Douglas, Alaska lies across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau underneath Mt. Douglas.
Originally a staging ground of the Auke and Taru people for battles against rival tribes, the Treadwell and Douglas townships served the miners of the Juneau gold fields. The population grew to 1722 at the turn of the 20th Century.
An explosion ripped through the mines in 1910. The Serbians and Greeks left Douglas to serve in WWI.
A fire destroyed the town in 1937.
The population dropped to 522.
Bears ruled the trails.
They ruled them now, but I wanted to hike the Treadwell Trail.
On my day off I walked to Douglas on a drizzly day.
Hippies had repopulated the town in the 1970s.
One man pointed out the trailhead.
I thanked him and entered the forest.
Ranger Nomi had warned that hiking solo was dangerous.
"There are bears everywhere. Make noise. They are shy. Never run. They are fast as hell."
Ranger Nomi knew his business.
As well as bears know theirs.
This was their land.
The trail followed the old Treadwell Trench.
Between 1881 and 1922, over 3 million troy ounces of gold were extracted from the glory hole.
$3 billion in today's dollars.
The trench had been cut with crude shovels, picks, and and hard labor.
In its heyday hundreds of men tramped up and down the slope. Today I was alone.
Human population - 1
I had no idea how many bears.
A small stream ran next to the trail.
Like a bear I shat in the trees.
When in the woods, do as the bear do.
I washed my hands in the clear cold water.
And continued up the mountain.
Once out of the forest I tramped along a path constructed of long planks.
The trail crossed a sunken forest.
I still had cell service.
I called no one.
I was thousands of miles away from New England.
Only a mile away from the nearest road.
The rain fell from low clouds.
I had a raincoat.
I was almost dry.
Not every creature needed such protection.
Dance party bears.
I surveyed the surroundings.
I sang a song.
Bears don't like The Them.
I remained alone.
As a chronically suicidal person I have occasionally planned to end it all by shooting heroin in the forest, ODing, and leaving my body to the elements.
But not today.
The trail was steep.
The ground was wet.
My feet slipped every few steps.
Bears woke in the spring to claw dead trees.
A long glade huddled in silence.
Bears liked the thick undergrowth.
I heard a noise.
Something bigger than me.
This was as far as I was going.
Bears also shit in the woods.
I hurried through the wilderness.
I sang LOUIE LOUIE.
I followed the trench.
I had joked with Ranger Nomi about starting a bear-mauling tour for fans of Leonardo DeCapria's REVENANT movie.
I had no interest in getting mauled myself.
Bears were fast.
Not that you have to outrun them.All you have to do is coinvince them that you're friend tastes better.
Back at the falls I felt safe, but kept on walking.
Ten minutes later I was safe in Douglas.
Population - 1345.
And I was one of them.