Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Goodbye, Bristol Bay

I suppose it is time to OFFICIALLY close out this blog.  It will still be open for anyone who cares to learn about my time in Alaska during 2010. This was an incredible journey and I am glad that so many people have read it over the last two years. However, I feel I should add some closure to the blog. 

I returned from Bristol Bay in August 2010.  My trip was fantastic and I was sad to leave.  I spent my entire last week just hanging out and spending time saying goodbye, teaching Stephanie the tricks of my fantastic cooking (hah), bear watching, and catching up with friends at the local bars and restaurants.  It was a great way to end the trip.

So, I boarded my puddle jumper from King Salmon to Anchorage with a little sadness, but very full pockets.  During the trip from Anchorage to Chicago I began to feel real excitement about seeing my family.  My dad picked me up and promptly made fun of my outfit.  I looked very weather confused (thick sweater and jeans on a sweltering, Chicago summer day.) Thankfully, we made it home and I began to assimilate back into life as a human from the Lower 48.

Two years later, and I am back at it again.  This month I officially took a teaching job in Juneau, Alaska.  So, over the next eight weeks I will be packing, packing some more, and moving 3,000 miles back to Alaska.  Stay tuned to my new blog, The Middle(tons) of Nowhere, to hear about my next adventure in a new part of the far north. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Katmai Trip

Well, I got to go to Katmai National Park on Saturday. Scott, one of the fishermen, flew over with me. It was so gorgeous there! I got to go on a really amazing day too because it was almost 70 and sunny. We had to sit through a bear etiquette class before getting to hike. The class was interesting and we learned that the bears can come within 50 meters of you before you need to back pedal. That seems a little close for my comfort level.  We ran into quite a few bears that were within that distance of us too. Scary, but we survived!

 I hiked up to a place called Brooks Falls and saw upwards of 15 bears in one small concentrated area. It was so crazy to see all of them that close together. We probably got within 100 feet of a few of them. It was a little scary because they would just walk out of trails at you and be totally unfazed. The whole park was beautiful and I got some great pictures. I will try to upload them sometime. The only bad part was that I got eaten alive by White Socks (crazy mosquitoes on steroids). So I have around 30 bites which swell up to the size of a quarter or half dollar. I will be covered in anti-itch cream for the next week probably. (Update: I ended up getting an infection from all of those bites! With no doctor to treat me here my doctor from home sent me some medicine)

I ended up getting to take the whole day off and got back from Katmai at 5pm. I went on a bar tour of King Salmon/Naknek with some of the crew. It was pretty entertaining. I watched a man throw a drink at himself and another man slow dance with a mop. Possibly the funniest bar experience imaginable. The best pick-up line I heard all night was from a seriously intoxicated man who told me, "I may not be able to see straight but you are pretty good looking." So as you can imagine, it was a story-making adventure.

Well, I miss you all very much. I am starting to get a little homesick. August 1st will be a nice time to come home and see everyone :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Fishing Trip

Hello All,

Well it is another Sunday in Bristol Bay and thankfully it has been a little slow today...I actually may have gotten 5 hours of sleep! A new record! Today has consisted mostly of cooking and cleaning. I managed to make a small feast today: split pea soup, salmon patties, brownies, meatloaf, and biscuits. The peak of fishing season is finally starting to hit here, which is good because it means more fish for us. Although, it also means work hours are increasing quite a bit. 16 hour days are quite the norm.

I got to take a (for fun) fishing trip for the fist time since I have been here two nights ago. Went out trolling with a couple of the sport fisherman in the area. We didn't catch much, just a Jack King Salmon (smaller version of the real King Salmons). But, it was lots of fun! I got to tour the Bay from the water which was awesome. Also, we snuck up on a mama bear who was carrying her 3 cubs across the water on her back. She wasn't too happy once we got close to her. She growled at us and took off running, I got some great pictures though. I will have to post them sometime soon. Also, I posted my first round of pictures on Facebook so check them out :)

Well, I must go bake some more. Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Smelly Fish

All is well up here in the great, white north. Although thanks to it being in the 60's and sunny there is more green than white around. There was another bear sighting, but I missed it (AGAIN). There was a bear in our driveway this morning and another one that tore a bunch of garbage out of the back of one of our trucks! Pretty crazy how many bears there are here...although I have yet to see an adult bear. I see the same two cubs pretty regularly by the processing plant.

Work is going well. I find myself constantly covered in dirt and/or fish guts but I suppose that comes with the job. I spent Monday night processing again, which included scraping the scales off the meat side of the fish, removing blood clots, packing, and vacuum sealing all of the product. We have been bringing in about 10,000 lbs per tide and there are two tides a day that we fish. I think we all must smell pretty fishy all the time but I am immune to the smell at this point. We picked up a hitch-hiker (everyone hitch hikes here-it is totally safe and how we get into town once in awhile) and he got in the car and told us right away, "man, you guys smell like fish!" haha. I feel bad for whoever gets stuck next to any of us on the long plane ride home!

Hoping to go over to Katmai National Park soon. It's about $250 to charter a flight and I hear that it is totally worth it.  If I do go I will let everyone know because aside from being gorgeous there is some really great bear watching there that I am hoping to get pictures of.

Miss you and love you all!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Naknek Fun Facts

Hey everyone, thought I would post some funny things about the town I spend my time in. For all of us that thought Watseka (hometown) was a weird small town...well, this place takes the cake for remote, small-town, craziness.

1.) Naknek Grime-  This is a condition of complete dirtiness. Every person, animal, and object will become covered in this grime approximately 15 minutes after arrival (especially in the fishing industry). There is not any way to ever become clean again after exposure, except perhaps with a lengthy steam...

2.) Going For A "Steam"- A ton of people here have wood burning saunas behind their processors or homes. I was lucky enough to be invited to "go for a steam" with a local woman.  Imagine my surprise when I showed up and everyone was naked!  After the initial shock I loved it. I highly suggest everyone invest in steam house because they are incredible.

3.) Alaska Natives- The natives here own all the land, the businesses, and the only hospital (remember that AK hasn't been a state for that long). It has been a weird adjustment to be the minority in a place. I am really enjoying the culture though!

4.) Cars- They do not exist here. No one has a car and instead everyone has trucks or four-wheelers from 1985 or earlier. Also, every truck either has a cracked windshield or must be jumped in order to leave the driveway each morning.

5.) The Red Dog- this is one of the many local bars. However, it is the site of many stabbings and has been voted one of the roughest bars in America. I went there once and I do not think I will be going back...

6.)Church- Lots of religion overall in the area. We went to a Pentecostal yard sale and the woman selling stuff to be covered in full body tattoos. Loved it!

7.) Home Visits- No one calls before showing up...one minute I am cooking for the regular 20 people that live here and the next minute an extra 5 people are wanting food and beer.  It's like a constant house party.

8.) Consumption- Whiskey and chain smoking are a DAILY activity for many in the fishing industry....its noon, everyone is intoxicated. This has been weird for me to experience, but it is the source of much hilarity. I suppose it goes with the job?  I like to sit back and enjoy the shenanigans.

I am sure I will have 500 more fun facts by the time I get home but I hope you all enjoyed these for now.

Love :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

I survived my first 24 hour shift!

Hey Southerners!

Well I survived my first 24 hour shift on the job. I woke up at 6am on Saturday and was up until 9am on Sunday. I spent the first half of the day doing customer service stuff (selling fish, dealing with FedEx, and shipping), cooking for all the guys, and then started my first stint as a fish processor around 8pm at night. I was at the processing facility until about 9am (13hours!). While at the processing facility I spent most of the night vacuum packing Sockeye Salmon fillets and another part of the night scraping the rib cages of the salmon in order to collect enough meat to make salmon patties. It was super tiring, but interesting work.  I've never been a part of processing any type of food before and it was a whole new experience to see it on such a large scale.

It was cool to see the process that goes into preparing all of this fish for shipment. There is a very precise way that everything must be done in order for it to run quickly and efficiently. I learned how to fillet as well (although my skills are far from good enough to package for any of the customers haha). I don't think I have ever been so tired and sore before! I slept for about four hours after my shift and then it was back to work. I managed to get a bit of sleep last night too before waking up at 2am today to start calling our East Coast customers. This schedule is pretty grueling, but I like it so far...it is definitely a crazy experience!

Also, weird coincidence...a kid from SIU (my college) came up here to work, which is coincidence by itself.  Then, I found out that he is the roommate/BFF of a kid I went to high school with and was friends with during my childhood. I can't believe I ran into someone with a mutual hometwon friend in such a remote place.  It's a small word!

Well, I hope you are all doing well. Things are pretty good here and a good temperature (50's) which I hear is the opposite of home. So good luck with the heat wave!

Love from Alaska :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Early wake-up, solstice parties, and bears.

Well, we have finally started fishing!! Monday was the first day for fishing, which means I now get up between 2am and 4am everyday to start calling customers. Quite a few of our customers are on the East Coast and open at 6am, which is why 2am is now my new breakfast time. Steph and I are starting to have a vastly different schedule and so are the boys. They start work around 5pm everyday for fish processing and process until 8am. So we are all trying to adjust to sleeping only a few hours in the afternoon and being awake the rest of the time. I am struggling with the lack of sleep due to my usual daily sleep amount of 12 hours (I am such a typical college kid haha). But, it is pretty fun so far.

 The people here have been an adventure to meet as well. Everyone here thinks that it is about 1980 and every car reflects that. There is no such thing as a new car in Naknek or King Salmon. One of our cars is a mint green wagoneer from waaaay back in the day that someone felt was necessary to write Naknek Cadillac on in permanent marker. Even though the car is a POS it is definitely a Cadiallac by this towns standards! Most of the vehicles I see driving around town though are four-wheelers.  Very few actual cars!

Monday we got the night off and we all went to go to a Summer Solstice party on the beach. There were a ton of people and a big bonfire. The tides are crazy here so when it got high we were stuck down at the beach for a few hours. It was really fun and a beautiful place to spend some time! We met alot of the other processors and locals from the area and there are some awesome characters in Bristol Bay, to say the least. I do not think I have ever met such eclectic people in all of my life.  I have really loved everyone I have met!

Also, I saw my first bears up close! There were two cubs (still probably about my height even though they were young) playing in a field yesterday. We waited and watched for the mama bear to come for a bit but she never showed up. It was awesome to see them so close. We were probably fifty feet from them.  Thankfully, we were in the car and they didn't notice us.

Well, I must go call more customers. Hope you are all enjoying the heat (I hear its been pretty toasty there). Miss you all!