Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ferry AK->WA :: Tuesday in Sitka :: Hitchhiking, Snot, and Soup



I pulled out the driest piece of toilet paper I could from my damp pocket. Despite it’s snot-coated status, I made a weak effort to blow my nose on it, smearing my face with the sticky contents of my nostrils. My throat was burning but the mist of Sitka left me feeling refreshed. I felt ready to curl up on the shoulder of the road to sleep.

After 3 miles, I stuck out my thumb for a ride. I had just gotten off the ferry in Sitka, the ferry that was taking me from Haines, Alaska (this was day two), where I’ve been living for the past 9 months, to Bellingham, Washington, where my valiant brother would pick me up. We were in port for the next couple hours so I decided to explore the town. Town? How far was town? For all I knew, it was another 9 miles there.

Trucks whizzed past me without a glance. I kept on a smile, took off my hood, and slid the mittens off my hands in an attempt to make myself look harmless, although personally I thought it made me look like an idiot. Who Alaskan would have the stupidity to dress like that? One car raced past faster than the others with audible aggression. A minute later, it raced back and screeched to a halt across the street. A young, tan man with a baseball cap rolled down the window and tobacco smoke leached out, invading the air fresh from the Sitka Canal.

“Where you headed?” he asked.
“Don’t know -- town? Is this the way to town?”
“Uh, yeah. Want a ride?”
“Yeah.”

I ran across the street and took shot-gun in the stranger’s car. He asked the typical questions that you ask a orange-baggy-pants-wearing soggy red-head. He also asked me if I had $5 (I only had a one-dollar bill) and if I had any weed (I didn’t). The entire time, he puffed away on his cigarette as the windows fogged up to nearly zero viability. We pushed 20 mph over the speed limit across the slick pavement.

“Where do you want to go.”
“Do you guys have any soup?”
“You want me to drop you off at a restaurant?”
“Sure, if they have soup.”

We took turns and I tried to take note of our route so I could find my way back. We pulled down a dark, unlit street with a few shops on it and I took his cell phone number as a last resort if I was going to miss my ferry at 18:45. I always like to have a back-up plan.

I walked down the street until I saw Kenny’s Wok & Teriyaki. I pulled open the red door with the small round yellow window and stepped into a muggy, dragon-splattered restaurant. My hopes were to find soup. For $9.59 I got a giant bowl of vegetable udon and a pot of tea. It was just what I needed to hopefully heal up.

I’ve been sick for a long week or so. The flu + the cold doesn’t serve me well and I felt like a giant ball of crud. Sleeping in a nook on the ferry had left me exhausted as I sat up every hour or so to clear out my nose during the night. The roll of toilet paper I was using quickly shrunk and the boots I was putting the dirty tissues in filled up.

I would breath in the steam of the soup till my nose began to run and ran to the bathroom to clear it out. As my nose emptied, my stomach filled up quickly as I surveyed the feel of the town I was in. It had the same small-town feel as Haines, even though it’s about 5 times larger. Everyone who entered into the restaurant greeted everyone else and they all seemed to know the other folks’ names and business. I sat in the corner observing it, but not feeling included, which was fine. I took the rest of the soup to go and set out back into the already dark, damp town of Sitka.

It felt refreshing to be in a new place again. I know Seattle well and it hadn’t been since August since I was in a town I didn’t know (my first time in Juneau). I surveyed the tourist traps, closed for winter making the entire town seem like it was shut down already at 16:22 in the afternoon.

I followed a group of teenagers into the pharmacy which also included a packed ice-cream bar with tall stools and the camera-store. I groggily picked out a box of cold relief that had pills for daytime and nighttime. I enjoyed the man at the camera-store who also asked my story as I inquired as to when the ferry left, forgetting if it was 18:45 or 17:45 that I needed to be there. After a quick hop to the post-office, I started to backtrack to find a hitch stop that would take me the remaining 7 miles to the ferry.

The town of Sitka reeked of a few decades ago. Vast store spaces that were filled with odds and ends and the uncomfortable sight of awkward souvenir shops lacking customers. I crossed my first street with a stop light in three months and waited for a blaring bleeeeeeep to alert me that it was safe to cross. I felt stupid waiting for the cars that weren’t coming. I think that’s one reason I like small towns - you rarely have to wait for anything except your mail. Other than that, lines are generally short and when they are long, chances are you’re standing next to a friend. In my childhood town of Kenmore, population 20,000, I sometimes run into someone when out and about, but rarely. After even just a month in Haines, I couldn’t leave the house without running into a friend.

I crossed the roundabout in style (not really, quite un-style-y actually), and started to pull out my thumb when I crossed underneath each street light. I tried to find a place with a good pull-out and lighting - hitchhiking in the dark is a challenge unto itself. Folks don’t like pulling over to let a stranger whose face they can’t see into their car. They couldn’t tell that I was harmless. I finally picked a spot by a veterinarian and waited. Thumb out. Smiling.  No gloves. Bare arm. See world? I’m a safe person!

My snotty face needed another nose clean so I blew into a fresh piece of toilet paper. A clod of blood came out and I tried to tame the bloody nose. I ran to the veterinarian and the vet assistant gave me a box of legit-generic-brand Kleenex. I asked the time before racing out. It was 17:57 and I needed to catch a ride by 18:15 or else, chances were I might miss my ferry, making life altogether interesting.

The lights in the veterinarian’s office went out and I heard a voice yell, “Need a ride?” I semi-eagerly yelled out, “Yeah! Which way are you headed?” “You going to the ferry? “Yep!” “I can get you there.”

I gleefully, and gratefully squished into the young assistant’s car and, without buckling up, we set off towards the ferry on Halibut Point Road. We talked about a mutual friend (Alaska is full of small towns where, if you know one person from another town, chances are everyone in that town knows them) and we pulled into the ferry terminal with about 15 minutes to spare.

“Welcome aboard, Margaret,” the ticket-master said as he waved me towards the boarding ramp.

And that’s where I am now.

Last night’s sleep was pretty mediocre, well, tolerably-miserable actually. We didn’t board the ferry till 22:10, although it didn’t depart till midnight. I went to fill up a water bottle with chamomile tea with hopes of knocking myself out.

“Mayyy-geee,” I heard a man shout and I turned to see Kyle, Cassidy, Margaret, and another girl (sorry girl) gathered around a table. I joined them for a bit, figuring I wouldn’t fall asleep right away anyways.

That night, I got around 4 hours of sleep. Most of the night was spent blowing my nose and readjusting the pack I was using as a pillow. My dad had offered earlier that night, so graciously, to split the cost of a cabin with me if I wanted to sleep on an actual bed. I was so tempted to take him up on it. That would feel incredible! But it would also be the same cost as a train ticket from Seattle to Chicago and I would rather feel sick and cruddy than spend the money.

I finally arose at 10:32 and spent time sorting out letters, pictures, and the belongings I had brought on board. There’s always something to do on the ferry.

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