A birth certificate in Ketchikan should come with a pair of Xtratufs and a kayak. I mention the latter because after searching through contact lists and phonebooks it became blindingly clear that this island needs more personal watercraft. Especially when Ohio boys are in town.
Five Buckeyes and a born Alaskan was what we were trying to get off this black land Earth, and onto a sea bound adventure through the Tongass Narrows down to the “Hole in the Wall” bar. Through the Rec Center we were able to secure a canoe, “The SS Pelican,” and guarantee our adventure for the day. Drunk Seth and I dropped into Thomas Basin whilst the four other Bucks mounted their vehicles. Joey and Ryan jumped onto their ride-a-tops, as Sailboat Devon and Joshua secured themselves into their two-seater. When Drunk Seth and I stepped into our Ketchicanoe it rocked like a cradle, flipping the switch on our similarly excitable minds. Our presumption of disaster was further excited by a lone seaman who announced that we were “an accident waiting to happen.” The debate between fight or flight raged as we paddled into the unusually frothy narrows.
Two thirds of our fleet moved masterfully over the waves and down the line. The last third moved like a limp rag tossed off a cruise ship. But, as captain of that limp rag I aimed to avoid the countless broad side waves that had begun to attack our boat. I gave Drunk Seth the commands. “You go left and I’ll go right! Stroke! Stroke! No. Your other left. No your right I’ll stay right. No you stay left!” A circle could have made a straighter heading. I could hear Walt Whitman call my name.
“O Captain my Captain
Our fearful trip is done….
The port is near, the bells I hear,
The people all exulting…”
As I relinquished the control of the Pelican I found myself at the bow with Ryan piloting from the stern. Drunk Seth had taken his own kayak and we moved forward. The pace quickened as the tide rushed out. The crew rafted our boat together, locking arms and oars to form a mighty flotilla. Retro beige Coors cans passed from hand to hand as we rode the tide farther South. This moment of fellowship was un-expectantly shattered as we struck a harbor bouy. The silent killer had waited for us. Eight knots is slow enough to provoke a relaxed sense of awareness but quick enough to bruise some ribs and break some plastic trim. Sixty seconds and five hundred yards later we cursed the captain of that bouy, regained our sense, and continued on.
Stilted houses whipped by like telephone poles, batches of bull kelp became trumpets and beer bongs, arms tired and the seas calmed as we rounded the southernmost crest of Revillagigedo. The more we paddled the more anxious we
became, perhaps less anxious than hungry and wet, we scoured the shoreline with desperate eyes. One assumes that the name “Hole in the Wall” would be slightly ironic. But lo, when we finally discovered the walls of the sheltered dock protecting this crumbling oasis it could be called nothing but a hole in the wall. Soaked, sore, and thirsty we made our way up the stairs into
a ramshackle building built for heavy drinking and memory loss. A warped ping-pong table paired with a less-than-seaworthy rowboat sat on a covered patio which they share with a propane grill. Sailboat Devon and I stripped our waterlogged pants off hoping that the grill could cook ground chuck and denim. The bar’s dark innards are tacked with a few thousands single dollar bills worth more than the cloth they are printed on. Cheap shots and cold beers are the standard, and seven dollar burgers do more than satisfy in the condition we were in. Ryan cracked open the lid on the beater piano and started poking out some tunes. We dug our hole for about two or three hours, shouting oldies tunes, rap, and the obligatory “Hang on Sloopy.” We left when the tide was willing to push us back to town.
The long days make for hazy nights in Ketchikan and though the skies had removed all obstruction to the heavens, a soft glow made it difficult to view the delicate stippling that is an open night sky. This experience wasn’t at all unsatisfying; in fact it created a specific sense of wonder. With my mind caught between reality and possibility I dipped my oar into the water only to see it burst into a ball of jade fire. We swooped and swirled the water realizing that this was the “phosphorus” mentioned in the bar. Dipping my hand into the inky dark I pulled out a palm full of liquid sunshine and I fell into a deeper trance.
Those placid waters, that mysterious sky, and that venturesome crew let me know that there is a conclusion to some stories. Not all anxious cries against the stability of a furnished house with a stable job just float off into a sea of wasted thoughts. Rather they culminate into spots people have forgotten or never even knew of. Our night ended on Buggies Beach at a fire that drew us in from the fog and the cold. A mysterious figure met us at the shoreline with a bottle of brown liquor. Joey took a pull, catching the flickering glow on the bottle as I licked the firewater from my lips. We rested by hot coals, spoke about patience, and found a moment that can only be reached if you don’t expect to be warm, expect to be fed, or expect to find comfort.
- by Jason Baldwin