(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.
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.
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.
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.