Alaska, Fishing

Say What? HALIBUT!

So usually I work on a post all week and aim to publish on Fridays, but there’s gonna be a special edition of Tales of the Dogfish today. It was a great day, I finally got my Alaskan halibut! Actually, I caught my limit of two, which was the two biggest of the three in the featured image of this post. To catch seventy-five pounds worth of halibut is a pretty good thing to accomplish before noon!

As I’ve stated before, Tuesdays are my days off. Last week I wanted to go halibut fishing but instead we had to go salmon trolling per boss’s orders. Last night I put in my request to go out again and permission was granted by the lead captain who oversees that kind of thing. This morning, I got to sleep in until a glorious 6:30. Captain Nick, who was my captain for the day, told me to meet him down at the dock at 7:30, so at the stated time I went down there to meet him. We headed out to sea and went in a different direction than I went last week. This time, we were free to go halibut fishing and stay out as long as I wanted, so I was stoked! The day was perfect, t-shirt weather but slightly overcast, and the water was smooth as glass.

Our destination for the day was a place called The Meadow. It was a place that has been good for big halibut lately. We got situated and made our drops. After only about 15-20 minutes of bounce-balling, Nick got a bite, and he landed a nice 10 lb halibut. We chunked it in the box and kept on fishing. After a bit, I got a big takedown and I tried to set the hook a little too soon. Unfortunately, I farmed the fish. It had some weight to it, I bet it was a big one!

Undaunted, I set back down in the same spot. Soon afterwards, I felt another tug and reeled in what’s called a yelloweye. These fish are very similar to what we know as canary rockfish down in California. Goldeneye are huge rockfish, and this one was probably eighteen inches long and around ten pounds. They are illegal to keep however, and since I brought it up from 300 feet it had barotrauma.

Barotrauma occurs when you catch a fish at depth and when you bring it to the surface the swim bladder bulges out of its mouth. It can’t swim back down due to the air expansion in its swim bladder. What you have to do is hurredly attach a release clip to a downrigger ball and the other end to a special kind of hook in the fish’s mouth. Then you lower the fish back down to depth. When the hook on the release is pulled upward where you want the fish to be, the fish slides right on off and is good to go. I didn’t take a pic as we wanted to get the fish back down as quickly as possible. It didn’t come back up so mission successful!

After the rescue mission was completed, we shifted position about another three hundred yards over. The current started whipping up along with the winds, so it was hard to keep my line straight up and down. Captain Nick did an excellent job in holding station however. Not long after we switched to this new spot, I felt a lurch on my line and this time I set the hook properly. I could tell I had a real beast on my hands from the massive pull. There was a big fish on, it could only be a halibut! It was a hard fight, but eventually I brought a big ‘ol ‘but to the surface. It was a two hook rig so I had a small pollock on the top hook and the halibut took the bottom hook. It was a twofer! I was so stoked to catch my first Alaskan Pacfic halibut. It was 41 inches and 30 lbs. a nice fish for sure.

After this, we fished that spot a little longer in hopes of catching another big hali, but no dice. There was another spot about a quarter mile away called ‘The Trash Hole’ that has a reputation for holding good halibut. We motored on over there and I dropped my line. The bottom seemed pretty snaggy and I almost got hung up a couple of times. Then, I felt like I hit a snag. Suddenly, the snag pulled back! I mean, it really wrenched my arm, this was a big fish. I could tell right away that this one was bigger than my first. This fish was one hell of a fighter! It went on two really good runs, pulling drag like crazy. My arm was still wore out from the first fish, and it was super difficult to hoist up this second one. Nick thought that it was a 70 lber the way it was fighting!

My arm was starting to feel like it was about to give out when the leader came into view. It was another twofer! A big rockfish called a quillback (another illegal fish) was on the top hook. It made it really difficult for Nick to sink the gaff hook into the jaw of the halibut. He reached down and nearly fell out of the boat getting ahold of that beast. Finally he wrenched it over the side and it was a big slab of fish! We measured it and this one turned out to be 45 inches and 45 lbs. I’ve been watching guests catch ones this size since I’ve been here, and it was awesome to finally land one for myself!

As the limit for halibut is two a day up here, I was done halibut fishing. I had the option to go do some salmon trolling, but as the salmon haven’t really arrived in big numbers yet I was content to end the day. I still wanted to get back in time to do laundry and relax a little bit. My arm was completely shot anyway! I still have bruises from my hip all the way to my belly button from the rod butt digging in. Nick suggested we go check out this cool waterfall on the way back and that sounded like a good idea to me.

On the way there we saw some animal swimming along, we got close and it was a freakin’ deer! The channel was probably a mile wide at this point, who knows why in the hell a deer would attempt such a crossing. Probably the same kind of thinking that causes them to jump out in front of cars on a deserted stretch of road. Who knows what thoughts lie in deer’s heads?

After a short cruise, we came across the waterfall. It was actually two waterfalls in one! Nick had actually never seen it before either, so it was a neat experience for the both of us. It was definitely worth the detour to go check out.

After we checked out the waterfalls, it was time to head on in. When we got back, the crew congratulated me on finally catching my first Alaskan halibut, it was nice. I pitched in and helped process them out. So that’s my day! I couldn’t have asked for a better one all things considered. When you’ve got perfect conditions, great fishing, and picture-postcard scenery everywhere you look, it is a blessing. Hopefully there are more days of great fishing ahead!


Confessions of an Alaskan Dockmonkey

Alright, so when I arrived here at the lodge, I found myself in an utterly confounding situation. All of a sudden I not only had to learn a totally new job, but also had to break into an already existing social circle as well as to learn how to function within the boundaries of the lodge. Any one of these things would be difficult to do at once, but to do all these things at the same time was completely overwhelming.

The first day I was here I wasn’t expected to do anything but relax and unpack. I was told when meals were served and was pretty much left to my own devices. I walked around the lodge grounds and saw where everything was located, and introduced myself to everyone I ran across. There were around 15 people already up here, most of which were lodge veterans who all knew each other from seasons past. (Our full crew topped out around 22 people). I quickly found out who I’d be working with the closest and hung around with them mostly. Everyone was really friendly but kind of distant, as was to be expected. I was the greenhorn and I’d just have to get to know folks before they would open up to me.

Starting with the second day, I got put to work. There was no orientation or anything like that, I was just thrown into the mix. I found out that I’d be working on projects with the maintenance guys mostly until the guests arrived. These guys were all in their 20’s so it was a bit awkward hanging out with the youngsters while all the people my age were guides and captains. Everyone was like, “Welcome to Yes Bay jail, what’s your sentence?” (meaning, what were you hired for?)

Now, I don’t want to be negative about this place, but it did indeed have a lot in common with jail. In fact, a lot of things I did to cope with the experience I learned from the reality show called ‘Sixty Days In’, a show about people going undercover in jails around America. So the main thing this place has in common with jail is that you can’t leave. You’re stuck here for the duration. I mean, obviously I could leave anytime I wanted, but I’d have to quit and I spent all of my money to get here so that’s not an option. I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket to leave.

The next is that you’re forced to have roommates. Now, I lucked out in this regard in that I found out that I won’t be having a roomie for the first month and the last month. The two months in between there’s a guide coming in that I have to share a space with, so it is what it is. I hear he’s an old fat dude who’s kind of a  curmudgeon, whoopie. I’d be going insane right now if I had to deal with a roommate on top of everything else I have to deal with, so I’m enjoying the solitude while it lasts.

Another big thing that this place has in common with jail is that you have no control over your environment. This means constant noise all the time. In between chatter from my co-workers & guests, the lodge owner’s dogs, and engine noises of all types I’m damn glad I brought a couple hundred pairs of earplugs. I have to sleep wearing earplugs as I’m a light sleeper, they do wonders in keeping my sanity and helping me sleep soundly. I also have no choice in what I get to eat day to day, although our kitchen staff is very dedicated and talented. If I want to eat, I have to eat what is served to me…which admittedly is pretty good grub. Still, a lot of the food is pretty carb and meat heavy and I’d prefer to be eating a lot more fish, rice and veggies.

Ok, ok, I’ll admit I’m being a little harsh on the place. Obviously this place is a far cry from jail. Still there are parallels that I just had to mention. My first week here admittedly was pretty rough. It took a little while to get into the social scene around here as I mentioned before. This on top of learning a new job and learning how to live in this environment was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s still ongoing actually, some days I’m flowing with things well, and others I feel like I’m on the verge of cracking up completely. The owner of the lodge is a real salty hardass and he can be difficult at times also. Now, here at the end of my second week everything is going somewhat smoothly for me. I’ve learned how to do my job, I’m friends with everyone, living the lodge life has become tolerable, and even the boss will crack a joke with me from time to time. He’s still a ball-buster though!

I figured ya’ll might be wondering what exactly it is I do here. Well, I’ll tell you. A typical day begins at 4:45. I’m responsible for lighting the fires upstairs in the fireplaces so the guests can enjoy a nice crackling fire while they drink coffee (or booze) to start their day. After this I have breakfast at six, then I go down to the dock to assist the guides in launching their boats. Until lunch at 11:30, I just hang around the dock, doing busy work like coiling ropes, practicing my knots and helping the floatplane load and unload if it comes. After lunch I may help out the maintenance boys do their tasks around the lodge, split firewood, make kindling or anything else the boss dreams up. I start hanging close by the dock around 2 in case boats start coming in. They are supposed to come in around 5 but can come in at any time. I need to be there to land them, get them tied up to the dock, and offload the catch.

The fun begins when the boats come back to base. I’ll take a big bucket and get the fish, then haul the them up on the hanging stand so they can be weighed out and people can take pictures if they want. I’ll then take the fish to the fillet table and the guides get to work on processing the catch. I don’t have to actually fillet the fish, but I’ll take the cut up fish, bag them, put them in the vacuum sealer, weigh & document the catch and then put the bags of fish in the walk in freezer on the dock. I also am responsible for boiling any crabs that are brought back.

This may not sound too exciting, but I absolutely love it. It doesn’t even seem like work to me, I’m in my element. There’s nothing better as a fisherman to be involved in doing something like this. It is fish heaven! After this, my day is done around 5 but has gone later on occasion. Dinner is at 5:30, and after that I have free time to do whatever until I go to bed at around 9 or so. That’s pretty much my day in a nutshell.

So there are a lot of awesome things Yes Bay lodge has going for it. The main thing is obviously the location. We’re 50 miles away from civilization in the middle of the Tongass National Forest. There is so much life all around in the air, sea and land. I see bald eagles all the time, and occasionally orcas and black & brown bears make their appearance. (Although I’ve yet to see these animals, other crew members have). This is probably the wildest and most remote place I’ve ever experienced.

The second thing I love about this place is all the cool people I work with. They come from all over America, and most are at the same place in life as I am. A lot of the folks here are nomadic and adventurous by nature, and were at a point in their lives where they were fed up with what was going on where they were at so they decided to say “To hell with it, I’m going to Alaska!”

The third thing, of course is the fishing! We have been bringing in massive halibut! A gal that works in the kitchen caught a massive 100 lber last week. It’s by far the biggest one I’ve ever seen. Pacific halibut dwarf their California cousins. This week we had our first guests and they have brought in a few in the 40-50 lb range. I get just as excited as they do when they bring in these big fish! Later on in the summer salmon will start to run and we’ll be catching a lot of those as well. From what I hear, we’ll be catching silvers, chum and pink salmon. Kings are illegal to keep in this area, but that’s fine by me. I can catch those a’plenty down south.

When it comes to fishing, we have a few options. One is to fish off the dock whenever we have free time. I haven’t been doing this as I came up here with only a rod and no tackle. I’m learning what people are using and will be placing a big order after I get my first paycheck in a week or so. The next option is to go up Wolverine Creek right next to the lodge and fish for trout and steelhead. Several crew members have been catching these but as I need to get a shorter pole and tackle I haven’t done this yet. Very soon I’ll be getting into those fish however! The creek flows out of a lake a couple miles upstream that features world-class steelhead fishing. The trail to get up there is really challenging to get up and super treacherous, but once you get up there the fishing can be rewarding!

The kind of fishing I’m most excited about is the ocean fishing. On our one day a week off we can put in a request to go out on one of the boats if there is an open slot. I actually did this for the first time today (Tuesday the 22nd). I had high hopes for going out for halibut, but they were dashed when the boss told my captain he wanted him to go out trolling to see if the pink salmon were running yet. It kind of pissed me off as I go salmon trolling all the time back in Santa Cruz, and the pink salmon is the smallest of the salmon species. I’m in world-class halibut territory, and that’s what I want to target. It’s like having a ticket for the Super Bowl but when you get to the stadium you find that the ticket is only good for Pee-Wee football! It’s still football and it’s entertaining, but it’s not what you want to see when the big game is happening!

Nevertheless, I still had fun today. I caught my first Alaskan fish, a shaker King Salmon (actually caught 3 in total) and a whole lot of rock cod (boring). The highlight of the day is when I caught some cod and threw them back, they didn’t swim down right away. On three separate occasions a bald eagle swooped down no more than 15-20 yards behind the boat and snatched them up! It was so majestic to watch, I tried to take pictures but it happened too fast for me to do so. Down south all we see going after our by-catch are seagulls, and I promise you bald eagles swooping down is much more thrilling!

Lastly, the thing I like about the place is the lodge itself. It’s such a cool building with a rich history. It was built around a hundred years ago and used to be a bordello/gambling hall. I think it’s been an actual fishing lodge since the 50’s. Kirk Douglas used to come here a lot, and I think Kevin Costner has been here a few times. It’s just got a cool vibe. It even has its own ghost! They call him Yes Bay Johnny. One of the housekeeping girls had an encounter with him the other night.

She was housed inside the lodge at the time in one of the guest bedrooms. It was before we had guests when the boss cut the generator at 9:30 to save on diesel. (Now we have power 24/7). She said around 11 o’clock when everyone should have long been in bed and the lodge was dark and quiet she heard voices coming from the main lobby. Suddenly, footsteps started pounding up and down the hallway outside her door. When she looked out to see who it was there was no one there! Also she told me a couple of nights before that the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror swung open all by itself when she was alone in her room. When she started asking around she was filled in on the story of Yes Bay Johnny. Who is this spirit? Maybe someone was shot in a poker game gone wrong and now his spirit roams the hallways forever. Who knows? You totally get that creepy feeling here, especially when it’s late and no one is around. There’s something mysterious about this place for sure.

So I’m going to end this before I write a novel. I have plenty more to talk about but I’ve got plenty of time in the months ahead to elaborate further. I just wanted to give my audience a good sketch of where I am at and what I am doing here. Things go on every day I could write about. Trouble is I only have an hour or so of writing time so it’s a lot of work cramming it into one post a week! Never fear Dear Reader, there are plenty of Dogfish Tales coming at you in the weeks to come. Signing off!


On My Way Down to Ketchikan/Yes Bay

After I bid farewell to Bethan and Anchorage, I hopped on the plane and headed south. I flew Alaskan Airlines and they absolutely rock because they let me check my baggage for free! United Airlines charged me 80 bucks to do the same, so I was glad to save some money on that front. The flight stopped in Juneau, Petersburg and Wrangell, which was actually pretty cool as I got to see a lot of Alaska along the way. I had a window seat so I got to take in a lot of scenery during the course of the flight.

For the first couple of stops I had a couple of kids (brother and sister, probably twins) around 8 years old in the aisle and center seats. They were flying by themselves and I feared that they would be wild screaming brats the whole 6 hour flight. Amazingly, the kids were really well behaved and they only started to get crazy about a half hour out of their stop in Petersburg.

Unfortunately, when they got off a wild band of about 5 10-12 year old boys went completely berserk in the back of the plane where I was and kept hopping in and out of the vacant seats next to me. Their mom couldn’t control them and their dad was on some heavy pills or smack and was on the nod the whole time. At one point the dad spilled an entire cup of coffee on the floor and was staggering around trying to clean it up. It was so bad that even the stewardess was asking him if he was ok. It was absolute teeth-grinding chaos. I was so glad when the plane finally landed in Ketchikan.

I had heard horror stories about lost/damaged luggage on flights landing in Ketchikan, so upon my arrival I was very pleased to find that all my stuff made it there safely. As I was waiting at the baggage claim I heard people talking about making the ferry, and when I asked I discovered that the airport was on an island and the only way to get to town was by boat! I did a quick Google search and found that the ferry leaves on the hour and half hour, so as it was about ten till five I hustled out the door and followed the signs to the loading dock. Fortunately the ferry entrance was right outside the front of the airport so I didn’t have to lug my heavy duffel bag too far. I paid the 6 dollar toll and boarded the ferry right as they were about to pull away.

As I had an Airb&b booked for the night, when I got to the other side I pulled up Uber to look for a lift to get me there. I found out that both Uber and Lyft didn’t have any cars available. Ketchikan seems to be the only place I have been to in the country in the last 5 years or so where the old-fashioned taxi is still the king. I called up a local cab company and when they arrived I was informed that a 4 mile cab ride was going to set me back like 30 dollars. No wonder why ride-share companies aren’t present in Ketchikan, there is obviously a strong cab mafia in place there! As a former cabbie I’m kind of happy that the cab drivers there still have a strong presence and have kept out the rideshares, but my wallet wasn’t too happy about it!

My cab driver was a cool dude, he was actually from Houston and comes up to drive in Ketchikan during the summer season. He makes a whole lot of money doing this, it seems like I’m in the wrong business doing what I’m doing! My job pays peanuts compared to what he makes, but like all lucrative jobs you’ve got to be connected to score employment like that. It was nice to run into a fellow Southerner all the way up here in Alaska though!

I got dropped off at my Airb&b and met the lady who ran it. She was a real sweet lady who I judged to be Russian or Eastern European from her accent. The room and house were very comfortable and clean, it was a great place to stay. I really wanted to get down into town and start exploring, so after chatting with her for a while I walked down the hill to the bus stop and took the bus back into town. I was really wanting to get a cheeseburger so I found this place that served elk burgers, so of course I had to have one! After I ate I walked around and did a little bit of sight-seeing. I decided I really liked Ketchikan. It felt like a wild west frontier town, I felt right at home. It seemed like a place where anything could happen at anytime. Such a change from what I’m used to in the lower 48!

I was getting rather thirsty by this point so I decided to stop and grab some beers at the Arctic Bar. It was a pretty rowdy place for sure! They had a nice back patio overlooking the water in the back so I had some scenery to look at as I was enjoying my drinks. The familiar smell of good weed was everywhere, nice to know that they were herb-friendly. There was quite a mix of people milling about from bikers to fishermen to tourists, but everyone seemed mellow and the vibe was good. Then this one big Viking-looking dude started slamming around beer bottles and hollering, but no one seemed to pay him any mind. It was usual for a Monday night at this place I guess.

Later inside he was yelling across the bar at some hipster looking dudes and demanded that they speak to him in Italian for some reason. They were obviously American but he started to get unhinged when they wouldn’t go along with his request. I figured things were about to go sour so I paid my tab and headed out. I kind of wanted to see how the situation would play out but I was far too sober and tired to deal with such shenanigans. By this time it was getting close to 10 PM and I was scheduled to be picked up by my lodge at 8 the next morning, so I made my way back to my Airb&b.

After a good night’s sleep, I got a ride to the lodge office in town in one of the company vans. My new employer’s daughter picked me up and delivered me to the waiting floatplane after I made a last minute stop to grab my Alaskan fishing licence and an extra pair of boots. The office was right on the water, and the company floatplane was berthed right next to it. I met the pilot who happened to be the husband of the girl who picked me up. It’s a family-owned & operated business through and through. There was a grocery delivery going out with me, (2500 lbs worth) so my first official duty working for the lodge was to help load up the plane. After this was done, I loaded myself & my gear into the waiting plane and soon we were off!

It was so cool taking off on the water for the first time! The pilot, Trevor, was a really cool dude. He seemed to be my age or a little younger but was a very accomplished pilot. I think he told me he’s logged something like 14,000 flight hours in his career. That’s a lot of time in the air! I really enjoyed looking around at all the beautiful scenery as we made our way to the lodge. Trevor gave me a nice little rundown of what it was like to be a bush pilot in Alaska and what to expect at my destination. The lodge is about 50 miles to the north of Ketchikan and the flight took about 20-30 minutes. Finally, we reached the mouth of Yes Bay. Shortly thereafter, the lodge swung into view and we made a smooth landing. As we taxied to the dock the dock crew swung into action and got us parked. I leapt out of the plane, and there I was finally at long last. I had arrived at my home for the next 4 months.

So as of now I’ve been here a week and a half. I’ve got so much to write about, but I’ll have to leave that for next week’s post. My free time is very limited, and internet service is spotty so it’s been a challenge to upload my pictures and writings. Sometimes the internet lets me upload my blog and sometimes it doesn’t, it depends on the day. Suffice to say that life here is what I expected, but not what I expected at the same time. Living the lodge life out in the Alaskan bush is really extreme and is taking a lot to get used to. At times I love it and other times I wonder what in the hell was I thinking signing up for this? Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for now. Stay tuned for the lowdown next week on Tales of the Dogfish!


Antics in Anchorage

Well, I have finally made it up here to the Great White North & the Land of the Midnight Sun! I must say it is another one of those places where the pictures don’t do it justice. There is no way to convey the vast sweeping scale of the place from pictures or video alone. The mountains are higher and more rugged than any I’ve ever seen. The land itself is dotted with thousands of lakes and mud bogs are everywhere. Looks like some prime off road country for sure! I’m sure me and The Beast would have a good time up here.

Anyways, after a long arduous day of travel (made better by having a window seat next to an empty center seat on an almost full flight) I arrived in Anchorage. Bethan picked me up and we drove around town a bit running some errands. After making a few stops we went back to her place and met up with her mom who cooked up some salmon for dinner with some delicious blueberry crisp for dessert. (Later on in the week she made some rhubarb crisp & cake that was incredible! Props to ya Miss Carol!)

After we ate Bethan suggested we go for a hike. I was pretty tired from my trip but I really wanted to get started on checking out some scenery, so the 3 of us went out to this nearby trail for an evening stroll. It was about 8:30 when we set out and the sun was still way up in the sky. It’s crazy to see how the high latitudes impact the length of the day! The sun just hangs out in the sky forever in the evening. The winds were whipping pretty hard (which was out of character evidently) so it was a bit nippy. Still, it wasn’t a whole lot colder than Santa Cruz, and the low hanging sun had a suprising amount of warmth to it.

We hiked about an hour and a half up this trail where you could get great views of Flattop Mountain to the east and Anchorage far off to the west. All along the way Bethan showed me a lot of the native flora and told me what is edible and what you have to watch out for. There’s this stuff called ‘devil’s club’ that looks particulary gnarly. I guess it’s the closest thing Alaska has to a cactus, I don’t want to get into a thicket of that stuff!

On our hike we didn’t see any animal life until we were in the car on our way out. It was then when we rolled up on a moose. It was grazing contentedly on what looked to be moss or something similar. We got to within 15 feet or so and it didn’t pay us any mind. It was on the smaller size for a moose, I’d say it was the size of a big cow. Still, I bet that it is one thing coming up to one of these animals in a car and quite another to come across one on foot. I hear that they can be mean if they want to be!

On the second day, Bethan suggested that we go up to this place called Girdwood. It’s a little ski community about a half hour north of Anchorage. There was still plenty of snow on the mountains up there, I think Bethan told me that they ski pretty much year-round. We had lunch at this nice little restaurant and hiked some of the nearby trails after we ate. The woods were lush and primeval, I guess you could call it a sub-arctic rainforest.

For the third day, we decided to go north and check out the Matanuska Valley. There was a spot up there where there was an old coal mine that left behind a large amount of fossils in the tailings. You can go and just pick them up off of the ground. They are all plant fossils, although Bethan said that she once found one of a fish that got in there somehow.

The road was pretty good until the last half mile or so. We had to hike in the last little bit due to the road being washed out. When we got to the site we ran across some locals who drove all the way in with a big lifted off-road truck with big mud tires. It was a pretty bad-ass truck, I guess that’s what you need to get around in the valley! Wish I had thought to get a picture of it. 

After our fossil diggings, we headed up the valley a ways to go check out the Matanuska glacier. The scenery on the drive up was absolutely breathtaking. The weather was overcast and foggy so I couldn’t see all of the mountains, but it lent an air of mystery to the surroundings. After a long drive, the glacier came into sight. It was the first glacier I have ever seen and it was an incredible sight to behold.

Of course I wanted to climb up on the glacier, so we found the road down to it and drove on down. Now, I expected to be able to just go to it and explore without any complications. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The road was pretty rough and we had to cross this really sketchy bridge. The road ended at a gate and it became clear that you had to pay to see it! I think it was something like 80 bucks for the both of us, you have to pay for a guide. I had the money and really wanted to see the glacier up close but I was kinda upset with the whole scenario. I declined to pay on principle and we drove away. Later on Bethan showed me some pictures from a blog showing the glacier and I had some regrets about not shelling out the funds to go see it. Oh well, we’ll have to check it out on my next visit.

It was sunset by the time we got back into Anchorage (around 11:20 PM), so we drove up to this overlook right below Flattop Mountain to take it in. One thing about sunset here is how long the ‘golden hour’ lasts. It lasts at least twice as long up in the north, and it is such a rich glowing light. It was like having on yellow tinted sunglasses. It’s so good for photography!

For the fourth day’s activities we decided to go check out the zoo. They had pretty much all the main fauna found in Alaska. They had moose, reindeer, brown bears, musk ox, polar bear (which didn’t make an appearance) snow leopards, seals, bald & golden eagles, and probably our favorite, wolverines. The wolverines reminded me of a bunch of different animals, like a cross between weasels, skunks and bears! They put on a show for us. We had a good time checking out the animals, I haven’t been to a zoo in years so it was fun. This zoo specializes in rescuing and rehabilitating animals so that’s cool.

After we checked out the zoo, we decided to go down to the closest thing Anchorage has to a beach. Kincade Park has a trail about a mile long that goes down to a mostly rocky beach, but it does have some sand. We picked up Bethan’s mom and some Thai food to have a picnic down at the beach. One of Bethan’s friends met us down at the park and we walked on down to the beach. As we walked down the trail people warned us that there was a momma moose down there with a baby so we needed to watch out. Those moose are everywhere! You’ll never know when you’ll run into one.

We did eventually come across the moose, but it was off the trail a little ways up in a thicket so we were able to pass safely. After about a half hour walk we made it down to the beach and found a place to sit down. The cliff overlooking the beach seemed to be unstable for some reason, and small rocks constantly cascaded down the slope. There was a sizable earthquake in the Anchorage area a couple of days before I arrived so that was possibly the culprit. After a grapefruit-sized rock nearly hit our group we decided to move over to some nearby sand dunes where we were out of harm’s way.

We stayed at the beach until around 11, and on our way out we found that the park rangers had locked up the gate, trapping us inside! Fortunately someone showed up and let us out without having to wait for the police to come over and do it. On the way out we saw a moose mother and calf grazing on the side of the road. Maybe they were the ones we had been warned about before? Who knows, I was glad I was in a car and not on foot though!

On day five we headed off to the south to visit the town of Seward. This is the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. I’ve heard that the drive down there is one of the most scenic in the nation, up there with Highway 1 going through Big Sur. I love a good scenic drive, so I was stoked to be taking the road trip down there. We headed out and it was the most perfect, beautiful day one can ask for in Alaska. The skies were almost free from clouds and the temps were in the mid-60’s. They don’t get many days like that down in the Kenai Peninsula!

There was a place on the way to Seward called Portage that Bethan recommended we stop and check out. Back when she was little there was a glacier feeding into the bay there and there were hundreds of calving icebergs always floating around. These days the glacier has retreated back quite a ways from where it used to be and the icebergs are almost a distant memory. When we stopped to check it out the rangers told us there was an iceberg there! To me it was a big deal as I’ve never seen an iceberg before. We walked over and checked it out, and sure enough, there it was all floating by its lonesome.

There were a bunch of kids skipping stones so Bethan and I had to get our skip on as well! After doing this for a while the kids started chunking rocks at the iceberg out in the water so I had to do that too. It was just within stone-throwing range, I nailed that sucker a few times. It was so satisfying to do this, I don’t know why but it was!

We continued on down the road and eventually rolled into the town of Seward. First we checked into our Airb&b. It was a really nice place except for one thing…there appeared to be no bathroom! In the utility room there was a toilet wedged in between the washer and dryer but that was it. Feeling a little ripped off, I called the owner and asked where we were supposed to take a shower. She burst out laughing and told us that the bathroom was behind the bedroom door! We looked, and sure enough, there it was! It was a nice bathroom at that! Man, did we feel like a couple of dumbasses. I bet she had a great story to tell her friends though!

After we rested a bit we headed into Seward. We were pretty hungry, but we rolled into town around 8:00 so places were starting to close up. I was all stoked on getting some fried halibut and chips so I placed a to-go order at a local spot while Bethan hit up the taqueria in town. She got her food relatively quickly where as mine took 40 freakin’ minutes to cook! When my order was finally ready we went and ate down by the water and enjoyed the evening bayside. When we were done there was still plenty of light left so we walked around the marina until midnight. The marina was a hive of activity as red salmon were running and people were snagging them all over the place. The fish cleaning stations were covered in beautiful red fillets, it was a sight to see.

The next day we headed back into Seward and checked out the SeaLife aquarium which was the main attraction I wanted to see. I so much wanted to go on a glacier tour but by this point my funds were pretty depleted and I just couldn’t fit it into my budget. Well, that’s another thing that’ll have to wait until next time! The aquarium was pretty cool, the main critters that I liked were the 2500 lb Stellar sea lion (biggest sea lion I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of them) and the puffins. They had this two-story tank you could watch the puffins dive from the surface all the way to the bottom. It’s neat to see how they swim around under water as if they were flying through the air. Of course there were a lot of cool fish there as well, most of which I was familiar with from Santa Cruz waters.

As I was flying out the next morning I was on somewhat of a tight time table so we had to leave earlier than I would have liked. There’s a lot to see down there in and around Seward. Bethan suggested we drive out to Exit Glacier on our way out, so we went to go see it. It’s pretty cool, there are signs going back to the early 1900’s on the road going up to it to show where the glacier had been in that year. It was shocking to see how far it had retreated during the past 100 years or so. It won’t be long until there’s no glacier there at all. When we got there there was a short hike to get to a place where you could actually see it and I took the opportunity to take some photos. At least we got to see one glacier while we were down there!

After this, we headed back to Anchorage. I was bummed to be saying goodbye to Bethan, but it was time for me to get ready to go to work. It was a nice little break after months of inaction & anticipation for this experience. I really enjoyed my Anchorage interlude. There’s nothing better than having a great time with great company! Alaska has just blown my mind so far. The land is just so vast, wild and epic, it exceeded my wildest expectations. Alaska in the summertime has to be the most magical, beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen in my life. It feels like a great fit for me so far. Now on to Ketchikan and my summer sojurn at the lodge. I’m really nervous about what the future holds, but hey, if you ain’t getting out of your comfort zone you ain’t really living I say!