Well here goes … the blog post that some of you have waited for with much anticipation. Quite honestly, I was so excited to share my “once-in-a-lifetime” experience with everyone, though I knew that just as my “pre-trip preparations” seemed overwhelming … so did the “post-trip” work – processing over WAY more images than I care to admit. 🙂 I hope that no one minds that I share these images over several blog posts.
So, for those of you who don’t know, this past October I took an amazing trip that I had dreamed about probably for a lifetime – to see the polar bears in the wild! Never did I think I would ever realize that dream. Never did I think that it would be so PERFECT! 🙂
Years ago when I talked about going to see them, I think that Tom thought I was crazy… and that was when I wanted to see them from the comfort of the tundra buggies in Churchill. Over the years, given my affection (or some would say “infection”, LOL) with Alaska, the ante had been raised. I was now set to travel to the edge of the arctic to Kaktovik, AK. It started with a good friend of mine was going to celebrate a special birthday there and Tom gave the OK for me to join her and her friend. Excited, I set out to coordinate my plans with theirs, but it wasn’t to be. I resigned myself to thinking that I was not going to realize my dream in 2015. OK, I think I must have sulked around a bit because Tom eventually encouraged me to “find another way to make it happen”. I jumped on that request and as they say, “the rest is history”. Tom opted to let me venture out on my own for this trip … much like when I traveled to Yellowstone in the winter by myself, I’m sure he had a great time imagining how I was able to get all of my gear and clothing on and off 3 planes without him. 🙂 But, when there’s a will, there’s a way. 🙂
Once I arrived to a snow-covered Fairbanks, AK, I prayed that I had everything that I needed and that things would go as planned. My group was headed by Epic Destinations and Alex Mody. It was me & 3 other photographers from various places around the world. Little did those guys know what they were in for. LOL
We flew Ravn Air, in our 9-seater plane, without incident or delays, from Fairbanks to Barter Island (the airport that serves Kaktovik, where we would be staying). I could hardly contain myself when we neared our destination. Once safely on the ground, I could see that we were out in the middle of pretty much nowhere. I could see a truck coming out our way to pick us up and transport us into the village. To my delight, I ran into my dear friend Renee and Catherine (my new friend), – both amazing photographers – as I was arriving and they were ready to depart. I could tell how absolutely pleased they both were with their experience and how excited they were for me. I so wished that we could have shared the experience together … but hopefully we will have more opportunities to do so in the future. Right girls? 🙂 In Kaktovik, there are few places to lodge and we stayed at the Marsh Creek Inn, which I’m told is the place to stay. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised … it quickly became my home away from home. There’s one thing that’s nice about being the only female in my group … for I had pretty much my own space, bathroom, etc. It just keeps getting better! We were fed our meals, which were quite varied and tasty, while there. Yes, Tim (the manager) and his staff took great care of me! After we settled in and grabbed some lunch, we made our way to the first of 8 trips out to photograph the polar bears. As you can see the waters were icy … see, the bears are there waiting for that ice to form, so that they can venture out to hunt seals, etc. There it was … our first sighting of a polar bear! Do I need to tell you how excited I was? The excitement waned only when I glimpsed my first mom with her cub. Now my heart was melting faster than the polar ice (couldn’t resist that one)! We were asked earlier to keep quiet when we find polar bears. While I understand the reason for the request, I immediately fessed up and apologized in advance for the squeals of delight that were undoubtedly going to be emanating out of me. LOL. To my surprise, I really wasn’t too bad. I think that it was a combination of wonder, awe, not wanting to miss a second of the experience. I would literally pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming! I remember being particularly aware of how patient and kind these polar bear moms seemed to be with their young. Just like the brown bears that I’ve photographed so often in the past, the cubs were quite rambunctious. Of course, being a lover of bear paws and pads, I couldn’t help but be totally fascinated with the ones possessed by these bears of the arctic. Makes sense, but wow, they sure were giant. While photographing, you could just feel the love and bond between this mother and cub. I think that there were times that I actually would find myself forgetting to breath. It was all so perfect! What could possibly be cuter that this mom and cub bear hug? I remember that when I was readying for my trip I was told about how the polar bears were not actually white … what I found is that the color of their fur varied greatly … from a creamy white to almost the color of a brown bear blondie. These cubs undoubtedly grew exponentially from the time that they are born, to the time they first emerge from the den, to now. It was all that I could do not to jump out and go cuddle with it. Just kidding of course. 😉 Mom always kept a keen eye on her young. I was afraid that we would see defensive and aggressive encounters between bear families, but we saw nothing like that at all. They all just seemed to get along peacefully. These bears were quite intrigued by us, but never acted unnatural or afraid. I think that they were almost as curious about us as we were of them. As I mentioned before, there are so many images and memories, so stay tuned for more blog posts, including the next post which will feature these amazing polar bears as well. So until then, I leave you with this wonderful trio we observed from afar. Near or far, they were amazing!Next up: Sun, water fun, games, & more – Polar Bears!
© 2015 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy