A Whale of a Tale – Adventures in Alaska, Part 1

For those of you who saw my video blog, you’ll know that I had a hard time packing for Alaska. Amanda had an even harder time, and she makes the amount of stuff I brought look like a small tote bag by comparison. When I got to her house ready to leave for the airport, she still wasn’t done packing. Her mom and I started taking bets on how much her checked bag would weigh. For the record, it was 60 pounds, not including her carry on backpack, which probably weighed 40. You’d think we were moving to Europe permanently. Nonetheless, we made it to the airport and hopped on our flight to Chicago with little incident. Not to worry, the incidents would begin in Chicago.

As we were walking through O’Hare to our next gate, I got a call from United Airlines informing me that our flight to Seattle had been delayed by 3 hours, which would cause us to miss our connecting flight to Anchorage. We immediately ran over to the customer service desk along with plenty of other people, and begin what quickly became one of the most ridiculous experiences in airline customer service history, which is obviously saying a lot. To begin, we stood in line to get up to the counter for nearly an hour, staring at two groups of people who seemed to be commandeering all the agents at the same time. When we finally got up to the counter, a new staff member had come to help, and we started talking to her. It quickly became apparent that she had no idea what she was doing. She kept having to ask the agent next to her what different words meant (not a good sign) while the other agent was also trying to help customers. We stood there for an hour, only to be told that our flights had already been changed and that we would now be arriving on a later flight into Anchorage at 2:30 am. At this point, we just wanted to get there, so that was fine. Well then the agent couldn’t figure out how to print our documents, and at some point she declared that Amanda was no longer on my flight and she would now be arriving earlier. She kept calling different people trying to figure out how to change our flights. It was honestly terrifying. I didn’t want to leave the desk because I had zero confidence that we actually would have tickets onto a plane when we left.

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This is my nightmare.

Finally, the other agent literally told her to go home and that she would handle it. At this point, the other agent discovers that I am not on the 2:30 flight, as I had been previously informed. I am now on Amanda’s flight. I was happy about that, but concerned that no one actually knew what flight I was on. Oh, and Amanda’s flight home was found to be entirely incorrect, so now we have to fix that. Holy crap. We were at customer service for 2 hours and 10 minutes, but we didn’t even care because we were so relieved that we were finally working with someone who actually knew what they were doing. It turns out that the first agent who helped us had only been working there for two weeks. Not exactly the A Team, if you know what I mean. When we finally figured out what plane we were on, we only had 10 minutes to get food and get to our gate before the plane left! It was nuts, but we made it. Instead of going from Chicago to Seattle to Anchorage, we were now going from Chicago to Minneapolis to Anchorage. At least we got on the plane! Fun fact: I tweeted a complaint about how long it was taking and United tweeted me back and told me they could help me faster through Twitter. I didn’t see it until we were already done, but seriously, I think if you can help your customers more effectively through Twitter than through actual human service, you’re probably hiring the wrong people. Just a thought.

When we finally arrived in Anchorage, it was about midnight. We quickly realized that there was basically no way that our luggage had made it to Anchorage, though, since our flights had changed so many times at the last minute. And sure enough, it hadn’t. The problem now was trying to track down where the bag might be and who might be bringing it to Alaska, since we had started with United, should have finished on Alaskan Airlines, and had ended up flying with Delta. The baggage claim process is very odd, and no one knew exactly when or how or bags would arrive, they just knew they would eventually. We filed a claim with Delta and picked up our rental car (another disturbingly inefficient process, but at least our rental is swanky as hell) and then made it finally to the house we were staying at around 2 am.

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Pretty much delirious by this point

So here’s a relatively new thing in the world of T-Rex Runner. I heard about this site called Airbnb.com, and it’s basically a site where you can rent rooms in people’s homes. Kind of like a bed and breakfast but a lot cheaper. Since this Alaska trip is costing a fortune, we decided to save money while we can and use the site when possible. Well, we were getting in so late and our plans changed so many times that we ended up getting to the house and retrieving the key from a Good ‘N Plenty box discarded in the yard like trash. We crashed pretty hard, woke up at 6 and then quickly showered and left. Of course, we’re still wearing the same clothes since we don’t have bags. As I tried to check on the status of our bags, no one had any information, so we figured we would just check at the airport and see if they had somehow arrived. We never even met the guy who owned the house. I’m pretty sure that was the easiest money he ever made.

Before heading down to Ninilchick (about a 4 hour drive) to go deep sea fishing, we went to the airport to hopefully get our bags. We’re traveling around so much while we’re here that it would basically be impossible to get them delivered to us, so we were really hoping they had made it. And sure enough, there they were at the Alaskan Airlines counter! I’ve never been so happy to see luggage in my life. It was a Christmas miracle delivered by Baby Jesus himself.

The drive down to Ninilchik was stunningly beautiful. We honestly could have gotten out about every 50 yards and spent hours taking pictures. The best part was we weren’t even at a place that’s specifically designated as a scenic area. It’s literally just that beautiful from the side of the road. How crazy is that? I quickly put my new fancy camera to good use. I even figured out the self timer so that Amanda and I could take jumping pictures! I know you’re thrilled.

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You’ll get the scenery in a second.
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I seriously could put 50 pictures in a row of our drive, but I’ll refrain.
Ok, last one, I promise.

We got to the deep sea fishing place with a little bit of time to spare, so we checked in and went to order some lunch to go. I was feeling quite inadequately dressed, so we changed and put on some layers at the recommendation of the crew. This turned out to be mission critical. I also found out at this point that Amanda had brought rain boots for this precise occasion. She seriously brought rain boots from South Carolina all the way to Alaska for the express purpose of deep sea fishing. Well, all the cool Alaskan fisher people had rubber boots on and now Amanda did too, so I couldn’t be left out. I bought some fishing boots and some socks with fish on them, hoping that the fish in the ocean would be attracted to their own kind. When we got onto the boat, I quickly realized how different this is from fishing in Florida. The boats are much smaller, and you only have 6 fishers on at a time, plus 2 staff. It’s way better. You could just see the looks on the 6 guys faces when Amanda and I climbed in to the boat, matching outfits and all. I don’t blame them. If I was the judging type (ha!), I would judge us too. We look like just the types to get sea sick and be squeamish about things, but they were about to learn a thing or two.

The trip began with a long ride out to whatever mystical location holds the halibut. Apparently, we were fishing for halibut. I was just fishing for fish. Amanda informed me that we are allowed to keep 2 fish and they’ll process them and mail them home for you, which I immediately became determined to do. I told her that if I had not caught a fish by the time it was time to leave, I would threaten to launch myself overboard until they relented and let us stay. She said she was pretty sure they would call my bluff, but I kept it in the back of my mind as a last-ditch strategy.

Once we got out there, fishing was really fun. We had made friends with all the guys on the boat, who now thought we were quite charming and slightly less annoying. Amanda caught the first fish of the day, and the way she was reeling the thing in, you would have thought it weigh 400 pounds. I honestly expected a whale to be at the end of the line when she pulled it up. Instead, it was a rather small halibut that the fishing guides didn’t even dignify by letting her hold it. They immediately put it back in the water, much to our dismay. Hello, sirs? I have a blog and I need pictures for it. This is not acceptable.

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Amanda reeling in the biggest fish IN THE WORLD. 

Although there were slow moments, we caught a lot of fish. I caught two halibut that tragically weren’t big enough to keep, but at least I had complained enough by that point to be allowed to take a picture with them. The younger fishing guide had taken quite a liking to me and was shamelessly flirting with me, so he stuck around and gave me useful tips about how and when to reel. The magnetic powers of my luxurious hair worked, and I quickly landed the biggest fish on the boat at that point. Finally a keeper!

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1. Not the guy who was flirting with me 2. I’m a little too excited

The other guys on the boat took it much more seriously than we did, as is pretty much the case with everything that happens in my life. They agonized over which to keep and which to send back, wanting to make sure they kept the two biggest fish they possibly could. Two people caught sting rays, which you’re apparently not allowed to keep, and several caught cod. I totally wanted to catch a cod because they actually look like a real fish, unlike halibut, which is one of the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen in my life. Also, when you catch a halibut worth keeping, they put it on the boat and then bash its skull in with a wooden bat, which is pretty horrifying if you aren’t expecting it. I thought they would die a nice slow death of suffocation, but apparently not.

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Is this not the ugliest fish ever? What grows like this?

Amanda and I were the first two people to fill our quota, and apparently the rules once you have your fish are pretty strict. You’re not allowed to hook any more after that. You can reel a fish in once someone else hooks it, but you can’t hook it yourself. This basically means that once you catch your keepers, you’re done, so Amanda and I watched everyone else fish and made fun of the guides as much as possible. Ok, maybe that was just me.  I also spent a lot of time watching out for rogue seagulls that would occasionally dive bomb the boat with me as their number one target. Everyone made fun of me for ducking, but they’ll learn one day when they get attacked by those ruthless demons of the sky. They’ll learn.

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First to finish fishing = first to start drinking

At one point, the older guide made a comment about the younger one smoking cigarettes and how ridiculous it is that he smokes considering he’s not even old enough to buy them. UM, WHAT?! This kid that’s been hitting on me relentlessly for the past 4 hours is not even old enough to buy cigarettes? I literally died. I died. I figured he was like 19 or 20, but bless his heart, he’s about to start his senior year in high school. I’m pretty sure this means I’ve totally still got it.

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Please note the photographic evidence of my 12 year old Alaskan boyfriend looking at me adoringly as I attempt to lift my fish by the tail.

After we got done fishing, the guides cleaned our fish and cut them up into fillets that are then sent to a local store and processed so we can ship them back home. The store handles all of this for you, and it’s expensive as hell, but I’ll be damned if I’m not sending these prized beauties back to South Carolina. I’ll probably be eating the meat for the next 3 years of my life, but no matter.

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Quite the haul, right? Our arms were shaking.

It was a really spectacular trip with amazing views, and I will say, much more fun than deep sea fishing in Florida. In Alaska, you actually catch fish because 40 of your closest friends aren’t all huddled around you getting their lines crossed with yours. It’s excellent. I highly recommend it if you ever go.

We were staying at a bed and breakfast in Ninilchik for the night, so we checked in there and showered before heading to Homer for dinner. Homer is kind of like the equivalent of Key West in Alaska, more or less. It’s an eccentric little town all the way at the end of the Kenai Peninsula, and they have little stores and restaurants you can visit while staring at the most amazing sights ever. The sun doesn’t set here until like midnight or so, so it’s weird in terms of eating. You don’t really feel as hungry as you normally would because the sun is still so high in the sky even at 9 at night, when we were eating. It also doesn’t help that we’re 4 time zones away from home, so there’s pretty much a continuous time warp occurring. We have no idea what time it is at any given time. I will say we’ve had a pretty regular eating and sleep schedule though, which I didn’t really think would happen. The adjustment hasn’t been too bad so far.

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Random adorable bar in Homer
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You know, just your average view from the car on the way to Homer.

Oh, and our bed and breakfast had the most breathtaking view. You can see Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, directly across the inlet about 52 miles away. It was amazing! I honestly don’t know how people live here, because I would spend 100% of my time just staring at everything. I would never get any work done.  And guess who greeted us as we came back from dinner at 10:30 pm?

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Just some moose in the driveway of our bed and breakfast. No big deal. This is 10:30 pm, by the way.

So yeah, Alaska has been a resounding success so far, to say the least. I’m going to try and write a post for each day that I’m here because honestly, it will be way too much to catch up on if I don’t. Besides, I know you guys totally want to live vicariously through me right now, and this is one time when I actually don’t blame you. I’m basically jealous of myself right now. I’m totally moving to Alaska, even though AJ doesn’t know it yet.

16 thoughts on “A Whale of a Tale – Adventures in Alaska, Part 1

  1. What’s the temp like? and u say 4 time zones? Isn’t AK in the pacific time zone? Even tho Amanda over packed she was prepared for anything! How long are u in AK for?

    1. The temperature is kind of all over the place. When we were fishing it was in the 50s. Yesterday was 40s/50s. Today was 60s/70s. It’s all over everywhere! Alaska is not in the Pacific time zone, apparently, since it’s 4 hours behind. We’re here til June 26th.

  2. How awesome! I love traveling to all these great places through your blogs. Can’t wait to read more! More pics!

  3. Word of advice on the air travel thing: you often get more help calling than waiting at the counter. Last time I was on a cancelled flight, there were a bunch of people waiting in line at the ticket counter, and I think they actually told us to just call ourselves if we could. Called Delta directly and got things worked out quickly. (But I think there was one time with USAirways where this tactic didn’t work.)

    And the sunlight at 10:30 PM thing really trips me out!

    1. Yeah, definitely should have done that. Or apparently I should have just contacted them on Twitter. Who knew?

  4. All the death… I can’t handle it…

    I’m a vegetarian so all the fishing & talk of bashing in heads… I honestly got a little dizzy… & then BLOOD… next to a dead fish head… I need counseling after this post…

    I’ll take the pictures of the live moose in the driveway instead 🙂

    Cant wait to read on in your adventure 😉 .. & fingers crossed there’s no more dead animals…

  5. I’ve decided it’s FAR less creepy for me to comment on this post than it was for me to comment on the post from 2011, but oh well 🙂

    I, too, had a HORRIBLE airline customer experience service only 4 days after you. However, I was able to see the Tweet from United and they fixed it. Seriously. I learned Expedia reps are useless (but they did give me a $100 hotel credit, so yay!) and United on Twitter is amazing (even if their airline kinda isn’t great).

    1. Who could imagine that an airline with horrible customer service would have awesome Twitter service? At least now I know where to go for results!

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