SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Driving in Ketchikan can be a real ‘drag'



October 22, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska - I was driving by Kayhi the other day and I noticed a shiny, apparently new, Corvette in the student parking area.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Naturally my first response was what kind of CENSORED BLANKETY CENSORED parent would give their teenaged-brained offspring something like that. That was my grumpy, grownup brain.

My teenaged brain said “cool.”

I can still remember my teenage years, well at least some of them.

And a Corvette would not have been out of place in the Kayhi parking lot back then.

In those days, I had the unusual vehicle and not by choice. I had inherited a red pickup truck with a camper on the back. It may not have been cool, but it was useful. More on that later.

Meanwhile I pined after the cooler cars of my friends; the Firebirds, the Camaros, the Mustangs. Even the “family” cars that my friends drove were cool. Rivieras, T-Birds, funky old Mercedes.  Almost no pickups in those days.

A red pickup truck back then was the vehicular equivalent of an Atari in an X-box world. But I digress.

And what did we do with all those “hot” cars in our tiny little, “End of the Road sign bracketed” world? Well, we drove. We drove and drove. Some weekends, we drove and drove and drove. Back and forth. And forth and back. And back and forth. Again.

One time, I remember driving my truck back and forth between Herring Cove and Settlers Cove continuously for several hours. The idea was to see if we (I natch had two friends along with me) could put 250 miles on the truck in one stretch. It took us almost seven hours, when you factored in food stops and several bathroom breaks.

Silly, yes. Aimless, probably. But when you live on an isolated island you truly have to “make your own fun.”

We (well, actually not me in “the truck”) also raced a bit with our fine automotive steeds.

First, I want to access my grownup brain one more time for this public service announcement.

Racing cars, especially on Ketchikan’s narrow little roads, is really stupid. And it is dangerous. I lost several friends over the years to the combination of fast cars and very bad choices!! Do not do it!!!!

Of course, we did.

And it wasn’t like we were the first. People have been “racing” their horseless carriages on Revilla ever since the Rounsfell family brought the first auto buggy ashore in 1909 and challenged one of the Ketchikan Dray horses to a speed smackdown on the wooden plank roads.

One of my older brothers is somewhat legendary for owning a convertible GTO back in the early 1960s. Rumor has it that he blew out its transmission racing “out the road” in less than six months. You have to work at it to drop a tranny in less than six months.

Anyway, kids in Ketchikan have always had a little taste for speed, even though in the case of this town, you only get Nowhere really fast!

One of the biggest challenges was finding useful “straight stretches” to “air the engine out.” In those days most of the roads were so narrow and curvy that 30 mph was indeed going like a bat out of H,E – double toothpicks.

So we really liked the rare straights, especially what we always called the Lighthouse straight, the nearly mile stretch near Lighthouse Grocery out north. It was bumpy and ill-paved, but it was indeed straight enough to get some speed on.

I’m sure the folks who lived nearby didn’t appreciate the “speeding” but it was a bit of a release to get the cars moving a bit before you had to power down enough to make the narrow corners into and out of the old Whipple Creek bridge (now located half a mile off the main road).

I was thinking about that as I drove recently on the newly improved section of road that constitutes the Lighthouse mile. ADOT has spent a jazzilion dollars to widen it and get rid of some of the bumps. The idea is to make it safer.

Which is the same rationale they used when then widened and smoothed out the road into and out of Mud Bight a couple of years ago. The idea was that the road was narrow and had more than its share of accidents.

Now that it’s wider, I have heard that ADOT is concerned that the number of accidents hasn’t decreased as much as expected. Apparently, folks are enjoying the redesigned road so much, they are driving faster through it and that is keeping the number of accidents up, even though the road is officially safer! Go figure.

I suspect that the new roadway near Lighthouse will also not see a decrease in accidents. Because now it is now only straight, but it’s pretty danged smooth. And there’s gonna be a whole new generation of Ketchikan hot rodders who are are gonna use it to “blow the carbon out.”

Then again, like I said, the Corvette was an oddity in a parking lot full of big honking trucks. Maybe the modern day kids really are interested in more things than a hot looking car.

Which, of course, brings us back to my original point that a red pickup truck did have some utility “back in the day.”

Every so often, my friends with the hot sportsy cars would ask to borrow my truck.

No, they weren’t planning to do any “four wheeling” as folks call it today.

Back then, hardly anyone really went “four wheeling.”

At least not intentionally.

No, my friends had a different use in mind for my truck.

A truck with a canopy on back has a really, really, big back seat.

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