Today I hiked directly from the campground through brush toward the Savage River navigating my way across various natural drainage tributaries that I expect flow into the Savage, most of which were relatively dry. Within a short time of walking I saw caribou munching their way through the trees just to the south of me and as the landscape opened up a little more, the terrain began to drop off into the valley where, as expected, I found the Savage river. Once at the river I began following it north toward the checkpoint on the park road. As the road came into view on a ridge above me I noticed a bus and a few cars parked presumably watching something. Shortly thereafter, one of the people started waving at me and called out that there were bears ahead further along the river! I changed my course accordingly and ascended the slope toward the road to get a view of the area ahead. Sure enough, a mother and two cubs were foraging further down the river toward the bridge. After watching for a while I continued in a large arc around them and made my way across the bridge to the checkpoint where I chatted with the ranger there. I told him I had seen the bears so he could let other hikers walking along the river know if they passed. He thanked me and then relayed his own bear stories one of which included a direct encounter where a bear had approached some tourists in the parking lot. He told them to stand behind him so the bear charged him instead! After swatting it on the nose with whatever he had in his hand at the time and kicking gravel in its face, it retreated. We ended up talking for about an hour as he explained how he spent last winter/spring helping to build base camp for Denali climbers out on the glacier and how he had moved to Alaska from New Mexico. While talking to another ranger later at the back country access center who told me the ranger I had spoken with at the Savage checkpoint was her neighbor it became very clear that those who stay in Alaska during the winter form a close community. Some have alternate work during winter as the park requires very few employees outside of the summer season, some do voluntary work in the park if available and others just take the winters easy, if thats possible! This group is distinct from those who come to work in the area for the summer and return home afterwards whether it be to Anchorage, other parts of Alaska or the lower 48. Those who stay endure what to you and I would be tough living conditions, very little day light and extremely cold temperatures. Evidently last winter it reached as low as -60F. At times like this dog mushers are able to keep busy tending their dogs but many others simply “hang out” in their cabins, keep their log fires going, visit their friends when they can and otherwise spend a lot of time just ‘being’. For a situation that I and most other people probably wouldn’t contemplate it is also interesting to hear some of them tell me they enjoy the winters more than any other time of the year.