DA BEARS!!!!

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hello my dear readers.  I must applaud you for sticking with me through the summer doldrums because let's face it, I really have to stretch it sometimes to make this damn thing interesting enough to read.  It's strange, I spend 3-4 months a year doing nothing but working and looking forward to the more interesting part of my life.  are these months wasted away and to be filed under "boring bullshit"?  I suppose you could make the argument that many people  toil away all year around....year in and year out without the prize at the end of the day but for arguments sake, these people also have friends and social lives and do things of quasi interest year around.  My time in Alaska is mostly "dead time" that holds very few memorable moments.  I don't feel comfortable comparing  my current situation to my prison days but there is a similarity when it comes to chunks of one's life put into suspended animation.
 
My sister sari and her friend evette came on up to the great north woods for a nice little week long vacation.  I set them up with a cute cabin and introduced them to a crazy car rental guy who was nice but his cars......not so much apparently. The two of them had big plans for doing all kinds of crazy and interesting things and I was a bit jealous when they headed over to Whittier (4 hour drive) to go kayaking up against some calving glaciers.  I was even more jealous when they came back with pictures of a couple of otter floats (these being large groups of otters all floating together in a social group).  Every time I've ever seen otters, and I have seen a lot, they are alone and just kinda bobbing in the water.
 
One of the things that I've wanted to do for years up here is go bear viewing over in Katmai national park.  About an hour's flight from Homer is Katmai which has the largest brown bear population in the world.  This is where national geographic goes to get all their footage of the bears standing in the rivers catching salmon.  This is also where "grizzly man" (see the movie) and his girlfriend were eaten by a predatory brown bear a few years ago.  Anyways, there are daily photo safari flights out of homer over to katmai but the price has always been just way out of my range.  Last year it was a hefty $400 for the day but because of the rise in fuel it has jumped to $525 and that obviously is well above my financial resources.  All this aside I recommended that sari and evette try and book a trip because its supposedly one of the most amazing things you can do in Alaska.  Every local I had talked about it with said that when they went (and they have all gone at least once) it was just the best thing they have done up here.  The girls took my advice to heart and went and talked to the tour desk over at the hotel I work at.  Luckily for me the tour desk girl (shout out to Jackie!) was able to book them for a trip on my day off and was able to secure me a seat for $225.  That is still a shit ton of money for me but I had been wanting to do this for so many years I just finally gave in and told them to book it.
 
We had to check in at the little airport at 730 am and after we paid and signed a liability release form we were herded into a hangar to try on rubber boots.  The boots were obtained and forms signed so now it was time to wait in the lobby where the TV was tuned into a "worlds worst videos" program that was showing plane crashes.....perfect.  our plane was a tiny 5 seat Cessna that had some pretty gnarly tires on it which is prime indicator #1 that it is a bush plane.  I jumped into the shotgun seat and the girls climbed in the back and we were soon roaring.....well puttering to be more exact....down the runway.   The flight took us over the last of the Kenai peninsula and over the cook inlet and into the park.  The scenery on the flight was amazing since the skies had miraculously cleared over night and we were afforded a blue sky and bright sun that reflected off the glaciers below.  Near the end of the flight, after we had descended a bit, the pilot started to point out little brown dots on the grasslands along the coast and these were little scatterings of brown bears.  Seemed pretty harmless from 5000 feet right? 
 
We are now a few hundred feet off the ground and you can tell that the pilot has found what he is looking for because he has started doing a series of hard banks that is bringing him down towards the beach. The last of these turns we were nearly all the way over on our side and the wingtips I swear to god just about clipped the grass as we flew over a few startled bears.  Immediately after pulling out of the turn the planes wheels touched down on the rocky soil that made up the beach.  All in all the landing was not nearly as rough as one would expect what with the conditions of the "runway". The door opens and I slowly unfold my legs into a position which resembles standing and as I climb down from the door I see that there are 2 groups of 2 brown bears out on the tidal flats, digging for clams and just living the bear lifestyle to the fullest.  There were 3 planes flying from our tour company but one of the groups which consisted wholly of one family went off on their own with their guide.  Our group consisted of sari, evette and I.....a German couple and an American guy.....and two guides. The German man and the American dude were both professional photographers I think due to their equipment.  I have a damn nice camera and I'm happy with it..I love it to be more exact and if it had a slightly larger usb port who knows, maybe we could be intimate but these two guys made my camera look like a fucking disposable lol.  Oh well, no complaints.  
The first part of the day consisted of us out on the tidal flats watching a group of two bears who were laying about and trying to digest the clams they had been digging.  It was a pretty sedate scene until another bear came from the shore.  This bear got close...and when I say close I mean wholly shit close.  I know how they smell fear now because I about shat my pants.  Luckily our guide came fully armed with an air horn in case something untoward was to go down. The new comer bear had no interest in us but rather wanted to go hang out with the two slumbering browns that we had been observing.  After a few initial snorts and chases it soon deteriorated into a wrestling/biting match that was just amazing to watch.  It felt as if I was tuned into the discovery channel but I was standing shin deep in ice water (thank god for those rubber boots) and there was no glass pane between me and these living breathing snorting behemoths.  Fucking amazing!!!
 
The second part of the day and the one that took up the most time was when we crossed out of the tidal flats and up into a meadow.   Now I'm not going to say that the place was just crawling with bears but I will say that in the hours we were there, during a one mile hike, we saw about 30 bears.  At one point there were 3 bears in front of us and this bald eagle comes flying in and across the glacier that is up ahead and it was just one of those moments that makes you so glad that you are alive and that you have the opportunity and privilege to live such an amazing life and to do such amazing things.
For most of the afternoon I just wore this shit eating grin on my face because I was just in awe of these massive creatures.  At one point though I did have a moment of "what the hell am I doing?" and that was when we had 3 bears in front of us, 1 on the side and he was pretty close, and 2 more behind us.  At that moment I was starting to think that maybe I should have stuck with trekking, I mean what's the worst thing that happens with trekking?  Losing one's shoes?  Oh big deal, at least you are not disemboweled by a 1000 pound carnivore.  You know the sad thing is that I can sit here all day and type my memories and then I can load all the photos that I took (not all..there were 500) and you still won't really comprehend how amazing the experience is.  All I can say is that if you find yourself in Alaska
and the budget allows for it, you have to do this.  It's an experience you will never forget and that you can look back upon with fascination and wonder.
 
So there are a couple of movies out in the world at the moment which sheds a weird light on Alaska.  One of them is called "grizzly man" and it's about this ex drug addict who went out to katmai in the summers and thought the bears were his little furry friends until one of them ate him.  The other one is "into the wild" and this is about some kid who comes up to Alaska, burns all his money and lives out in nature and ends up starving to death.  Both are true stories and the general public reaction to these guys are kind of awe, inspirational and curiosity.  The Alaskan view point is "what a couple of dumb shits  who got what was coming to them".  Seems kinda harsh I guess but a lot of people from the lower 48 really don't understand how it is up here.  Things are very remote and if something goes wrong you better be prepared for it.  To go traipsing around like these two did is just ridiculous.  What brings me to the subject is that my brother had watched into the wild and told me that the main character reminded him of me.
Now at the time I had never seen the movie or read the book but after watching it (about 2 hours ago) I have to disagree with big brother.  I'm a bit off kilter but I'm not completely off the foundation as of yet. 
 
So today is my day off thank the lord and I am doing nothing other than laundry (only because my clothes disgust even me at the moment) and sleeping.  My last three days off have consisted of going on a 10 mile hike....going on 2 shorter hikes and driving 700 miles roundtrip.....and waking up at the butt crack of dawn to go watch the bears.  These are supposed to be my days off which allow me to recuperate after a 6 day week of sweating and working but instead I go and do shit that is not restful at all. 
To add insult to injury, this past week I worked both jobs, clocked out and drove sari and evette to anchorage, gave them a hug goodbye and then turned around and drove back to homer. In the beginning of the drive back I did pretty well on staying awake since I was doing 85-90 mph on the ptarmigan arm....very winding road that hugs the coast.  Apparently the fear of death and driving my rental car into the ocean was enough to keep me alert but soon I left the scenery behind and I'm pretty sure I slept all the way from coopers landing to Soldotna which wouldn't be so bad except that I was driving that 80 mile stretch of road at the time of my napping.  I arrived back in Homer at 730 am and clocked into work at 9:00...and then went and worked both jobs again.  I was/am exhausted L
 
You know it's sort of funny, the girls and I were in the bar the other night and we got to talking and my sister says how she is the black sheep of the family.  I almost fell off my little bar bench when I realized she was being serious.  You need a mental picture to fully understand my amazement.  My family is classic suburban fare.  4 bedroom house, nice backyard, nice schools etc etc. 
my brother has a good job and a nice family in an upscale part of Chicago now.  My one sister has a great husband and lives in a big house in this same nice upscale part of Chicago......my sister sari has an awesome job in TV, owns a condo in the city and has a cute little mini coop.  ok so that is my family and my siblings.....I on the other hand am an exconvict that served 3 years in prison.  I have been officially homeless for the last 4 years as I back packed around Asia and the Indian sub continent.  The few times I do come back to America I live in a tent or on friends boats.  Now I would like to put a survey out there into the blogosphere.......who would you consider the bigger black sheep of the family???????  You're fuckin-A right it's me.  I'm blacker then midnight in a coal mine my friends.
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