Passage to alaska, p.1
Passage to Alaska, p.1Elsan Zimmerly
Passage to Alaska
by Elsan Zimmerly
Copyright 2011 Elsan Zimmerly
Sam had one thought as he locked the door to his home and waited for the cab. Alaska and the sea. A lifelong yearning. As a boy he was fascinated listening to his father’s sailing adventures in Southeast Alaska. The images in his mind were as vivid today as when first imagined—rugged forested islands amidst a water wilderness with a dramatic background of glacially scoured mountains and valleys. Few people could comprehend the vastness of the 49th state, fewer still its extraordinary diversity.
A typical warm morning in southern California. Too comfortable, too easy, thought Sam. He longed to feel a gripping wind. Saltwater stinging his face, the raw, wild sea surrounding him. Finally after so many years dreaming he’d see Alaska for himself. One last real adventure.
Mike was the only person who understood his need to do this alone. Others were happy about the cruise but urged him to take a companion. Sam was outraged. “Too many well-meaning people trying to protect me,” he’d shouted at Mike. “From what? Life? Death? Easing me into oblivion. Not how I’m going to live the rest of my life.”
Originally he’d wanted to charter a boat in Bellingham, Washington and venture north solo. It was a struggle for Mike to convince him otherwise. Almost severed their friendship.
The cab arrived and Sam was on his way. He specifically chose the Explorer North, a small cruise ship with no pampering yet big enough to get lost in the crowd. The journey would be all he’d imagined. He knew that, had believed it for years. Alaska, his childhood dream of adventure into unknown wildness. He'd be at sea for days as they made their way north to Alaska. And not only the inland waterways of Southeast Alaska, the ship ventured across the Gulf of Alaska to Seward and Valdez. The unpredictable, turbulent Pacific. The real sea.
After a quick flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, waiting in a slow line of weary travelers shuffling through customs and finally an air-conditioned bus ride through gnarly, traffic-infested Vancouver, the bus arrived at Canada Place where Sam would at last board the Explorer North. Buses and cabs unloaded luggage and passengers. A contagious flurry of excitement filled the air.
Sam gathered his things and hurried to leave the bus behind and start his journey. In a matter of seconds, though, he was flat against the pavement in a state of confusion, his left cheek burning. An empty space. Where was he? What happened? Sam missed the last step off the bus, tripped on the curb and fell forward on the sidewalk.
A small crowd formed around him, some offering help, others throwing questions at him. Someone thought he'd had a heart attack and told everyone to move back. Another shouted for an ambulance. Sam recovered enough to wave his hand in aggravation. “No, No, leave me alone. No ambulance. I'm okay, just tripped, that's all.”
He managed to get up from the pavement though a little weak and pushed aside the few people still around him. He limped his way towards the door. His knee ached. A hand gripped his shoulder. Gripped it tight. The policeman moved him away from the door allowing others to walk into the building.
“Sir, you took a nasty fall. Just want to make sure you're okay.”
“Fine. Fine. Yes, I'm okay. Now leave me be.” Sam pulled his arm away and with that movement his left side ached, his knee buckled. He staggered.
The policeman followed him into the building still talking to him. “The cruise director and ship's doctor will be here shortly. We just want to be sure you're okay. No need to get excited. You know, liability and all that. Take it easy. They'll be here in a few minutes.”
They entered a large room with six long rows of passengers waiting to clear customs and immigration. Sam pulled away from the policeman. As he looked around the room trying to determine what line to get into he muttered, “I don’t need a doctor. I'm okay. Need to get in one of those lines.”
Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the ship through the floor to ceiling windows along one end of the room. Spontaneously he made his way towards the windows. His knee gave way and he stumbled a few times but caught himself.
The police officer ran after Sam yelling, “Hold it there, fellow, where do you think you're going.”
Right behind the officer was an immigration officer shouting at Sam to stop. Sam had bypassed customs and immigration and walked into a restricted area.
Then someone took his arm and said in a calm voice, “Sir, I'm Larry Monroe, the ship's cruise director. Heard you took a fall. Perhaps we could sit down for a few minutes. Just want to make sure you’re okay. Would you mind answering some questions?”
At 6'4" Sam was an imposing figure and he stood a good five inches over Larry. He turned and scowled, a facial expression that always worked to intimidate. But by this time two more police officers had joined the group trying to contain him. Sam quickly reconsidered this onslaught of authority. Better to cooperate, he figured. “All right, all right,” he groaned. “I'll sit down and answer your questions. But I need to board that ship,” he insisted pointing to the Explorer North.
“Don't worry,” said Larry, “it'll be here all afternoon and they won't leave without me.” Larry walked Sam over to a row of chairs against the wall of the large room. Noise from excited passengers and weary customs agents bounced around the room. Two police officers remained nearby. “First, I'll need your name,” said Larry.
“Are you a passenger on the Explorer North?”
“Of course, why else would I be here? Going to Alaska.” Sam again pointed to the ship, “Turned seventy-two a few days ago. This trip is a gift from me to me.”
Larry smiled, “A great way to celebrate your birthday. And you live…”
“California, you want my…”
Larry interrupted Sam, “Excuse me a moment, Mr. Townsend.”
A pleasant looking man, probably in his mid-50s, Sam surmised, approached them and Larry got up to pull up another chair. “This is Dr. Jim Pearson, the ship's doctor.”
Sam and the doctor shook hands as Larry briefed the doctor. Dr. Pearson looked over at Sam. “You're a fit fellow for seventy-two and you seem to have recovered from that fall you took. We'll just make certain there isn't something we're not seeing.” He had a calming manner and Sam felt confident the doctor would be reasonable.
As the doctor continued talking Larry left saying he’d grab Sam’s file and be right back.
Doctor Pearson asked, “Is there someone I can call, a relative, a friend? Standard procedure, you understand. Just in case you were to lose consciousness or some other complication.”
“Well, doc, no relatives left and most who call themselves friends will blow this out of proportion. There's no reason to contact anyone. Why bother? I fell. I’m okay. That’s all there is to it.”
Dr. Pearson gently insisted.
“Okay, a friend,” Sam said after a long sigh. “I put Mike's name down as a contact person. Mike Sorenson. You can call him. Be hard to get through to him, he's a producer, you know. Busy man.”
“Let's try,” said the doctor as he flipped open his cell phone. “Do you know his number or do you have it written down somewhere?”
The doctor called the number Sam gave him. After a few rings someone on the other end answered but wouldn't put the call through. The doctor then explained the situation. “Yes, he's right here. Sure. Mr. Townsend, would you please?”
Sam took the phone. “Hello Marcy, Sam here. Mike around? It's important. Need to talk to him. Good. “Hey Mike, had a bit of bad luck. Took a fall from the bus and now these boat people are worried about me. I’m good. The doc
Dr. Pearson took the phone again and explained the situation to Mike. He emphasized that Sam looked fine with only a bruised cheek. But there could be hidden complications and they'd be at sea for a couple of days with limited medical facilities. He explained this was standard procedure; they wanted a family member or friend to be aware of the situation should there be any complications.
“I'll do a preliminary exam and if there is any indication of something more severe I'm afraid I'll have to insist on a trip to the hospital and a thorough examination. Considering his age and all—we have to be on the safe side.”
Sam rolled his eyes and mumbled something about the age comment.
“Okay. Okay. Yes, I understand. We just want you to be aware of what is going on should we have a more serious situation. That’s exactly right. Right.” Doctor Pearson looked over at Sam and smiled. “No fooling? No, I didn’t know. Sure, I'll put him back on.”
Sam took the phone again. “Hey, Mike. You can’t get old without everybody treating you as if senile,” Sam remarked as he looked at the doctor and scowled. “Yeah, that's okay if you told him. Wanted to be invisible. But under the circumstances, I'll get him to swear to secrecy. Yes, yes, I'm sure I'll be fine. Heck, I'm not a young man; a fall takes the wind out of you for a spell. I’ll be okay. You know I’m a healthy old codger. It’ll take more than a little fall to keep me from going to Alaska. Okay, then. Thanks Mike. I'll call you from our first port. Promise. Give Alicia my love. Bye.”
Larry returned with Sam’s records and spoke briefly to the doctor. “So we have a celebrity in our midst,” Larry said with a broad smile. “Well, we don't want to make something of nothing out of this, but we do have to be careful. No publicity. I promise.”
Sam got up from his seat, loudly insisting there was no reason for him not to board the ship. “Look, I’m good to go guys.”
Larry threw up his arms and looked over to the doctor, “Jim, it's your call.”
“Okay, then,” said Dr. Pearson turning to Sam, “here’s my suggestion. No red flags in your medical records. It's early in the day; we’ve the whole afternoon before we sail. I'll do an exam, clean up abrasions and then we'll go for a cup of coffee. If it’s okay with you, Sam, I’ll keep you under observation and by 3 o’clock we’ll make a decision. We sail at 4.”
“And even if you go to the hospital for further tests,” added Larry, “if all goes well you can fly to Ketchikan and meet up with us there. It's our first port of call after leaving Vancouver. Fair enough?”
“Okay, okay,” Sam reluctantly agreed as he tucked his shirt inside his khakis and attempted a cheerful smile. It took all the patience he could muster to keep his temper under control.
“The good news, Mr. Townsend,” said Larry, “I'll get you through customs and immigration without having to wait in line.”
Sam chuckled as they headed for an available agent. He showed his ticket and passport and then the three made their way onto the ship. As Sam walked down the gangway he was suddenly filled with a rush of excitement. I won’t let them kick me off this ship. I'm going to Alaska and that’s that.
In the ship's clinic Dr. Pearson cleaned up Sam's face and knee. “Looks like your knee will be bruised for a while,” said the doctor as he continued his exam. “Your responses are good and everything else checks out okay.” When he finished he suggested they go for a cup of coffee.
“I'll take something stronger,” Sam responded.
“A little early for that,” said the doctor trying to hide a smile. “Besides, I need to observe your behavior and responses for a while without the influence of alcohol.”
The afternoon passed quickly. People buzzed around, getting settled, losing their way on the ship, scurrying every which way. Sam walked all the decks and found a few hideaways that would become his favorite places on board. Per their agreement he checked in regularly at the clinic and the doctor finally agreed he was fit to sail.
About 3 o’clock a ship-wide announcement alerted all passengers to assemble with life preservers at their designated stations for an abandon ship drill. Sam headed to his cabin for a life preserver then proceeded to his station. Once all passengers were accounted for and knew the procedure to follow in an emergency they were given the all-clear signal. They were ready to set sail.
At 4 pm the ship's horn blasted several times and Sam stood on deck watching people wave goodbye to friends onshore. It was a glorious feeling, he hadn't been this thrilled in years, perhaps decades. He dialed Mike's private number. “Hey Mike. We're sailing. Everything's good. Thanks for your help. And don’t worry about me. Yes, I'll have a great time. Call you from the next port. Ketchikan, I think. So long now.”
The ship sailed along North Vancouver’s coast leaving the crowds, noise and traffic behind. Once under the Lions Gate Bridge the channel widened into the Strait of Georgia. A symbolic moment for Sam. His passage to Alaska had begun.
Most passengers left the decks soon after departing Canada Place. Sam thought he was alone on deck as he watched the horizon. Then he noticed movement below. A woman on the deck below as fascinated watching the water and passing scenery as he. She seemed caught in reverie. He observed her for a while then felt uncomfortable. As though intruding.
Explorer North headed across the Strait of Georgia then slipped into Sabine Channel between Texada Island and several small islands. Densely forested islands with no visible development or inhabitants. Amazing, thought Sam, so close to Vancouver. They were sailing through the Canadian Gulf Islands. The further north they went the less visible development. At the northern end of Vancouver Island the ship sailed out into the Pacific Ocean.
After dinner Sam made a last round on the decks before retiring for the night. Quite a day, he thought as he walked to his cabin. Been a long time since I've been this tired so early. Wanting to chart their course he taped a map of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia on the wall and marked the part of the route they’d just traveled. Once in bed he fell quickly and soundly asleep.
Passage to Alaska by Elsan Zimmerly / Actions & Adventure / Romance & Love have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes