Fear not, readers, as I have returned to both civilization and wi-fi.
From my couch in Kentucky (yes, Mom is quite pleased) I am here to recount the tales of these last four weeks spent in and around Alaska.
At the tail end of June, a small prop plane landed in Dutch Harbor, Alaska carrying me, seven newly-commissioned Ensigns and one 3/c cadet. Before boarding in Anchorage, each of us were asked to step onto a scale with all of our carry-ons – and when the seven sizable gents each stepped on, I had a sinking feeling about the fate our luggage. Sure enough, each of our seabags enjoyed an extra night alone in Anchorage.
Upon landing on the small airstrip (wedged between a steep mountainside and two harbors) we were met by Chiefs from the cutter (ship) who drove us to the pier. Having nothing to pack in, I was cut loose to explore the grandeur that is Dutch Harbor.
For anyone that has not heard of this particular landmass, it is located on Unalaska – one of the many islands that form the Aleutian chain in the Bering Sea. It is the #1 fishing port in the United States, and home to the infamous crews of Deadliest Catch (who own one of the two bars on the island). With a population just over 1,000, the town itself has one restaurant, a Safeway, and the Alaskan Ship Supply store (affectionately known by it's acronym).
Needless to say, the town takes approximately three hours to explore. Collectively, I spent five and a half days.
Unlike some ports, pulling out of Dutch Harbor was no huge disappointment; the island had no cellular service, I was rather content with my explorations (one can only buy so many sweatshirts and take so many eagle selfies) and most importantly, I was excited to be getting underway for the first time all summer.
The next eighteen days were spent in the Bering Sea – and I could not possibly have asked for a better adventure – nor a more interesting group of people to go gallivanting after illegal fishing vessels with.
Within three days of leaving Dutch Harbor, we had crossed the international dateline. On the fourth day I was in the middle of breakfast when it dawned on me that I was no longer seasick, and by the end of our first week, we were prepared to cross the Arctic Circle. (Given that I was in the engine room most conscious hours, I'm not certain when that crossing actually occurred – but it happened.)
The days all blended together as I worked towards the qualifications I was after, as well as some personal goals along the way. One Sunday afternoon, upon hearing the pipe for a fish call, I turned to one of my classmates.
"I think I'll just go watch for a few minutes."
I returned three hours later with rod in hand, salt dried to my face and fish blood dripping from the front of my Gortex parka. I was in love.
Fearful of the 5,000 calories I was willingly consuming each day, as soon as I recovered from my initial seasickness I set out on a new workout plan – my very own Bering Sea marathon. While the sideways rolling of the ship turned the treadmill into more of an amusement park ride, I accomplished that goal in a week. (The tricky part was climbing back up the ladder to get out of the gym.)
Noteworthy sights from the ship include glaciers, volcanos, a glacier on a volcano and whales and wildlife galore. Call me simple-minded but truthfully, I'm always most fascinated by the water itself.
The extended Alaskan sunshine added a whole new dimension to the trip; only once in those three weeks did I see darkness, I when I walked onto the pitch black bridge at 0330, the whole team was taken aback. Most nights getting off of watch in the engine room at 2330, I was blinded by the most golden sunshine streaming in through the portholes.
But alas, all adventures must come to an end – or relocate. Back in Dutch, bonfires sprang up and the bars turned on the neon in time for the crew to supplement the local economy. (I believe I saw more whales than Dutch Harbor natives – and that's not an exaggeration.)
As I watched my classmates' plane leave the small airfield, I again had a sinking feeling about the fate of my travels. Forty minutes later, my flight was cancelled, and the cutter welcomed me (and my seabag) back with open arms. Which is how my one night in Dutch and one week in Ketchikan both turned into three-day vacations.
So as I was saying, three days and three flights later, I finally arrived to my final unit of the summer: an ashore detachment in Ketchikan, charged with vessel inspections, pollution response, vessel casualty reports, etc.
Compared to Dutch, Ketchikan (and its ten thousand daily cruise ship tourists) could have been NYC in terms of civilization. Arriving mid-morning on a Friday, there wasn't much for me to see at the unit. After providing me with a room in the barracks, the keys to a Dodge Ram and insider knowledge of the best of the town, I was set free for the weekend.
Oh what fun I had.
On Saturday night I bought a ticket to the local dinner theatre whose play, the "Fish Pirate's Daughter", has been performed for fifty one summers in Ketchikan. While I do appreciate hometown arts, my true motive was the crab buffet. Paper plates and bottled waters aside, it did not disappoint.
Sitting at a table with eight locals, I couldn't help but ponder how in the world I had ended up spending a summer evening watching a play in a civic center in Ketchikan, Alaska. (The Lord works in mysterious ways.)
The next day was equally adventurous.
"Just drive eight or so miles past base and you'll find Herring Cove eventually. Just look for people on a bridge looking for bears."
Not even Google could sort out those directions for me, but who am I to question such simplicity. I decided to save that particular adventure for the evening low tide, and spent my morning hunting totem poles.
Committed to spotting a black bear, I made my way to Herring Cove that evening and was not disappointed. (I was, however, distracted by several waterfalls in the process.)
The next morning, I began my journey home, marking the end of my month in the Last Frontier as well as my summer training. With two weeks left, there's only one place left to go…. as soon as my luggage arrives.
Fingers crossed for wi-fi in Thailand. Thanks for keeping up with my adventures, friends!