Killer Flies, Seals and Bears “ Oh My!”- Adventures in an Alaskan Paradise
We approached the shores of one of the beaches in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Jamie and I had kayaked several miles from a different cove in order to reach our beach and set up camp before sundown. Paddling towards the beach felt like the setof Jurassic Park. sea gulls flying around everywhere. The island looked like something straight out of Hawaii yet there was a massive glacier crackling in the distance. Seals were swimming around us and bald eagles were twenty feet above us. It was on the set of a movie. It seemed too perfect.
I found my new friend Jaime after spending four days solo backpacking and camping in Denali National Park. I hopped on a bus and headed down to Kenai Fjords National Park to soak up the ocean and do some kayaking. It was by luck that I found this magical woman who wanted to spend a few days kayaking and sleeping on beaches, oh and she was only 19 years old and a total badass. Never let age fool you on capabilities.
Jumping out of our kayaks we were immediately met with a buzzing sound and then I felt it. - A bite of some sort on my neck. And then my face. And then my arm. I looked at Jaime completely dumbfounded mouthing “ What the fuck.” She looked back at me perplexed as well but we had to get our kayaks pulled in and get to work assembling our tents and starting a fire with damp wood. After walking the beach for awhile, it became apparent that our run in with the bites wasn’t over. Giant, dinosaur size horse flies started to attack us. yes it was that bad.
Nothing will motivate you to get to bed early faster than flesh eating flies. Jaime and I set up our tents, got inside and sat inside for a few minutes of relief. Then we realized we hadn’t eaten in hours and needed some sustenance so Jaime being the brave woman she is, went outside and cooked us a fabulous meal of ramen noodles and scores because let’s be real- in the back country those meals really are Michelin worthy.
I decided that it would be cruel to leave Jamie alone cooking the ramen noodles over our stove so I went outside and joined her on the log. Behind us was a huge forest of pine trees. A very dark forest of pine trees. The sand went right up to the trees creating a very vivid barrier between safety and no man’s land.
Wanting to evade the flies, we quickly ate our ramen on the log and ran into our tents. I rolled around on the floor of my tent with sand everywhere and that crunchy sound of it against the tarp made me cautious of every move I made. Dozing off I felt immense pride for surviving the flies. For kayaking 15 miles in two days. For our ramen dinner. It all felt like the most rewarding work I could ever do.
When we woke early morning, the flesh eating flies had dissipated and we could enjoy the beach for an hour or so before we had to pack up and head back. It’s amazing what quiet moments on the beach will do. Inhaling deeply and exhaling felt like the most savory thing I had done all trip. I had this beach to myself. This cove and this glacier was all ours even for a few hours it felt like we were at the most beautiful ends of the earth.
As we were packing up the last few things in our tent I heard a faint scratching sound behind me. It was coming from no man’s land- the forest beyond the beach behind us. I dismissed the sound for awhile and continued to pack up my tent however it soon became louder. I looked behind my right shoulder and saw Jaime a ways a way packing up the cooking gear and preparing our kayaks. In slow motion, I looked over my left shoulder into the trees and made eye contact with a black mass. Time stopped. I didn’t hear the flies. I didn’t even register where we were. All I saw was a black mass move- almost ghost like. Those big brown eyes. She was pretty for sure. Her entire coat reminded me of tar paint because it was so shiny. She was at the bottom of the tree on her big butt scratching away and stopping from time to time to look at me. I froze. The tent poles were in in my hands and I knew that if I dropped them they might make a crashing sound. Poles in hand, my senses kicked in.
I knew that with black bears you want to make yourself seem as big and loud as possible- I started waving my arms like a mad woman and yelling “ Hey Jaime, did you know that there is a bear 100 yards from us. “ She laughed and then saw the same and we both started wild woman hooting and hollering and the bear got off its butt and I thought ok this is it, it’s going to charge us. I looked around me and took a huge deep breath of the salty air appreciating and savoring every moment. It could be my last.
And then Jaime started dancing. I think Jaime’s wild dancing is what did the trick because eventually, just as we thought the bear was going to come towards us, she decided the tree was more interesting and began her ascent. As we backed away I could make quick flashes of that shiny black mass in openings of the tree.
Instinctively we quickly got in our kayaks without saying a word we headed out. Once upon the water we burst out laughing and wiped our foreheads. Did that really happen on our last day? In the very last few hours of our Alaskan adventure?
Kayaking away, I kept thinking about Jurassic Park and mother nature’s heaven and hell. In my lessons in the outdoors I am constantly reminded that we share this planet with other animals. We are so often in their space. Why should we deserve to take their space? It only makes sense that animals protect themselves and their own. So, even if we had some flesh eating flies and near serious bear encounters, it’s all part of the push and pull that we experience when we go into the wild. Nature isn’t always seemingly pleasant and sometimes we have to grit our way through. Getting uncomfortable in nature, in your own skin and amongst the elements sucks sometimes. But more than that all that discomfort gives you the opportunity to tap into your instincts and utilize skills you may never thought you had.
It's experiences like these, with animals, weather or gear mishaps that are ultimately my most rewarding and educating. Without them I wouldn't know what I was capable of.
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