It’s Alaska (Diversion)

The best thing about that boat ride was making it to land. There were some guides from the lodge waiting for us and once they pointed the path to the lodge I passed up the Jeep ride and happily walked, even ran, the mile or so.

The lodge, the only one in the national park, opened in May 2009. It’s actually on leased land, with Alaska Wildland Adventures joining with the Port Graham Native Corporation to make this available for eco-minded tourists.  Sixteen cabins and a main lodge were built in less than a year. We were shown a slide show of how it all came together and it was impressive. All the materials had to be brought in by the same catamaran that brought us there. During some of the spring months and all of the winter months they had to deal with six to eight feet of snow. They needed a rubber tracked bobcat and a mini excavator to help clear the land. Tents where they lived were blown away by the wind. Coyotes, bears, and porcupines sniffed around for their food. A record 77 inches of rain fell in September, 2008, while they continued building the lodge. But these were determined, rugged Alaskans who loved the challenge, and when the going got rough, they just looked at each other and said—yup, you know it—“It’s Alaska.”

When the weather is clear, the sight of the Pedersen Glacier nestled between two mountains across the lagoon from the lodge is breathtaking.  When the clouds block the sun and the rain pours down, you can hardly see the other side of the lagoon. But we were game to take the 29 foot 13-seat canoe over to the other side and then hike through creeks, narrow trails, thick vegetation and slippery rocks to get to the glacier. What we weren’t prepared for was the black bear that came behind us as we got into the canoe and just barely (no pun intended) paddled away from it. I managed to get my camera from my life vest and snapped a dozen pictures as the bear sniffed the remaining boats and walked along the shore as if he owned the place.

The rainstorm came that afternoon, after we were safely back in our cabin, and continued throughout the night. All I could think of was how the weather would affect the ocean the next day, when we got back onto the catamaran to head back to Seward.  “We’ll take two pills tomorrow,” I said to Hiromi.

“And don’t eat so much before we go,” she said. She always criticized how much I ate on these trips, but what could I do? The food was usually of high quality (though not so much at this last lodge) and the wine flowed freely.

We were in luck the next day, as the rain stopped, the sea was calm, and those two pills were all I needed to enjoy the boat ride. We even stopped to marvel at a whale gracefully jumping straight out of the sea before disappearing below.

The drive to the Alyeska Hotel (—the only 4 star hotel in Alaska—took about two hours and our room was a bit more luxurious than the ones we had been staying in at the lodges, but we were so tired from all the driving, flying, sailing, canoeing, hiking, drinking (me, anyway—Hiromi doesn’t drink, poor woman), and trying not to step in bear scat that we fell onto the king size bed and never bothered to eat that night.

When we got back to Los Angeles the next evening our kids called to ask how it went.  “Did you see any bears?” they asked.  “Did you see any whales?”

“See them? We were close enough to almost touch them.”

“Wow. And how did your stomach hold up?

“Well…you know…it’s Alaska.”

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