A lot happened in those two weeks I spent trekking Alaska and now it’s finally time to divulge the last slice of adventure pie. Our Trek America guide, Grizzly by name but not so by nature, had treated us to some of the great wonders of North America. Along the way I’d made some new friends, seen some frisky wildlife, witnessed some awesome spectacles, and developed something of a school-boy crush on a pretty German lady.
There’s a little more to share before we reach the finale, so bear with me. (I did it again! “Bear”, get it?)
(… Alaska has bears …)
Through most of the second week our team stayed close to the coast. One afternoon we set sail on a whale watching cruise (no sails though, it was just an old rusty ferry …). We passed some stunning coastal scenery before settling a little way out to sea to spy for passing whales. The massive moistened mammals passed within easy viewing distance of the boat; they reared up like immense titans, spraying sparkling sea water into the crisp afternoon sky before smashing back down into the watery depths.
At least, that’s what I was told.
On the floor below the ferry’s observation deck there was a canteen area. Included in the price of the ticket was an all-you-can-eat buffet. More specifically, it was an all-you-can-eat freshly grilled Alaskan Salmon buffet. Until about the age of twenty-seven (when I noticed that food was making me gain weight …) I consistently misinterpreted “all-you-can-eat” as “put-all-the-food-in-you-until-you-are-more-food-than-man”. This philosophy combined with ruggedly delicious salmon was the reason I largely missed out on seeing whales while trekking Alaska.
I was too busy choking back pinky fish like a giant fleshy turbo-vacuum.
And I regret nothing!!!
Beach, Babes and Baldy Birds
On our final evening of camping we were introduced to a bar with the greatest name I have ever had the joy of hearing. The Salty Dawg Saloon. Unfortunately, being under the legal drinking age in the States, I was not allowed to even enter the bar.
Instead, us “young-uns” were left to guard the camp-site while everyone else got their drink on. Seems like I got the short straw, right? Not when the reality left me sat with three girls, watching the sun slowly set over a picturesque horizon of snow-capped mountaintops while resplendent bald eagles gathered on the beach not ten metres away from us.
“Tell you what. I’ll be Charlie, and you can all be my angels!”
Despite the girls’ uncanny resistance to my top-level charm I did get some time with Eva. We talked. We laughed. We kissed. All while knowing this could be our last evening together.
Return From Whence You Came
On some countryside ramble we took during our two weeks trekking Alaska I picked up a stick. It went up to about my shoulders, was as thick as a half-pint glass and I used it as a walking stick/wizard’s staff. At one stage another group member found his own stick and challenged me to a duel. We clambered onto the minivan roof and like Robin and Little John we fought, quarter-staffs cracking together. Piece-by-piece my mighty wooden shaft busted his measly twig in twain, until there was nought left but kindling.
I kept the staff with me for the majority of the adventure until it was finally time to say farewell. On the morning after the romantic beach party my friend Rudi made a suggestion. “It would be cool if you flung it dramatically into the sea, like Braveheart!” he said in an excited Aussie twang. I agreed and we headed for the beach. He got into prime photo-taking position and I ran courageously at the water. The resulting photo is nothing short of pure epicness.
However, what this photo doesn’t reveal is what happened next. I charged at that massive body of water, bellowing a fearsome cry of defiance. My legs pounded the moist sand, my eyes stung in the salty morning sea air, my arms pumped as they lifted the severed branch high above my head. I reached the water’s edge. I mustered and hefted with a mighty “Umph”. My woody companion span up into the air.
Almost instantly the spin up became a spin down. Before a blink the gnarled shaft cracked my shin. I tripped. I ached. I swore.
Even with painful folly that moment has become the emblem of my Alaskan memories.
The group returned to Anchorage for the last day of the trek. We ate dinner in a restaurant. We laughed together and it was fun. After the meal we stood in a circle outside the restaurant. How do you say goodbye? We reminisced on the vast expanse of two tiny weeks. We thanked, congratulated, apologised. Eva crossed the circle to stand next to me. She held my hand. I held hers. There was silence.
I was dropped at my hotel along with Sean, a truly excellent Taiwanese man who deserves a story all of his own. We hugged and said good to everyone before they got back in the van. Most people were staying at cheaper accommodation. A said a heart-felt goodbye to everyone. I hugged Eva more than once.
Sean and I walked slowly to our separate rooms, bidding each other goodbye in the hallway. My flight left ridiculously early (it was the cheapest, naturally) so I only had a few hours in the spacious twin suite. I spent the time aimlessly flicking through the TV channels. The journey home was flooded with flashbacks of the previous two weeks.
I became Facebook friends with some of those I’d met while trekking Alaska. Over the years they’ve gradually fallen away from my list. The last person to leave the list was Grizzly himself, his real name being Mike, who coincidentally started working in Japan soon after I did.
As for Eva. We exchanged a couple of emails and there was even talk of meeting up when I travelled to Europe in the following summer. But as with all things of this nature, at least in my life, it gradually faded away.
Now there is only the memory.
* These pictures were all taken by my friend Rudi. We’re not in contact now so I was unable to ask his permission to use these photos. Rudi, if you happen to read this and want me to take them down please just message me and I’d be happy to do it.