The people of Alaska absolutely captivated me.
And nowhere was this more true than in Ketchikan, a town of around 8,000 people pressed between the towering mountains of the Tongass Forest on one side and the frigid waters of the Tongass Narrows on the other. Like many Alaskan cities, Ketchikan is only accessible by plane or boat. There are no airports in the actual city of Ketchikan; you must either utilize one of the countless floatplanes or land on Gravina Island and take a ferry across the inside passage into town (this is the site of the proposed “Bridge to Nowhere“).
At first glance, Ketchikan may resemble many other quaint coastal towns that survive off fishing and tourism.
But this isn’t any quaint coastal town. Although the temperate rainforest location helps to moderate the temperatures, this is no pleasure island; an everyday stroll can turn into a fight for survival at any moment. The winds fly through nearby Nichols Passage at hurricane forces through much of the winter months, forcing residents to hunker down and stranding them from any potential way out. The sun never stays long and is usually only visible through the ever-shifting layers of clouds. The forest is untamed and the wildlife is not safely tucked away in some zoo.
Survival is a way of life here.
But it’s not a way of living.
One of the benefits of taking this trip with my extroverted husband is that he engaged in conversation with everybody. We learned that one of the employees for Ketchikan Outdoors was brought there by her mom in middle school and now, as a college student in the lower forty-eight, returns to Alaska in the summer for work. She told us about the transition from a middle school with 1,000 students to one with 200 and the need to take a ferry for any interscholastic sports competitions. We met the owner of the excursion company, who first saw the city on a cruise and made the decision to move there after a second visit where he fell in love with a woman as well as the town. Our guide decided to call Ketchikan home after experiencing its raw and powerful beauty. And our server that afternoon was born and raised in the small town and, after a brief stint away, felt called back home.
Each of these residents spoke in glowing terms about their community. Yet they also remained firmly anchored in reality; life in Ketchikan can be hard.
So they prepare for the worst.
Every 7th grader is required to undergo survival training and complete a survival hike. The 8th graders have to demonstrate their survival skills with an overnight island stay with minimal supplies. Residents carry survival gear in the colder months for even a short trip into town, realizing that the weather turns on a quarter dime in SE Alaska. Nothing is taken for granted as winter approaches, supplies and food gathered and stored.
Yet they expect the best.
It would be easy to become fatalistic about death here; it takes far too many before their time. Yet even though tragedy is a constant threat, the people of Ketchikan possess a limitless spirit of hope and teamwork. We heard one story of a small fishing boat crashing within sight of the city. The stranded boaters immediately went into survival mode and one was spotted in a tree by a little British lady on her Zodiac excursion. The weather may have bested them, but they had faith in themselves and their community.
And they live for today.
I think I understand what is so captivating about Ketchikan – it is a place of acceptance and living in the moment. The shifting clouds change the views from each second to the next. The eagles swoop past in a flash and the whales peek through the waves. It’s a place that refuses to be tamed, to be controlled and molded into some imagined ideal.
Because it is perfect just as it is.
Although I think I’ll limit my visits to the summer months:)
If you ever find yourself in Ketchikan (and I hope you do!), I strongly recommend the Zodiac boat tours by Ketchikan Outdoors. They are a great group of people who run a great operation. We were the envy of our cruise ship!
9 thoughts on “Prepare For the Worst, Expect the Best and Live For Today”
Creek Street looks absolutely wonderful (and aptly named).
I think I like the philosophy of life you observed in Ketchikan: ready for the next moment, but not in such a hurry to get there as to miss the one they’re in.
Agree! Just bring LOTS of scarves:)
It sound like a very nice place and interesting to be. But I’m scared of their neighbors as I hear they are not friendly like you said it is not easy to tame the wilds but it is easy to fell into their trap.
I have always dreamed of going around the world explore the nature and cultures of the world but I’m scared about what we see in some other countries as they are not fans for tourists.
Will you courage me to me visit alaska, people can be friendly but the forest is not away to far from being tamed. I’m in south africa and wishes to be ther oneday.
But I like what you have just shared with us and what scares me is that they don’t have the zoo and I don’t wish to find myself face to face with a tiger or a bear. I have never seen them life and I don’t wish too.
It’s not that bad:) Actual bear attacks are quite rare and there are strategies to avoid them. And to balance it out – Alaska has no poisonous snakes!
What an fascinating place, and a great trip to take. Very different to the sedate lifestyle in most of the UK. Thanks for posting the photos, and the interesting story of your Alaskan exploration.
Best wishes from England, Pete.
Very different from the southern U.S. too!
My dad used to say something very similar to this: “Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.”
I always liked how that philosophy combined a sense hopefulness with a dose of realism.
Ketchikan sounds like an amazing place to visit and a thrilling place to live. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
It was amazing! And I fully support a blend of optimism and realism – I think it’s the healthiest perspective to take.