10 Things to Know if you’re coming to Ketchikan, Alaska

Quick check in from the shore-bound crew of Brighter Days. Taking a break from boat stuff today to talk about Alaska.  I really want to use the blog to discuss mostly “boat” things.   On further reflection however, I decided that there is probably an audience for “This Alaskan Life” themed posts…and I just paid to renew the website so I may as well use it. 

T arrived in Alaska early June and I joined a few weeks later.  We’ve spent the last 6 weeks settling in and getting acclimated to life in a completely different setting…and we absolutely love it.   It’s the sort of place that causes one to really relfect and explore emotions, but that is hard to do in a blog.  So… I thought I’d just hit a cursory few of the unique things about SE Alaska. 

Top 10 Things to Know about Ketchikan,  Alaska-

10- There is a LOT of daylight in the summer.  Notice I did not say sunlight.  I said daylight.  On the summer solstice you’re clocking a sunrise right around 4 am and a sunset right around 10 pm.  That gives you another hour easily of dusk.  This is nothing compared to Barrow, where the sun doesn’t set for over two months,  but it’s still enough to throw the circadian rhythm’s into mayhem.  I found some days I was a toddler and wanted to sleep at 8 pm, and other nights I’d struggle to get down before 1 am.  In talking to locals, this is pretty common.   This time of year, August, it is finally fully dark around 10 pm.  I’ve noticed my sleeping has improved. So conversely,  In winter, you have a LOT of darkness.  I haven’t experienced this yet. (I’ll update in January, when we are tentatively planning a return to augment the kitty.)  Locals have a great attitude about it, it’s just something to which they have become accustomed.  The chamber website highlights the local art scene.  The ER staff says people just drink.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  Sunsets (when it is sunny) are amazing! 

Beautiful sunset north of Ketchikan, at Salmon Falls resort.

9.  New words.  Alaskans have their own lingo and it’s thrown about with the expectation that we all know what it means.  Cheechako, borough, Outside, down south, Interior, Sourdough, Xtra Tuffs, muskegs, it goes on and on.  Just smile and nod, you can always google them.  That’s what I did.

8. I could save this for #1, but I’ll go ahead and kill the suspense.  There is a LOT of rain.  A LOT.    I knew this before coming here, but also I happened to make my initial Alaska pilgrimage on one of the rainiest summers in recent times.  We had two glorious days of sunshine in early July…and I saw the sun again July 14 and July 28 for brief glimpses.   It rains almost every day, sometimes for awhile and sometimes all day.  If you want to visit…just expect rain on some, most or all days.  It will rain. The islands of SE Alaska (including Revillagigedo Island, where Ketchikan is located) make up the Tongass National Forest.  This is the northernmost rainforest in the US and one of the few temperate rainforests around the world.

A view from the hill looking down on the town. In the rain. 🙂

7.  It is INCREDIBLY lush and gorgeous.  Makes sense, right?  Rain and a rainforest.  It’s stunning.  You’re surrounded by green forests everywhere you go.  Hiking trails will be completely covered by dense forest, then will open up into amazing meadows.  It’s incredible…but often muddy. 

Ward Lake, a popular day use and camping area near Ketchikan. This was one of the 4 sunny days in July.

6.   Rain will not stop you from being outside.   One of our favorite days was a cookout by Ward Lake, a scenic lake a few miles inland with a well developed day use and campground area.  We grilled, we imbibed, we listened to tunes, the dogs played and swam. And it drizzled all day.  No one cared.    There is always something to do, even if you have to make it yourself…as long as you like to be outdoors.  🙂  Alaska is ALL about the nature.  The forest service does an amazing job of keeping the trails up and accessible to people.  Muskegs (marshy swamps) are common, the forest service installs  bridges and walkways.   Now if only Kida would do as good at staying on the trails. For a dog that hates bathes, she sure loves to get muddy. 

Day camping in the rain at Ward Lake.
Bridge over a muskeg, Kida’s favorite place to go off trail and sink into 3 foot of muck! 

 

Happy dog getting wet and muddy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good example of walkways and bridges installed to make trails accessible to hikers

 

 

 

 

5.  Wildlife abounds.  It is everywhere and it’s incredible.  Yes there are bears.  We’ve only seen them when we went looking though.  Our island has a large population of black bears, but to my knowledge there are no grizzly bears.  They inhabit only 3 islands in SE Alaska, and are more prevalent up north.   We’ve seen humpback whales in the narrows on two occasions, basically both times we actually stopped and looked.  No Orca sitings yet, we keep looking. Loads of eagles, and other birds as well.  Black tail deer roam the ER parking lot.  It’s really awesome. 

4.   Food is FANTASTIC…or it’s horrible.  The local salmon and halibut is plentiful and delicious.   Those are pretty consistent but the side dishes require a bit more creativity.  It’s an island…which means you get limited supplies.  I’m very fond of one local chain store  Alaskan and Proud.  They have the best selection of produce.   And this one time they even had arugula.  I’ve looked for basil for 3 weeks, no luck.  It’s sort of whatever comes in on the boat. Their produce is generally fresh and plentiful, but “barge ripened” is a real thing here, people.

Food (and a little alcohol) on our cookout in the rain.

3.  It’s expensive.  Basically everything here is imported, so what you have is what you get and what they think it’s worth.  You’re so pumped to actually find it you will pay it.  $10 for quinoa?  Sure!  $28 for coconut oil??  No problem!  (It was a Costco sized Kirkland Coconut Oil, so it was probably worth it.   I haven’t kept track but my guess is that it’s about 25-30% more in prices here.  Gas is over $3 a gallon but we fill up once every 5-6 weeks- 20 miles of roads from one end to the other, not counting the inland logging roads. 

2.  It is ALL about the cruise ships this time of year.  People have mixed emotions about this.  I don’t see the hostility around tourists that I saw in Florida.  Probably because they are only here a day.  🙂  The town boasts 3,000 residents year round, 10,000 in the summer.  But every day 2,000-11,000 tourists descend upon the downtown.  After the pulp mill closed in the 1990’s, the cruise ship business is the bread and butter of the town.  3-4 square blocks are bustling and busy, you’re being called into stores with names like “Diamonds International” and “Caribbean Jewels” (Do they own a map?) to look at the latest arrival or the “sales”.  And then…as the last lonely horn from the departing cruise ship fades… the doors close.  Restaurants that cater to tourists all close their doors.  It’s a ghost town until the next ship pulls up. 

1.  You meet people FAST!  If you’re coming here for stay, and not on a cruise ship, you’ll find people incredibly welcoming.  I had been in town just a few days before we started running into people around town.  At the A&P, at Walmart, or at a number of the small bars and restaurants that cater more to the local crowd.  Everyone knows everyone.  We will care for a patient at the hospital and run into them the next day.  And because there are so many people who have transplanted here, a community develops pretty quickly.  It reminds me of sailors in that way.  There is rarely a day when the social calendar is empty if that’s your thing.  

So there is a little glimpse into life up here. I hope that while you read, you are able to see the love we are developing for this special little piece of the last frontier.

Old dogs have fun too!