Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2009
Hiking... We Cleaned the Coast and Island in the Distance
Ben– Hello world. Yesterday I found myself birthed back into your sunny bliss after 45 days cooped up in a boat, picking up America’s coastal refuse on most beautiful Alaskan beaches. Apparently my mother has taken it upon herself to keep you up to date on my recent situation, and while her efforts and motherly instinct must be applauded I can only quiver in embarrassment and offer a few words and pictures of a wonderful summer that ended with a dark and bitter aftertaste that sent me quickly spiraling into lurid insanity.
It all began innocently enough– we picked up much trash, saving the world one water bottle at a time, and sent many a boatload back to the wary glances of society, which was taken aback when it found its forgotten debris on its doorstep, having come full circle. The sun singed our bodies daily, something unheard of in Alaska, and we wallowed in its bounty for almost thirty days, slogging and sweating through logjams, swamplands, and ragged shores.
One of our more bulky trash items
Shortly after the fourth of July, however, disaster struck: While everyone was unloading garbage elsewhere, one of our crewmembers fell out of a zodiac at full speed, with no shoes on. The crazed machine kept going, running high speed circles around the poor life-jacketless Wyatt, as he struggled to grab it and get onboard in the frigid waters. Too long in such temperatures would mean certain death, and no shore was nearby. Alone, and nearing hypothermia he managed to grab the boat and climb onto it, but in the process he was sucked under the boat, where he stuck his bare feet into the running prop, ripping open both his feet. He made it back to the rest of us near shocked and hypothermic, but in otherwise chipper spirits. A quick evacuation left him with a few chipped bones and 11 stitches and a nice homebound vacation for the remainder of the trip, and us with one less crewmember.
Finding Love with a Ling Cod
Still, we continued on, resolute in our mission. We still had 8 days left on our contract when the first storm hit. After so many sunny days, it was inevitable, and as the clouds began to scuttle across the sky and winds whipped up the water into white walls, we anchored up and settled down. Stormbound for day after day, we stayed inside, our only company ourselves. Going outside for even a second meant instant soakage. Luckily, we could fish out the window of the boat, which resulted in a freezer-full of halibut and ling cod. Each front that moved through was followed by another, equally ferocious dumping moisture. If it was winter, the skiing would have been ungodly. After a week of cabin fever it was becoming clear that we were in a spot of trouble– the end of the contract was coming up, and it was more than likely we would be stuck out there well beyond the end date. On top of that, I had a plane ticket for Denver the day after that date, and I would do anything in order to not pay the airlines goddamned cancellation charges. We were running out of gasoline, and we were unsure if two of the three boats would make it back to port. Food also became an issue. Besides fish, pretty much the only available munchies were sandwich, and I watched every day as we had one less ingredient to put on them. The end of the cheese was a massive and horrible milestone. By the end I was subsisting entirely on orange jelly sandwiches.
One of Many Junkers to Be Found at Abandoned Coastal Cabins
One night, around day 8, we made a desperate attempt to flee, and were instantly shut down by the cresting waves on the Gulf of Alaska. We morosely anchored up in a romantic sounding spot, Midnight Cove, a part of Moonlight Bay. Romantic, it was not. We should have taken note of all the snapped stern lines littering the shore, relics of the cove’s malicious past. The next day, another front came in the afternoon, and brought on 18 hours of fear and uncertainty. Massive williwaws (huge sudden gusts of wind coming down from mountains into the sea) ripped into the steep valley and funneled into the boats at gusts of around 90 mph. We would watch them coming from afar, a roaring white arc of fury instantly turning calm waters into 3 foot waves, sending it spinning in whirls dozens of feet high. When a big one hit, the boat would roll to the opposite side and nearly dip the windows in, as everyone raced to the other side in a vain attempt to counterbalance. We had two anchors and a nice muddy seafloor to put them in, but the anchor pulled all night, dragging us close to the seashore, which could only be seen through the darkness and mist and sheets of flying water with a spotlight. Throughout the night we would go out into the rain, almost getting knocked off the boat by sudden gusts, to jockey the boat into the wind and reset the anchor. If the engines were to go out, or the anchor to snap, the stationary boat would have moved 100 feet and onto the shore in about 5 seconds. At noon the next day, groggy and exhausted, things began to finally calm down, and we went outside and found that the snubber lines (lines holding the anchor chain, to keep weight off the anchor winch) had snapped, leaving all the weight on the winch, which could easily have given way and ended us. A fun night!
This Cabin Had Only Been Abandoned for a Few Years
That day we changed anchorages, and sat it out– two more storms were on the horizon, and it was looking like we would never get out. I sat and moped as my plane took off, and was still sitting in the same place 8 hours later when it landed. Little gas, no food. Every twelve hours we got a new weather forecast on the radio, and we would huddle around it each time, waiting for magic words that never seemed to come. Despair flooded me, and things began to get weird, as two weeks had almost passed. There seemed to be no options on the recent horizon, as more fronts were moving in. The mainland was flooding. But then, somewhat anti-climactically, we found a window. There were 12 hours of managable, though not pleasant, weather on the Gulf. We jumped at the chance– the next opening wouldn’t be for a week at least– and went for it. A day later, here I am, still somewhat awed that I’m back in a non-stormy reality, with such wonderful and abundant dining opportunities. There is so much to do, so much to eat, yet I’ve done nothing but sit on my bed all day, overwhelmed by the unusual existence of options.
Another Washed up Appliance
Tomorrow, though, I’ll have to pick up the pace, as I have my rebooked flight for Denver, where I’ll join Nick and Ian in Breckenridge as we finish up the movie. There is much to be done yet, and I feel like it will be out of one storm and into another. Hurricane Signatures, forecast to devastate your shred-movie presuppositions and reduce your children to sandwich devouring ape-men: Hitting Soon.
Day 10, Sun: The Good
Day 35, Storm: The Bad
Day 43, 2nd to Last: The Weird
And some other summer fun:
Wyatt, prop-erly wounded... ha?
Resetting Anchors in the Storm
Breaking Through the Gauntlet on the Last Day