We were headed up through the clouds and I hoped it was just another overcast day in Seattle. I had made my usual plans for the flight. Seats on the right side of the plane for the trip north and on the left for the trip back. The reason was simple. Columbia Glacier and all of the smaller ones that flow into the Atlantic along the coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska. That way you could see the coastline and not just the Pacific on the way up and on the way back. It was a trip I had been making for years and I didn’t want to miss anything. Fortunately, the planes were always a bit smaller with only two seats on each side of the aisle, and this time that was especially important because Jan was with me.
The tour we were on was always the same. Fairbanks, Anchorage, Kenai, Juneau, and Ketchikan. And this time, like the last, would be especially fun because we were with our favorite band to tour with. The Bellamy Brothers who always “let their love flow” wherever they were. Great guys that always seem to be having fun. I knew Jan was going to like them as much as we did.
As always, Kenai was the first engagement on the list. While we flew into Anchorage, Kenai down on the Kenai peninsula was only a few hours drive through the country that is far too beautiful to describe. I’m not sure how many times I have played Kenai but we had been doing it since the early 80s. On our first trips, one could count on seeing Alaska wildlife everywhere. Like deer in Missouri, driving meant being careful not to run into a moose. On one steep hillside next to the road one could always see mountain goats, and bald eagles were like bluejays in the lower 48. On our very first trip, a pilot flew us from Anchorage to Kenai and showed us a huge herd of caribou grazing in a large open spot. We, no doubt, were not in Missouri anymore.
That first trip was a single event. The Freaker’s Ball. It took place in Soldotna, a sister town to Kenai, and was nothing more than a crossroads. But the ball was in a large field and drew people from everywhere, several of whom Michael and I decided were criminals hiding out from the law. There were tons of motorcycles and they had their own special sporting event. There was a long ramp elevated at one end that extended into the small lake where the event took place. The game. To see who could fly his bike the farthest before hitting the water. I never asked anyone how or why somebody would do such a thing but do it they did. I guess the answer was it was Alaska. Why not. The fireworks were sticks of dynamite.
My second trip was a concert with Robby Krieger from The Doors. Robbie is the one who wrote “Light My Fire.” The day after the concert a guide provided us with a float down the Kenai River. At one point I looked over and there was Michael next to me wearing a Panama hat. Next to him, Robbie was dressed in some kind of black lizard skin looking jacket and black and white zebra striped balloon pants. All of this against the forest and ferns of the Kenai. At that point, I realized I was living a visually unique life.
The next trip to Kenai was with a country group. Being Alaska there are ravens everywhere, squawking as ravens do. The guitar player said in his deep Kentucky accent “look at all them crows. Down at home we Keeel ‘em.” “They are ravens,” I told him. “The indigenous people up here hold them sacred. They come down and mingle with people and then fly over the mountains. They believe they are messenger to the Gods.” The guitar player looked at me blankly and said,” down at home we call ‘em crows and we keeel ‘em.” I hoped he was not typical of Kentucky guitar players.
So given the beauty of the place and my unique experiences, every time I have been in Alaska I tell myself “next time Jane has to come along.” And now here she was. Sitting beside me as we touched down in Anchorage. Anchorage had grown a lot since my first trip. I remember being astonished when I saw moose wandering around the lake where the seaplanes were docked and in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn. The place has become quite civilized since then but it was still Alaska.
Jan and I had rented a car for the drive to Kenai which was now a fairly large town that had grown together with Soldotna. Because darkness fell shortly before midnight at that time of year we continued down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer Spit at the very tip. From there one could see several glaciers and even a piece of Kodiak Island. The only thing better than the view was the food. If you like halibut and haven’t been to the coast of Alaska you haven’t really had halibut. It’s that good.
Homer is home to at least one of the crab boats on the “Deadliest Catch.” We had been binging on that show for a few weeks so it was time to check out the crab business in Homer. The boats and the assorted equipment needed for that endeavor were everywhere. A little poking around was all it took to find some of the stuff we had been seeing on television. Crab pots, boats, buoys, pulleys, and things I had no idea what they were used for except crabbing.
So stuffed with halibut, we headed north, up the peninsula, to Kenai and the concert. Trying to get used to the length of the spring daylight has always made the first few days seem like a dream to me. It’s 10:30 and not even dusk. But being in Alaska is a whole lot like being in a dream. While Kenai and Soldotna as well as Anchorage have grown tremendously since my first trip they are still just small pieces of civilization sitting on the edge of the wildest place I have ever been. Will I ever go back? If the opportunity arises and the body is willing, Jan and I will be there.
There will be more about Jan and me in Alaska coming up. So stay tuned.
I saw Jewel before she was famous somewhere on the Peninsula. You’re right, that part of the world is like living in a postcard
I made it to Maui with my cameras. Next stop Alaska!! Hopefully someday.
Great stories Tom.
Keep em coming!