Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 29 2016: You might be a setnetter if...

…this sounds like fun to you.

I can’t really say that it started with our flight north. But that’s when the setnetter test started. Two important things I haven't noted below: 1) I think we'll have good internet access this season!!! and 2) this is a long post but I guarantee, the day was even longer.

2:00 am: packing up Karma’s truck with 200 lbs of frozen food for our luggage (plus about 40 lbs in my hand-carry) and 2 dogs (Ollie – little white dog, and Annie – medium sized black dog), plus a few extra pairs of underwear.

3:18 am: the world doesn't have many friends like Karma – she got up to take us to the airport.

9:25 am: the massage chairs in Anchorage – bliss (even though it did take some liberties that I don’t remember giving permission for). I wanted to go for another 15 minute round but Jean noticed that our flight would leave before it was over. Whoops! Crew members: get a photo of those chairs right outside the Pen Air gate. The blog needs to see! I was thinking that if we get to 200,000 lbs, I’ll buy one for fish camp. Yee haw! David, will the new solar installation run it?

9:40 am: race to the gate. When I asked the gate agent if she spends her lunch hour in the chair, she pointed out the cost. Oh. That.

9:45 am: exiting the terminal to the plane, we noticed the sign on the door. It said, “Emergency exit only: keep pushing! An alarm will sound.” Hmmm. We stopped to get a photo of it and my phone rang. That would probably be the last call that phone will see for 2 months. It said CARD SERVICES. So, the massage chair triggered a call from my credit card company. I talked to the lady about the massage chair… and the rest of the passengers were waiting for us to board the flight.

10 am: we’re off in a little plane that seats 30 and requires ear plugs. Poor dogs. 1.5 hours into King Salmon.

11:30 am: Dogs arrived! (They were so happy not to be in the noisy plane anymore.) All the bags arrive! Yippee! It was a little buggy (one got me in the middle of my forehead) but Roy came before too long and brought us to AGS. Home!

We started to unload the frozen food (all still frozen) … and noticed that the door to the web loft (where our net locker is) was padlocked. And everyone was headed in to lunch. Dang. Kerry came by in his Cushman and we flagged him down. He went off to find a key while Jean and I moved the dog crates to the conex. While we waited, Jean and I took the 4-wheeler (that Roy had already gotten running) to Eddie’s to pick up the white Ford truck. What about the dogs? Kenneled them in the back of Roy’s truck. I need to remember that Eddie leaves our stuff at the second hangar. The truck started and Jean drove it back to AGS. Kerry got the web loft open but since it was dark, thought the power might not be on in the web loft (uh oh) but I noticed a little green “I’m-here!” light that made me think it might be. Pull the cord and the light goes on. I love that! We got the food loaded into the freezer in our net locker. So far, whole chickens, chicken thighs, ground beef, ground pork, butter, cheese, ham, lasagna, some meatless options, some prepared pot roast and Indian food. 150 pounds more to come with David Duke, David Nicol, and Sarah Nicol.

We bumped into Harry! It was so good to see him. And Big Brad and Terry. I’m so glad to be back! I had thought we were racing to get to the post office because I had ordered some stuff that I wanted to get out of their hair. When 1 pm came and went I had to resign myself to not being able to pick it up. I felt a lot better when I realized that since it was actually Sunday, it wouldn’t have been open anyway. Sigh.

2:00 pm: Left AGS and stopped in at Naknek Trading for a few groceries. We always need something, but depending on how well everything wintered and when we get our stuff that we had barged up in March, we might need a little or a lot. But we’ll definitely need eggs and a little bit of fresh food. As a bonus, we got to see Sheila Ring, Naknek’s librarian. It was really good to catch up on what’s been happening in town. I’m always so grateful for the people who live here all winter and keep the place warm for us to return to in the spring so we’ll be able to find a grocery store, a hardware store, a post office, a NAPA, a swimming pool, a health clinic, gas stations, mechanic shops, churches and bars, and the library! I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do.

2:47 pm: Headed through town, not knowing whether the tide is coming in or going out. Figure we’ll find out when we get there. The road goes across the tundra and then about a quarter mile from Monsen Creek, we stop to shift into 4 WD and take the ramp down onto the beach, if the tide isn’t all the way up to it. At the bottom of the ramp, we turn right, and head about a mile farther north.

The truck felt funny from the beginning. Powerless going up hills, the shifting felt kind of forced and it didn’t drop into gear. When we got down onto the sand, the truck seemed to skitter a bit. I double-checked the 4 WD and it wasn’t looking great. But the sand looked pretty good, so I pressed on, giving more gas. Getting stuck. I shifted into low range and tried again. Jean got out to see if all 4 wheels were working, and they weren’t. And we were stuck.

I tried to call Eddie… no answer. I called Mark Watson at Pen Auto “I need to be rescued!” But he couldn’t come for a while. Eek! I knew Roy had gone to a community gathering in King Salmon and I thought the rest of AGS had gone too. But I called the office anyway… and got an automated response. Noooo! I made a panicked call to Roy. We were pretty anxious, not knowing whether the tide was on its way back in to swamp the truck, with a strong wind behind it. The reception was bad so he couldn’t tell who it was and thought it was someone from camp who had grabbed a truck and gone for a joy ride on the beach. Note to AGS staff: don’t do that. It won’t turn out well. Once we got our wires uncrossed, he let me know that the beach gang was still at AGS. I was getting ready to call Big Brad when Harry returned an earlier call. I told him our predicament and he said he had his plow truck and would bring it down to try to pull us out. What relief!!

I knew I had a tide book in one of the bags David had brought up earlier and stored in the back of the truck. So while we waited for Harry, we dug through and found it. THE TIDE WAS STILL GOING OUT!! The relief was dramatic. We unloaded all the rest of the stuff from the truck and stored it in the tote that was also in the back of the truck… up above the tideline, just in case. David, what are those red equipment-looking things in the back of the truck? One was really heavy. Once we were in town, I began to worry a little about the smoked salmon and other food items that were in that tote. The spring bears are out. Eep.

So Jean and I were able to talk, not in high squeaky voices. We noticed that this was just like the beginning of the 1975 season, when, heading down to the cabins for the first time in the season, we were caught just in front of the creek with a tide that made it too high to cross. But we weren’t otherwise stuck. Harry, Jean, and I were three of the four 1975 crew members. Maybe it’s something about the energy the three of us produce.

Harry arrived like the cavalry (but in time) and he was so nice about it! I knew he had plenty to do to get his boat ready, but he came anyway. Cheerfully and competently. He looked around for a good place to pull from (so he wouldn’t get stuck too). He pulled out an old anchor line – about 50’ long, tied us together, and pulled us backwards. All the way to the ramp and up it. It’s hard to drive backward for 1/4 mile at the end of a 50’ line afraid that I’ll somehow get some good traction for a second and ram my generous brother. Once he got us to the road, we turned around and drove frontways into town. During that process, Big Brad called, ready to come and rescue us (he later commented that achieving the first catastrophe within 3 hours of arrival may be a record – it was probably closer to 4) and Eddie called to see how he could help.

Our plan was to put the red truck (ol’ Red, the Miracle Truck) back into service. Roy had already replaced the headlight and made sure both lights were working. But I knew the battery was dead. He checked in with us again and offered to let us use one of his good batteries. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

After returning to AGS, we dropped off the dogs in Harry’s room and he followed us up to Pen Auto to drop off the truck. Why can I never find that building on the first try?? We still don’t know what’s going on with the truck, this being Memorial Day and all. I’ll report in when I know more. All I have to say about it is: thank goodness this happened so early in the season! Thank goodness Harry was here, he’d shipped his truck over, and is so kind and competent!

Returning to AGS, Harry came with us to inspect ol’ Red’s condition and we noticed that another truck was parked in front of it – and there was no going around it. Dang. Big Brad to the rescue. He gave me a call to let me know it was no longer there. (What did we do before 2009 when we finally got cell phones that work here?) I thought it was best not to ask the details of the removal. Harry also made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They were heavenly! Then I was ready to go get that battery when Harry told me that we had 8 minutes before Joe (Roy’s assistant this year) headed to dinner. I was alarmed! As Harry pointed out, my vocabulary went all fisherman. Jean noted that I tried to stop it with my hand over my mouth. But the next vocabulary items blurted out through my fingers. We jumped into Harry’s borrowed car and drove down the hill to get it. Joe was still there!! The battery didn’t fit in the truck’s battery spot, but that’s OK; I have bungee cords! And it started. Yippee! Yippee! Yippee!

6 pm: For the second time, Jean and I headed down the beach, but this time, she drove the truck and I rode shotgun on the four-wheeler. The plan was to stop to pick up the stuff we had off-loaded, but I think Jean was a little bit focused on not getting stuck where the white truck got stuck (which was also where the off-loaded stuff was located) or in the creek (another type of disaster), so she just drove on by, stopping once she made it to the other side of the creek.

There, she got her first lesson driving the four-wheeler. She’s pretty good at it, but I’m not sure she’ll set records for speed. Maybe that will come later.

Finally, we got to the cabins! Roy had already been down and did the initial steps of opening the cabin because he tried to get the heater repaired and running before we arrived. But the rust defeated him and now, another is on the way. Oh well. And it made it a little easier for us to open the cabin.

We have a tall aluminum set of stairs that my brother-in-law made. He did a great job. And they are heavy!
At the end of each season, we (somehow) pull them up and they spend the summer on the tundra, out of the way of the punishment delivered by the tide and the icebergs that usually form in the bay out here. So at the beginning of each season, we need to pull the stairs down. Here is the downhill end of them, in their position of winter repose.

Jean and I scrambled up the cliff (I like how those words sort of gloss over the part where we’re at the overhang part of the cliff trying to figure out how to get up that last 6 feet. It’s an even harder problem for the dogs.) By now, the tide was coming back in, and the wind was still pushing it. Hard.

When we first get here, everything has to happen first. We really needed to get the stairs down so we could get the stuff in the back of ol’ Red up because the tide was coming in fast and we needed to get the truck and the four-wheeler to safety. That’s back up on the access road, about a mile and a creek-crossing away. And we need to hang out the bedding because the mice have been peeing on it all winter long (bleah!), and empty the “finished material” deposited last year in the composting toilet, so we have a toilet to use this year. And we need to get tools and propane out of the cabin, and get the stove turned on so we can make dinner. And try to find a heater we can use while waiting for the new one to arrive. Here it is, the little brother heater. We didn't have the standard base for the propane cylinder so, in true hillbilly style, we used bungee cords and an egg box to make one.
And where are the Brita filters? Did we run out last year? What is the mucous-y looking thing that came out of the tea kettle? Bleah. (Jean extracted it with a spoon… and we drank the rest of the water anyway.) We need to bring in some water from the water barrel outside, which had fallen over during the winter and mostly spilled out. Plus we’ll probably need to mend the split in the barrel that always splits again when the water freezes and expands over the winter before we can use it to hold rain. If it ever rains again. The back-up water barrels also fell over and mostly emptied. Uh oh. Hope it rains some. So we started on the stair-pulling project without stopping to unlock the three locks that Roy had locked back up on his departure a couple of days earlier.

The cliff is much steeper than it was last year. It is almost a right angle with the beach right below the cabins. It didn’t make sense that it could have gotten higher, but we really didn’t want to pull the stairs down – all 35’ of them – and find that they no longer reached to the bottom. It would be hard to pull them back up. So we took a little time to measure the length of the stairs and the height of the cliff – without an actual tape measure, of course. We left the backpack with the keys to the cabin's porch at the bottom of the cliff in the truck. Since we decided to tie the top of the stairs to a screw anchor back in the tundra, we needed to retrieve the keys anyway to open Debby's cabin, where we store the lines. We thought it was important to tie to top of the stairs to the top of the cliff so that if the cliff did somehow get higher, or the beach got lower, the whole set of stairs wouldn’t end up on the beach, horizontally.

Finally, ready. We tied off the bottom of the stairs, careful to not just tie to the bottom tread (that would be a lot of pressure on those welds),
but instead we wove it around the stringers, and a couple of treads at the top end, then rappel down the cliff (luckily, Jean caught me in the second descent, not the first one where I was pretty much just dangling and skidding down the line - didn't look quite as together in that one) to tie it to the hitch on the back of ol’ Red leaving as much line as possible between them to ease the angle of the pull. It’s really hard if we’re pretty much trying to pull the steps through the cliff instead of over it.

Jean stepped back to take pictures… of whatever would happen. I put the dogs in the cab of the truck (I don’t think they’re all that smart about vehicles) and slowly started the pull. Going OK,
going OK,
going OK… tipping point,
falling a little further,
BOOM! It’s down. And the top is still over the top. It’s pretty much straight down so the treads are at the wrong angle. Backed the truck up and tied off a short line and tugged gently. The tread angle is still not quite flat. Tug a bit more. It’s not going.
The bottom of the stairs is just floating in the air, until something gave and the bottom came back down. That time, it was about right. Steep, though.

Jean then headed to the cabin to start hanging out the bedding and checking out the mouse infestation. (I will say that she is fussier than I am about just how clean the counter needs to be before we start using it. And I have the immune system to prove it!) I started pulling the stuff up the stairs, feeling so thankful that the freezer is in town so we didn’t have to haul that 200 lbs up the stairs.

I thought I was going to die. OK, time to get in shape.

The last thing we did before taking ol’ Red to safety was open the crew cabin (which involved removing the plywood from over the door and opening the padlock) so we could put the luggage inside in case of rain.

8 pm: It was a nice night for a walk on the beach. I am a couple of small agates richer for it. Here are the stairs, showing the right triangle they make with the cliff and the beach, and their first serious use. They are more like a ladder than a staircase, I think.
And here they are looking up from underneath. You can see why it's bad luck to walk under a ladder.

On our return, Jean continued to clean furiously while I took off the rest of the boards covering the windows, emptied the composting toilet and got it ready for the season, emptied the porch, and unpacked the duffels that David brought up in April. I discovered that 3 out of 5 sweet potatoes didn’t make it. Euwww. That also makes me a little worried about the red potatoes and onions that are in the totes we shipped up on the March barge. Uh oh.

Finally, we worked together until about 10 straightening out the cabin and went to bed and the sheets that Jean was able to convince herself were mouse-pee-free. (In the morning, I discovered that wasn’t entirely true. Don’t tell!)