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Alaska 2002
  • Places: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: May - August 2002
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Level of adventure: high to ridiculous
Copyright © 2002, P. Lutus. All rights reserved.

Nursing time
About 10 AM I put the kayak in the water and paddled away from my boat. The previous evening I had anchored my new Nordic Tug in a place called "Geographic Harbor" on the Alaska Peninsula (58° 6.174' N, 154° 35.425' W, west of Kodiak Island). The Alaskans had told me of a place with more bears than people, and I just had to see for myself.

The tide gradually fell as I paddled around the bay. About noon, low tide, the bears started appearing on shore to hunt for clams. Pretty soon I could see eight grizzly bears at once, which promptly doubled my lifetime total of wilderness grizzly sightings (in Alaska they are called "brown bears", but it's the same species and a lifetime habit is hard to break).

I gently grounded my kayak against a sand bar near shore so I could sit and gaze in silent, respectful awe. Then, about 100 meters in front of me, a mother bear with three cubs appeared. Mama bear looked at me and sniffed in my direction — I guess she was trying to decide whether to eat me or ignore me.

Most people with wilderness experience agree that unexpectedly meeting a mother bear with young cubs is one of the most potentially dangerous encounters you can have — right up with stumbling upon a rutting moose or a tax collector in heat. So I decided to slowly, carefully paddle my kayak back off the sand bar. But I quickly found the tide had fallen further and I was well stuck to shore, and I certainly wasn't going to get out of the kayak and make what mama bear would certainly interepret as a threat display in order to move the boat.

So I relaxed and decided not to try to control the situation. In any case, by then mama bear had shown that I was no big deal to her. She had already gone back to educating her cubs in the fine art of clam hunting. I was visiting her neighborhood, bear country, and I intended to make myself acceptable. It seems she thought I was.

Then something even more remarkable happened — mama bear decided to nurse her cubs, right in front of me. I happened to know how rare it was to see this in the wild, and I felt — how shall I say this? — very privileged, accepted, there in the wild. I had made myself as non-threatening as I could in my little paddle boat, mama bear had appeared and decided I was not important, and she simply did what she wanted.

That moment was the high point of my voyage, my adventure. I traveled over 6000 miles during this maiden voyage of my new Nordic Tug. I visited glaciers, saw whales and dolphins and paddled my kayak in some pretty wild places. I fought one storm in the Gulf of Alaska, helped the Canadian Coast Guard recover a body from the waters near Campbell River, and assisted two boats in distress. What can I say — it was a terrific first outing for a new boat.

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