I’m sitting in a plastic chair in Pelican’s public laundry. The place has charts tacked to the walls, a space heater in the corner, and coin-op showers, mostly for fisherfolk coming in off of boats. It’s a warm place with a roof and power outlets, a bookshelf in the corner that’s about half and half Nora Roberts and Clive Cussler, none of them new.
Our seaplane to Juneau was supposed to depart here four hours ago, but the pilot turned around on the way to pick us up. It’s drizzling, not stormy, but the clouds are low and that’s enough.
Better here than Lituya, I’m thinking. Our charter flight could easily have had weather like this. That’s the intersection: wet, stay-inside days would have left us waiting on the beach, huddling in damp tents. The same days you can’t leave are the ones that don’t tempt you to stay. But we got lucky, and caught our Beaver on a clear day.
About seven hours after our flight was supposed to leave, we’re having dinner with Karen and Victo. Their cafe is closed, but they’re taking care of us as we continue to hope for good news from the seaplane office. Ryan spots activity out the window, so I go to check.
I come back with two thumbs up and a big grin: the pilot is leaving Juneau now, we might make our 6:40 evening flight to Seattle.
Alas, an hour later, the pilot turns around. Can’t make it through South Pass. Maybe tomorrow. My phone helpfully notifies me that my Alaska Airlines flight is boarding in Juneau.
The next day dawns white with fog. We make the obligatory trip to town, loading the gear on the skiff, Ryan getting carried because his sprained ankle won’t fit into his boot, crossing the choppy water. In town, the seaplane office offers no surprise: not sure, but not likely. We can hang around town and hope if we want. If a plane comes and we’re not here, they can’t hold it for us.
It’s Memorial Day, so we hang around a while, participating in the annual blessing of the boats, town figures standing in the rain to call out the names of townfolk lost, many to the sea, in the last two years. People release flowers at the seaplane dock, then head to Rosie’s for a free lunch for the town, everybody sitting at the bar with coffee or bloody marys.
The fog isn’t lifting, so we count out day two and head home to our beach again.
It’s becoming routine: mornings, we wake early, pack away the mattresses in plastic so they’ll be safe for the next year, pull the skiff in on the outhaul line, load our gear. Ferry across the cove and around the point to tie up in Pelican Harbor. Trek up to the seaplane office: check in by 8am.
“How about today?”
“We’re still waiting on an update. They haven’t canceled yet.”
Hang around town for some hours. Get messages back to our family that we probably won’t make it home today either.
The last flight of the day is around 4pm, and there’s always the chance that the weather will lift. If we go back to Sunnyside and a seaplane comes, they can’t hold it for us. So we meander the boardwalk, or hole up in the laundromat to charge devices.
When no planes come, we carry everything back, boat ride, haul gear up the beach, unwrap the mattresses again. I finish my eighth book this trip.
Around 6:30 on the third morning, Ryan whispers from across the sleeping loft, “Kelsey! Blue skies!”
The sun on the mountain snow blazes with a real warmth; waterfalls roar across the inlet, full with the rain; wavelets sparkle on the water as we skiff to town.
We check in for the 9am but we’ve been bumped to noon because there are people who might make today’s flights. I climb the hill to the dump to check what flights would take us from Juneau to Seattle; the agent tells me about evening flights.
Back down by the boardwalk, young eagles with brown wings wheel over town. We sit on a bench and wait until, at last, a little Cessna 260 wings in and lands at the float plane dock.
There’s still a ways to go, but now I’m sure we’re getting home tonight.