Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tim bare's some facts on bear's.

One of the questions I keep getting from people is about bears and my safety.

Admittedly I had reached the point of "I don't care if I get eaten...tried my best not to and now its in the hands of mother nature and her appetite"

Just like Australian snakes they have a bad rap...have I ever been bitten by a snake...nup...ever been struck at...well yes but I was tormenting the snake with a stick at the time. My point is the same for bears...treat them with respect and they will/should leave you alone.

Strangely even Alaskans are funny about bears, personally I think it is more to do with an excuse to carry a gun around than anything else but they are always shocked that I haven't got a rifle or 44 magnum hand gun in my pack.

What have I got to defend myself against a bear...common sense (blowing my own trumpet a bit here), a bear bell, bear spray and hopefully luck!

Know your bears...what to do when you finally meet a bear and which type. There are x3 types but I wont see a Polar bear unless I make it way way north to the ice. Apparently it is OK to be racist when talking about bears so there are Black bears and Brown bears...both are big and have attacked/kill humans before.
Black are vegetarian while brown are just plain hungry!
So for a black bear I know I have pissed it off and it is probably something to do with cubs so back away slowly and get out of to you bear...let it know your human and then fight for your life if this doesn't stop the black bear's attack.
A brown bear is much bigger and nastier hence their nickname 'grizzly bear'...don't bother fighting back on these big fellows...back away again and if you get attacked play dead...protect the organs and hopefully once play time is over your are still alive. You are allowed to fight back if still alive after 10 min and being attacked...very complicated but it will never get to this stage if you have common sense!

They call a bear bell in Alaskan circles 'bear bait' and the old joke that you find them in bear poo...funny... but just like pink shirts Alaskans don't like wearing them...I don't like wearing it but it works! It jingles all bloody day...jingle jangle jingle jangle...if you don't hear me coming then Darwin's theory on natural selection doesn't give you good odds at surviving in the wild! They alternative is to sing...bear's don't like ABBA apparently...I don't like to sing while walking so bear bell it is.

Bear spray...the most use this will be is to season a steak at the end of my travels as it is capsicum spray...pepper spray...just in a 'bear size' spray pack...I personally think this is even safer than carrying a gun because if a bear attacks you have to be a mighty good shot to disable it and to not just piss it off further OR turn a mock charge into the real thing! The least bear spray can do is make me taste so bad that there is a body to for mum to come and get!

Common sense is watching for signs of bear, looking for clues of them being around recently and/or places where they might be feeding (rivers/berry patches). No rapid movements because apparently they like 'fast-food' also. Talk to them and back away, wait for them to move on and/or change your plans.

Lastly is at night when you have made camp...I hate having to pull my backpack up a tree...hard yakka but this way they wont be able to get my food or be tempted to get my food from my tent whilst I am around it. I even try to cook at a different place and wear different clothes than what will be in my tent at night.

Respect the bear, make noise and you will only see the back of it...if not then I have been proven wrong and unlike work (pharmacist) where if I am wrong I could kill someone else...if I am wrong then it is me who could be killed...much easier to LIVE


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Homer and the Keani Peninsula

Homer is renowned for being the capital of halibut fishing. I organised myself a half day fishing charter and was more than happy to catch the 2 fish quota. Halibut is a white meat fish that grow to some stupidly large sizes. The fish I went home with were babies at 20lb each but when they sell for $16+ a pound (lb) it made the cost of the charters highly worth it! There is no skill or art to fishing bait your hook (circle hook) and let it hit the bottom. When it starts pulling wind it up and decide if the halibut is big enough for your liking. You don't have to set the hook...yanking on it will just pull it out...simply wind it up! Halibut is like a flounder so not even a fighting fish...simply wind away and marvel at the fact it has both eyes on the same side of its head!

Russian history...Alaska was purchased off the Russians in the 19th century...pre oil and gold...silly buggers! Hence there is a strong Russian culture even today. I went exploring the head of the Kachemak Bay and found myself amongst the strict Russian Orthodox community, beards, women dressed like they did 100 years ago and speaking Russian as primary language.

Later that afternoon I went scenic driving and drove through another Russian community that welcomes the 'infidel's' (people like me) - still Russian orthodox though. I called into the cafe/gift store as it had been recommended and the Russian lady wouldn't let me leave without feeding me a Russian meal...for a cost of course so I could help save the Russian kiddies...really I was hungry and interested in what Russian food would be like (since when have I cared about a child or a child somewhere in stomach is much closer to home!)

The meal was amazing and will be remembered as much for the food as her personality...planting the seed for Tim to travel Russia...

Clamming is the family outing for many young Alaskan families. During the low tides the families descend on the glacial mud flats and suck or shovel clams from the mud. It looked like fun but the thing I love most about Alaskan camping holidays is every kid has an ATV to ride and there are trailers and large 4WD pickups everywhere.

The other Alaska past time is fishing...the salmon swim upstream during a few weeks each summer and come in such numbers (usually) that everyone including the bears are satisfied. Russian River is the place to be when the salmon a passing and you will line up with hundreds of others to cast your line for salmon.

Capt. Cook also travelled the Alaskan coast so I felt obliged to spend a night in the reserve named after him...stunning sunset at 11pm!

By now the red rocket had done 800+ miles and had developed a shake so back to anchorage I headed.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kachemak Bay

I had a quick turnaround in Homer, enough time to stock up on dehydrated food and I was shuttled across the bay to go walking for 6 days.

Homer and Kachemak bay were blessed with non-stop sunshine for my entire trip, gorgeous summer weather in Alaska!

The highlights of Kachemak Bay were:

Glacier Tram - a cable cart which hauls hikers from one side of the river to the other. It took 20min of sweating swearing and force to pull myself across but least my feet didn't get wet (another disadvantage to solo hiking). On the way back I had to pull the tram/cable cart across the river first then pull myself across...30min of solid effort!

Emerald Lakes would imply a green colour but the snow and ice were only just breaking up. Beautiful vista's and fun following fresh bear tracks in the snow!

Grewingk Glacier - I camped not 200m from the Glacier and spent a morning climbing on and around it (as much as I dared without crampons). Love the glacier ice, its colour and the power carving the rock steadily and surely.

Black Bear encouters - these few bear that I did see must have been stupid or really deaf (I wear a bear-bell). Although they are the size of x4 dobermans they wanted nothing to do with me...and scampered away up and over the ridge line or into the forrest before I could even think about a photo opportunity. Black bear are the little tackers and are eaten by the brown (grizzly) bear so see these bear made me somewhat happier knowing the big fella's weren't around.

Poots Peak - Not only was this a mountain with an exposed rocky ridge to stand on the unexpected delight to sneak up on a Mountain Goat mother with a kid (baby goat) was enthralling to watch. They kid obviously learnt very very quickly to be sure footed as it was learning to walk on a cliff face! Coming down the peak was either the slow and steady way or run down the avalanche path...being sensible you know which route I chose and damn it was fun and fast!

Bush Bashing - seemed like a good the time! Found out why they call it Devils Club...spent the next week popping pussy thorn heads from legs/arms thanks to this plant. It grows on wet slippery slopes and is about 1 inch thick so when you start you loose your balance or slip instinct has it that you will grasp it...the Devils Club is a fine name as is leaves you with a handful of spines. 2hours to bush bash less than a mile...wont be making my own path anytime soon!

Sea Otters - while waiting for the water taxi to collect me I spent the time on a rocky outcrop watching the Sea Otters dive for shellfish and float on their backs whilst eating them.


Kodiak Island

My first destination in this large state was going to be an island south of the mainland and I timed my trip perfectly. The Kodiak Island Crab Festival was happening!

To get to Kodiak I had to board another ship and found it wasn't just a small trip..9hours later we arrived! We left Homer (the mainland) in perfect sunshine and arrived to rain.
However out of place I looked wearing shorts in the rain in Alaska I wasn't put off and still made it to the camp ground to set up my tent in the rain. The next day I was expecting the best out of Kodiak's festival, the rain didn't keep people away, when you live in Kodiak you just get on with life and ignore the weather. The best thing about the crab festival was the King Crab...dirt cheap and super fresh...yum!

I filled as much of the day in as possible watching the festival events then decided a nice brew would help dry me out and an get me out of the rain for a while. 4 hours and 2 large pints of stout and it was still raining outside (brewery licences allow only x2 pints in Alaska). I gave up and went home to my tent to wish for better weather tomorrow.

It was raining when i got up the next day! Since the locals were out and about I ignored the fact I was riding a bicycle and they were in cars whilst it was raining. The brewery visit opened up a guided tour of the coast guard base from a fellow patron but that only lasted 3 hours of the 18hours of sunlight so I ignored the rain and rode out to a 'Lord of the Rings' Forrest (Spruce trees covered in lichen/moss) and walked the rain.

The next morning waking up to the rain again I decided that it would never stop so I organised to go walk-about anyhow...even the locals thought I was crazy! The walk took me to a different part of the Island where I found that it didn't always rain...I had 6 hours sunshine in 3 days!

The walk was stunningly beautiful along the coastline. Cliff faces, meadows, moss covered spruce trees, streams and inlets to cross and beaches to walk along (in the rain). My animal encounters included seals, bigger white giant seals, whales, Orca's trying to catch a seal, bison and most impressive of all were the Bald Eagles. The campsite to beat all campsites was when I woke up to Bald Eagles sitting on a log not 5m from my tent! I spent an hour thinking how lucky this stupid Australian was and that not many Americans have even seen an Bald Eagle let along this close (in the rain). Sadly I did not see any Kodiak Brown bears (supposedly bigger than mainland bears) perhaps it is fortunate that I didn't see any.

I had my birthday on Kodiak Island so I spent the day climbing a mountain only for the cloud to obscure everything before I got to the top.. That night I set up camp in amongst some pine trees a short trip away from a dehydrated food for Tim's birthday dinner. Fresh beer, clam chowder and some interesting locals to talk to before retiring to my tent to sleep to the sound of raindrops. Happy 27th Birthday Tim :)

The ride back to Homer was far more eventful than the trip out. The boat left late (it was raining), got delayed further waiting for the local fishing boats, was delayed at the next port and a storm en route slowed us even further. We arrived 4 hours late. The trip was how you should travel the authentic way across sea in Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway boats are basic, they do offer cabins but the best way is to join everyone else and lay out your sleeping mattress and sleep on the deck (enclosed fortunately). The only downside is that the waves were that big I found my sleeping bag wouldn't stick to the thermarest and I would slide back and forth with the swell...kind of a gigantic water bed!


Week 1 in Alaska

Buying a car...not exactly the easiest way to start a holiday.
I rode a bicycle around Anchorage to see in all about 20-30 vehicles...Craig's List offered a listing for a 2WD Ford Ranger...2WD meant that it was unpopular in Alaska where everyone drives a 4x4.
On first glance the "Red Rocket" don't look like much but then having a windscreen with that many cracks makes it look kind of chandelier-ish refracting the light.
The poor thing needed a good home and $850 later she had an Australian owner...without a home!
Then began the fun of trying to figure out what problems I inherited for spending so little. Insurance in the USA...crazily expensive for bare coverage and yet registration was $15.
As for a road-worthy...still drives doesn't it!
I then packed my bag (notice the singular) and drove south.