THE Alaskan Experience 

My friends, it brings me great sadness to think that this could be my last Alaskan post… for a while 😉

“As I grow older, good memories seem to return with greater frequency. Sometimes the sound of a crackling fire or the smell of wood smoke brings sudden recall and I’m transported back to the Alaska I love.”

As I sat in a meadow in the early morning watching the sunrise and the glistening of water gems painted across tall blades of grass, I went into a deep reflection of the past 135 days. I sat alone, mostly silent, listening to the sounds of nature, taking in the smells of autumn and the sight of one season holding on to a tree, waiting for its time to “fall.” As the chill of an early morning breeze wraps around my face and down my neck, a leaf takes flight and I watch it dance its final dance. It seems that a leaf returns year after year, yet the truth is that every leaf only gets one life. The tree will produce new life come spring and a new generation of leaves will grow, changing shapes and colors throughout its lifetime and eventually that what was once called a new leaf will take its final flight, dancing in the wind.

Leaves continue to fall and I watch each individual dance in its uniqueness. They create their own rhythms as they brush shoulders with other leaves and branches on their way to their final resting place on the ground. I pondered what it may be like to live such a short life. Watching winter turn to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and now fall to winter feels like the blink of an eye and to think that was the lifespan of these leaves was a mere 5 months puts a lot into perspective. What were the best days these leaves had? The worst? And what were some of the leaves favorite things? The birth of a newborn moose? A bald eagle perched in a tree? An incredible, unforgettable sunrise or sunset? What was it that made this leaf’s time here on the tree worthwhile? The answers can be imagined and the truth is simple. The only thing the leaf has now, laying across the ground motionless are the experiences it got during its short life. 
I quickly found that I had been sitting for quite some time and the reason (I thought) I was there for was to harvest a moose. Yet, here I am lost in memories. Memories of the 135 days in Alaska’s Experience. As I literally reflected on “One day at a time” a sudden rush of emotions flow through my body. A whirlwind of amazing feelings crash with the sadness of it ending and looking back on memories and experiences instead of looking forward to them. What that must be like for a leaf to “hang on” for its last moments possibly looking forward to what’s to come next and possibly not. Certainly looking back in time is where I spent the next hour. 

I had driven nearly 2500 miles to get to Alaska, on one of the most remote roads in North America. The close encounters with black bears, fox, moose, buffalo, grand landscapes and it’s only Day 3. Being alone during these early moments didn’t seem so bad. I sat and pondered what the future may be, having no clue what was about to happen. I sang songs and almost grilled some caribou with my truck. I quickly found myself in Palmer and posted up in a wonderful cabin where I met some new friends. This cabin became a frequent stop during my 5 months. Laundry, good home cooked meals, laughter and friendship. Kari, Dan and Merry’s daughter, cooked me my first Alaskan meal, “Moose-sghetti.” Kari and her daughter Ayla even came to visit me on “Hoggie Island” later on in July. It was also at this first Alaskan dinner that I heard my first Alaskan bear encounter. 

From here I moved onto Denali National Park and set up camp. What a great time I had there, waking up early with a fire and hitting the road to spot the wild animals of Alaska. I spent some good time watching Grizzly bears play, caribou prance, moose graze and ice frost my tent and truck. It was also here where I had one of the most memorable experiences not only in Alaska but in my life. An up close and personal experience with a massive boar Grizzly just coming out of hibernation. I can still honestly say this was one of the scariest moments of my life, without a doubt. 

To recover from the trauma I decided to spend a couple nights in a Fairnbanks Lodge and purchase some bear protection 😉 I contacted an old family friend who took me on my first Alaska Bush pilot flight! So cool! Flew into an old abandoned lodge, high in the mountains surrounded by magnificent beauty.  Then it was time to make the 500 mile trip across the northern region of Alaska on a single dirt road. “The Haul Road” Dalton Highway to Pruhdoe Bay. What an experience… Once I passed the Arctic Circle and the Yukon River I met the “North Slope.” A vastness as far as the eye can see of rolling tundra. Herds of caribou, the Alaska Pipeline and a few families of Musk Ox were nearly a glimpse of what one experiences on this journey. 500 miles and 15 hours one way and only 1 small gas station to stop at. And then… The Oil fields. It’s like another planet. Resting on the Arctic Ocean the sole existence is for crude oil. It’s a way of life for many, for a short time. Most shifts are 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off or 3 and 3, etc. Talk about a tough environment… One thing that’s fascinating is that once the oil companies leave, it must be returned to its natural state, exactly how they found it. So, every structure is a temporary structure, even if they’ve been there for 40 years. Back in Fairbanks, I met a one of a kind gentleman who’s the salt of the earth, Gage. He took me on his airboat through the swampy marshes of Alaska. So cool! And to think… It’s only about day 15! 

I continued my journey to Tok where I met up with a friend, Wade Nolan. I spent a couple days with him helping with his missions at the Shen Bible camp. He was kind enough to introduce me to some local Athibascan Native Indians in the village of Tetlin. These kind people took me into their home and introduced me to their culture. I was also fortunate enough to take a boat trip down river to the original village now called “Last Tetlin.” It was wiped out by a plague and then flooded so the villagers who were left migrated. An amazing thought… I literally may have been the first white person to ever place a foot on these grounds. Unreal! It was May now and snow fell, blanketing the ground. I spent another day with an elder in the village driving on some of the worst snowy, muddy, steep roads to get any time with her. I just couldn’t get enough of her stories and songs. Her life experiences as a Native Alaskan opened my eyes to a whole new world. And so it begins…

I made my way to Anchirage to meet up with a long time college friend, Jered Post. He’s currently the VP of operations for Lynden Transport, the largest shipping company for Alaska from the lower 48. He introduced me to some wonderful people and gave me some ideas of where to go and what to do. Thank you for everything Jered! Thank you Lynden and the employees for all the amazing experiences we shared! Good times with good people! Miss you boys! 

So, it was time to visit Seward on the KP (Kenai Peninsula). I met up with a new friend of mine, Larry Klinger, who I met at the Shen Bible camp. We spent a couple days exploring and we decided climbing Exit glacier would be fun, so we did. Although, it’s still mid May and the snow is so deep we couldn’t get to the top. It was on this hike I let fear take control of my decisions and mentioned we should turn around when we were knee deep in snow climbing a steep mountainside in avalanche country. It was Larry who got me to dig deep and push myself farther than I wanted. Oh boy was it worth it. The views were unreal. Well worth the hike/climb. It was here that I later brought my longest living friends back to for a celebration of Life in August. And that was an epic experience… 

Since I was on KP and only about 2 1/2 hours from Homer I decided it was time to visit my friend and the author of the book I’m making the film,  Mr. Jim Rearden. Him and his wife had me over for a couple days. We had long talks, dinner, watched old WWII movies together and for the first time in years, we took him upstairs to his library and let him look around. It’s very difficult for Jim to get upstairs being he’s a quadriplegic. I had been filming him and interviewing him and one of the moments occurred that I’ll never forget. Jim sat there gazing around his room he built in the house he built by hand. He stared at a couple collections of magazines, many in which he had written for. An overwhelming feeling filled the room and without a spoken word, I was hit by his sadness. The look in his eyes said more than any combination of words. Here he sits, looking back on everything he had accomplished in his life. Hundreds of magazine articles, nearly 30 books, Alaska laws that are still in existence and pictures of his children and grandchildren. This is his life. This room is where he spent most of of time writing. And as his eyes scan left to right, covering all the spines of the books on his shelves and all his awards, certificates and collections he says, 

“Here it sits. Everything I’ve ever done. The years of labor, a lifetime of work and yet, I can’t even touch it, any of it.” 

He turns his gaze to me and says, 

“I’m stuck, trapped in this broken body that doesn’t work anymore.”

Here’s a leaf, barely hanging on, looking back at all the sunrises and sunsets, knowing the number of those decreases day by day. Then he motions toward the boxes on the desk and the stack of pictures. “You’ve got some work to do.” “It’s your turn.” “Now go…” 

I sat in that office for a couple days going through every single pictures and gathering some type-writer typed papers, a lot of hand written letters, books, newspaper articles and anything else I could carry. The funny thing, it was only half of what he had for me. I took so many notes and journaled a lot. To sit in his chair in his office was an honor. Here’s a man who has spent more time researching and corresponding with Alaska Scouts and family members than anyone else who’s probably ever walked this earth. If it wasn’t for Jim’s dedication many of these stories would’ve been lost. Thank you Jim Rearden for all your sacrifices, hard work, time and years you put into the Alaska Scouts. It’s been a life changing experience seeing life through the eyes of these heroes.  

It’s now time to start fishing so I posted up back in Seward on the beach where Larry and I stumbled upon, Eagle Island. This is where I caught my first Alaskan salmon, Sokeye (red). I ended up catching several and they tasted so dang good! One of the most spectacular places to fish I’ve ever been. And literally more bald eagles than I’d ever seen. They covered the beach like a normal flock of seagulls. Loved this experience and so grateful to have it. My first taste of Alaska fishing (snagging). 

My first visitor, Mr. Seth Ellis. From the moment he stepped foot in my truck it was an addition to my Alaska experience. As I type this now, I’m listening to the music he brought with him. He certainly has a passion for music. The music he shared with me became my soundtrack to the summer. It had only been a month now and here we are in Homer camping on the beach, waking up to a sunrise over the water with the gorgeous mountains in the back drop. Good times were had at the Salty Dawgs Saloon on the spit.  And then it was time to get to some serious fishing. Seth booked a river float and in doing so intersected me with the next great Alaskan family. The Payne family. Our guide Mindy was a sweetheart. When we got to the boat launch after our float and after my first Alaskan King salmon catch, there’s no truck and trailer. Lol! Her husband Reubin forgot to drop them off. Thank goodness because we got to meet the man behind the legend. Such a great guy! They invited us to a BBQ on the river at one of their cabins and of course I’m not passing that up. I shared some deer jerky, pepperoni, smoked salmon and dried WA apples. We even BBQ’d one of my red salmon and it was so tasty! Love the house of Payne! Miss you guys so much! It was also here where I was introduced to another new friend Pegge. It was a quick introduction but in the coming months, the stories seemed to align for a reason. More to come… Seth and I ended his time in Seward fishing on Eagle Island. Good times once again. Thanks for visiting pal! Listening to your jams still!

And then there was Bethel… Funny, I’m on a plane right now leaving Bethel which I had no idea was going to happen during this time. Black bear hunt! It’s worth the time to go back and read those posts. Fishing, hunting, camping and building friendships. Corey Tolliver from Wenatchee has lived in Bethel, working as a teacher for 9 years. Some may think 9 years isn’t that long, but I promise you, Corey’s more of an Alaskan than nearly everyone I met in Alaska, rivaled only by some natives and maybe Rearden who’s spent close to 75 years in Alaska. Corey’s a trapper, hunter, fisher, makes clothes out of his furs, can live in any condition and survive. He has the most extreme life experiences one could imagine. Digging a snow cave to sleep in during subzero temperatures to get out of a storm and having search and rescue sent for him. He’s frozen parts of his body literally to death. He’s had the closest encounter with a bunch of bears in his camp, literally having to shoot through the tent to scare off a momma Griz trying to dig into the tent. To save his life and his dad’s he shot the bear with a flare gun, threw bottles and frying pans, it came down to the Bears life or his and his dad’s. Obviously he’s still here. Camping and hunting in Alaska is tough, no doubt. Doing it in winter running a trap line is beyond what I want to experience. You’re a tough SOB. When it comes to the stories of Alaska Scouts, I’ve read more than most and no doubt, Corey’s the closest man I spent time with in Alaska to living the true Alaska Scout lifestyle. Thank you Corey and Laura Leigh for taking me into your world for 10 days and making me feel welcomed. Thank you Corey for teaching me so much about bears and hides, meat and beaver furs. Thank you for the fox, mink and beaver furs as well. Every time I look at them I’ll remember our time in the Alaska Bush. Cherished memories my friend. Love you guys! 

Hello Devlin!!! I landed at 5pm in Anchorage and within a few hours I was introduced to one of the gems of my Alaska Experience. A young man who will be a friend for life and someone who taught me more than I could ever teach him. It’s difficult to describe how he had an affect on me. My life, my perspective, my understanding, my knowledge, my journey was flipped upside down. Devlin is truly one of the kindest, loving, unbelievably comforting spirits to be around. It’s nearly impossible to spend time with him and not smile just watching him navigate through life. When I say spirit, I mean spirit. It’s a presence. To be childlike… He’s Innocent. Oddly, the main character’s name in the book and film, Castner’s Cutthroats, is Innokenty. Meaning Innocent. Devlin, thank you for giving me the glimpse into an 18 year old Native boy’s life. It was a great pleasure kayaking with you for your first time in Resurrection Bay and getting frightened by whales and catching fish! I’ll always remember sitting by the fire watching the sun go down and having our talks. The talks that Devlin initiated our very first night. He completely opened up to me and from that moment, a new look on life. Thank you Wade Nolan for organizing the trip to Kayaker’ Cove, flying Devlin down and introducing us. It was also here where we spent some time on Wade’s zodiac. A guy who was running the lodge at the time Geoff, an outdoor Ed teacher living in Honduras, took a liking to Devlin and myself and we actually kept in touch. Geoff ended up spending a couple nights on Hoggie Island as well. He and I ended up taking my boat and floating the Kenai River! So cool! And I hitch hiked back to the truck… Only in Alaska. 

Mom and Dad! Yes! After several years of trying to coax my dad into visiting Alaska, he’s here!! It’s been on his bucket list for a long time and I’ve offered to take him and even planned trips but it never worked out, or at least how I thought it would. As I know, it always seems to work out better anyway. I had been in Alaska about 2 months now and knew exactly what to do and where to go. I could be their tour guide! We went to Homer, visited with Jim Rearden and his wife, drove around, had some good meals and conversations. Didn’t stay long, it was Fathers Day and we had a halibut trip planned! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate so we didn’t make it out. We did get to spend the morning with Wade Nolan and his family and mom and dad got to meet Devlin. We then drove to Reubin and Mindy Payne’s cabin on the river where Seth and I BBQ’d and where I met Pegge. So amazing, in the yard when we arrived were two fawn moose and its mother let us get super close! We must’ve spent almost an hour taking pictures and hanging out with the giant! Well it was Father’s Day, so we got changed and met up with Pegge and The House of Payne (Reubin, Mindy and the boys) at Pegge’s parents, Dick and Stephanie’s Lodge. What a spectacular place! Right on the Kenai River and just gorgeous! Great eats! Mom even had a moose burger! And then it was fishing the next morning. Dad caught the first two fish, the most fish and mom caught the biggest. Cool thing, mom and I both caught a fish at the same time! A great day then off to Seward where we spent time in some cabins and on a boat through the Kenai Fjords. What a day, killer whales, breeching humpbacks, a black bear next to a glacier… Come on… From there a ferry to Valdez, drove to McCarthy and old mining town and back to the cabin in Plamer, a home away from home. Then we spent 3 days in Denali, good times and great memories of unforgettable experiences. 

I bought a zodiac from Wade Nolan and now am an official Alaskan boat owner! Mr. Devlin and I hit the road! We spent the first night in Moose Pass on Upper Trail Lake camping. The next morning as we were preparing to weather the storm the wind broke my tent poles and we quickly abandoned that plan. It turns out Pegge had a guest house where we could stay for the time being while we waited for the weather to clear up. It worked out great! Pegge and I spent a day having conversations and building a lasting friendship. She shared some life experiences with me and the longer we spoke, the deeper the conversations went. 8am turned into 4pm and it was time to eat! Devlin and I went to the beach to watch locals dip net salmon.. CHAOS! No thank you! Not what I call fishing. I understand it’s a way of life. The locals desperately need these fish to feed their family so I understand but I’m just used to enjoying the fishing experience even when I don’t catch a single fish. I guess it something you adapt to when you’ve experienced an Alaska winter. We also spent 4th of July on the Kenai River. A wonderful day then we were off. Devlin and I loaded the zodiac and left Homer in the rain and some fog across Kachemak Bay. Oh man, what an experience. You talk about fear… I can’t even go there now in my mind. Could’ve been a real bad deal. It ended up Turing out to be one of the greatest places to camp of all time! Even with bears in our camp, it still tops the list. Looking back now, it’s my second favorite place in Alaska just behind Hoggie Island. We left early to find calm seas and headed straight to Moose Pass. Back to Trail Lake and the Trail Lake Lodge to ask where to go. Devlin and I literally took the boat around every inch of the lake. On July 9th, we came upon an island when we were looking for access to another lake and not thinking of it we kept searching for a perfect spot. After a three hour tour we decided to go back to the island. We tied up the boat on the far end of the island and walked around. All the sudden, there it is, a flat spot with a big fire pit. Are you kidding me??!!! This is unbelievable! It couldn’t get any better. It actually surpasses every image I had in my mind for my spot to settle down and live. Here it is… “Hoggie Island.” Devlin helped me get some thing set up. I had to run him back to Kingdom Air Corp. where he’s studying to be a pilot. On our way, late on a Sunday, a tire blew on the boat trailer. A rope had flipped out of the boat and wrapped the axel. Bad deal. I ended up dropping it off at Lynden and replaced both hubs, wheels and tires and spare by myself in the parking lot the next day. I headed back to the island and brought in camp. I set up shop. And the next chapter begins… 

I set up an office and cleared some trees to open up a view. I broke out the books, articles, interviews from Rearden’s boxes in his library/office. I spent morning to night reading and taking notes for the next few weeks. It was hard. Hitting loneliness head on. I forgot how it felt to laugh. It was here when all the fun, adventurous days came to a halt. The rain came in and it never left. It rained day after day for at least 2 weeks. Everything’s wet constantly and keeping a fire is tough but keeping a positive attitude is even more difficult. I miss a lot. SLEEP! I miss home, my friends and family. I miss a bed, a shower, a refrigerator, heat, a stove, stars, the sounds of sprinklers, laughter, music, talking, did I mention a bed? How about a warm place to sleep? The smell of fresh food cooking? The sun? Blue skies? How about the presence of another human being? The energy that’s created. A hug, a smile, a joke, a conversation, a day to relax? Walls? A roof? A dry, clean pair of shoes that don’t stink from days of wear and sweat. Clean clothes would’ve been huge. A day without the smell of smoke? Can I get one meal made for me or at least buy a meal so I don’t have to make another dang crappy meal, eating the same thing? That being said, you have NO IDEA what it was really like. The greatest place on earth and the most beautiful. Thinking back now I feel like I could go for another 6 weeks no problem but in the moment the truth is revealed. So many truths. I faced so many things I had been avoiding. Without distractions, during a time of “being still” much can be discovered about one’s self. I feel pretty strong physically, usually don’t have any trouble cutting trees, carrying them, chopping wood or packing gear, etc. Although, when faced with mental challenges, I had to dig deep for the strength to get through. Negative thoughts and feeling quickly sent me on a downward direction and depression and fear consumed me. I had to reach deep for strength to fight it all. All the personal stories I was reading of the Scouts gave me perspective. What I was going through may be tough for someone living and working in Hollywood. No doubt I spent my time preparing, most came from childhood and adult experiences in the woods but when thinking about living in Alaska in the winter in the 1940’s, that’s tough. Thank you Scouts for providing me with the truth. It made it easier to get through my time. Chuck O’Leary, thank you for your stories and for the stories your fellow Scouts told about you. To find out while on Hoggie Island in Moose Pass, AK that you moved to Moose Pass, AK and raised your family spending nearly 10 years here, possibly even stayed a night or more on Hoggie Island, inspired me to fight on. Much love to all you Scouts and all your sacrifices. I’ll never know exactly what you went through and I do know that you did it. Cheers to you all my brothers! 

Once I went through all the materials I had on the Alaska Scouts and the Aleutian Campaign I visited Jim Rearden again and spent a few days going through the rest of the materials he had. I am now blown away with everything I read. Jim had personal relationships with these Scouts. They had multiple conversations back and forth through type writers and hand written letters. Jim also kept obituaries and newspaper clippings from the 1940’s. His library is more like a museum. When I asked him for a particular newspaper he said, “Take it. I can’t use it. Take it all. I have no use for any of this anymore. You do. So go on. Get to work.” 
I left their home and feeling down after spending a couple weeks camping in the rain and missing family and friends and 100 days in Alaska, I booked a flight home. I returned to Alaska with my longest living friend, Billy Turner. We had a blast together. We explored on my boat, cut trees and started the first sign signifying the island’s name. We stamped it. “Hoggie Island.” A few days later a few more friends arrive to celebrate our long time friend’s life. Brandon Lewis “Hoggie” Hoglund. He passed away on Aug 20, 2015. Mike Weinstein, John Hart and Scott Bigby joined Billy and I for the celebration. I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart. I’ve never laughed more in 5 days than I did during this time. On August 20th we hiked to the top of Exit glacier  where Devlin happen to be the same day. He took a pic of my truck and called and text but my phone ended up swimming in the lake so I had nothing. Ended up having no phone for almost 2 weeks! Great way to end the Hoggie Island experience, no phone and my closest friends. I dropped off my high school friends and picked up my 2 closest college friends, Tom Truong and my Godson Oliver, Mike Burt and his son Brayden. We had an amazing time! Caught salmon “bear” handed, watched big Brown bears fish in the river, cut trees, built fires, laughed and cringed at the boys swimming in the glacier fed lake water. The boys chopped wood and connected to the outdoors much like I did as a young boy. I pray they love what Mother Nature has given us all as much as I do.  I stayed a few more days then packed up and left the island on Aug. 29th. I dream about the day I get to spend more time on Hoggie Island. A special place in my heart lives in Alaska. Much love Hoggie and Hoggie Island. “I’ll see you a little farther up the creek.” 

I made the long drive back to WA, finishing my 15,000 mile trip.  It was hard looking back on the past 5 months knowing it was coming to an end. I had one more thing to do. Hunt moose. I flew up to Bethel to meet up with Corey, Laura and Corey’s dad Dennis. We rented a few planes and flew to Russian Mission. Well, we had to wait a day and a half due to fog, but we finally made it out. It was late when we arrived 18 miles up the Yukon River to our camp. Dennis and I set up the tent and camp in the rain. The next morning we didn’t end up hunting really. Corey and I took a walk out of camp and we took most of that day to get camp set up and organized. We hiked a hillside to look for moose and spotted a few. We went out that night but didn’t see anything. The next morning, we woke up early and Dennis and I walked into a meadow behind camp. As soon as I exited the tree line and entered the meadow I saw a nice bull moose. We started calling him in, well I signaled Dennis and he called. I heard a bunch of brush and trees breaking and knew it had to be a bull moose. Soon enough out walks a nice bull thrashing trees with his antlers, grunting coming in hot. Dennis was behind me, drawing the attention off me and further down the tree line. The bull stops right in front of me. He’s a nice bull, but all I’ve heard and seen was how the biggest moose come out of here. Big trophies, “BE PATIENT” was some advise given to me and it was only 45 mins into our first morning hunt. That seemed too easy. I bet we could call him in again and maybe Corey’s wife Laura would want to shoot it. So I sat there 42 yards for 5 mins and he stood broadside having no clue I was there. Should I shoot? I had never been moose hunting before so I don’t know the  situation I was in. Looking back now I’d make a different decision. See I hunt with a bow, which gives me a huge disadvantage. The animal must come in really close. With a rifle, the animal could easily be 3 football fields away and you could harvest the animal. With a bow, they have to be 3 first downs away. Completely different. I watched the bull for quite some time and was struck by his massiveness and his energy. One of the coolest things to see. Like being on a safari in Africa and having a big Rhino or elephant walk in, and this is no zoo or park. 100% wild animals. So few humans that most of these moose have never had contact with humans, don’t even recognize our scent. After some time the bull lost interest and I let him walk off. What an experience and only 45 mins into the first morning. Instantly I had regret. I questioned myself, even I couldn’t believe I passed up that bull, especially with a bow. It still comes back and haunts me now. I went out that evening on my own and called in another bull. I got this one on video. He was smaller than that morning’s bull. He hung out for about 10 mins and got within 33 yards. Much to my surprise, I hunted everyday morning and night, averaging 10 + hours a day and don’t see another bull. I called a bull in the second to last day but never got to see him only heard him. Later that evening I see a cow enter the meadow at the far end, roughly 250 yards. About 2 mins later a monster bull follows her into the meadow. This thing was massive. Unfortunately, all I have is a bow. I tried to get his attention my way and he did take some time to look my way and make a decision to head towards me, he didn’t, he followed the cow. If I’d a had a rifle. The one we all were hunting for days would’ve been mine. Now I’m down to my last full day of hunting. The following day we have to pack up camp and leave. I wasn’t able to bring a bull in that evening and when I returned to camp empty handed everyone felt bad for me. They all shot moose and I was going home empty handed. All I had to do was shoot the first morning and I would’ve had a really nice bull. I had a lot of time to reflect on it. What I’ve come to realize, if you’d shoot the bull on the last day, you should shoot it on the first day as well. I realized I let greed and pride step in and I wanted the biggest bull. What I thought I already knew and learned in Alaska, I had no idea I didn’t really know yet. Hunting isn’t about antlers or bragging rights. It’s strictly about food and the experience.  And honestly the morning we were leaving, I felt horrible that I had the opportunity to bring a lot of meat home for my family and I screwed it up because of my ego. Last time that happens. I don’t need antlers on a wall. Are you kidding me? I need food. All natural, organic gluten free, free range steroid free meat. To say the least I was very disappointed in myself and I sat and thought about the whole situation for many hours. I told Corey I had to go hunt one last time as they packed up camp. If only for an hour. He wasn’t happy about that. Dennis went with me. We sat there quiet. He asked me if I wanted him to call and I said no. I truly was content with not shooting a moose. I spent 5 days dealing with what I had done and moved on. It was now time to forget about the past and truly enjoy this moment. We made very little sounds just sat watching the sun rise. It was beautiful. 

Then I hear something. I know exactly what it is and I know Corey’s going to be pissed if I shoot this thing. Then the bull steps out. I see he could possibly be the largest of the bulls taken that week and I decide to shoot. Perfect shot! He only went about 30 yards and it was over. Then the real work begins. I went back to camp and it didn’t go as I would have planned it to go when I shot moose. A lot of stress, frustration and no excitement, but I didn’t care I was still excited. At that point I knew I would be able to handle whatever came my way. If I had to stay 1 more night in the woods … Are you kidding? No problem. I actually wanted 5 more nights. Corey helped Dennis and I come along the moose out of the marsh and to dry land and then him and Laura left. Dennis and I spent the rest of the day working on skinning and cutting up the meat and guess what’s… We got it done! We cut it up, I packed it out and cleaned up the rest of camp and still made it down river by 7pm, record time. Thank you Dennis for all your help! We did it my friend! Thank God I have meat and I look forward to sharing with all my friends and family back home! 

I’m now in Butte Montana as I finish this post. The meats been cut up, boxed, froze, heads boiled and cleaned and its coming to an end. As I sit here. I know it all came together as it should’ve. My grandfather who’s a WWII vet who stormed Normandy beach in France is on his last breath. He’s literally dying and my biggest fear during my Alaska experience was that something would happen to one of my grandfathers and I couldn’t be there. Here’s a leaf literally holding on as long as he can while to winds and winter season draws near. He fights a good fight, avoiding the final dance as long as possible. Hang in there Gpa. It’s not your time…

I learned a lot during my Alaska Experience. Hard to write it all down. I do know it’s not about fearing or worrying how it all turns out. It’s not about looking back at what you would do or not do differently. It’s not the memories that you can’t change. It’s THE experience. The now. Don’t feel regret when you can’t change the past. Enjoy the smells, the colors, the sounds, the cool breeze and taste the flavor of Mother Nature in her still beauty. Enjoy THIS moment. There will be times when guilt, frustrations, stress or whatever soaks inside. Please don’t let those feeling linger. What a waste of a moment. Let it go and soak up THIS moment you’re in right now. 

I look forward to seeing the young leaves when I return home. I love my nieces and nephews beyond words. One day when they look back they’ll remember who I was in THIS moment. It’s time to put being tired away. It’s time to put “I don’t want to” away and it’s time to BE in the now. Be present. Turn the phone off and look into a set of eyes and without a word spoken say I love you. It’s time to laugh, time to smile, time to live. For one day we all dance our last dance. Our season comes to an end and a new season begins. Dare to dance, dare to live and dare to love. You only get one shot at this life. Make the most of it, not just for yourself, for others. 

Go Dance in the wind… and Dance often. One day there will be no more dancing…

“As I grow older, good memories seem to return with greater frequency. Sometimes the sound of a crackling fire or the smell of wood smoke brings sudden recall and I’m transported back to the Alaska I love.”

I’ll see you a little farther up the creek my friends…

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