Alaska Planning, Round Three
More advice, this time from Lis (the black belt from our dojo who had to move away). She grew up in the Alaska bush because her parents were white teachers hired to teach Native children. That’s the short version. It is Lis’ writing that put the Wrangell Mountain Center on my radar, as she’s been there before and wrote eloquently about it. Here, she advises me on the journey:
“The mosquito rivals the ptarmagin as the state bird. Really. Be prepared. AK is marshy and breeds large, dark clouds of mosquitoes. One of the ways, it is said, that the Alaskan natives used to drive white men mad was to strip them naked and leave them tied outside so the mosquitoes would be free to feast upon them; the NE equivalent of tying someone over an anthill. They are that bad…If you can afford it, take the flight-seeing tour over the Kennicott-McCarthy glacier, but hike it first. It will be more impressive to see where you stood once you’re up in the air, in the small plane. Oh yeah, don’t forget duck tape. You never know when you’re gonna have to duck tape your engine back together, as I did on the trip out in 1994.”
I go to Toe River Outfitters in Ledger, a little hunting shop in a little town, where rumor has it one can by pepper spray. A wide man with steady hands walks me past a row of guns toward a glass case stocked with ominous spray cans. He advises in a down-home Carolina mountain accent:
“You’ve got your keychain pepper spray, your holster pepper spray. Then there’s your bear pepper spray and your standard pepper spray. You’ve got the miniature and the full sized.” He lays them on the glass case in neat rows, tapping their safety nozzles as he names each one.
“What’s the difference between the smaller cans and the bear pepper spray?” I ask.
“The bear pepper spray is the same thing, it’s just a giant canister full of the stuff and when you mash the button is basically explodes everywhere so there’s no chance you can miss.”
“Uh-huh,” I say, pushing that one back across the counter.
“You say you’re going to grizzly country? Honey—do you have a small child? Because if one of them grizzlies comes at you you’re better off tossing a small child at the thing and getting out of there than you are with this pepper spray.”