Thursday, August 1, 2013

July 26-28: The season finally ends

Most of the crew went out on July 26. The Alaska Airlines jet was on time, but the smaller Pen Air planes were socked in by the fog. But eventually, everyone made it out. Then it was just Jean and me.

These last few days were spent mostly in final cleaning, darting between all the little things I'm afraid of forgetting, like emptying the tundra-ator, packing my neglected earrings and mascara, winterizing the tools, tacking closed the outhouse doors so the wind doesn't tear them off, or sending out the last of the Alex's and Debby's ashes that I brought to leave here.

There's also sorting through the food to determine what can freeze well enough, what needs to be protected from rodents, and what needs to be protected from condensation. Most stuff freezes well enough (except milk and mayonnaise - both separate and become hard to use). Cans may rust, so they need a sprinkling of rice to absorb the moisture. Dry goods may be spoiled by rodents, so they need hard containers. Other rodent defense requirements include trying to block potential entry points (like the sink drain); emptying standing water (if they get in, I don't want to find their drowned little bodies in the spring); turning over buckets and pans (if they get in, I don't want to find their starved little bodies in the spring); and covering all cooking and eating utensils (if they get in, I don't want to have to wash everything before I use it).

Finally, after all the cleaning, organizing, preparing, protecting, and boarding up... it's time to go. When all the frantic busyness subsides, I begin to feel the emptiness from leaving all this behind for 10 months. Usually, that emptiness gives room for lovely things like friends, music, making mosaics, the ability to wash my hands in running water, and women's bathrooms. And if I'm not careful, deadlines, pavement, telemarketing calls and traffic will rush to occupy that emptiness. Every year, I tell myself that I will find a way to bring into my Seattle life more of what I love so much about my Naknek life. Thinking about it as I write this makes me wonder if maybe a different goal would be better: being conscious and deliberate about what - if anything - I permit into that emptiness.

Have a good winter - see you next summer.

July 25: Exodus begins

Today, David, Sarah, and I got up early to sneak past the high tide and get Jake to the airport. Here they are, lying on the shelf where the luggage comes in, waiting for Jake's plane. But it was foggy so the flights were delayed and eventually, his flight was canceled altogether. Normally, it wouldn't really matter much - getting home today or tomorrow doesn't really matter. Usually, we only think it matters because it's what we planned. This time, it was different. This time, he was trying to get to a wedding (my nephew's wedding) for which he had agreed to play the guitar. It was important for him to get there. I think we have to give Jake some lessons in how to rattle a cage. He is so polite that he didn't want to make any kind of a fuss or disturb any of the already stressed out ticket agents. But other people were getting seats, people who probably weren't scheduled to play guitar in a wedding in a day and a half. I contend that it is possible to rattle a cage while at the same time caring about and attending to the impact of said rattling on the stressed out ticket agent.

It is always very hard for me when the crew starts leaving. They are such delightful, committed, honorable, and endlessly interesting and amusing people and I love them. It's hard to let them go, but of course, it's exactly what needs to happen. Again, it's a pretty good problem to have and I really look forward to having it again next season.

After finally seeing Jake off, the big task for this day was getting the stairs up. Of all the things we do to close up at the end of the season, this is the thing that would be the hardest to do alone and it is the most dangerous. The stairs are heavy - I think they probably weigh more than 1000 lbs.
David used the boom truck to lift the stairs from the bottom and
Jeff operated the capstan winch to pull it from the top once it was up as high as the boom could take it. Luka worked with Jeff to relay messages so that Jeff could focus his attention on the winch and still be able to respond quickly to a message from the bottom of the cliff.
Four people at the top of the cliff held guide ropes to pull the ladder into the desired position. David had really thought it through well, making sure Jeff knew to take up slack, but not to pull it until it was all the way up. From where David stood, he could very clearly see the big risk: he could have been crushed if the ladder somehow slipped out of the slings. (That's the reason he didn't want the winch to pull prematurely, pulling it out of its slings.) Another and relatively minor risk was that the boom truck could have been crushed. Neither risk is acceptable or necessary and we can do better next year. I didn't recognize these risks from where I stood. When I watched the video that Alok made, I felt sick because I saw it then. I saw risks to the people at the top of the cliff if we lost control of the ladder so I ran a chain from the top of the ladder to a screw anchor between the ladder and the crew cabin. If something let go, the chain would not stretch and would prevent the top of the ladder from rising up... unless it came toward the anchor first, sending the bottom of the ladder away from David and the truck. So the chain made them safe, but that should be the fail safe, in the unlikely event of a failure. Watching the video showed me that it wasn't so unlikely that the ladder would slip out of its sling. Further, the chain did not provide much protection for those of us at the top of the cliff between the ladder and the anchor. If it swung that way, it would have swung right through us. I think the answer to both problems is a pelican at the bottom, like the fish buyers use to pick up our brailers and then release them at will, and a second anchor and chain at the top on the other side of the stairs.
The boom has the bottom of the stairs lifted about half way up.
When it was up as far as it would go, David quickly climbed the cliff to help us pull it into position as the winch continued to pull it back. I was very surprised when Alok told us that we pulled up those stairs in less than 15 minutes.

After the stairs were up, Jean and I went for a walk on the beach - I was hoping to use the low light to find agates. We walked down to Pedersen Point, getting there in time for another beautiful sunset.
Later that night, we saw the moon - still huge, no longer full.

July 24: Closing up the sites

With Alok driving, Jean, Alok, Sabita, and I took the ranger out, towing Skook behind, to pick up the three sets of buoys and their anchor lines, and the running line. And to mark the anchors in such a way as to be able to find them next June. That's tricky because if we turn them up too far, the ice may grab them and pull them loose. If we don't turn them up enough, the mud may cover them. So this year we wrapped them with electrical wire that we hope will still be standing up in June, but will be smooth and skinny enough that the ice will have nothing to hold.

We waited for the tide to come in and used it to wash down all the gear. Then we took the ranger to the beach access road where Marc from Pen Auto will pick it up and get it ready for next season. David had some business in town, exploring the possibilities of bringing a major solar installation to the area. This would be a great boon for the region because electricity depends on diesel now and is very expensive for the community.

Today and tomorrow are the days to get everything down the stairs that are going down the stairs for the rest of the season. This includes garbage, anything going on the southbound barge, and luggage. After the stairs are up, we will go up and down on a line or at a relatively gentle part of the cliff. I thought Alok and Sabita might prefer to stay in town, where they wouldn't have to climb a cliff to get to their plane, but once again, they were up to the challenge and they stayed. I was glad of that. While the crew was in town playing pool at the Red Dog, I got to have another sunset. The crew, however, had some trouble. One of our crew members is under age, but I said it would be OK if he went with the others (I hated to cut him away from the others if I didn't absolutely have to), although the Red Dog staff or owner might not let him in and in that case, he'd have to come right back on the four wheeler. In Alaska, a person under 21 is allowed in a bar if he is with a parent or a spouse who is over 21, or if the bar is also a restaurant. I thought there was a good chance that it would be OK since it's actually underage drinking that the law seeks to prevent and there wasn't any risk of that. When he didn't come back right away, I relaxed and figured that since it was the mellow part of the season, and he wasn't trying to get alcohol or any other trouble, the bar staff was letting it slide. So I was shocked and horrified when I got a call from David that an officer had come to the bar and was threatening to take this crew member off to jail. Once he realized that the crew member hadn't been drinking, he just issued him a ticket. He will have to call in to respond to the ticket. This will be a lesson to both of us.

July 23: Demonstration fishing and everlasting sunsets

We had planned to set two nets for one tide so Alok and Sabita could get a taste of fishing. But if we were going to do it, we'd have to be out there by noon at the latest and we had more preparation than usual because we had pulled the Bathtub all the way up to the base of the cliff (so we wouldn't have to worry about it swamping while we were gone).

Most of the crew slept in after the very long trip back from Katmai so I went to get the truck because we were going to need it to put the Bathtub back into service. I found some leaky waders and wader boots for Jean and Alok and the three of us used the truck to pull the skiff over the rocks and then down on to the sand, and the ranger to pull the skiff out to meet the oncoming tide. It was a little nerve-wracking because I could see that we were low on gas in the ranger (and I was driving it out toward the tide???), in the skiff, and in the power pack. Looking around for our stash of 5 gallon gas cans, I realized with a bad feeling in my stomach that all our gas cans were in the skiff at Lake Camp. Uh oh. I was feeling a little naked and formulating the mental plan for running up to Debby's cabin for a line and a giant pulley so that if the ranger ran out of gas, we could run the line out to the ranger, tie it off and pull it in. The tide is merciless.

We got the Bathtub out into the water and I left Jean and Alok with it while I ran the ranger back in to safety and then returned to the Bathtub. We were too late to set the outside site on foot and I thought it would be too difficult to try to do a running set with new crew (although Jean was crew many years ago, it was before we fished from skiffs). So we just decided to set the inside site. We had a few hits right away! We had planned to go in and wait until just before high water, but when we looked back, we saw many seals circling the net and we didn't want to give them our fish. So we fished! The hard way. Since the power pack was out of gas, we started out pulling by hand, and before long, resorted to running through the net with the skiff. We lost two fish that way, but we pulled in 10 - and saved out two of them for dinner.

We found an empty gas can and Roger went for gas. David took Jeff and Sarah to Lake Camp to get the boat on the trailer and tow it all back to AGS. Jean, Alok, Sabita and I went back out at about high water. We went through the net pulling out a few half-fish that the seals had taken. And then we picked up the net. Happily, by this time I remembered the two small and nearly empty gas cans I keep for my generator, so we had enough to run the power pack, making it much easier to pull in the net.
Jean and Alok stacked the net in the boat
while Sabita ran the hydraulics.

As soon as we got that net into the boat, we rushed into the shore and pulled in the other one that we had left on the beach, along with the morning's fish, and turned the whole operation over to Jake and Roger who were about to run the Bathtub in to be hauled out and then winterize the outboard, strip the remaining nets and get them in the southbound pile.

Jean, Alok, Sabita, and I stayed on the beach, started bread, cinnamon rolls, and maple bars, cleaned and marinaded salmon, hung out to dry all the wet clothing and sleeping bags that we brought back the night before, and started the final stages of packing up the crew cabin so it will be easy (and I hope, not disgusting) to open next season.

The day ended with a sunset show that lasted well over an hour...
and overlapped the moon show which lasted the rest of the night. The sunset isn't the only show that can change as the night deepens.
But it may boast the most dramatic changes. This was early, just a little past 11.
And here it is about half an hour later. Not as bright, but with more red and pink; less gold.
Alok noticed the way the light bathed the buildings and reflected in the windows of the bunkhouse...
and off the whole Space Hut.
It is just about done. This photo was taken at about midnight. From where we stand, it looks like the sun slips down just below the horizon and we can follow the glow as it moves it's quarter circle to rise again just behind Debby's cabin and in front of Alex's chairs.

After the sun was all gone, we decided to use this night to finally set off the fire works we got for Alex's anniversary.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 22: A slow trip with plenty of surprises, but we made it

This is being written from the comfort of my desk in Washington, where electricity comes out of the wall, water comes out of the faucet, toilets flush, using a public restroom isn't (usually) traumatic, and photos upload in a flash. Good thing, too, because I think that if I were uploading this small fraction of all the photos we took using my AK connection, I would be there still.

I mentioned Fishtival, the community's celebration of the fishing season with a parade, music, art, crafts, and food. This is the biggest crowd I've ever seen in Naknek - people following the parade back to the school where the arts, crafts, food, and music can be found. Somehow, I missed some of the music, but I was told that Emma Hill, who shared a beer with Roger last season, called him out of the audience for his - I believe the words were, "radiant smile."

Roy pointed out that every year our trip to Katmai is a bit more of an adventure than we bargain for. This year was no exception. But we do it anyway - I think, mainly for the unexpected adventure. Not for the bears, which, by this time of the year, we have plenty of down on the beach. One wandered out onto the mud flats and Roger got this great photo. We did have a few concerns that we would find flattened buoys the next time we went out, but all was well.

Summarizing from the perspective of the end of the season, I can report that: our guests had great courage and fortitude, despite the adversity we put them through; the crew continued its stellar performance all the way to the end. (It was very hard to let them leave for their various destinations even though I would be seeing most of them again pretty soon); and Jean not only gave me her lovely company and good humor, but also her hard work and unparalleled organizational skills. It will be a breeze again next year to open up, thanks to the crew's hard work and her attention to detail.

I want to tell the story of the trip to Katmai in detail and include photos - I was able to harvest my own photos, as well as Roger's, Rohan's, and Alok's. I won't always remember to give credit so just remember that the photos posted here could have been taken by any of us. We got a late start because of the later-than-expected arrival of guests, but we made good use of the time:
launching the boat, making sure the plug was in (ahem), and that everything was stowed in such a way that we could get to it if we needed it and if not, it would stay dry and undisturbed. Even though I had my secret doubts about the utility of the platform covering the middle bin of the Ambi, once I was in the boat with the stuff and not stepping on sleeping bags or tearing the garbage sacks meant to keep them dry, I was a convert;
taking the whole operation for a spin;
and visiting Gull Island, which we'd never before taken the time to explore.
Navigating here is really no simple thing, even though it's just a lake (a fact I find greatly comforting, considering that part of me still fears that if we go too far, we'll fall off the edge). Those of us who are used to freeway signs, phone navigators, and gas station attendants to help us locate ourselves and get going in the right direction instead must rely on a map without fine detail, trying to match the shape and apparent distance of land masses to squiggles on the map. Jake was the master of this. That and the gulls clued us that this must be Gull Island. We anchored the boat and everyone jumped out to explore.
Luka, Roger, Rohan, and David were standing together, looking around.

Jake, the hunter among us, snuck up on them. Luckily, he was not intent on bagging them, else they would have been bagged.
We noticed this baby gull (this is Roger's shot), sitting very still in the grass and not flushed out by all our commotion.

After bothering the gulls for long enough, we still had a little time before meeting the plane, so we tried to explore another shallow shore. But this one had a long and shallow beach. I had geared up so I jumped into the water to push us past the high point. We got a little closer, but not close enough for those in knee boots to get out and explore - if they wanted to stay dry. Pushing us back over the high spots was a little more difficult because a) David couldn't get the running start that he got coming from the deeper water, and b) in its "down" position, the outboard caught on the sand and made it very hard to push. Then it was time to go collect our guests.

This photo shows us on our way! We are heading east, so the 8 PM sun was behind us. Sabita is in the foreground, breathing in the fresh air and Alok is in the stern of the boat with David. Sarah is showing Rohan how to navigate, by comparing land clumps in the water to land clumps on the map, with Jake, the undisputed expert navigator, looking on from behind.
Here is Jake in navigator stance, checking to see if the land clumps he expects to see coming up to the north are in fact, coming up. We wrestled with the outboard for the whole trip. We kept thinking that it would just get over whatever was bogging it down, and it did, for about a minute after each time we filled it up or right after putting it back down. Then back down to about 7 MPH. David pointed out that we jogged all the way to Fure's cabin. We were very lucky that the weather was beautiful, even with a little breeze at our backs. Roger is in the stern with David building his courage to pull off the cowling and see if there is something obvious wrong with the outboard that he could fix.
Courage in hand, he initiates the engine exploration. He checked the fuel line (we had many theories about what might be happening and they all centered around fuel) and the filter and just for good measure, he checked to be sure the choke wasn't stuck on. After reattaching the cowling, the engine started to work properly and he declared, "I am the Honda whisperer!" We all cheered, just as the speed started to die, again, back to jogging speed. It was an act of faith (or foolishness) on our part to continue our trip. We didn't understand what was causing the outboard problem, all we knew was that it wasn't working properly. The prudent thing to do would have been to turn around and get back to the dock because it was actually more likely that the outboard would stop working altogether than that it would spontaneously repair itself. But, we had plenty of food and water, and Roy let me use his handheld VHF radio, so we could have summoned help if we did go dead in the water.
I love to take photos of the crew. So here is Sarah, decked out with her very own sense of fashion.

...and David. He started us off and got us a long distance toward our goal when Jake volunteered to take over the helm. So David made himself comfortable, reading his Kindle by the light of the setting sun.

Jeff was facing the setting sun - I debated which photo to use. In the first one, his eyes were closed and he looked intensely peaceful, but I can't resist his beautiful smile, so the eyes open wins out.

Here is our pirate, Rohan, with bandana, beard, dark glasses, and dashing smile.

Jean, with the sun full in her face, looking for flaws that still are not there. Beautiful in high school, beautiful still for our upcoming 40th high school reunion.

This is Alok. You can see where his son (Rohan) gets his swarthy good looks.

And Sabita, Rohan's mom. I know it looks like we have a beauty contest to decide who gets to come on the boat, but it isn't so. Somehow, it just turned out that way.

I love these two photos of Luka. He is looking out at the sunset, contemplating something.

...and this is his silhouette, at about 9 PM. We still had a few more hours of sunlight.

Finally, a photo of Jake, at the helm. Another member of the crew with a 1000 watt smile. Honest, we don't even request photos before making crew decisions.

From the lack of photos of Roger, you might think we tossed him over when the outboard slowed back down to jogging speed, but no - he was just sitting in the middle of the boat during this photo sweep. So even though I do have photos of him, he is recognizable only by his outline because of the sun behind him.

There was a gigantic positive side to our slow and delayed trip. It meant that we were out in the middle of the lake during a positively glorious sunset and the rising of an astonishingly huge full moon. I don't think we'd have been more enraptured by our experience if we could have seen the fairy dust that I feel sure was surrounding us.
The biggest problem we had during this part of the trip was deciding which piece of beauty to take a picture of. Everything, all the way around us, was demanding a photo. I tried to choose the photo that best showed the sunset, but really, none did because a) over the course of the hour+ of the setting sun and our movement (such as it was), we saw many different sunsets and b) it was just so big - we were surrounded by it.
We couldn't bear to look in anyone direction for too long, because we knew that 180 degrees behind the sunset, we would find the moonrise.

Or the moon ducking behind the clouds, but then we'd turn back the other way and find...
... more of this. And back the other direction for more of this.
It's like trying to choose a favorite child - it can't be done. They may be very different, but the unique beauty of the two can't be compared and chosen between. So we all have alternating shots - half a dozen of the changing sunset, followed by half a dozen of the rising moon, and back to the sunset. And the view up or down weren't so easy to dismiss, either. Looking down, we could see all the way to the bottom of the lake (except in the really deep places).
Directly above us, the sky was turquoise striped with pink,
and to the north, the mountains were pink. It's a pretty good problem to have. None of us cared about the late start or the slow trip.

Thanks to Sarah's spatial memory and the excellent night vision of David and Jake, we found Fure's cabin well after midnight. As we were motoring up to it, we thought we saw people coming down from the cabin to the lake shore. As hard as I tried to turn them into bears, they stubbornly remained people. (Odd that we felt sharing the cabin with bears would be easier than with people.)

Of course, as I began to accept that these were people, I started trying to come up with a Plan B. Most of the Plan B's wouldn't work because it was so late - we couldn't get back to Brooks and camp because we didn't have a tent and besides, it would probably take 2 hours to get there. We couldn't sleep around the cabin because of bears. Maybe we could sleep on the boat... Happily (and by a fluke), I brought the paperwork with me that showed our reservation, made on June 11. The couple that met us at the shore were park employees. It turned out that the woman who made our reservation on the 11th neglected to enter it into the computer. So when these folks looked to see if they could lengthen their stay by adding the night before their reservation on the 22nd, it looked like they could, so they did. At first, they offered to share the cabin. But when they realized there were 11 of us, they moved into the shed behind the cabin. We hauled everything up to the cabin and then returned to the boat to launch some origami boats with Alex's and Debby's ashes into Naknek Lake.

As we headed back to the skiff, Alok noticed this scene.

Rohan captured our earnest industry in opening the boats we had folded previously, sprinkling some of Alex's ashes on one side and Debby's (my sister and Alex's "back up mom") on the other.
Here is Roger getting a boat ready. Jeff was particularly good at folding them so they would hold the water out. He then inserted a candle (the trick kind that can't be blown out), lit it,
and then we gently set them into the lake to float where they would. Jake played Taps on his harmonica.

We stayed and watched them go until we couldn't see them any more. They floated and burned for many minutes. Each time I let the ashes go, I find it hard to turn away and leave them to their future, separate from mine. But we went back in and got the cabin ready to sleep all 11 of us.

The beauty of the night never diminished; it just evolved. Alok caught this view of the moon after we came back in.

Several crew members wore their red onesies, but no one wears it like Man-Mountain Jake, peering out with the lantern to find out what in tarnation is making that dag-burned racket.
It was just us, getting settled. Roger immediately claimed the spot under the table. Everyone else squeezed in where they could. Luka almost hurt himself blowing up two air mattresses. He laid them down side by side and ended up sleeping between them all night long. That floor must have been hard.

By the next morning, we were ready for more.

It was too dark the night before to get a good photo of the cabin. Here it is.
This is a view looking out the window toward the lake. I think that direction is east.
That would make this the view to the north.
And this is the view to the south. That building is where the park service employees slept, graciously making room for us.
I'm pretty sure that young people don't perceive cold the same way as the rest of us. I started thinking this when they would run around outside in the cold in their t shirts when they were young. Going for a dip in Naknek Lake just adds more evidence.
As does standing happily in dripping boxers right after going for a dip.

Here we are, on our way to Brooks Lodge to see the bears. I'm not sure what David and Jake are up to here...
...but it looks like it might have been a surprise to Jake.

We stopped to explore. An excellent cliff face for climbing. Can any geologist out there tell us what makes a cliff face like this? When it's my face, it's due to squinting into the sun. But rocks?

Here are Rohan, Jeff, and Luka springing off the boat to scale that sheer wall.
Followed closely by Sarah and Roger (who seems to be doing a special dance step on the way).
Jeff always seems to find a spot that is perfectly "him." In the cabin, it's The Cave. Here, it's The Rock.
David later took the same path and most of them ended up on or in front of these rocks. Since the outboard didn't spontaneously cure itself overnight, I was a little worried about our rate of progress, really not wanting to roll back into the dock at Lake Camp at 2 in the morning.
As we continue to make our slow way to Brooks, Jake played harmonica for us,
everyone napped, and
we stopped again, just because we could. Well, and because Sarah wanted to gather some pumice, but we are no longer allowed to remove it from the beach in front of the lodge. So we stopped on another shore not far from Brooks and collected some. And of course, much rock-skipping ensued.
We struck out again and as we prepared to round the final point into Brooks, we saw this cave - and again, it looked like a spot for Jeff. We wanted to stop and get a photo of him in front of it, but we were too eager to arrive.

It is unusual for visitors to arrive in a skiff on their own, but that's what we've done for the past several years now. So there is always a bit of confusion - every year, we must attend the bear safety presentation right away. But we must also pack any food or fish-smelling gear out of the skiff and secure it in the food cache and gear cache - and that too must be done right away. We took a little bit of a risk this year and left our bedding, water, and fuel cans in the boat, under the platform (another reason to be pro-platform). Alok and Roger both got photos of many successful fisherbears. The most dramatic place they fish is up on the falls, catching the fish as they try to jump up to spawn. I always think from the fish's perspective, what an overwhelming disappointment that must be - it's not an easy jump to make, but to make it right into the mouth of a waiting bear. Argh! The bears that stake out the shallows also do well. Instead of waiting for the fish to jump out of the water, they put their faces in the water and try to snatch them as they swim by. There is a pecking order of these bears, something worked out by threats, bluffs, and sometimes, fights. Some bears are the undisputed champions and when they arrive, all the other bears scatter widely.

This bear was fishing up on the falls and he caught a jumper, one of several that he caught even as we watched.
This one was fishing below the falls.

David and Roger stayed with the skiff for a couple of hours after we landed, trying to cure the outboard. We continued to believe that something was in the fuel line, though we had cleaned out the tank, drained the carburetors, peered into the filters, pumped the bulb to see if it goes into the engine as expected. In a final desperate effort and with the help of a couple of the rangers and a Bic pen, they took the filters out of the equation, thinking that maybe the filters were clogged. The Bic pen was the bridge where the filter had been.
We were very hopeful... so hopeful that we dared stay until 10. Because David and Roger stayed with the boat they went to the falls after dinner. The rest of us re-loaded the skiff with food and gear, and pushed out a little ways from shore to avoid becoming a point of interest for a passing bear.

Not long after, the second shift of bear-viewer returned to the beach, so we pulled in to pick them up, which is why I took the first driving shift. Alas, the outboard was still slow though it seemed a little faster than the night before, a welcome change since this time we were running against the wind so it was going to take even longer. And as Sarah pointed out, because of the growing wind, we probably wouldn't have traveled much faster into it than the 10 MPH we were going to try to reduce some of the splash into the boat.
We were running pretty much right into the sunset and an hour later, this was in front of us - the sun had been below the horizon for 30 minutes by the time of this photo. I was doing my best to avoid taking waves, but we were starting to get wet. And honestly, my feet were beginning to want a rest. So I was glad when we ran through the first tank of gas and I felt like I could ask David to take over. He wisely stepped into his waders and raincoat first.
Half an hour later, the sunset had evolved into this and then we were out of the shelter of land and into the wind. It was time to get into rain gear. Jake and Roger were quick to get into their rain gear, but Luka and Rohan declined. There is something attractive about feeling the elements on your skin. It's just that after continuing to feel them for several cold hours, it begins to lose its charm and chilled, you begin to lose your functionality. I had packed rain gear for our visitors and it was difficult to get them to put it on. Alok was standing in the bow, taking splash right in the face, so I just insisted with him. He was already wet, but the rain gear would help him stay warm. Jean and Sabita were both in raincoats, facing the stern, and they didn't want to get into rain pants. I knew they would get wetter, but I didn't realize how wet. They were both drenched when I pulled rank and made them put on the rain pants.
I was able to take a few more photos - and this one tells why I was occupied with bailing and making sure everyone was as dry as possible for the rest of the trip - which wasn't very dry.

Clouds had rolled in with the wind that was producing the chop and covered the moon, so we were running in just about complete darkness. Jake and Rohan peered through the dark to find land masses that they located on our disintegrating map. We celebrated when we found the first buoys marking the channel to the dock. The green buoys were to port and the red ones to starboard. The white buoys could be anywhere and they warned us of shallow rocks that could remove the lower unit on the outboard. But it was so dark, we couldn't see the next one. So we're run blindly in roughly the right direction until someone spotted a buoy and we'd motor toward it to see the color which would tell us whether we were on course or not. When we were about 1000' from the dock, Jake started just issuing decisive signals, guiding David into the dock. And we arrived at... 2 in the morning.

Getting the skiff out of the lake and onto the trailer requires a trailer that is holding still and enough power to run onto it, with enough precision to not be too imbalanced. We took two runs at it and decided to just tie up to the dock and come back and get it the next day. We loaded the truck with all the food (so as not to attract bears), the sleeping bags (most of the crew brought the sleeping bags they had been using throughout the season), and all the crew, and headed home.

I realized that the tide would be very high, so we would need the four-wheelers to ferry our soggy crew back to the cabins from the beach access road. So we stopped at AGS to pick them up. They were right near the sleeping quarters of the fleet superintendent and his wife, so Rohan and Luka pushed them a little ways away before starting them up and we started our final leg of the trip. At least we thought it was the final leg.

The tide was even higher than we expected so the four wheelers couldn't make it, either. So we left the truck and the four-wheelers behind, the crew carrying their sleeping gear and whatever else was particularly important, and started to walk the mile to the cabins. It was between 3 and 4 AM. Alok and Sabita did not make a single complaint, though I was pretty busy imagining what they must have been thinking about the whole thing (something along the lines of "I wonder if we can get a flight out of here tomorrow"). It turned out that they weren't thinking that at all.

We didn't get far before we saw that the tide was in so far that Monsen Creek, which we can usually jump over or wade across in knee boots was hip deep at its narrowest spot (about 15') and deeper than knee boots at a wide land bridge (which Jake discovered for us). David was still in his waders, so he carried across the things I was carrying, and then he gave me a piggy back ride. (I confess to worrying that we were going to fall over backwards into a wet and tangled mess with David on top of me - but it didn't happen.) He then gave Jean a piggy back ride over. Then returned to pick up Jeff in fireman's carry, and then Roger and Rohan, I think. Sabita insisted in wading through the creek wearing my little aqua socks, Alok by her side. No one complained, not even David whose back must have had a few opinions about what he was asking of it and not even Alok or Sabita who are from New York of all places, and on their first trip down the beach. They had no reason to expect any of this - none of us did. And not even Jean - but that didn't surprise me. I don't think I've ever heard her complain (and we were teenagers together). All season long, I thought this crew was great and worthy of my high opinion. They never let me down.

It was an odyssey. If it were a TV show, that would have been the end of it. After David got us across the creek, we would have been There. But it wasn't like that. Now we had to walk the remaining 3/4 of a mile to the tall ladder and climb up it to the cabins. The tide was touching the cliff much of the way there, so we did our best not to get wetter and darted from high ground to high ground. Jean, Sabita, Alok, and I were in the lead for a while, being the first to cross the creek - with or without David's help. So we were scanning for bears with great vigilance and much noise. We thought we spotted one up ahead. We commenced to yelling, "Hey bear! Hey bear!" The idea is that they don't want to meet us any more than we want to meet them. We were stuck, though. We couldn't really get out of the path - there was steep cliff to our right and deep water to our left with us confined to a very narrow strip of beach that was also sometimes under water. So we needed the bear to run up the cliff. It was too dark for us to be certain that it was a bear, though it was after 4 and starting to get lighter. The shape seemed to be moving but because it was still so dark we didn't know that it was just a clump of tundra, swaying in the tide, until we were very close. That was a relief.

We all made it back to the cabin. The crew made dinner and I think everyone was asleep by 5.