Further Adventures of Graphic Designer in the Wild

(This is part two of a three-post series. Click here if you missed part one)

…I watched him teeter toward us, disbelieving my eyes…

His legs bowed outward from the tops of his wobbly cowboy boots, and as he zigzagged down the dock, I was sure he was going to end up in the water. His hat was pulled down low and a shaggy gray mustache covered most of his sheepish grin. He looked like he had spent all night in a bar. Maybe more than one night.

“Charlie, you crazy old coot! You had some kinda weekend, huh?” The receptionist slapped him on the back affectionately. “Where’s yer bag, hon?” She grabbed his greasy-looking duffel and loaded it in for him. “Look, we’ve saved you the best seat!” She helped steady him as he weaved up to the little stool and climbed into the back of the plane.

I was such an idiot. Of course he wasn’t our pilot.

THAT was our pilot.

A tall, strapping young man was striding down the dock, and even from forty feet away it was clear that he was stone-cold-sober. Relief flooded me. Like all bush pilots I have flown with, this guy positively radiated calm, capable, no-nonsense efficiency and all-round good sense.

Alaskans are a bit kooky, but they don’t mess around with survival.

Just like that, my jitters vaporized. Welcome to Alaska.

For the entire trip, the pilot’s focus never wavered for a second. (Even with an annoying passenger sitting right next to him snapping a photo.)

 

The instrument panel of the deHavilland Beaver has a classic, almost art-deco style design. These planes were designed in the post WWII era specifically for flight in rugged and remote areas. They’re quite fun to ride in.

 

As the little plane puttered over the seemingly endless wilderness, I felt peace start to wash over me. For the first time since I had left Seattle, I felt truly relaxed. It was so nice to be far away from the insanity of 9/11.

The ride was a little bumpy through the occasional fog bank, but the winds were nice and calm..

 

We got to Thorne Bay right on time.

 

We landed, I made it up to the Ranger Station, met with my clients, took a little walk through town, and headed off to the place I would be staying. The couple who were renting me the room let me use the kitchen to heat up a can of chili, and we had a beer and talked about life on Prince of Wales Island and how much things had changed when the logging “stopped”. I’m on the environmental side of most resource-extraction issues, but I can understand how hard it is for people when their familiar way of life gets disrupted. Especially in a place like Thorne Bay, where the options are so limited.

But then, that’s why I was there, to make a small contribution to their recreation and tourist economy. Now—twelve years later—I wonder how they’re doing.

 

Thorne Bay is not what I would call charming, but it has a rough-around-the edges appeal.

You can find nice rooms to rent, either for a few nights or longer stays. People are very welcoming in this isolated little village.

 

Next week, I’ll tell you a bit about the real reason I was there…interpreting the fascinating limestone caves that lie hidden below beautiful Prince of Wales Island.

Click here for the next post in the series.

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4 thoughts on “Further Adventures of Graphic Designer in the Wild

  1. I used to have friends who were raised in various parts of Alaska… And I remember their flight stories! I call them horror stories, but they never blinked. Whooooaaaa. And I’m an experienced flyer, being an Army brat (where my one-way trip involved a 23-hour flight). But whoa. Alaska seemed pretty tricky. Still, I’d love to go. 🙂

    • One trip, I was getting ready for the return back home, and suddenly, this thick fog just came out of nowhere! The couple I was staying with told me that often, it takes days or even weeks to let up. I sure wasn’t looking forward to being stranded there…especially for weeks! But luckily, it lifted pretty quickly. Funny, even Google Maps can’t seem to find a satellite photo of that part of the Inside Passage that isn’t totally whited-out!

  2. I can’t explain why, exactly, but the picture of the instrument panel of the deHavilland Beaver strongly reminded me of the VW Beetle I learned to drive in. Weird-looking stickshift in the Beaver, though.

    • I think it’s the curved shape, and maybe the fact they were designed in similar eras…? According to Wikipedia, a famous bush pilot was instrumental (NPI) in the plane’s design, which was supposed to be rugged and powerful and “just faster than a dogsled”. The pilot’s name was Punch Dickins. Isn’t that a great name for a bush pilot? Like something right out of Central Casting.

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