Man, this is complicated, getting away for 3 weeks to Alaska! Fortunately, Mike has made logistics easy: I meet the rest of the group in Haines Ak on July 2 at about 10 am when they fly in from Juneau. How I get there is up to me. Now the fanatasy starts: finish my JC geology class at 2 pm, mail in the grades, and head for home to do the final packing. Sweet Kate, my true love, has sewn up a fleece sleeping bag liner for me, I have spent about $300 on fleece garments, film, a new lens, etc. dutifully paid for by a last-minute consulting gig with my friends the Benziger family winery. Kate feeds me some salmon salad, and makes a great sandwich of same for the road. A last passionate embrace and I am off into the night, the rr in great shape with new front tires, sailing past a slowpoke on the Mt st Helena road passing on the curves on the right, what that car was made to do! Lake County flashes by, and the long dark road to Williams yeilds to the busyiness of I-5, trucks, travellers, campers, all flashing by me in reverse at 75 mph. I take dutiful breaks at the rest areas, and still am cooking past Redding and up into the Sac. river canyon, bedding down along the pacific crest trail on a back road next to a stream, far from the noise of the trains and highway in my snug new fleece bag.
Up and off after a nights sleep, to Mt Shasta city for yogurt and apples and peptobismol and imodium D all the weapons for what ails me. Shasta rears up into the clouds, and I picture Black Butte, a great dacite dome, and the main mountain from many angles through Weed and off to Yreka, towns flashing by at 75 mph with the new speed limit and new michelins on my side. Oregon is a blanket of green and rain pours down the Willamette valley, I realize this is a forearc basin with local uplifts, a realistic example of Plate tectonics, a great place in the scheme of convergent boundaries. More pix at an unlikely truck stop, unleashing the telephoto/macro lens bought for the trip.
On the road again, around Portland in major traffic and head for the Olympic Penninsula. A sign "fireworks" catches my eye high up on a roadcut along rt 101 towards Port Angeles, and I make a side trip to find the Indian fireworks stands going crazy with totally cool rockets, firecrackers, M 150s (under the table, sold by a guy with his hand half blown off) and the joy of the 4th. I get some oysters in Quilcene, and pull into the Stabile's driveway just in time for a great bbq and party down with old friends.
Rising early, I start to go over all my stuff, repacking finally for the flight to Juneau tomorrow. 2 red bags, one with sleeping and everyday stuff, one labelled "warm and dry" for the wet times that have to come ahead, another 2 duffels with life jacket, tent, etc. I pull out the tent, and realize with a sinking sensation that the tent poles are not here, rendering it useless! My heart bounces off the bottom, then rebounds as I rush inside and call Sam, he is now my neighbor, and doesn't leave until monday, tomorrow. Sure enough, he is there, and finds the poles in my barn, and all is well. We embark for breakfast with a blues guitar-harmonica scene at an upstairs bar "sirens" on the waterfront. Take in the view, the ambience of Port Townsend, and great blues from a Caz local who has followed Bill Stabile to PT.
The day is shining, and puffy clouds cover the Olympics and the bay as I cruise down to the Kingston ferry, wait 3 ferrys long for the weekend crowd to filter through with a Jesus rock band and lotsa partiers. 3 punks play their stereo very loud behind me and smoke cigarettes, but they have some great 70s and 80s stuff, so I kick back and relax. Arriving at Andy's place, he has left a note and I walk a block to a major party going on. Meet the aging yuppies of Seattle, very interesting people, survived the 60s and now are making the most of their lives. Salmon on the grill, good wine and bbq and conversation. I realize as I tell of my plans that there is much envy out there. "What the hell?" I reason, " if I don't do it someone else will have all the fun instead of me and that isnt fair if it is within my power to make it otherwise! So I'm going north to Juneau, then ferry to Haines then spend 12 days on the Tatshenshini River and then return to Seattle to Kate and drive home via Olympic Penninsula and Mt. St Helens then meet KK and do the Rogue river for 5 days. " Hmm.
Andy's girl friend drives us around, and we end up on the parent's houseboat with Jody, his sister and another old friend. We hang on the houseboat, then head home, do a deal, drink some more wine and head off to bed.
Bright and early up, Monday morning in Seattle, still nice weather, and to the airport with 4 bags, check onto Alaskan flight. But the curbside will only accept 3 bags, so I shoulder one red bag to carry on, and head for the gate. After several passes through the metal guard and all but stripping down to get approved, I gain the gate, only to be told to check my red bag as I get onto the plane, fine... We are off on schedule, and head north into the clouds over Puget Sound, volcanos covered. Things clear up about 1./2 way through the flight and we descend to Juneau airport to bright sun and silver puffy clouds. Even out the window of the plane all I can see is mountains! Big, small, cascades, snow, glaciers, all my favorite things. The Mendenhall Glacier is front and center as I deplane outside, and I must be there. I walk into the airport head spinning, how to do it? And there are the rental car booths, and a lightbulb flashes. If Im only paying$7 for a night in the hostel, why not rent a car? I try Avis, they are too expensive, but National comes up with an economy Tercel with a UC discount, and I am outta there heading to the glacier, free of all worry logistics. After a visit to a tiny visitors center, the main center is closed for remodel, I drive to the west side of the lake and head up the trail to the glacier. It looks like 3-4000 feet in the White Mountains, with timberline above. The trail is wet and Im glad I have my Limmers and ski poles. Just like the Whites, I gain a bald knob that pokes out into the glacier, way above. No way to get out on the ice, planned by the Forest Service, afraid of accidents and lawsuits. The view is spectacular, 270 degrees of ice, with an icefall in front, crevasses lacing the front, and the mass constantly moving, grumbling, alive.
(image) I cruise back, and drive into Juneau, 1/2 hour late for my appointment with Amy Rodman, a high school student who wrote me on the internet 2 weeks ago for information about geology major at SSU. I track her down in her Parent's liquor store, and we repair to Valentine's coffee shop with my first (and not last) Alaskan Amber Ale. We talk long about life as a geologist, possibilities for her education, and her life in Alaska. Her parents fetch her as the place closes, and I head to the hostel, finding it easily. A cosy place, shoes off at the door, a nice hostelkeeper, kitchen, people of all shapes and sizes hanging out. I sign in, find my bunk, an upper saggy one with 8 others, and shower and nap for a while. Another guy comes in and I find he has a corkscrew, and we use it on my wine bottle, a gift from Andy. I am free now in the car and eschew down town madness, thousands of tourists off of 4 cruise ships throng the streets. I head back into a canyon above town and get a glow on and eat my chicken breast sandwich and tour the old mining museum, talk with some miners, very friendly people here. Drive back and across the harbor and north to a great sunset viewing place. I am rewarded by a spectacular scene of mountains far off up the passage I will make tomorrow on the ferry. Wispy red clouds and sawtooth mountains top it off.
People come and go, finishing sea kayaking trips, picnics on the beach, and general partying. I realize it is getting late- sun sets here at 10:30 pm, so I repair to the hostel which closes doors at 11 pm. I hang out in the kitchen and meet a guy from Santa Cruz on his way north. Another with a British accent is headed on the same ferry tomorrow, and I offer to drive him there if he guards my stuff while I return the car and catch the bus from the airport to the ferry terminal. Everything is spread out along a thin arm of sea, the airport is 9 miles from Juneau downtown, and the ferry terminal is 5 miles north of the airport. My plans made, I sack out after looking at maps and trying to find one that shows the whole tat trip, but none are present, either Canada or Alaska but not both.
A typical hostel night, with some guy whimpering in his sleep, but that is short and there are no major snorers. I zone out and wake at first light, which I find is 4:30 am, the birds are still chirping at that ungodly hour. I dig out my eye pillow and earplugs and rack for another couple hours. 7 am finds people stirring, getting ready to leave. I find some awful coffee in the kitchen and head downtown to valentine's for a mocha and a pastry, very mellow place, Joni on the stereo, few people slurping coffee. The paper has a story of 2 people killed and 14 injured in a climbing accident near Anchorage. This is a dangerous place. Legislative cutbacks hurting the University, same headlines in California. I walk the docks now deserted, checking out the cruise ships and gift shops just opening for the day. I get some cheep baubles for the troops at home and some postcards to impress all. The town is deserted but the camera shop is open, and I find 2 more 36 exposure rolls of ASA 200 ektachrome to round out my film stash.
Back at the Hostel, everyone is packing, up and at it, getting ready to get kicked out at 9 am. Families, old and young mill around. I find Seb at bkfst and we renew our pledge to shop and head for the ferry at 9. We pack up, me with 4 bags and some carry on, and he with one pack, headed for a backpack on the Chilkat trail, the old gold rush route from Skagway into the Yukon. After buying some major rubber work gloves, and a special trip for steel wool for fireworks we head off up the sound to the ferry terminal. Few there, not even the ferry, and I find my ticket reserved for me, and Seb buys his. I leave him in charge of the duffell and return to the airport with the car, watching the ferry pull in from points south. MGT Mendenhall Glacier Transit is about 20 minutes late picking us up, but the old rattletrap bus with a great vietnam vet ponytailed driver make the rounds and we head off. The helicopters are buzzing down from another trip with tourists to the icefields. $150 for the 1/2 hour trip. Vet laughs and says " Man, I can think of lots better things todo with money like that. Like what? I ask. Like going to Daytona for the races and buying 3 cases of beer, 4 steaks and a bottle of tequila and getting smashed watching the races!" To each his own, I think. I like the character of the people here, they are very down to earth and friendly, not afraid to say what they think.
I head right for the ferry "Matanuska", passing the baggage cart, but not seeing my bags. Strange. Well Im sure Seb is on board with the stuff, so I hike the parking lot, cars now packing in, jockying for position to get on board, and give my ticket to a white-bearded captain type after exchanging pleasentries, a tradition in these parts. People want to get to know you before doing business, and a short but meaningful conversation is always in order, you get more information that way. I walk the decks of the ferry, finding a loving couple to guard my camera stuff in the recliner lounge, and securing a chair on the Solarium deck, where the young people are hanging out, tents pitched on the deck, sleeping bags on recliner chairs under a shelter roof, and grand views all about. I search for Seb, but no sign on board, so I get paranoid about my stuff and walk the plank to shore, check in with the pursar and head across to the terminal. Seb appears, long strides in shorts and boots and an aussie hat, looking like the great white hunter, heading for the ferry. He had closly guarded the stuff until the baggage cart was ready to leave and now was ready to board. We return the the fantail, and he admires the pulchritude all about, now with the sun out, tops come off and near-naked bodies are writhing around on the deck, jockying for position in the sun. These folks have been on since Prince Rupert, BC, travelling the cheap way up the coast, in steerage as it were, but comfort, and splendor. I remind myself that this is unusual Alaska weather, and we will be rained on more the more sun we have, but that will come tomorrow, today is another sparkling clear day. Puffy clouds onthe mountains, we head up the Lynn Canal, with monster mountains, glaciers, cascades, eagles and an occaisional Orca bringing throngs to the rail. A shaved head dude with earring tells me the night before they saw a huge humpback whale roll and then flap its tail right alongside the ferry. This sounds like a great trip to do.
Seb and I talk, turns out he is a geologist, degree in geophysics from Cambridge, and does seismic interpretation on ships in the SE pacific for 6-8 months of the year, then has vacation and money to travel for the rest of the year. Some life he has, no attachments, good money, great travel opportunities. The scenery floats by, and an occasional sailboat or fishing craft. A picturesque lighthouse in the middle of nowhere frames a shot of an Orca, bringing oohs and ahhs from the crowd. I settle in with the walkman and a Tony Hillerman novel and watch the mountians, trying to guess at the geology. I become fascinated with the fact there are so many mountains here, I could never hope to climb them all in my lifetime. A 3-stage waterfall, at least as high as Yosemite glides by, with some perfectly U-shaped glacial valleys. I finish the Hillerman, one of the better, early ones, and make a note to get an Alaskan novel in Haines, to find the local bookstore should not be a problem. We pass a glacier and the water is suddenly cloudy, with the glacial flour and silt ground up and carryed off by the water.
Haines appears on the left, and we round a point to the ferry terminal. I say good luck to Seb, we exchange addresses, and I am off up the ramp, grab the first telephone and call the Halsingland hotel, they are on their way, and Stan Boor, who will drop by the coolers and drop bag we are renting for the trip at my room later on. I make friends with the driver and we cruise into town stopping for a brief look at 4 eagles wheeling high in the sky. "This is nothing, he says, you should see it during the migration in October, thousands of eagles fill the sky as they return to the Chilkat eagle preserve just upstream, there is even a local eagle festival!" I vow to return for this event. The Halsingland is a quaint older hotel, used to be batchelor's quarters for officers for Fort Seward, an army out post across theroad. The Parade grounds are still there, and I haul the chair out and some juice and vodka for an evening libation before going out on the town. It takes about an hour to walk around the town and fort seward. I find the store, bookstore, liquor store and Chilkat guides, home of Bart Henderson, down at the docks. Returning, Stan has been by and dropped off the coolers, which I wrestle into the room. I repair to the bar and have a great dinner, 3-gun salute, halibut fish and salad with several pints of alaskan amber (on tap here) and listen to the boatman banter with some boatwomen getting very wasted, complaining about having to go on the river tomorrow. I get a call in the bar from Stan, checking up on logistics for tomorrow. I missed him, would have been nice to have a beer and shoot the merde, but I still am tired, and repair to the room, listen to more Beethoven on the walkman, and read the love book ("a natural history of love, diane ackerman," a gift from Kate) and fall quickly asleep.
Morning comes very early, 4:30 the birds are singing, and I roll over, put the earplugs in and the eye pillow (2 essential items for travel) and catch a few more hours. Up at 8, organizing the last time for the river. Coffee and a great roll at a little coffee stand down the hill, one of the boatwomen from last night staggers in, very hung over, and I make a comment about partying too hard. Then Bart's other boatmen show up with trailers of boats, headed off for a trip that day, they all have two-way radios and cell phones, a new development in river-running gear. I make a pass at the office, but he isn't there yet, another GC type shows up, headin down the tat in a day or two. I want to join in, but nurse my mocha on the way back, and continue organizing. I complete the process, and sit out in front in my chair with the walkman blaring Beethoven in my ears, and take in the scene. People coming and going from the hotel, a native american with a t-shirt "Fuck you, I have enough friends", kids playing golf on the parade grounds, a pair of ladies on stilts with uncle sam outfits practicing for the july 4th parade.
A pickup with two restless natives shows up with a bunch of river gear, Mike's name is on it, and they say he and the rest will be here in a bit. Excitement rises, and I retire to my chair after helping unload very heavy boxes and rafts and oar-frame bundles, all air freighted up from san Jose on Alaskan, then to Haines airways for the trip here. Two vans roll up full of people, and I glimpse Sam and know this is it, the fateful moment, meeting the rest of the 2-week blind date on the river. Mike jumps out, slender and full of energy, organizing as his feet hit the ground. I greet him, his gracious wife Donna, also full of energy, and embrace Sam, meet his friends, Bill and JT Thomas, and the rest is a blur. Randy stands out as another slender, high energy type, he is the flight nurse who will be our medic, and will row his boat. Levi and Steve, the Oregonians, are there too, they will rent another pro and we are complete. We haul all the stuff off onto the lawn by the parade grounds and start unwrapping and sorting through. They have shipped some food, special stuff for Mike and Donna's vegan diet, but there is a major food buy happening and Donna and JT and Nif, her roomate at Tahoe head off for the store in the hotel pickup while we pick up the pieces. We have to be ready to load everything on Stan's truck by 5 pm, it is now 10 am, so the pace is feverish. I connect with Al, a big, quiet guy who seems a bit apprehensive, never having been on a trip like this before, and we rent a room together, finding one for $50 to split, a lot cheaper than my $80 room last night! Should have asked if there was a cheaper room, there seems to be few people here. We climb high to the 3rd floor up under the eves and find a dark, small place with 2 beds, and dump our stuff and go down to help.
Logistics at the Halsingland Hotel, Haines, AK, Mike and Levi and Steve scratch their heads
Mike is answering a million questions, and trying to organize stuff at the same time. I help with unpacking and laying out the gear and foodstuff, offer my knife set and other things for the kitchen, lable some coolers with duct tape, and immediatly Mike thinks this is a bad idea. I come from a long tradition of labellers, after having to unpack almost every box and bag on the second day of our SNAFU 1975 Grand trip, because no one had labelled them. "Donna will be there and will know where everything is" Mike says. I note a danger signal "what happens if she is not there? She is gonna get real tired of doing all the work, we should set it up so anyone can find anything" I rejoin. Finally we work out a minimal lable system. The problem is duct tape makes marks on the coolers, which somehow never bothered me, but this is a different group with different traditions.
Mike and I have breakfast in the hotel, very good and expensive, but much needed. I wander off in search of more coffee and Bart, no luck. I walk into town and find the crew at the store, offer to help, but they are totally organized, Donna packing oranges, tomatoes and lots of other fresh stuff in boxes. I cruise to the book store "Babbleing Book" and finally settle on an Alaskan mystery novel about a woman who is a bush pilot whose husband has dissappeared in the woods. I find the cashier talking intently on the phone about a medical problem to some expert in the lower 48. I cruise the cards, and wait. I realize that people have a lot of time here, and their priorities are to take care of the important things first, and I wait patiently, doing other things, until she is through. Her boyfriend? husband comes in, a long haired woodsy lookin dude with a long knife on his belt and leather clothes. Must be something to survive up here for the winter, have to be a tough dude, which it looks like he is. Checking the schlock in the souvenier shops, I find a nice jewlery shop with insulated mugs with eagles on them and buy one for the trip, my traditional trip mug, to be cherished at home as an heirloom of trips past.
After writing some cards and a poem to Kate "your spirit" with a great eagle picture on it, I get back to the store to see the girls taking off, and I shout, stopping them, and direct them to the fish store. Here they have 4 kinds of smoked salmon and some smoked Halibut for tasting, and I buy a selection for later. They buy several salmon, frozen, smoked fresh and some halibut for our meals, and we are complete. I head down to Bart's and finally find him presiding over the office. We have a warm greeting and talk a while, but he is busy and I take off up the hill again, after checking out the local outfitters store. Things are packed and done on the hill, so I sack out for an hour before a major meeting with Stan about the boats. He has shown up and also doesn't want the duct tape on the coolers, and has moved it so it can't be read. Oh well, I tried. Mike doesn't want to buy the fire-starter sticks, but I emphasize that the boatman I had talked to said they were essential for starting fires with wet wood, which is a good probability given the time we have on the river. He relents, and adds it to a last shop list. The others have found a great market with monster sandwiches, which mysteriously come without the ingredients ordered. A crusty older dude shows up in a battered pickup and wants our business taking us to the putin, but mike says we allready have Stan, but the guy doesnt give up and pesters us a while, finally taking the hint and leaving. He must be hard up for work, as people will be in this area.
The wakeup call at 5pm comes and Al and I arrive to find Stan and his assistant, one very manly dude named Nigel, all ready to load up. We do, separating out the stuff for the Blanchard, a paddle-boat trip we are doing tomorrow down to the putin. Everyone is in high spirits, and we head for the bar, as Mike and Donna go with Stan to check out the kitchen stuff. More Alaskan Amber flows and we talk loudly of the trip and the people. Al sits down and is worried about the paddle trip tomorrow. "What are chances of someone falling out of the boat?" he asks. I think a bit, weighing the consequences of my reply, maybe he wont want to go, so I say "about 50-50" Oh, is the reply, looking a little sick. He is very green, and will bear watching. He is a big computer programmer, seems strong but has little clue of the experience he is about to have. I catch the attention of a leather-hatted crusty dude at the next table with a slight woman with curly hair looking very wildernessy. We start a conversation, and it is obvious he is not from here, and wants info. I am an instant expert, and regale him with stories of our pending trip. "Where are you from?" I finally ask. "Death Valley, actually Saline Valley, a little to the west" comes the reply. I have spent many days in the Saline myself, enjoying the desert scenery, hiking biking and 4wdriving all around and enjoying the people most of all. They all have "handles" names given them over the years. I ask him his, "Major Tom" he replies. I give a shout and prickles run up my spine, this is one of the legends of the valley, a good friend of Garbage Mike's who is a Sonoma County friend who got his name by being garbage man at Wheeler's ranch, a hippie commune in the late 60s. We have a grand union, he is travelling on the ferry, spending a few days in the campground here before going inland.
My party is gathering at a table in the main dining room, so I head in and join the banter, getting to know each other, more Alaskan Amber for me. Steve is a stocky bear of an Oregunian, with a taste for Black Velvet, talking of many trips on the rogue, the grand and hunting in the woods. He grew up in Bend, and went to the university on a wrestling and football scholarship. Now he is the union rep for a teachers union in Oregon. He is a woodsman, knows how to survive and is a great storyteller. Im finding most everyone is a good storyteller. Eli is a lawyer from Portland, and has been running rivers since the early 70s. Dyan, Steves daughter, is a female version of him, stocky and yet very feminine, but with major determination and strength. She killed her first elk at 13 years old, tender child. Bill Thomas is Sam's friend he met at the Yak Hotel in Lhasa, Tibet and did the Karkoram trail with last summer. He is a successful businessman, tall, rangy grizzled character with a quick smile and great sense of humor. His daughter is a beauty with a skiers energy, a genuine party girl, but strong and willing to pitch in. Her friend Nif is quieter, but fairhaired with a ready smile. Randy turns out to have a great sense of humor, very purposeful, and addicted to swisher sweets cigars. We party and talk at table, I down another great meal of halibut and chips with an Alaskan Amber sweet beer batter, great gomps.
A monster cruise ship has docked below the fort, and the crowds flow into town, all aglow, every place open, sucking in the tourists. I stroll off dinner down to the ship, and am astounded at the magnitude, 1000 feet long, 8 stories high, thousands of people. I walk the dock, looking up at the wall of ship, glassed in decks in the middle "Legend of the Seas" painted on the bow. "15 minutes till the big bingo playoff, come on to deck 3, and win, win, win" blares the loudspeakers as people flow back on board. All shapes, sizes and kinds, familys with kids, loving couples, old retirees, black dudes with full basketball regalia, a great melange. Back at the hotel, Stan has arrived with Mike and Donna, and we sign the boat rental agreements, give him a deposit, and go over the maps. Stan shows us the main camps, the places to hike, the places to get clear water because the main river is murky with white glacial flour, and tips on how to do it. He hasn't been down for 3 years, but was one of the pioneers with Sobek here and in Africa in the old days when they first started realizing that there were rivers on other continents and Alaska. All the phones are busy, and the phone in our room doesnt work, so I go to Sams room and call Kate, a last tender farewell before our longest hiatus. She is excited about going to Italy next summer with friends, I could go too, maybe that will be the next adventure. I find Al asleep in our garret, shower and bed down, excited at the prospect of finally getting on the river. Copyright 1997, Terry Wright
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