I GAZED out the window, excitement bubbling inside me. I couldn’t believe I was finally here. A lifetime of dreaming and months of planning had led me to the beautiful, remote wilderness in the heart of Alaska on display beneath me. I’d planned to stay for three months, and already it wasn’t enough. Something here called to me in ways no other place in the world ever had, and deep down, I could feel something amazing waited for me here.

I marveled at the beauty of the vast landscape below. A river snaked through the trees and grasses with some areas still dusted with snow. I couldn’t wait to be on the ground and out hiking the wilderness alone. It was something I really enjoyed and often did back home. I’d already hiked Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park…. It was my favorite thing to do. I loved being by myself in the wild, especially those areas known for bears.

Arriving in early April, I’d hoped to avoid the height of the tourist season while taking advantage of decent weather, not to mention the balanced hours of daylight and darkness. After an uneventful flight to Fairbanks, I’d hopped a tiny little four-seater bush plane to my final destination. The pilot, Bill, was an older guy, maybe pushing fifty, dressed in thick jeans, hiking boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt layered under a short-sleeved one, and one of those down-filled vests.

I hadn’t realized how quiet our flight had been until Bill broke the silence.

“Beautiful country, isn’t it?”

“Gorgeous.”

The plane hit a small air pocket and bounced, but I ignored it.

“So, Caden, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s a young guy like you gonna do all by yourself out here?”

“Photograph wildlife, mostly.” I cast a glance toward him. “Hoping to see lots of bears.”

“Most folks do that kind of stuff in pairs or groups, you know, for safety’s sake.”

“Eh. I’m a solo act. I like being alone. As a matter of fact, I prefer it.”