"You really need to come up there. It's beautiful." Every summer, before she leaves for fishing season, my wife and I have some variation of this conversation. It's pretty weird that she spends three months out of the year somewhere else I've never been or seen, and I have no real idea what her job is like. So this year we finally had things together enough financially and I had the vacation days to burn; I was headed to Alaska to visit Kat.
Except I wasn't even heading to "normal" Alaska. It was Southwest Alaska...
See, Alaska is what geographers call "fucking huge." You probably know that already, and have some concept that it's the biggest state and all, but it's sort of like the Grand Canyon: you think you know, but until you see it you have no idea. So here, take a gander:
See what I mean? GIGANTIC. And I was heading to King Cove, which in the map above would be somewhere around the part just above where the Southern border of New Mexico stops bordering Mexico and meets West Texas. I'd be traveling about 2,000 miles to get there, and I live in the state closest to Alaska. I was pumped for an adventure I would likely never forget.
Of course, being the paranoid, nervous freakshow that I am, I was also slightly terrified.
Not of Alaska in itself, but more of finally exposing myself to the rough and rugged world of commercial fishing. I'm not what you would call a "tough guy." I'm not really what you would call an "acceptable representation of the male gender." I'm soft. Doughy. I whine a lot (okay, you knew that part). I think the number one compliment I tend to get from women is "you have incredibly soft hands." I'd like to think I could keep up with these guys, and I would give it a try, but Kat works on a boat captained by her father.
Her "PhD in Chemistry, Fishing Boat Captain, Helped Develop a Linear Accelerator Used To Cut Cancer Out of People" father. If you were writing a sitcom that needed an "imposing father-in-law figure," your Head Writer would tell you to dial it back a bit and make it more believable. Seriously. I stand in awe of the guy. And every time the topic of my trip came up, he and Kat would both insist I work on the boat "to get the full experience." So I didn't want to get a hangnail and ask him to turn the boat around, partially because I could not guarantee they wouldn't throw me into the Pacific.
Which isn't to say my father-in-law is a jerk. He's a sweetheart of a guy; we get along really well, in fact. He's just got a hell of a legacy to which I can't help but compare my own pathetic attempts at adulthood. But that's more about my own baggage than anything he's done.
Kat's mom came to visit from Hawaii as I was packing and getting ready to go. She gave me some pointers, since I'm part of this sorority of fishers' wives waiting for our lovers to return from the sea, and we bummed around Seattle together for a few days. The day of my flight we went to have dinner at Kat's cousins' place. Her Aunt and Uncle from Northern California were in town for a layover on their way to Alaska as well (Southeast, though), so they gave me advice and stories of how magnificent it is up there. I asked how cold I could expect it to be in July.
"Oh, you're going up there for one job and one job only. She'll keep you warm, don't worry," her aunt laughed uproariously. I sat there surrounded by a rather large portion of my wife's extended family, trying to figure out if I should laugh at this joke about me flying up to Alaska like some sort of long distance gigolo to take her mind off things. Luckily, they all laughed at my stammering.
So I steeled myself for hard work, rugged life, and dutiful sex. I spent way too much money on fleece, fishing boots, gloves, etc. I was ready to take on anything Alaska could throw at me.
Except I had no idea just what Alaska was about to throw at me.