The Plane! The Plane!
Today is my first full week since I left home. What a week full of adventures.
I closed my journal that I had promised my mom I would write in every day. I hadn’t so far and wanted to be more diligent. I looked out over the water that was calmer than yesterday morning, but still choppy.
I ate my breakfast of cold cereal with the last of the real milk we had. The rest of our milk was either powdered or in a carton with an expiration date nearly a year from now. That had to be good for me.
I turned the page back to the beginning of my journal, and then got up to look at the calendar we had brought with us. John had crossed out yesterday with a blue sharpie, so that meant I was a week plus a day on my adventure.
We could only work forty hours a week, so the plan was to keep track on the calendar. We planned to work ten hour days. There were not really going to be weekends as our down days would count as our days off.
Today was a down day. The weather was too bad to go to the work site or to allow planes to fly in.
Sam was not feeling well, so I stayed close to the cannery and explored. It was not safe to wander about alone since there were brown bears all around us. They tended to stay away from the cannery, but even that was not assured.
Carl paddled the boat out to fish just offshore. As I walked along the boardwalk, I noticed that he was drifting away from shore as the tide went out.
I hollered and waved at him.
At first he did not respond. When he did, he jumped up and paddled as hard as he could to shore. The zodiak was heavy and unwieldy for one person and he did not make much progress.
I motioned for him to come close to the pier. The pier jutted out into the bay, but was meant for ships, not small boats. The pilings were nearly fifteen feet out of the water.
When he finally got close, I threw him an old heavy rope I found on top of a barrel by the warehouse. He caught it and held on while I pulled him along the pier to the beach.
Once we got the boat back up the beach near the creek, I went back to the bunkhouse to nap and read for the rest of the windy cold day.
The next morning was cold and the clouds were low, but the wind was not blowing.
John listened to the weather report. The low pressure system was expected to move out mid day and the weather was favorable to flying.
The plan for the day was to take the boat out to the work site and see how long it takes to travel and get a read on the lay of the land. We would be back for lunch and to wait for the planes to bring in the last of our supplies.
Our radio was still not working, so John also wanted to use the pilot’s radio to try to contact Larsen Bay to see if they had come out to set up our relay.
After breakfast, John and Sam mounted the motor to the zodiak while Carl and I packed bags and took out our orange Mustang life jackets. They were not vests, but full jackets that were thickly padded and meant to help keep us afloat and fight off hypothermia should we fall in the water.
Most likely, in a serious accident, it made finding our bodies easier.
The clouds hung just above the pier and the bay was calm. Waves swelled and rippled under the mirrored water that was both dark from the depths and shimmering from the reflected clouds.
We carried the gear down to the beach and could hear the rough cough of a motor and John coaxed the engine to life. He took the boat out in circles and tested the craft out.
As he turned back towards shore, the engine sputtered and the boat slogged into the water. John cranked on the pull cord, but the boat wouldn’t start. He pulled the cowling off and tinkered with the engine before messing with the gas line.
He tried the cord again and the engine sprang to life. He brought the boat in to the beach and explained that there had been air in the fuel line, but it looked like we were good to go.
We piled into the boat and Sam pushed us off. He still looked a little pale and I was worried he was not doing well. Or worse, that his thumb or forehead were infected.
I had overheard John earlier that morning whispering to Carl that he might have to send Sam to Kodiak or Anchorage for medical care if he did not improve.
John started the boat on the first pull and we were soon zooming across the water. I sat in the bow along with Sam and enjoyed the boat ride as we skipped across the surface. It felt like we were zooming since the clouds washed out any points of reference.
I had never been on the ocean before and marveled out how serene the water was. Occasionally we would see birds floating by or launching themselves labouredly into the sky.
We stayed a couple of hundred feet off shore and as we rounded a point where the mountain waded into the surf, the shoreline changed and the clouds began to lift. The sky grew lighter and through the clouds we could see the land roll back into grassy greens.
John pointed the boat to where a creek poured out into the bay and formed a nice gravel beach. He cut the motor and pulled it up as it got shallow and we coasted onto the beach. As soon as the gravel crunched underneath, Sam threw himself over and began to pull the boat ashore.
I decided to join him and did so far less gracefully and nearly tripped and fell.
Once onshore, Sam tied the boat to a piece of driftwood up in the grass and I noticed the largest bear prints I had ever seen. And not just one set, but multiples. Maybe even dozens.
John checked his watch and said, “About a half an hour between tides, not too bad.”
We climbed off the beach and up onto the grassy bluff and looked over the worksite. To our right a steep mountain rose and disappeared into the clouds which had now lifted several hundred feet off of the ground. A little over half a mile in front of us was low marshy grassland that slowly rose into rolling hills that looked like emerald steps disappearing into the clouds. These hills arched and made a bowl that stretched to the water’s edge a little more than a half mile away to our left.
The grass was doubled over where we were standing, but it nearly reached our waists anyways. And it was thick. It tangled up our boots and we spent a lot of time staggering through it whenever we tried to make our own trails. There were some game trails, but those were created by bears, and that made them not safe to travel.
Of course, walking through the grass itself was not safe. The grass was so tall and thick, you wouldn’t see a bear until you were nose to nose with it.
John and Carl poured over the map and tried to make out landmarks to help orientate them to the size of the plots we were to survey. The plots were large. The largest was 64 acres and the smallest was only 21. The nice thing about the three lots is that they were set up next to one another. Once we had one done, we could use its corner post to help us lay out the others.
We didn’t stay long or wander about much. After an hour, John checked his watch and ordered us all back into the boat.
The tide was coming in and the boat was no longer beached. Sam and I pulled the boat back onto the beach and we all got onboard. It took John a couple of pulls to start the engine, but once he did, he backed us away from shore and turned us towards home.
We skipped across the surface once again, but with points of reference, I could see we were not flying like it had felt before. The water was a bit chopper and we were now fighting the current of the tide. We must have done about fifteen miles per hour to the worksite, but now we could not be doing but about ten.
As we neared the point where the mountain met the sea, John let off the gas and we slowly settled into the water. My ears still vibrated from the hum of the engine and I looked back as John cut the engine altogether.
We could hear the high pitched whine of a plane engine off in the distance. Sam pointed and yelled out, “The plane! The plane!”
We were still a couple of miles from the cannery, so John started the engine and we took off once again. There were two planes coming in and it would take them a few minutes to unload and we had plenty of time.
Unless the engine suddenly acts up and stops, which it did.
John tried to start the engine and it only sputtered. By the third pull, it did not even turn over. John instantly checked the gas can and then the gas line. He pulled a few more times and nothing.
With curses, not directed at us, he ordered us to start paddling. We took out the oars and paddled while he tried to fix the engine.
We must have paddled for nearly ten minutes and we were not making any headway against the tide. The boat had too much drag and we did not have enough muscle. I did note however, that we were closer to shore which was very rocky and not very inviting.
John tried the motor every couple of minutes, but nothing seemed to help.
Soon we could hear the crash of the surf on the rocks and John got a worried look on his face. He picked up his paddle and told us to turn the boat around. Now that the boat was going with the tide, it moved a little faster and John pointed us to a narrow beach just pass the point where the surf as not too bad.
We rode the waves in and pulled the boat onto shore. Sam and I jumped out exhausted, and pulled the boat up the smooth rocky beach.
We rested on the wet stones while John worked on the motor. After a few minutes, Sam joined him as he was familiar with outboard motors.
Sam poked around and after a few minutes, he discovered a broken spring on the throttle control. We did not have a spare, but John fashioned a makeshift repair from some wire we had in one of the packs.
They tested out the motor and it started up after a couple of pulls.
We had to paddle through the surf since it was too shallow for the motor and once we cleared it, John fired up the motor and we sped once again towards the cannery.
When we rounded the corner to the small inlet that held the cannery, the beach was empty and the plane was gone. Up on the beach were two piles consisting of our supplies.
As we drew near, I could hear a string of curses come from John as he realized we had missed both planes.
We beached the boat and John made his way to the caretaker’s cabin to find out if he had any news for us and when the next plane in was expected. We knew a plane came in about once a week, but we did not know what day.
We all took a load to the bunkhouse and piled it on the porch while we waited on John. Most of these loads consisted of corner pipe and brass as well as tools we would need to dig.
Carl grabbed the wheelbarrow and we were heading back down for another load when John came rushing at us and motioned us into the bunkhouse. He ripped a paper off the door and read it as we piled in after him.
“He is gone,” John said.
We weren’t sure what John meant, but he read the other note before repeating himself. He held up another note in his hand. “The caretaker left. He had a death in the family and he is not going to be back until hunting season in the fall. He closed down the cannery and said we could use it as long as we needed too, just to make sure we close up when we leave.”
John held up the other note. “The pilots dropped off both loads and said they would see us in eight weeks. If we finished sooner, to let them know via the mail plane that stops in every week on Tuesday or Wednesday.”
He slammed both papers onto the table and caused us to jump. “We are not going back out until we get communications set up. The next couple of days we will prep stuff here.”
He stormed out and walked back towards the caretaker’s cabin while we finished pulling up the supplies and ate lunch.
After lunch, Carl and I sorted the supplies and found places for them while John used the keys the caretaker had left behind to open up the tool shed. He found a spring that he and Sam used to fix the boat properly.
We spent the rest of the afternoon fishing the lagoon and off the pier. We did not do well in the ocean, but we caught two salmon that made for an awesome dinner.