12:30 Thursday August 9th
Ketchikan AK after a hot shower with a double application of shampoo. Of course, I still have my giant wad of knotted dreadlock hair in the back. That’s beyond the work of a simple shampoo. Terry’s house above the float plane docks and harbor is great! The laundry is just finishing up its second rinse and final spin, so I am just 15-20 minutes away from clean laundered clothing and hair! The tent is drying, hanging in the laundry room and making the entire basement smell like a little chief smoker. I just want to get it totally dry and when I get home I can do more maintenance work on it. It has been the bright yellow roof of happiness over my head for the past 7 weeks and it needs a proper wash, disinfection and drying out all around.
Yesterday at the black sand beach it poured and blew all afternoon. It was a proper little storm and a great last day to be outside in Alaska. It made coming in from the rain a no brainer.
We paddled over after packing up this morning. Since there still was some wind and swell I surfed a few rollers across the bay towards the Tongass narrows as salmon jumped all around me. Chums are running up the rivers here now, but I see pinks jumping all over the place. No fishing for me this morning, just heading into the busy port and customs. On the way in we stopped at Saxman village. It was early since the rain started pounding on the blue tarp at 5:00 am and neither one of use slept that well in the very damp air and hard ground next to the picnic shelter. We left the beach, an easy launch on the black sand after a breakfast of oatmeal with dried fruit and coffee in the sprinkling rain.
At Saxman, we met a nice native gentleman who told us the fee was $5.00, but since we had no money, we just visited with him for a while and decided to come back another day when we had money. In the morning, before all the tourists from the cruise ships come in. Every morning 4 or 5 gigantic cruise ships dock up here in town and it is a parade of boats, planes, and water taxis heading out with tourists. Then back again they return in the afternoon. To ears that are not used to a city, Ketchikan sounds are those of motors, airplanes, jet engines, diesel fishing boats. Motors all day and all night. You can hear them from 10 miles out.
We passed Alaska fisheries and dozens of salmon boats offloading their catch on the way into port. I shot a few pictures for Knut as we zig zagged, maneuvering in and out between the large netters. Then around the pier besides 2 enormous cruise ships. Princess Oceania and the Westerdam. Today over 8,000 people came to Ketchikan on 4 different cruise ships. As we tied our kayaks off on the dock next to the river you could hear stadium like cheering coming from one of the ships. Now this was not a sound I expected to hear in the harbor. It sounded like we had parked next to Safeco field during a Mariners game. Traci C called the customs number located on a sign at the top of the ramp and we took turns giving the nice lady our personal numbers and information. Then we hung out at the top of the ramp, next to the rosy pink Federal building watching a young African American local boy catch large chum salmon on a pink jig as they swam up the small river. Tourists took many pictures of this as they strolled along the older board walk part of town just up from the ramp. Our customs officer came out to verify our information. He is a kayaker as well. He also brought smiles and candy for us. After a nice visit, checking out our kayaks and looking at our pass cards I called Levi and we made arrangements to be picked up at the Potlatch pub just up from the Ketchikan yacht club docks. We paddled over to the dock, past the little river and boy, who had caught another salmon.
Everything here works on a rhythm, determined by the flow of salmon or tourists up rivers or off of the cruise ships. The shops open or close based upon the incoming and departing ships, netting as much money from the migrating tourists as they can before they pass through. The fishermen pull their nets out and in doing the very same sort of rhythm just outside of town. Everyone is grabbing what resources they can from this modern swimming migration. Whales bubble net, men gill net and purse seine and shop keepers cast their lures of sales and souvenirs.
Levi picked us up in Terry’s car complete with 2 kayak racks and we did what we now do best. Unloaded our kayaks (for the last time really), and carried our boats up the ramp and onto the awaiting car. Part 1 of this day was over.
This day was like 2 complete and separate days. Part 2 of Thursday – Civilization.
Levi helped us load and haul our gear then drove us up to Terry’s house on Water street. Up narrow twisting steep roads to a great spot overlooking the North end of Pinock island and a float plane dock. Never dull as there are floatplanes taking off and landing all day long and numerous fishing boats anchored out in the bay behind the island. We put our kayaks down in the garage, thanked Levi, then showered and did loads of laundry. I wiped down and set up the tent for drying. Then we drove Terry’s car down to Safeway to purchase whatever we needed and wanted. I got my contact solution (used up the final bit yesterday), waterproof mascara, a couple of apples and a diet coke. Traci C purchased her orange juice and a bag of fresh fruit. Then we ate a delicious large vegetarian Stone deck pizza, washed down with an Alaskan amber ale, delicious!
Then back to the house to finish up cleaning my kayak, tarp, washing out my gear and drying everything out. As the afternoon went on, I ate a box of milk duds and drank my diet coke and in between I managed to eat a couple of apples and an orange. Oh yea, stopped by “Art at the Point” had a snicker doodle and latte. (Oh so yummy and so civilized.) I am sort of surprised that I don’t really have any food cravings. Must be a good sign that we ate well this second half fo the trip… except I would love to eat more chinook salmon.
Last night after all the cleaning and organization was done, we uploaded our pictures and videos on Traci C’s i-pad. Sure was fun looking at them. Some great pictures and I think with hours of editing, some good video clips. Our plan is to make an open source e-book.
Mile 832, Ketchikan!
Conditions: cool and grey
Late in the afternoon yesterday the rain diminished a bit and the wind abated somewhat. More reasonable conditions at least – the rain was coming down so hard and fast that we were developing a moat around our picnic shelter, and sleeping on top of the picnic tables looked like possibly the only option for not sleeping in a lake! I got out my trusty trowel and dug a trench to help drain the moat, which was partially successful.
During the night Tracy got up and stoked the fire a few times. Everything is smoky and soot-covered, but we are reasonably warm and dry. I didn’t sleep well – I kept expecting the rain to pick up and flood our tent.
Tracy is unstoppable. I think she would continue to Juneau and beyond if we had time. Me, I’m ready to come in. She said today: “I don’t get homesick because I know I will make it home”. Interesting concept. I know we will make it home, but that doesn’t stop me from missing folks. I think she must live in the moment better than I. Don’t mistake me, this trip has been fun, difficult, amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, dreadful, funny, and more, but I’m ready to move ahead and go back home to my family. Interesting too, is that when Heather and I traveled in Europe, we both felt the same way in about the same time frame, even though that was an entirely different adventure. Perhaps my homing beacon kicks in around six weeks of absence.
Anyway, we woke to a wet, grey morning; Raven “borked” us awake again – get going, sleepy heads! We broke camp for the last time, had an easy gear slog at the high tide, and set course for Ketchikan, less than six miles away. Without a fishing pole and extra water weight, Tracy quickly outstripped me. Just amazing how many gears that woman has. After 800 miles I have one pace left – f***-ing slow – but I have the endurance of an ox.
We reached the Tongass Narrows, probably around 7am, and other than a few boats the coast was clear. A mere hundred strokes or so took us to the other side. We stopped at Saxman Village and tied up on the beach. We were wearing our drysuits, knowing we’d be spending some time here and at customs, hanging around wet on land. Both of us found the suits way too warm for paddling, even on the cooler days. My paddling armor of choice has been my JL polypro top (worn every day), Lotus capri paddling pants (should have brought full-length fleece tights – if only for bug protection; I started wearing my she-beast tights over the capris to keep the bugs off), Kokatat Gore-Tex light paddling jacket when needed (maybe 50% of the time?) – this is my standard paddling jacket at home. Naked feet in Keen sandals until the last week, then added gore-tex socks over wool socks. This works great until I step into water deeper than 6-8 inches. I want knee-high gore-tex socks!
At Saxman we found the totem poles, but as paddlers we weren’t prepared for the five dollar admission fee. I want to come back and check out the lodge and carving studio.
Back to the kayaks, and now at 7:30am there is a steady parade of smaller charter boats heading out of Ketchikan. Two enormous cruise ships are visible in harbor from miles away. These things are so gigantic they can obscure small islands. As instructed by customs a few days ago, we continued past the Coast Guard station, past the breakwater and cruise ships, and into the customs dock. Tracy wanted to charge land, but I made us play by the rules. What a stickler! However, I’ve read horror stories about cold, wet, tired paddlers who crossed the street for a muffin while waiting for customs… I called the customs number and got a very nice woman who took our information and sent an agent our way. We had to wait a bit – no idea how long exactly, we are completely off the clock at this time – but very grateful for our drysuits so we weren’t cold. When the agent arrived, he was very nice. A paddler himself, he was more interested in our trip and gear than official business. He even had candy from the woman I talked to, who was worried about us on the dock. Welcome to Alaska!
Tracy called Levi, a friend of Terry’s, who came to meet us with Terry’s car. Two sets of kayak racks, this is too easy!! Levi helped us carry gear, brought us to Terry’s house, and our journey is complete. Great house on the hillside over the Narrows and floatplanes. Houses here are built right into the hillside, reminiscent of the Berkeley hills, only way more rugged. Roads are an afterthought. Shower, laundry… so welcome!
Clean and dry, we headed out for lunch. We stopped at Safeway where my first purchases were a new toothbrush (yes!), OJ, and some good crunchy apples. We found a pizza shop and got a large pizza for lunch, and the two of us easily took down the whole thing. The waitress was impressed. If she only knew…!
We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and managing our gear – what we do best. Terry’s lower bedroom has a Costco foam mattress. Heaven. Internet too, so we caught up on email. Email first, then sleep, sleep, sleep.