I am quite exhausted and sore but also very content. Since disembarking the ferry, we spent two nights at the house where my friends are caretakers. They affectionately call it “Dougland” and it is a mesmerizing place indeed. A fairly well-established homestead, it is just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg and accessible by a small fishing boat, everyone calls them skiffs here.
“Dougland” is “well-established” as it has plumbed water in the main house, off-the-grid electricity, and a grand piano. We’re still not sure how they got that there. The main house is a snug log cabin filled with books, antiques, photos from Doug’s fascinatung lifetime, and many tributes to Alaska and classical music. It is so filled and layered that two days wasn’t enough to observe and process what we were surrounded by. And that’s only the main house!
Also on the property is a net house (used as a workshop and filled to the brim), a woodshed, a hobbit-esque sauna, a smoke house, a tower that houses the electrical and water systems, a gazebo with a Nordic style row boat stored in it, a guest cabin, and a partially built wooden rowboat museum. I enjoyed several rainy walks poking around all these structures and the garden. A creek runs behind the main house as well so we had waterfront views on every side.
Monday, our first full day in Petersburg, Ali and I stayed at the house with another friend, Cat, while everyone else headed into town on errands. As tends to happen at weddings when there are large gatherings, a mish-mash of people, and some wonky logistics, both failure and hilarity ensued.
Our task was dishes and dinner. And while that may sound easy enough, I have learned that nothing is simple on a homestead.
Admitted city-slickers, Ali and I were suppose to be supervised by Cat, an experienced farmer who had been staying in “Dougland” longer. However, while she was away on a phone call we managed to pick chard instead of rhubarb (Now I know the difference!), terrorized a garden bed for potatoes, cut my finger (it’s official, I need knife prep lessons), and caused a fireball to leap out and singe Ali’s arm hair while trying to light the old-school propane oven. No one was (seriously) harmed in the process except the poor chard plant but eventually we ate that too.
By the end of the day we had some successes though! Once we were directed to the actual rhubarb we made a rhubarb/apple/berry cobbler with an oat crumble on top. The potatoes, carrots, and turnips from the garden were roasted with onions and garlic. A fresh salad was concocted and the sockeye salmon was grilled. With some extra help we made dinner for 11, laughing and learning along the way.
But that isn’t the real reason I’m exhausted. The bride-to-be wanted to keep things simple for her bachelorette and have a ladies night at a nearby USFS cabin. Ok, no problem, sounds fun.
However, my body is accustomed to the demands of a desk and city and this backpacking adventure was definitely out of my element. The good news is I have a stubborn streak. After a half mile of uphill scrambling with my pack on and unused muscles expressing their opposition, it kicked in and I only thought about the satisfaction reaching the top.
4.1 miles in total, the hike to Raven’s Roost include 2 steep miles uphill in the lush, damp, and muddy rainforest. Our first reward was lunch at a look out where we could see the Wrangell Narrows, the creek by “Dougland” and some small islands called the Sockeyes. Some of the other ladies began gathering Hedgehog mushrooms and showed us how to identify them. We also learned about the various names for winter chantrelles and how to tell when Chicken-of-the-woods is too woody.
We also took turns lugging a 3-gallon gas can for the stove. It was especially tricky at times with all the slippery surfaces but these Alaskan ladies are tough and seem to have unlimited energy. My stubborn streak kicked into high gear again. Slowly but steadily I continued to climb at the back of the group.
After lunch, the trail was a little more level with some ups and downs as we crossed the Muskeg (peat bog) and occasionally wound into the forest. Parts of the trail weren’t in good condition though and without soil and roots to replace the boards, we had to cross large muddy gaps and puddles. Anyone wearing Xtra Tuffs, the signature Alaskan rubber boot, easily charged ahead. My hiking boots were tall enough in some spots but at others I tiptoed around with various levels of success.
After crossing this rugged, moist terrain we saw the cabin appear over a hill. Almost there! The views were definitely worth it and the cabin was sparse but comfortable. The final moment of torture though, was learning there were gallons of fuel stored in the cabin and our leaky, heavy jerry can was not needed.
By dark, all the ladies had arrived, 11 in total. With the extra bodies and the Nordic stove was humming along it was warm and time for dinner. We made mac and cheese on the stove top. Cooked up more garden veggies (chard included!) and threw in the hedgehog mushrooms.
Cozy in our cabin, overlooking Mitkof and Kupreanof island, we sipped wine and shared stories. We toasted our dear friend who brought such a wonderful, interesting, and strong group of women together in this beautiful, remote place.
So, tired and sore I may be, but getting to share this experience and conquer that trail is more than content, it’s exhilarating.
We are nearing Petersburg after an evening of winding our way through the Wrangell Natrows. I purchased a wonderful, waterproof map of the Inside Passage and Southeast Alaska. I must have pulled it out and poured over it 10 times today! It also includes stories and unique landmarks such as “Your map maker built a cabin here.”
My book, “Gumboot Girls” (look it up!) has provided an interesting narrative to compliment the wild scenery and remote communities we pass. Wrangell, our last stop, is about the same size as Petersburg. Quiet on a Sunday evening, the presence of fishing and port activities were apparent. There was a small hotel, a handful of shops and a tour company, closed for the day or perhaps the season. Placed in a protected nook among the islands and weaving waterways, Wrangell gave me some idea of what to expect in Petersburg and the surrounding community.
We played cards with a fellow traveller this afternoon, Roy who is relocating from Arkansas. He gave us advice that Ali and I will never forget, all I can say is: 3 + 4=7, E=MC2, you have 4 fingers to read between the lines, stay in reality, atoms are made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. They move just barely slower than the speed of light. Now we know. Thanks Ron!
Packing up our bags and stowing away our sleeping gear reminded me that this is only the first part of the adventure. So much more know and unknown lays ashore. I am so glad I took the time for this ferry ride. Going forward, I hope to find more unique ways to travel to go with the interesting places I plan to visit.
After our bags were packed I snapped a silly picture of our two, now bare, lounge chairs. Ali admitted she did the same. One of the most comfortable and beautiful places I’ve spent the night on a boat. Until next time, lounge chairs.
I have brushed my teeth in a lot of places. In all the bathrooms where I’ve lived, of course. I’ve also brushed them in parking lots, restaurants, hostels, hotels, trains, airports, campsites, friend’s houses, boy’s houses, sailboats, and most recently a 418-foot ferry to Alaska.
Boats add a unique element of rolling movement to your teeth brushing and typically offer limited water resources. It is just as refreshing and essential to brush your teeth aboard, though. And while the ferry is not at full capacity, I’m sure the other passengers and my travel partner do appreciate my efforts.
Our accommodations on board are simply divine, but I can understand if not everyone thinks so. Instead of a (expensive and boring) cabin, we are sleeping on plastic lounge chairs in the solarium. Although not as grand as its name, the solarium brings beauty and practicality together. The beauty is from the passing scenery and fresh air flowing from the open aft (back) deck. The practicality is provided by its shelter and simplocity.
Tucked behind the upper decks, the solarium is protected on three sides, with a ceiling made up of hearty glass panels you can see the moon and stars through. The port and starboard walls are also made of these panels, letting the light and views stream through.
Our set up is a cross between camping and staying at a hostel. Our lounge chairs are surround by bags while we hunker down in layers, sandwiched between colorful sleeping pads and equally colorful sleeping bags.
The other passengers have varied setups, some similar to ours, others just a blanket or a whole tent. Those with a cabin or sleeping indoors come and enjoy the solarium for a time. When we first departed Bellingham, 90 degree temperatures on shore made the first few hours simply delightful on deck and every chair was filled.
Some travelers are eager to socialize, but I find myself polite at best, instead content with relaxing and catching up with my friend’s sister who I will be adventuring with all week.
Our dreams of a beer on the boat during sunset were shattered when we learned all the AMH cocktail lounges were shuttered last year. “An essential budgetary reduction” the bureacrats said. “An end to a long standing tradition essential for the traveling community”, bartenders responded. I agree with the latter and will blame my anti-social-ness on that.
Perhaps it’s hypocritical but I do enjoy listening to the other passengers converse. They take turns, sharing their destination, the objective of this trip, and their experiences in Alaska. More apparent than at the airport is the distinction between the tourists and those moving, who have either very little or quite a lot packed on board.
Roy, for example, is from Arkansas. He’s 64 and missing several front teeth with weathered skin and an appreciation for the simple life. After a lifetime spent in the backwoods of Arkansas, he’s heading to carve out a new life while he can. I’m learning that’s what retirement means for a lot of folks.
Roy is starting in Juneau but isnt sure where he’ll end up. He’d like to find a community, maybe trade his truck for a boat. He plans to take photos of nature and locals along the way. Roy is nice but lonely, which makes him more eager to chat than I. I wish him the best as he journeys forward and am sure he’ll find a good community up here.
“What’s next for you?” Roy asks, “Down in the 48?”
Without hesitation I say, “Oh, my life in Seattle.” A world away from here and unimaginable to him, where I have a job, a community, and a home.
We have 32 more hours to go and I’m still enthralled with enjoying this long-awaited journey.
I returned from French Polynesia just over two months ago and it feels more than an ocean away. Days at sea, meals at an angle, and delicious Tahitian fruit are no longer the norm. However, I do now enjoy regular showers, excellent coffee, and my own bed.
Kids at summer camp say it, adults with full time jobs think about it:”I want to sail around the world!” Even within the racing community, the dream of sailing into the sunset ignites a spark in the eye of novices, racers, and cruisers alike. It’s a crazy, life changing idea. What’s even crazier is that people do it, hundreds every year! This year I met some of these people and experienced a small but stirring part of that dream.
I feel lucky to share my experience through this 48 North article, it is always a pleasure to work with them and they put out a great publication for the sailing community. I also feel lucky to be reminded about my trip, especially as I settle back into life in Seattle. When I’m heading to work, bundling up for the rain, or grabbing a coffee I will remind myself, “Yeah, I did that!”