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Random Alaska Stories

Discussion in 'Non-Vegas Trip Reports' started by wasilla, Mar 20, 2020.

  1. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    My Trip Report

    I moved to Alaska in the early 80's. I thought some of you might be interested in some stories. I figured that I would start with how I got up here. If people like the story, I can add some more.

    I was a Psychology Major in Tucson which was were I grew up. I hated living in Tucson. I had left college a few times looking for something better. I didn't have any money so I would hitchhike and sleep wherever. The first time I tried to get to Alaska, I was stopped at the Canadian border with Washington. No matter how persuasive my appeal, I could not convince these Canadians that the $20 in my pocket would get me through their country.

    A couple years later, I was done with school. Most of my friends were engineers and were flying around the country for job interviews. I had no prospects and no direction. I did have over $200 saved. That May, I hitchhiked to Seattle and bought a deck class ticket on the Alaska State Ferry. The ferry was leaving the next day so I rolled out my sleeping bag in a nearby lot and boarded the next morning.

    Cabins and car space is limited and more expensive. Deck class though, is a gift from Heaven to a budget traveler. An Alaskan cruise for a couple hundred dollars. Lots of people took advantage of this. There were all sorts of people from all sorts of places to talk to. A lot of people didn't have cars. Rather than compete for rides, I started chatting people up. I found a guy who would take me from Haines AK, through Canada, and onto Anchorage for $20.

    It was light most of the day. I spent my days looking at the scenery, talking to folks and drinking whatever wine and nibbling whatever food I'd bought at the last port. The Alaska ferry system is the transportation for Alaska towns along the Inside Passage. It was a sunny May and I found the whales and eagles, and ice bergs, and sea otters, and seals annnnd …. just beyond mesmerizing. I was a wanderer wandering into someplace I wanted to stay at. This was suppose to be a trip looking for a summer job, but it already felt bigger than that.

    People could sleep anywhere on the boat. I just rolled out my sleeping bag in a covered section of the deck. Some people had pitched their tent, and many others preferred to sleep in the common areas inside. Meals were sold, but most of us ate and drank what we bought in port.

    The boat would dock for varying lengths of time. We would get off the boat and tour the town. On our last stop before Haines, I decided to stick with my ride. He really liked exploring the town and ignored my suggestions that we get back to the boat. We were already late and I would have ditched him if my backpack wasn't locked in his truck. I finally got him back to the ferry. They were already pulling the walkway, but put it back for us. A dockworker scolded us as we boarded.

    We docked at Haines and most people disembarked. We passed maybe a dozen hitchers as .we drove out of the area. I figured the $20 was well spent. It turns out that my ride had several firearms stashed in his truck. He was moving to Anchorage and the truck bed was packed. Canadians take smuggling guns into their country pretty seriously. We didn't declare anything and fortunately they didn't search the truck.

    I don't remember a lot of details about my first days in Anchorage. I found a disconnected trailer (the type that semis pull) that hadn't seemed to have moved awhile by a Fred Meyer's in midtown. My 2nd or 3rd night there, someone came by asking about a previous resident. He must have vacated before I moved in, but he had a place to stay if he showed again. Canary's were hiring. If I didn't find a job soon, I'd hitch south for the fishing season.

    I had spent some summers working residential treatment for kids. Turned out an agency was hiring. The menial wage they were paying seemed a kings ransom to me. I had a big smile on my face and the guy offering me the job explained that in Alaska it mattered how much money you made.

    My life in Alaska had began.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2020
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  2. bill82003

    bill82003 Tourist

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    Always a great story just like the rest of your posts.
     
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  3. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    Not sure if you're looking for 'other' stories ... yours is already fascinating. I'll add a bit of mine ...

    My father was in charge of Alaska fisheries for BC Packers (we lived in Vancouver) in the 50s. Summers, he spent in the panhandle in charge of the fishing. For three summers, when I was very young, we took the P&O boat (I think, not a regular ferry) to Prince Rupert, then a small float plane to Petersburg. My memories are vague, but I do recall a black bear walking down Main street; a small movie theatre; and pretty much wilderness.

    In the 4th summer, he was asked to move to Seattle to run their USA operation. We moved there for 10 months, but bailed and went back to Vancouver as I began Gr. 1

    As you know, my trip this May has been put on hold (currently trying to get back some $$ for ressies I had made post cruise). Hoping to make it in May/21.

    GG
     
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  4. Drewm1972

    Drewm1972 VIP Whale

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    Ooooo good story please continue!! Never been to Alaska but always wanted to....
     
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  5. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    Thanks Drewm1972 and bill82003. Guess I'll tell another story this weekend.
    Thanks for the cool story GamblingGolfer. Hopefully people will follow your lead. This might turn into a fun thread.
     
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  6. NittyOne

    NittyOne High-Roller

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    Very cool story, would love to hear more about your Alaska travels.

    Edit: I suppose I’m not surprised I said Vegas.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2020
  7. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    Fast forward several years. I'm still working at the same agency and am alternating 3 day and 4 day work weeks. If I take 3 days off, I can take a 10 day trip. I'm taking these 3 or 4 times a year.

    I had found a whitewater kayaker that was selling his kayak and all his gear for a song. He was like 6 1/2 feet tall. He capsized once and his head bounced off the shallow river bottom as he was swept down river. Turned out that white water kayaking wasn't for me either, but I found someone selling an older style high volume ocean kayak with some gear and a paddle for $600. I loved ocean kayaking. I joined a water sports club, Knick Kanoers and Kayakers, and yes it was abbreviated "KKK." They weren't racists, but were tone deaf for a time. I went on sponsored week end trips with them and found some paddling partners. I eventually moved to longer trips that I allotted 10 days for, and these were mostly solo. An Alaskan solo kayaker needs to move when the weather allows it. This next story is about that.

    I was paddling solo in northern Prince William sound. Back then I had to take a train to Whittier and carry my boat to the dock. The whole town lived in a single condo building. There are weird things about Alaska. After a few days, I had beached on a small Island. The sound is really wet. Most of the camping is done on beaches above the high tide mark. Obviously being able to read tide lines and charts is imperative.

    I've got a great spot. I'm the only one on the island and I haven't seen anyone for a couple days. I'm loving the view and the solitude. I have a radio that allows me to call for help and get weather forecasts. A storm is going to move through. I decide to stay put tomorrow. The next day, I'm sitting on the beach. I probably have a beer and a book. I liked reading authors like Conrad and Melville tell their turn of the century adventures. I could never get through more than a few pages without gazing back at the sound. The seas and wind was building and I saw something on the water. It was a solo kayak hauling ass for my beach. By the time he reached it, there was an entire flotilla in view. I now had company with about a dozen kids and 4 adults.

    I was good with it. When the weather turns bad, it's any port in a storm. I thought it was stupid of them to be out that day and got their story. Turns out that the guy who left his group and got to the beach first was the leader and guide. He had enrolled in one of those national leadership wilderness schools and had been on a month long kayaking trip last summer. He figured that qualified him to lead a group of English school kids out here.

    While the serenity was blown, it was entertaining to watch the group. They moved to the other side of the island, but the island was small. They hadn't brought stoves. I considered that foolish. It's hard to find firewood in the sound as a lot of it was wet even on a sunny day. Driftwood on the beach, is usually good if it's there, but anything on the ground above the beach is usually wet and rotting. It was raining and blowing now. The storm had arrived. I like being on the beach during a storm.

    The next morning, I was hanging out in my tent, covered with my sleeping bag and reading my book. The wind and rain had been replaced with a constant drizzle. My neighbors scoured the entire island looking for firewood and trying to get a fire going to cook their breakfast. The process went on for hours. Around midafternoon, one of the adult chaperones told the kids what he was going to write in his journal for the day's entry: "Got up. Made breakfast. Went to bed." It's the funniest thing I ever heard anyone say in Prince William Sound.

    I really remember this story because of that guy's comment. I think I paddled away the next day. Don't know to where. I've spent months of my life in this Sound and most things run together after all these years.
     
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  8. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    Glacier Bay was a gorgeous place. It gets his name after all the glaciers it contains. Glaciers are receding here, so the places I visited 20+ years ago are different now. This bay is at the end of the Inside Passage NW of Juneau. It was a mini journey just to get there.

    I drove the same roads I had originally traveled on my original journey to Anchorage over a decade before. This time I went to Skagway instead of Haines. Skagway was the start of the old gold miners' trail that went over the mountains to the headwater lakes of the Yukon River. I decided to climb the trail. The view was spectacular, but it was taxing. When I got to the top, I was amazed at how close the Yukon headwaters were to the sea. Yet the waters fed the Yukon and traveled like a thousand miles before draining.

    The next day the ferry arrived and I carried my kayak aboard. I left my car parked in Skagway. The Ferry doesn't go to Glacier Bay. It did dock at a small village on an island across from the bay.. Paddling in the Inside Passage required an extra consideration. The ebb and flow of tides created currents as the water constricted and rushed through narrow passages. I had read stories of white water conditions. I waited for slack tide to make my crossing.

    I made my crossing without incident. At the mouth of the bay is a nice lodge and a ranger station. I had dinner at the lodge and camped out till morning. Glacier Bay is a national park and I had to register before entering. There were rules. You had to keep your food in beer proof containers which they supplied. If you had a gun, it had to be sealed. Guess they didn't want us shooting the bears. I didn't have a gun anyway. My sole defense was a can of bear spray.They also had prohibited camping on the closest beaches because of bears. This was a surprise. I was getting a late start. Besides the registration, carrying a bear proof container required some serious repacking of my boat.

    The scenery was pretty and the seas were calm. If I had a place to sleep, it would have been perfect. The beaches I was passing, though, prohibited camping. I paddled through the night. It was light again by the time I got to a beach that I could camp on. I landed my boat and checked the beach out. There was bear sign, more than I'd seen before. Still, I was exhausted and, if bears were a problem here, they would have shut down this beach as well. I pulled out my tent and sleeping bag for a nap. The tide was just starting to go out, so I could leave my kayak where it was. I left my food and other stuff in the boat.

    Within 20 minutes, I heard noise behind my tent. I got up to check it out. Turns out that just above my beach was a heavily traveled bear trail. I had camped at bear central. I had heard about bears tearing things apart to get to food. I didn't want them ripping apart my kayak and decided the I needed to do something about having that bear proof container in my boat.

    I walked to my kayak pondering my options. When I turned around there were 2 large blonde bears between me and my tent. They had stopped when I turned around, but I hadn't heard them. The bigger and closest of the two, just stood looking at me. I'd run into bears in the past and wasn't particularly frightened by them. This felt a bit more ominous. I said something to the bear. He cocked his head and slowly started walking towards me. Now I was scared. I had my bear spray, but their was a 20 knot wind blowing into my face. I'd just be spraying myself. Kind of seasoning myself for these bears. I realized that he couldn't smell or hear me and was probably just curious. I told him to get away from me in a much louder and assertive voice. He and his friend walked away.

    I was no longer tired. It only took me a couple minutes to take my tent down, pack up, and paddle away.
     
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  9. JennJenn

    JennJenn Low-Roller

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    Loving these stories Wasilla! Thank you so much! I welcome all the stories you have! Alaska sounds amazing and when this is all over, it's on our list to come visit. The sooner the better!
     
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  10. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    Great story, @wasilla! I've been to Glacier Bay on a cruise ship (to watch the calving of the glacier) and seen bears from afar there. I've had much more close encounters in the Rockies and other mountains of BC and the western USA.

    Keep the stories coming. They're fascinating!

    GG
     
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  11. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    Thanks JennJenn.

    GamblingGolfer, you apparently have more Alaska stories to tell and a thread to tell them on. Hint, hint!
     
  12. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    Sadly, not really. I was very young when I lived there. The only other thing of note is my memory of flying from Rupert to Petersburg in a very small float plane. When we were directly above it, he suddenly winged over and went straight down. It must have made an impression as I can clearly remember it some 65 years later!

    GG

    PS @wasilla - I sent you a DM question.
     
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  13. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    To expand on the Alaska cruise ten yours ago .... we stopped in Ketchikan (wandered around their waterfront, Juneau (hired a car to Medenhall glacier) and Skagway (took the train to the to the border; spectacular ride up the mountain great views).

    Probably the highlights were Tracy Arm, a long fjord with ever decreasing width. At the end, the ship actually spins on a spot to turn around. Spectacular scenery.

    In Glacier Bay, a ranger/naturalist boards and provides commentary. At the end of the bay, the ship slowly spins as large chunks of ice 'calve' off the glacier. Tremendous, both visually and aurally. Bears are often spotted on the shore nearby.

    GG
     
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  14. Geogran

    Geogran Whooo. Whooo.

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    Hi @GamblingGolfer - your cruise sounds identical to one we took, same ports etc. Glacier Bay is stunning and so glad we got to spend 3 hours in there, was not prepared for how overwhelming it was, like living history in a very real way.

    And @wasilla - when you write the book, you need to you know, I would like to buy an autographed copy! This is a fun and interesting thread. Two cruises to Alaska leave me wanting more, but alas age dictates cruises and not hands on experiences lol.
     
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  15. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    Yes, @Geogran - stunning scenery. We were supposed to be re-visiting this May on Celebrity (one way, then spend some time in Anchorage/Denali, then fly home. My part in this thread is related to a conversation @wasilla and I have had about that part of the trip. Hopefully, we can go in 2021.

    GG
     
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  16. Geogran

    Geogran Whooo. Whooo.

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    @wasilla is a great story teller! Makes it easy to visualize his experiences!
     
  17. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    You guys are really nice with your compliments..

    Today's story is a hitchhiking story, but it's an Alaska hitchhiking story.

    When I first moved up here I didn't have much money. I eventually moved into a 2 bedroom apartment with some coworkers. We kept adding roommates until there were 5 of us living there. I like a bit of privacy, so I moved my mattress into the pantry. For a while, we had one car between us. I considered it all pretty normal. I was excited to explore my new state and hitchhiked as far as Fairbanks on my days off.

    This day I wanted to go to Portage Glacier. Its a pretty and accessible glacier a little south of Anchorage. I got a ride pretty quickly. My ride and I hit it off. I was pretty adventurous in those days and my curiosity about things would win people over. It turned out that he was a pilot heading for the airfield were his plane was parked. He was going flying to enjoy the gorgeous day, and said that he would fly me to the glacier. This fell into the realm of awesomely awesome. Not only had I hitched a ride on a plane, but he flew over the glacier for a while and the view was magnificent. It was sunny and I could see the blue rippled ice. I had never been in a plane of any kind before. He eventually landed close to the glacier. I got out of my ride just as I had a hundred times before, said my thanks and good byes, and moved on.

    I was looking at the glacier like everyone else now. I didn't feel like I was everyone else, though. I'm sure that I eventually caught a ride, or a number of rides back home. My memory fades after I got out of the plane.

    I thought that this guy had given me an unforgettable experience, but life moves on. I hadn't thought about it for years until GG told the plane story here.

    I'll come up with something more wildernessey for tomorrow.
     
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  18. wasilla

    wasilla High-Roller

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    This story is about a trip to northern Prince William Sound.

    My least favorite thing about ocean kayaking is breaking camp in the morning, especially when it's raining. This is a sunny morning, and I can leave my camp standing. I had camped yesterday on a good beach at the mouth of a fiord. There was a good view, plenty of firewood, and good water. About 10 miles away, this fiord ends with a tide water glacier. Tide water glaciers actually have glacier ice that that goes to the salt water. They are spectacular, and I'll be telling you why I think that.

    I didn't cook a breakfast. I had bagels, nuts, and cheese to eat in my kayak. I actually threw all my food in the boat to keep it from bears. The bottom of the boat also acts as a refrigerator. I had 10 hotdogs to roast for later. I had about 10 miles to paddle. None of it was a chore. Both sides of the fiord were steep and mountainous. Waterfalls were everywhere. The crashing water makes deserted fiords noisier than one might imagine. This was pre-oil spill and soaring eagles were a common sites. The winds and seas were calm this morning, but that usually changes for sunny afternoons. After paddling several miles, I started passing the remnants of larger ice bergs floating with the tide and wind. The ice got denser and I eventually had to maneuver to get through it. Most of a berg is actually underwater and can turn as it melts. I stopped at what I considered a safe distance from the glacier's face. There are stories of people that paddle right up to the face. Some are crushed by the calving ice. I'd love to touch the face of a glacier, but I'm close enough.

    The face is massive and I'm a speck. All that blue ice is overwhelming. In the distance, I can see some seals are hauled out on the ice. The main attraction, though, is the ice. The sun is hitting the glacier face and ice is breaking off every few minutes. I'm alone here and hours pass. At one point, a tour boat approaches the glacier on the other side of the fiord. They don't get much closer to the face than I am. I can hear their PA system, but can't make out any words. They look like a toy boat. These tours advertise seeing a bunch of glaciers, so even though this is spectacularly spectacular, they don't stay long.

    Because the sides are so steep, the sun's rays disappear long before it gets dark. When this happens, the melting water in the glaciers cracks refreeze. Now the serious calving begins. The pace and size increases and it is pretty exciting to witness. The crashing ice sends ripples out to me. What a great day this is. All of a sudden, an office building chunk of ice breaks off in front of me. Immediately a wave rises up. It looks steep and it's flipping over icebergs as it passes. There is nothing measurable out here, so I can only guess at how tall the wave is. It will shrink as the energy dissipates to the northern side of the fiord, but it might actually steepen and reflect when it hits the steep shoreline on my side. I'm not panicked, but not convinced that I'm safe. I decide that I'm better off facing the wave and backpaddle. Even if it's worse than I anticipate, I should be able to brace my paddle into it and ride over it. It was exciting seeing all the icebergs knocking together as it approached, but it didn't take any fancy paddle strokes to cope with it. I did some more backstroking and watched some more. I later taught rehabilitative classes in prison and used this as an analogy as to how powerful the ripple effect can be.

    Eventually, the calving slowed. It would be getting dark soon. That wasn't a big deal, but I wanted to enjoy the scenery on my paddle back to camp and headed back. The wind was blowing off the glacier and building. With the tailwind, I was flying. The water I was in was relatively smooth, but I could see whitecaps on my left. They were creeping closer and closer, until I was in them. The seas were building past 3 feet. This wasn't the issue though. The problem was that they were steep. A kayaker stays upright by having his paddle in the water. The move were a panicked paddler just clutches his paddle is jokingly referred to as an "air brace." For a few seconds, my kayak was being blown along on the top of waves so steep that my paddle could no longer reach the water. All I could do to keep my balance was to shift my body weight. I passed a point, the waves flattened a little, and I moved into more protected water. A lone whale swam up the fiord in the distance. The return trip was 3 times faster than my outgoing one and I still had a little daylight. I was thirsty, cracked open a Pepsi, and poured it over 100's years old glacier ice. The ice pops and crackles. I built a fire, opened a Prince William Sound cooled beer, and started roasting hotdogs on a stick. It was twilight now and I could just make out a porcupine sauntering along my beach.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
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  19. GamblingGolfer

    GamblingGolfer High-Roller

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    Fascinating, @wasilla - what an experience!

    GG
     
  20. 93 Octane

    93 Octane Chief bottle washer

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    May have missed your description but what is a safe distance a kayaker abides by when watching a calving. Fantastic stories keep em coming.