The final countdown

Vancouver, Canada


When you approach the end of a big experience, the last few days seem to slip from your fingers. Suddenly, without any apparent warning, I was stood on Vancouver harbour in the dawn light, staring out at my last American morning. The cruising cruise ships, hovering helicopters and passing float planes of the harbour all seemed to talk of very different worlds. There was no one to talk to. I wanted to shout ‘WE DID IT!’, but my voice was drowned by the sound of the sea.

Momma take these guns from me

I commented a few weeks ago on the profusion of wildlife in North America. There’s been much more – we’ve seen Caribou, bears, porpoise, sea otters and spawning salmon in the last few days.

Alaskans’ response to all this life is to go out shooting it. Everyone spends the summer hunting moose, or bagging Caribou, it seems. Though for some it is clearly an excuse for a lifestyle rather than anything much more vicious.

We met a pair of ‘hunters’ in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere who have undertaken an annual hunting trip for the last 15 years, yet bagged only 5 sheep in all that time. One of them flies up from Texas every year especially. The guns are just part of the wilderness experience. Alaska seems to attract people to come back again and again for a fix of the wild.

But it isn’t all that way. It’s more than a game. Not just the Inuit teenagers, for whom the first kill is a right of passage, but also the settlers, gateposts festooned with antlers as a proud display of the homesteader’s virility.

As a soft European vegetarian, it seems weird to be somewhere where you are asked frequently ‘do you hunt?’. To me it’s like someone saying ‘do you rob banks?’ Not only do I take not doing it for granted, I even find the question difficult to see as anything other than an accusation. Here, it’s as natural as drinking beer.

In a bar in Whitehorse we were laughed at for not knowing the difference between the skins on the wall – which is a wolf, or a coyote, or a wolverine? We explained we don’t have stuff like that in England. ‘We used to’ says Stuart, pointing at the skins, ‘but we did that to it all’. You could see the penny didn’t drop with our audience.

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

After 2 months living in bear country, it was a joy to finally see one – and a relief to do so through the safety of a vehicle window, rather than a chance encounter in the bush.

We have had to learn the process for hiking in bear country. Bears are inquisitive and omnivorous. So we have learnt to hang our food in a bear hang up a tree. But the biggest risk is accidentally surprising a bear while walking along.

The human voice is the best way to warn a bear of your presence, so you are encouraged to walk or sing as you move around in bear country. Our playlist has included such dubious classics as ‘Bears, bears, bears. We’re looking for a good time’ and ‘Hey bears, hey girls, superstar DJs. Here we go’.

You might think this is all unnecessary, but we found bearprints on several occasions – once as we returned to our camp they were right over the top of our own prints from when we’d left… And then there’s the tell tale signs of a bear’s digestive system processing its abundant summer diet. ‘Red berry bear poo’ we’d sing out when we saw it, reminded to keep making a noise.

The aim is to ensure the bear knows that we are people not bear food. Simply put ‘I’m human, and I need to be loved’.

Are the only people in North America whose Bear Essential Selection includes not only Sonya, The Chemical Brothers and Prince, but also The Smiths?

Time becomes a loop

We decided to go for one last back country hike in Denali National Park, central Alaska. Its a beautiful, if unforgiving place, and we saw plenty of wildlife and some stunning views from the backcountry bus that drove us in to our ‘trailhead’ – though there aren’t even any real trails here, and you have to make your own route. We set off at the foot of North America’s largest mountain, though it was too shy to reveal its face to us.

The last hike managed to have many elements reminiscent of hikes through the year. It was steep. It was foggy. It was wet. We even had to wade across a river.

Strange things to get fond of, but after so long, in so many places, it was the ultimate fitting way to say goodbye to so much.

You’ve done too much

As we set off to leave the America’s its difficult to put it all together in my head. So many places, people and experiences. We’ve been so lucky that it’s all worked so easily. We set with nothing more than an idea. But a bit of time and determination goes a long way.

I could give you a summary. A year in a paragraph. In my head I’m running through it right now. But the list of accomplishments is hardly the point. Its the longer term perspective that will give the whole thing meaning, and that will only come with time.

So rather than repeat myself right now, tempted as I am, I’m going to take some time to sit back and digest. I’ll get back to you.

Misinformation is a weapon of mass destruc’

I’ll miss a lot about the Americas – both the people and the landscapes. But what I won’t miss is the war paranoia. Station-hopping in a hotel room would really lead you to believe that Armageddon is upon us. Lets hope it isn’t.

I should be so lucky

Reached Sydney today – a holiday (we need one!) It’s the end of this journal, though I’ll drop a line occasionally, let you know where we are as we crawl homewards.

See you all soon

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