For the two years I’ve lived in Homer, I’ve managed just two trips across Kachemak Bay that haven’t been work related. If I keep up this pace, I’ll have a nice outdoor excursion to look forward to each year.
My first hiking trip across Mother Kachemak was the iconic Grewingk Glacier Lake hike, which made a strong impression on me and sowed the seeds for future adventuring.
More recently, I spent three days in the Tutka Bay area with a group of friends in August, camping a mile inland at Tutka Lake and exploring the surrounding areas that are the very beginnings of the Tutka Backdoor Trail.
Packing all our essentials as well as some nonessentials (my friend Kirby seemed to have an endless supply of fruit roll-ups), we loaded into a boat and started off for an area of Kachemak Bay none of us had explored before.
The nice thing about many of the recreation areas across the bay is that they are void of cellphone reception. Without the technological ties that generally keep us rooted in society (thought not necessarily reality), we weren’t able to give all our friends back home a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out, which this author had to Google about two weeks ago) by posting updates of our adventure to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and the like.
We had to feed ourselves before we “fed the ‘gram.” Our stories weren’t uploaded to some platform for a fleeting 24 hours, but were spoken into the darkness while light from the campfire danced across our faces.
In essence, we literally just had to enjoy each other’s company and our surroundings. Isn’t it insane how rare that experience can be these days? How far we have to travel by plane or train or water taxi to reach a corner of the earth that isn’t permeated by access and connectivity?
And you know what? I think we did a pretty good job of losing and finding ourselves in the wilds of Tutka Bay. We picked blueberries till our skin was stained. We sang songs from our childhood to forget the weight of the packs digging into our shoulders. We took the paths less traveled and wrong turns and we marveled at all of it. I can’t speak for the rest, but I even appreciated the time we spent traipsing through the flats of Tutka Bay Lagoon near the hatchery, dodging dead and decaying, pungent fish. Like a sick, high-stakes game of hopscotch.
It was a nice exercise for me personally in that my main tool for capturing our camping trip was my camera. Though phones are easier to carry and much simpler to wield in the wild, I tried my best to leave it at camp or in my pack and instead create a visual story of our time together in Tutka Bay with my more traditional lens.
One moment from the trip that stands out to me as both a time I wish I’d had a camera in my hands and a moment I’m glad I didn’t came on our first morning, after having (finally) found our campsite and settling in. I was the first one up, and though the morning air and bird song echoing across the lake was as diverting as it could be, I had only one thing on my mind: the coffee and French press I knew were tucked away in the food bag tied up a tree several hundred feet away.
As you read the words “French press” you might be thinking, “Ah, yes — one of the nonessential items she talked about earlier.” In fact, no. I had warned all my friends prior to the trip that I would be needing a daily dose of caffeine if I were expected to survive.
With the earthy and bitter aroma of that morning’s coffee already in my mind, I went to retrieve the food bag from its perch as quietly as possible, so as not to wake my companions. Looking back, that’s probably where I went wrong.
Digging into the bag with little ceremony and some desperation, I unearthed the coffee and a mug. I set everything up and started a fire in the small pit we had made on the shore of Tutka Lake. Then, I took a small metal pot and walked back away from our campsite to a spot where one could access the lake water a little more easily.
Carrying the pot back to the fire, water sloshing over the edges, I heard a crackling noise like the kind that’s made when twigs or branches snap. Looking up, I saw we were not alone on our little haven by the lake. A large black bear had apparently not heard me struggling to get a heavy food bag out of the trees and across a small creek, and had wandered into our camp to munch on some of the blueberries growing there.
Let me be clear: the bear was not on the path toward our campsite. He or she was fully in it, like an annoying camp counselor come to knock on our tents to make sure we weren’t sleeping in.
Upon seeing me, the bear decided it wasn’t interested in a campsite that actually had people in it. It turned on its heels and crashed through the brush back up the trail from where it had come.
I stood paralyzed. It had all happened so fast that I hadn’t even had adequate time to decide whether I was scared or not. And a good thing, too, as my only weapon in that moment would have been a small metal pot of murky, unboiled lake water. I supposed I could have chucked it on our guest in the hopes that it gave him Giardia, but I’m glad it never came to that.
I was the only one to see the bear that morning, and indeed the only one of our group to see one the entire trip. Part of me wishes I had evidence that it happened. A photo or a well-timed Instagram story. But another part of me is glad our little early morning meeting remains between me and that bear. I’ll always appreciate having a truly spontaneous experience that couldn’t be predicted or controlled.
Plus, it’s a nice addition to my repertoire of campfire stories.