Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Legendary Waterfall Sisters

The first time my brother invited me and my sister as his guests to go salmon fishing in Alaska, I thought, "Well, this is a once in a lifetime experience, we have to go."  Even though the thought of fishing wasn't really that appealing to me.  It was more of a challenge, a true test of my endurance and a chance to improve upon my not so good reputation as being somewhat spoiled, rather lazy, and perhaps "the weakest link."  I have always been thought of as rather prissy, and I'm not even sure how I got that reputation, but sure as the day is long, I have it.  Maybe it has something to do with this type of thinking; I envisioned a few hours of fishing, a few more hours of lounging on some spectacular ocean view deck with perhaps a Carrie Bradshaw type cocktail, reading my long overdue stack of books that I would bring with me. I imagined drinking my perfectly creamed coffee while seated leisurely outside, shielding my eyes from the warm morning sun, excitedly spotting a whale or two and then perhaps taking a nice hot soak in the tub at night and getting the best sleep of my life, here in Alaska, silent, dark, peaceful.

Coming in to Waterfall by float plane

The cabins where we try to sleep and attempt a good shower

But upon landing on the island we were out fishing within one hour, hello reality.  No time to freshen up, no going to our room first.  We have been on three different planes in the past 6 hours and now we are immediately shuffled off to get fitted for our boots and slickers, leaving bags and purses behind.  This was the first clue that we were amongst some serious sportsmen, a kind of rich man's boot camp.  Up at 4:00 a.m., breakfast at 5:00, on the boat by 5:30 a.m. and not back on land until 4:30 or 5:00 each afternoon. And mind you, this is rain or shine.  When the weather is good there isn't anyplace on earth you'd rather be, but when it rains and the wind blows you are a frozen extension of your fishing pole, your insides shaking, your feet feel like two giant ice cubes, your hands are constantly wet and chapped, and King Salmon or no King Salmon, all you can think about is getting to dry land.  Ah, summer in Alaska.

5 people standing on this boat - ALL DAY
Early misty morning
By the time you do get back to the lodge and off the boat, you are exhausted, dragging yourself in your oversized rain boots back to your cabin to a well-deserved hot shower.  The shower stall is small and comes with an affixed warning sign - "Do not close your eyes while showering" - this is due to the fact that you now have newly acquired sea legs and heaven forbid, you could become disoriented and dizzy, possibly falling, killing yourself, and this is only one of the many ways you can die while fishing in Alaska.

There are numerous other ways, which are listed on the liability release form you sign before coming to Alaska, and I seem to recall one of the other ways being mentioned are the "harmless" bears that loiter outside by the nearby dump.  Okay, so this is where that "prissy" accusation comes in, but I can't help it.  Nature can be a very scary thing.  And speaking of wildlife and my avoidance of such by design, my sister on the other hand just can't get quite close enough.  She is thrilled at the thought of being able to photograph the bears (see below), while I hide nearby, watching her from a safe distance, and frequently hissing, "get back here, hurry, you've got the picture already, get back here!

The bears at the nearby dump
After each day of fishing there is a beautiful buffet at the lodge upon your return, this is true.  And you eat like there is no tomorrow, both because you have worked up an impressive appetite being out on the ocean all day, and also because you know that once back on the boat in the morning you will provided only PB&J sandwiches, chips, M&M's and cookies.  You will have consumed much of that before 9:00 am, which you won't even believe that it is only 9:00 a.m. because it feels like you've been out on the ocean for hours, and in fact you have been.

On the boat you find yourself praying for good weather and a very strong bladder.  The boat is a 25' cabin cruiser with no bathroom facilities.  What?  Yes, you heard me right, on a boat for 10 hours and no bathroom facilities, which by Tim Allen "Man" standards, doesn't seem to be much of a problem, but for us females it can be a rude awakening, a lesson in balance, discretion and control.  Trying to go to the bathroom while standing in the tiny cabin of the rocking boat, keeping your balance between swells and anchoring yourself between seats over a bucket, hoping nobody is looking.  Luckily, there is usually one other female on board to guard the door.  To add to the humiliation, when finished you have to come out on deck, dump and rinse your bucket over the side while luckily it seems that everyone else is in their own little world, totally engrossed in their pursuit of the elusive King Salmon.

Starting the day all smiles

After a long day, bedtime comes and as you lie down you are swaying gently to the waves that only exist in your mind. What should rock you to sleep actually makes you a bit nauseous so sleep is hard to come by.  The room is too light, the sun in Alaska in the summer stays around for quite awhile and on your mind is the fact that you have to get up very early and now you fear insomnia may be setting in.  You basically know that when morning comes you are going to feel like dirt and you may as well just make peace with it, because it is bound to happen, nothing more you can do about it except look forward to that first morning cup of strong coffee.

The first few years I remember my sister and myself both packing lightly by "carry on" standards,  but still managing to fit in a few cute sweaters, a couple pair of jeans, a couple of pair of shoes, a curling iron, hair straightener, and makeup. It took several years to realize that one big warm sweatshirt would work for every evening after fishing.  That yoga pants work much better under your slickers, and also eliminate the whole zipper/button problem while using the bucket.  Makeup?  How about some sunscreen and chap stick.  After all these years, we are just starting to get it down.  An extra set of warm gloves, beanie, thick socks, and daily doses of Dramamine. 

The Legendary Waterfall Sisters

We are now scheduled to go this summer on our 9th fishing trip to Alaska.  I again made the guest list as did my die-hard partner and sister, Pam.  Besides the two of us providing the group with some well needed humor, we always manage to bring in our share of the fish. Now Pam has always had more of a reputation for being athletic, a real trouper, never giving up, always being one of the first chosen when picking sides for the team.  She is feminine but strong, and because of her I have had to try harder. Like Avis.

So who would've known that after that first fishing trip, when we all arrived home with a year's supply of salmon and halibut, that we would be invited back year after year?  It has become something much more grand than a fishing trip or a once in a lifetime experience.  It has become a family tradition.  One that even as exhausting as it can be, and sometimes I swear I will never do it again, once we are back home for a month or so, we start planning how we can pack smarter, stay warmer, and if next time we should bring saltines or Frito's  Having the opportunity to spend those few quality days once a year with family provides more than fish to fill our freezers, it gives us laughter, humorous stories, warm memories and a way of connecting that is truly precious and will always be one of the best times of our lives.  I think I can speak for all of us on that.

Me, Michael, Kess (Dad) & Pam
With each year the guest list changes a bit, mixing it up between friends and family.  Certain years we have been accompanied by husbands, partners, uncles, brother-in-laws, and sisters, but the permanent fixtures have been our brother, our niece, our Dad, and of course me and Pam, The Legendary Waterfall Sisters.  We are the rocks. And we are really bad ass anglers at that.

Pam and her King Salmon

1 comment:

  1. Love it!!! You brought tears to my eyes and really captured the essence of this trip year after much more than fishing :)

    Your partner in crime & fellow legendary Waterfall sista....

    Love you~Pam