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Monday, June 17, 2024

Queen of the North: Andrew’s journey to the breathtaking wilderness of Alaska

By Andrew Robbins

 CSMS Magazine Staff WriterThis summer, our staff writer, Andrew Robbins with his wife Sandy by his side drove north to the heart of Alaska. What he discovered stole his breath away a second time. Throughout his journey, Andrew discovered there is land—so much of it—that no man has ever walked on.  He discovered that the beauty of nature abounds and is never ending.  The mountains are so majestic that, upon his return, he invested in several books that describe rock and mineral formations, for the earth has an entire process of reusing the same elements, minerals, and rocks while contracting and expanding the planets’ land mass.  According to Andrew Robbins, All we need to do is to stop polluting and the planet will purge our messes. The picturesque valleys, lushly green and paradisiacal, and the rare and exotic animals that he met along the way have left an infinite and awesome mark in his heart. It is with pleasure that he files this report to our vivid readers.      Sandy and I planned to stay one night in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Yet, the adrenaline from our drive across the Top of the World Highway was still coursing through our veins. By necessity we stayed a second evening and relaxed by shopping the quaint boutiques that dot this historic gold rush community.    As we strolled from shop to shop one owner ask, “Have you walked up the trail to the overlook? From there you can see the entire town and the Yukon River. You might even see wildlife along the way.”    “No,” I replied, “We missed the walk to the top.”    “Well,” he declared, “everyone walks up the hill and takes pictures. That is the purpose of coming to Dawson City. You’ve missed the best part!”    Leaving his establishment I thought, “He just does not know what we drove through!”    Two days earlier we had left Tok, Alaska driving by way of the Taylor Highway to Chicken and Boundary, before joining up with the Top of the World Highway. We stopped in Chicken to do the tourist stuff, and then continued toward Dawson City.    The scenery was gorgeous and the wilderness became more remote with each passing mile. Yet, every hour or so, we met another vehicle.    Boundary is the last Alaskan ‘outpost’ prior to crossing into the Yukon Territory. From Tok to Boundary, we had not observed any wildlife. Now the owner of this remote stop volunteered, “Travelers coming from the east are seeing bear along the side of the road.”   Throughout our sixty-day drive from Indiana to Alaska, we had observed several black bear and two grizzlies. Other than from-the-car photo opportunities, bear sightings meant very little to us. Afterall, we were first time adventurers traveling through this land and we were not yet aware that in an instant a majestic, serene setting could turn deadly.   At the Canadian entry point, a fit, female customs agent wearing a bulletproof vest and a holstered weapon greeted us. We provided passports and she inquired, “Where’re you going?”   “Indiana,” I replied.   “Have a nice day,” she said and we continued toward Dawson City.    Engineers built the Top of the World Highway on top of a mountain ridge. The road is mostly paved. Yet, there are sudden stretches of gravel and few guardrails. Become distracted, drive over the edge, and there are no second chances. At slow speed, we traversed this twisting highway stopping frequently to gaze at spectacular panoramic views and capture photographic memories of never-ending beauty.   Entering a series of S-curves and an unforgiving drop to the valley floor, we started our descent. Completing the last curve, we encountered the “Queen of the North.” Grounded, she stood in the center of the road, unyielding and blocking our passage while nursing her twins. Quickly I brought our vehicle to a complete stop.   Northerners had warned us, “Moose kill more humans than bear, and they are aggressive and protective while rearing their young.”   When I think back to hearing at Boundary of travelers driving from the east reporting bear, I now grasp the significance. Bear follow newborn. They are opportunists looking for easy meals.    The Queen was not a young mother. Her shoulders were near the height of a man’s head and her weight approached a thousand pounds. Scars along her ribcage were the campaign ribbons of a warrior. She had survived many seasons in an unforgiving land.   She possessed the intelligence of a military tactical officer. “Okay bear, if you want to eat my twins, come out into the open, show yourself.” With speed, she would attack. Her hoofs, quickly elevated to the height of a bear’s head, would become lethal weapons and when thrust with the energy of her charging weight, they would easily crush the skull of bear, or man.   There the Queen stood, not moving, just staring at the golden-brown, humpbacked SUV rounding the curve. Our vehicle, out in the open, showing itself to her!   Bad timing on our part, mama moose had a bear pursuing her young, twin calves urgently suckling at her side, flies and mosquitoes feasting on her body, and then we appeared. She was already in a hostile mood, and now, the Queen of the North and I were staring eyeball to eyeball.   “Sandy,” I whispered, “lower the window and take some pictures.” With Sandy’s head extended outside the vehicle and the quiet click of the camera documenting our view of her nursing twins, the Queen attacked. It was amazing! In an instant, we knew she was intent on killing both of us. From inside the vehicle we looked upward at her whirling hoofs, outstretched, elevated and bolting toward us.   As she closed the distance that once separated us, her eyes locked with mine in a staredown gaze of rage and fear. I shifted the vehicle into reverse. Retreat! We needed to escape, or when the police developed our film their report would read, “Two dead pilgrims got too close to a moose.”   We were about to drive the Top of the World Highway backwards, a direction I do not recommend. My right foot pushed the accelerator to the floor. My right eye focused on the rear view mirror and the curving road behind us. My left eye locked with hers. She was charging! Her eyes were white and full of fury as she swung her deadly hoofs high into the air.   Finally our Explorer’s six cylinders kicked in, and soon we were in a neutral zone. She continued to charge but she was no longer closing the distance that separated us. Abruptly the attack stopped. She stood in the middle of the roadway evaluating the situation. Convinced she had forced us back away from the twins, she turned and strolled toward her waiting family.   As Sandy and I dared to breathe, I blew the horn. “I’m not a bear,” I screamed, “we are not here to eat your newborn!”   The twins did not move. They stood in the open learning a valuable survival lesson from mom. On her return, they began to nurse. Patiently we waited and watched. At her convenience, she nudged her family toward the edge of the road. This I considered a sign of truce, a right of safe passage. With her royal blessing, we would continue to Dawson City.    Rather than accelerate and drive passed her at the speed of my galloping heart, I approached slowly. She rested, factored in our speed, and patiently waited. At the point closest to her majesty, a second attack occurred.    She executed the element of surprise, an ambush. Again, she was closing the distance that separated us. As adrenaline pushed my foot to the floor, my right eye strained to find her in the rear view mirror as the left focused on the road ahead. One last time our eyes met, the six cylinders kicked in, and she no longer gained on us.    Had I approached her at full tilt, I believe she would have calculated an exact point of intercept. Moreover, with no ability to alter our speed, she would have placed a hoof through our vehicle’s window.    The Queen of the North was victorious. She had successfully fended off two tourists from Indiana. Long live the Queen! Teach your twins how you survive and prosper in a land that offers no forgiveness.Also see Home Ownership and the Housing Market (Part 1)Also see The Interest Rate CutNote: Andrew Robbins is a staff writer for CSMS magazine and the author of It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life. He may be reached at awrobbins1@earthlink.net

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