As an avid traveler, I fell in love with small planes and aviation after I moved to Alaska. After all, that’s how you get around to the most interesting places.
Bob Lacher, in his book “Alaska Raw” kicks that concept up a notch or two. Born and raised in Alaska, Lacher grew up in a family that hunted for food. Small planes, snowmachines and boats were the tools his family used to survive and thrive.
This collection of first-hand experiences is gripping. Lacher had me hooked in the first chapter, where he goes hunting with his father in the Aleutian Islands for caribou. But the adventure doesn’t start on the shores of Unimak Island. Rather, Lacher spins a compelling tale about flying his plane from Anchorage through Lake Clark Pass, to King Salmon and along the coastline of the Alaska Peninsula. Lacher brings the reader on a wild ride at low altitude. As the waves crash against the banks above the beach, Lacher is “looking for dead things” on the way to the hunting grounds. Specifically, he’s looking for a dead walrus with some ivory tusks. Oh—he finds one. But it’s quite an adventure to retrieve it from the beach. Hint: there’s a bear involved.
On this trip, Lacher recalls some of the lessons his father taught him as he carefully tracks a herd of caribou. For my own Aleutian caribou hunt, it was my son who was guiding me. Like Lacher, my son was born here and is most at home when he’s out in the wild—hunting for dinner.
Because Lacher and his father flew their own plane—there’s no jetway and no terminal. Tthey had to take special precautions when parking the aircraft. This typically involves loading up gunnysacks with rocks and lashing them to the wings so the plane doesn’t fly off without them.
Whether you’re a hunter or not, Lacher’s book is a fun read as he and his companions struggle against the weather, fading daylight and the quest for a reliable (not drunk) boat captain who will pick them up as promised.
Lacher pursued a career in the oil and gas industry, but his heart remained in the wild. This is clear as he details the planning that goes in to a hunt, including the care in choosing companions on the trip. “I hesitate to admit that some of the satisfaction I get from taking a novice into the field comes from the stories that are later told and re-told at their expense,” he writes.
On one trip with a novice, Lacher and his party are threading a narrow path through harrowing crevasses on a glacier. Not seeing their “newbie” when they turned around, they carefully backtracked—only to find him and his snowmachine dangling perilously off a sheer cliff of ice.
“There is nothing worse than a new guy who won’t let us embarrass and intimidate him when he’s struggling,” he adds.
Throughout “Alaska Raw,” Lacher brings the reader along for an up-close look at his adventures…or mis-adventures. There’s his tent that’s flapping in the gale-force wind. My fingers and toes got cold while reading about his slow belly-crawl across the tundra, trying to line up a good shot.
Some of the places Lacher and his companions walked were familiar to me: Cold Bay is one of them. So when Lacher talks about the pre-dawn decision to take an inflatable dinghy, fully-loaded, on an eight-mile open ocean crossing, I start biting my fingernails. When he reveals that he’s only got a 3hp motor to do the job, I start shaking my head and mouthing “No no no!” And yet, just like a train wreck, I can’t stop reading to find out whether he makes it…or has to swim to shore and lose everything.
Lacher is a hunter—this is not a book about “catch and release” or photography. Whether it’s a caribou, a sheep or a bear, Lacher is quick to invoke his predator instincts to get the job done. The photos included in the book are all about the animals: the curl on the sheep’s horn or the length of the bear. It’s fair to say that in Lacher’s world, “size matters.”
Yet for all of his testosterone-fuelled bravado, Lacher approaches the natural world with humility and respect. “Alaska Raw” is about the relationship between the hunter, the animals and the land. There are many moments in the book when one misstep is the difference between celebration and catastrophe. The author admits that adrenaline rush is part of what drives him. But there’s also the quest to compensate for the cushy, urban routine that is all-too-common, even in Alaska.
“Urban life, as it has evolved, brings with it a dullness of routine that acts…as a slow poison. This is a book about cutting your own trail,” he writes.
And it’s a colorful trail, complete with charging bears, makeshift landing strips on the tops of mountains, nasty weather and overloaded snowmachines plodding through chest-deep powder. It’s a collection of bold Alaska adventures. Not only has Lacher lived to tell the stories. He’s ready to turn his face to the wind, chamber another round and once more head off to go hunting for dinner.
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