It’s been a while, but I’m back in action! After I got back from the desert last fall, I headed back home to Louisiana for a couple of weeks. I partied in New Orleans a bit and finally got around to moving all the stuff out of my storage unit down in Madisonville. I took it all up to Natchez, MS and moved everything into a new unit, which was quite a mission. I then spent some time with the family before returning back to Santa Cruz in early December. I had been traveling and working by that point for almost 6 months, and I hit a brick wall on my return. To finally come to a stop after all my traveling and adventures was jarring. All I wanted to do was to hop on a plane and come back to Alaska, it was hard to get back into California life. I had spent all my summer money by then so I had to find employment. There wasn’t much work available from my usual sources, so I had to get a job at the local natural food store working in the deli. I worked with great people and management, but it was just soul-destroying work. I hadn’t worked a job serving the public in many years, and I came to remember how much I loathed having to cater to the whims of entitled customers. I put my nose to the grindstone and got through it, but I feel like that’s going to be the last winter I can stand living out of my truck and working such a miserable job. I’m just so over living that way, it’s hell on my body & mental state.
It was a long and painful slog, but I got through it. A couple of weeks ago I parked The Beast up at Last Chance once again for the summer, and I hopped on a plane to journey back here to Alaska. The year didn’t feel like it started for me until early April, when me and the boys had a great opening day on the king salmon opener. I had bought a new Penn Squall reel just for the occasion and it caught not only one, but two salmon! Bear-Tits caught one on my rod, and I got the second one after a textbook takedown and retrieval. Hopefully my luck with salmon continues for fishing up here this season!
It’s great to be back here in Alaska, I feel like myself again. All the stress and anxiety that I had been feeling just melted away the second I saw those big beautiful Alaskan mountains on my approach into Anchorage. The first weekend I was here I stayed at the same Airb&b over by Bethan’s house that I rented out last year. I spent some time with Bethan and her mom, it was really nice. We did a lot of hikes and saw a few critters. It was a nice way to ease my way back into Alaska life.
On the Monday after I arrived, Captain Thor picked me up and we drove down to Kenai. During the 2 and 1/2 hour drive, we got to know each other. He’s a pretty cool fellow, we seemed to hit it off really well. Thor and I had planned to stay at his trailers on the grounds of the Pacific Star cannery in Kenai while we started getting the boat ready for the season. When we got there, the management said we couldn’t stay on the property as they needed to do some electrical work. When pressed on when we would be allowed to move in and hook up our trailers, they said it would be at least a week, possibly two. With nothing else to do, we returned to Anchorage. Thor said I could stay in his spare bedroom at his apartment located in the downtown area, so that’s where I’ve been based out of the last couple of weeks.
Every day I’ve gone out and hiked around 4-5 miles a day. His apartment is only a couple of blocks away from the coastal trail, so I’ve been out on that a bunch. There’s so many awesome restaurants within walking distance as well. There’s even a couple of Cajun restaurants downtown that serve food just as good or better than I could get in Louisiana! Anchorage is one of the most diverse cities I’ve ever visited, and there’s so many ethnic restaurants around as a result. The markets tend to have quite an Asian influence which I really like. There’s a market a few blocks away that sells all the Cajun products I love, plus things like poke and canned juice drinks from Hawaii. I’m like a kid in a candy store every time I go and get groceries, it’s almost like being back in the islands.
It’s actually been really nice to explore this part of Anchorage and get to know Thor. He’s a really cool guy, he’s an accomplished artist, sculptor and boat designer. He’s actually sketching out blueprints for his son to build his own boat, which I think is pretty cool. Thor’s a easygoing dude and we’ve been getting along great, which is a relief. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so being able to get along is huge. He’s a big reader and has a lot of cool books. One he gave me to read was written by his friend Pat and is a memoir. It’s all about commercial salmon fishing with Thor and his dad back in the 70’s and 80’s. It actually was a really good primer for me in regards to what I’m going to be doing this summer. There’s all kinds of tales in there about fishing back in the day. If this season is anything like the ones described in the book, it’s going to be an interesting time to say the least.
Thor’s introduced me to a lot of people, and I’ve been going out on hikes with his girlfriend. She’s a member of a hiking club and I’ve been going along with her. Our first hike was to the summit of Flat Top mountain, which overlooks the city. I went and bought a pair of YakTrax (chains attached to a rubber band that attaches to one’s boot) to put on my hiking boots. The trail up was still covered in snow and ice, so they were definitely needed for traction. When we got to the trailhead, half the group wanted to stay and hike the relatively easy trail around the mountain. The rest of us headed up the trail leading to the summit. At first, the trail was pretty tame. Occasionally we’d fall through the snow (known as postholing) but I never sunk in deeper than my knees.
I soon fell behind, as I’d stop and take pictures every now and then. The members of the hiking group I was with were like mountain goats and straight charged up the mountain, leaving me in the dust. I’m in decent shape, but the trail conditions started hammering me pretty hard. It was pretty much straight up, and I found myself having to stop and catch my wind pretty frequently. I was set on making the summit however, and I forged ahead. When I got to the last third of the trail, I found that it was pretty much climbing up snow mixed with some rock scrambling. I really could have used some snow poles at this point, but I felt I could accomplish it with the gear I had.
There must have been a dozen times I wanted to quit, as I was running out of energy. The summit was right there though, and I knew if I wimped out I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself. The last 30 feet I was climbing the snow like a ladder. Finally, I made the summit! It was exhilarating, and the views were just spectacular. I finally get why people climb mountains now, it’s just the most rewarding experience. The feeling of accomplishment is like being high on a drug or something.
Incredible views off of the summit.
Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. It seems that the hikers ahead of me had slid down the mountain for their descent. After walking around the summit for a bit, I realized that I either follow their lead or go back down the way I came up. I took one look at the drop that went for a mile downslope and realized that if I didn’t slide properly, I’d just tumble all the way down…possibly breaking every bone in my body in the process. Since there was no one with me to show me the proper technique of sliding down the mountain, I decided I’d have to go back the way I came. I got myself together and eased my way over the lip of the summit doing a kind of crabwalk. My main goal was to inch my way down and not get into an uncontrollable slide. It went well at first and it seemed I would be able to control my descent.
Alas, soon gravity took over and I felt myself beginning to slide. Suddenly, I was off like a rocket! My backpack and water bottle was ripped loose and slid down with me. Snow filled my pants and shirt as I careened down the mountain. A whole bunch of snow was sliding down with me and for a moment I thought I was going to start my own personal avalanche. As I shot straight down the mountain, I found that I could kind of steer with my legs and was able to make my way over into a bunch of snow that was broken up by footprints. The rough snow finally stopped my slide and I came to a halt. About this time my phone rings and it is Thor’s girlfriend, Ingrid. It seems everyone else had made it down and she was wondering where I was at. I told her I was on my way back and I was busy sliding down the mountain at the moment, I’d be back to the parking lot momentarily.
I was pretty shaken up by the experience, but it was pretty exhilarating at the same time! I seemed to be all right at the moment, but as I made my way back down and the adrenaline wore off I started feeling some bad pain in my right forearm. I peeled back my sleeve and saw that I had a major scrape. I must have tore it up on a rock or something on my way down. I could have messed myself up far worse, so I counted myself lucky. The rest of my descent was without incident, although I got off the trail close to the bottom and got my leg stuck in the snow for a few minutes before I could dig it out. It’s amazing how the snow can harden like concrete once you’re stuck in a drift. I can definitely see how doomed someone would be if they got stuck inside an avalanche. If there ain’t someone around to dig you out if that happens, you’re pretty screwed.
So that’s pretty much the goings-on of my first week. I’ve done a lot more things around here since, but I figured I’d save that for next time and split this into two parts. Stay tuned for further Dogfish Tales coming at you from the Great White (well, green now) North!