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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pt. 1--My Jumping Off Point

Have you ever taken a journey to somewhere you never planned to be in the first place? I have. That first step can be at once terrifying and exhilarating.

I was living in Oregon with my parents when I got a call from friends who were moving down to Utah. I was eighteen, a high school graduate, and after a semester of college I was ready for a change. I needed some excitement in my life--a taste of the Great Beyond.

So I called up my mom at work and told her I was moving to Utah to live with my grandparents for a bit. She calmly asked me, "When?"
"Oh...noon," I said, oblivious to the heart attack I'd just engendered in my poor mother.

And before she could pick herself up off the ground, I was off.

At first stare living with one's grandparents doesn't seem to fit the bill of an exciting experience--especially mine. My curmudgeonly grandfather refused to let grandma drive or spend money or even speak loudly. They never went far from home and living there was frankly a snooze-fest. 

However, my cousins (roughly my age) lived down the street, so I spent much of my time at their house or in their car or going dancing at the Star Palace. The other bit I spent working in an Italian restaurant, washing dishes. Clearly living the high life.

One day my cousin Tracy started talking about how she'd gone up to Alaska to work the year before. Her glowing accounts of fish and green magical tree-shaded hillsides and glinting bay waters caught my fancy. "Let's go work there," I said, clearly insane. But I was drunk on independence and jonesing for more adventure than my poor old grandparents could possibly scare up.

Climbing in the mtns behind Kodiak
So we did. I took my meager savings from the restaurant and we bought tickets to Kodiak via Seattle. When we got off the plane in Kodiak, we found ourselves in a tiny terminal containing the biggest bear I have ever clapped eyes on. That thing could have its own small state!

Flowers along one of two roads in Kodiak
We hitchhiked into town, (Where's a kidnapper going to take you? There are only two streets.) where, after much hunting we found the boarding house we planned to stay in. Our luggage, by the way, had gone to North Carolina or some other forsaken place not in our vicinity, and containing our money. I know. Criminal stupidity. But we did luck out.

boardinghouse mates: striped shirt--me, middle--Tracy

The boarding house was full of interesting creatures. A guy named Mike and I went climbing in the mountains above Kodiak all night. It was my first brush with the midnight sun. We'd forgotten water bottles and had to drink from a baggy we dipped into a run-off stream. I've never had such delicious water! It was so cold it gave me brain-freeze.

That time was fraught with several trips back out to the airport to try and claim our luggage, slogs down cannery row endeavoring to find work, Dan Fogelman music, and the tangy smell of pizza sauce from Captain's Keg, a pizza joint which featured Charlie Chaplin movies where we finally found a job.

I went climbing in the mountains behind Kodiak with my friend Mike. We climbed until the sun went down, waited for half an hour until the sun came back up, and continued to climb. The wildflowers were spectacular and the water tasted outstanding, even in a baggy.
Flowers and Mikey with our spectacular cup

There was a fisherman's strike going on, so other better-paying work was difficult to find. Someone had suggested Tony's, but on further inspection, it turned out to be a strip joint. Not our cup of milk, that. Tracy didn't want to go out to Uyak because the work was long, boring, grueling, and long. Did I mention long?

At that time Tracy's boyfriend kept calling her and begging her to come home. He even asked her to marry him. She didn't really want to go and leave me on my own, so I was greatly chagrined to find that she had decided to go after all. I didn't have enough money to go back with her. The wonderful boyfriend (who turned out to be a real piece of work) would only foot the bill for his Sweety. So I was left to fend for myself in the wilds of Alaska.
The main chunk of Kodiak from the mtns.
At first I was petrified. Guys wear beards and beanies and flannel and carry weapons up there (not that that's bad, but they're definitely a rougher bunch than I was used to). I was no shrinking princess, but this was BIG. We'd gotten to slightly know three girls from upstairs, who were going to the University I planned to attend in the fall. Slightly.

That speck is me--mtns behind Kodiak
About that time the girls told me they were moving out to the coastguard base to live with a church friend and offered me a place. I had to get myself back and forth to town and pay for my own food. It was a lucky thing that I worked in a place which allowed me free grazing of anything we sold. Ah buckets of shrimp!

I spent the Fourth of July watching fireworks blossom over the bay. Beautiful but lonely. The girls really kept to themselves and made unilateral decisions which didn't include me. I was definitely homesick.

Then I got a call from the company hiring for Uyak. I really had no ties to the "city", and Uyak offered room, board, and work, so I went.

The seaplane ride out was breathtaking. We flew over ranks and ranks of snow-capped mountains and great expanses of steely water dotted with tiny fishing boats. At one point we even spotted a pod of whales.

Uyak Cannery
After an hour of bouncing around in the capricious currents we skidded into the water and rode a wave into a black-pebbled beach. We were in Uyak. My luggage, unbeknown to me, carried Tracy's tag, so everybody was asking where she was and I couldn't get them to give me my bag. It took a whole afternoon to untangle the snafu.

Fishing boats in the mist
Uyak is a fish camp/cannery perched on the side of Uyak bay against a mountain backdrop. There is the cannery itself, a boys' bunkhouse and a girls' bunkhouse, the general store/post office, the mess hall, the cannery boss's house, the storehouse, and a few outbuildings, plus docks. There were no roads, no cars, no TVs, no other stores. We had a shopping cart and two forklifts.
Uyak Cannery from the mtn.


Across the bay there are some pretty big bear camps (hunting purposes) and a few islands we eventually explored with our fisherman friends. The climbing was spectacular; the water, delicious; the air, bracing; the views, peerless. We had whales, sharks, and fish in our front yard, bears in our backyard, and eagles above.
Where the cannery got its water

I'll finish the rest of this story in subsequent postings.

3 comments:

  1. What an adenturer you are, Heidi! Can't wait for the next installment.

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  2. Very well written Heidi! I'm a total adventure junkie too and to top it off I LOVE Alaska so I can't wait to read your next post and see your pictures!

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