Here's a bit of advice: Anytime you get the chance to go to Alaska, you take it! And that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago when I was sitting on the dock fishing for sunnies in Spicer, MN, and got a call from a friend saying there may be an opportunity for me to go to Alaska….in eight days. Despite the short notice, I didn’t hesitate to rearrange my schedule to make it work, including driving 600 miles roundtrip to Lincoln, Nebraska the next day to film with Mike Smith Live for The Harbor (which I was scheduled to shoot during the days I would be in Alaska). You just plain make it work when offered to go to "The Last Frontier". Having been there previously, I can whole heartedly say it is a place of indescribably beauty, but as you've probably gathered, I’m going to attempt describing it anyhow.
After Lincoln, I flew back to Orlando for three days to shoot a feature with Fluid Magazine and to gather my warmest wetsuits, clothes, and winter gear. Then just a week after the initial call, I made the 16 hour trek across the continent to Alaska (Orlando -> Houston -> Anchorage -> Homer).
When I arrived in Homer and catching a rare glimpse of a bull moose near town, I still wasn’t exactly sure just what the heck I was doing there - the project was and is still relatively secret, and I can't disclose the details, but I knew that I had to be in the harbor at 4pm on Tuesday to get on a boat which would journey into the Alaskan wilderness and not return for five days.
Since I got in on Sunday night and had nearly 48 hours before I had to be to the boat, I took it upon myself to make the most of it and my friends, Steph and Forrest Greer, graciously let me stay at their home, which conveniently sits upon the chill overlooking the Kachemak bay and the Growing glacier - one helluva coffee drinking view! On Monday, Steph and I built and installed a sign for her new business, Beryl Air, which we were and are still very proud of, and consequently rewarded ourselves with a little joyride at 10,000 feet. Steph piloted us out of the Homer Seaplane Base and we journeyed over the Kachemac bay, the Kenai peninsula, the Harding Ice Field, admiring all sorts of wildlife, terrain, and multiple glaciers from the air.
Beryl Air's offerings include: flight tours, walrus viewing, and float plane pizza delivery...need I say more? Oh, and the most badass pilot on the planet!
That night we played a little league softball, with a glacier view, of course, and then celebrated the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which is REALLY long in Alaska, with a good ‘ol fashioned bonfire. There is never a dull moment with the locals.
Any excuse to party...
The next day, I found myself aboard the Milo, a fishing boat turned Alaskan surf exploration vessel, and met the captain, two deckhands, and the rest of the crew. I unloaded my gear into the lower deck and scoped out my new temporary digs - I had the pleasure of staying in “Igloo #1”, a bunk in a very small hole, and found the boat’s single toilet to be pleasantly tolerable. We spent some time in the harbor getting things arranged before heading out of Kachemak Bay and off to sea, spotting a few rambunctious whales along the way.
Here’s where I need to make a long story short (because I could easily get carried away, but also because I can’t divulge specifics about the project). We spent the entire first days aboard the Milo venturing deep into the wilderness. The seas were relatively calm and we (the captain, two deckhands, and I) made it a point to conveniently make stops every time we ran across a hot fishing spot. I applied my bass fishing skills to the Gulf of Alaska and caught a few rockfish, filleted them on a surf board, and killed the never ending evening sunlight cooking and enjoying fresh fish tacos while getting to know the seven others onboard.
After twenty hours and a couple of “hang ups” (sorry...vague again), we finally made it to our destination where we anchored and stayed for three nights. What transpired in the following days was certainly nothing that I had ever imaged experiencing, and I along with the other two "deckhands" were lucky enough to be a part of something that no one had ever really captured before.
Spirits were high on the journey home, and all aboard got a good chuckle when I out-fished the captain and two deckhands (three experienced Alaskans) when we stopped at a halibut hotspot. The long journey came to an end late Saturday evening, and we ended the night with a good old fashioned bluegrass ho-down at one of Homer’s local establishments, a true gem as one might suspect. It seemed as if the entire town came out to celebrate our return, even though they didn’t know it.
The trip was extraordinary to say the least, and for me the entire project really captured the the spirit of Alaska. When we set out, we knew what we were trying to accomplish had fairly low odds of success, but despite the uncertainty and unlikelihood of it coming together, we went anyways and decided to make the most of the adventure. We were pioneers, who set out to do something that had really never been done - something we weren't sure was really even possible, but we were going to do everything in our power to make it work despite the countless variables that could have gone wrong; that is the Alaskan way, after all - exploring the unknown and making the best of it no matter what happens.
Twenty hours at sea both ways, learning to fillet rockfish, going eight hours out of our way to find out the location was a dud, spending nights in lush, unnamed coves surrounded by waterfalls, spending five days and nights in the same pair of sweatpants, rainboots, and beanie, going days without a shower, almost capsizing the skiff, freezing our asses off in 34 degree water, drinking endless cups of tea, beer, and glacier ice cocktails, seeing sea otters, whales, and seals, feeling like a helpless speck and completely at the mercy of a one billion year old glacier, going to bed with the sun at midnight and rising with it at 4am to do it all again each day, being disconnected from any sort of media and/or electronics and having to interact with each other, tell stories, and make up games to pass the time, and most importantly, enjoying, appreciating, and never underestimating the potential of our surroundings every nautical mile and moment of the journey.
In the end, whether the stars aligned or not didn't determine our success, as the trip itself was the real adventure, and what was most special to me was that being that far into the wilderness, completely disconnected from the modern world, at the mercy of mother nature, and stuck with seven strangers on a big hunk of metal floating in the ocean, there were no distractions to keep one from remembering what was important - makeup, social media, money, materials - none of it mattered. We were but microscopic creatures amidst the vastness of the sea, but the adventure was larger than life.
Like the unknown adventure that is my life, we were in the wild, adventuring into the unknown but filled with determination and life. We were pioneers in the Last Frontier. We were Alaskans.