(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published June 18, 1995.)
It's time for Part Two of my two-part series on the exciting, dramatic and -- above all -- tax-deductible Alaskan Adventure trip I took earlier this spring. As you recall, in Part One, which appeared last week, I recounted the events of my first day in Alaska, during which virtually nothing happened. This leads us to:
DAY TWO -- I woke up in a nervous mood, because I knew this was the day that I would boldly leave the hotel altogether and -- armed with nothing stronger than Certs brand breath mints -- face a polar bear. This can be extremely dangerous. Polar bears are fiercely aggressive meat-eating hunters that weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and can run down a horse; the only real hope I had for surviving this encounter was the fact that this particular polar bear lives in the Anchorage Zoo.
It frankly struck me as pretty strange that Anchorage even bothers to have a zoo, seeing as how, as I noted in Part One of this series, there are already plenty of large and sometimes hostile animals wandering around the city loose. You could easily have a situation where you'd be unable to go to the zoo to see the moose or bears because there was a non-zoo, freelance moose or bear standing on your patio.
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Fortunately I had no trouble getting to the zoo, and I soon found myself face-to-face with the zoo's star polar bear, Binky, who, in terms of size, is basically a Winnebago motor home with teeth. Binky became a major news story in Alaska last year when, on separate occasions a few weeks apart, he attempted to eat two people. The victims, both of whom survived, had climbed over two fences to get close to Binky's cage. One of them was an Australian tourist, who said she climbed the fences because she wanted to take a close-up photograph; she wound up with her leg in Binky's mouth. I saw a videotape of the attack, taken by another zoo visitor, showing several men beating on Binky with sticks through the cage bars, trying to make him let the woman go. You can tell that the woman is thinking: Next time, I am definitely going to Disney World.
If there is one fundamental unifying principle of human psychology, it is that everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, gender, religion or ethnic origin, hates tourists. So when Binky chewed on one, he instantly became a major celebrity, like Kato Kaelin, but with a higher IQ. Alaskans fell in love with a freeze-frame video picture, taken by a local TV news cameraman, showing Binky wandering around his cage, looking a little wistful . . . with the Australian woman's sneaker in his mouth. Entrepreneurs put this image on T-shirts, which still sell by the thousands, along with all kinds of other Binky merchandise (one woman showed me a pin she was wearing -- a little white polar bear with a little silver sneaker in its mouth).
Binky was sleeping when I arrived at his cage, but after a few minutes he got up and started engaging in routine bear behavior such as yawning, pacing around, diving in his pool, phoning his agent, etc. I could not help but notice that Binky's cage still is not particularly well protected; it would be pretty easy for a tourist to hop over the two low fences, get to the cage and become Purina Bear Chow. It's almost as though the zoo wants this to happen (NEXT TOURIST FEEDING: 3 p.m.).
I myself did not get anywhere near Binky, because I wanted to stay in peak, non-mauled physical condition for the strenuous activities scheduled for the final day of my Alaskan Adventure, also known as:
DAY THREE -- The big event of Day Three was a helicopter tour of some glaciers, arranged by -- speaking of getting chomped by bears -- Anchorage Daily News columnist Craig Medred, who, as you recall from Part One of this series, is an outdoorsperson so rugged that he makes Davy Crockett look like Martha Stewart.
After receiving a safety briefing from our pilot, Lambert DeGavere, we took off from the Anchorage airport and headed for the mountains. I am not a religious person, but as I viewed the spectacular panorama of breathtaking scenery below, I could not help but ask myself: What the heck kind of pilot is named "Lambert"?
An excellent pilot, as it turned out. Lambert gave us a terrific tour, swooping along mountain peaks and valleys, giving us all kinds of fascinating information about glaciers, which are -- forgive me if I get technical for a moment -- giant wads of ice caused by geology. At one point we landed on a rocky outcrop next to a particularly scenic glacier, and there, many miles from the nearest convenience store, we had lunch. As we sat there, contemplating one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful views I've ever seen, Craig said something -- call it an insight; call it a revelation -- that struck a responsive chord deep in my soul.
"I had this flight billed to The Anchorage Daily News," he said, "but they don't know it yet."
That's the kind of bold, "can-do" spirit that makes Alaska what it is today, and if you're the kind of person who enjoys nature, I urge you to visit "The Land of the Midnight Sun" so that you can experience, firsthand, the mountains, the glaciers, the rivers and -- above all -- the zoo. Binky's getting hungry.