Part V: Heaven can be ironic
Thinking in the logical fashion of a surfer on a remote beach in the middle of nowhere, I reasoned there was only one thing to do... push the truck across the middle of the road and go surfing. The trails snaked away in front of us to all cardinals of the compass. Progress slowed to a crawl owing to sinker sand and frequent stops for salmonberries that hung laden on their canes. Again the strange things we passed; more gravestones in the forest, weather tower on the beach, the driftwood mansions of those that had built them so long ago, but still the breaks seemed eternally farther down the shore each time we emerged from the dark forest. It danced away in a mirage. Mountain peaks and surfing breaks are never close to where you think they are. And so we pressed on. There came a fork in the road where to our right, the ruts grew deep, the sand became even finer, sunlight bathed a bend in the road rendering it a gold ribbon. Small wind dunes indicated our proximity to the beach and as if by Providence, the truck came to a stop. All on its own.
It was a sign. One of rich irony. As it happened, the truck came to a stop in the middle of the fork and could not be coaxed into actually starting again. A turning of the key only offered up that hollow clicking noise evocative of similar grim memories of being stranded. After 20 minutes of tinkering beneath the hood, it became apparent that indeed, stranded we were. The realization was particularly enhanced when our pilot climbed up on the front grill and began to violently kick the engine block with his boot-shod foot; a maintenance and repair strategy that can be more than a little disconcerting when coming from the same individual that is later scheduled to fly your plane into the weather-fickle remoteness of the Alaskan bush. This quickly became our second problem. Being on a strict timeline when working the tides, we were due back to fly extremely early the next morning. This necessitated a way to negotiate ourselves back through the bear-infested maze and into town. Failing to show up for work the next day simply meant..well... it was probably better to go the way of Grizzly Man Tim Treadwell than to face that prospect.
A crudely drawn "Help" scrawled in the dirt with an arrow towards the beach completed this masterpiece of a plan, and 2 minutes later we were pawing our way through the sand, and spilling out onto the finest set of reef breaks in the Pacific Northwest like children in a brand new world. From the view seen a year before from the deck of a Bering Sea crab vessel to this shimmering sand- the Yakutat surfing dream was realized. Naked of humanity, and alien was this golden surf.
I had seen the figures on a cliff in the distance about the same time as the pilot. He pointed and began the trek back up the beach and through the woods to the car in order to intercept these messengers to the civilized world. Our afternoon, it seemed, was taking care of the one rather large loose end on its own.
"Well they were no help, just a couple of old ladies and an old man in an old car....but they had no jumper cables so they left."
His reasoning was impeccable. It went something like this. A- The truck wonít start therefore... B-Itís probably an electrical problem C- The battery makes electricity. D- Jumper cables wake dead batteries up E-These old people have no jumper cables F- Let them go because they are of no use to us.
As the sun began to flirt with the sea, I think the wisdom of this reasoning began to set in...and discussion turned to who might be the faster runner; the least appetizing to bears, and just how far we had actually come. I even contemplated the considerable paddle back to town on the boat of a longboard in the hopes that I might intercept a fishing skiff along the way to send word of our predicament. Then in the graying woods, as we stood around the carcass of our transportation, we heard the faint sound of squeaking leaf springs. The anticipation was mixed with fears of auditory hallucinations...when you begin to hear things that you want to hear..only to have them fade into the background once again. Then the headlights of the Dodge Caravan came into view and a voice emerged from behind the steering wheel.
"A bunch of the old folks pulled up at the bar and told us you might be out here.... itís lucky you just got broke down instead of stuck out on the sand like most south-forty-niners."
The fellow helped us pile the 10-foot boards in and half out again from the Caravan, seemingly unconcerned that heíd spent is evening supper hour driving all the way out here to pick us up. In an eastern drawl, our good Samaritan confirmed he was from Boston, attracted to Yakutat by the slower pace of life. He even had smooth hair, a neat collared shirt and an easy grin. Unconscious glances at his watch betrayed his former life in the U.S.Aís fastest-paced city
"Yakutatís nice for sure, you donít get like, the movies, or if you want to go out to have a nice meal at a fancy restaurant..nothing like that. But the fishing is incredible. You know Iíve been living here for 10 years and Iíve never been out to this beach..apparently some people surf here, but I bet itís kind of freaky to be out there without a boat."
The benefits of Yakutat seemed to far outweigh the isolation.
"Itís a great place, you know thereís not a lot to do unless you like hunting, fishing, or surfing I guess. But thereís no crime, well I guess thereís some domestic crime but if youíre not married you donít have to worry about that too much."
Unmarried, unconcerned, and bemused by our little adventure, our friend brought us back to the Yakutat Lodge. Thereís a natural law that news travels at the speed of flying crows in small towns. An audience of laughing faces and small dogs greeted us as the gruff bartender thew a few beers down the bar at us.
"NowÖwhy did I just know it would be you guys."
The only problem now, is how to get back there again.
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river surfing in Munich, spring 2006 - Photos:Kristof Kraemer
Louis Robert, winter 2005, Florida, San Diego, France
Going Nowhere - Malcolm Johnson
Peter Devries in Indo August 2004