Mid Summer 2017

I believe nature keeps me sane and allows me to stay balanced, and this summer, I think it has helped me heal.

My summer did not begin well. I would even venture to say July 2017 was one of the worst months of my life. In early July, I began losing the use of my arms and legs and ended up in the hospital in Anchorage for a week. I was diagnosed with Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS), a disease in which a person’s immune system turns on the nervous system and begins stripping myelin from the nerve sheath. GBS can be quite dangerous if allowed to progress to the point where even the chest wall is paralyzed, and the patient must be placed on a ventilator to breathe. Luckily, I received treatment long before it got to that point, and the neurologist told me nearly every patient completely recovers from GBS. I was told it would take me a year to fully recover, and while I knew I would have a difficult summer with my slowed mobility, at least I would get better.

On the last day I was in the hospital, I called my brother, Russell, and his family in Kansas, and we had a nice conversation. Two hours later, my sister-in-law called me back to tell me after our phone conversation, Russell went out to mow the grass in 100-degree heat and dropped dead from a heart attack. My world crashed down around me. Russell and I were very close, and I felt as if I were in a daze the next day when the doctor released me from the hospital, and I made my way to the airport.

In Kodiak, a van whisked me to Andrew Airways, and soon, I was in a floatplane flying home. I felt numb and very tired as we skirted emerald mountains, plunging waterfalls, and deep valleys formed by glaciers and cut by rivers. I knew I would cherish my last conversation with my brother and would always be grateful that for whatever reason, I had placed the call to him only an hour before he died.

I hated arriving late for our summer trips. I had already missed the arrival of our wonderful cook and lodge organizer, Mary, and our new camp helper, Emily. Our first group of guests had come and gone, and I hadn’t even been able to say hi to them. Our second group of guests had just arrived in camp that day, and I wasn’t sure I could summon the energy to be a good hostess.

As the plane circled our lodge and came in low for a landing, I looked at our dock and nearly burst into tears. There stood Mike, Mary, and Emily, and Mary held a beautifully designed “Welcome Home” sign for me. With their help, I stepped off the plane and hugged each of them. Even Emily, who didn’t yet know me, gave me a big hug. I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life.

Our group of six Australian guests met me at the dock. Two in the group were nurses, so they understood my condition, and they were all very kind and patient with me. Before I knew it, the Australians involved us all in an interactive murder game, lasting their entire stay. The game was great fun and had us each trusting no one else in camp. It did not surprise me when Mike won the game by murdering the most people. As if my summer hadn’t already been bad enough, Mike even murdered me!

Not long after my return home, a pod of Orcas frolicked and fed near our lodge for an entire day, and Mike got some great photos.  An abundant, sustained pink salmon run this summer has provided food for everything from Orcas to bears to eagles. Our fishermen have also enjoyed catching salmon.

The most uplifting news for me this season was to learn that a sow we have watched for the past eight years showed up this summer with three newborn cubs. The sow was badly injured by another bear when she was young, and her rear end was flayed open. The injury was so bad, we didn’t think she would survive. We were happy and surprised to see her the next summer, and while the scar has faded over the years, it is still obvious. She has always been a favorite bear for us and our guests because she seems to like to perform in front of us, often catching a fish and then turning toward the photographers, fish held high while the cameras whir. The walls in our dining room are covered with photos of bears, and many of the photos are of her. As the years passed, and she appeared by herself summer after summer, we assumed she was a barren sow and wondered if the horrific injury she received when she was little more than a cub had anything to do with her inability to reproduce. We couldn’t have been more surprised when she showed up this summer with three tiny cubs trailing behind her. She appears to be a good mother, and all those years of fishing on her own have made her a proficient provider. She still doesn’t seem afraid of us, but she keeps her distance from humans now because now she needs to worry about more than just herself.

Life throws us curve balls sometimes, and I am very fortunate to have wonderful friends and family and a beautiful place to heal. Our guests have been great this summer, and I’m sure they have no idea how much their enthusiasm and laughter have meant to me. There is no place in the world I’d rather be than sitting on a boat in Uyak Bay on Kodiak Island. We hope you will join us soon for one of our adventures to see the “Real Alaska.”

You can read more about life in the wilderness and the wildlife of Kodiak Island on my personal blog at: http://robinbarefield.com/blog .Please leave me a message there to say hi.

Robin

 

 

Spring 2017

You are on a camping trip with a group of friends somewhere in Alaska.  After you set up camp for the evening, two of the guys in the group decide they want to hike up a rocky ridge.  When your friends don’t return to camp by dinner time, you and the other campers set out in search of them.  You hear one of your missing campers shriek in pain, and you hurry toward the sound where you find the two young men at the base of a cliff.  One friend is complaining loudly about his ankle, which is badly deformed.  The other young man says he just has a few bumps and bruises, but he doesn’t remember what happened; one minute they were on top the cliff, and the next thing he knew, he was at the bottom of the cliff.  He thinks he lost consciousness briefly.  What is your assessment of these two patients, what about their conditions worries you, and how will you treat them?  Do either one of them need to be evacuated?  If so, should it be an emergency evacuation or a non-emergency evacuation?  If you can only evacuate one of the patients at a time, which one would you evacuate first?

 

In the Wilderness First Responder recertification class Mike and I took a couple of weeks ago, this is the type of scenario we were asked to consider.  While I hope never to have to make such difficult decisions in real life, I am glad I have the best training possible to deal with accidents and illnesses in the field.  When we take guests bear viewing and fishing in the Kodiak Wilderness, we know we are responsible for their safety, and we take this duty seriously.

We sometimes have future or potential future guests worry about whether they will be safe if they go bear viewing with us.  I applaud their concern for their safety and welcome any and all questions about the safety of our operation.  The truth is that there are no guidelines in Alaska for bear viewing guides.  You may get a guide with thirty years of experience guiding bear viewers, or you may have a bear viewing guide with almost no experience around bears.  You should ask an airlines, an outfitter, or anyone else you plan to book a bear viewing trip with, how much experience the guide has around bears, what level of wilderness medical training he or she has, and what other appropriate licenses the guide has.

In our operation, Mike is a Master Guide with 45-years of experience around bears.  He grew up at Munsey’s Bear Camp and began helping his Dad in the field at an early age.  He has spent his life around bears.  Mike and I are both Coast-Guard-licensed boat captains, we are both fishing guides, and we are both wilderness first responders.  We carry radios, satellite phones, and extensive first-aid kits with us, and we encourage our guests to share their health-related and allergy concerns with us.  We don’t expect our guests to have a problem in the field, but if they do, we want to be prepared to handle it.

The purpose of this blog isn’t to brag about us and our preparedness.  I want to remind anyone reading this post that no matter where you are planning to vacation, you need to do your research and be certain you are booking your trip with someone who will put your safety first. Just because the guide has a fancy website does not mean he or she is qualified to lead you on an expedition into the wilderness.

Our recent Wilderness First Responder class was not the only inspiration for this post.  I was also inspired by my failure to research our recent vacation.  We just returned from a trip to the Caribbean, and while I checked out the places where we planned to stay, I did not Google the airlines upon which we were planning to travel; even though I had never before heard of Insel Air, and we had several flights booked on Insel Air.  Unfortunately, we paid for my sloppy preparations.  Insel Air was a disaster, and if I had taken five minutes to Google the airlines, I would have read the horrible reviews from other recent travelers.  It was a reminder to me check out every aspect of my vacation next time. Vacations are expensive and precious, and while you can’t plan for every variable, such as the weather or unusual delays, you can minimize the likelihood of trouble by doing the research and asking questions.

We have had a tough, cold winter here on Kodiak Island, and I can’t wait for Spring!!  Spring doesn’t usually happen here until mid to late May, but the days are getting longer, and each day, the sun is a little higher in the sky, so I know warmer temperatures are on the horizon.  We are looking forward to another busy summer season here, and I’m already getting excited!

 

 

Spring 2016

I’m a bit late with my mid-winter newsletter this year.  Winter hasn’t lost its grip on us here, but according to the calendar, the first day of spring was nearly two weeks ago.

Those of you who read my personal blog posts at www.robinbarefield.com/blog know that Mike and I spent a month in New Zealand this winter.  We had a wonderful time and loved the country and the people.  The scenery was spectacular, and we saw everything from rolling hills and serene pastures, to glaciers, to geysers and hot springs, to miles of unspoiled beaches, to glacial lakes with colors so vivid they are impossible to describe with mere words.

We spent two weeks of our time in New Zealand on a hiking trip with Active Adventures New Zealand.  As I’ve mentioned before, we enjoy booking trips in other parts of the world that are similar to what we offer in Alaska.  I think this means we love our jobs, but it is nice for a change not to be the ones in charge.  Following another guide is relaxing and a great learning experience.  I never know what I will learn, but I always learn something, and the knowledge I gained this year surprised me because it related more to the booking process than to the guided trip itself.  It also had more to do with me being a tourist than a guide.

 

First of all, let me say that the hiking trip was wonderful, and Active Adventures does a great job.  We ate very well, stayed in beautiful places that we would never have found on our own, and took hikes in stunning surroundings on the South Island.  Our guides, Gary and Holly, were first-rate and worked non-stop guiding our hikes, chauffeuring us from one place to the next, cooking our meals, and entertaining us with Maori legends. 

This hike was not an easy trip, though, and while I read and reread the brochure, I never understood it would be as difficult as it was.  I was able to do all the hikes, the mountain biking, and the kayaking, but I wasn’t always able to do a particular activity in the time allotted.  Most of the hikes were uphill, and we climbed to 3000 feet once and to 4500 feet on another occasion.  Those were tough hikes, and there wasn’t enough time to take many breaks.  To be honest, at times, this was more effort than I wanted to expend on my vacation.  Perhaps if I’d asked more questions, I would have chosen one of their easier hiking tours, but from reading their brochure, I thought I knew what to expect.

Is their brochure bad?  No, it is a very good brochure, and their website has the best, most-detailed booking form I’ve ever seen.  I think it is difficult to visualize habitat, terrain, and weather conditions in a place you’ve never been.  We sometimes run into the same problem when booking guests at our lodge.  We think we do a good job describing the length and difficulty of our hikes, the temperature, and possible weather conditions during the summer on Kodiak, and what you can expect to do each day while you are staying with us.  Still, guests sometimes arrive without rain gear or a warm jacket, and worst of all, a few guests arrive and discover they are not in good enough physical shape to meet the demands of our trips.  It is sometimes a long hike to see bears, and it’s disappointing for a guest if she can’t do the hike.

As clients, it is our responsibility to determine whether or not we are up to the physical demands of the adventure trip we are considering.  It is not easy, though, to read about a trip and understand the amount of physical ability required.  We get caught up reading about the beautiful sights or the big bears we will see and skim over the part about how difficult the hike is to see that scenery or watch those bears.

 

I loved my hike in New Zealand.  It was more work than I expected, but I enjoyed it.  I don’t mind pushing myself if the payoff is worth it.  Most of us don’t mind aching muscles or even a few cuts and bruises if the adventure is amazing.  What I would like to stress, though, is if you have a serious medical problem, physical limitations, or if you are overweight or in poor shape, be honest with yourself, and make certain before you book an adventure trip that you aren’t signing up for something that could put your health or safety in danger.  Describe your limitations with the booking agent and perhaps even ask to speak with a guide.  Most guides will be very honest with you.  None of us wants one of our clients to get hurt or be sick in the field.  When a perspective guest tells us he has a serious illness or can’t walk very far, we tell him that our trips probably are not a good idea for him, and we suggest other options that might work better.  If he can’t hike, then perhaps he should consider a bear flight-seeing trip with a floatplane company.

I think as travelers, it is our job to assess our physical condition and then ask as many questions as possible to make certain we are choosing a trip we can do.  I’m sure there will still be plenty of surprises awaiting us, but hopefully, they will be good surprises.

We are booked full this summer, and we are excited that in July, Holly, one of our guides in New Zealand, is coming to visit us for a few days.  We are also thrilled to announce that Mary will be dazzling us with her meals again this summer.  I know our returning guests will smile when they read this news!

 

Munsey’s 2015 Summer News

Oh wow!  Did you see that?  Whoaa!!! Ahhh, aren’t they cute? He’s getting kinda close, isn’t he?  I need help reeling in this fish!  Will you come home with us and cook for us, Mary?  This is so amazingly beautiful!

These are some of the sounds of a summer at Munsey’s Bear Camp.  From a breaching humpback to huge fin whales circling our boat while watching us, to adorable sea otters floating on their backs, to bears catching salmon while their cubs wrestle and play beside them, to great halibut and salmon fishing, to Mary’s gourmet meals; our 2015 summer season was excellent in every way.

We were thrilled to have Mary Schwarzhans cooking for us again this summer.  Her wonderful meals defy description, and her sense of humor kept me smiling all summer.  Mary’s sister, Emma, signed on with us as well this summer, and we thought of the two of them as our dream team.

Our season began July 15th, when we greeted Roni Jarnigan from Indiana and Paul and Shanen Eatinger and their 14-year old son, Kinnen, all from Idaho.  On the first afternoon, we saw a humpback whale soon after leaving our mooring and several fin whales further out the bay.  One day, a sow with two yearling cubs fished in front of this group, and while mama caught salmon, the cubs fought over her catch.    A curious fox ran up to this group and sat by Paul’s feet, while everyone snapped photos of him. On another day, Kinnen, Paul, and Roni all caught their limits of halibut and salmon, and they released 26 salmon, and on their last day, Shanen caught a 22-lb. halibut, Kinnen landed a 30 pounder, and Roni joined our halibut club with a 40 pounder.

On July 20th, we were happy to welcome back Bud Coughlin, Lisa Bill, and Lisa’s brother, Jim Bill, all from New Jersey, and Gene and Diane Fantini from Delaware.  These folks were here to fish, and they wasted no time.  They caught four halibut the first day, and Gene caught two silver salmon.  That is the earliest we’ve ever caught silvers, and it was the beginning of a fantastic silver-salmon year.  In Brown’s Lagoon, this group caught 25 pink salmon and released 14.  The following day, Bud and Jim both joined our halibut club, when Bud caught a 40 pounder, and Jim landed a 78-lb. halibut.  Awhile later, we saw a humpback whale leap out of the water several times.  We cruised closer, and the whale continued to breach and slap the water with his fins and tail.  It was breath-taking to watch!

On July 25th, we were thrilled to welcome back Tom Bradley and meet his fishing buddies: Jim Clay, Mike Pearson, and Bob Jibben, all from Missouri.  On their first day, a humpback circled our boat, and we could clearly see him under water.  While Bob, Jim, and Mike enjoyed great pink salmon fishing in Brown’s Lagoon, Tom stayed on board the Mary Beth to halibut fish, but when he reeled up his lure and saw several silver salmon chasing it, he quickly changed tactics and soon had his limit of five silvers. We returned the next day, and all four guys had their limits of silver salmon within two hours.  They then began halibut fishing and caught their halibut limits in another hour.  Tom and Jim both joined our halibut club with 45 pounders.

We greeted Paul Borg and Katherine Lee from Australia and John Grobelny and Toni Mott from Florida on July 30th.  This group enjoyed gorgeous, sunny weather their first day, and they saw deer, seals, sea otters, foxes, and a humpback whale that lifted its tail in front of us, sunlight glinting off its wet surface.  Later that day, they watched a bear fish in front of them.  On August 1st, this group was joined by Shuki Horesh and Chana Moran from Israel.  They watched a sow with two yearlings fish 60 ft. from them, and both she and the cubs stood on their hind legs several times to check out the humans.  On their last day, a very large bear walked out of the woods 50 ft. from them.

On August 6th, we were happy to welcome back Ed Matusik from Pennsylvania, who was with us for a 10-day stay, and we were excited to greet George and Jacque Havice from Kansas.  Jacque and I were high-school buddies.  Also arriving were Dave and Barb Korzendorfer from Connecticut.  This group watched a bear fish on a small creek and saw a sow with two cubs on the beach.  One day, George, Dave, and Ed all caught their limits of silver salmon, and Dave joined our halibut club with a 75 pounder.  On their last day, I enjoyed a fun afternoon fishing with Jacque, George, and Ed, while Dave, Barb, and Mike watched a sow with two yearlings and a sow with three cubs of the year.

On August 11th, Ed was joined by Stephen and Roberta Madeyski from New Mexico and Doug and Stephen Freeland from California.  This group experienced a good day of fishing, and the Freelands both caught their limits of silvers.  Another day, a bear caught a salmon and ate it near them, and on the way home, a humpback whale breached in front of us and then slapped the water several times with its tail.  On their last day, this group watched a sow fish while her three young cubs played, and then a single bear fished near them, walked calmly past them, stretched out in the water, and lazily scratched herself.

On August 21st, we greeted Bill and Judy Micheli, their son Brian and his daughter Tess, and their other son Mike and his fiancé Barbara Hancock, all from Illinois.  On their first day, Judy proved her fishing skills by landing a 32-lb. halibut.  The next time we fished, Judy again started things off with a nice halibut, but before the day was over, Bill caught a 25 pounder, Mike joined our halibut club with a 50 pounder, and 12-year old Tess joined our Gold Halibut Club by landing a 127 pounder, the largest halibut of the year!  One day, a large bull killer whale swam past us, and on another day, the Michelis and Mike sat under a birch tree and watched two young bears wrestle, box, and catch salmon.

On August 26th, we were happy to welcome back our fishing buddies:  Dan Robertson from Nevada and Gene Fanucchi, Gordon Sexton, Michael Saner, Howard Hancock, and Bob Robertson, all from California.  Dan was with us for eight days, while the other guys were here for five.  Last year was Gene’s year, but Mike took top honors this year with a 103 lb. halibut, earning him a plaque and entry into our gold club.  On a day of silver-salmon fishing, Dan caught his limit of five, and the other guys each caught several.  A late-summer storm slowed us down a bit, but these guys still left with six full (50 lb.) fish boxes.

Our next group was delayed a day in Kodiak due to bad weather, and since they only had a three-day trip scheduled, the delay put a dent in their plans.  On September 1st, Dan was joined by his son-in-law Robert Cornell and his 13-year-old grandson, Ashton, both from California.  We were also thrilled to welcome back John Mendoza, and John brought his brother, Sam, and their friend, Ken Cadena, also all from California.  On their first afternoon, this group saw four bears and caught four halibut.  On the next day, Robert, Ashton, and Mike watched a sow and cub and two single bears on a small creek.  One bear walked to within 30 ft. of them before veering into the brush.

On September 3rd, we were excited to welcome back Tony and Karin Ross from Pennsylvania, who were with us for a 10-day stay, and Gene and Denise Brown from Washington.  They were joined by first-time guests Nathan and Virginia McCreery from New Mexico. On their first afternoon, we watched approximately 25 fin and humpback whales surface and blow, and this incredible whale watching continued throughout their stay. This group walked through the grass near a side stream and took beautiful photos of a sow with two yearling cubs.  Her dark brown, fall coat produced a gorgeous contrast to the golden sedges.  On their last day, they watched a young bear climb a tree, a sow with two older cubs, and a sow with three young cubs.  One of the little cubs caught a salmon and then stood on his hind legs, gripping the fish in his teeth.

On August 8th, Tony and Karin were joined by returning guests and friends, Andy Erickson from Rhode Island, Andy’s grandson, Martin Ulrich, from Pennsylvania, and Paul Kludt from Florida.  On their first day, this group enjoyed the thrill of catching large silver salmon on light tackle on a small stream, and on another day, Martin caught his limit of silvers in salt water.  This group hiked up a river and watched a bear catch and eat salmon near them, and later, they saw a sow with two large cubs.  On their last day, Tony, Karin, and Mike watched a sow with three cubs of the year, a sow with a yearling cub, and a sow with three large 2-year olds, while Andy, Martin, and Paul fished on the Mary Beth.

On September 13th, we greeted Richard and Sarah Kennedy from England and were happy to welcome back Terry and Cynthia Douglas from Alaska.  On their first day, this group saw 22 bears scattered around the bay, fishing on the many small streams that were plugged with salmon this summer.  One day, they saw a sow with three yearlings and a sow with three cubs of the year, and on another day, they watched a sow with three small cubs fish and play.  This group had several close whale encounters, including a huge fin whale that surfaced near the Mary Beth and then swam just below the surface past the boat.  On our last morning, we were greeted with a blanket of snow on the mountains, signaling an end to our season.

Thanks to all our wonderful guests this summer.  Amook Pass on Kodiak Island is well off the beaten path.  We appreciate that you took the time and effort to find us and spend part of your summer with us, and we hope you will all return!  Also, thank you Mary and Emma for being part of our team.  I could never express how much we enjoy and appreciate you!

By the way, there was one other comment in the form of a question heard at Munsey’s Bear Camp this summer when one of our guests asked his girlfriend on our bench overlooking beautiful Amook Pass, “Will you marry me?”  She said, “Yes!

If you would like updates about Munsey’s Bear Camp, visit our website:  http://www.munseysbearcamp.com and click on our newsletter and blog for current postings.  You can also find detailed information about the animals of Kodiak Island on our website.  For more information about animals, the history of Munsey’s Bear Camp, living in the Alaskan wilderness, as well as summaries of my two novels, please visit:  http://www.robinbarefield.com.  If you leave a comment, my weekly postings will be delivered to your inbox, and if you enjoy mysteries, sign up for my monthly Mystery Newsletter.