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A true summer vacation

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A true summer vacation

The Harris River on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska is clear, cold and has big runs of late summer salmon and winter steelhead.

Photo by JANICE LUND/


POSTED June 8, 2011 12:47 a.m.

It’s a 47-minute walk from where I checked my bags at the float plane dock to downtown Ketchikan. With two of the three flights to get me home out of the way and four hours until takeoff I walked the 2.7 miles, because as any Alaskan will tell you, if it’s 72 and sunny, you better not take it for granted.

Plus, I had just carried my 97-pounds of luggage out the door by the baggage carousel, down the long covered walkway to the airport ferry which takes passengers from the island with the airport to the island with the town, then three blocks to the float plane dock.

Sitting would have contorted my spine even more, so I walked.

Creosote-soaked pilings support the commercial buildings on the waterfront where the main traffic artery flows. The trucks that edge the curb have a dog, gas can, crab pot, lumber or fishing tackle in the beds, most a combination two or more of these items.

Bumper stickers say things like “Commercial Fishermen, Feeding the World” and “Alaska Girls Kick [donkey]”. There is an Alaskan flag after “Girls”, and it doesn’t really say donkey.

Seaplanes are like seagulls here, and bald eagles like pigeons.

The last half mile of my walk was through the downtown area where the tourism industry threw up sleazy jewelry stores and things decidedly un-Alaskan, but it’s a necessity as the local economy is dependent on entertaining tourists.

On the third page of the Ketchikan Daily News is the cruise ship schedule. There are no ships scheduled for today, but tomorrow there will be 8,896 tourists and were five ships and 10,550 people Monday, which almost doubled the town’s population.

I bought two fish tacos from the guide at The Hook Up fly shop which provides a little sanity to the back corner of one of those buildings that sells cheap touristy stuff. After talking about water back home the guide sold me those two steelhead flys out of her private stash maybe because I was a reprieve from the day’s other traffic, or semi-local. Either way, this is exactly as things should be.

They were full price, but they weren’t on display. I threw in a couple other nymphs to support the local business. It was the least I could do for the shop making me feel so important. I tried to get the new t-shirt, but they didn’t have my size.

I left and walked past the masses that were taking pictures in front of signs, buildings, totem poles and each other on my way through the heart of one of my favorite cities.

I stopped at my favorite coffee shop on earth, Ketchikan Coffee Company and almost fell asleep at the bar. Sure I was tired from waking up at 4:15 to catch the 6:30 flight out of Sacramento, but having nothing to worry about except manual labor like chopping firewood and catching fish for the next two months made me relaxed to the point of being sleepy.

I stared past the barista into the mirror that reflected the boats tied up in the harbor across the street. The water was calm and sparkly. It looked tired too, probably because it spends so much of its time being fussy.

I talked to the four employees about books, Alaska, travel and teaching before the walk back to the float plane dock.

My pilot was waiting and asked if I wanted to leave early.

Again, this is exactly as things should be.

I said sure, and we took off an hour before the scheduled time. I sat shotgun in a plane with all the aft seats removed to accommodate freight. The pilot (who looked like he could have been in my journalism class) steered us toward my hometown, above the rolling ocean and green forest topped with the leftover snow from winter. We talked fishing, Alaska, travel, hunting and basketball until the decent.

After dinner, I eyed the mountain of hemlock rounds I’d have to eventually spit and stack, ignored it and went fishing.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.

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