Not so long ago, we carefully cleaned our raft as a normal season-end chore. A summer’s-worth of scuzz and scum and dirt and twigs and leaves and gravel and sand – not so much, as it gets a daily clean-out- but it is good practice to give it a thorough cleansing before
putting it away for the winter.
Then, it was off to Anchorage for a 4-day trip, a trip which included picking up some pulleys and other gear so that we could put into action our plan to store the raft high against the roof rafters of one of the carports. Much better than leaving it on its trailer, topped with a tarp, or taking up a goodly amount of room in this shed or that garage or the room over there, all of which has occurred over the many years of our rafts.
Well, that trip to town was just a day or two late. For upon our return, in late evening, WHAT is the raft doing there in the middle of the driveway?
Now, we and our guests have had our fair share of grizzly bear encounters along the Gulkana on our raft trips. The encounters always are brief: the bears consistently and quickly leave, spooked by the river-borne apparition. Whatever adrenaline rush presents itself to us and our visitors must be equalled or exceeded within the bears – only
cubs-of-the-year appear more curious than wary, and their mothers shortly cuff the curiosity out of the youths.
On compound, however, the story changes. Twice in eight years a grizzly, exploring the property, has been entranced by the raft and explored it further.
Now, our rafts are wondrous tough. They survive many hundreds or thousands of encounters with the punji sticks that are the river’s bank-willows and downed spruce trees, the collective miles of dragging on the gravel bottom of the river shallows, the vicissitudes of careless guests grinding their graveled boots on its skin.
But, as well-made as these Aire rafts are, they are no match for a grizzly’s claws or teeth. And there is something about that plump, taut sausage of a raft that makes it as irresistible for Mr. Bruin as bubble-wrap is for humans.
Eight years ago, a young grizz wandered in at ten o’clock one June night. I was working inside and, while I did not hear him, a movement through a window alerted me to his presence and I watched him discover the fascinations of a coiled garden hose; the potential for grubs near the rhubarb patch; the mysteries of the rigid boards of foam
insulation that were destined to underlay the new garage’s cement floor. One salvaged insulation board preserves his presence: Finally he reared up and came down upon the raft as it lay on its trailer in the driveway. Pop! went the middle thwart-seat as his claws descended. One claw somehow got stuck in the seat’s outer skin zipper-pull, and his extricating of that spelled an utter end to the seat. It also ended my patience, and my yelling and gesticulations drove him off.
That one incident had two notable repercussions. Of minor note was that the very first review Denali Highway Cabins ever received on the internet review forum “Trip Advisor” was one of irritation that its author had to sit atop a pile of life vests because her host was, apparently, a slacker for having let a grizzly bear damage his raft. Of much more major consequence was that at the urging of a friend we had in common, a young woman was right at that time on her way to spend a summer here learning how to run a wilderness lodging enterprise. What? There was a grizz wandering about the compound? NO WAY was she going to be lodged in that old Airstream trailer with its not-so-secure door. No. Jenny spent the entire summer safe here in the house.
And she hasn’t left yet.
For this latest incident we were not present to shoo off the bear. Mr. Tooth-and-Claws also was not satisfied either with dragging the raft thirty feet into the center of the driveway, nor with ripping to pieces just one seat thwart – see the photos below for that carnage. No: of the raft’s total of eight air bladders, he managed to leave intact just one of them. GRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Would anyone like to buy a raft?