You’d think with all the airplanes streaking overhead and instant communication that lets you reach out to people thousands of miles away there wouldn’t be anywhere it would be difficult to travel to. At least, not anywhere in the United States. Maybe somewhere in distant Africa, but not here.
Not that I’m saying Kodiak is the most difficult place to get to. It really isn’t even that remote taken in the scope of the vastness that is Alaska. It’s just the most difficult place I’ve ever been. I think flying to Europe is easier than traveling from northern California to this little island.
Here’s how we did it:
It was 12:40 AM when our plane finally touched down in Anchorage, AK. By the time we struggled our way off with our overstuffed carry-ons, the sky was almost dark, though it had grown lighter and lighter as our plane chased the sun North and West. The long haul from California was mostly uneventful, though exhausting as always, with layovers in LA and Portland before our final stop in Anchorage.
To be honest, the Anchorage airport is always a bit of a shock. There’s nothing like looming moose taxidermy to convince you you’ve finally arrived in Alaska.
It took all our remaining energy to schlep our 200+ lbs worth of bags off the carousels and out into the chilly Alaskan night. Luckily, the hotel’s shuttle arrived soon after and took us away to a downtown hotel close to the airport. We were given a strangely triangular room wedged into the extra space between the end of the hallway and the stairwell, but there was a bed in it so the shape of the room didn’t matter much.
The next morning we rented a car, filled it with our enormous bags, and drove half an hour to stay at the St. James House in Eagle River, AK.
The St. James House belongs to St. John’s Orthodox Cathedral and has been a safe and friendly home to many young families and wandering Orthodox youth, of which we are both. The guest room we stayed in was a cozy retreat after our excursions into Anchorage.
We spent the next day and a half either sleeping like rocks or frantically scrolling through Craigslist for likely vehicles. We test drove two cars in uninspiringly bad shape before taking the long drive out to Wasilla where we found one we liked despite its faults.
Unfortunately, as soon as we got the car back to Eagle River the seller called and asked us to bring it right back to Wasilla. Turns out he’d forgotten his handgun in the center console. Another very Alaskan moment.
We spent the next day rambling happily around Anchorage. We managed to get me a pair of cute boots that were also magically waterproof and a thick water resistant jacket which took care of both of the main items on my shopping list since I’d spent several previous trips to Kodiak soaked to the skin in my Californian outerwear.
We also stopped to eat at a wonderful restaurant where they were smoking meat out where you could watch them and where the raspberry beer turned out to be a lovely shade of pink.
Later that afternoon we had to return to Wasilla one more time so we could pick up a second set of studded winter tires that went with our new car. The rendezvous point where we ended up waiting for the tires turned out to be only 4 mins from what the internet claims is Sarah Palin’s house. Since one of my close friends had a high school Sarah Palin obsession, we felt obligated to pay her a little visit.
The Saturday we were supposed to catch the ferry to Kodiak was easily the most awful traveling day of my life thus far.
A month earlier when we were trying to make our ferry reservations, we discovered that you actually aren’t allowed to make reservations if you don’t know the make and model of your car. The woman we spoke to told us the best we could do was call the ferry as soon as we got the car. She said it was likely there would be plenty of room since no space at all had been reserved yet.
However, when we called the ferry on the morning of Day 4, they told us that every last inch of space had been reserved and we would be placed on the waitlist with several other vehicles. If there was any space to squeak us on after everything else had been loaded, they would try. But best to be there a solid hour before everyone with a proper ticket was meant to show up.
If our car didn’t get onto that ferry, there was another the next night (also full), but no more until May 20th. Another option was to get ourselves onto the ferry without our car or most of our 200+ lbs of stuff and pay a cab company to put the car on the ferry the next time there was space (May 20th).
All of this meant that we spent our last two days in Anchorage stressing out about getting our car onto the ferry, anxiously repeating our alternate options to each other (get a hotel and try again on Sunday, or go without our car and our stuff), and planning how we were going to get to Homer at 6 AM to beg them to let us bring our car with us to Kodiak.
Since it’s a five-hour drive from Eagle River to Homer and we needed to be there at 6 AM that meant we needed to drag our tired bodies out of bed at about 1:30 AM and be on our way by 2.
We got up and out quickly and were even on the road a little earlier than planned. We waved goodbye to the St. James House in the dark and sped off south towards Homer and the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
Now, the mountains pass out of Anchorage is dangerous for both for its isolation and the possibility of slick ice waiting invisibly in the dark. It’s only twenty minutes out of downtown before you are surrounded by a lonely wilderness of jagged, snowy mountains. If you turn the radio on it will spin and spin forever without finding a single thing to pick up.
We were a couple hours into our trip with only a few cars on the road when a truck with its high beams on came roaring out of the night straight down our lane. We swerved onto the gravel shoulder and back onto the road no worse for wear, but with hearts pounding with adrenaline.
We arrived in Homer in good time and reported to the ferry building where they told us that we actually could have reserved as much space as we needed and that they didn’t know what the lady on the phone was talking about, but now we were deeply on the waiting list and should come back in an hour and get in line somewhere on the far side of the parking lot behind everyone who’d managed to get a ticket on time and they’d let us know halfway through loading if there would be room for us.
We went away, freaked out, got coffee from a coffee hut near the ferry terminal in lieu of breakfast since nothing was open, and returned to wait in line. Where we stayed–panicking–for the next three hours until all but two other vehicles and the waitlist had been loaded. Finally, they came over and told us we were good to go. We breathed a sigh of relief and trundled aboard.
We ate breakfast in the cafeteria and found ourselves a booth to camp in. I took some Dramamine and everything was looking up. Only a twelve more hours to endure and then we would be safe in Kodiak.
Everything was great until we got farther out into the open ocean. The wind and rain kicked up and white water started to slam down on the windows every time the ferry rose over a wave. Even with my Dramamine and the size of the ferry I could only stand so much rocking and rolling. I sent Nic to get me a soda to settle my stomach, but as soon as he got up I knew it was too late. I staggered to my feet and lurched towards the women’s room.
I spent the next half hour or so wretching my guts up in a bathroom stall and clinging to the wall for balance as the ferry shuddered and rolled. Eventually, I fell out the bathroom door again, crawled down a flight of stairs and ran up a hallway of cabins to find a place as low and far towards the back of the boat as I could. I collapsed on a loveseat in front of the Purser’s counter with a clear view of a map that showed the ferry’s progress and curled up to die.
Eventually, I started to feel better and it occurred to me that Nic didn’t actually know where I was and I had no idea how much time had passed. So I staggered to my feet again, wobbled across to the Purser’s desk and begged the lady behind the counter to go get my husband for me before collapsing back onto my couch.
In a few minutes, Nic appeared with our stuff and a soda to keep me alive for the next four hours until we arrived in Kodiak.
The storm subsided and we felt well enough to hobble back upstairs to look out the windows as we docked in Kodiak. After an hour of docking logistics, we were able to roll off in our car and speed away into Kodiak. We were half-dead of exhaustion and seasickness, but we’d made it!
Of course, I immediately came down with a bad cold and spent the next several days curled up under of a mound of blankets in our B&B, gurgling and weeping softly.