We came to this town because it seemed a perfect fit for us (according to the guidebooks). When you come in from the water, across a space of wilderness that takes at least two days to get to the nearest place that would commonly be recognized as civilization, you have to make sure of these things. Because nothing is more disappointing than facing cantankerous seas, scouting out anchorages at some wild half-way spot (that aren't harboring dangerous rocks just beneath the surface), then finally pulling into a destination that absolutely couldn't be the one you were looking for. But it is.
By the time we finally got here, I had a mountain of deadlines looming, and some that had already toppled over. A few people even thought I might be dead. Internet at the docks? Well, it was in the works, but the committee voted the cell tower down, again, because of the expense. However there was a library “just up the hill,” where—even if they weren't open—you could still get reception outside the building. Grocery store? Other than a sort of mini-mart, the closest was about eighty miles away.
Considering it would take a two-week camping trip to hike that far—and the return trip with groceries would be as good as a sign on our backs in bear language that read, “VICTIM HERE”... walking it was not an option. Neither was hitch-hiking (although it was tempting), since when we finally did make that trip, we did not meet a single other vehicle on the way, and only a couple returning. So, we reluctantly decided we would have to spend the extra hundred and fifty dollars to rent a car for the day (only suburbans, vans, or trucks available because most roads were only gravel logging roads), and buy an entire winter's worth of food all at once. But, alas... none of them were available. Even though there were five agencies listed in those guidebooks.
The local company was run by a man who also worked for the ferries (everyone does two, or three, jobs to make ends meet around here), so he was gone every other week. We called several times to make a reservation, until someone informed us that his wife was visiting family off-island for a couple of weeks, so there would be no one to answer the phone. And while the other businesses were scattered around the island, our best bet was probably in that town we were trying so hard to get to. But what about that “Rainforest Ferry,” the guidebooks (Who wrote that thing?) said left from here, and ran between Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Petersburg? A new dock was ready and waiting, but they hadn't found the right kind of ferry boat, yet.
All of which was getting frustrating, since we were planning on making a few repairs (something about a leaky shaft seal and a busted motor-mount), before setting out over the big water, again. And why hadn't we been able to find that town fifty miles before this one, that was bigger? We searched over an hour for it, before we had to give up and catch a tide that was favorable, or stay another night “out of touch” after so many. What's up with that? Not only could we not find the town, we couldn't find any “divine footsteps” around there, either. Not then.
Because they were in this town.
So it was, that as the Captain and I were in the middle of our morning prayers (telling the good Lord how much we needed a car, that day), a pastor from Forks, Washington (who had brought a work team up for a week to do Vacation Bible School, or anything else they could help the churches around here with) came down to the boat. He said he needed to go to town, and did we want to ride along? Did we ever! And while it brought us dangerously close to our “choking point” to have to buy so many groceries all at one time, there happened to be an extra ten percent off your whole bill at the grocery store—that day only (What? Whoever heard of such a thing?)—which saved us a considerable heap.
Wonderful fellowship and beautiful scenery, all the way (thank you, Pastor Bob!), and a comforting peace that comes from knowing God is still in control of this “expedition of the Glory B,” even when we doubt it. Somewhere along the line I got the sense I should quit fussing about who wrote the guidebooks, too. Because we were brought here to see something. Not the fact that places might be closed, even though posted hours said they weren't. Shh... be still. Watch, and listen. They are on “island time,” here.
And maybe there's something I need to know about that.
We have been traveling through wilderness places for about two weeks, now. Until somewhere in the middle of our last dangerous stretch of big water (known as the Dixon Entrance), we crossed over the boundary line of the U.S. border, again, and were finally in Alaska! Our long-time dream turned to reality. But there was no time for celebrations, just then, other than a very heart-felt, “Praise the Lord!”
Because we were on a time schedule relegated by the tide and winds, moving over a sea that could change from beauty to beast within minutes. We also had a gauntlet to run at the end, which we had no idea about. But it was better that way, since the added stress would have probably been too much at that point. Something about the Lord protecting us from more than we could handle at any given time. At any rate, he had us covered (thank you, God).
It was day two of the commercial salmon season. And while we were picking our way along the coast of many islands, moving in and out of fog patches, and praying the “chop” didn't get any higher than two-to-three feet before we could scurry back into another piece of the Inside Passage, again...there suddenly seemed to be fishing boats spread out from one end of the horizon to the other.
Trying to decide the least crowded place to slip past, we finally got close enough to see that those “blank spaces” were not blank—they were nearly two thousand feet of net spread out behind the back of each boat. So, there really were no blank spaces. Only narrow paths signified by bright orange balls (that disappeared into the chop if it was much over a foot) that one could only pass on the right. Should you fail to notice where that was, there were smaller runner boats that would zoom up in front of you, manned by one, or two crew-members hollering for you to turn back, or go around. And should you come close to actually crossing over the net, the air would turn blue as they clarified themselves more distinctly. We didn't run over any nets (thank heavens!) but we were turned away more than once, in no uncertain terms.
Coming into Ketchikan—our first Alaskan city—was only slightly less mortifying. It was situated on a long narrow channel crowded with cruise ships coming and going, sea planes landing and taking off from every direction, a few tugboats hauling huge barges, and more fishing boats. Oh, yes, and the ferry. Our only consolation was that these northwest people could drive and park boats, no matter what size, with about the same ease as we ordinary folk slip into a parking place at our local shopping centers. But it was still nerve-wracking because we didn't know where to go.
The guidebooks said to call ahead and customs would tell you where (there were at least four different docking areas in view, all full-to-bursting with commerce). But we didn't have a phone. Because I, um... dropped it into the harbor back in Canada. We did have a VHF radio turned to the appropriate channel, but the officials on the other end weren't answering theirs.
In the end, we tied up at the first empty place we could fit in, and the customs agent came to us. Everyone was friendly, more than helpful, and incredibly laid-back. It took two days to catch our breath and figure out the next step. Because a phone call to the Wrangell harbor (which had been our goal), placed from the local grocery store, revealed there was no place for us there (for at least two years), and no place to anchor out, either. So, back to the guidebooks, to devise a “plan B.”
Which is how we came to discover a little (very little, only 165 people here) town on a very huge Prince of Wales Island (fourth largest in the U.S.), where they not only had room for us, but it was even affordable. It was only about seventy-five miles away, across the notorious Clarence Strait, where a good day means anything under three feet of chop, less than twenty knots of wind, and visibility at least half a mile (due to the persistent “patchy” fog that lives there). A good day just happened to be coming up for us, the very next morning.
So it was that we scurried into Coffman Cove, two days later, mere minutes ahead of yet another patch of fog and changing currents, to finally tie up at a lovely little marina for some much-needed rest, relaxation, and repairs, after our very long voyage over hundreds of miles. Which I will tell you more about during the next couple of weeks, as we start to explore this island. But considering I just heard there are old gold mines here (one of which is under speculation to be commercially reactivated)...
Good heavens, I'm feeling better, already.
So, let the adventures begin.