In May I left Tacoma with one plan and that plan failed. The beginning of my summer was going to be filled with bicycles and international ferries to Alaska. Then my friend’s touring bike got stolen. [Note to all people with bicycles in Tacoma: Do NOT leave your bicycle out unattended for days, even if locked.] Here is what we did instead. We made some friends with HUGE hogs in Victoria, took a road-trip with our non-stolen bikes through Washington. I find that exploring the places closest to home can also be rewarding.
As for the Alaska plans… the following is a quote from an unpublished post I wrote about what I thought I was going to be doing. “I am going for it. The part of me that wanted to go to Alaska without a job fought hard and lost the match with the part of me that would accept any job. So I will be in a salmon cannery. Please watch this video, Cannery Girl, I expect every day in my cannery to also be full of sunshine, frolicking, and music making.” [Sorry for quoting myself, but it is an accurate reflection into the past.]
HA! I lasted two days at that cannery. On the second day of factory orientation with nothing to do I was helping out a curly haired, lettuce planting, trinket collecting, fishing-net hanger lady when a skipper and another girl my age came up to the net hanger lady and asked if she knew of anyone who was looking for a job as a deckhand. After quickly running the prospects through my head I considered it fate. I asked the eccentric net-hanger lady if he was a good skipper. Then ran the idea by my only fisher-friend up there who said go for it. Later that day the Calahaan, a 32 foot aluminum drift gillnet boat was in the water and I was on it.
But what really sealed the deal was the fact that the other girl in the group of boats we fished with was a UPS alum. LOGGERS are EVERYWHERE! There were eight of us that I met in Naknek, AK (population 544) fishing in Bristol Bay. Something about adventure, perseverance, hard-work, insanity, bad-assery, and stinky jobs attracts us I suppose.
For one month exactly I lived in a tiny little cabin (fo’c’sle to be more snooty) with two guys wholly different from myself. They listened to a lot of rap. Once I suggested putting on a podcast of ‘This American Life’ to pass the time, it lasted less than 5 minutes. Most of our time was focused on salmon though. Salmon or the boat, cleaning it, checking it, anchoring it, tying it up etc. The best days were the ones where we caught a lot of fish. That might sound dumb but we all got moody if we weren’t catching fish. On slower days every time that there was a splash in the net, indicating we had caught at least one fish, the one who spotted the fish would whoop and holler and you could feel our happiness emanate. On the days where there were lots of fish there was also lots of whooping and hollering. But there was also a lot of sweating, cursing, pressure, and ache. In a good day a drift gill-netter in Bristol Bay will catch anywhere from 10-15,000 pounds of salmon (sometimes more). Each fish averages 5-7 lbs. And each fish has to be individually picked, shaken, untangled, and man-handled out of the net as its gills get caught (hence the name gill-net). Those were my favorite days.
My least favorite days were the days where I was puking over the side of the boat. My skipper kept saying that everyone does it. But that did little to make me feel any better. Sometimes the waves just get the better of you and it sucks.
And now all I can talk about is fish. Luckily I was surrounded by fellow fishermen for a while so we all could commiserate about our season. What is great about Alaskans is that even if they don’t fish. They cook fish. So here I am in Anchorage, at a friend from UPS’s house, where they have taught me how to smoke the salmon that I brought back from the bay with me. My senior year will be known as the semester of salmon.
Monday begins the next bit of adventure. The Al-Can highway drive. We plan on listening to Harry Potter 7, stopping at every hot-springs along the way (there is only one), and rolling into Tacky-town just in time to catch some real summer-time (you know with heat, sun, and such).
Until then, catch some big ones.