The last bit of our Sunday was bittersweet. We had our last dinner at the house, and when we sat to eat we noticed two spots had small gift bags with a cutout of the great state of Alaska glued to one side.
“Those are for us,” Megan whispered. I immediately felt giddy and guilty. They had treated us to meals, hospitality, and warmth. We should have provided the gifts. Instead they had, a gesture that characterized the residents of this town better than any words could. I felt a little twinge of sadness. I was going to miss this place.
When we sat to eat, we unwrapped the gifts that adorned our places at the table. Inside was canned smoked red and silver salmon, blackberry jelly – and Libby’s famous – fireweed jelly. It has been nearly two months since I have returned from this trip and I have devoured every item aforementioned aside from the fireweed jelly, and I can attest it was all amazing. I’m not sure what I’m saving the fireweed jelly for, but I know it’s going to be too good to eat without a justified reason.
As we were wrapping up dinner, it was suggested that Megan, Greg and I take the Tahoe and drive out down Copper River Highway past the airport in pursuit of moose. Prior to this trip I did take stock in being able to see at least one wild moose before our return to the lower 48, and so I was enticed by the suggestion, and we all decided to head out.
Megan passed the keys to the Tahoe over to me. “Want to drive?” She asked, as I had yet to take the wheel during our stay. “I know you like driving in new places.”
It was true; I had made this comment to her when I was booking the rental car. I didn’t really enjoy driving very much, unless it was in a place I had never been before. Then I enjoyed figuring out the roads and taking in the landscape. I snatched up the keys willingly, and we started our adventure.
The Copper River Highway felt like a never ending stretch into the abyss. We passed clusters of fisherman in a creek, decked out in thick overalls and rubber boots, the water up to their knees, tall grass devoid of human interference, and stacks of mountains that seemed to multiply the further we got out.
Once we got past the airport, the road turned entirely to gravel, and in a combination of driving such a large vehicle, the gravel roads, and taking in all of the surrounding landscape, I was going way below the speed limit. No one pointed out how slow I was going until several trucks took the notion to zip around me and speed on down the road. I picked up my speed by about 10 mph, but didn’t try to keep up with the locals. I didn’t really want to anyway. I wanted to see everything around us.
Greg, Megan and I chatted about work and how Greg has always wanted to live in Alaska. Originally hailing from Missouri, he told us how he convinced his wife to follow him out to the Last Frontier, to the dismay of his mother-in-law.
“We’re the greatest predator in most parts of the country,” Greg stated, referring to humans. “I wanted to be somewhere where I was on equal level with all of nature. I wanted to be somewhere where we weren’t on top.”
I’m paraphrasing Greg’s exact words, but his dedication to being immersed in a world unlike the one that I was so used to was impressive and intriguing. I had never thought twice about a concept like that. Greg was a modern day mountain man who had an overwhelming respect for the great outdoors and wore that identity proudly on his sleeve. I felt his notions warranted a lot of respect.
More-so because of my speed and probably less because of the mileage, it felt like we were driving down the gravel road forever. The sun was slowly starting to set, and although in Alaska it took quite some time before we would be completely immersed in darkness, we figured this was a good signal to start the trek back home.
We stopped for a few minutes on a bridge where the tall grass suddenly opened up to a dropoff with smooth rocks and water, mountains framing the scene in the distant background. It was eerily serene and quiet. The wind was blowing rapidly but aside from that, there was no sounds of nature, and no sounds of civilization. It was beautiful. It was desolate. It was indescribable. Although the road continued beyond the bridge and into what seemed like eternity, I had this odd feeling like we had reached the end of the earth. We stood and admired the vast and silent emptiness that was untouched Alaska for a few more minutes, trying to create a mental snapshot that could last a lifetime. Then we decided to begrudgingly return.
Chasing the slowly setting sun, we retraced the gravel road, eyes still peeled for any sign of wildlife. We were worried it was going to be an entirely a failed nature excursion, but we saw the tail end of a porcupine as it shuffled off the road and into the grass. Megan and I were dejected at the lack of moose, but decided a porcupine would, at the least, suffice.
Then, all of a sudden, we saw a slight lump of brown movement to our left. Slamming on the brakes, we jumped out of the car, bubbling over with nervous excitement. There, out in the field beside us, stood two moose grazing in the sunset. We were overwhelmed.
We spent a combined ten minutes or so taking turns snapping pictures and just staring in awe. They weren’t doing much, but we had seen our wild moose. We had completed what we came for, and now we could return with a story and a sense of accomplishment.
Ironically, as we were driving back a moose and her calf sprinted across the road akin to how a deer would at home, almost causing an accident. Again, we were too excited by the presence of wild moose to be even slightly unnerved by the fact that we almost crashed into them and potentially ended the lives every party involved. Although they didn’t pose a predatory threat, Greg’s words about not being top dog in Alaska hung over my head.
We got back to the Powder House around probably somewhere between 8 and 9, but definitely after the restaurant had closed for the evening. We were all enjoying hanging out and weren’t quite ready for the night to end, so we tried our luck and went inside, only to immediately be kicked back out by the bartender on staff.
“The Reluctant?” Greg suggested. The Reluctant it was.
We drove back over to our hotel and entered the bar area for the third night in a row. I sort of felt like I was a regular in a Cheers-spin off, except no one knew my name.
The sun was still slowly pulling itself below the horizon, and the skies were bright and clear and the lingering light reflected off the water, turning the boats into silhouettes. I snapped a quick picture of the scene, already missing Cordova before we had even left.
We all grabbed a round of Alaskan Ambers and a table in the back, and chatted for a few more hours, learning some more of Greg’s backstory with tales from his reckless youth. When it was finally dark outside, we all decided it was time for bed and wished Greg a safe trip home, making promises for a longer, grandeur Alaskan voyage in 2018.
Turning our hotel room key for the last time, we got ready for bed and prepared for our trip home the following day.
Cordova had truly been the trip of a lifetime, but we vowed that it also wouldn’t be our last.