Not your average travel blog
Three wolves, countless bear, numerous moose, a curious arctic fox, eagle hoards, awkward stalks, migrating swans and geese, territorial osprey and various regal raptors, botherless bison, wolverine, tasty fish, elk, owls, beaver, all the colours of squirrel, porcupine, ptarmigan, mink, chipmunks, pika, ground hogs, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, stone sheep, deer, muskrat, turtles, beastly leeches and countless bugs including our over friendly mosquitos: All the vain, headline-hogging creatures of North America have jumped at the chance to meet me on my journey this year, and although some were hesitant at first to be the poster boys of my blog, now everyone wants in on the action.
I’ve arrived in Denali National Park and Preserve, and even though it promises to be a wildlife haven for North American beauts, paying $35 to sit on a tour bus for eight hours as it ambles 66 miles into the park to another (assumed) gift shop, sorry, visitor centre, and back again, hasn’t quite warmed my cockles. Call me a grump, and a smug one at that, because although a less than personal experience on a bus with people rustling through their packed lunches is on offer, all the tourists who have regaled their stories in the park’s cafeteria (the first I have seen with a Starbucks), have all said they only saw one bear, and that he was half a mile a way on a hill side. Also, not one person said they had a clear view of North America’s highest peak.
I have deduced that most of the tourists here come for their holiday, stay in the camp ground in a large RV (sadly, with inconsiderate generators), and conveniently sit on the tour bus to try and see wildlife. The bus doesn’t look that comfortable and it’s bustling with cooing people, desperately pushing their noses against the windows. I don’t doubt that the bus ride and their visit to the park is one that brings pleasure and fond memories, and it certainly makes it safe and accessible for both the elderly and the young (as well as keeping vehicles away from the wildlife). I’m not criticising the choice of millions who choose to experience the wilderness in this way; but after travelling across the continent twice and coming face to face with all the creatures that are possibly on show through the window of a bus, it’s an easy decision to avoid paying money to endure the day’s excursion.
I may sound a little curt, but I have concluded two things. 1) if all I gave myself was a fortnight, I’d enjoy the excursion like everyone else and 2) if I was to bring back some eager sightseers on a future trip (anybody fancy it?) I would advise they do it.
There is only one gift anyone needs to experience life: time. Living for work, or working to live is a difficult challenge for us all, but try to stuff too much into a holiday, and it’s stressfully and hard work; try to let things flow when you don’t have enough time or need to plan, and you miss out completely. The luxury of time is the best asset of any traveller. There is nothing quite like an unrushed feeling, and being able to return for another stab if needed. Even though I don’t wear a watch, I feel like I have a lot more time than anyone holidaying here in a luxury RV, and getting up early (before the tourists) or exploring after sunset, is the only way to be sure of seeing the best of what the wild offers, and indeed that of any city.
Of course, there are exceptions. Ambling the twenty or so miles into the park where you don’t need to take the tourist bus, we went to stretch our legs after a relaxing day and a couple of beers. Unlike KP and I to pull up in the late afternoon where there are a few dozen tourists and someone telling us where we can and can’t go, but we threw caution to the wind (yes I know, we live on the edge). My first and very summer-illusive caribou!! The rack I have been longing to see, and finally, it’s completely awesome. Clearly, word had gotten back to the herd and one of the members of Caribou In America came to represent, although as usual in all the cop films, reluctantly. Stan the Man stepped up to the plate. He took one for the team and came to be my poster boy. I appreciated the effort, especially when the rest of the CIA are so far away. Migration in this area was in Spring, and will be again in Autumn, but when I turn up and whisper my sweet nothing’s to the forests, for some reason they listen. Stan should be proud, not only does he seem currently rather lost, he risked life and limb to meet me. The very next morning, on the short trail where I met Stan, Graham the Grizzly had made luncheon meat out of a Molly the Moose Calf. The trail was closed and Graham feasted in peace. Nothing tempted me to try and sneak a peak into his cafeteria. For everyone’s safety, the wild needs its privacy just like we do. Especially when the likes of Graham don’t like to share.
Camping in the appropriately named Wolf Loop of Riley Camp Ground in Denali National Park was our first commercial campground and paid site since Jasper National Park in Canada. Roughly 4000 miles away. See? We really do avoid tourists…and Graham when he’s eating.
Coming to Denali and not mentioning Mount McKinley would be down right rude. She’s the tallest girl in North America, and cannot be ignored. Online reviews and rangers in the park informed us that she is only visible in good weather, roughly 30 days a year. Bragging gets nobody anywhere, but I guess she also heard my whispers from the forest. Blowing away her clouds away like dropping her bathrobe, not just while I was in her park, but the following day on the drive south. It’s both rare and wonderfully odd seeing a beautiful mountain display such naked joy. Maybe she thought I needed some blatant encouragement to spend time with her another day…it may have worked.