My time at the backcountry lodge has sadly come to an end. Breakfast is served earlier than usual, at 6:00 a.m. due to the fact we need to be loaded onto the bus for our long drive back out on the Denali Park road so that people can make their connections on time.
The rain clouds that have been with us the last couple of days seem to be breaking up this morning, which brighten my spirits as I may have a chance to see Denali on our drive out.
I finish breakfast and see the bus is out front. I’m the first one to load my backpack, picking a seat in the middle of the bus on the right side so that I get the best views for the six hour drive. I slide my backpack under the bus seat, and settle in when my eyes start to water. A strange but unfortunately familiar smell hits me.
“Not again!” I grab my backpack quickly and see that my bear spray can that I tucked into a side pocket is dripping. The nozzle must have gotten pinched as I was sliding it under the seat, and the smell is nauseating. Others are just starting to get on the bus when I run to the front…
“My bear spray went off, everyone OFF the bus!”
I grab my backpack and douse it under a water hose, hoping to wash off the smell, and toss my bear spray can into the trash. Good riddance!
Our driver has everyone get back into the lodge, hoping that the bus can air out quickly so that people don’t miss their connections. I’m so embarrassed that I go to the bar upstairs to hide away.
Ten minutes pass and I see the lodge guides and drivers outside discussing their options. Ultimately they decide to use a mini-van instead of the bus. We have fifteen people heading back, which means it will be cramped inside for the journey. Not ideal during a pandemic, nor for enjoying the Park one last time. They do offer another ride in a couple hours for those that don’t need to make a connection or feel comfortable riding in such close quarters. I’m the only one not in a rush, and so I watch the rest of our party cram into the mini-van and drive away…..
Reading a book in the bar, trying to forget about what just happened, the driver finds me about an hour later.
“I need to get the bus back to pick up our next group. You can still smell the bear spray, but if you don’t mind riding just with me in the bus with all of the windows down so it can air out, we can leave.” The temperature outside was barely above freezing, but I gladly accept the offer, and away we go.
The morning turned out to be more glorious than I could have imagined. We have caribou cross in front of us, wait for a porcupine to get out of the road, watch bears forage for a meal, and I get to see Mount Denali in all of its marvelous splendor.
This was another one of those incidents that turned into something so special that I barely have words to describe it. The girl driver and I sat mostly in silence for the duration of the drive.
I never would have seen the park the way I did if bear spray incident #2 had not occurred. Memories of Denali that I will never forget. I’m usually not a fan of the saying “everything happens for a reason”, but it was an apt phase for this day.
I have two sleeps left before I leave Alaska, and I’m feeling fulfilled beyond measure with the experiences I’ve had here this time around.