Friday, June 1, 2018

Day 1, May 31 2018, 24,647 steps

The first day in is always one of the busiest days of the season. Departure day is just about as busy and really, they’re both kind of sad. I come up early with just me and the dogs for the solitude, but the first day, when there’s so much to do, it sometimes just feels like loneliness. (The last day is also sad, but then it’s because so much of my heart and soul has been anchored in the tundra and mud, it hurts to extricate it for departure.) This year, the loneliness of arrival felt more difficult because of changes, and maybe, because of accumulated changes.

However, it’s important to remember the rest of it. I spent a little time with Chris (a star member of last year’s crew) and two new crew members (Noah and Phil) for a few days before leaving for the season and found myself getting really excited about this year’s crew. We’ll have a lot of new people this year, but I think they will rise to the challenge, whatever it is.

Starting again – the first day in is one of the busiest days of the season. There are a bunch of things that MUST be done if I’m to sleep in the cabin on the first night. I’m going to try to remember to make a short list at the start of each blog so I can pull it out and make it into an operating manual for future crew members.

1. Pull down the stairs
2. Unboard my cabin (doors and windows)
3. Hook up the propane
4. Prepare the composting toilet
5. Get my bunk ready
6. Park the truck up and out of the tide
7. Set up the drinking water
8. Find trustworthy water for the dogs
9. Bring up luggage
10. Oh, and floss and brush

Some of the more optional things are:
1. Feed the dogs and keep Ollie from becoming eagle food
2. Feed myself
3. Empty the mudroom
4. Change the sheet that has been used as a runway if not a nest for legions of lemmings over the winter. Not to mention that they’re filthy from holding my unwashed body last season
5. Hang out the bedding (it smells so good when it comes in)
6. Open the crew cabin to get stuff I need
7. Move the generator and the capstan winch from the middle of the cabin floor
8. Start cleaning up the winter’s accumulation of... well, let’s just call it “dust,” knowing that everything tends to be bigger in Alaska.
9. Take pictures and start the blog

Here are the day’s details:
The dogs and I and all the luggage (including a crate of eggs – go Alaska Airlines and Pen Air!) made it into King Salmon intact! We had a few errands to run on the way to the cabins. First the bank (since it’s in King Salmon), then SeaMar Naknek (can’t start the season without a Captain Jack tide book),
Can you see my guard dogs in the cab? Annie is the big black and white one, and Ollie is the little guy that's looking a little too much like a poodle these days. Then we headed down to Alaska General Seafood (AGS), the processors that buys our fish and stores our skiffs and some of our fishing supplies and keeps us fishing. AGS seemed very quiet and I was painfully aware that for the first time since 1976, my dear friend and mechanic extraordinaire would not be there. I knew it would be a hard adjustment, but it felt worse than I expected. Even though I got to see wonderful people who are are still there – Big Brad, Felix, Terry, Chris, Jerry – Roy’s absence leaves a gaping hole for me. And that sort of set the tone for the rest of the day. Terry was keeping the drill for me (thank you!). And I discovered that the batteries for the two Honda outboards were tossed out, judged to be not good enough. (But wait! I have low standards!)

Note to self: In the future, leave the drill and any batteries that have been removed for the winter in the net locker. They can be connected to appropriate charging devices which will start charging when the power goes back on in the spring.

We made it down to the cabins and climbed up the dry-enough cliff. We lost A LOT of bluff this year.
We put these pallets together last year to create a walkway toward the crew cabin. Wasn't it around 10' from the edge of the cliff? And see that big tire? We used that as the anchor that kept our washdown water tank from falling over the cliff. And the white pvc pipe sticking out over the cliff - that ran to the washdown water tank. Harry (my favorite brother and the youngest of the Moore girls when we were growing up) told me that the area suffered a couple of hurricanes over the winter. Yikes! I’m sorry to guess that the bluff we lost is probably out on the mudflats… where we’ll be fishing. But up above, everything looked whole. Well, as whole as it could after coming through some hurricanes. Some of the tin came off my porch and Debby’s roof needs some help. And a piece of tin is flapping on her southern wall. We’ll need to do some maintenance this year.
Here are the crew cabin and the space hut, all boarded up. It's a lonely sight.
Here is my cabin, complete with guard dog #2.
Here is Debby's cabin. You can see where the pieces of tin blew off the roof and the piece that's flopping loose next to the window.

Task 1: Pull the stairs down. I couldn’t find the rope I usually leave in the canopy truck along with my knee boots – I think that stuff was buried with the packages we ordered to be delivered to the post office. Instead of expecting the post office to hold a pallet full of packages for us, David invited them to deliver the packages to the canopy truck. That’s one of the great things about a small town. Except that I needed a rope to pull the stairs down and there was no way I was going to find it under those packages. Ok, another rope and that means Debby’s cabin, where we store our ropes.

Debby’s is the easiest cabin to open - all it requires is a key. The windows and door aren’t boarded up. Debby put bars on the windows and she installed a security door. It seems to work well… except for that part about the roof and wall coming off. And the floor is buckling. As a result of the new wrinkle (ahem), the door wouldn’t open much more than a foot or so. That should be enough room to slip in, but there’s a counter in the way. So I crawled in under the counter, found a suitable rope, and crawled back out. More need for maintenance.

To pull the stairs down, I just tie one end of the rope to the bottom of the stairs. (I tie it around the stringers so that the process doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the bottom step.) And tie the other end to the back of the truck.

This photo shows the ominous clouds as a fitting backdrop for the eagle (a juvenile) gliding threateningly overhead, and the rope attached to the end of the stairs. For those who know how far away from the edge of the cliff we left the rowboat to the left of the stairs, or how far from the edge of the cliff we built the little gas shelter, you can also get an idea of how much bluff we lost.

The truck has to be 50-100’ from the bottom of the cliff so that when the truck starts to pull the stairs, it isn’t trying to pull it straight down, through the cliff. It’s more a matter of sliding it off the top of the cliff for a bit until the cliff runs out. So from about 50-100’ away, I slowly drove the truck toward the water (yeah, this has to be done at a prudent point in the tide) until the stairs reach the tipping point and down it will fall.
This photo shows the ladder on its way off the cliff. It’s always a little nerve-wracking because it seems that it could land badly and just fall over. That would be a lot harder to fix. But it landed fine. It will need a little more adjustment to get the angle just right, but it was good enough.

If you look to the far rightof this photo (and squint), you'll see a pole that fell off the cliff. Again, for those who noticed the placement of this pole at the end of last season (decidedly up ON the cliff), it will give you an idea of how much bluff was lost. New crew: we're going to have to pull this pole back up - I don't want to lose it. Start thinking! (I've been trying to remember the logger's knot I learned 40 years ago. Maybe Google knows it.) The other thing this photo shows is the softness of the beach from were I started the pull. That's probably from the lost cliff - it will take a couple of strong tides to clean that up or pack it down. It's pretty squishy now.

During the process with the stairs, I noted a couple of big eagles showing way too much interest in Ollie. They were soaring and playing down the beach a bit, but when they came toward us, they just sort of drifted overhead – I think mentally weighing their chances of grabbing him. I think Ollie felt a little insecure too. While he will usually dash off and explore something (usually something disgusting), when those eagles were nearby, he seemed to especially like being near my feet. That suited me just fine. And anyway, I didn’t want the dogs running around the truck tires as it was pulling the stairs down.

Once the stairs are down, it’s time to open my cabin. It’s not terribly hard – a few screws to remove the plywood from the mudroom door. Open the padlock holding the mudroom door closed. Then open the security door and we’re in. The solar panels are old and worn-out but they still work well enough to charge the batteries in the loft over the winter so I started out with some power. Yay! Because otherwise it’s dark inside the cabin when the windows are all boarded up.

The next step is to unboard the five windows. I use carriage bolts that have a smooth cap outside, held in place with a nut inside, washers on both sides. I use the same holes, the same pieces of plywood, and the same hardware year after year.

But the mudroom is hard to move in and out of because I store all the ladders, hand trucks, wheel barrows, crates, garbage cans, wagons, totes, and so on in the mudroom over the winter. It’s pretty awkward to move in and out unless I move those things out. And besides, I’m pretty sure there’s some dog food in here somewhere that I think the dogs would be very happy to have me find.

The whole time I was opening camp, I felt sad and lonely. The inside of the cabin looked great because Jean had been up the year before and helped me close. She didn’t miss anything! She even put a note on the Brita water dispenser reminding me that the filter was new and didn’t need to be soaked. But all that just made me miss her more! And I was already moping around, missing Roy. So it was a pretty darned sad opening day that found me thinking, “Why do I do this? Aren’t we just going to re-board the windows, bring the stuff back in to the mud room, pull the stairs back up… etc etc etc??”

Hey! I found the orange spray-in hair coloring stuff I got to try to make Ollie look unappetizing from the sky. He already looks kind of ridiculous – shaved face (it’s pointy without all his fur!), shaved belly and legs (so it’s easier to get the mud off him), and even a shaved butt (because he’ll probably sit out there). But I wanted the fur on his back to be as big as possible – so he would look bigger from the air. He looks like he’s going to a Halloween party as Freddie Mercury. And just for good measure, I sprayed his back with orange hair coloring stuff. And then I found his orange danger vest and put that on him.Needs no further explanation, does it?

After getting the boards off, it’s important to hook up the propane so that I can have heat and maybe even cook something. (Looks like it might be eggs tonight.) But the propane container that was part full at the end of last season was completely empty at the beginning of this one. Hmmm… there are more tanks over in the crew cabin. So, partially opened that cabin (door only) to get one.

Another thing that MUST be done is to prepare the composting toilet for use. This isn’t my favorite job. It entails emptying the composted material from last season and adding more sawdust-stuff for this season. It seems like it would be gross, but really, only the idea is gross. It doesn’t smell bad or anything. Still, I don’t run my hands through it. And I use gloves. This is a pressing task because if I use the toilet before preparing it for the year, then I either must decide not to empty the composted material this year (risky!)… or empty fresh material along with the composted. That, I don’t want to do. So Day 1, prepare the toilet. NO PHOTOS.

Finally, I need to get my bunk ready. I always leave the sheet on the bunk, knowing that even if I can’t see anything untoward (potentially making it possible to deceive myself into believing that no mice or lemmings scampered across it, dribbling as such animals tend to do) I know how dirty I was by the end of last season and while my standards drop considerably throughout the season, they start somewhat higher – on the other side of finding that kind of gray sheet acceptable. And I hang the blankets out on the line. That one is a luxury – and if I don’t do it before I make the bed for the first time, I won’t do it. So add that to the list, too.

Can I go to bed yet? Not yet, I still have to take the truck to higher ground because I think the next tide will be high and I really don’t want to swamp the truck. Not any time during the season, but the risk is a bit higher the first day and I would feel even dumber if I did.
This photo shows the truck when I started the process of taking it to higher ground. You can see the soft part of the beach that I hope will pack down with a few storms. It also shows the stairs, just about in place. And about half way between the bottom of the stairs and the bottom of the cliff, you might be able to see a change in the ground. I think that was the previous night's tide line. Yep, gotta move the truck.

When I started down to move the truck, I also noticed the luggage still in the back of the truck. Groan. I hadn't taken up yet because there wasn't a hurry because it wasn't raining. Even the dogs were tired. They started out running up and down the cliff as I went down the stairs and carried stuff up. But by this point, they just sat at the top of the cliff and watched until they knew I was really going somewhere. By this point, it was pretty much a trudge for all of us - one foot (paw) in front of the other.

We returned from putting the truck up and I decided: what the heck – why not get some bread started for tomorrow? But I needed to go to the crew cabin for flour and yeast. (Good thing I already opened it partially.) As I went outside, I was kind of staggered by what I saw. A whole big rainbow over our cabins! Maybe it’s going to be OK after all.

I am curious about that rainbow to light storm over the cabins. But I took it as a sign, anyway. A good one.

And it didn't hurt to have a good sunset at the end of this difficult day.


Katrina said...

Question about Ollie's vest. Is this the one that has the "whiskers"?? I want to see them!

Glad you're in and getting settled!


Unknown said...

Liz!!!! The cliff is so different this year. There must be at least 10 feet missing because I see a lot of it on the beach. And look how close the William’s cabin is to the edge. Glad you made it safely home and selfishly, I’m glad to be missed. Thanks for blogging again. It makes you seem closer and it’s such a treat to see what you and the dogs (and eventually the crew) are doing. Take good care.

- Jean