Thursday, August 6, 2009

31-2009 Ketchikan Alaska

31-2009 Ketchikan Alaska

Campground: Clover Pass Resort. Full hookups w/satelite tv. $31. This is a marina/fish camp with motels rooms. Laundry $1 per wash and dry. Note: water is tea colored. Place is not well cleaned. Laundry room is dirty, outdoor sitting area near dock has refuse left over from late evening parties and is not cleaned up by staff. Fellow campers recommend not getting a site next to water as the partiers will keep you awake all night. Restaurant is not open to public, but motel guests may use the kitchen facilities and gas grill.

I’ve only been here a couple of days, but realized I just didn’t want to exit Alaska so quickly. That being decided, I drove down to the Ferry terminal and changed my ferry ride for a week later. The ticket agent, a 29 yr. old guy made the changes. I asked how he ended up in Ketchikan and he told me his story. When he was 21, still living with his parents, his dad asked him if he’d like to go to Alaska. He responded, “sure, when are we going?”. His dad came back and said, we’re not going, you are. You see he has a sister up here and his parents decided it was time he flew the coop, with a bit of a nudge from them. He’s been up here for 8 years now. Left for a short time, and came right back.

Back at Clover Marina Resort, I was sitting down on the raised dock area overlooking the Bahn canal when a couple of large birds flew by. Took me a minute to realize they were bald eagles and yes they really are large. How dramatic to see them catch a fish and fly back to their nest.

I headed into Ketchikan Saturday to attend the Blueberry Festival. I’m about 16 miles north of the town on the North Tongass road. The closer I get into town, the more shipping containers, barges and tug boats I see along the channel . Although the island is fairly large and long, the only land that is buildable is a narrow strip of land along the western edge. The rest of the land, well over 95% is part of the Tongass National Forest. Also as I get closer to town, I notice there are many areas with debris such as old building supplies, rusted out construction vehicles that no longer work and other debris. It appears as if once it’s no longer needed or working, it gets dumped where ever along this narrow strip of land.

The town itself has a unique character being a fishing and a working staging center for goods and services for all the other islands along the Alaskan inner passage. Many of the well worn buildings sit right on the edge of the roadway, barely enough room for a sidewalk or parking. Older houses hug the sides of the steep hills facing the water. A couple of aging apartment buildings sit on the edge of town anywhere from 5 to 15 stories high. Most of the windows open with curtains flapping in the breeze. No one has air conditioning up here since this is normally a cool damp place being in the temperate rain forest. But on a warm sunny day like this, every door and window is open.

The tourist part of town has winding narrow streets near the cruise line docks. A bit further is the old shanty town district where the locals pushed all the hookers once they decided to clean up Ketchikan. Dolly’s house is now a museum. It’s now a quaint shopping district with it’s buildings perched over the river where hundreds of salmon are now spawning upstream. Some already dead, belly up. You know they die as soon as they lay their eggs.

I parked about 4 blocks from town and walked through the one way tunnel at the entrance to town. Up the street and to a parking garage in a newer building where most of the vendors had set up. It sits high up above the downtown area and I could see boats and float planes taking off. This festival is mainly for the locals and the locals are really noisy. Talking to everyone they meet, happy to have a chance to share stories with one another. Two young teenage boys, cousins by the sound of it, discussed their high schools. One said, how many girls are pregnant in your school. The other said 3 or 4. Some are getting an abortion, others not. An older native American or first Nation person as they are often called up here was thrilled to see a young man. She knew what island he had moved to and for how long and was so happy to see him back in Ketchikan. Family is very big in these smaller communities.

I waited in line for a blueberry crepe and later in another line for a blueberry smoothie. Had a cup of Alaskan coffee which is awesome. They were having a battle of the bands and the small stage was very well organized. All the equipment being set up ahead of time, each performer merely got up on stage, plugged in their instrument and began playing. I left after the bagpipe player came on stage… never having been a fan of that particular instrument. Oh and I missed the slug races. Darn.

From the book “If you lived here, I’d know your name”. Heather Lende there is a quote I liked: “How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives”. The book is about her life in Haines Alaska. She’s an obit writer for the local paper, writes a column in the Anchorage paper. Her stories intertwine with life and death, a rugged life where everyone knows their neighbor and everyone lives on the edge of this wilderness lifestyle.

I spent my day driving around Ketchikan, exploring the Ketchikan History Museum, which I might add was small but very well done. Giving a sense of the Inuit life here before the white man arrived. Then the wave of fishermen, miners, lumber men and tourists, each adding their own dimension to this town. And the previous day I had a super nice Sunday drive to the south end of the island to Herring Bay where I got out and walked around the tiny community. Next to the bridge I started a conversation with a young couple rehabbing an old home next to the river. They were painting the railing around a wrap around deck. The house needs tons of work but has more than that in potential as their home. A dreamy location if there ever was one. I hated to leave and will probably drive back there just to see it one more time.

What’s important to Alaskans? In the Ketchikan Daily News, which is the widest paper I’ve ever read, it’s the success of the “Blueberriest of days“, the Blueberry festival. U.S. Rep. Lu Young’s wife died. He is so well liked throughout Alaska, they will lower the states flag to half mast for his beloved wife on Tuesday. And the King salmon are vanishing from western Alaska due to Pollock fisheries. They use large nets to capture the Pollock out in the Bering Sea also capturing the king salmon along the way. It’s not only important nationally but also because of subsistence fishing and hunting is permitted in Alaska as many natives and non natives live on what they catch or kill. Without the kings swimming upstream each year, many natives living in remote areas of Alaska will go hungry. Probably the last place in North America where people live off the land.

On one of my last days in town, I had breakfast at a local restaurant called the Pioneer cafĂ©. I mentioned to the waitress that I thought it was neat that Wal-Mart has a courtesy shuttle van for the locals to get to and from the store. She said, oh no, it’s not for the locals, it’s only for the cruise ship passengers. If you’re a local, they won’t let you on the shuttle. How strange.

John Seibert and his lovely wife are up here on a cruise celebrating their 35 (?) anniversary. I
met them at the dock and we walked around town a bit, had coffee and later on lunch. What a surprise to meet a former co-worker up here in Alaska. And Linda Hill will be here as well in a few more days. Seems like everyone’s coming to Alaska this summer and for good reason. It’s one special place. Can’t wait to share our experiences with each other.

Next stop, Prince Rupert British Columbia.

more photos on my picasa site.


John said...

Quote: "How nice that they help the inebriated by labeling them in case they forget who they are."

I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read this! Think I will have to follow this blog more! But first, I think I finally found a way to justify that third beer after a long hard day, I'm going to put my name tag on, then go to the fridge.

Rene & Michael said...

What a great narrative of your time in Ketchikan! And if you're looking for a Ketchikan Map, you can find it here: