We finally made it to Prince Rupert. It was a long couple of weeks to get here with currents and winds that seemed to despise us and thwarted our paddling efforts at every opportunity. It was demoralizing and especially difficult due to the nearly constant pain in my shoulder. For a month now I’ve been trying to tell myself that I’m just tired and it can’t really be hurting that bad, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it does…hurt that is, and we have had to cut back our mileage almost every day to accommodate the stabbing, bastardly pain. But I have felt worse and ”character building” is all part of life and definitely an expected variable of this trip. I have to say though I am especially happy to be in Prince Rupert where I can rest and try to cure my character building with ice and Advil.
preparing for our trip we read numerous blogs, a couple of books, watched movies, and talked with people about the inside passage. Most of which said yeah there are bears, but they’re not really a problem, you’ll probably only see them from a distance. This reassured us but Doug and I have also lived in anchorage for the last two years where if you don’t know someone who’s been attacked by a bear you at least know someone who knows someone. Bears in anchorage are so common that there were numerous mornings when I had to abandon my morning walk with lil’ bit because a bear was ambling down the street. In anchorage you get fined for putting your trash out early because it attracts the furry beasts and many of the hiking trails around town get closed in the summer due to lengthy histories of terrible bear encounters. So despite people’s insistence that bears will not be an issue Doug and I brought some comforts which included two cans of bear spray, two air horns, bright almost spotlight flash lights to see bears at night, a shot gun, and an electric bear fence (we did send the fence home in port hardy thinking it excessive). Within these comforts nestled our peace of mind and when we pulled into our campsite at flat point we unpacked our boats and sat down with a mug of boxed wine and the shot gun near by. That’s when we heard the snap of a rather large twig down the beach, we sat up to see a black bear ambling toward our camp. Our alarmed yet controlled yells of, “Hey bear!” neither startled nor deterred him. Doug who gets annoyingly calm in these kinds of situations had the shot gun already raised and said calmly,”I’m going to fire a warning shot over his head.”
“Ok.” I said nodding my head like a bobble head riding over washboard. The crack of the gunshot was so loud it reverberated down the channel, the echo audible for many seconds after it was fired. The bear merely woofed and turned into the woods his round, black butt moving far slower than it should considering it was just shot at. Thinking that was the last of it we turned back to our wine, but another crashing of bushes came from behind us and the bear popped back onto the beach headed our way only 80 feet away. Hurriedly we launched a kayak I clamored in juggling lil’ bit, soaking my shoes and jeans in my haste, the bear sniffing the air, walking nonchalantly towards us only 70 feet away. I was scared my hands had a slight tremble, but I was also oddly confident that we were prepared, knew what to do, and would be fine. Lil’ bit was growling and woofing lowly from my lap as if to say “I can take ‘em!.. but don’t really let me try.” Doug reminded me of the air horn in my deck bag and I grabbed it, the bear now 60 feet from Doug who was brazenly holding the shot gun against his shoulder on the beach, but also ready to retreat to my kayak flotilla if the bear continued towards him. Blasting the screeching monotone horn made my eardrums shrivel, apparently it had the same effect on the bear, he once again turned into the woods..slowly. Even though it was late and it had been a long day we decided it prudent to move camp. This bear had obviously gotten used to people at this camp site and had been looking probably to scare us into leaving our food. We packed camp one at a time with the other acting as shotgun holder/guard. Even then we packed with tactile memory as our eyes remained occupied scanning the bushes.
We set up camp again in the dark in a bay two miles down the channel. As one always is after a bear encounter we were jumpy. That night my eyes would spring open at seemingly any sound. The waves would crash on the beach and I would sit up fully alert adrenaline bowling over logic and preparing me for hand to hand combat with a black bear. After awaking about 100 times in the first couple hours of sudo-sleep my adrenaline stores were depleted and my logical mind arose from it’s pummeling. So when Doug woke me up to what sounded like paws in gravel outside our tent I said it was probably birds and rolled over only to be fully awoken seconds later by the long, loud, and sorrowful howl of a wolf about ten feet from our tent. It was eerie, soulful, and one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The next morning we examined two sets of wolf tracks that passed right in front of our tent, the larger of the two were about the size of my palm.
Coming into Butedale was like finding my perfect town. It was a cute town sprawled along the water, framed by mountains and a huge and beautiful waterfall. However as we got closer it became more and more obvious that it was no longer a town.
The docks were crumbling and the buildings were more treacherous rubble piles than structures, with roofs caved in and walls fallen in showcasing their weathered and broken, wood skeletons. We pulled our kayaks onto the dock and walked up the rusting ramp to a sign that read “enter at your own risk”, then another sign that read “welcome to Butedale”. The caretaker and only resident, Lou, was a nice guy that had planted a garden in the middle of town and spent his spare time working on his six boats and doing beautiful wood burnings which he sold to people who passed through.
Walking to the bathroom that was overgrown with luscious salmon berry bushes we were startled by a giant black bear sitting on the stairs happily plucking fat salmon berries from the plants with his delicate lips. By the time we saw each other we were only twenty feet apart, but this bear startled at seeing people jumped to his feet and ran like a Kenyan chasing the Olympic gold. We spent the night camped on a high pier platform and just as night closed in the bear plodded down the hill under us to the beach, we got a good look and Doug proclaimed him the biggest black bear he’d ever seen, before yelling at it and scaring it back into the woods.
The next morning we walked up to the power house. It was perched above the churning mountain stream that fed the waterfall next to town. Part of the stream had been diverted into giant pipes, a foot and a half in diameter, that entered the power house and turned a turbine that was about the size of Shaquille O’niel laying down. The old alternator, which was huge, but out of commission had been circumvented and in it’s place was a truck alternator that buzzed along turning with the assistance of a half-inch wide rubber belt slung around a small gear affixed to the turbine. The truck alternator used a minuscule fraction of the energy of the turbine, but was enough to power Lou’s house. The system was so simple and the potential power that lies in one mountain stream was astounding, Butedale in it’s heyday was a town of up to 400 with a power hog fish processing plant, the power house had generated power for the plant and the whole town. It would be so cool to live on your own mountain stream!
We paddled out of Butedale that morning and ate our granola in our kayaks floating in front of the waterfall. I wish Butedale was still a thriving town…