My attitude turned around fast, though, when the next “Stop!” was called out for a lynx, sauntering across a sandbar.
I’d crossed off Stony Dome, given the time it would take to get there, and decided to bolt at Polychrome, a routine stop for the buses. It wasn’t long before the sound of traffic melted away, and I was all alone. It was incredible: vistas drenched in the colors of fall, yellow, orange, brown, rust (I was there in September, at the tail end of the season); and more ridge line to run. The wind in the area, though, was quite strong, literally clearing my nostrils.
As the day wore on, I found walking the road to be a great pleasure, and had no problem catching a bus when I was finally ready to do so.
I opted against the bus my third day and instead drove from the motel where I was staying about a mile outside the park to Savage River, which is as far inside the park as most cars can go. There is a mountain and ridge line behind the rangers’ station that I was interested in trying, so I started up in sometimes spongy, uneven terrain. It looked pretty straightforward, but the higher I got, the higher the brambles and thicket got. Soon I was among vegetation taller than I, branches clawing at my skin and clothes.
Each time I expected to be at the top, I was greeted by more vegetation. I grew claustrophobic, and frustrated, and decided to cut my losses, descending to a social trail — a path worn away by hikers — along the river. I’d been that way before with my boyfriend and felt comfortable pressing on, even as the trail grew faint. It was beautiful, and I hadn’t seen anyone since I set out.
On the way back, I wound up on a trail that led to large boulders jutting out into the river. This wasn’t right; I’d apparently taken the wrong fork in the social trail as I picked it back up. I backtracked, moving higher in hopes of picking up the trail. No luck, just a ledge with a decent drop. Higher still, same result.
My heart had started to beat fast as I scrambled higher still, wondering how I could have been so stupid. When I picked the path back up, I was so relieved I practically skipped.
I got up early my last day to get one last hike in before the four-hour drive to Anchorage to catch my flight. I decided on Mount Healy.
The trail to get there is near the park entrance, so there is some traffic noise for a while. But I had the place virtually to myself, and after a bit of a scramble near the ridge line, was rewarded by the sight of a group of Dall sheep.
I accomplished what I’d hoped to accomplish — leaving tired and smiling — and couldn’t help but think about all the things I wanted to do on my next trip here.