Carl’s 27 year-old daughter Carly is in charge of their newest lodge, Tutka Bay (www.withinthewild.com), across Kachemak Bay from Homer, 225 miles (and a five hour drive) from Anchorage at the southernmost end of the Sterling Highway. They bought the property from a couple ready to retire and it’s a gem. One can get there by seaplane if you’re flying from any of the larger cities or by a twenty-minute water taxi (around $70 roundtrip) from the Homer Spit. Unlike the other lodges, there are televisions in each cabin (though Carl is hoping to sacrifice their AAA rating by getting rid of them when the satellite contract expires; he rightly feels it alters the wilderness experience) and electricity that runs throughout the night. There are also black bears—we saw one near the beach the day we arrived—and trails to follow into the thick forest for exhilarating hikes. We exchanged our hiking shoes for rubber boots to walk along the shore when the tide was out to study the sea anemones, jelly fish, starfish, crabs, mussels, and all sorts of plant life the sea washes in. We took the small rowboat out into the bay, threw a line into the water, but didn’t catch anything. Back at the main lodge we ate delicious shrimp and fettuccini for lunch, halibut for dinner, and freshly made chocolate cookies and apple pie with cinnamon ice cream for desserts. A group of three fathers with their grown sons arrived from their fishing expedition and told stories of fish caught and fish lost, of bonding among these men. The fathers were all keen on taking advantage of the complimentary massages, but their boys shied away from such physical intimacy with the young ladies who offered them.
The second morning I joined my wife Hiromi and two of the fishermen in a yoga class which Carly led. Three minutes into it she instructed us to place our hands flat on the carpet and jump both legs back. I stubbed my big toe, which immediately turned purple under the nail. “You’re not advanced enough to do that,” Hiromi whispered.
“You think?” I said, trying to mask my pain.
After breakfast I decided to ease the throbbing toe by taking advantage of the hammock on the huge deck. Just as I got comfortable with my book Carly came running down from the lodge. “There’s a bear behind you!” she said, excitedly.
I turned quickly and nearly fell off the hammock.
“It’s just off the deck, there. A black bear.”
It was less than fifty feet away, but not threatening. Just curious.
“How often do you see them this close?” I asked.
“First time,” Carly said.
First time! Was she kidding me? We were fifty feet from a black bear and we were having two very different reactions. My tendency was to get as far from the deck as I could; hers was to lean forward to capture the moment on camera. When the bear ambled into the bush, Carly jumped the deck to check out the scat the bear deposited.
“Getting a bit close to look at the droppings,” I shouted from a distance. “Do you have any bear spray with you?”
“No, but that’s OK,” she said. I guess when you’re 27 and flexible enough to teach yoga and smart enough to have consulted on lodge development in Russia for two years before returning to run Tutka Bay Lodge, bears know to leave you alone.
If Carly proved her mettle with the wildlife, she earned more of my respect when dealing with some of the guests. When you visit a lodge, there are usually only a handful of other people staying at any one time, so if you’re lucky you get interesting folks, like the hardy and salty fishermen or the funny gay couple who had gotten married and were honeymooning at Winterlake; but if you’re unlucky, you get the family like the one that was there when we were: the parents from Colorado seemed to have no control over their twin ten year-old daughters. When one spilled her cherry soda on the expensive Oriental rug, the other blamed her and neither parent offered to clean up the mess. Carly came and poured sparkling water onto the stain and rubbed it away as best she could, with a forced smile and a girls-will-be-girls attitude. She even got the girl another soda when she asked for it. I watched this all play out wondering if I could be so decent to such guests. I doubt it. I’d send in the bears.