Life in a small Alaskan Town, part 2.

In a small town like Skagway, it’s often necessary to create one’s own entertainment. During the day there are wonderful tours and hikes, but everything closes by 6 pm when the tourists leave. Even the grocery store closes at 8 pm; after that the only store open is the liquor store. There are no movie theaters – if you want to see a movie, you go to Radio Shack (during the day) and rent one. In Skagway, Radio Shack is a combination store – electronics, soda fountain, tanning salon and movie rentals. And it’s a very small store!

Last Friday a few of us got together at the Skagway Brewery restaurant after work and it was fun, but at $5 per beer, it can add up quick. So this week we had Happy Hour here at the RV park. Everyone brought drinks and snacks and created a buffet line with booze. We ate, talked, relaxed, and watched a mountain goat grazing high up on the mountain behind the park. Everything is just a little different, here in Skagway!

Life in a small town, part 1

There are a lot of adjustments to living in a small Alaskan town. One of the biggest is the concept of one small grocery store that only receives stock once a week, and not much of that. There are very limited products to choose from, and the ones that are available are unusually expensive. We have been making some changes to accommodate these twin issues of availability and affordability. One great help is that Randy is baking bread again. He’s been baking loaves and sandwich rolls and now has a sourdough starter ready to use.

For my part, I have been using my own version of laundry detergent for the past several months. It’s based on a recipe that my Mom got from the show “17 Kids and Counting”, and not only is it less expensive than commercial laundry detergent, but I don’t have to depend on the store having any in stock. We have also cut down on soda; I used to have half a dozen Diet Cokes every day, but now I have one. This is mostly a health change and it's not too hard because we have great-tasting well water here, but the lack of reasonably-priced soda help keep me on track.

May 21, 2010

Monday we hiked to Lower Dewy Lake, which, in spite of the name "Lower", is up on a mountain side, above Skagway. The hike up to the lake was on a good path – just a little steep in areas, but overall pretty easy. And there was a great overview of the Skagway harbor, where the big cruise ships dock.

When we got to the lake we decided to hike around it – probably about 2 miles. Going around the near side of the lake was a nice hike – the path was clear and the view was great. I know that I've posted a lot of pictures of snow-covered mountains, but that is the most striking feature of the landscape here and it still impresses me!

A lot of the trees have unusual fungus growing on them. I don’t recall seeing this grow in the Midwest.

Hiking around the far side of the lake was quite a bit harder. The elevation didn’t change, but the landscape did. The path pretty much disappeared. The only indication of a path was that occasionally we could see where the tree roots were exposed from previous hikers.

Close to the lake there were a lot of areas where rock slides covered where the path might have been, so we had to climb over them. But it wasn’t really dangerous, and it was the most interesting part of the hike. A portion of the old narrow gauge railroad can still be seen running along the lake side, although it’s deeply overgrown now. We also found what looked like bear tracks in the mud by the lake, and we found a beaver dam. It was clear that the beavers had been busy just a short while before.

May 20, 2910

Tonight – Dinner and a Show, Skagway style!! The show came first. The "Days of ’98 Show" has been running in Skagway for 84 years, since 1925. It’s the loosely-based, highly interpretive story of the last days of Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, con man extraordinaire and legend of Skagway. The show is full of local talent doing the acting, singing and dancing, along the lines of the Six Flags shows but with a lot less people. Tonight’s show had just 4 actors, one piano player and a one-man opening act. They were all very good and we both really enjoyed the show.

When we left the show it was a little after 9 pm, and we went looking for a place to have dinner. We found one restaurant open – a combination Greek-and-Italian restaurant. We ordered pita bread with gyro sauce as an appetizer and split a burger-and-fries plate. Don’t know if they considered the burger to be Greek or Italian, but it was pretty good.

Greek and Italia is an unusual combination for a restaurant, but because Skagway is so small, lots of businesses offer a combination of services. For example, the Post Office doubles as an Advertisement center, with a bulletin board that lists services as wide-ranging as massages, halibut sales and babysitting. And the Hardware store sells kitchen products and garden supplies. One store that doesn’t double-up on function is the grocery store. There is one – just one – grocery store that we’ve found – Fairway Market. (There are a couple of organic stores with a few food products, but they don’t have enough to be called a grocery store.) For some reason Fairway put an advertisement in the local newspaper. Don’t see the sense in that - there is no place else to shop!!! Tuesday we heard that the market would have bananas in the next day, so Wednesday afternoon I stopped in. They had four bunches of bananas. I bought two – one for us and one for a friend – and there went half their supply. I’m sure the other two were gone within the hour, and who knows when they will get more in!
Yesterday the Bombay Curry, a new restaurant opened in Skagway. Today, because of some custom/tradition they served food for donations only. The donations they collect go to a local charity or group in the community. Bombay Curry chose the local daycare center, Little Dippers. The food was very good. It was full of flavor and quite different than the normal Skagway fare. Hopefully it will do well.

This afternoon we went on a hike and rafting tour. In order to train new people for these tours the companies offer reduce tours to the locals. This is a great way to train and to introduce the locals to your products. Especially good if the locals are the ones working in the store where the tourists ask the question “What is there to do around here? What better advertising can you get?

The trip began with a van ride to the trailhead of the Chilkoot Trail. This trail is the one made famous by the Gold Rush of ’98. This is the trail the prospectors took to go from the Inside Passage to the Klondike Gold Fields. The trail is 33 miles long, steep in some places, flat in others and at times wet or snowy. To be allowed to enter into Canada a prospector had to bring with them a Ton (2000#) of goods. This was usually done in 50# packs. That meant each prospector had to make that trip 20 times. That meant each prospector walked 660 miles just to get his grub stake to the border. What determination they must have had!!!!!

During the hike our guide, Katie pointed out various plants and convinced some of us to taste them. Some of the plants you can tell why they were named like they were, such as the Devil’s Club. The stalk is just covered with sharp little needles. The tops of the Fiddle head ferns curl just like the top of a violin (fiddle). The hike was beautiful.

At the river we met up with Chris, the owner, he made the trip with us from there. Katie is learning how to handle the rafts on the river. The Taiya River is a relatively shallow, slow moving river but it is very narrow at places. The water is from the snow pack and the glaciers, so you can guess it is cold.

Along the way we saw a couple of Eagle nests and a lone Eagle watching the people float by. The float was about an hour long and was a lot of fun. At the end there was pizza and soda. Really a great trip.

May 14, 2010

Between 1,000 to 8,000 people get off the cruise ships in Skagway each day, ready to spend the whole day in town. Of course they don’t know anything about the town, so some of them, when they are in one of the stores, will ask the salesperson “where’s a good place to”. . . eat, shop, drink, etc. Unfortunately there is a good chance that the salesperson is someone who is just there for the summer and doesn’t know what each store offers. So to turn this situation around to their benefit, a lot of stores have an annual event called the Spring Stroll. The idea is to make sure new salespeople know something about the stores - here’s how it works: Between the hours of 3pm and 6 pm everyone who works in a store can go to the Visitor Center and pick up a form that lists all the participating stores. Then we walk to each of those stores and get the form stamped in each one. Some stores offered snacks, and almost everyone had a raffle going on. The hope is that people will look around the store and learn something about it, before moving on to the next one. Randy and I went to every store on the list, and we did learn a lot about the town. Some of those stores did not open until this week, so we didn't have a chance to visit them before the cruise ships started arriving.

May 13, 2010

Today we joined John and Diane and took the White Pass Train Ride - a 3-to-4 hour round-trip from Skagway to White Pass Summit. Back in the gold rush days the White Pass trail was one of 2 routes to the Dawson gold fields. It was a bit longer than the Chilkoot Pass but it was less steep, which meant they could use pack horses instead of carrying everything themselves. That became important after Canada passed a law requiring everyone to have a ton of supplies; like most laws, it was passed after a lot of people came to a bad end because they didn’t plan ahead.

But the gold rush soon ended so most of the railway’s use was not carrying miners. It was vital for transporting ore to Skagway; when the mines finally closed in 1982, the railroad shut down. But in 1988 it reopened as an excursion railroad.

Even though White Pass was the lower trail, the rail still rose almost 3,000 feet in 20 miles, with lots of curves and steep grades. So it’s a narrow gauge rail, with the rails only 3 feet apart.

We boarded in Skagway and headed north past the Gold Rush cemetery, where Soapy Smith and Frank Reid are buried. Soapy ran much of the town but it was common knowledge that he was a crook who got rich bilking miners out of their money. One day there was a lot of trouble about it and an argument disintegrated into a gunfight, during which Frank, a guard, shot and killed Soapy. Unfortunately Frank also got shot and died 12 days later. The townfolks gave Frank a big monument, and planted Soapy outside the cemetery.

Further along the railway we passed Black Cross Rock. That is where a 100 ton rock fell on 2 men. Of course it was impossible to move the rock so they could give the men a proper burial, so they just put of a black cross on the rock and left it as a memorial.

Most of the railway runs right beside the trail the miners used. In the summer you can see a little litter and trash left behind during the gold rush, but today everything was covered by snow. As the train climbed towards the summit it got a lot colder, but the view was just gorgeous.

Near the top of the summit is a steel bridge constructed in 1901. It was used until 1969, at which point a newer bridge was constructed for the train. But the original bridge is stlll standing, which is amazing, considering how old and well-used it is.

After the train ride we all went to the Skagway Brewing Company for some food and drink. Randy and I haven't quite gotten used to the high prices, but all the restaurants we've tried so far have been good.

May 4, 2010

We aren’t scheduled to officially start working in the stores until next week, but this week we are helping get the stores ready. There are walls to paint, carpets to vacuum, shelves to clean, and stock to unpack and price. Tomorrow the first cruise ship of the season arrives into Skagway. Since Randy and I aren’t on the schedule yet, we will be working behind the scenes. Can’t wait!

After work today we went grocery shopping. Tuesday is when the fresh produce comes in, so we have been advised to shop Tuesday or Wednesday, before it’s all gone. Some of the prices are pretty steep – for example, 2% milk is $5.19, and ice cream is $6.85. Leeks are $3.60 each. And we had to pay $3.84 for gas for the Jeep. Fortunately we brought a lot of supplies, but we still have to buy perishables and gas.

Sunday May 2, 1010

Today we had a real Alaskan experience! A local family had pinned up a notice in the post office saying that they would bring in halibut to sell this weekend. We got word from our neighbor that the boat was coming in soon, so we joined several townfolks down at the dock. After about 30 minutes waiting, the boat arrived. They had about 2,000 pounds of halibut on board to sell, and each halibut had a tag on it’s tail that identified its weight.

And one of the fish they pulled up from the hold was about 250 pounds!

As each person’s turn came, they told the crew how much fish they wanted, and the crew found a halibut about that weigh. One man on the dock was cleaning fish for $.50 a pound. He was really, really good. Four big, skinned fillets from each fish, as well as the cheeks. I didn’t know this, but the cheeks are apparently the best part.

We waited in line about a couple of hours to get our turn. While we were waiting, several of us from the same RV park decided to go in together to get a 60 pound halibut to share. And eventually - we got one!

Then, because we’d decided to get it filleted, we had to get in another line! We spend about 2 hours in that line, too. Fortunately someone made a beer run, to help pass the time.

The boat crew cut that big 250 pound fish into fillets to sell, and some local restaurant owners bought most of it. At the end, there wasn't much left - just, as the commercial says - - - (add music here) "someone is watching you!"