Sunday evening marked a milestone in this adventure.
I made it back to Alaska’s mainland.
Technically, even while I was in Cordova I was on the mainland. But, with no road out, it might as well have been an island. Cordovians, by the way, are proud of this. They have resisted suggestions of building a road there. And a bumper sticker on almost every car and truck in town reads simply: “No Road Cordova.”
Early Saturday afternoon I filed a column for The Roanoke Times in which I wrote that I expected my fishing time in Alaska was over.
But then there was a little break in the wind and rain. What the heck?
I drove out to Ibek Creek.
It was still way up, but what else was I going to do?
I loaded up my gear, including my bear spray, and headed up the trail toward where we’d fished the first couple of days, before all hell broke loose with the weather.
About 30 minutes later I heard grunting ahead of me on the trail. I gulped and got my spray ready.
The grunting came from another angler, who was walking downstream.
He carried two salmon in his left hand, and a third in his right.
I was impressed. This guy was hard core.
His name was Bill Beaver, and he said he was from Wenatchee, Washington.
“My friends didn’t want to come up here with me,” he said. “So I came by myself.”
Bill also came without a fillet knife and a stinger, which is why he was carrying his fish by the gills.
One of his fingers, likely cut by the sharp teeth of a coho, was bleeding profusely.
I offered to fillet his fish and he graciously accepted. I knocked out the chore in a few minutes. Bill put the fillets in Ziploc bags, which he stuffed into the back pocket of his fly vest. It was a good load, but would be much easier than carrying the fish along the sloppy trail though thick, face-slapping willows.
Bill told me he’d caught six fish in all on his fly rod, and told me where he’d caught the fish. I thanked him.
I reached the spot a few minutes later and baited up with a gob of salmon roe. The bait was in the water for maybe 10 seconds when the rod bowed.
The fish was a big buck. As it jumped I could see that it was a little dark, meaning that it had been in the river for a while. I could also see streaks of red on the fish’s flanks. The red wasn’t from the skin, but from blood. I’d hooked the fish in the gills, which is a risk when using eggs.
I landed the salmon, which weighed about 12 pounds. Normally I would have released it but the hooking was mortal, so I sucked it up and put the fish on the bank. It would still be fine for smoking.
The next cast produced another immediate strike, this one from a bright buck of 10 or 11 pounds. The fish jumped more than any salmon I hooked during the trip.
With two fish on the bank, I switched to a little Luhr-Jensen spoon, the barbs pinched down on the hook. I ended up catching five more salmon and a pretty nice dolly varden. The best salmon, a bright hen of about 7 pounds, finished up my limit.
The weather had gotten steadily worse while I’d been fishing, so I filleted the fish, loaded the bags in my pack and headed downstream.
If this were to be my final day of Alaska fishing, it seemed pretty much a perfect way to end. One, the fishing was good. But, importantly, I had to work for it and deal with challenging weather. Pretty fitting based on how the trip had gone to this point.
A few hours later, as I lay in my sleeping bag trying to get some sleep, I fully expected to have another full day in Cordova as the weather had become completely horrendous.
I had been parking at the Orca Adventure Lodge, where owner Steve Ranney had graciously allowed me to squat for more than a week. But there was a wedding there on Saturday afternoon and the guests were hootin’ and a’hollerin’ (as well they should have been) so I opted to park down the road. (FYI, next time I go to Cordova — yes, there will be a next time — I’m flying and staying atthe Orca.)
The wind rocked the RV like it hadn’t been rocked during the entire trip. I got zero sleep. At 4 a.m. I bailed and drove into town to try to find a sheltered spot. I found one, and got a little nap before it was time to head to the ferry dock. I expected the ferry to be canceled, but it wasn’t. The guy lining us up was none too happy, either. “It’s the worst weather we’ve had in a week,” he said.
Though I was standby I got on. Rather than a direct trip to Whittier (my goal destination) we went to Valdez first. This was scary because I had to pull off the ferry and get back in the standby lane. If I didn’t get on I would have to drive 300 miles to Anchorage, vs. the 60 or so from Whittier.
I had standby slot number 7 and was the last guy on. Whew!
I reached Anchorage yesterday evening, and only then called U.S. Airways to try to get a seat out of here.
The earliest they could accommodate me was Monday night (actually 2 a.m. Tuesday morning) so that meant a final night in the RV. I found a kind of quiet street near a row of motels and parked for the night.
Today I returned my home-away-from home to its rightful owners at ABC Motorhome Rentals. We put about 1,500 miles on the thing, which is pretty impressive when you consider that we were stuck for nearly two weeks in No Road Cordova.
In the time I was in Cordova, fall arrived in the Anchorage area, the brilliant gold of autumn now contrasting with the lush green spruce on the mountainsides.
I’ll be getting back to Virginia just in time to enjoy the arrival of autumn again.
The feedback and support from readers has been phenomenal over the past few weeks. While I may have come close to whining a few times, you all wouldn’t let me forget just how fortunate I am to have been able to undertake this expedition.
Thanks for reading.