Kenai Peninsula and Southeastern Panhandle, Weeks 11 and 12
Sunday, July 20, 2003
There’s a snapshot scene that stands out in the backpacking experience, where the burdened hiker walks alone in a sweeping meadow of grass and lupine, alone beneath the scree-covered peaks that tower above tree line and the snowmelt streams of narrow canyons. This is where the hiker reaches the top of the trail, pauses for a moment of reflection across the lost and lonely landscape, breaths a weary sigh of relief, and continues down the trail, toward the anonymous cover of tree and brush and eventual return to civilization.
This snapshot appeared in two articles I recently read about the Resurrection Pass trail, a 40-mile section of defined trail that half-crosses the Kenai Peninsula over a long, gentle pass in the Chugach Mountains. I hadn’t anticipated much about the hike before doing it. I knew I would be eating bland, mushy backpacking food, hoisting a heavy pack in the sun and spending the better part of each day sleeping and reading in a muddled attempt to pass the non-hiking time. I guess this is the reason I wasn’t looking forward to the trip much – sometimes when it’s been a while since you’ve been backpacking and you’re already a bit tired of camping, you only remember backpacking as being intermittently painful and boring. You forget about that quiet moment when you stand alone in a contoured field, buried in 20 miles of wilderness on either side, completely safe and warm, and you remember the lost and lonely landscape that photographs fail to capture, and you’re a small part of it, and you feel peace.
In short, I spent five days and four nights on the trail and I’m glad I went. Things before and after the backpacking trip were sullen and frustrating. Before we left Anchorage the van spent two long, boring days in the shop while we wandered aimlessly around town. By the time we left the van blew a heater core and leaked massive amounts of coolant. Geoff and Chris spent a better part of the evening in an auto parts store parking lot replacing a hose, only to discover that the problem wasn’t fixed. We got to camp late and exhausted, looking forward to leaving the van and the city and everything behind for a few days. Resurrection Pass turned out to be as simple and relaxing a hike as there ever was. We averaged eight miles a day along the smooth, hard trail, climbing only once to 2,600 feet and then back down. We spent one night in a cabin a little ways off the trail on Trout Lake. We did some fishing in the small boat, cooked a big pasta dinner and played an epic game of “pitch.” I bashed my foot good and hard earlier when I slipped in the boat, and got to relish in spending the rest of the evening nursing my injury in the warm comfort of the cabin, eating Skittles and aspirins, drinking hot tea and sleeping, tucked away, at least momentarily from the harsh wind.
The next day we returned to the Russian River Campground with plans to continue down that trail for 21 miles. Our plans were thwarted by recent reports of bear attacks and encounters; we were nervous and tired, and suddenly the trip wasn’t so peaceful and relaxing. We had to snag a concrete campsite and hitchhike back to the van the next day. The hitchhiking turned out to be, at least for me, the biggest adventure of the whole backpacking trip. Where everything on the trail was known and comforting, hitchhiking on the road was hot and uncertain. Despite a heavy concentration of packed RVs and holiday traffic, Geoff and I never had to walk far before getting a ride. From our first ride, we learned a little about the salmon run from two Anchorage natives down for a day. Our second ride blasted cheesy 70s soft rock and flew down the two-lane road at 90 per. The only information the driver gave us was that his name was Carlos and he hadn’t slept yet. Thus, we hurtled toward Hope Junction in silent apprehension of the white speed, before getting out and having some lunch, and continuing up the hot pavement toward our last ride, the back of a black pickup driven by a man who was noticeably smoking marijuana. We drank in the blast of cool wind and sea salt air before the man, who never said anything to us beyond “Where are you headed?” drove us all the way to the Resurrection Pass trailhead. And we were back to the van, back to our home and our decrepit car troubles. Back to reality.
We picked up Chris and Jen and drove back to spend a couple more nights at the trailhead. Yesterday I biked up the Resurrection Pass trail 14.5 miles, to the campsite where we spent the second night. It was fun to return to the trail where I had wandered for five days and blast over 30 miles in a matter of hours. I had anticipated going all the way to the pass, but stopped five miles short due to fatigue and the fact that I was alone and a long walk from the trailhead should anything happen. On my way back, I had another close encounter with a bear (Geoff describes our recent run-ins with bears in his entry above.) I was headed up a short, steep hill less than two miles from the trailhead. A small, young black bear emerged from the grass not more than 10 feet where I was laboring up the trail. My first instinct was to hit the brakes, though I was not moving more than four miles an hour. The bear heard me and whirled around, raised it’s ears, got a good look at me, and bounded into the woods. My first instinct was that he was a yearling cub and I became terrified that mama was near by. I grabbed my bear spray and yelled a few times before continuing up the hill on foot, until I was sure I was safe. Now we’re headed to Seward – it feels as if we’ve been headed to Seward for three weeks, and when we leave there, we will truly be on our way home.
posted by Jill at 5:38 p.m. on July 20, 2003
Sunday, July 20, 2003
After nearly 2 months in Alaska things have become entirely as home here. For the past 3 ½ weeks we’ve been moving back and forth from anchorage to the Kenai peninsula, and now we know the roads and trails as though we’d lived here for years. Thinking of Utah seems quite foreign now. For the time being I feel easily more grounded and purposeful being here than when I think of being anywhere else. The rivers, lakes, mountains, ocean, forests, and even the cities that we’ve visited in the last several weeks all seem familiar and comforting to me. Memories of places I frequent in my time spent in Utah or New York all seem so distant and mysterious now. Even the intensity of this place has become comforting. Bears don’t seem so scary anymore but rather a way of life. Much like the searing desert heat in Utah or the sometimes bitter cold of New York – just something that you have to learn to deal with.
We just finished a seven day backpacking trip along the resurrection pass trail two days early because when we got to the Russian River campground, 5 days along, we discovered that the trail leading onward was closed from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am because of recent problems with bears in the area. That was what the signs said: “Recent problems with bears in the area.” Later that day we bought a newspaper and found out what that meant: 2 days earlier a 25 year old fisherman had been mauled and severely injured about ¼ mile from where we were standing as we read the article! Instead of hiking onward the next day and putting ourselves in danger (in danger of bears or in danger of further intensifying the blisters and sores on our feet from already covering 40 miles) we hung out by the river watching the Department of Fish and Game “take care of the situation”. Taking care of the situation in this case meant standing in a row on one side of the salmon filled river and making sure the bears stayed on the other side. Occasionally freshly filleted salmon carcasses would float by in the river and the three yearling brown bears would walk out in water almost over their heads and grab the fresh meat. A glance just a few hundred yards up river and I could see the fisherman who were catching these fish. When the bears moved to one area the fishermen simply moved to another.
While we watched things just seemed to work out okay. The bears did their thing and the fishermen did theirs. Within the past week though there was the mauling I already mentioned as well as several other interactions which left people scared and/or injured, and a sow and three cubs dead. It’s the Russian River though and the fishermen are determined to have their chance at the salmon regardless of the situation. Watching the “situation” yesterday though it just didn’t seem right. In a place where so many people talk about having respect and knowledge for the land and it’s wildlife, seeing fisherman move a couple hundred feet up or down river from the bears and then catch a beautiful red salmon and fillet it right there in view of the animals just didn’t seem to make sense. As I walked away from this scene yesterday and began hitchhiking back to where we had begun our backpacking trip, I found myself amazed that their had only been one person mauled so far by the bears around the Russian River. The fact that people are attributing what is happening along that river right now to irregularities and peculiarities amongst the bears rather than disrespect and ignorance amongst the people is both confusing and saddening to me. I guess more than this though is just the fact that people are willing to take whatever risks necessary to conquer the situation and prevail with their limit in salmon. It just doesn’t seem fair that by doing so they are screwing things up so badly for the bears.
Anyway, enough about that. More about our current location. Tonight we camp along resurrection creek, a few miles from Hope, a few miles from where we were almost three weeks ago our second night with Cathy and Gretchen. Tomorrow though we head on to Seward where we’ve booked a halibut/salmon charter for Tuesday and where we’ll hopefully be able to get the heater core problem we’ve been having with the van taken care of. Each day now that we drive I find myself breathing in just a little more anti-freeze, and I don’t believe I can take much more without passing out or vomiting. Also in Seward we’ll try to get an internet connection so we can publish this posting as well as any other pictures or posting we have ready to go by then. Sorry if our postings have been less often than those of you who have been reading along with us would hope but we’ve been doing our best. Picture for a minute being out in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Alaska with some idea that maybe someone will be interested in reading. At the time though you’re several hundred miles from anywhere that you might possibly be able to publish to a website so instead of writing anything at all you just wait until you’re heading to town and try to summarize some of the things you’ve been thinking about over the past several days. That’s what I’ve done here and in most all of my postings this summer, and thus some of the depth and accuracy of these ideas gets lost. Sometimes I just wish I could think something and have that idea immediately published to our website but I think that technology is still a couple years away. For now though it’ll just have to be these random summaries every so often. Thanks so much though to all of you who have been checking up with our postings regularly. It’s been very comforting to sit down to a computer every week or so knowing that what I write will eventually be read by so many of you. It’s felt at times like some of you were right here listening to me talk about these things rather than down there in Utah or New York reading about them a few days later. I miss you all and thanks for your patience with continuing to check out our stuff.
posted by Geoff at 5:41 p.m. on July 20, 2003
Monday, July 21, 2003
Somehow in the midst of all this biking and backpacking and various other stuff that we’re out here doing, even keeping in mind my plan to bike across the country in the fall, I find myself often feeling as though I’m not acting as much as I should be on some of the ambitions that I have. Often lately I’ve been feeling this way about my physical / athletic ambition. It’s hard not to feel this way up here. Each day it seems I come across some new event or sport or race up here that blows my mind initially, but then slowly, with some time to let my knowledge of this new thing sink in I find myself wanting to be involved personally.
First it was the 24 hours of Kincaid. A 24 hour mountain bike race held in Kincaid Park in Anchorage each year. At first I thought this just sounded crazy. 24 hours on a bike! How sore must the legs and butt be after that one? A day later though I made up my mind I wanted to do it. It even coincided almost exactly with when we were going to be in town. Turned out though that there was a mandatory meeting a week before the race while we were still 400 miles north of Anchorage doing our own thing up in the Alaska Range along the Denali Highway.
A couple weeks after this was when I first heard about the Mount Marathon race in Seward: an annual 3.5 mile race that runs directly up the face of a 3,000+ ft. mountain on the edge of town. Not 3.5 miles one way. We’re talking round trip. We’re talking an average elevation gain of almost 2,000 feet per mile! We’re talking incline that is nearly impossible for most people to hike up, and yet every year on the 4rth of July hundreds and hundreds of elite runners (lunatics?) come to Seward to race up and down this mountain in front of thousands of spectators. Once again though I went from thinking that this race was just totally insane to a couple weeks later dreaming about one day competing in it.
Unfortunately we were in Homer when we found out about this Mount Marathon spectacle 200 miles away in Seward. It was July 4rth – the day of the race and we had no chance or intent of driving all the way to Seward. Being in Seward now though I realize that had we been here to watch the race I’d probably have even a stronger desire to become personally involved. Yesterday morning, shortly after we arrived in town, Jill and I, as we are accustomed to doing, were out biking around, gathering a sense of what Seward has to offer, when we came across the Mount Marathon trailhead. 50 feet along the trail you get to a scree field at about a 75 degree slope and your jaw just drops. The thought that hundreds of people actually look at this mountain and agree to pay money for the opportunity to race up it (even more scary is the thought of coming back down after you get to the top) is just shocking. For a few seconds this was my only reaction: complete awe. Quickly though I found myself eager to be a part of this. I spent half the evening yesterday envisioning myself running up this wall of dirt and rock. Now though, a day later, I’m no longer staring up at the base of the mountain and the reality that I’ll likely never be involved in this race has set in.
And so today I’ve found myself accepting this reality, but with some hesitation and some desire to stop finding out about all these things that interest me, but not ever becoming involved in them. I understand that for most of my time over the past several years I’ve made a decision to spread myself thin, dabbling in all kinds of different things rather than focusing too much time and energy into one thing and thus neglecting other interesting and worthwhile things. And this then is where the problem lies. To become involved in some of these things that I find myself dreaming of being involved in would take up a large chunk of time and energy, eliminating all kinds of things that I’ve been enjoying over the past few years. I’d like to be able to go full speed ahead with everything I’m doing now as well as all these new things I hear about that I want to do but I realize too that that just isn’t possible without getting physically and mentally burnt out (unless of course my name were Anna Roberts).
Always burning in me though is the desire to put other things off for awhile and pick one random endeavor and allow it to consume me. Trail running or mountain biking or road biking or snowshoe racing or adventure racing or ultra marathoning or any other random thing I see or hear about. To just focus on one idea or one event for awhile and see where these experiences end up taking me and what they end up teaching me. It’s just so hard to not have these desires when, like today, I pick up the newspaper and read about the Crow Pass Crossing, a 24-28 mile (no one knows the actual distance because the terrain is too rugged and jagged to possibly measure accurately) foot race through the mountains near Girdwood, Alaska. The first three miles of the race climbs about 2,500 feet and then drops back down to miles and miles of rocky, rooty, almost impassable terrain. Mixed somewhere in the middle is a river crossing that is in most spots waste deep and in some spots racers even find themselves swimming to get across. The winner of the race finished in 3:08.27! When asked if he suffered any stumbles or falls throughout the course his answer was that there we way too many to count.
Thinking of these people up here doing all these different events with the intensity that they’re doing them just makes my experiences seem so recreational, so unambitious. At times I’ve felt like I really fit in with the people in Utah because there are so many people that are into doing things intensely and ambitiously, much like I see myself. Here though, there seems to be at least a small group of people who take this intensity and ambition to a whole new level. Consider for a minute the sport of winter mountain biking. There are actually numerous Alaskans who wait for just the right conditions each year (really cold and really dry – fresh powder doesn’t make for great biking) to get out on their bikes and spend a night or two off in the wilderness. We’re talking fully loaded multi-day trips into the Alaskan wilderness, in the continual darkness of winter, on hard packed snow in temperatures (high temperatures) hovering at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit! And to think that I take pleasure in the pride of having been camping at least once in each month last winter in Utah. I guess I don’t deserve the cookie that I thought I did for that one.
posted by Geoff at 10:34 a.m. on Monday, July 21, 2003
Thursday, July 24, 2003
It’s Pioneer Day in Utah – the single biggest holiday of the summer, bigger than the fourth, if you come from the Beehive State. It’s the day the Mormons walked down Emigration Canyon during the hot summer of 1847, looked out over the expanse of parched earth and granite mountains surrounding the continent’s saltiest lake, and said “Lets live here!” Now July 24 means parades and fireworks and kettle corn for the people who still choose to live in the scorched, smoky desert – but here in Alaska, it’s just another rainy day in Anchorage, green and cool as Thursday morning traffic rushes into the city, and we rush out.
We arrived in Seward on July 21 and prepared for our chartered fishing trip the next day. I’m surprised Geoff hasn’t written about it yet – it was one of the most eventful, or at least expensive, aspects of our trip. Chris, Geoff and I set out at 7 a.m. on a 34 foot motor boat with captain Chuck, deckhand Nick, and five other clueless tourists like ourselves for a virtual fishing orgy – salmon, halibut, black bass, and rockfish. Where Captain Chuck took us we caught our limit quickly and continued to fish for the throw-backers in hopes of snagging a 50 pound halibut. No one on our boat did, though we did have six nice 20 – 30 lb halibut, nine shining silver salmon, nine black bass and Geoff’s prize catch of the day, a large 70 year old yellow-eyed rockfish (one of the biggest and oldest fish of its kind.) Chuck and Nick did everything for us, from bating our hook to telling us where to fish. It was easy, too easy, but still a lot of fun – we caught over twice the amount of fish we kept, and still ended up with over 70 pounds of fresh fish meat to keep in our freezer and ship back to Salt Lake. We had a huge fish feast that night – marinated halibut, grilled salmon, succulent bass, and oysters – the oysters were a gift to us from a random passerby from the J Dock Fish Company. Jen even bough Champaign for the occasion. In the end, it was probably more money than any of us should have spent for one day, but it was a new experience, and you can’t beat the feel of using all of your strength to reel in a thrashing halibut, homely and hulky as they are.
Now we’re on the last leg of our trip. Anticipating the drive south. There’s biking and backpacking to be done along the way – we still have three weeks to go – but in many ways we’re driving home now, on our way home.
posted July 24, 2003 by Jill
Saturday, July 26, 2003
I feel I need to make amends for my July 11 “I hate camping” posting. My friends have been teasing me about it for a couple of weeks now, and though I don’t regret speaking how I felt at that moment, there are a lot of aspects of camping that I really like. Really, I do. There are many simple pleasures in life that are all the more sweeter when camping, which is why I’m here on this 14-week camping trip and why I’m so excited for bicycle camping. So this is my list of appreciation, the things I’m thankful for, the “simple pleasures” of camping.
1.) Blueberry Pie. This is first on my list because it’s first on my mind. Yesterday we were on day two of straight driving in our burn to get to Juneau. We pulled into a random campground just west of the border to sleep before another full day of driving. Everyone was tired, grumpy, and not too enthused about the long night ahead. I went for a “nature walk” around the campground and discovered a cluster of bushes blooming with blueberries. Needing a project, I spent the next hour gathering the tiny berries in a pan and went back to camp, where Geoff and Jen were making burritos. We had talked about making pancakes, but there were so many that Geoff had this great idea to make a pie. We didn’t have any kind of an oven, or a pie pan, or any foreseeable way of cooking a pie. Geoff just set to work making the pie crust, folding it over the blueberries, placing it in one of our mess kits, and setting it right over our two-burner stove. While he went away to fish for pike, Chris invented a camper stove oven. He took our big soup pot and placed it on the stove, set the pie on a raised surface and surrounded the bottom with hot coals from the fire. Then he placed more coals on the tin foil covering the top of the pie and covered the whole thing. We waited anxiously for an hour, then pulled the pie off the stove and peeled off the tin foil. Inside was the most beautiful golden brown crust, oozing sweet purple syrup around the edges and bubbling over with fresh, wild blueberries. It was a delicious feast of dessert like none we have had on this trip yet. I am thankful for wild blueberries and innovative cooking methods.
2.) Rivers and Lakes. When you’re camping without the convenience of RVs or even developed campgrounds, nearby bodies of water suddenly take on the role of major modern conveniences. They become your dishwasher, bathtub, sink, refrigerator, and sometimes even your source of drinking water. There’s food in the water, if you can fish it out, and a cool place to float on a hot day. At night the rushing water lulls you to sleep, drowns outside noises of sometimes-obnoxious neighbors and continues on effortlessly. I am thankful for the seemingly endless supply of water in Alaska, an anomaly to someone who comes from the desert.
3.) Sunset. In Alaska it comes late; in the Arctic, not at all - but each night the sun slants over the jagged green horizon and casts a brilliant glow of yellow and orange over the sky. In Utah, the stagnant heat of summer traps a thick haze of pollution and wildfire smoke beneath the cloudless desert sky. By the time sunlight reaches the city through this messy filter, it is blood red or an eerily orange. In the city, sunset reminds of the mess of drought and crowded, congested living. In Alaska, the sunset is free to steam across the clear sky and settle on wild, unmarked land. I am thankful for the views from quiet and secluded camp spots. Sunset is a beautiful thing.
4.) Fishing. I guess this fits in my “rivers and lakes” category, but you can’t beat freshly grilled grayling, trout or salmon smoked on an open fire, and in Alaska you can have it nearly every day if you take the time. Geoff and Chris really do most of the fishing, but my favorite meals always involve wild Alaska-caught freshwater fish roasted slowly over the fire with zucchini, onions and garlic. I’m thankful that Alaska’s tastiest treasures come in great abundance in the summer.
5.) Pillows. Of all the bedding needed to survive night after night of sleeping on the hard, cold ground, a pillow is by far the sweetest and softest luxury. Sleeping bags are essential, if only to keep from freezing in the cold of the night, and a sleeping mat only provides minimal protection from the hard ground. If the ground isn’t frozen, I could really take or leave the mat. But my pillow is always there to cradle my head above the harsh floor of the tent and lull me into deep, restful sleep. I’m thankful for pillows so I don’t have to wake up every morning with a sore neck.
6.) Hmmm. I guess I already mentioned blueberries. And fish. Fresh grilled halibut and blueberry pie. So delicious, and we can eat a lot of it now, since we gathered enough blueberries this morning to make a half dozen pies. There are a lot more simple pleasures I could add to this list, and I might later, but for now I’ll just sit back and think about the wild beauty that surrounds me everyday, and daydream about blueberry pie.
posted by Jill at 2:19 p.m on July 26, 2003
Monday, July 28, 2003
We've made our way to the last corner of alaska before our journey back to utah really begins. We're in Haines for a few days, then onto Juneau for a few more before taking the ferry across to Skagway and back onto the Alaska Highway heading south. The journey from Anchorage to Haines took about twice as long as we had planned but when we leave Skagway in a week we really won't have any extra time to take longer than planned. it'll be interesting to see if we can actually crank up the mileage and average 300 a day. i guess when we start getting up before 10:00 am mileage might come a little easier.
Anyway, I'm short on time now but jill and i both will be posting some more in depth entries about things we've been thinking and doing within the next couple days. check back soon. we'll be hoping to have a new pictures page up in less than a week as well, the highlight of which will be pictures of Chris with a completely shaven head. For real.
posted by Geoff at 6:57 p.m. on July 28, 2003
Thursday, July 31, 2003
Today I sit in a sleepless haze four stories above downtown Juneau as the heart of Alaska’s capital pulses in a stream of tourists and well-dressed government officials. So much is happening in this place, which from my landlocked view, is marooned in the middle of nowhere – a four hour ferry ride from the nearest road, and even that is only a small highway that connects to unpaved Canadian roads.
We arrived late last night from Haines. We spent the entire ferry ride parked on plastic lawn chairs in the solarium of the boat, watching the sun set beneath an endless stretch of steep costal mountains. In the red-streaked darkness there was nothing besides the billowing shadows of cottonwoods and slate-smooth water – and then suddenly, lights. Lots of lights, sprawled out along the black shoreline. This is Alaska’s capitol. The center of the state’s government commerce, and it sits alone, stranded on the southeastern panhandle between mountain walls and the sea.
We stepped off the boat at about 11:30 p.m. – not real late, by most standards – but everyone was lolling and grumbling from the long day previous – which was, by most standards, a strange day. Geoff and Jen parked in the first mud hole they found – a small gravel turnout only six feet from the only through-road in town. Chris said no way and headed down the road with the intent of walking four miles to find a loaner van which may or may not exist. I couldn’t sleep most of the night and headed down the road at 5:30 a.m. because I couldn’t stand to stare at the top of the tent any longer. Now I’m in downtown Juneau; I haven’t seen anyone all day; I have nowhere to go besides this public library so here I sit – tired, hungry, dazed, and trying to separate the real from the imaginary of a dream-like yesterday.
It started the second day we got to Haines. From day one we were meeting tons of people we didn’t know well but with whom we shared acquaintance – people Jen worked with, people I went to high school with, all working up in the small coastal town for the summer. We had a pleasant few days – did a day hike, went to a museum. On Tuesday evening I was riding my bike down Haines Highway after an evening ride when a green minivan started honking wildly and I caught a glimpse of Chris waving from the passenger’s seat. I stopped and Chris, Geoff and Jen were inside with a strange, wild-eyed man I had never met. “Come with us!” Chris said, “We got jobs.”
As the van shot down the highway I learned, in broken fragments of the driver’s spewed stream of conciousness and Geoff’s translations, that the man, who the next day I learned was called “Dave,” owned a river rafting company in Haines and was in desperate need of rowers for a float trip the next day. He recruited Geoff and Chris to row a large group of cruise boat tourists down a swift flat section of the Chilkat River on a bald-eagle viewing tour. He needed people that night to help him unload the boats, and he needed to teach Geoff and Chris “eagle facts,” which he vomited out with no further explanation or even connection to reality. Nobody knew what the hell he was talking about. We met his only employee, Mike, and the six of us spent the better part of the evening loading and unloading rafts and trying to comprehend the whirl of Haines facts and job descriptions that Dave bombarded us with. Somewhere during that time, I agreed to take a fast ferry over the Skaggway the next morning to meet the tourists and guide them back to Haines, and only later did I learn that Dave had no intention of paying me. He lent us his Ford Explorer – a vehicle of which we had no real use for in the whole scheme of things, but which we later used to view grizzly bears in the Chikoot River – and left us with a radio and a fragmented pile of instructions.
Though Dave had promised he wouldn’t need our help until 9 a.m. the following morning, he came storming into our camp at 7:30 a.m. hollering, “Wake up! Jeez, we’re running late!” We wandered confused around camp, packing up our stuff, the whole time listening to Chaos unfold on the radio he had given us, again in fragments. “Listen to me! Just listen to me. What do you mean they came over early? Won’t you just listen to me? We have to get these guys over here to do the shuttle. Where are they now? Can’t you just listen to me?” By this time I had already headed over to the dock and was speeding across the bay via the fast ferry – looking at the sleek dorsal fins of killer whales glide out of the water while fat seals lounged on a sun baked rock. My mood was improving at this point. I got a free tour of what I learned was the deepest fjord in all of Alaska, saw some whales, and didn’t mind when only one of two groups showed up at the Skaggway dock –because I wasn’t getting paid, and I no longer cared. Though I had made up my mind earlier that morning that I never wanted to look at Dave’s frantic 60 year-old face again, I decided to take up his offer of what he saw as ample compensation for my time – a free float trip down the Chilkat with captain Geoff.
There were thousands of reasons why that float trip should not have happened – I couldn’t even list them all, because everything happened so chaotically and yet so perfectly in tune with Dave’s frantic design. Somehow, by the grace of God alone, all 32 tourists were happy and ready at the put-in by noon. We loaded them on the rafts and set out down the river – me on Geoff’s boat, Jen on Chris’s – floating down the Chilkat with not a care in the world, making up fun facts about bald eagles and Haines, and talking to a nice, intelligent family from Iowa. The entire time Dave kept barking orders at Chris and Geoff like they had never rowed in their lives; meanwhile, Dave was turning tight corners and bumping into shore more than anyone else. Somehow, the tourists didn’t seem completely irritated when the tour was over – they saw three bald eagles and no one fell into the water. We loaded them back on the buses – one of which was painted like a killer whale with a giant black fin on the roof. Dave made Chris drive the “Orca” and by 1:30 we were back at the ferry terminal – the tourists unloaded, Dave in frenzy over his next trip and Geoff holding the bounty of four people’s hard work for a morning and an evening - $127, and that’s including a $7 tip given to us by the family from Iowa. Still in a state of shock over the whole ordeal, we drove to the ferry terminal, unloaded our stuff, and watched with relief as the ferry disembarked – away from Haines and away from Dave, and our only “employment” in three months. Geoff’s account of this day is written below. For everyone, I think it’s safe to say, Haines was a … memorable experience.
posted by Jill at 5:48 p.m. on July 31, 2003
Sunday, July 31, 2003
A few days ago we thought we had pretty much planned everything out for the next 4 or 5 days. We were to spend one more day in Haines and then it was on the ferry to Juneau for 3 days before heading up to Skagway. After dinner that night we baked another blueberry pie (we’ve now made three pies on our camp stove using pots and pans and some coals from a campfire) and I biked to the store to get some ice cream to make it a complete dessert. The pie had to cool though so I was standing in the back of the van with a screwdriver trying to pry bags of frozen fish free from each other in our freezer so I could fit the ice cream in while we waited for the pie to be ready. This was the scene just before the weirdness that has become our past three days began.
Out of nowhere seemingly, a vehicle pulled up and some random guy started talking to Chris. I listened in a bit, but had only gathered so far that they were talking about rivers and more specifically what river trips we had done in the past. Then came the question from this guy, “well, you guys have some experience. Do you want jobs tomorrow?” Chris thought for a second and said, “Sure, I’m in.” I casually agreed from a distance, still not entirely sure what I was agreeing to.
Next thing I know though we’re riding down the road with this guy that we came to know as Dave toward the put in of the trip we’d be doing the next day. The trip through a bald eagle preserve that Chris and I would be guiding the next day! Along the way to the put in as Dave was trying to explain to us, in a really hard to follow way what was going on, we saw Jill on her bike returning from a ride she had just done. We told Dave that Jill was our friend and he instantly began honking his horn and yelling out the window at Jill to get in the van and come with us. Seconds later we were back on our way, Jill’s bike locked to a nearby tree, and now all four of us and Dave heading into a deeper confusion.
Turns out that Dave was one of the most bizarre people you could ever imagine. Complete stress case, complete control freak, and completely high energy at all times. By far the most unorganized person I’ve ever met and the most difficult to follow along with when he’s trying to present an idea.
The dilemma was that the following day his company was supposed to be putting 40 or more people down the river, but he only had himself and one other guide lined up to row boats and teach the people everything they can about local history, geography, geology, biology, and most importantly about the eagles in the area which make up the highest concentration of bald eagles in the world. We moved back and forth all night. Moving boats, blowing up boats, organizing life jackets, and trying to follow the completely illogical thought process of this total freak who we were now working for. Luckily for us Dave had a guide named Mike who was really cool and really know what he was doing and basically ran the show. Time and time again that night Mike seemed to straighten things out just in time before Dave screwed them up beyond repair.
Dave was so excited when we first told him that we’d do the trip that he instantly pulled out $100 and handed it to us while we were still standing beside our van at the campground. At that time this seemed like a pretty sweet deal. We got to do a river trip and get paid a bit for it. Seemed like a pretty fun way to spend our last day in Haines. After we finally got back to camp that night though it hardly seemed like a good deal anymore. All four of us had worked for 3 hours and the trip still wasn’t happening until the next day. Jill had been recruited to ride the ferry over to Skagway in the morning to pick up the people who would be coming over to Haines from a cruise ship. Jen was offered a “free” ride down the river if she just came along and did what she could to help out, but it was clear from the events of this first night that helping out could pretty much include anything and likely would include everything. Chris and I were to each row a boat with 9 or 10 passengers and tell them interesting facts about the area and eagles and what not. Unfortunately Dave didn’t really tell us anything useful about all this stuff so we pretty much had no clue what to say.
So this was our situation as we went off to bed our last night in Haines. We had no idea what the next day would bring but we knew it was going to be weird.
We were supposed to remain at the campground until about 9:00 the next morning when Dave was going to meet up with us and let us know what the plan was. About 7:30 he showed up to tell us that the plan was pretty much still the same and that he’d be back at 9:00. His obnoxiously loud, high energy voice wasn’t really the best thing to be woken up to, and as I crawled out of the tent and watched him drive away I began to think very seriously about just packing everything up and leaving for Juneau, hoping to never be reminded of this situation again.
It wasn’t obviously the going down the river that bothered me. I was in fact quite excited for that. Even dealing with the customers and pretending that I knew much of anything about the river or the eagles seemed kind of exciting. My apprehension about our situation was completely fueled by my distaste of being involved with this man. The weird thing was that in many ways I really liked Dave. He had a level of energy that was fun to be around and he just seemed to be always in a good mood and even though he was stressed out about everything he didn’t seem to have any fear or doubt that everything would work out smoothly. Working with him though was nightmarish. He changed his mind about everything at least 3 or 4 times and was a complete control freak in every situation.
Anyway, the time came. Jill went and got the customers on the ferry. Some of them showed up early. Not because they made a mistake I don’t think, but because Dave in his constant confusion had told them the wrong time. 2 other customers also showed up that Dave had completely forgotten about. When he came by our site at 9:00 he recruited Chris to drive a bus and sent Jen and I up to meet Mike at the put in to get everything ready. And so we waited at the put in. We were ready to launch but Dave, Chris, Jill, and all the customers were nowhere to be seen. Finally they showed up on the buses and the trip was on. From here things went amazingly smooth. Chris nor I really knew what we were doing but we did what we could and with the help of some laid back and fun customers on our boats things went off pretty well. In the constant confusion of the 24 hours leading up to the actual trip it didn’t seem like there was any chance that everything was going to work out and then somehow it all just did. Everyone made it down the river and back to the ferry and aside from the confusion and disorganization that Chris, Jen, Jill, and I had to deal with it almost seemed (not quite, but almost) like a well planned trip.
So we were done with Haines. Dave paid us $20 more at the very end and we walked away. I still haven’t been able to decide if this experience was one of my favorite of our trip or my least favorite but it was certainly the strangest and most unpredictable.
So now after a really fun ride over to Juneau on the ferry we are out of the control of Dave the freak and things really aint so bad.
Our arrival here in Juneau didn’t go as smoothly as hoped but worked out in the end. At one point yesterday we were split up into 3 different groups with none of us really knowing where the others were. Turned out Chris was at the Super 8 hotel, Jill was wandering around downtown and Jen and I were still back in Auck Bay near the ferry terminal trying to hitchhike into town. Eventually though we all met up at the library and have since spent the better part of the past 24 hours just kicking around between downtown Juneau and our campsite a mile out of town. Juneau’s a depressing town really, that has hardly anything going for it other than government jobs and cruise ship business, but we’re making our best here and things certainly could be worse. We could be back in Haines at the mercy of crazy Dave with no idea what would come next.
The weird thing though is that I kind of miss being there in Haines messed up in that situation. It was confusing and hard to deal with, but also a nice change to have no predictability like we so often have had over the past several weeks. And once we were floating down the river the whole mess suddenly seemed worth it. It was just a float trip, no rapids, but it was my first time on the river in over a year and that part of the situation made me quite happy.