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And it Was Uphill, Both Ways


July 31, 2019
Wednesday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
As we stumble into the latter part of the Visitor Season (bag limit 2 per person, no collateral taking of women or children) , it seems as though we are seeing more and more unhappy tourists.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

This is somewhat puzzling.

Whenever I watch some movie about an ocean cruise, it always seems to be a grand, relaxing adventure. Shuffleboard. Deckchairs. Spiffy jodhpurs. Well, actually not jodhpurs, unless you are have some horses in your stateroom. I just wanted to once use "jodhpurs" in a sentence and this seemed like as good a time as anyway.

Anyway, there seems nothing as leisurely and pleasant as a movie about an ocean cruise, right?

Well, perhaps not "A Night to Remember" or "Titanic" or "Poseidon Adventure" or "Speed 2: Cruise Control."    Any movie in which you are forced to continue your voyage in a lifeboat is probably neither grand nor relaxing.

Speaking of which, what the heck was up with "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure?" How do you get "beyond" a story where a ship sinks and nearly every body dies. Of course, I watched "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" because it had Veronica Hamel in it and I would watch Veronica Hamel in anything, including "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" or "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" or  even "Elmo: The Musical."

At very least, they should have called the Poseidon sequel "Inside the Poseidon Adventure" because it was all about an attempt to extract a valuable cargo of plutonium off the ill-fated luxury liner. Which makes me wonder just how many of the half dozen ships that come into Ketchikan each day have a secret cargo of plutonium on them. One hundred percent if Hollywood is to be believed.

But, I digress.

Visitors seem really grumpy these days.

Especially the ones who seem to think that the highlight of their visit has to be a hike into the mountains above Ketchikan. This is a surprisingly large number.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that the stereotypical visitor to Ketchikan is a blue haired (or no haired) geriatric standing in the middle of Front Street waving a "map" in the air and demanding to know where Humongous International Jewelers is because they have a "10 percent off sale" and are "cruise ship recommended."

That still is most of them, and they don't seem particularly happy either. But I am less worried about them. The worst that will happen to them is they will tire themselves out trying to a find a "quiet little, out of the way place to grab lunch" in downtown on day when there are 14,297 other people trying to find a "quiet little, out of the way place to grab lunch" in downtown. I get asked that question a lot. I usually they suggest they go back to their stateroom and boil up a top ramen.

Those visitors don't worry me, because we don't have to "rescue" them. 

The ones who want to "bushwack" their way into the Rainforest are the ones we end up having to go after. Well, not really "we." I stopped doing that sort of thing years ago. You should only go into the woods to rescue someone if indeed you won't need to be rescued yourself. I have reached the point where if I have do anything more strenuous than ordering "tent service" at a "luxury glamp" then I will need to be rescued.

But I digress, again.

Anyway, judging by the huffing and puffing near my house, there are a fair amount of fitfully fit folks aspiring to footslog into the forest. You see, I live along one of the hilly access points to one of the most popular treks, the Rainbird Trail. The visitors look at a map and decide that it is a short enough hike that it would be a good (read cheap as in FREE!!!) excursion and would be a lovely way to kill an "hour or so" and keep both toddler (aged two) and grandma (aged 102) entertained.


Starting at about 6 am, I hear them yammering on and on in my driveway, wondering if the "Rainbird Trail" is really up that "other big hill."

It is.

And this is after they have already slogged their way up one hill bigger than anything they have ever seen back in Cleveland or Dubuque or Fond du Lac.

Natch, they are seriously out of breath. Even the ones that are toting their own oxygen tanks with them. Don't laugh. We have seen O2 tanks, walkers, and even wheelchairs in our neighborhood. My favorite was a woman with an O2 tank and a cigarette a couple of years ago. Do not get me started.

Anyway, these are people who even too cheap to take the bus or a cab. And get highly offended when we even suggest it.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, they think it is just a little walk up to a lovely trail and a lookout that will give them a "wonderfully scenic view" of Our Fair Salmon City. The view is nice, of course, when the weather cooperates, which it hasn't been doing much recently.

Which leads me to another thing to ponder. If it is raining at sea level and the clouds are shrouding the mountains, just what do they think they will "see" if they hike up to the Rainbird Trail? That it will be all clear and sunny above the clouds?

Well, sure it is always clear and sunny "above" the clouds in Ketchikan. But the clouds go all the way up to 20,000 feet and the Rainbird Trail does not. Although it just about kills the visitors' Fit Bits counting all the steps it will take to get up to the trail.

All that happens when you hike any of our mountain trails in inclement weather is that you will get very tired, very wet and you will basically see nothing beyond the tired, wet person marching along in front of you. The best you can hope for is that you will not come to grief on the slippery, wet, muddy trails and need the rescue squad to come get you.

But even when the weather is gorgeous and the view is spectacular, I get the sense that the visitors really haven't thought this "hike into the rainforest" thing through. They always seem to act like it is just a lovely little jaunt, like that one around their local lake or park.

It is not. if you treat it like a walk in the park, you will regret it. And they sometimes do.

And then they also always seem to think it is something they are going to accomplish in "an hour or so" and then get back downtown.

This attitude is probably what is causing the grumpiness when they have slogged uphill for a half hour already and all they have done is reach the drive way of some crabby local who is irritated they are yammering about at 6 am. At this point they are at least another half an hour from the trail itself. They are already wet and tired. And toddler(s) is crying. And Grandma is swearing under her breath and cutting them out of her will.

Which leads me to wonder if other places have this same sort of situation.

Do visitors to Talkeetna say "Hey can you watch my stuff for a couple of hours, I'm gonna climb that Denali over there. Back before five!"

Do visitors to Zermatt say "I think I'll just take up hike up that Matterhorney thing over there." 

Do visitors to Katmandu say "Do I have time to summit Mt. Everest before my ship leaves?"

You laugh, but eventually rising oceans will allow people to kayak the Himalayas.

But I digress, again. And again.

Meanwhile, the visitors just keep on slogging up my hill, seeking the epiphany they are sure to find on the Rainbird Trail.

 Although recently a visitor told me that the "destination isn't nearly as important as the journey." Which sounds like something I would have seen on a black light poster in my 1970s youth.

So for some of these folks, the slog up the hill is the thing. Not the view at the top.

Kind of like saying the best part of the trip to Hawaii is the plane ride over.

I think not.




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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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