Bears and Ex-Rabbits

A long winding climb in the cold Alaskan dusk led us up to Hatcher Pass. Hidden amongst the snow-covered peaks of the Talkeetna mountains was a road unlike any I had seen before. Not a soul in sight and bitterly cold, we ascended until the tarmac turned to snow and we could not go any higher.

The Road to Hatcher Pass

Hatcher Pass

This was where we ended up. A few abandoned shacks was all that remained in this inhospitable location. Had I not been hitchhiking I would never have made it here and my attitude towards the taking and giving of lifts to strangers has most definitely changed. The road back down was a hairy affair with a plethora of hairpin turns and breathtaking drops. It also offered some decent views of the Matanuska valley below and of the Chugach mountain range beyond.

The Road to Hatcher Pass

The Road to Hatcher Pass

Following the successes of the hitchhike North of Anchorage, the next day I decided to hitchhike South, to the largest wildlife conservation sanctuary in Alaska. I had far less luck this day as it took me double the amount of time to travel half distance, whilst one of the rides was slightly more uncomfortable than I had hoped for.

A man pulled over in his truck and told me that I could get in his trunk for the next twenty miles or so, which I gratefully accepted. Upon climbing into the trunk he said I needed to lie down flat so the cops wouldn’t see me, which I slightly less gratefully accepted. Once I started to get down he said “I shot a rabbit yesterday so try not to lie down on the blood and organs. Welcome to Alaska.”

In the Trunk

It was only at this point that I noticed that the floor of the trunk was covered with a sticky red substance and chunks of fur. The next twenty miles were like traveling in an open-top washing machine with a dead rabbit. I can honestly say that was not on my bucket list. However I thanked the guy nonetheless as he got me to where I wanted to be.

In the Trunk

The sanctuary was a refuge for sick or injured animals who had no chance of survival in the wild. It also allowed people like me to see at close-hand some of North America’s most prominent animals; moose, elk, bison, arctic lynx, caribou and an incredible American Bald Eagle.

American Bald Eagle

Caribou

However, I was primarily there to catch a glimpse of Alaska’s most famous residents; the bears. The sanctuary saved, and now housed, several black and grizzly bears and I was extremely fortunate enough to view them at close quarters. With the sanctuary virtually empty I was able to spend the rest of the afternoon bear watching, thoroughly in awe of their intelligence, sociability and sheer size.

Black Bear

Grizzly Bears

This completed my Alaskan bucket list. I hitchhiked back to Anchorage and spent the evening in a traditional Alaskan bar – stuffed moose heads and log burning fires e.t.c. – and listened to old men recount bear stories and close-encounters. I flew back to Vancouver the following day.

Having visited the two most logistically challenging states, ‘all’ I have to do now is visit ‘the lower 48’ states – also called ‘the outside’ and ‘hell’ by some Alaskans – starting in Montana. But first, I have a full Canadian Summer to look forward to…

J

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