I go camping at least once every summer just like I go on a date at least once a summer. Both of these are challenging tasks when you’ve got a backpack full of anxiety. I decided to go to the easiest camp in Denali National Park, Riley Creek. There would be hundreds of other people, some with tasty little dogs who could be eaten before I was. I was on my way to study Irish dance, singing, whistle and spoons in Fairbanks so not only did I have camping gear but my bike, lots of shoes, and a fan because I would be staying in a dorm room. I looked like I brought a yard sale with me. I forgot to bring my spoons but more on that in my Fairbanks post.
In terms of anxiety protection, I had water, snacks, bear spray and 98 percent DEET bug spray. There have been three bear maulings right in Anchorage this summer. These unfortunate people were all traveling alone at the time and surprised mother bears with babies. Oh, I brought bear bells too. Actually they were sleigh bells. People say bears don’t even notice them but I get real tired talking loudly to myself, singing Gilbert & Sullivan or yelling “Hey bear” while I’m climbing up hill. Bear spray costs about $45 dollars and looks like a mini fire extinguisher. It’s basically pepper spray but I’ve never seen anyone put it on popcorn.
The drive up was lovely. I used to work as a tour guide on the railroad so I figure out where I am in terms of landmarks from the train crossings. The train takes 8 hours to get from Anchorage to Denali. It takes half as long by car unless you like to stop to take pictures, smell the trees and look for chocolate like I do. Also you have to time where you are going to buy gas as it may be under $4 a gallon in Anchorage but it’s $4.75 in Denali.
If you’re lucky, about 100-120 miles out of Anchorage you can see Denali, the big mountain. Everyone’s driving about 75 miles and hour and then they come to a complete stop and try to turn left into the scenic viewpoint.
I decided the day before that I was a tourist. I went to the visitors center in downtown Anchorage and got information for my trip and when they asked me where I was from I said Boston. We had a nice conversation with everyone who had ever been to Boston joining in so I didn’t have to say much. Today I followed my fellow tourists and got my picture taken with Denali.
The best thing about traveling North is that the elevation goes up and between that and the general direction, the seasons regress a bit. I drove back to early summer. The cottonwood puffs were still on the trees. The trees get less diverse and shorter the higher up you go and I began to feel like I was in a National Geographic special. It’s hard to whiz by tiny trees with Bald Eagles sitting atop them overlooking streams with fishermen. There are lots of mosquitoes but I didn’t notice until I examined the front of my car.
The Death Mobile.
Upon arrival at the park, I checked in at the mini mart and paid my entrance fee. Some people were driving further in to camp, others were buying giant ice cream cones. I bought some beef jerky then found a lovely campsite surrounded by people who could save me from death and began to put up the tent. This process did not take me quite as long time as driving up but almost. I didn’t bring a hammer so I found some big rocks to hammer in the stakes but by the time I got one in, another popped out. I didn’t have directions and the thing looked a like an underinflated fun house by the time I was done. Luckily the rainfly covered any major errors. I set out on my bike to try riding up Denali road but the elevation gain was way too much for me so I rode over the awesome Nenana river bridge to the hotel district.
I read a little on my kindle when I got back then tried to sleep. I wound up in my car a few times because I got so damn cold. I found a hat, long pants, a jacket and socks. I forgot that when the sun went down so did the thermometer. Being covered in sweat and DEET only made me colder.
It only rained about a half hour but it made the pulling up of the tent a muddy affair in the morning. I just stuffed everything into the back of the car, which is where it still is today. I did some exploring on foot and found the very nice latrine and a little trail to Riley Creek which made me wish I had my bear spray.
I wound up putting it in one of my water bottle holders and taking a walk up to the dog kennels. There were other tourists but none had bear spray or bells. Some even mocked my bells calling, “Here comes a reindeer!” Perhaps they did not realize that they were walking sausages. The dog kennels are mildly interesting. Here is my favorite dog because it had eyes like mine and it was, like me, very tall.
Some people pet the dogs but not Anxiety Woman!
I got a little spooked at all the bear warning signs on the trail. That is when my back started to hurt. When I get scared, I tense up and my back spasms. I couldn’t wait to get back to my car. It started to rain again just as I started up the engine and that made me very happy.
Before I took off I watched the train come in. I spent 6 summers on that train. The old Denali Park hotel used to be down a short path from the depot. Now that’s where my car was parked. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had been to Denali. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone up before on my own. Probably anxiety, but I’m trying to get over that one tent at a time. Next time I’ll camp out further where I have to use a bear proof container for my food! Yikes! What if I am the food?