My dad just sent me a picture I didn’t even remember existed – a picture of me, at 13, posing with a black bear up at Tustamena Lake.

It brings back memories. I had just had surgery the month before. The doctor carved out a problem with my meniscus in my left knee. Until then, I was never able to straighten my leg completely. I had walked with a limp, though I tried to hide it, I couldn’t run to save my life and as I hit puberty, my good leg was outgrowing my bad one. The back pain got worse, as well as the headaches, and I had enough. It was time to do something about it.

Fairly new at that time, the orthoscopic type knee surgery went well. Though Doc said I would be back to normal or able to run in six months. I never picked up the crutches. The swelling was gone in a few weeks, and I spent the next month in the mountains recovering, getting stronger as we hiked and hiked, learning little things about the wild, about myself, and getting to know my dad.

I think we ended up eating the entire bear while we were there. To change things up, we ate countless squirrels and spruce hen. I can’t remember exactly, but we must have been in the woods the better part of two weeks before hiking back down to the lake to catch our ride out. We didn’t know it at the time the picture was taken, but we were stuck there for a few more.

It took a day to drive down to catch a boat, a half a day in the boat to ride across the 25 miles of lake, and two days hike up. We saw between 17-25 bears per day traversing peaks in the area of a remote camp we set up, more than I had seen in my entire life. They sniffed around our tent at night, rummaged our belongings while we slept.

The friend that dropped my dad and I off thought we had made other arrangements to get out, so it was up to us to find our own way back. We didn’t see another person for about a month. That was the day we got out.

And the day we got out was an adventure all its own.

A friend and I revisit Tustamena in 2017 and 2018. The trails leading up to the old camp were too overgrown, and have to be cut again.