7/24 – Tenakee Springs, Alaska

We left Glacier Bay a bit reluctantly.  But it was time to move on to the next chapter in our journey.  Time to head south – to do some more work in Portland, and then on to Mexico.  But first, we had 1200 miles of traveling back over the territory that we’d crossed just a few weeks ago.

We puttered around the entrance bay as late as possible, sailing and watching for whales.  We had a few sightings, but it wasn’t as constant of a show as on our way in.  We found an easy anchorage for the evening, and arrived after dark – no mean feat when the days are 20 hours long!

Since the prevailing winds were mostly from the north as we were headed north, we were enthusiastic about sailing south, but for whatever reason, they have switched to southerly winds, on our nose almost all the way.  The ocean is a bit rougher than we’d like right now, so We decided to wend our way between the big islands of the area instead of going on the outside as we had thought we might.  There’s tons of wildlife up here, so we’re still spotting whales frequently and also porpoises, sea lions, seals, the occassional bear, bald eagles and so many other birds I can’t describe them all.

Our first stop was Tenakee Springs.  This town first showed up “on our radar” when we met Mark, who had just purchased “Contagious”, a sailing hull converted to a fishing vessel, and had it hauled out in Astoria next to us prior to heading home to Alaska to start up a fishing business in his “retirement”.  Mark invited us to visit if we were in the area, and told us that there is nice hiking and kayaking and hot springs in the area.  It’s located near the end of one of the inlets that are now familiar to us, at the north end of Chichagof Island, which we were heading right past on our way back south.  We arrived late on Saturday, and decided to stay until Monday because we wanted to replenish our sagging supply of fresh fruits & veggies.

We were trying to assess whether there was a place for us to dock at the public marina, when a friendly couple pulled up in a small powerboat and asked if we needed any help.  They then “scoped out” the transient dock, concluding that the depths were perfectly fine for our big boat.  We pulled in, handed our bikes down to the dock and pedaled into town where we instantly felt comfortable and at home.

This tiny little town has about 60 year-round residents and swells to about 100 in the summer.  It’s really cute, with a single (dirt) road running down the coast and all the houses built along this road.  There are no cars in the area so the road is more of a lane, with lots Up the hill there’s a second row of construction started, with lots of pedestrians and bicycles. The most notable structure there is the school.  The state requires 10 children before they will provide teachers, etc, and this town struggles to keep a constant attendance of 10.  The winters here are (apparently) long, dreary and very dark, although you wouldn’t know it from the way things looked the day we arrived!  I think this was the first day of real summer weather they had had this year, because everyone was grinning and making excuses to be outside.

We chatted with several people on the road, looking for Mark’s house.  In a town this size, it wasn’t hard to get directions (although it turns out there’s more than one Mark).  One couple sitting on the front porch told us that they’d had a hot dry spell earlier in the spring, that had felt like the desert – and she’d lived in Arizona for a spell earlier in life.  We asked how hot, 100 degrees?  No.  80 degrees?  No.  But it sure was hot and she was glad when the rain came back!

The community seems to be a bit of a retirement destination, largely for aging hippies, full of people of young retirement age (that isn’t an oxymoron, is it?).  They are largely of an earthy mentality, loving their gardens and homes.  As is typical in small towns, each house is designed and built completely differently from all of its neighbors.  Some were built from notched logs, some from aluminum sheeting.  Some were tiny bungalows and others had multiple stories with lots of south-facing windows.  Many had decks with southern exposure, both for the sunshine and the water views.  Some of the properties are owned by folks who use the place as a summer retreat, which makes it harder for the town to hang together cohesively.

It turns out that there’s one more “draw” to the town – it’s situated at a natural hot springs, which have been housed in and turned into a community bath.  They’ve got it quite well organized, with hours for men only and hours for women only – no coed times.  There are several rules, which are clearly posted on the walls of the changing room, and they include washing before getting in and wearing no clothing in the tub.  I’m sure they’ve had issues over the years of something getting in the tub and it being difficult or inconvenient to clean things back up again.  The tub is built at a slight angle, so one corner is lower than the others, and there’s a constant stream of 106 degree water flowing over the edge and out a drainpipe in the back corner of the room.  There are buckets made from detergent jugs or plastic water bottles that one uses to wash up beforehand.  Although there was only one other person, also a traveler, there when Kathy used the bath, this is not surprisingly the town hub for gossip and making of plans.  Almost everyone visits daily, and many homes don’t even have a bath or shower, simplifying the plumbing required for building.

We tracked down Mark’s house, and met his wife Cynthia.  It turns out that we’d just missed Mark – he was out fishing with their daughter Hannah, and wasn’t due back for a couple of weeks.  Cynthia was enjoying a little quiet time to herself, although she didn’t seem to mind the unexpected company.  We chatted for 30 or 40 minutes, and invited her to stop by the boat for a tour and more conversation on Sunday.  Cynthia is an artist, and gave us a booklet that she had put together of some of her (beautiful) photographs of the town.  She also does watercolor and quilting.  When she came over on Sunday, we talked about our lives and dreams, and she introduced us to Blaine who was walking the docks.  Blaine is (was?) a boat designer, and had done some cruising of his own a number of years ago but is now happily settled in Tenakee.  Perhaps we’ll come back ourselves…  This was one of the first “connections” that we’ve made along the way on this new life of ours, and we hope to hook up again, but have no idea if it will come to pass.

Sunday we spent a couple of hours at the coffee house/bakery, and took advantage of their wifi connection to catch up on emails (and post our blogs from Ketchikan and Namu/Klemtu).  We visited with Margie, the waitress whose sister and husband just departed on a journey similar to ours.  They headed south about the time we headed north, so we’re gonna keep our eyes out for Seychelles.  (We thought we recognized the name from some radio conversation that we’d heard a week or two earlier.)

Our first day in town, Aria met a couple of younger guys, who fished and crabbed for a living.  One of them mentioned to her that he had a boat that wasn’t being used (until crabbing season began), and told her she was welcome to stay there if she’d like to stay in town a bit longer.  She pondered the opportunity for more than 24 hours, before packing up her clothes and electronics and moving out of our boat.  Just like that!  It’s been a lot quieter around here without her, and there are fewer people to share the cooking and driving.  Her enthusiasm and observations were a significant addition to our Alaska journey, and have been missed since her departure.

Now it’s just the two of us, heading back down the Inside Passage…

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