Monday, August 31, 2015

Alaska — Summer of 2015

For me another Alaskan summer has come and gone already. As usual I'm struggling with feelings both sad and glad. It was a fine summer especially because I bought an old but well cared for 1988 Winnebago in which I have been living since mid June. That means my usual uncertainty about where I'll be staying won't come into play next spring — I now have a place of my own. I found it on Craigslist and drove to Palmer to pick it up. The owner was asking 6500 bucks for it and explained that it had been well taken care of. It had even been recently waxed, top to bottom. He mentioned the fact that others were in line to see it but I only needed a brief look before making the decision; I knew in an instant that it was going to make the perfect summer home. While 27 footers are fairly common and are roomier than this 21 footer, I wanted something that would fit into a standard parking space and that was easier to drive than those bigger motorhomes. This one has all the basics: kitchen, furnace, toilet, hot & cold running water, even a flat screen TV and a comfy 3/4 bed that can be left fully open without blocking the entryway. The few weeks I spent in it were terrific — I enjoyed them thoroughly.

I came to Alaska back in 1983 in a Ford Econoline van my then partner KJ and I drove all the way from New England. The journey we embarked upon in November of 1982 was a long and circuitous one that took us first to Florida and Mexico before finally turning north toward Alaska. I completely enjoyed traveling and living in that van and had so many adventures and travels in it after settling in Homer that I've missed it a lot over the years. Although the Winnie's accommodations are quite modest by today's standards, they beat hell out of the Econoline and it's been a hoot living in it. I set her up behind my old office in downtown Homer so I have electricity, wi-fi, shower and toilet facilities, and my commute to work has been reduced from 5 miles to a just few steps. I will probably come earlier and stay later next summer now that housing is no longer a concern.

My Winnie at Quartz Creek
The Winnie's kitchen
I made a few trips north to look at motorhomes as well as two round trips to Anchorage with my son Tuli and grandson Harper. The Sterling and Seward Highways run through some of the prettiest country in the world and I relished it in the special way that someone who has hiked and fished in so many memorable places along the way can do. Below is Watson Lake where my good buddy Kirk and I went ice fishing many years ago. I drove that same Ford van out onto the ice where we used it for a windbreaker and portable kitchen. We had a chain saw along and like true Alaskans cut deadwood for a bonfire that kept us warm as we fished and after fortifying ourselves with a few shots of whiskey, cheerful too. One summer my old friend Jimmy Wiles and I caught a couple of Kenai River red salmon from my canoe. One of those fish dragged us all the way to the opposite end of the lake before we got it into the boat.

Watson Lake on a cloudy afternoon
With the glaring exception of the 4th of July weekend, which must have been a total bummer for countless Anchorage vacationers, it was a pretty fine summer weather-wise. The Homer area and Kachemak Bay region are photogenic and offer the photographer plenty to choose from. Here are a few shots from around downtown Homer.

Beluga Lake - 4th of July evening
Beluga Lake - 4th of July evening
Beluga Slough Trail
View from Mariner Park
View from Small Potatoes Sawmill
Small Potatoes' V-W powered Mobile Dimensions sawmill
As always I spent a good deal of time visiting with friends. There were cookouts and dinners, hikes and parties. A motorcycling buddy who, along with Al and DC, I traveled with during my first season in Thailand, Vancouver Andy, drove his new Honda CB500X to Homer from Vancouver, BC, in just three days. He hung around Homer for about a week and his presence was a good excuse to get the whole Thailand-Homer crew together for a dinner at Kiwi John's one night.
The Thailand Expats group, Homer Chapter
(L to R) Donnie, Albie, Walt, Vancouver Andy, Al, me, DC
My son Tuli and grandson Harper made an appearance again this year. After I picked them up at the Anchorage airport we camped overnight in a little pull off on the Hope Highway just a few miles from Hope. Tuli and I had spent a few very memorable days at the Porcupine Campground when he was a youngster and I was hoping to recapture that in some small way. Camping in Alaska is open on any public land and Alaska is chock full of public land. One can pull over and stay pretty much wherever you like. We had planned to stay at Porcupine but we found someplace better before we got there. The Hope Highway offers numerous places to free camp but his one was especially fine and we had it all to ourselves.

As luck would have it the pinks were indeed running. Resurrection Creek flows right through the little town of Hope and for a couple of weeks in July schools of pink salmon move upstream to their spawning beds. There were a few people
fishing but none of them had any fish landed. I chatted with a few of them trying to decide if it was worth digging out my boots and other gear. Two fellows told me fish had been caught earlier that morning and that it might be a good idea to make a few casts to see what might happen. The tide was rising and that often brings fish into the streams so I went back to the Winnie and grabbed my stuff. I had forgotten to pack my good lures and had with me only one old Mepps spinner in #2 size, which I figured was about right for this shallow stream. The spinner had a multicolored blade and its treble hooks were rusted from a long ago dunking in salt water but seeing as all the other lures I had were too big for such fast water I decided to try my luck with that one. I made a few practice casts until I was confident I could plunk the little spinner into the head of a long riffle at the far edge of the stream.

After a few casts, wham! A solid strike. I loosened the drag on my reel and gradually worked the fish to the side of the stream letting it run and pulling it back, enjoying each run. Then before it could work its way off the hook I quickly hauled it onto the shore. Now, most people will tell you that pink salmon are the poorest of the salmon species. They're small, not loaded with oil like reds and kings (sockeyes and chinooks for you southerners) and are less flavorful as a result. And that is true, to a point. They are a good fighter though and remind me of silver salmon (coho), which is one of the fightingest fish you'll ever come across. And too, a pink salmon taken just after it leaves salt water is a good eating fish that can hold its own on anyone's menu. A few more casts brought another pink to the shore. I cleaned them in the clear cold water, gave away the eggs they were carrying to fishermen who would later use them as bait, posed for a couple of photos with Harper, and off we went for pie and coffee at the well known Discovery Cafe in downtown Hope.

Resurrection Creek pinks

"Sprucehurst" 1989-1995
Not only did we have two fine fish dinners in store for us but I had relived a cherished memory that has occupied a special place in my heart for many years; the memory of living in Alaska when I was raising Tuli in a small cabin with wood heat and no running water. I'd return to those days in a heartbeat if it were possible.

A few days later we drove the Winnie north again to Cooper Landing for some rafting on the Kenai River with the Haggerty boys, Max and Lance, two of Tuli's lifelong best friends, and some other Homer folks. We all did a short float from Cooper Landing to the Russian River Ferry, and then the next day the group rafted from there down to Skilak Lake. Harper and I passed on that section and instead hiked to the Russian River Falls. The little guy hiked almost 6 miles that day, an impressive feat for a 6-year old city slicker!

The rafting party — Tuli's the tallest, Harper the shortest

Harper tries out Lance's pack raft
Lance Haggerty

Max Haggerty
On the Russian River trail
At Russian River Falls
Soon after that it was time to drop the boys off in Anchorage for their flight back to Eugene and for me to winterize the Winnie and pack my own bags for the annual trek to Thailand. I spent my last full day in Homer at Doug's daughter Maddie's wedding. It was a perfect end to another beautiful Alaskan summer.

The Explorer at my favorite Quartz Creek rest stop