Greenhorn with huge dreams (university, move to, teacher)
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Just a thought-if your car is "healthy" enough for the drive north, you might consider driving it up. It can be pretty spendy to ship one up and I know that people up here often go down to Washington state to buy cars because they are usually more expensive up here.
The drive up is amazing but do your research first and get a copy of a *current* milepost The MILEPOST: Alaska Travel Guide and Trip Planner . This is a life saver on the way up.
One other option is to drive up to Washington state and have it shipped from there.
Best of luck-Alaska is a fantastic place to live if you have the heart for it
I just wrote this essay : I hope it helps
Eng 3313-Dr. Sornberger
Alaskan Greenhorn Butterfly
The small plane bobbed and bumped through the gusty turbulents. The thirteen passengers listened to the pilot’s muffled story of a gold filled plane lying somewhere below. The flight to Dillingham, Alaska from Kenai, Alaska is about forty minutes. There is no extra charge for the amazing views of the two volcanoes perched forebodingly on the shores of the Cook Inlet, far below. Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt both rise far above the hundreds of surrounding peaks. Their white snow covered rock faces help enforce the pilot’s claim, “Nobody will ever find that gold!” I thought to myself, “If finding gold was easy, everyone would be doing it.” My dad would have said something like that and recently his words of wisdom had come in handy. I had arrived five weeks earlier, with a one hundred and thirty five pound back pack, fifty dollars and boat load of starry eyed naivety. The back pack was fifty five pounds lighter. I was twenty pounds lighter. My wallet was empty for weeks until just hours before departure. My journey to Alaska was both physically and psychologically demanding. My naivety was my saving grace. I had not considered how the nature of the work would affect me. How the relentless rain would be an enemy. How the machismo hardness of the people turned everything into a competition. How Joe DiMaggio became a legend and why Hemmingway’s old man could not let go of the fish. The pain should have been considered. Without naivety I would never had taken the journey.
Everyone on board was anxious and excited. I was absolutely busting at the seams because the real work had finally come. I needed about $5,000 to fund my cross-country trip. The salmon were running. To everyone on board that meant red gold! Naively, nobody on seemed to doubt their ability to handle the sixteen to twenty hour work days ahead of them. The plant runs around the clock for almost five weeks producing, fresh, frozen, and packaged salmon. The salmon roe is handled separately almost secretively in another building. Every job is very repetitive and requires standing all day. Some jobs are worse than others. Some people will get a bed in a bunk house. Others will continue as before living in tents. I heard a rumor that the bunk houses were full. I’ve found rumors in Alaska are usually true. Like no other place I’d ever been the people do not fluff or distort any information they share. For this reason I have no hopes of getting a bed. The one good thing people say about the facility is that “the food is good.” They serve an all-you-can-eat buffet every six hours that can rival an Old Country Buffet. I later learned they don’t do this for the employees so much as for the fisherman. The fisherman can bring their catch to any number of local fisheries, but they seem to like Dragnets food the best. The only other amenity available was free weekly laundry. The only transportation offered by the company was a ride to and from the airport. The cost of the flight is dependent on completing the work contract. Early departure is paid personally. I would soon find out signing a work contract is like signing up for slavery. Instead of a whip it’s the expensive plane flight they hold over your head. In addition; if you break your contract then the meals cost ten dollars each and the weekly laundry service is twenty dollars. The rules were easy to follow; show up on time and do as you are told or be fired. No excuses. In my naivety I had not considered before signing my contract that being sick or hurt were grounds for termination.
The Dillingham airport can best be described as a poorly maintained strip of road with an old garage. There are a total of twenty miles of paved road in the town of Dillingham. The only way in or out is by boat or plane. Upon entering the terminal I noticed a group of people waiting to leave. Apparently, we were not just new workers, we were replacements! The people waiting were all wrapped in bandages. Arms, hands and some legs, they looked like poorly made mummies. Unlike our group there was no smiling or excitement. These people had been broken down by the work which had only begun three days before. For the first time I began to doubt whether or not I would be able to complete my contract. From the main entrance I hear a man say “Dragnet Employees! Load up! Let’s go people! We don’t have all day. Your shift starts in three hours!” Only one of the zombies reacted, I heard him say “good luck” under his breath. We piled into the van outside and within minutes we were pulling up to the plant. There was almost complete silence during the ride. People were obviously paying attention to remember their way back to town. There is something comical about a group of people who have simultaneously realized “the ****” has indeed hit the fan. This point was driven home when the guy next to me said “You know, if you don’t last three days, you will owe them money.” I replied, “I don’t want to think like that. I’ll be on the last plane out. I need this money.” My naivety had me at a disadvantage. The five weeks of Salmon season would prove to be the most physically demanding as well as psychologically demanding time of my life.
Immediately we were informed there was no available housing and tent city was behind the mess hall. I had two hours to set-up, eat dinner, and clock in. In the previous five weeks I had become proficient at setting up my tent. I may go so far as to say skillful. In my naivety I thought unfolding a tent, putting in the poles and nailing in stakes was fairly straight forward. Like so many simple processes there is actually quite a bit that can go wrong. I put what I had learned to action and set out to find some pallets and card board boxes. The pallets get you off the cold and wet ground. The card board softens the wood planks while bridging the gaps between them. There is no need for stakes. I suggest tying the tent to the pallets with rope. When using stakes one should pile about thirty rocks on each one. Tundra does not hold stakes well. Finally put a tarp over the tent and tie it to the pallets in such a way as to keep it all very tight. It was only an hour later while eating my first meal and looking out at the bay when I noticed a tent rolling along the beach toward the water at about thirty miles per hour. “Oh ****! My Tent” a man yelled. The room erupted with laughter. I never appreciated how the saying “misery loves company” portrayed the human race. I’ll admit I did not feel bad for him that his tent had blown away. I felt good that it was not mine. Although I was not laughing, I too was enjoying the company.
Work was horrible. The line could never move fast enough for management. I made it through the day and that was an accomplishment. The mental abuse was severe. Armed only with my wise cracking New York attitude; I was able to defend myself in such a way as not to invite further attacks. I was naive to think the work would only be physically demanding. I had eight hours before I had to be back to work. When I returned to my tent I found it standing strong. It had been raining for the last eight hours but inside it was dry. I zipped myself into my cocoon like sleeping bag. I fell asleep almost instantly. In my exhaustion I forgot to set my wind up alarm clock. I was awoken by a voice “Whitcomb! Are you trying to buy your flight home? Your shift started ten minutes ago!” I grunted something and heard him walk away. As I tried to figure out where I was and what had happened to me, I could only focus on the pain. I could not move my arms or fingers. The pain was similar to an arm “falling asleep” but incredibly worse. I tried to get out of my sleeping bag, it was nearly impossible. I turned over on my belly got to my knees and wiggled half way out of it. There I sat in the middle of the tent half in and half out of my sleeping bag, I almost started to cry. From outside I heard, “Whitcomb you have ten minutes to be on that line!” Somehow I found the dexterity to unzip the tent and practically fell out. I started kicking frantically at the sleeping bag to release me. I managed to get my boots and socks on but it must have taken five minutes. My new arms did not work like they used to. When I got to the line I was sore, hungry and demoralized. The supervisor immediately said, “Whitcomb, what took you so long?” I replied, “I couldn’t find my arms!” The line erupted with laughter.
The pain went on every day. Feeling would return to the arms and fingers shortly after work begun. The morning pain was unbearable at times but it was endured. It never did stop raining. My tent eventually succumbed to the elements and I found it shredded one day in a heap on the pallets. It was actually a blessing because they moved me into a bunk house that night. In the end I touched five million salmon; some of their relentless determination must have rubbed off on me. People continued to come and go. Some people got fired some just quit. I was naïve about so many things. Without it I would never had known the feeling of being on the last plane home. It has made all the difference.
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