BEAR-AWARE ON THE BUSKIN
In Anchorage, I switched to a small-propeller jet. The bumpy hour-long trip to Kodiak was gorgeous. I'd be delighted to describe the breathtaking scenery if I were a talented travel writer rather than a guy who hates music for a living, but I couldn't do it justice if I tried. Perhaps Pitbull will render it in song one day.
My hotel was only a few hundred yards from the airport. Since the town of Kodiak was five miles away and I hadn't sorted out a car yet, I decided to try for an early check-in. The hotel manager asked what brought me to Kodiak, and I sheepishly told the tale. He'd caught wind of the situation already, although he didn't have the details quite right — he kept referring to Pitbull as "Bullfrog." He told me that he was grateful for the prank, since it filled up his hotel: a bunch of huge, tough-looking dudes had just checked in, and he was pretty sure they were Bullfrog's security detail.
I had to sign a form promising not to kill or gut any fish, deer, or bears in my hotel room. I was a little early for check-in, but I was told there was one pets-allowed room available as long as I didn't mind dog dander. I was pretty sure I didn't.
Soon, I walked back to the airport to meet my friend and secret weapon: Josh "HJ" Hug, a sprightly Princeton lecturer with a superhuman ability to befriend almost anyone and insinuate himself into any situation. He also has a habit of filming everything, and with him along I knew I'd talk to everyone and get everything on tape, rather than indulging my inclination to stay in the hotel and watch TBS.
HJ's flight was a little late. The pilot couldn't land on the first go, so he had to circle a few times before making another attempt. Locals told me this is a common problem due to constant fog and short runways, and a significant number of flights end up turning back to Anchorage and waiting for more opportune conditions. A late landing would usually be an annoyance, but HJ said his face hurt from grinning at all the natural splendor.
The Pitbull event wasn't until the next morning, so we had some time to explore. From the hotel, it was a short walk to the Buskin River — the hotel manager warned us to be "bear-aware," but we took a chance. We came upon three twentysomethings fishing. One woman had just reeled in a huge salmon and was struggling to subdue it; within the few minutes that we chatted, she hooked two more — the rivers in Kodiak are like grocery stores. There was a young father who worked in the Coast Guard; he'd campaigned hard for the plum Kodiak base assignment instead of a dull Florida post. He gave us some local survival advice: a) get some decent clothes, 'cause "cotton kills," and b) watch where you're going, or you'll definitely fall off a cliff. I credit these tips for my continued aliveness.