Barrow provided me the most memorable trip I have ever experienced. One unforgettable encounter was unlike any other I’ve had before.
During our Barrow tour, we finished up the city portion and headed for Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States. Because this was May, the Arctic Ocean was ice for as far as the eye could see and one couldn’t distinguish land from ice so this was more of a ‘say we’ve been there’ type activity. We arrived, stepped out of the car, said ‘cool’, and continued on.
Just as we were leaving the Point, I spotted a yellow blur far in the distance. I had been staring at white for the last 15 hours so even dull colors were easier than normal to pick out. As we approached in the vehicle, I noticed it was a Polar Bear and said, “Oh, cool, a Polar Bear” I was not prepared for our guide’s response when I told him what I saw.
“AHHHHHHHHH!!!!! A POLAR BEAR!! THIS IS AWESOME!!” This extremely reserved man just lost it with excitement! His change in mood to extreme excitement got all of us excited as well. I had not realized the rarity of seeing a Polar Bear. He said in his 30 years in Barrow, he has only seen a handful. When the tour guide asks you to take a picture with his personal camera, you know you are on a good tour!!!
Polar Bear off in the distance
Excitement quickly turned to caution as he warned of their extreme danger and potential aggression towards humans. The enclosure of the car was not safety enough. He would keep the keys in the ignition and no one would be allowed to leave the car. If the Polar Bear got too close we would need to leave immediately.
At this point the Polar Bear was still very far from our car. Because we were several miles outside of the town, we were the only ones there to experience this moment. The Polar Bear continued to approach our general vicinity. The excitement and danger was growing with each step the bear took towards our vehicle. One of the whalers had inadvertently left out a box full of whale blubber in the morning which was about 20 feet or so from our car. The Polar Bear was hungry and we quickly discovered why he was approaching.
For one hour in complete isolation on top of the world, my family and I were able to enjoy this incredible creature in its natural habitat just a few feet from our car. We watched and listened as the Polar Bear chewed fresh whale blubber, sniffed and investigated the birds, stood on his hind legs (~8-9 feet tall), ran full speed on the ice (You can’t outrun one!), and ultimately disappeared off into the Arctic Ocean.
The Polar Bear staring us down
Playing with boxes left on the frozen Arctic
Chewing Whale Blubber
Investigating the birds
The beauty, intimacy and magnitude of the event was unmatched by any other travel experience I have had before. As comparison, three months before the trip I went on a several day safari in South Africa and went cage diving with Great White Sharks off the coast. Don’t get me wrong, those were absolutely incredible experiences, but they were a little different. Those activities had some aspects of being contrived, whereas this was completely natural and pure. This experience would not re-created for tomorrow’s tour bus.
Upon returning to town, our tour guide was quick to relay to the town residents that we had seen a Polar Bear on his tour. In fact, we were local celebrities for the day, as locals came up to use and said, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to see one!” and “You saw one your first day in Barrow, I’ve been waiting 10 years here!”.
Barrow is an incredible place to visit. While the trip is not feasible for most, it is an exciting way to spend 25K miles for a domestic flight. I can’t guarantee a Polar Bear sighting, but I can guarantee a uniqueness about the city and a genuineness of its constituents that will make for an amazing adventure.