My first experience in Alaska was as a seasonal at the AFK Hatchery on Evans Island in Prince William Sound, way back in 1999. I spent a portion of my youth growing up in the backwoods of New Hampshire. I wasn’t naive, I knew that didn’t necessarily prepare me for remote Alaska. What seems like a brief flirtation now was several years of living in a log cabin, with a small black and white tv, propane for lights and cooking, a small generator, outhouse, an old style laundry tub that you had to roll your clothes through to wring them out. In the winter we took snowmobiles into town because they couldn’t or wouldn’t plow the road, the list goes on.
When arriving at the AFK Hatchery I was pleasantly surprised to find the hatchery site with modern living accommodations such luxury services as satellite internet, a decent telephone, full commercial kitchen and a bunkhouse to rival any college dorm. There were still vestiges of the not so distant past, a vast library of books and vhf video tapes for the many weather days and those who were not so adventurous. Most of the books were romance novels which struck me as sort of odd since the crew I was working with was predominately male and I hadn’t seen one pick up anything with words on it, had something just recently changed? Many of the tapes had two or three movies titles and many of them were comedies, action thrillers, others may have had one title but was something entirely different. A moment of clarity struck as I took it all in, I thought to myself, the women read and the men watched tv, probably a little stereotypical. For my part I did my fair share of watching tv, very little ready but even more time exploring the vastness of the Sound.
Flash forward about 17 years, now calling Ketchikan home and just before that Neets Bay. Neets Bay wasn’t as remote as AFK, yet it still had some of the same amenities or what are now necessities. Slow and intermittent internet via a proxy server and two static filled party phone lines. A very small library was present and just a handful of video tapes in the Neets Bay lounge. All were supplanted in a few short years by satellite tv and slowly improving internet. Neets Bay wasn’t as vast as the Sound but there was still plenty of exploring to be done and the adventures that comes with it.
I moved to town in June of 2015 to bask in the marvels of First City living. High speed internet, smart phones, cable or satellite tv, restaurants, traffic with tourists… I could do my own grocery shopping and only for dinner if I wanted.
Flash forward to Carroll Inlet at the Swan Lake Hydro Plant, April 2016. I had purchased a weatherport tent structure about the same dimensions as similar structures utilized at Neets for sheltering feed during the rearing season. The idea was it would provide ample living accommodations for a month while caring for 2 net pens of chinook. There was the possibility that in future years a room might be made available in the SEAPA bunkhouse and the weatherport would go to Neets to be put to better use. I constructed 10 pieces of plywood and pressure treated lumber platforms that when placed together would provide the mounting and decking surface for the steel framed tent. A vinyl cover would then provide the roof, walls, rear and front panel, basically a large wall tent. I had two twin sized cots one for me and a fellow coworker if needed. I laid out a tarp to act as a carpet. I had a small refrigerator, freezer, two burner hot plate, coffee maker, crock pot and microwave. The LED lights I purchase provided inadequate light so Rick one of the KPU contracted electricians found an old chandelier which provided all the light three incandescent bulbs could provide, a vast improvement. For heat I had one infrared heater and one box heater, both were completely unable to heat the uninsulated tent. At night I would have both units blasting what heat they could provide directly onto the cot from where I slept. They provided some comfort but in reality my -10C bag urchased for a muskox hunt some years back provided the real warmth.
I was back in the boonies, this time like many of the others before just a little different. I was sandwiched between the comparatively plush SEAPA bunkhouse and a large shop. Extension cords emerged from the tent like tentacles, plugging into every possible outdoor outlet available to provide my modest abode most of the power it needed, except when I tripped a breaker. I used a public bathroom just outside the tent for everything but showers which I took infrequently in the bunkhouse, my laundry schedule was much the same and also in the bunkhouse. The weatherport is green vinyl which heated up nicely in the sun until it became a sweat lodge inside. The green vinyl also caused an issue with color blindness that was realized as soon as one stepped out into the unnaturally green washed world. When it rained as occasionally happens the ever present beat of rain drops on vinyl reminded me of the sound of pinks jumping outside the bunkhouse at AFK in ’99.
The mice didn’t find me for about a week, maybe I still emitted an odor of house cat. I had done a pretty good job of keeping things boxed up or what I thought was out of reach but inevitably one gets careless. There was no way to keep the mice out just take away the incentive for late night visits which is a great deal harder to do than one would think. I tried to practice live and let live but after waking up to a mouse crawling over my arm and head I had enough. I acquired some mouse traps and went about setting them. Despite some experience trapping there was a small learning curve, mostly not trapping oneself. The incursions lasted about a week and dropped off dramatically. Once or twice a night during that time I would be awakened by a thwack and possibly some death throws. In the morning I would collect my prize or not.
I had a few human guests during my months long stay, a friend and his daughter who were out adventuring, Cody from Whitman Lake Hatchery who helped sample fish, it was just like camping out for them it was a little different for me. About a month, from April 18th until May 15th, was the length of my stay with a day or two mixed in for town trips. The result was a renewed appreciation for my apartment at Deer Mountain, a reinforced appreciation for remote living, and the release of approximately 400,000 30 gram chinook smolt.
I must say that I have yet to experience some of the truly remote adventures that fish culturists before me had to endure, enjoy and dread. It is highly unlikely I ever will have such experiences outside of hunting, as those opportunities fade into the past. However, ask someone new to the industry and they might think the Carroll Inlet experience is just that, a primitive and not that palatable opportunity. History is often too well forgotten and that is at the very least tragic. Most if not all of SSRAA’s programs started from humble remote beginnings. Fish culturists were in some ways pioneers or benefitted from pioneers before them. I can honestly say having not had an experience quite like Carroll Inlet before I relied heavily on those who had and it was a success because of them. So don’t roll you’re eyes next time someone starts a “Back in the Day” story, listen, appreciate it and realize you’ll be there too one day. May everyone enjoy a successful remote rearing and harvest season!