A few weeks ago, Jon regaled us with tales of his recent family adventure in the wilds of Alaska. Today, he finishes the story. Enjoy!
The Caravan eventually wobbles down a one-lane dirt road to the river’s edge in a town called Hope. I assume it was a town; we don’t see any structures while we’re there. In minutes, we’re pushing off in a long green aluminum boat, speeding down the rushing water. I’m holding on to my son’s life jacket, but grinning ear to ear.
At our first stop, I show my son how to cast a line into the river. That was huge. Red letter day for me there. And he takes to it immediately. Soon, he has his lure dancing through the current and the salmon start biting. We’re reeling in salmon after salmon, about 8lbs. each, catch and release, the air is the freshest I’ve tasted and we’re both giddy with excitement.
Marv, one of our guides, then pushes us on down river. The boat’s barely secure at the second spot, and my son’s bounding onshore, rod and reel in hand, and starts casting away. A juvenile bald eagle sits on a pine branch nearby taking us in. Our second guide, Bev, then bends over to show me fresh bear tracks in the mud of the bank we’re fishing on: a mama grizzly print and a baby print. Okay, there’s that danger feeling again. These Alaskan folks preach being “bear aware” when in the woods, and they didn’t appear alarmed. But those deep prints are a little unnerving for this California resident. We continue to fish.
A rifle shot rings out from somewhere very close by and my back involuntarily bends me closer to the ground. My boy’s unfazed, but now I’m on high alert. I picture a hunter mistakenly aiming in our direction, but I’m told it’s the wealthy owner of the land that we’re fishing on. Apparently he has a shooting range on the other side of the river, and it’s all completely safe. Marv’s lived in Alaska his entire life, he tells me. A second shot shows me that it doesn’t feel safe, but we keep fishing.
I hook into a huge chum salmon (they call it a dog fish, since it’s not good eating), and that fish eventually breaks my line after a hell of long fight. The one that got away – check. My son has a couple good fights as well and is loving it. He then snags his line in some deep water and Bev helps him to free it. I try to help, but slip on the rocky bank like a greenhorn. Picking myself up, I notice my wet ass and that my right hand was gored on the rock, split in a deep chevron shape flap and bleeding badly. It’s also got a good amount of mud shoved up into the wound. Unnerved, I take direction to wash it in the river – in hindsight, not a great idea. But the bleeding won’t stop, so I ask our guides for their first aid kit. I receive a big Band-Aid and some white surgical tape. It’ll have to do. I had some Neosporin in my bag, too. But we continue to fish for another 30 minutes or so until the pain in my hand wouldn’t let me hold the fishing pole and the rifle shots have increased in succession. I start thinking about that mama bear and the blood I’m dripping. Time to go, folks. I keep the hand elevated, but it keeps bleeding on the drive back.
When phone service returns, I call my wife and let her know we were almost there, we had a great time, my son was fine, but I needed a little TLC. Does the hotel have any first aid? We learn that the tiny town of Girdwood has a brand new medical clinic, but it wasn’t open that day or the next day, Monday, so I was going to have to wait until Tuesday. Luckily, the mercantile sells hydrogen peroxide and Band-Aids. In the hotel lobby, I inherit the boys and with a kiss, my wife rushed to her appointment. Hotel room triage and a room service dinner. Let’s do this, boys. I couldn’t clean out all the mud with my left hand, so after my wife arrived back at the room later that evening, floating through the door with an aura of spa and a fresh bottle of Maker’s for me, she gets to cleaning out my hand with a Q-tip. Nurse Nightingale. Tons of pain, but she does a great job and tells me I’m going to make it. A neat glass of whiskey completes the picture, while the overcast sun doesn’t quite set this far north this time of year until well after midnight.
When I got to the health clinic on Wednesday, the nurse looks at the wound, wraps it up tight and prescribes some antibiotics. It feels like a cop-out, like I couldn’t handle the wild up here. But I like my hand and didn’t want to be up nights with Med.com telling me that gangrene was about to set in. I couldn’t get the modern out of the man.
The entire time I was in Alaska I had this sense that I was in the wild, on the other side of the wall. Sure, Anchorage was a lot like any Midwestern town, but the minute you drive out of it, there’s this sense that you’re on the edge, that there’s no safety net and you have to be aware. And I was only on the edge. I didn’t have a chance to plunge into the center of it, only relying on a pair of boots and a backpack. Maybe next time. Maybe when the boys are little older. There’s something about being up on the edge there that gave me that high of being alive. And we brought the kids. Traveling with young kids is tough, but we didn’t want to sit out any longer on trips like this. The kids surprised us; they were pretty resilient. We kept quoting the movie Up like it was a challenge: “Adventure is out there!”