On my climb up Flat Top Mountain a few days ago, I paused to snap the below photo of the moon slung low in the Alaskan sky. Just after capturing the image I slipped, fell and slid into a craggy ravine. In the process I hurt my ankle quite severely and found myself unable to move. Colder and colder with every passing moment, I began to grow worried. Could I survive the night, or would I freeze to death?
Shivering in the moonlight, I had the good fortune of being attacked by a small brown bear. With a quick, deftly placed chop I sent fear straight into the heart of the beast. As he scampered away, I grabbed firmly at his hindquarters and pulled his furry coat from his body in one fell swoop. I used the pelt to cover up and must admit, I’ve never enjoyed a deeper, more sound night of slumber than I did that night on the frigid peak of Flat Top.
When I woke the next morning my ankle still throbbed. Fighting through stabbing pain, I hobbled over to a moose feeding nearby. Three seconds of intense, fearless eye contact won me the trust of the behemoth, after which I quickly mounted the moose and rode her down the mountainside, hands clutching at each of her respective ears throughout the descent. Despite my urging the moose north, toward downtown Anchorage, she took me instead straight west, to the ocean’s shore. I climbed down from her back and gave the willful creature a thankful rub about the neck, then stood on the snowy beach, bear pelt draped over my shoulders, and watched the setting sun.
In the distance, the spouting of a humpback whale caught my eye. Sensing opportunity, I dove without hesitation into the icy waters and swam as I’ve never swam before in the direction of the blast of breath. I paddled out a few hundred yards and finally, on the brink of exhaustion, caught my new mammalian friend by his enormous cleft tail and held on for dear life. He swam us swiftly north, in the direction of my hotel.
Nearing downtown but nearly one half mile from the coast, I gave one firm tug on the the humpback’s tail and managed to inspire just the reaction I desired. Like a horse swatting at a pesky fly, the giant baleen flicked his tail and catapulted me up out of the water and careening toward dry land. As I flew through the arctic air I was overcome with fear. Perhaps I’d acted imprudently – certainly this landing would cause more injury than my initial stumble down the mountainside. No sooner did I begin to fret than a screeching rang out on the cold, thin air, and a bald eagle swooped down from the heavens, grabbing me gently by my shoulders. The regal bird struggled admirably to support my weight, it’s long curved wings flapping thunderously in defiance of gravity. Slowly we descended, and from a dozen feet above dry land the bird released me. I fell into the soft embrace of a powdery snowbank where I was immediately overcome with dire hunger and thirst.
Ankle soothed by the extreme cold of the ocean waters, I made haste to the nearest watering hole. Sensing my need for nourishment and warmth, the barkeep offered me a steaming cup of hot black coffee and a meal of eggs, toast and sausage made from yak. How could I resist?
But alas, here’s where this otherwise happy tale takes a turn toward the unfortunate. Sadly, the yak sausage and I did not agree. Instead, the meat brought about an ache in my belly as fierce as the Alaskan wind. Yak is, well, not for everyone, I guess.
And so it is that I have the Last Frontier, the 49th State, to thank for yet another lesson learned in life. That lesson: if you come to Alaska, or set about on any adventure, whatsoever, I suppose, you must know your limits.
I’m grateful to have learned this on the front leg of my journey. In just a few days, I embark on my solo ascent of Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, a summit that no man or woman has ever ascended on their own. Taking heed of my recent learnings, I will temper my ambitions to my own personal limits. Reindeer sausage I will carry in plenty, but I will pack nary a bite of yak meat. Fool me once, as the old saying goes…
I’ll see you from the top of the continent, friends.