Warning: This blog is long (and in my humble opinion, exciting). So, go get some coffe, tea or wine and ensure you have at least 30 min of time to hang out with me 🙂
This morning I woke up with a headache. I felt like I had caught a cold or maybe I just had to much fun with the guys last night.
Yesterday, just before I met with the guys, I suddenly realized that Unalaska and Dutch Harbour are not exactly tropical places so I quickly ran to a nearby Sears store to buy a rain jacket, stronger backpack and waterproof shoes. When the guy in the store asked me what kind of shoes I was looking for, I said the cheapest, warmest, waterproofed shoes they have because I need them for one day only. He looked a bit confused but I didn’t have time to explain the reason. After a few minutes he brought out exactly what I was looking for.
As the driver was approaching the airport he asked me what airline I’ll be flying with. I checked my ticket and it had Alaska Airlines on it.
After going through security I spent half an hour unsuccessfully looking for my gate. I finally gave up and approached one of the officials. The lovely lady looked at my ticket and said: “Sir, you are not flying Alaskan Airlines, you are flying with Penn Air. You need to leave the secure area and go to their terminal”.
Great! I never heard of them before. But I found them. Just one gate for all flights.
After I was weighed together with my backpack and coffee I was all set.
Well, that’s what I thought, until I heard the announcer saying that Dutch Harbor is fogged in and the flight is on hold until they can see if weather will improve.
While waiting I noticed this handsome old-timer that was just about to take off.
After an hour delay we were on our way to Dutch Harbour 🙂
Prop plane – the working horses of Alaska. I am super excited and just a tiny bit uneasy.
We are flying on a SAAB 2000 with two Rolls Royce engines, 4,591 horspower 🙂 Cruising at 25,000 feet, approximately 375 knots airspeed the pilot said.
As we were building distance from Anchorage following the chain of Alaskan peninsula and Aluetan islands, the land footprint was shrinking and it was replaced with lots of blue color of the Bering Sea.
It was a small plane with maybe half of the seats taken. I was acting (and talking) like a child with ADD and switching seats every few minutes to take pictures, to the point where the (only) flight attendant said to me “you are making me want to get off this plane and explore this place myself”.
In the middle of my madness, a fine gentleman from the second row tapped me on the shoulder and said: “You are on the wrong side of the plane. There is nothing to see there. You need to get on this side of the plane. What you wanna see is just about to appear on the horizon”
Funny, he thought I knew what I was looking for 🙂
That’s how I met Scott Darsney. Scott is a truly unique individual. He is a pilot, flying regional Alaskan destinations but he is also a profesional photographer. And, like that wasn’t cool enough, he said he has a house on Unalaska island (where Dutch Harbor is). How cool is that!?!
As we were heading further south-west down the Aleutians, Scott pointed out to me Pavlof Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula and Shishaldin Volcano on the Unimak island. I was speechless. As we were flying by the two of them I was able to see that both of these volcanos are active – you can actually see the smoke coming out of them. If it wasn’t illegal to scream on planes, I would be screaming at that point.
After I came back to my senses, for the rest of the flight l had a nice conversation with Scott where I learned even more exciting details about his lifestyle and interests.
As an example, he showed me a photo of him and a couple of other guys skiing on the side of a volcano. How do you know it’s a volcano? The snow is gray on the surface from the volcano ash and as you cut it with the skies you can see nice and bright white tracks. How fascinating is that!? And that’s not all, he had a few more as exciting stories accompanied with pictures.
Just before landing, Scott took my map of Alaska and made a to do list for me while in Dutch Harbor. He also offered for me to drop by his house if I have a moment as he will be there fixing the boiler.
Reality check 🙂
After we landed I got my rental Ford Escape, several maps and off I went to explore (another) end of the world.
While I was driving, my Ford Escape was talking to me.
Since I have only four hours on the island, I decided to carry on and ignore the whining from the dashboard.
After a few minutes of driving, an old Orthodox Church appeared on the horizon located in downtown.
After that I decided to drive down the Summer Bay road. Opinions were decided about this one, from “you shouldn’t go there” to “it’s a must see location”. I went with the second rationale 🙂
At the very beginning of the road there was a World War II Memorial.
“This memorial is dedicated to the men who served, fought and died, with the 206th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft regiment. 1941-1944 WWII A.N.G.”
After driving few more minutes I saw a number of Bald Eagles of all ages hanging around.
Over the next 30 minutes I was the only person on the road as it starting climbing the hill.
The views started opening up …
Also, the remnants of World War II. Mainly bunkers.
This was an exciting drive but I felt a bit uncomfortable driving a car with all kind of issues and being pretty much the only person on this side of the island (as far as I know), I at least had my good old SPOT (personal tracking device – search and rescue) right next to me.
My next stop was Dutch Harbor itself. It was a bit of a longer drive than expected. When I arrived I saw many hard working men and women being busy on the ships that looked very much like the ones from the Deadliest Catch show.
It was an awakening moment to see how far from the main land these people live, how hard they work and how little is accessible when you think about the everyday things that we enjoy in the metropolitan areas. Most of them proudly choose this lifestyle. A very humbling moment.
Now, I am heading to the other side of the island to meet Karel Machálek. Karel is another truly outstanding individual I met today.
On my way to meet Karel, I took a side road that at some point turned into a gravel road and some time later turned to a narrow gravel road and finally to a blasted rock road. At that point all I was able to see around me was an abundance of old vehicles, machinery and many bushes of ripened raspberries.
I finally saw a Toyota pick-up truck heading my way. That was Karel. We met in front of his bunker. Thus is a WWII bunker that Karel used to use as his shop/studio. Now he has a new big shop in town but he is planning to come back to this bunker and re-establish it as his studio. He is planning to become a full time sculptor.
As I mentioned before, Karel is a truly outstanding individual. He is sculpture artist, musician and he owns and runs a ship repair shop. His talk is very charismatic and you can still hear the traces of his Chech accent that he hasn’t lost over the last three decades on the island. He’s real guy’s guy and passionately talks about hockey.
Karel took an hour out of his busy schedule to introduce me to his art in town and at his home. Those are some of the pieces he made that were commissioned by the town.
Here are some pieces at his home.
Over the decades, metal pieces from the military equipment, shipwrecks and whatever else was in the sea, amalgamated into this strange and super heavy shape that Karel plans to turn into art.
By now you probably noticed that all of Karel’s art involves metal and welding. It’s a hard way to creatively express yourself, but in my oppinion Karel is doing an outstanding job.
He is using his talent for metalwork and welding for more than just art. He has a large, well established operation focused on repairing ships. He’ll do any work on the ships except the electrical and engine.
His third passion is music. He plays guitar and the piano. I was taken by surprise when I saw how extensive his studio at home is. He records his own music.
He gave me his latest CD as a parting gift.
As I was driving away from Karel’s home another strange coincidence happen. I had the radio on and the host of the show at that very moment was thanking Karel and his welding company Alpha Welding & Boat Repair for sponsorship. Just a great way to close that chapter.
Before I headed back to the airport I decided to go and visit Scott at his home as he suggested at the airport. The main reason I wanted to see Scott was to sincerely thank him for directing me to meet his good friend Karel.
I arrived to Scott’s house that was in a beautiful location on the side of a hill overlooking the bay. This is the view from his house.
During our conversation Scott pulled out a few books and prints to show me some of his photography work. As I was looking through the pics I noticed that many of them were not only exceptionally good but they were taken in exceptionally hard locations. The pic I was looking at was taken while climbing the K2 peak in Himalayas!
This can’t be you! I said. Yes it was him. Hi climbed the top three peaks in the world and he did it with the camera on his back and in his hands so many of us can enjoy some of the views that only few have a privilege of seeing in person.
As l was leaving Scott’s home he gave me a bunch of prints of his work and some suggestions on books and movies. I got Scott’s permission to show some of them in this blog.
As I was driving towards the airport to get back on my SAAB, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how may outstanding people live in this world and that I was privileged today to meet two of them at the end of the earth.