Punk anarchists, subsistence caribou hunting and bikepacking may seem like an unlikely combination, but as Birch Block, one of the founders of Anchorage's Off The Chain Bicycle Collective says, "We're not your typical hunting party."
Hunting under the name "The Bike Collective," members of Off the Chain joined together for their second annual bicycle caribou hunt under an Alaska Department of Fish and Game Community Subsistence Harvest permit in the Copper Basin area. The permit requires, among other things, that caribou meat is harvested and distributed among all of the hunters in the group. The meat salvage requirements are stricter than standard harvest tickets and sport hunting -- all edible organ meats and hides must be collected. And after the hunt a group potluck must be conducted to share the meat with community members.
A group of 17 bicyclists set off the morning of Sept. 6, 2015, with trailers in tow for their campsite 8 miles off the Denali Highway in the Clearwater Creek Controlled Use Area. The area is designated non-motorized so anyone participating in hunting cannot access the area by car or ATV. It's a perfect match for this group of active cyclists, who are mostly volunteers at Anchorage's Off the Chain Bicycle Collective. According to Block, having Fish and Game set aside non-motorized areas is good regulation and good conservation of herd populations. And a way to keep the tundra "wild and sustained," says Block. "It takes a lot of motivation and very able-bodied people to come up here and do something like this." Much of the 8 miles of trail to their campsite is uphill and the cyclists have to take turns helping one another push the heavily loaded trailers up the steepest hills.
The Thursday night following the hunt, the group gathered at a private home to host the potluck. Everyone brought dishes made from items that they personally harvested. Grilled caribou heart, salmon dip and raspberry desserts were offerings, and meat shares from the 7 caribou taken were distributed to the community members by the amount of work contributed. Hours hunting, field dressing, packing out, and processing the caribou meat were all calculated to figure out a given member's share of the harvest.
All Alaskans can participate in a community subsistence harvest, according to the hunt conditions set up by the Alaska Board of Game. The rules and regulations in the permit are very much in line with Block's belief system. Block, the main mentor of the group, is a punk rocker who grew up in the Valley and mostly lives a subsistence lifestyle in Wasilla. For him sharing and cultivating "lost knowledge and skills" is a way to grow his community and live independently from consumer culture. Rather than a punk rock lifestyle being about music, it's about autonomy and independence from mainstream society.