Journals, Photos and Videos

Why the Kenai Peninsula?

We settled on Kenai Peninsula because of our previous Alaska trip. In 2004 we went to Homer and spent 3 days in the area. In fact, we also went on a shuttle to Seldovia and had a fantastic time with puffins, otters, whales and myriad other great life forms. If you look at the map, you would be hard pressed to find many towns on the entire peninsula.

While on Homer, Maureen was introduced to Jeanne Keene, who at the time was 80+ years old and fed bald eagles during the winter. More about Jeanne later as she is an interesting story in herself. Unfortunately, Jeanne passed away this year at the age of 85 and now there is a quite a controversy about who can feed the eagles. Currently, there is a special provision for Jeanne to be the only person to feed the eagles and now that they are dependent on humans for food something has to be resolved to care for them. If you are curious before we post (and we will look up pictures from 2004 and hopefully some from this year) here is a link. We have a book of the eagles that Jeanne used to feed that we will share with you when you come to visit us.

We selected Cooper Landing because it is an epicenter for salmon fishing and Alaska wildlife in general. We should expect close encounters with moose, bears (grizzly and black), elk, possibly wolves, bald eagles and an incredible variety of marine birds and other creatures. Also, Cooper Landing is centrally located.

With that in mind, our first full day here, we decided to drive to Seward in the rain and cold - 39°. We needed to restalk some groceries and we had missed Seward in 2004. Our 47 mile drive was uneventful, but very pleasant not towing our 38 ft RV.

We could see through the rain and overcast that Seward is fantastically spectacular. Across the inlet, the snow covered mountains reach to the sky. Many fishing charters are chomping at their bits to get out and get some halibut. We can’t wait to get back there in the bright sunlight.

After returning, Maureen made a fabulous pot of chili while I got our computer peripherals installed for our 5 months here at Wildman’s. Maureen is on the schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Although my shuttle driving doesn’t really get going until June, I will get some maintenance tasks to keep me busy.

We’ll be posting significant events here in the new “Alaskan Adventure” section so why don’t you sign up for the RSS feed and share our experience?

It truly should be an “Alaskan Adventure”.


The Right Decision

We’re closing in on a week in Cooper Landing and during that time we have gone to Seward, Soldotna, and Kenai. We’ve seen Redoubt Volcano (the very active volcano across Cook Inlet from Kenai).

We had no idea that Redoubt would appear so close. It turns out that it’s only 46 mile from the western coast of Kenai Peninsula. We are going to drive along the coast fairly early in the morning to ensure that we catch the mountain in the morning light.

We aren’t even close to a routine because it’s hard to have a routine when you’re unsure which opportunity you’re going to explore from one day to the next. It’s also tough to get too enthusiastic about television when it doesn’t get dark until 10:45 (and later) and you get only 2 snowy channels.


I started working at Wildman’s on Friday. I am tending a general store with one or two co-workers and a fun group of customers. We have found that Wildman’s is a popular stop on the peninsula for locals heading to Anchorage, Seward, Soldotna and Homer.

Wildman’s is also the local hang out with people greeting us at the door waiting to get in to enjoy their morning coffee and biscuits and gravy. There is a great nucleus of “regulars” who are all fun, special characters in their own right. Saturday am they were here as usual for their coffee, rolls, b&g, etc and about an hour later a large group of “bikers” arrived to hook up with them and ride to Anchorage. The Harley Davidson club was presenting the Shriners (many of the “locals” are bike riding Shriners) with a donation, so a good sized contingency (of Shriner/bikers) gathered here and then rode together.

A few photos of Wildman’s

A favorite station -- try a thick, delicious shake or a home-made waffle cone!

Get your espresso, cappuccino, lattee, etc etc or biscuits and gravy here.....

Your regular coffee station on the right wit the muffins and other sweets as well as sundries and snacks. Need a greeting card, ice cream bar, hot dog or corn dog? Make this your stop.

More of your favorite food group. Or do your laundry, take a shower or purchase a Carhart jacket.

Pay the piper here! (And a view into the liquor store.)

And your adult beverages from the store side and.......... from the customer perspective.

This is a small community and everyone seems quite involved in its success. I would almost guess if you are involved in one organization, you are involved in 4 or 5. It is a nice small town feeling and after only 3 days of work I feel like I know so many people oh, and how they like their coffee. And it is not just coffee it is a latte, cappuccino, espresso, Americano.....with shots of flavor, skinny, etc etc. OMG, I am scaring myself....I did not even know how to make a regular cup of coffee before last Friday!


I actually had my first shuttle today. A fellow came in to the store and really wanted to put his boat in the water and float down the river so Maureen volunteered me to help make the shuttle, as the season and work for me does not really start until June. Heather, Maureen and I drove to Sports (Ferry) and picked up a customer’s truck and boat trailer and drove it to Jim’s (Russian River Campground) while he and his family floated down the Russian River. Heather gave us a little tour of the landmarks in the area. Later that evening we went to the Kingfisher’s for a delicious supper where we ran into him and asked him about his trip. He was enthusiastic about the trip - slow, relaxing and beautiful.

Our schedule is 3 days a week - Friday through Sunday. This should work well since there should be a drop off in crowds during the week. We’ll want to trade off on occasion to take advantage of week-end events that look particularly appealing.

Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, we’re going to Homer. They had a Migratory Bird Festival this weekend and we hope to catch some of the sights that might be left from the festival. Homer is an incredible town anyway with a collection of bald eagles (remember Maureen Jeanne Keene? Oh, do Google her!) and that will be reward enough. This time we will not miss the Salty Dog Pub....quite a landmark there in Homer that we ignored last time. We just got a picture of it, of course. Each time we see someone with a Salty Dog tee shirt in CO or during our travels we remind ourselves that we are not going to miss it this time!


What a couple of days!

Yesterday, we went to Soldotna to do some grocery shopping as well as open a local bank account (no banks in Cooper Landing). We were heading back to CL when we saw a few vehicles - a reasonable tip-off that there we’re approaching a creature. Sure enough, there was a grizzly grazing (yes grazing) on the side of the road.

We pulled over and Maureen, risking life and limb, hopped out of the car and started shooting pictures. We watched him (or her) for about 10 minutes until he wandered to the creek and into the distance along the creek bank. Go see the supporting movie.

(The back story of getting out of the car and opening the back door to get the camera is that as the door opened the spaghetti that was left over from supper -- and there was almost a full order -- fell out of the car landing on shoes, ground and pasta dangled off the the nerf bar (running board). Ever hear any stories about not leaving food out for bears? This was the epitome of a full course meal for the grizz (and Maureen for desert).

(Oh, BTW, Maureen was behind the car and across the road...never in any danger. Tho’ the fellow parked next to us waved his camera and told M to walk out so he could get a picture of the bear eating her! She did not accommodate his request.)

This was our first legitimate wildlife sighting in Alaska. It was really cool. Angus, who almost never barks, was stirred to barking by the sight of the grizzly, however. Actually, this reaction could be valuable up here.

We expect many grizzly sightings here, especially when the salmon are running. That will be happening in early June. And when we got back to Wildman’s, Heather, our boss told us that our neighbor stopped by to tell us that he had chased a grizzly out of his backyard (about 2 RV’s away from ours).

Today (Wed 5/13/2009) we headed to Homer. On the way we were hoping for a clear view of Redoubt Volcano. The day was perfect - cloudless and reached the mid-60s. We opted to take a less direct route and go next to the coastline. When we got to that road, we found that the road had no or slight view of Cook Inlet due to trees and when we did see it, Redoubt was obscured by haze.

No biggy though as the 120 mile drive from Cooper Landing to Homer is still a joy. We arrived shortly after noon and drove along Homer Spit Rd until we ran out of land. It was an easy choice to go to the Land’s End Restaurant as it sits on the tip of the spit and has a breathtaking view.

Since we were there before the season is really in gear, we were able to get a prime table right by windows looking out across the inlet to the snow-capped mountains.

We watched people surf-casting and pulling in 12-20 inch fish, barges and fishing boats passing farther out and then the mountains. This was not a bad way to enjoy lunch.

After eating, I took Angus and Maureen took the truck and her camera equipment. Homer has a nice population of bald eagles thanks the late eagle lady, Jean Keane. ( We have mentioned her earlier and if you have not had a chance to “Google” her -- do sometime.)

Jeanne was a much beloved resident of Homer and her home was a landmark. Many, many famous photographers came to the spit to photograph Jeanne’s eagles. Here is her home in 2004 and as it is now.

It appears they are moving it....we are hoping to another spot to make a memorial. Her place was not the most organized but in August 2004 you can see the beautiful flowers around her trailer and in her yard. The trailer was not there this year and we wondered if it had been moved already or if her son replaced it with this little house.

The environment is epitomized by the Salty Dawg Saloon. It is one of two bars in Alaska that allows smoking. When you walk in, no matter how adverse to smoking you may be, you can’t begrudge this smoking waiver.

You can sit at the bar or sit at a table and carve your initials, sign a dollar bill and try to find a spot to put it on the wall or ceiling.

Or just sit back and enjoy one of the local Homer brews in a Sobe bottle!

After Angus and I went for our walk we met up Maureen, who managed to take about 600 pictures (really!) of eagles, at the Dawg and had an adult beverages.

While at the Dawg, a couple of women joined us at our table and told Maureen and bit about themselves. They had flown their own plane down from Wasilla just cuz. They own their own airport, lake, helicopter, one is a pilot for on a 737, etc.

We got pictures of it in 2004 but never went inside and we decided we would not let that happen this trip.We had a fun visit as well as pleasant beverages and Salty Dawg Saloon which greatly exceeded our expectations.

We decided to head back. Soon after we exited Homer, we came across our first of 7 moose. Of course we got our fair share of pictures. There is no doubt that we will not be getting excited about the sight of moose in the near future. They are very plentiful and quite bold. Check out the video of the moose running alongside the car!


Life in Cooper Landing

It certainly isn’t a routine yet, but were are comfortably settling in. Maureen returned to work in the convenience, liquor, stores and laundromat and I did a few more shuttles.

So far the shuttles are used to move vehicles, usually with a boat trailer, from an upstream boat landing to a downstream boat landing. While we’re doing the transporting, the customers are floating down the river, enjoying the scenery and the experience.

There’s no serious fishing on the river yet. That starts for real on June 11 when the salmon fishing season opens. That will cause the transporting and taxi activities to explode. One of the more popular routes is to pick up the vehicle at the Resurrection Trailhead here in Cooper Landing and bring it to Hope.

For the hikers, there is a combination of cabins and campsites to provide stopping points for this 39 mile trek. This 3-6 day journey reaches 2,600 feet which is above treeline. As a reminder, Colorado treeline is typically 12,000 feet. This trail is populated with an abundance of wildlife such as marmots (aka bear burritos), Dall sheep, brown bears and an occasional caribou.

The big news of the day is that I joined the Wildman’s softball team. What an experience! As I was standing in left field, Maureen yelled over and pointed to the sky. I stood mesmerized by a fantastic bald eagle soaring around our field. Maureen said that I looked like a 5 year old little leaguer looking at everything but the game. Check out the video to see the setting.

(Sample eagle picture taken outside our camper.....I was also so mesmerized with the eagle in flight that I forgot to take a picture of it!!)

The field is a bit ragged at point, but it sits amid mountains, many snow capped, with the Kenai River just beyond the right field fence. This all culminates in a tournament played over a weekend late into the evenings. Lights aren’t needed because it won’t be geting dark until after 11 PM.

Actually, even bigger news, I’ll be getting some network goodies to provide WiFi to the store and to the RV area. This will preclude us having to drive an 80-90 mile round-trip to get effective WiFi to maintain this journal. We are very psyched to get that done. With any luck, the next update you see will be from our RV.

Almost WiFi

On Monday, we started by getting our holding tanks pumped. That turned into an adventure because ours was the first of the season and was the first with a new truck. The suction from the truck pump was so strong that is pulled the hose connection right off the RV, dumpimg a few gallons of black water (guess what that really is) under and next to the RV. After a couple of tries, the problem was resolved and we were left with a bit of a mess to clean up.

We drove down to Soldotna to get a wireless router and a few other goodies. Ron (our neighbor and co-worker) joined us.

First we went to a nursery so that Maureen could get a few things. We walked out with cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, green onions and leeks. We’ll be testing the effects of long hours of daylight on a garden. The nights are still getting quite cold (30° F). We have access to a green house and will be taking advantage of that soon.

We then went to Fred Myers - a huge everything store - to get a wireless router and some groceries. We got a Linksys/Cisco N Ultra Range Plus router that should be great for the store area and a bit beyond. We actually ran into the lady that pumped our holding tanks. She said that her day continued to be a challenge.

Then we headed back to Cooper Landing. During the evening we opted to catch up on some laundry. We used the heavy duty washer to take care of our large load and started playing some cribbage. Soon we were joined by some locals and enjoyed some fun and colorful conversations. Here is a bit of the table....with a very recognizable Apple. We are going to do an entry about the store so we will show you more pics of Wildman’s.

The new heavy duty washer caused us a bit of a challenge. The spin cycle was stopped short and the clothes were dripping wet. We divided the load into 2 and placed half in a standard washer. The heavy duty washer failed again. Since the store was closing, we had to sleep with no sheets. No biggy though.

BTW. I was quite stiff from the softball practice. Talk about conditioning issues.

On Tuesday, I got up a bit early to let out Angus. When I looked past the RV, I saw a bald eagle on top of a tree looking around. It is so impressive. I got Maureen up to get some pictures. You can see some of her efforts here.
I did try to video the eagle, but the shots we’re too good due to the brightness of the background. I think that if i had remembered my telephoto attachment, I would have had some success.

I decided to try to install the router. After a bit of frustration, I was able to get it going and get on to the internet. After a bit of experimentation, I found that the range was a bit short of our RV. We’ll solve that with a signal repeater of some variety. However the show stopper for the day was that it exposed Wildman’s files to anyone that connected. So I shut off the router and brought it back “home” to configure security.

This morning I did the security configuration that is most of what we need. We’ll be able to connect later today and upload this update. Having WiFi here will be a large improvement over driving the 45 miles to Soldotna to maintain the journal and do any serious internet activity. I’ll get a decent repeater on order as well.

Tomorrow, with any luck, we’ll start doing some local exploring. We’ll start by strolling up the Russian River Walk to the Russian River Falls. My cousin, Doug Bangs lived in Soldotna and helped with building the walkway along the Russian River to Russian Lake, so before Friday (a work day) and heavy tourist weekend (Memorial Weekend). When the season starts, they will begin an $11 fee just to stroll on it. This where we’ll start seeing the salmon making their annual trek upstream to spawn in a couple of weeks.

We haven’t had any personal wildlife sightings other than the eagles. There have been many mentioned at the store, however. Along with moose and brown bear, Cheryl spotted a black bear on Monday. It was strolling along the Sterling Highway about 8 miles west of here.

Once we resolve the wireless issue, the only frustration remaining will be the lack of a sewer connection. It’s not great having to depend on a service to come and pump our tanks at $45 a shot. An adequate solution will be a dump tank. We will get one to take care of the dumping situation. We’ll get a 15 gallon tank (which can get very heavy) and bring the tank down the road a bit to a free dump station. I think we’ll have to dump once or twice a week but the flexibility will be a relief.

We are getting geared up for the first big weekend here as this is the first weekend that everyone wants to get out on the road and begin their summer. It will be quite a challenge as it is only a 2 lane road and there will a considerable number of campers going both directions.

Out for a stroll

Almost every location in Kenai (in fact, anywhere rural on the Alaska highway system) is identified by the mileage marker. Wildman’s is at mile marker 47 1/2 on the Sterling Highway, Pink Mountain is mile marker 140 on the Alaska Highway and Soldotna where we are were tentatively headed for is about mile marker 84. On our way we decided to stop at Russian River Campground at mile marker 52. There’s a trail that will take you to the Russian River Falls if you up to the 2.3 mile trek. So - what the heck - let’s check this out.

This is where the bears come salmon fishing. Ever see one of the pictures with the bears in the water with a salmon in its mouth? Chances are that the picture may have been taken here at the Russian River Falls.

The hiker is strongly warned of bears, but it’s a popular trail and very highly praised. Additionally, this falls is a must see when the salmon start running in a couple of weeks. The salmon climb the falls to the spawning pools upstream. Our still and movie cameras are ready for the event. We are trying to figure out how to get to the bottom of the falls for better pictures as the route we took is from quite a distance above the falls.

Maureen hasn’t had the opportunity to do much walking lately, so we were prepared to do about a mile of the walk and work up for the complete hike in June. It was around 11:30 when we started the hike. Maureen thought we were walking on a nice flat, smooth boardwalk around the Russian River.
The trail is excellent, the scenery is awesome (of course) and the first 3/4 of the hike is primarily up hill! In fact, the altitude rise is 1,160 feet. Maureen kept on truckin’ and, by the time we reached 1 1/2 miles, we were committed to complete the hike.

Alas, more hills and rugged trail, a far cry from the flat, smooth boardwalk! The boardwalk.......a hike for another day.

We could now hear water flowing and see some of the Russian River through the trees and followed the sign that says .6 mile to the falls which is generally downhill and follows the rushing Russian River.
Soon, we could hear the sound of the falls and then we saw 2 observation platforms about 50 feet above the river. The falls is not spectacularly high, but is long, tumbling and a rolling rush of water.
Between the pictures and the video, you should be able to get an appreciation of the sight. Now imagine what the spawning salmon are going to look like. By the way, these poor salmon are going to be targeted by fishermen and bears just to get to the falls.

Along the trail we ran into a couple from Waukesha, Wisconsin who were also here in Cooper Landing to work at the Alaska Wildland Adventure company for the summer. A bit down the path we also encountered another couple from the lower 48 and they were from Colorado Springs! We did not pass many people on the trail so the odds were pretty remarkable that we met 2 couples from places we have lived.

The return trek was a bit painful but not bad. When we reached the truck, we had gone 4.73 miles and felt pretty good about ourselves! The whole hike took about 4 hours, including about 45 minutes at the falls. As for wildlife? I saw a squirrel.
Angus made the trip with us but he did not anticipate a 4.75 mile trek either so when he reached the truck, he climbed into the back and relaxed!

We saw many, many patches of “fur” tangled in branches which were broken off the trees
. We were certain the place was crawling with bears who broke the branches and lost the fur as they dashed through the woods to head for the river or any place they could find food. So, we took pictures so we could have Gwenan identify the “fur” and the type of tree in which we saw it......when I happened to look up high in a tree to take a picture and saw the “fur” all the way at the top. Either the bears here are HUMUNGOUS or we were be the judge!!!

We crossed Soldotna off the list since it was so late in the day and we all felt like Angus and opted to go back “home”. One of our co-workers, Chad, performs at the Sunrise Inn a few miles down the road so we decided to drive there and find the Inn before we went back to the RV. After about 3 miles, we pulled into a parking area to turn around. There were 3 other vehicles in the lot with a couple of men with spotting scopes and binoculars staring at the mountains on the north side of the highway. One of the guys came over and told us that there was a group of mountain goats and another of Dall sheep.

Of course we hopped out of the truck with all of our gear and tracked them down. It is pretty amazing to watch these incredible animals hop around in this precarious environment.

It was a great day.

A Ride to Anchorage

Friday and Saturday were days of work, especially for Maureen. The customers never stopped. From the time they opened the doors at 8 AM (work actually starts at 7 to get all the prep work done before the doors are unlocked) until she was done at 4, she barely ever stopped moving. Oh, did I mention that this wasMemorial Weekend and the start of the summer season?

One of the bigger challenges was that she was working with Shelbe, who’s 14. She’s an awesome worker and a delight to be around but can’t sell cigarettes or liquor and a reasonable share of customers partake of both making Maureen bounce between the convenience store and liquor store like a pinball.

Maureen has now mastered Espresso (this terrified her as she did not even know how to make regular coffee and knows how important it is to make the drink properly) and can hardly wait to make Greg a “half double, decaffinated half caf, with a twist of lemon and make it skinny”!!!

Milkshakes are another specialty at Wildman’s and makes you work extremely hard to get the shake up the straw. These are skills she can parlay when we return to the lower you suppose she is going to ask for an Espresso machine and Milkshake machine for Christmas?

Sunday was also a day of work. Maureen started at 7:30 AM in the store while I worked around the RV a bit and then went to check on shuttles. Maureen’s day was a bit more challenging because the credit card readers stopped functioning. This resulted in the ATM machine being depleted and caused the incredibly patient customers to scrounge for cash in their purses and glove compartments. It seems that the patrons in Wildman’s operate on a very patient and laid-back clock. They just never seem to get upset or angry. The following morning, Heather (the store manager and our boss) manipulated the telephone connections and the credit card machines were back in business.

Let’s introduce one of our co-workers. Once in a while Ron Keppel will stop by to regale us with wisdom. He made the trip here from Florida by himself and is living in an RV next to us. Oh, the once in a while can be at 11 am or 11 pm.....this night he stopped at 11:30 to see if the bar was still open!

We ended up with 5 shuttles after 2 PM on Sunday. Cars with trailers are left at designated areas where people “put in” and we move the vehicles to where they will “take out”. One was interesting because the guy wasn’t going to pick up his vehicle until 7:30 the next morning. There are huts along the way that you can overnight......not unlike hut to hut skiing.

Just because the day was not enough of a challenge, Maureen did the last 2 shuttles with me after her 8 hrs. Heather, who was helping because we could not get a hold of the fellow who was covering for the regular driver, had plans with her family and really appreciated her doing the last 2 runs. By the way, Heather is expecting her 3rd child in September. Her pregnancy does not get in the way of her working or moving around the store like a whirling dervish. Hope the baby arrives before we leave.

For a break, we took a ride to Moose Pass for supper. Like many places here in AK, in small towns like Moose Pass, there is only one restaurant and so we had no trouble finding it. We enjoyed a nice meal of Fish & Chips and Clam Strips while watching the Nuggets win the 4th game in the Western Conference Playoffs.

The most frequent shuttle is from the Bridge to Jim’s. The Bridge (as seen in the picture on the left) is 1/4 of a mile down the road and is a boat landing and nature walk at the Kenai River. We pick up the vehicle, almost always with a boat trailer, and shuttle it to Jim’s (Landing) which is 10 miles down the Sterling Highway at Mile Marker 58. Because there are no motors allowed on this part of the river and the Kenai winds circuitously through the wilderness, it takes between 3 and 4 hours to float downstream to Jim’s The stops are frequent for a number of reasons - including wildlife and rest stops.

This is a view from the bridge on the way to the Post Office looking toward the Kenai Lake. George and Angus went for a walk at 9:30 at night and saw this spectacular view. This is not s really this bright at that hour of the night it does not finally become dusk until around 11:15pm.

This, of course, is a 2 person job and and Maureen actually helped me out for the final 2 shuttles after she got off work. She drove the shuttle vehicle (an older minivan) while I drove the customer’s vehicle. One of these shuttles was from Sports to Jim’s. Sports is located at MM 52 and is the site of the Russian River Cable Ferry to bring fisherman across the Russian River.

Since it was the opening weekend of the summer the weekend extended into Monday and Maureen worked to help Heather out who was in a bind with a short fall of employees. Usually we work Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

On Tuesday we decided to make a quick run to Anchorage for a bit of a diversion and to pick up some things that are not available in Soldotna. If one were in a hurry, the trip could be done in under 2 hours but being in a hurry is not suggested. This Memorial Day weekend, for example, there were 11 police cars spotted between here and Soldotna (a 43 mile distance). And half of them were unmarked do we know since they were unmarked, you ask.....the locals gave us the report.

We got lunch at Phyllis’ Salmon Chowder House and really enjoyed the meal. Maureen had fabulous FRESH Halibut and Chips (which had just been caught a few days before....THAT fresh) and I had the equally fabulous Seafood Chowder. We then went to Mobile RV Supplies and got a Tote-Away Tank to allow us to transport our grey and black water to a local dump site rather than having to hire a $45 tank pump again. RV parks provide a dump station at their locations. Here at Wildman’s they provide RV spaces for the worker bees and provide water and electricity but there is no dump station available. And at $45 a dump (weekly or bi-weekly) can get pretty pricey.

After making an obligatory stop at Costco, we headed back. The drive around Turnagain Arm was similar to the trip we made 3 weeks ago because the tide was low again and very muddy. Despite the lack of water we came across some fishermen trying to net some hooligans (a 6-8 inch fish that has a bit of meat). Actually the hooligan is more commonly known as a candlefish or a smelt. My grandmother would occasionally have smelt pan-fried and I loved them.

We decided to make a side trip to Hope, AK. This is a SMALL town on the southern shore of the Turnagain Arm and the very northern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Hope will be one of the shuttle trips as people start a hike in Cooper Landing and walk the 38 mile trail to Hope.

Hope is one of the sister towns of Cooper Landing and shares schools programs and other activities. Many of the towns are very small and far apart but try to share resources where it makes sense. Shelbe, mentioned earlier, will be entering High School in the fall and would have to commute to Soldotna each day since there is no High School in CL. She actually will be living with family in Soldotna as the almost 100 mile round trip each day would be a burden on her and her parents.

Hope is smaller than Cooper Landing (and remember that Cooper Landing has 400 permanent residents). Hope Highway is a pleasant drive that descends through the woods next to a deep canyon with a rushing creek where we encounterd a moose calf on the return trip who refused to pose for us and ran away into the woods.


Kenai Fjord Nat'l Park

We had an incredible day on Tuesday. We decided to go on a day long (7 1/2hrs) rather than half day (3 1/2hrs) Kenai Fjord Tour. There are several tour operators to choose from and we chose Major Marine over Kenai Fjords Tours. Maureen had waited on some ladies at Wildman’s and then we bumped into them when eating out at the Kingfisher that evening. Seems that one of the ladies was some from Seward and so we asked for her recommendation.
She suggested Major Marine because she felt that it was a better boating experience with smaller boats and the Kenai Fjord Tour boats are with huge ship which accommodate many hundreds of people. Check out the Kenai Fjord video.

As you can imagine, when something is spotted in the water everyone wants to go to the railing to see the animal and on the large tours it can be quite a challenge. We are early in the tourist season and a Tuesday is not the busiest day. Therefore, on a boat capable of carrying 200 people, we were accompanied by 30 others. This gave us unlimited access to the railings and to the most incredible sights and therefore to mind-blowing array of pictures and videos.

We left Seward shortly after 11:45 AM. The weather was mostly perfect (although a bit brisk - which you should expect when you’re going to view glaciers). There was haze from water vapor in the distance but, when considering the number of rainy or overcast days we have had lately, it was great weather for a tour.

We had Captain Jay
and Ranger Chad
to keep us informed about sights, history and environment as well as directing our attention to the animals and points of interest. Captain Jay has a good number of years of sailing under his belt and Ranger Chad has been an Interpreter for the National Park Service for 20+ years. They and the rest of the crew were outstanding. Small of the girls working on the boat was from Colorado Springs. We have met so many people from Colorado it is no longer a surprise when we ask someone where they live!

By the time we had completed the 7 1/2 hour tour we had seen sea otters, eagles, dolphins, a black bear, harbor seals, sea lions, orcas (killer whales), humpback whales, puffins, an innumerable list of other sea birds, 2 glaciers, some minor caving of ice from the glacier and unmatchable scenery. Additionally, we were able to hear the groaning of the glacier as it slowly moves from the Harding Ice Fields to the sea.

As you will see from the photographs and the videos, it was an unforgettable experience.

Shortly after working our way out of the Seward Harbor, we encountered a couple of sea otters lounging on their backs enjoying the ice cold water and the rays of the sun. Maureen wasn’t able to match the shot she got in 2004 with the mother and baby otter. This time there it was just couple of self-centered creatures relaxing and not posing. We slowed down a bit to gawk and then we continued on our way.

The next mammals we encounter was a school of Dall dolphins. These guys got into our wake and swam beside us for a while on both sides of the boat before getting bored.
They are no longer intimidated by the boats as they have seen so many and enjoy swimming along with them. This sight is always exhilarating and a real treat.
Now it was time to see a black bear, of course. The ever vigilant captain spotted a black bear on the shore. He steered us as close as reasonable and the bear stood and faced us before wandering across a snow field. It was quite a site.

This was followed by a pod of orcas (aka killer whales). By he time we were back in Seward, we saw 3 pods, each increasingly impressive.

As we passed glaciers and snow-capped mountains, we passed humpback whales, sea lions and harbor seals. People like to kayak in this area but they intimidate the animals as they appear to be predators. The most ecologically conscious people are the most feared as they have no motor and appear, as mentioned, to be predators. As you might expect, standing on deck to effectively film the experience was brisk at best.

But finally our meal was ready. We had a salmon and prime rib buffet while sitting in a beautiful to eliminate the ocean swells and pounding waves. When we arrived at Aialik Glacier in the Petersen Lagoon, the waters were calm and strewn with ice chunks. Several of these chunks had harbor seals basking on them.

The captain brought the boat to a stop and cut the engines. We sat there for a 1/2 hour and watched and listened. We saw some minor calving and heard some significant roars. It was a very impressive experience.

We then headed to Chiswell Islands to see some of the unique sea bird population. The area is teeming with a wide variety if birds that included the precious puffins and many others. From there we headed back to Seward after a long and fruitful voyage. The scenery continued to amaze and we enjoyed the 1 hour trip back to the Seward harbor.


A Pleasant Surprise

For my first cab ride, which was today, I shuttled a couple from the Kenai River Princess Lodge to Seward for an 8:30 AM Kenai Fjord tour. We made the trip in an older Lincoln Town Car which has an additional row of seats - a real limo. Hey kids, remember our limo? We sure had some adventures in it!

It is a very pleasant, beautiful 50 mile drive and costs $110 one way. The couple mentioned they were from a California town just outside of Reno so we had a lot to talk about and arrived in Seward for the 7:30 check-in. On my way back to Wildman’s I stopped at a local Seward diner for an egg and reindeer (Rudolph I think) sausage breakfast. It had a great atmosphere with colorful local clientele.

Maureen finished work Sunday pm in time to join me that evening when I headed back to pick the couple up for a return trip to the KRPL. We got there in time to meet them at the ramp 5:30 and offered to let them unload all their photo bags, extra coats, etc and depart at 7PM. This gave them a chance to do some tourist activities and have dinner while we too, sat down for a pleasant meal overlooking the dock.

Sitting in the harbor was a 5 deck tourist ship that towered above the area. It is actually a strange sight compared to the boats that dock in the harbor. Geoffrey worked in a famous establishment called the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway, AK one summer and told us about the cruise ships that docked there each week ( When the tourists disembark and tour the town, the population increases 10-fold or more!

We met the folks back at the car and then headed back to Cooper Landing. The people said they really enjoyed the ride both ways, the suggestions and the fact we gave them extra time to do a bit of shopping in Seward........ and I received the first tip of my life! Next I will be pan handling in Anchorage.

We got back just in time to greet some visitors. Nic, Jolie and Hope Strohmeyer stopped by Wildman’s and stayed in their VW Vanagon in the campsight next to ours for the evening. They are old friends of Greg and Gwenan (and Gwenan’s maid-of-honor at their wedding) from their Summit County days and have maintained their friendship visiting each other whenever they are able. Hope and Maureen took a side trip down to the store.....on Saturday mornings the store cleans and sanitizes the Softee Ice Cream machine so, Jerry (the Wildman) said I could come on a Fri night and bring some Hope got to bring back a bit of vanilla, chocolate and swirl softee and we all had special Softee treat. By the way, this picture was taken around 9:30 at night

Nic and Jolie are with the BLM and transferred to Anchorage last year and are loving it. Please check out their blog to get a taste of Alaska life for the Strohmeyer’s.

They were headed for Homer with a stop at Clam Gulch to do some clamming. It was their first attempt and they were armed with their clam gun, boots, license and map. Oh, a clam gun looks like a post hole digger....when the tide is out you look for little air bubbles in the mud and place the “gun” over it and dig down to get the clam that is hopefully captured in it. Actually, we have only read about it so they are going to stop on the way back and give us a full report!

The day we went to Homer (5-12-09) we noticed some heavy smoke but did not give it too much thought. We later saw on the news that there was a wildfire in the Homer area that was increasing rapidly in size. This turned into quite a wildfire threatening Homer and took 4 or so days to contain. Nic had come down to Homer as foreman of the helicopter ground crew and to work this wildfire that actually was east of Homer. Once the fire was contained, Nic had a chance to see a bit of Homer and knew that he had to bring his family down to see the southern Kenai Peninsula. Wildman’s is half way between Anchorage and Homer and a perfect stop on a Friday night after work.

Saturday morning Maureen was up and at the store by 6:30 to preform the opening duties with Cheryle (Wildwoman!). Shortly after 7am when we opened a bubbly, smiling Hope came to say good-bye to “Nana Maureen” before they headed off on the last 2 hours of their journey to Homer. We had a great visit and will see them on the return trip for the clam report and will gladly visit them when we return to Anchorage.

Clam Report

Another day at Wildmans and another day of learning at the store for Maureen. Actually, every day is a learning day....there seems to be something new each working day. As Cheryle and Heather have said, there is nothing too complex (a few tasks take a few times to build up your courage like breaking down, cleaning and putting the Softee machine back together and the Latee machine -- I had never even made a cup of coffee!) but there is a TON of knowledge you need to have the store running so smoothly. Wildman’s has a wonderful reputation of being a great stop when on the Sterling Highway. And for the “locals” and temporary “locals” there are clean, roomy showers and bathrooms. After a long day of fishing, hiking, biking, floating down the river etc. is a treat to come and take a long, warm shower in a clean environment.

The first 2 weekends it seemed like a fire hose baptism to the Wildman experience......there is so much information and so many tasks. It is excellent they have summer worker bees come as early as they can in May and learn the routine before the real crowds come. This is usually the big week end before the fish start running and will give us a taste of what the summer will hold. As you can imagine, Cooper Landing is dependent on a great summer tourist crowd which has to carry them through the quiet, dark winter.

Today, Maureen had one of her Bronco shirts on while she worked. George came over mid-afternoon as we were expecting Nic, Jolie and Hope on their return trip from Homer. As she was checking someone out, the teenager asked Maureen if she liked the Broncos which elicited a very positive response. Well, he then mentioned that Chris Cooper an offensive lineman for the Broncos was his cousin! Naturally, i had to bring George into the discussion. It is so fun in the store as you meet people from all corners of the US and Europe, Japan, China.....make that all corners of the world!

Nic, Jolie and Hope returned to Wildman’s around 3:30 Sun afternoon and while mom and dad gave Papa George and Nana Maureen a clam report and stories about what a fun challenge it is, Hope ENJOYED a softee cone!

It all sounds so easy when you read about clamming but in reality, it can be quite a challenge. Clamming is best during a minus tide of 2 feet or more. You need a bucket, a clam gun or clam shovel, boots, and at least one glove to protect against the razor clam’s sharp shell. To dig, find a tiny “dimple” and quickly scoop a 6in hole. Reach down into the sand until you find your clam. sounds easy doesn’t it. Don’t forget you are working in mud and the sand is wet and fills the hole quickly. Eventually experience will help you develop a technique and you will soon be cooking wonderful, fresh clams.

Nic and Jolie managed to get about 2 dozen (60 is the limit) and were anxious to complete the 2 hr trip back to Anchorage and to cook them for supper. Next they tasted.

Visiting Some Neighbors

We went up to visit Don and Jo Cox today and had a great time. Don is a frequent Wildman’s visitor and invited us up to meet Jo and to spend some time with them socializing and doing computer training. He is usually the first customer on the weekend and has taught me to make a Latte and even drank the first few and smiled. He also starts us out with a tip...nice way to start the day.

Don and Jo live in a beautiful home up near the Kenai Princess Lodge which overlooks the Kenai River. The living room faces the river and is floor to ceiling windows, capturing the magnificent view as you sit and relax and chat. You can get a bit of an idea of the window as you look at the picture of their friend Evie who is completely intimidated by my camera!

Don has spent several tours in Antarctica as an Electronic Engineering Consultant and is a long time Alaska resident. Jo has an art degree and still does awesome work in a variety of mediums. Their home is adorned with Jo’s work and it is beautifully displayed. We had a great visit and truly enjoyed their company. And what a house!

Maureen had to break out her nursing skills. It turns out that Don had gouged his leg with a chain saw. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds but certainly worth of attention. Just as Maureen started her magic, Evie (a friend of theirs and also a nurse) showed up. She had access to the appropriate bandages and goop and together they patched up Don’s wound.

Evie’s friend Robb also popped by. He is up for a spot in the Ididerod Race in a couple of years and has 26 dogs to get trained and ready.

A Messy Day

That’s a bit misleading. It was actually a gorgeous day but we were committed to dump the holding tanks. Here at Wildman’s, there is no sewer connection and no dump station. It’s an irritating issue but one we chose to deal with as we have water and electricity and they provide the space for the employees.

We had gotten a 10 gallon portable dump tank because there was NO way we were going to pull our RV to a dump station. We chose 10 gallons because any bigger and it wound be too heavy to lift and transport the 2 miles down the road.

The black water tank was our biggest concern as you may guess. After a bit over-filling (there’s no gauge) on the first try with gray water, we were ready to give the black water a try. It actually isn’t as yucky as it sounds. The additive that we use in the black water tank very effectively removes the odor completely. It still isn’t pleasant to task but someone has to do it. The biggest challenge is that it’s a 45 gallon tank - meaning 4.5 tanks of the stuff.

Fortunately it wasn’t quite full and we managed to get by with 3 trips. This whole process is being done because we would have to have someone drive from Soldotna monthly to pump our tanks. This may not be easier but it is certainly much more economical.

We labored many hours as you can imagine and took one of those wonderful, clean relaxing showers mentioned earlier! As Maureen was in the shower she realized that Greg and Gwenan should be home from work and we could call to wish Vera a happy first also dawned on us it is a 2 hour time difference! It was not necessarily a bad thing since she missed her pm nap and had a little melt down. Happy Birthday Vera, I remember being lucky enough to be there when we welcomed you to the family and suspect you look a bit different a year after this picture.
Naturally, no pictures of the Sewer was not always a successful transfer to the portable dump images are necessary!

Opening day of fishing season!

Fishing season started at 12:01 AM this morning. And the fanatics had arrived to take advantage. Yesterday, the driving crew (Rudy, Pat, Ron and George) delivered 16 milk shakes to the folks that run the Kenai/Russian River Ferry. We did this so that they could become acquainted with us and help facilitate the shuttle process when business exploded.

The foreman of the crew described what the salmon fishing looked like. Fighting was common, even to the point that an occasional gun would be drawn. People would show up late in the afternoon and be ferried to the island. He is certain that one of these times there would be bodies strewn about by the brown bears that are there for the fish. It hasn’t happened yet and he said it with a glint in his eyes. Actually it was a kick talking to these guys because they were all absolutely loving the experience and the season hadn’t even started.

The Russian River Ferry has no motor but through the use of pulley’s
and proper harnessing the power of the current the fishermen are transported to the other side of the Kenai River where they can fish both the Kenai and Russian Rivers.

Fishing was well under way when we showed up at 2 PM this afternoon. Our words can’t effectively impart the excitement, impact and enthusiasm that existed on the Kenai.

Please look through the pictures and videos to share the salmon fishing experience here in Cooper Landing. It is wonderful. This shoulder to shoulder fishing is commonly called “combat fishing”. This is only the first day, can you imagine what it will look like when the tourists arrive en mass?

People take any kind of floating device just to be on the river and opening day is no exception! And no one is left behind neither young, old, man, woman nor 4 legged friend.

Oh, she is reeling in a huge one! Going to be good fixin’s at her house tonight.....oh wait....she seems to have caught the man 3 down from herself!!

And so goes the first day of fishing on the Kenai Peninsula 2009.

Solstice in Moose Pass

After a day of shuttling, we had Limo duty for the Moose Pass Solstice Festival.

We drove 17 miles east (towards Seward) to Moose Pass to be available to the attendees in case of intoxication or other any other reason. The schedule was 6-10 and we arrived ready and waiting. The festival consisted of several booths, food (including salmon burgers), drink (lots of beer and soft drinks) and a music stage that, in the course of the day, had 6 bands.

We wondered around the site enjoying the music, the booths, and, most of all, the people. We also wandered across the street to watch a float plane take-off. We finally opted to sit down and listened to the bands. Most enjoyable, however, were the people. There were some really fun characters to watch and try to figure out the conversations. Have you ever just sat around and watched people dance? Entertaining isn’t it?

We didn’t have any Limo service takers until 9:50. Sean came over to us with Virgil to see if we were up for a drive to Mile Marker 20. It was conditional though. Virgil wanted to have his nephew and others join us for the ride and then return to the Trail Lake Lodge in Moose Pass. By the time they piled into the lime, there were 7 truly fun folks. We seldom stopped laughing for the entire round trip. This was all because the nephew “needed” a ride in the limo. We had a great time and continued to learn still more about Alaska.

When we returned to Moose pass, we got four additional passengers. Two were from the Sunrise, a lodge, cafe and restaurant, in Cooper Landing. The other two from the Alaska Wildlands rafting and adventure company at milepost 50 in Cooper Landing on the Kenai River. Coincidentally, we had met this couple John and Erin on our first walk to the Russian River.....remember us mentioning them?

We also learned about Cordova, AK. It’s a small town east of Whittier accessible by ferry or plane. It sounds gorgeous (when the sun shines). Unfortunately that happens less than you would like. Jerry (Wildman) had a 90 day job there and saw 3 days of sunshine. We had to put it on our to do list because of their glowing and enthusiastic recommendations. With the rain forests and the glaciers, it sounds like an incredible place. Virgil’s family said they do not like visitors but would take great care of us since we took good care of them and loved the limo ride. As mentioned they laughed and joked the entire trip saying the biggest deal for them is riding an escalator when they go to Anchorage! The young boy said to beat the limo ride next year they have to go on a blimp ride.

This is Mike who acted as the Beer Policeman at the event keeping people honest by checking ID’s and helping out those who helped themselves to too much beer. We learned just recently (it is now July 21 and the Solstice was June 20) when we went back to Moose Pass for supper, and told Mike we had this picture that he works at The Princess Lodge up the road 2 miles and that our friend and neighbor, John is his boss.

Sky on the Solstice on our ride back to Cooper Landing.......enough said!


Fred arrives

We drove 120 miles to Anchorage to pick up Fred Rounds (a friend of Aunt Pat’s) from Cranston, RI. We took advantage of the trip to take care of a few things which had to be done there. Of course, to be consistent, Frontier was 3 hours late and we ended up getting back at 1:30AM. This was the first time we drove in the almost dark of Alaska.

But there is ALWAYS an opportunity for a picture. Check out the Dall Sheep we saw on the side of the road on Turnagain Pass. (Captain Cook had to turn around again while exploring as there is no outlet......ergo the name)

We took advantage of our visit to Anchorage by getting our truck serviced. An oil and filter change was certainly required and we discovered that a differential inspection was due as part of the service outline. We bit the bullet since our Ram 3500 has an upcoming return trip and we want everything perfect for the 3-4,000 mile trek home.

We also used this opportunity to make the necessary Costco stop and other Anchorage only visits. Fred arrived at 10PM and we started back to Cooper Landing after hunting down a McDonald’s for Fred’s late night meal.

Even with the late night drive, we still had some constructions delays along the Seward highway. They had lights installed so that the construction could continue 24 hours a day. Many of these workers actually stop by Wildman’s for showers, snacks and other necessities.

As mentioned, we arrived back at our RV at 1:30AM and quickly went to bed. Fred set up quarters in the living room which had a comfy sofa bed with an inflatable air mattress.

An incredible sight

We took a ride to Seward to show Fred the port city and check on a Kenai Fjord tour. After spending a few enjoyable hours touring the town, we headed back to Cooper Landing and saw an awesome sight.

When we were about 8 miles out of town driving through the woods, I glanced up to my right and saw an eagle flying towards the truck about 30 ft away. I yelled to Maureen and Fred and we watched as the eagle, in the position depicted in the borrowed picture above, swoop down to our right within a couple of feet. As we passed, it dove behind the truck, it grabbed some road-kill and flew into the woods.

We were struck speechless for a few seconds amazed at what we had just seen. Of all the creatures we see up here, we think that the bald eagle still is the most captivating.

A shot at salmon fishing

After doing a bunch of research and a bit of shopping, Fred was ready to try some red salmon fishing. We talked with a few of the locals to determine the rules, the techniques and the equipment required to get his fair share.

Red salmon (sockeye) are amazing. These spawn in lakes in and around Cooper Landing. When ready, they swim down the Kenai to the Cook Inlet and off to the Pacific. During their 4th year, they have this compulsion to return to their spawning location and repeat the process. This means that, from the middle of the Pacific, they head back to the Kenai River and head upstream.

When they get to Cooper Landing, they have a decision to they continue up the Kenai or head up the Russian River? If they had been spawned in the Russian, that is the choice. This means that they have to negotiate the Russian River Falls, and this is what they do. This life cycle is truly mind numbing. How can it be accomplished? (Look for picture on the day we returned to the Russian River to see the salmon swim upstream and to look at the video.)

Another quirk of the red salmon - once it reaches fresh water, it stops feeding. So from the mouth of the Kenai River to its final spawning lake, it is totally focussed on the journey.

The odds are certainly against them when only considering the navigation. Now add clever anglers (with a 6 fish limit this year), hungry brown bears, an occasional bald eagle and you’ve got an incredible gauntlet for these fish to deal with on their return. The anglers are 9 feet apart when fishing and this is called “Combat Fishing”. As you can imagine there are lots of “accidents” fact, the clinic has a large sign outside that advertises “Fish Hooks Removed Here”....and inside they have a life sized poster of a person and they place the fishhooks on him in the same place they removed them from the real person. We have been told it is quite a site by the end of the season!

But wait - how can the clever angler land a fish that doesn’t feed? The answer is - it must be snagged. Legally it can only be kept if it is snagged in or around the mouth. Somehow this is done with regularity. They just had to reduce the limit to 3 because of the lack of fish taken out of the first run.

Let’s add one more factor, the locals are allowed “subsistence fishing”. These rules change from location to location and fish to fish, but here in Cooper Landing, for the reds, they can be caught using “dip nets” with a limit of 25 and 5 per member of the family. This is done near the Falls and is a non-trivial exercise. The dip nets we have seen are from 4-6 feet in diameter! We will explain more in depth when we go and watch our friend Rudy “dip netting”.

After taking us to the river for a casting tutorial, we were ready to get our licenses and get the rest of our tackle. In the morning, we (the shuttle crew) dropped Fred off at the Russian River Ferry (scroll down to Opening day of salmon fishing to see the Ferry) to catch our dinner.

When we came back to get Fred a couple of hours later, he was fish-less and had a broken reel. A loose screw on the brand-new Penn reel had fallen out and rendered it unusable. Fred was a bit taken aback with the snagging approach. The salmon meal would have to wait until another day.

Back to the Kenai Fjords

Since one of the highlights of a Kenai Peninsula visit is a tour of the Kenai Fjord National Park, we returned to share it with Fred. This time we chose a 6 hour wildlife focussed tour that included a dinner on Fox Island.

This tour was with Kenai Fjords Tours. We agreed that the longer tour was more spectacular as we really enjoyed the glaciers. But this experience was excellent as well. Since we had been on an all day tour, and obviously, you get to see much more, we hungered for a longer trip. These are experiences are a once in a lifetime and you just do not want them to end.

We did see many animals including whales, sea lions, birds of all sorts and Puffins.....and Luke when asked if he knew what Puffins were answered “sure I know we get that cereal”! He also called one day and left a message...”hello, this is Luke 765-753-9467 call me and let me know what you are doing tomorrow. Love, Luke”

The grandkids are awesome following the trip and it is such a kick to be able to post pics for them to enjoy as much as for their parents. Poirier, George named our vehicles for us....the big red Ram 3500 dually is Mater and the 5th wheel is Big Bessy.....he is usually wondering what we have seen.....he loves to hear things like.....we had moose running next to the car...or we saw a bear biting the bumpers of cars. You can hear Ellie and Sammie just speechless when they hear a story and so excited. They are going to be able to experience it first hand! Izabel, Bridget and Abigail listen with rapt attention to our stories and we think it got them excited for their trip which we are excited to hear about as well as see their vacation pictures.

Words aren’t going to add to this experience so please enjoy the (soon to be added) accompanying photos.

A great celebration

Jerry and Cheryl hosted their annual July 4th party at their home. Friends, relatives and employees stopped by for BBQ’d shrimp (bacon wrapped) and steak with accompanying goodies. The shindig started at noon and continued until 9 in order to accommodate folks that are working. What an excellent feast! Roy and Jerry manned the BBQs and did fabulous job.

Since I was busy with shuttles and Maureen was working at the store, we had to stop in when we could. We had the opportunity to meet several more locals including Ira - a WWII veteran that is a local fishing legend with spots named for him.

It was a very pleasant afternoon and we sincerely thank Jerry and Cheryl.

Since it didn’t get dark, we didn’t have fireworks. They save this activity for New Years eve and shoot them over frozen Kenai Lake.


Moby Dick (or Maureen's 60lb halibut)

One of Fred’s hopes was to go halibut fishing and it was on our to do list as well, so this was a day for the hunt for the big fish.

For some background.....we had to get our reel fixed and the closest Penn Reel warranty work was done by Tag Taggart in Ninilchick. Fred and I went off to Ninilchick to track down Tag and finally found him in the basement of a house after about 2 miles of dirt road. There was no doubt that he was our guy. Although not very talkative, he knew the problem immediately and, after glancing at the exploded parts list, found the 5 pieces that had dropped into the Kenai River. In short order, the reel was better than new because he ensured that all screws were tightened appropriately.

Before leaving his reel and reel parts packed office, we asked him for a halibut charter recommendation. He wasn’t the least bit hesitant to provide us with some good options. His son then gave us a very low key sales pitch on their fledgling halibut processing business and off we went.

We actually headed further down the peninsula to visit Homer.....remember the blog of the Spit, Salty Dawg, the start of the fire??? After have lunch (halibut) at Capt Patty’s, Fred talked to a couple charters about offerings since Tag’s recommendations were unavailable. We ended up deciding on Ninilchick Salt Water Charters.

We had a convenient launch time of 8:45 the following Tuesday July 7th, so that we were able to depart from Cooper Landing at 6 AM for the 85 mile return jaunt to Ninilchick. We arrived a bit early at 8AM, checked in and went to breakfast. Back we went to launch after a hearty breakfast where we saw another entrant in the Hoka Hey motorcycle ride.....but more about that later. We climbed into a van with an additional party of two and off we went towing the boat to the launch.

It turned out to be a long, sandy beach with big tractors with large wheels used to hook onto the trailer and take the boat (and us) into Cook Inlet. This was a fun start to a great day.

Deckhand Anthony (18 years old) and Captain Jim kept us informed of our progress as we motored the 15 miles to our halibut spot. We got some brief instructions and we began our day of fishing.

The halibut is a bottom fish so they attached a 5 lb weight to the line along with some bait and we dropped the line the 185 feet to the bottom. We left the bait on the bottom as it was bounced around by the receding tide. George finally landed the first one, a 20 pounder, after about 20 minutes. Fred was next with a fine 40 pounder. George caught a couple more smallish ones while Maureen was getting shut out.

Around 11, we had to pull up our lines because we were inundated by a bunch of “junk” floating by that would foul our lines and the anchor. Logs, kelp and sea weed covered the ocean surface for about 45 minutes while we ate lunch.

Then we were back to the halibut. Maureen and George exchanged gear. He had a double hook and she had a single, slightly larger hook and nothing was interested.....and she declared she did not want the “girly” fishing ploe any longer. They prepared (but never used....tho’ it would have been fun to see in use) an electric fishing pole which was powered by a 12 car battery.

Soon after the exchange, Maureen hooked what appeared to be a large one. After working for about 25 minutes, getting the halibut up from the 185 foot depths, she passed her rod to Anthony and Jim who struggled to get it into the boat. They ended up having to “bleed it out” to get it into the boat and to stow it away.

When it was weighed back at the charter store, it checked in at 55 pounds. when considering the need to “bleed it out”, Captain Jim and Anthony figured that it had to have weighed well over 60 pounds. Girls Rock!!!!!! (beat all the boys!)

George continued catching the 20-30 pounders (some of which had to be tossed back) so that we ended up with the 4 halibut limit for the 2 of us. Fred caught 1 more which had to be returned and 1 small cod.

When filleted and weighed back at the charter, we had 45 pounds of fish and a very satisfying day. Fred ended up with 20 pounds of fish to ship back to Rhode Island. We then brought our fillets to Tags to have them processed into packages of 1/2 pounds. We brought them back to Wildman’s freezer where they currently reside. We will be breaking a couple of packages out and enjoying OUR halibut soon.

Back to the Russian River Falls

We heard that the salmon were starting to move up the Russian Falls and decided to make the 5 mile hike to check it out. There’s not a whole lot to add to the word picture then we said in the “Our for a stroll” entry from 5/21. The photos as well as video tell the story much better then our words.

There was a significant little difference that has to be mentioned. The parking lot was full so I volunteered to drop Maureen and Fred at the trailhead and walk the “1/4 mile” from the overflow. The turned out to be 1 mile up hill walk. So, for me, it turned into a 7 mile walk instead of the 5 mile walk I expected. It was still well worth the effort. Please enjoy the pictures to understand why.

Some shuttling experiences and conversations

Let me tell you a little about Wildman’s Shuttling.

First you should meet the drivers.

  • Pat is the most experienced driver. You can see it in his backing with a boat trailer. Alaskan born and raised and knows a lot of local history. Lived in Seward and Moose Pass most of his life and has done many Alaska jobs.
  • Rudy is also a long time Alaskan and also shares Alaska history. He has been telling me about the Japanese attacks on the Aleutians in WWII. Was also around for the 1964 9.2 earthquake.
  • Denny is a Florida resident that has been returning to Cooper Landing for 17 years. He’s been attempting to teach us how to catch red salmon but we’ve had no luck. He can catch 5 while we’re struggling to get our first.
  • Bill is also a Florida resident. He’s the newest to join our shuttling crew and is loving Alaska.
  • Ron is the 3rd Floridian. He’s living in the RV next to us.
  • Cheryl, Jerry and Maureen have stepped in when needed. Cheryl and Jerry are scary good truck/trailer drivers.......Maureen well, just scary.

What we do:
A typical event would have a customer stop in at Wildman’s and schedule to have his truck and trailer shuttled from the Bridge Landing - “Putting In” - to Jim’s Landing - “Taking Out” - about a 10 mile drive. We will go to the Bridge at after the customer’s designated “Put In” time and one of us will drive the truck/trailer to Jim’s (usually 2 hours before the “Take Out” time) while the shuttle vehicle follows.

This is a 10 mile shuttle while the boat or raft is negotiating a pleasant, winding, rapid moving Kenai River. More than likely the customer(s) will stop at several hot fishing spots along the way and when they arrive at the “Take Out” spot their vehicle/trailer is waiting for the.

There are about 5 common shuttle itineraries that range from 3 miles to as many as 20. There is one that requires us to go to Sterling (about 30 miles from Wildman’s) but the shuttle is about 10 miles as it usually is from Upper Skilak Landing.

Two aspects of this job need to be mentioned.
  1. It’s a kick to drive a variety vehicles
  2. Encounters with the Alaskan wildlife is awesome. Please take a look at this. I took this video on a Bridge to Jim’s shuttle.

Early in the season there were a couple of minor scratches to vehicles by the drivers but those seem to be behind us. And Cheryle (the Wildwoman) does a great job of rectifying the situation and pleasing the customer.

The biggest incident occurred a couple of weeks ago. I went down to Wildman’s at 8:30 PM to take a shower and got there just in time to do a cab run. After returning to the store, I noticed a trooper on the deck and, when I walked in, was informed that a truck was missing from the Bridge. The question was - “Could we have moved the wrong vehicle?”. My reaction was “Of course not”.

I went back to look through the Can (where we keep our shuttle work orders). At first glance all looked fine. But there was one thing that jumped out - the last 3 digits on the missing truck was the same as one we were supposed to move. The first 3 digits were different, however.

It turns out that we grabbed the wrong vehicle. The 3 checks we make to identify the vehicle are: Make, Color, Plate. The make was Ford on both. The color was missing on the work order. The plate wasn’t completely checked.

After calling the police, Cheryle took the correct vehicle to Skilak (the 20 miles - 9 of which are dirt and so dusty that the shuttle car following cannot see the customer car) and picked up the “stolen” vehicle. She returned it to Jim’s Landing to a frustrated boater. She was able to cool off the guy and finally got back home at 12:30 AM.

Answer to 2 outstanding questions on your mind:
  1. No, it wasn’t me (it was Bill)
  2. The customer was totally unaware since he was doing an overnight float

The "bear abduction"The "bear abduction"

There was a serious fright today.

But first, Jon Goodwin and Kim arrived to say hi. They got here around 4PM. It was great to see Jon again and to meet Kim. We spent some time talking about what was happening and what we had been doing. We had some dinner and then went for a ride to see the Russian and Kenai Rivers. As we passed the Russian River Campgrounds and Jon spotted 2 bears about 100 yards up the exit. We turned around and tried to find them.

We didn’t see them again and ended up at the campground registration booth. The girl working the booth was a bit rattled and mentioned that there had just been a mauling on Resurrection Pass trail about 1 mile from away. It appeared that a woman had been mountain biking and had gotten mauled by a black bear.

There was nothing about the incident in the paper the next morning and nothing on the internet. When we got to Wildman’s the next morning, we asked Rudy if he was aware of the mauling.

He was a first responder and got the call. The message was that a guy’s wife had been abducted by a bear at Mile .6 on the Resurrection Trail and please bring a gun. He was joined be another responder and a Forest Service guy and went to the trailhead. When they got to .5 on the trail, the husband and wife were walking toward them.

Here’s what actually happened.

The husband was leading the way to the trailhead. The wife encountered a black bear along the trail and had to come to a quick stop. The bear approached her despite arm waving and yelling. She tossed the bike and backpack at the bear and the bear enthusiastically grabbed the backpack. The wife hurried away while the bear was distracted.

The husband, meanwhile, had come to a stop to wait for his wife’s arrival. When she didn’t show up, he went back up the trail and found her abandoned bike, evidence of a bear, but no wife. At that point he called 911, distraught.

When the “dust had cleared”, all was well except that the backpack was gone.

This incident, and others like it, have heightened my interest in having a handgun available when we are hiking in this area. We’re pretty well convinced that it’s almost foolish to wander the trails with bear spray and bells. (We have (in 2017) changed our minds. I wouldn't trust myself with a gun and bear spray is extremely effective.)

As the locals say:
Black bear scat - berries, grass, chipmunks
Brown bear scat: salmon, bear spray, bells

Jon and Kim

Jon and Kim showed up in a 1973 Dodge Camper Van on the Thursday. We spent the evening sharing our recent history and welcoming Jon back from Iraq. It was great to see John and meet Kim. Both Kim and Jon have Alaska roots and actually knew each other in high school in Kodiak. We also had a fun conversation about the retirement of Sarah Palin. Kim actually knew her when she worked in Juneau and had some first hand perspective.

We BBQ’d an hours old salmon and truly enjoyed the evening. We later went for a ride to the Russian River Ferry and to the Skilak Overview on the Skilak Lake Road. As we looked out at the lake, we could see a wide run-off of water entering the lake. Later we learned that the run-off is a result of a break of a glacial dam that was holding back a large pool of water. As the water arrives to the lake, there are serious concerns about downstream flooding.

Downstream flooding includes the towns west of us - Sterling and Soldotna. It won’t be overly serious but it’s intriguing.

Maureen and I had to work on Friday and Saturday. Jon and Kim went to Sterling to see some of Kim’s old friends. They returned that evening with king crab legs in hand and we “suffered” through another meal and had great evening again.

While sitting at the infamous Conservative (or testosterone - as Maureen calls it) Round Table in Wildman’s, I put Jon’s Obama action figure in the middle. There was a great good-humored hew and cry and I had to protect the package with my body before it was defamed. It was a great laugh and Jon got it back intact.

They headed back to Anchorage and Wasilla later that morning. It was great company.


A bad day for Ron

On Monday I worked for Ron so that he could go on a halibut fishing in Ninilchick with 3 relatives and an old friend. All was well - a moderately busy day - when in walks Ron with a patch on his eye.

As the fishing came to a close, a compatriot yanked on his reel and the 3 lb sinker came flying in and hit Ron in the right eye while he was cleaning his glasses. The additional scary component of this incident is that Ron is dealing with 4 eye operations including fairly recent corneal transplants.

He called his doctor in Florida and he told Ron to keep it covered for a couple of days and see if there is some improvement. He also checked for an experienced doctor in Anchorage. The only one available is on vacation for 3 weeks.

This morning Ron felt that he his best course of action would be to get back to Florida. So he left by himself for a 7,000 mile one-eyed drive back to Florida pulling a 33 foot RV. He has years of RVing experience so it’s a little less scary than it sounds but it sure isn’t something we would look for it.

We wish him safe travels and good luck with his eye.

A Long Walk

I went over to Wildman’s this morning for the typical morning discussions. This time I learned a bit about farm subsidies. Rodney, who runs Salmon Run Lodge, also has a guide service and a farm in Eastern Colorado. He raises 500 acres of corn, grass and feed and occasionally has utilized subsidies.

Denny arrived and told us that he was fishing yesterday and tripped on a rock when he tried to land a salmon and “pulled a Maureen”. A new phrase has been coined to commemorate Maureen’s 3 dunks.

Maureen was called in to fill in for Jessica. While she was working, I decided to go for a little hike on Resurrection Pass Trail. This was the trail that had the “bear abduction” last week. I went 4.5 miles. The first half was essentially uphill so when I returned, of course, it was all downhill. It was the most strenuous hike I’ve done in a long time. Angus joined me and he did great. He sure was beat when we arrived back at the car.

It was challenging but only 10% of the trail that goes to Hope. The trail was fairly level when we turned around. Had a great time. Wildlife? We encountered a chipmunk.

To Jon's

It's a big day. No - not just Labor Day. We decided to go on a 4 day trip to Wasilla (to participate in the Peartree Football Fantasy Draft with Jon Goodwin), Denali and the Glenn Highway. For those of you thinking that Wasilla sounds familiar — yes — it is Sarah Palin's home. The city center is pretty nice but, due to little or no zoning, there are some unattractive areas on the edges of the city.

But we were there to see Jon's home and to do the draft. His home is a cabin on 5 acres in the woods, 6 miles up a dirt road. The cabin is really cool and the view is awesome. However it didn't have internet necessary for the draft.

We piled into the truck and went to Tailgaters - a sports bar. Fortunately they had a very good WiFi and, despite considerable background noice, we held a very enjoyable and efficient draft. Time will tell, but things don't look good for the Girly Men.

When we returned to Jon's, we let Angus out to wander around and wander he did. He disappeared. Jon went out and was unable to find him. We opted to expand the search using the truck and we found him next door, probably attracted by Jon's brother's recently shot moose carcass. As we were driving back with Angus in tow, we realized that the driver's side front tire was flat. We pulled into the drivewa and opted to wait until morning to deal with it.

For dinner, Maureen made pasta with homemade spaghetti sause and Jon made a spectacular halibut dish We feasted, talked and had an all-around great evening.

Mt McKinley, Cantwell, Denali

We got up the next morning and were faced with tire changing. Jon actually did the changing and we were ready to head to Denali. The problem turned out to be a loose tire pressure valve cover. Since it presses down on the valve, the air was released but the tire was fine and just needed to be inflated.

We headed north on the Parks Highway with Jon in the lead in his pickup. At one point, Mt McKinley came into view and it was amazing. It popped in and out of view as we continued north.

All of a sudden, Jon signaled to turn right onto a small road. The name was promising -- Mt. McKinley View Road. To our surprise, it led to the Mt McKinley View Lodge. The Lodge was magnificent and the view was spectacular. We spent about an hour taking pictures and marveling before we went in and had a pleasant lunch.

We then followed Jon for about a half mile to a lot

The Denali Highway

We left The Denali Princess and headed back to Cantwell for the Denali Highway. Just after we left Denali, was came across a moose in a pond below the road. It was the same pond that we encountered a moose on our 2004 trip. We suspect that it was the same moose still munching away. In Cantwell, we filled our tank and off we went.

After 2 miles of fine road, we encountered the beginning of 120 miles of dirt road. If you’re asking “Why would you do that?”, both Jon and the owner of the Cantwell RV Park really recommended it. How could we not?

It didn’t take long to see why we were glad we listened. We encountered incredible scenery and wildlife that were well worth the effort. The road was sometimes unpleasantly rough and occasionally too dusty, but it was awesome.

Our last Saturday

Work day. Was hoping for easy shuttle day but that didn’t happen. Rudy was unable to drive and Pat was only available in the AM and he had to take some couple, 2 bikes and 2 dogs to Cooper Lake - 12 miles of dirt road. Bill had an all day cab to Seward. We ended the day using 8 different drivers. We found it amazing that we moved 3 Honda Pilots and parked them all next to each other at Jim’s Landing. It turned out to be too amazing! Cheryle got a call at 11 PM that 2 of the 3 should have been at Upper Skilak. She and Denny had to do a break in on 1 of them and then get them up there as quickly as possible. I thought that 28 out of 30 was pretty damned good though,

Maureen had a very busy day as well. She had to deal with a testy knee and a sensitive back however.

We chose to celebrate our last Saturday at Princess. It was a good decision.

A Day of Relaxation

After returning from our 4 day excursion, we decided to chill for a day. It turned into a bit more than chillin’ because, by the time we were done, I had cleaned out the green house and made some spaghetti sauce with our fresh tomatoes. George added to the effort by reorganizing the basement and moving the bicycle rack on the RV to expose the right rear RV lights. We then put the bikes on the rack and secured them for our return.

The last day of work

Today was our last day of work. Hongye and I worked with Heather, who is still hoping that on her next visit she will be told it will be any second now that the baby will arrive . Jerry has a special engraved gun for the Tanana Lodge that he wanted Maureen to take pictures for a fun raiser for the Shriners, so after work she went over and they worked together to take pictures. Here is a sample picture with more to come.

George had a very busy shuttle day but had some help to get the bulk of the runs done by 1 PM. It was very important because the Chicago/Green Bay game was on our only channel. He did manage to spend some time following his fantasy team in the store when we weren't using the Point of Sale system.

btw - the Broncos won in historic fashion and Jay Cutler had 4 interceptions.

Gun pictures for Jerry

We continued working around the RV to get ready for our imminent departure. We also took a ride to Soldotna to get a few things that we would need for the last few days. We stopped at Schucks (auto parts store) to get some oil for the Mater (Ram) oil change.

We took a quick run to Jerry and Cheryle's to show Jerry the pictures of the gun we took yesterday. But it was too late for him - he was in bed and asleep by 6:30. ....some Wildman!!!