Not Just for the Halibut
Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventures and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. This chapter covers July 31st – August 3rd, days 32-35 of their adventure.
Even though the sun was shining, 4:30 a.m. is STILL way too early. But we were up and at ‘em, ready to fish! We headed over to the fishing charter launch ready to take on Alaska’s famous halibut…only to learn that the seas were too rough to fish that morning. It seemed those particular halibut would get to swim another day. The only thing we would be catching that morning was a little more sleep.
One of the adjustments you make in Alaska is learning to sleep despite the time of day it appears to be. During the summer months, you get daytime most of the time, between seventeen and twenty hours per day in July and August. It takes some getting used to, but, as long as you pack plenty of adventure into your day, sleep comes easy – no matter what Mr. Sunshine is up to outside your windows.
After a refreshing four-hour nap, we decided to put Plan B into effect: souvenir shopping! We headed over to Homer Spit. One of only a handful of “Spits” in the United States, Homer is essentially a thin strip of land that sticks out from the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, jutting into Kachemak Bay. Before we headed out onto the Spit, we stopped at a park about two miles away. The venue provided not only a great view but also an opportunity to better understand the Spit and how it was formed.
We arranged for a walking tour of Homer and met our guide at the renowned Salty Dawg Saloon. With its rugged look and distinctive lighthouse tower, the Salty Dawg is one of those must-take tourist pictures. But it’s also much more than a snapshot backdrop. The Salty Dawg is an institution, a place to get out of the cold and get something warm into you as old as the town itself. Established in 1897, the Dawg has been, in its time, a post office, railroad station, grocer, schoolhouse and mining office. Chuck Abbatt purchased the place in the late 1940’s and Standard Oil Company held offices there. State Representative Earl Hillstrand purchased the Dawg in 1960. After surviving an earthquake, a flood and nearly a century of Alaskan winters, the Salty Dawg was purchased by its current owner, John Warren. It has become one of Homer’s more celebrated and recognizable landmarks.
Of course, the Salty Dawg is not the only thing to see on the Spit. Homer is the home of the Homer Boat Harbor, hosting up to 1,500 commercial and recreational crafts during its peak season. Our guide took us to the marina and pointed out the various different types of fishing vessels. Though it can accommodate up to 300 craft at a time, due to a downturn in Alaska’s fishing industry, there was a conspicuous number or empty slips.
Another interesting sight was the Boneyard. Because of severely reduced fishing quotas, many commercial fishermen faced losing their businesses. When the government bought them out, their boats and gear were left here, reminding all who see them what once was. The rows of abandoned boats give you a haunting sense of just how important fishing has been to the history and culture of the Kenai Peninsula. Adding to this mystique is the Fisherman Memorial on the beach at the end of the Spit. Standing next to this and looking out at the water while eagles fly overhead offers you a true sense of wonder, and gets you as close as a visitor can come to the vibe of this beautiful, hardscrabble environment.
Of course, it’s not all lines, lures and nets. The Spit is a souvenir shopper’s dream. Of course we picked up some t-shirts and sweatshirts at the Salty Dawg, but we also found some beautiful Alaskan jade jewelry. Another stop netted one of our favorite takeaways: ulu knives. We stopped at the Alaskan Ulu factory and purchased several knives both for us and for family. We love our ulu and use them all the time! You can get yours at www.ulu.com.
We finished off the day with a tasty halibut dinner at one of the restaurants on the Spit; and, after doing our best to help stimulate the economy in Homer, we headed back to camp.
On Saturday we were able to take our rescheduled fishing trip. One of the fringe benefits of rescheduling included landing an afternoon excursion rather than the early bird trip. The day was absolutely gorgeous – and successful. Everyone in our boat caught their limit. After filleting, the two of us bagged 36 pounds of halibut!
On Sunday, we made the four and a half hour trip from Homer back to Anchorage to visit Len’s cousins, Dale and Sharon. They treated us to a local’s tour of town, which culminated in yet another delectable Alaskan seafood feast, this time at the Sea Galley in downtown Anchorage. Back at Dale and Sharon’s condo, we were greeted by a protective mama moose and her twin calves. Another Kodak moment courtesy of wild, wonderful Alaska!
On Monday we took a day off to just relax and enjoy natural Alaska. Eagle River Campground provided the perfect pastoral Alaska setting: virgin forest, mountainous horizon and the rushing Eagle River. Dale and Sharon joined us again in the evening for some more “catching up.” There’s a lot of that to do when you haven’t seen someone in over two decades! In addition to reminiscing, Dale and Sharon shared their vast knowledge and understanding of Alaska, something they had begun to do even months before we began our trip. Their input and experience was priceless, helping to make sure we go the most out of our adventure.
That is a very important key on any long-term over the road trip. Do as much homework beforehand as possible. Being on the road – especially in the wild North Country – will provide surprises enough. There’s no need to go creating your own.
When you come prepared, as we did, even the most inconvenient situations, nearly losing an axle on your Hauler, for instance, are just that, inconveniences, just one more story to tell your friends when you get back home. Of course, it also helps to have an intrepid “seasoned RVer” perspective. As Len is fond of saying: “If it can be made, it can be broke. If it can be broke, it can be fixed!”
Speaking of home, it’s hard to believe our Trip of a Lifetime is half over! We have experienced incredible adventure, joy and breathtaking beauty so far – and we still have so much of the Last American Frontier to explore!
Can’t wait to see what awaits us in Denali, Fairbanks and Skagway…but we have the Hauler hitched up and we’re full steam ahead into our next Alaskan adventure!