Day Fourteen: Soldotna has changed

Kind of a quiet travel day, as I had to dedicate quite a few hours to the project I am working on for the cable television networks. That’s all done for now, though, so tomorrow, I return full-time to my Lap Around Alaska.

Since I’ve decided to focus this trip as a “road trip” around Alaska, I realized today that I am starting to run out of roads to drive. Tomorrow, I’ll drive south to Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. After that, I’ll hop over to Valdez, just because I’ve never been there before. After that, I will have covered most of the interconnected roads that are available to me in Alaska. Everything else needs to be reached via boat or plane, and I am saving those things for future trips.

That means the end of this trip is in sight. After Valdez, I plan to drive back through Tok, then head east into Canada toward Watson Lake. Instead of taking the AlCan all the way back to Dawson Creek, I’m going to dive south on Highway 37, because someone told me it is excellent for viewing wildlife.

Today, i woke up in Seward, and I admit I was sad to leave. It’s really felt a bit like going home. The town may have changed, but the mountains, bay, and scenery are the same, and they stir my soul. I dawdled for a bit around town, not wanting to leave. The rain that had been promised yesterday finally arrived in force, though, and that put me on the road.

On the way out of town, I stopped at a small memorial:

There aren’t a lot of precise moments where I remember exactly where I was, but 6:36 p.m., Pacific Time, on March 27, 1964, is one. I was only four years old, but I have a clear memory of sitting on the floor in the bedroom I shared with my big brother Mickey. I remember bumping up and down like I was sitting on a trampoline someone else was jumping on. We had some small built-in shelves against one wall, and all the little nick-knacks came tumbling down. It seemed to go on for a long time, but eventually, Mom came in and scooped me up.

That was in Riffe, Washington, a town that no longer exists, as it was flooded when the Mossyrock Dam opened. I was approximately 2,400 miles away from the epicenter of that Good Friday earthquake. That’s what happens when a 9.1 earthquake (the second strongest ever recorded) occurs.

Much of Alaska was devastated, first by the earthquake, then the number of tsunamis that swept over various shores and harbors. It was so powerful that parts of Kodiak, to the southwest, were raised thirty feet almost instantly. 139 people died, mostly because of the tsunamis.

You can still see the after-effects of the earthquake, even fifty-three years later. On my whale cruise yesterday, we passed a sand bar that had a number of dead trees standing. The captain said they died when the quake moved the land six feet, flooding the trees with salt water and killing them, while simultaneously preserving them.

Before I left Seward, I swung through the harbor one last time. It has gotten so big that I hadn’t been able to figure out where the crabber that I had worked on had been docked. It took me a while to get my bearings, but I eventually located the dock:

That’s precisely where the ship I sailed on, The Diver I, was tied up in the summer of 1974. Is it bad luck to work on a ship named “Diver?” It wasn’t for me, but two summers later, someone told me it had sunk. It was kind of a mess, so that was easy to believe. I’ve just finished writing about working on the Diver I for my upcoming memoir, so it was an awesome experience getting to stand in the same place, smelling the mixture of creosote, seawater, and fish. It’s an aroma that can never be forgotten!

The road to Soldotna made for wonderful scenery, but I think I’ve become spoiled and accustomed to that by now.

Yes, everything is still frozen solid. I thought I might see more running water before I left for home, but I’m starting to think not.

I didn’t catch the name of this river, but as I drove alongside it, it looked like shimmering emeralds. I tried to get a picture, but as is often the case, the reality wasn’t captured by the photo:

I think the family that lives in the house in the above photo has a pretty good view, yes?

Once I got to Soldotna, I had to work on the other project, so I didn’t get much of a chance to look around. However, I can say that the Soldotna of 2017 bears very little resemblance to the town I remember in the 1970s. The last time I was here, it was a tiny town of approximately 1000 people. Today, it is four times that, and it feels much larger, as there is a WalMart and Fred Meyer here. Yowsah.

Tomorrow, I finish the Kenai Peninsula, then think of heading toward home! Home, and my bride, are very sweet thoughts that will be uppermost in my mind over the next few days.

Cheers, and safe travels!





  1. As always, I enjoyed reading your blog entry filled with all kinds of interesting information and fun little tidbits accompanied with gorgeous photos. Wow!, regarding the earthquake. Continued safe travels.


  2. So nice to see these places through your eyes. I am so looking forward to reading your book. Safe journey


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