The Best Guests

It was a rare day for business: a quiet day that shouldn’t be quiet. But it was also storming something fierce, and it was safe to assume that the weather had scared away the random “tagalong” guests that arrive in a port and find the first fun thing to do after a dock rep sells them the adventure with his boisterous voice. Which leads me to wonder why people would travel to Alaska if the rain were going to scare them away anyways… it’s Alaska.

But there were still two in the morning tour that had booked ahead of time, and I was given them as a solo tour, meaning I was the only guide and they were the only guests. Trips like these are either the best or the worst.

It was two women, good friends, somewhere between 30 and 40 years. They both kayaked often enough to feel confident in the less stable single kayaks and enjoy the obvious freedoms of independence. I set them up in fiberglass singles and hopped in my own boat, the Purple Stallion (a glorious purple and green Kevlar single of Canadian origin… a sleek and fabulous boat!). They were nervous to be so small in the sea, lapping at their boat with some aggression as it calmed before the impending storm, but they were excited to have the personal tour and they darted around the Wall, where all sorts of intriguing tidal life rested, exposed, by the low water.

“It’s my life goal,” one woman said as she repositioned the floppy brim of her soaked hat, “to kayak in Alaska.” She was clearly the brains of the idea to kayak in Ketchikan, and her friend was happy to support. I smiled… suddenly this trip became increasingly dire: I could not crush her life goal. Meanwhile, the clouds thickened and all signs of life vanished in cover. I was beginning to fear that it was going to be a disappointing life goal.

I cringed and the heavens opened up, dumping every ounce of liquid they held on top of our heads as we crossed from the Wall to Eagle Island. I felt terrible at the circumstances, but there was not a thing I could do to change them. I had no song to call whales or bait to proposition sea lions, hell, I couldn’t even get an Alaskan Pigeon (a bald eagle for those that don’t know the joke) to show itself. There were no animals and the weather chose to spite us with all its malice. But as we departed the miniscule haven towards a larger island, the lead woman began to cry… and I was mortified. I had let her down.

“It’s everything I expected it to be,” she said as she smiled and wiped away a tear. I laughed in my head, thinking, honey, you haven’t even SEEN this place! We floated exposed in the crossing, allowing time to absorb the quiet life that is Ketchikan, and I smiled at her apparent joy. I did not bother to pry why Alaska’s mighty sea held such weight in her heart, but I was warmed to share the moment with her. Even more so, I was humbled to share the world I knew with someone who could see it exactly as I do: where every little element of the cove is a blessing, and far too often I met people that lost track of the beauty of simplicity.

When the rain left, Ketchikan’s protected coves resembled glass, black and free of any blemishes. Beneath our tiny boats, a deep world existed, and as if it knew of our tiny presence and adoration above its head, it sent its sentinel to our world. Some short distance ahead of us a whale breached and danced, sending plumes of mist to the sky and absolutely elating our hearts. The woman cried again, while I silently shook a fist and whispered, “nailed it.”

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