This is my friend Morris. Morris the Moose. I meet him while traveling to a remote lake in the Interior of Alaska. How remote? The directions are coordinates- Latitude: 62.281264, Longitude: -146.556511. Or, if you ask the locals, go 42 miles past Delta Junction and look for a bent tree next to an old mailbox with purple flowers and turn left onto the dirt road. If you drive the border of Canada, turn around- you went too far.
Next, go down the dirt road full of ruts and washouts until you see the sketchiest boat launch imaginable. A boat launch is a stretch of the imagination even for Alaskans- it is more like an old glacier run-off that cut a small area into soft sand that could potentially be used to put boats into the river. The Tanana River is an extensive glacial system that generally flows northwest to the Yukon River. No, that was not a misprint- it flows north. Forty-eight rivers within 16 states flow north- nine of them happen to be in Alaska, and mostly all in the Interior. The northern flow does play with your mind a bit when you are driving south to the coast, but then again, it is Alaska- and everything in this state makes you second guess yourself.
If you and your boat survive the launch, you need to travel the Tanana River downstream (or is it upstream?) for three cliff faces. Watch out for sand bars, floating timber, and the occasional leftover ice drift. At the third cliff face that looks like a mad chicken, you need to make a sharp U-turn around the sand bar with two baby trees and go back upstream (downstream?) close to the cliff face. Have I mentioned that you can only traverse this area between 1 Jun and 30 July? I should say that now. This is because when you make the U-turn off of the Tanana River, you are entering into a small stream that only has enough water for a flat bottom riverboat to navigate when the run-off from the snow fills it to at least 6 inches of water. But if you have made it this far- it is time to celebrate!
Now before you think that this trip is too much trouble- let me tell you a secret. There are no roads to this lake. Only the genuinely adventurous soul will find the internal fortitude to take on the challenge, which means that when you make it the 2 miles down the sketchy creek- you are entering a lake that very few humans have seen with their own eyes. The wildlife most likely has never seen a human, or if they have- they have been far between and are of no consequence to them.
This point leads me back to Morris the Moose. It was our first trip to George Lake, directions provided by an old-timer written on the back of a receipt from Wal-Mart dated two years prior. While standing in line at Sportsman Warehouse, we meet him, waiting to purchase our new Halibut rod and reel for an upcoming fishing trip down in Valdez. People who grew up in Alaska tend to smell outsiders from a mile away, but they can also tell by glean of someone’s eye if they are willing to put in the hard work to be an Alaskan. This older man decided that we were worth it and hurried us to the back corner of the store to tell the story of the magic of George Lake. In hushed tones, he shared stories of magical fish that grew to the size of small compact cars and friendly eagles that will hitch a ride in your boat and wait patiently for their share of the daily catch.
He failed to mention that the creek you need to navigate to Narina is filled with mama mooses and their babies. Along the shoreline, large man moose’s stand guard of their families against all intruders- foreign and domestic. In the first quarter-mile, we must have seen 4 of them walking the creekbed enjoying the summer sun and coolness of the water. But, the creek is only so large, there is no going around- so you wait until they allow you to pass. Have you seen a moose? Again, there is no moving them. I don’t care who you are; you will lose the fight.
So, we inched our boat along very slowly- careful not to disturb or call attention to ourselves. 2 hours later- we made it .75 of a mile. And then there he was- Morris the Moose. Standing magnificently along the bank, watching us creep up toward his area of operations. Finally, we stopped, he looked at us, we looked at him, he snorted and started entering into the water. I knew that this was the moment. A stand-off between us and the 7 foot tall, 1,200-pound male animal that could use the boat as a skateboard if he wanted.
We had entered his turf; we were the outsiders. Want to know if humans are on top of the food chain? Come face to face with a moose in a creek and see if you feel ready to tangle! We slowly put the boat in reverse, praying that there were no sudden loud sounds. Moose’s came out of the tree line and stood on either side of us- watching to see what would happen next. We were surrounded! The boat, sensing the need for silence and cooperation- back quickly up, and we headed back downstream, watching Morris’s every move. He slowly crept forward- each step covering the distance of 10 of my steps. Just when I was about pee myself a little- he stopped, nodded his head, and winked at me! Then he turned around and went back to his family. Morris the Moose winked at me! As if it was just a game and I lost.
I was okay with losing this round. We headed back to the boat launch and got out of the Tanana River as quickly as possible. As I stood on the shoreline, being eaten alive by the pesky mosquitoes and smoking two cigarettes at once- I thanked God I had survived.
We ended up going back the following weekend and made it through to George Lake with no issues; however, the memory of my stand-off with Morris the Moose has left me with tremendous respect for the Alaskan wildlife. I am just a visitor to their home, welcomed in only if they allow it. By the way, when we did get to George Lake, and I caught my first fish- the Eagle did take it as tribute. I can’t win!