This is the way it is for me: the more I work, the more I long for some time to do exactly what I want to do – either by myself, or with a close friend or loved one. Thats not to mean that I don’t enjoy my guiding guests, or my work around the bed and breakfast, because I do – but somehow I was wired for special adventures where I can learn something new, test myself, and do things that I will never forget. Well, last night was one of those adventures. I had been eyeballing the head of one of the local fjords, which is a big tidal flat where I suspected the bears like to hang out and eat grass in the spring. But I have never done any more than look at this particular tidal flat through binoculars from the boat. My yearning was to get on my feet and hike to see it up close with my own two eyes. In Alaska, that begins with studying the tide charts, and getting your timing right. Ideally, you want the tide coming in – so that you don’t have to worry about getting stuck or stranded – what we call “beached” because if you are, it’s a long wait until your boat will float again. Especially at night. Trust me, I know; I’ve experienced it first hand! I moored my boat in 6 feet of water, loaded my backpack and rifle into the canoe, which I carry inside my boat, and paddled several hundred yards up onto the tidal flat. Tall green grass usually means it’s above the high tide level – so that’s where I tied up the canoe and headed up the valley on foot. There’s a good sized river that is ice cold and flowing fast and deep, and after traveling up it, I eventually came to a tangle of criss-crossed logs that had come down the river at flood stage – enough of a bridge that with some wading, I could get to the other side without getting too wet. Once there, I continued up the valley, watching for bears and bear sign, and one of my favorite things – looking at the sand bars and muddy edges for tracks. There, I saw the tracks of river otters, black bears of all sizes, coyote, wolf, lynx, moose, many birds – and it was all very cool until I came across some very large brown bear tracks. You know, I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life, and most people that know me understand that I don’t really think it’s a big deal, but when you are way the heck and gone out in the middle of nowhere, you’re all alone, no-one really knows where you are, you are under-gunned, you’re crawling through alder thickets and emerge onto a sandbar to find fresh bear tracks the size of a paper plate, well, it’s a very lonely feeling. Spooky too. You have to plan for the worst, and if I surprised an angry sow brown bear with cubs, a scoped .30-06 is not how i want to defend myself. Ideally, I would have had a large hand cannon strapped to my belt, a long knife, and a close range gun suited for doing battle with a big brownie – such as a 12 gauge shotgun with slug, or my lever action .45-70 Government with open sights. As much as I wanted to continue up the river valley, I thought it prudent to “live to scout another day”, and turned back – but this time went in the opposite direction of the bear tracks, and circled into an old growth forest that was something on the order of the huge cypress trees and spanish moss that you will find in the southeast United States. Instead, this is spruce and fir trees draped with clumpy moss, and the canopy is thick enough where you don’t get a lot of light penetration. Here, I found moose and bear trails that looked like well-worn cattle trails – ones that had been used for eons, and were carved 6-10 inches below the topsoil layer. Looking up the trail, it reminded me of a miniature water slide or bobsled track. I looped back to the opposite side of the fjord, finding some nice-sized bear tracks. lots of fresh scat, and hidden grassy fields that one can’t see from the boat; these are perfect places to send my hunters, and I felt satisfied now that I could now describe it from the standpoint of having been there. Now that I was back at the grassy fjord, I went down the east side of the river, looking for a place to cross to the west – but the river was too deep and too swift to attempt a crossing – so I had to hike all the way back up to the logjam, cross the other side, and then hike back down to the tidal flat again on the west side. Now, I was met with an even worse obstacle – the fact that the tide was still in, more than I had thought it would be, and I had about a quarter of a mile of water to cross in order to get to my canoe. One wouldn’t really know this unless one tries, and now, I know better. I had three choices. 1. Backtrack and climb the mountain, which was steep, and try to come down in the vicinity of the canoe. Well, by now I was extremely tired from the long walk, and vertical climbing was easy to discount. 2. Sit and wait for the tide to go out. I estimated at least two hours before I could walk on land, without going over my knee-high boots, in order to get to my canoe. Well, it was also midnight, nearly dark, and I wanted to be warm in my bed and get my body prone. So I opted out of that. 3. My decision was to wade for my canoe, about 400 yards of ice-cold brackish water that was waist to chest deep. Good thing the bottom was solid. I emptied my pants pockets into my backpack, strapped my gun high on my back, and went for it. When I emerged on the other side, I was walking like I was punch-drunk. My boots were filled with a half-gallon of extra water, my quilted jeans saturated to the max. Several times, I slipped and fell on the jagged rocks, mumbled in pain, and complained in my own way. When I finally got to the canoe, my feet were numb – kind of hard to warm up that 30 some degree water after being in it that long. The canoe ride to the boat was uneventful, and loading everything into the LUND went fine. It was dark now, and this was the first time I have had to use my navigational lights to go home. I stripped off the sopping wet clothes, and was glad to find an old pair of rain pants, a warm winter jacket, and a sleeping bag in a compartment. With that, I drove the 45 minutes to the Homer harbor. Legs and feet that were cold and stiff didn’t want to haul my carcass up the hill to the truck and trailer, but I made them work, loaded the boat, and drove up the hill to the bed and breakfast. I was surprised to find that it was nearly 2pm. Legs cramped in the night, I mean, really bad charlie-horse cramps that wouldn’t release. Maria was up working on my legs with her oils, and pounding on the quad muscles trying to get them to relax. Today, I have had to admit to myself that I need to lay low and recuperate. Will I do it again? Yes, but I learned so much, I know exactly what to do next time. I will do it differently. Meanwhile, next week and with time, I will get that yearning again – and I can think of at least three other tidal flats that need exploring. I wish I could show you more pictures – especially a photo of those HUGE bear tracks, but alas, my cell phone was dead and I had forgotten my regular camera. I did manage to get one photo with my cell phone which is the view at the very beginning of my trip, looking across the tidal flat, and up the valley where I hiked. It was a beautiful place to hike, explore, and learn.