugach Mountain range for my rock collection and stood around like a country hick who’d just been driven to the big city. You could’ve driven the ATV into my mouth. I was enthralled.
Later we stopped at a raging river that splashed its way down the mountain from an unknown source (glacial, though) and flowed over and around huge rocks to the lake below. I couldn’t help but wonder how many thousands of years that same water sat suspended in a glacier before being released to slip and slide, skip and splash joyously down the mountainside to the lake below. I took dozens, no, hundreds of pictures. We continued through the deep forest on one side and the lake on the other until we headed straight into the woods. The trail at some points wasn’t more than three feet wide. We barely fit. All around us, mountains soared overhead, some so high the clouds ringed the peaks that poked far into the blue, blue sky. Some were clothed in green with grasses and pine and birch trees, while others stood naked with only massive boulders, gigantic rock faces, and jutting cliffs as stark adornment. We passed a waterfall that began its plunge to earth so high up on the mountainside that it wouldn’t fit in my camera’s frame. I had to take three shots to get it all. We reached the edge of a glacier, but were leery of traveling on foot with a 5-year-old to get to its base. Even from our perspective, though, it was spectacular.
Wildlife is widespread in the park, and we were on constant alert, particularly when we left the ATV and hiked. Both my daughter and Cody were armed with guns, so we knew we were protected. Still, running into a bear on the trail is never a good idea. We were lucky. No bears in sight. That’s partly due to our telling Molly to make noise, an ability she excels in. While we walked, she yelled, “Here, bearie bear! Here bear, bear, bear!” at the top of her lungs. Luckily, we encountered no highly-trained bears, so none of them came running straight to us to grab themselves some lunch.
Finally we headed back the direction we came. The sights were just as spectacular on the back side as they were the first time around. We bounced around for about eight miles with nothing but scenery all around us. Occasionally we’d meet another ATV, move over, and wave to its occupants. I sat, jostling around in my seat, with my jaw hanging open at the splendor laid out before us and praising God continually for His creativity. I gave up trying to find wildlife. The ATV was noisier than a fighter jet, so any bear who didn’t run away was either deaf, dead, or not scared of mere humans and their noisy transportation methods.
And then it happened. Darice yelled over the din of the motor, “There’s a bear!” It was about ten feet into the woods and occupied with eating something. It obviously wasn’t dead, so it was either deaf or not scared of us because the noise we were making had no effect on it. Now everyone knows you don’t mess with a bear. Period. And never, ever if it’s eating. We’re smart, knowledgeable, intrepid ATVers, so we did the smartest thing we were capable of doing. We turned around and drove back to get a closer look at it. After all, ten feet away from a ravenous black bear is just so far away. (Turns out we’re not all that capable. Or smart.)
Sure enough, it was a bear. A big black one. And sure enough he was eating something with great relish, probably grubs or maybe ants since he was digging. I’m not up on bear delicacies, but whatever it was, he was really into it. While he chowed down, we took pictures and generally o-o-ohed and ah-h-ed our seasoned adventurer hearts out. Until, that is, he looked up at us and gave us the stink eye. When Mr. Bear took a step toward us, Cody threw the ATV in reverse and we bumped backward down the road—bump, bump, jar, jiggle, jiggle, thump, bump—until we could turn around, then warned some other folks who were taking a break from their vehicles that they might want to carefully watch the left side of the road, and headed back to the truck and home.
So last night after washing off enough dust to build our own trail and eating supper, we fell into bed around 8:00 p.m. Even Molly was exhausted. I, on the other hand, spent a good share of my time in the bathroom suffering from a chronic digestive issue. I wondered briefly if an unsuccessful visit to the DMV, traveling twenty-two miles in an ATV bouncing around like a pin ball from the teeth-rattling, bone-jarring bumps, eating six pounds of dust, hiking over rugged terrain, and encountering a grumpy bear might have played a role in my stomach upset. Naw.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, but was just a mere four hours later, I fell into bed, exhausted, sore, and ready to put this typical Alaskan day to rest. As I drifted off to sleep my thoughts centered around my aching muscles, the miserable hours I'd just spent in the bathroom, the beauty we’d experienced, the close call we had with the bear, and the fact that I was more than ready to shut down my body and brain and call it a day. Besides, what more could possibly happen to make this day more exciting? Nothing, right? Wrong.
For it was at that moment that the earthquakes--two of them--struck.