south along the alaskan panhandle

August 14th, 1996. Vancouver. Where it all began.

I haven’t written for a while, and I’m not likely to write any more dispatches. Unfortunately, the second Duo I borrowed won’t boot. Tobin’s suggesting that I get a job as a Apple Duo Road Tester. I’m not sure what I’m doing, but I certainly seem to be hard on them. Anyhow, I’ll try to summarize what has happened to me since I left the group at Haines Junction, Alaska.

John and I drove south, looking forward to seeing our boyfriends, who had flown into Haines that day. We’d been away from our guys for three weeks or so, and it was going to be good to see them again. Despite this almost pathological desire for snuggles, however, the Haines Road took our breath away.

The Haines Road is spectacular. I’ve driven on the Dempster (starkly beautiful) and Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, Montana (spectacular and aptly-named). I’ve driven through Yosemite valley, which is a temple. I’ve driven some of the most beautiful mountain roads in the U.S. and Canada, but the Haines Road is the most awe-inspiring road I’ve driven yet.

The road climbs through sharp peaks and snow-capped mountains, following the path of the Chilkoot trail (one of the two trails to the Yukon gold rush.) It’s not an easy route. The road twists and turns and climbs and climbs.

At the pass, John and I stopped and got out to take some photos. In front of us was a range full of glaciers. The sky was thick with clouds, which draped around some of the peaks like sheets on an unmade bed. The wind was cold, and constant. And most wonderfully of all, there were no mosquitos.

I climbed down the embankment to a clearing. It took a few minutes for it to sink in, but I was soon on my knees, grazing. Yum! Blueberries! Zillions of them, covering the clearing. I called for John to bring a bowl, and the two of us started picking. I’d pick for a while in one area, and then look up to find even bigger, more luscious blueberries a few feet away. I’d move, and after a while the same thing would happen. I was in blueberry heaven.

We arrived at the hotel in Haines, and met our boyfriends.

When the four of us saw each other the next morning, we drove down to the ferry. We ate granola with wild blueberries while waiting the two hours for the ferry to load. I can’t unfortunately write much about Haines. Dan and I didn’t leave our room much, and the ferry left at 7am. From the deck of the ship the town appears like a small colony at the feet of massive mountains. It’s quite beautiful.

One of the neat things about the ferries is that no matter when you stop at a town, there are tour busses waiting for you. They specialize in taking you our to see local attractions and getting you back before the boat sails. They’re there WHENEVER the boat arrives.

The ferry stopped in Juneau for an hour. We got off and got onto the tour bus to the Mendenhall glacier just outside of town. Dan and I walked as close as we could to the glacier, but the really cool thing we saw was a sockeye salmon spawning creek.

The salmon are amazing. First of all, after several years at sea they find the creek of their birth by SMELL. We’re not talking about major rivers here. The creek we saw was about 5 feet wide and 6 inches deep. Many of the salmon couldn’t even fit through parts of the stream. They would wiggle through on their bellies. Then they’d rest in a deeper spot, twenty or thirty of them side-by-side. They’d nip at each other, swim a little, and rest some more.

The Mendenhall Glacier itself it worth a look-see. It’s very large and drops right down into a lake. Within the lake are small icebergs, floating on the water and glowing like flourescent Windex crystals. (For those brand-name impaired readers, this is an intense baby blue.)

We did get back to the ferry in time. Yay! Along the way back, the driver pointed out a sturdy fence surrounding the elementary school playground. “That’s a bear fence. Protects the kids, who tend to look too much like prey.”

We were lucky enough to be on the same ferry with the Holser family. Malcom and his wife Molli wanted to join us on our journey to Inuvik in his 1980 Vanagon, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Instead they went their own way, hoping to meet at least part of the group somewhere or other.

Dan and I played Magic with his oldest kid, Ian, who was a very fun guy. He was just learning Magic, poor kid, and no one warned him how dangerously addicting it might be. Anyhow, Dan and I smashed him mercilessly in several games, knowing from experience that if we played him in a month or two, he’d do the same to us. (Incidentally, the other two kids are Colin and Dylan. There’s definitely a theme going on here.)

Malcom has a very cool lifestyle. He works for Adobe, but lives in the Sierra. Several times a week he commutes to the bay area… by flying his own plane. If I had kids, I would definitely want them to grow up in the mountains.

The next ferry stop was in Sitka, at 2 in the morning. There were busses waiting, and all four of us climbed on for a quickie tour of town. Our first stop was St. Michael’s Cathedral. The cathedral was built around 1844 by Bishop Innocent of the Russian Orthodox Church. The cathedral isn’t huge like Notre Dame, but it is nevertheless spectacular. And though it was 2am, we got a short lecture by the church’s choir director. And a plea for money.

Next we stopped by the Raptor Repair Center. The Raptor Repair Center is where eagles, owls, and hawks are brought when they break. There are lots of parts visible in the building, including bones, feet, etc. You can also see bald eagles up-close and personal, which is very neat. They’re BIG birds. And as Gary Larson says, ‘Birds of prey know they’re cool.’ They also asked us for money.

Our first *real* stop was in Petersburg. My impressions of Petersburg may be colored by the constant rain while we were there, but it didn’t strike me as the sort of place where I would want to live. I think after a week I’d be sending up distress flares to passing planes. First of all, the town smelled heavily of fish. Secondly, there was a bad water shortage while we were there. And thirdly, there were VERY few good restaurants in town.

The best place Dan and I ate was the Kave, a local bar. There is a small mexican place within the bar, and they make delicious burritos. Not only that, but a local band was playing, and they were really good. All in all, a nice place to hang out.

Our next stop, Ketchikan, was much more fun. Ketchikan is a happening place. I was pretty dubious when I heard we were staying at the “New York Hotel”, but it’s a charming small hotel (8 rooms) with a wonderful attached café, and a sweet elderly couple running the place. Recommended.

Ketchikan is built vertically, with some streets becoming staircases. The town rises up from the water to the mountains, and there are lots of beautiful views. Down by the water is Creek Street, built on piers along a creek. It used to be the red-light district, and now houses a combination of tourist crap and cool stuff. One place that has very cool tourist crap is the Soho Coho gallery. This is Ray Trolls’ gallery, best known for his “Spawn or Die” t-shirt. He’s a great artist though, sort of a northwest Gary Larson, and it’s worth going to the gallery to just browse. One t-shirt says, for example, “Decaffeinated (art) Decapitated (art) Know the difference!”

Downstairs is the 5-Star Cafe, a great coffee shop with truly yummy black- bean burritos. They have poetry readings, too, so check the place out.

Dan and I caught a local play called “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter”. If you appreciate camp and love audience participation, then get thee to this play. It’s GREAT. In fact, I saw it twice while I was in Ketchikan. And I’d see it again. (The second time was one of the rare and wonderful trans-gender performances of the play!) The acting (for the most part) is definitely small-town theatre company, but that’s one of the great things about this play. The actors sometimes flub their lines, and everyone laughs, and they make faces at the audience. It’s incredible fun.

Ketchikan is a town I could easily live in. While we were there, there was the Blueberry festival. The methodist women sold slices of pie, there was a slug race, and local artists showed off their work. And it wasn’t a tourist event… this was real small-town America. This was community.

It was hard to leave.

But I did leave, sailing overnight to Prince Rupert. The drive down from P.R. was long, but (mostly) uneventful. I got into Vancouver around 3pm, and wandered around waiting for everyone else to arrive. I hung around Davie street, which is the big gay street in Vancouver. I ate dinner, and still no Christa or Tobin. I wandered around some more, and appreciated that Vancouver was the sort of place that had restaurants open until 11pm.

At around 11pm, I returned to find Jack’s bus next to mine. I rang Tobin, and he let me up. We spent some time catching up, but I really wanted to get into my bus. I missed my bus the same way I miss my home. The EuroVan was very nice, but it wasn’t *my bus*.

We went down to the garage and parked the EuroVan in a spare spot. I then went to move my bus so Tobin could take over the spot.

Odd, the drivers’ seat was fully forward. I went around the bus to the passenger side. Hey! Both the passenger door and the sliding door were ajar and unlocked. I opened the sliding door, and the interior of the bus was a mess. My stuff was scattered on the floor. I’m usually so neat… Then it slowly dawned on me… I’D BEEN RIPPED OFF!!! My bus had been robbed!

When their house is robbed, folks say they feel violated. I felt like I was going to vomit, or like I’d swallowed a magnet and I was standing on a steel floor. It was horrible. Why would someone do this to my home!?!?

Tobin was standing next to me, and got really angry. This was a secure garage, and you need a key to get in or out of it. And some punks had broke in and ripped off his friends’ car. Tobin wasn’t happy.

I was just stunned. I felt dizzy.

Okay, I assessed the damage. The folks who ripped off the bus had been really good. They’d professionally removed the CD player, and then searched the bus for other components. They found, and removed, the amplifier. They got my CB radio handset out of the glovebox and took that. They also got the faceplate for the CD player from the glovebox. (I figured that it was safe in the garage…)

They didn’t break any windows or do any significant damage to the car, thank god. They cut some wires, and broke a dash panel a little, but otherwise they removed things very cleanly. I was thankful they hadn’t hurt my car… It is weird to have that sort of bond with a piece of equipment, but a VW bus is pretty special.

This morning I filed a police report, and called my insurance agent. My deductible is only $50, and everything will be covered, since it was all built into the car. Other than the emotional pain, I only really have to suffer driving 3 days without music. It could have been much worse.

So tonight Jack, Christa, Tobin, and I will have pizza and cider and officially end the trip. And tonight I’ll cross the border, heading south, and go as far as I can. But not because I want to leave Vancouver. More because I need a hug from Dan, and it’s a long ways away.

Ron

P.S. Despite everything, I still believe people are good at heart. Except for the fuckers who broke into my bus.

P.P.S. Oh, yeah. Jack and I were doing our laundry, and there was a woman in the laundry room folding her clothes. Jack muttered something about ‘wanting to get everything clean.’ Of course, I thought. I headed for the elevator. Just as it arrived, Jack came came around the corner from the laundry, wearing his backpack, boxer shorts, and a nothing else. “These shorts are clean, or I would have washed them too” said Jack.

What do you think?