My wife Linda has a second career as a travel writer and I have been many places I could only imagine growing up. I have kneeled on the ice in Antarctica with penguins waddling by a few feet away, fished for piranha 700 miles up the Amazon River, snorkeled in Tahiti and spent the night in a five-star hotel in Marrakesh, Morocco. All those were beyond my wildest dreams as a kid in Dearing, Georgia!
Linda and I left July 26 and flew to Anchorage, Alaska. We spent a week driving up to Denali National Park, over to Valdez then back to Alaska. The vastness of Alaska is amazing. I drove 1150 miles during that week. At dinner back in Anchorage the placemat had a map of the state about the size of my palm. The area we covered in a week was about the size of my thumb tip placed on the very corner of my palm! The same distance here would have taken us all the way around Georgia - with some overlap!
On that drive we passed many beautiful mountain ranges and terrain varying from damp forest to tundra. Rivers that were hard to get to looked inviting but I didn’t get to fish until we got to Valdez. There we stood on the shore of the bay and hooked salmon after salmon, landing about ten each but losing twice that many each.
We flew to Juneau and got on a small cruise ship, the Mist Cove, and spent a week with 14 other passengers and 12 crew cruising the Inner Passage, anchoring each night in secluded bays. Each day we had the option of taking out kayaks, going on hikes on shore, or taking the skiffs to fish for halibut or to streams to catch salmon.
The limit on halibut is one per day and two in possession. We brought back 46 pounds of filets from the four we kept. The salmon we caught were already in the creeks and not good to eat, but were a ball to catch on light tackle.
On my 60th birthday I was standing in a stream in Alaska catching salmon. I landed my first salmon ever on a fly rod that day, hooking and landing four after landing nine on a spinning rod and losing about 15. The screaming runs across riffles and the way they jumped were just like in my dreams!
Wildlife was amazing. Eagles were everywhere. We watched one young eagle eat a salmon on a gravel bar about 100 feet from us. One day two couples were fishing the mouth of a stream and another couple had hiked up the stream to fly-fish. Each group had a guide. Ours had a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs on his back and the other guide had a 30-06 on his.
The three that went up stream came walking back pretty fast and we heard the radio crackle. Their guide was calling for a skiff to pick us up immediately. About that time, less than 100 yards behind them, a brown bear stood up. The grass was about chest high on me in the area. It came up to her waist. Beside her a cub poked his head above the grass, too.
The grizzly had followed them back down the creek after they walked up on her. She disappeared then popped up a little closer to us. About that time the skiff picked us up and we left her to fish with her cubs all by themselves!
On the trip we saw moose, caribou, mountain goats and many other critters. It was exciting.
On Sunday, August 8 we loaded on an Air Alaska 737 in Sitka to come home. The plane was packed, not an empty seat. And we were amazed at the number of boxes of fish loaded on it. The luggage belt would have five or six boxes of fish, then a suitcase. The cargo hold was full.
We started down the runway and just as I felt the plane get light, mostly from me holding it up by the arm rests, there was a loud "BANG," the left side of the plane dropped a little and the whole thing shuddered and shook. The pilot got us stopped about 100 yards from the end of the runway where it dropped into the bay.
He came on the PA an said we had hit an eagle. It tore up the engine I was sitting over and just in front of. The co-pilot and flight attendants were looking out the windows at the engine, looking for smoke and flames, I guess. They said we had been running down the runway at 110 MPH, 10 MPH under lift off speed, when we sucked in the eagle. That is 160 feet per second, if my calculations are right. If the pilot had hesitated even for two seconds before slamming on brakes and reverse thrusters I don’t think we would have stopped in time.
Six hours later they got another plane to Sitka to take us to Seattle and we caught the red-eye to Atlanta, the only flight left that night. We landed in Atlanta as the sun came up Monday morning. I am still shaking from the experience.
Did I mention I HATE TO FLY?