Dutch Harbor will always hold a special place in my heart. September of 2008 I started my career as a marine service engineer, working on diesel engines. December of 2008 I was sent on my 1st job in the field, To service a fishing fleet in Dutch Harbor Alaska. Myself and a crew of about 15 people were stationed up there for 3 months. As I remember it, the island was perpetually covered in a blanket of snow. The weather ranged from the low teens to the mid 30s F and the wind could blow for days on end at speeds up to 60 mph. To say that Alaska can be a harsh environment is an understatement. Honestly I feel that I have never received the full Alaska experience: seeing one of their towns that experience -60° winters.
I was left with vivid memories of the rugged mountains, the harsh weather, bald eagles as numerous and pesky as seagulls at the beach, the shittiest fleet of fishing boats ever to disgrace our waters, and a town with no entertainment besides 1 of the 3 bars. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one I often mentioned in conversations about Alaska or my line of work.
Fast forward to June 2018, and I crossed a checkmark off my bucket list: seeing Dutch Harbor in the summer. These days I take odd jobs as a Marine Service Engineer, as a vacation from photography and life. The fishing fleet that I serviced 10 years ago is long gone. 2 of the boats sank, the owner got a divorce and the remaining boats were sold off. Now I service a boat for a much better company. They planned 4 days of downtime in the middle of their fishing season. I have personally been servicing this exact boat, with its 3 Bergen Diesels, for 4 years now. The last year my friend Matt and I have been working together on the project together. I will include a couple photos of our work, but the focus of this post will be on the island itself.
Before I continue talking about the island, I want you to put yourself in my shoes. I removed myself from a lot of the daily stresses of life. Just by quitting my 9-5 job and removing myself from the rat race removed a lot of stress. Our conscious mind trains our subconscious mind. Every morning you spend sitting in traffic, aggravated, yelling at some dummy who can’t seem to deal with operating their vehicle puts a lot of negativity in your mind. Dealing with the stress of a boss who can’t effectively run their own company is not healthy. We as people surround ourselves with negativity on the daily. We have to make the conscious choice, daily, to increase positivity and decrease negativity. Stop reading those negative news articles, stop watching that reality TV show where the actors spend the entire time yelling at each other, stop listening to music with negative messages. Every morning I wake up and read some positive quotes, and watch some short motivational videos. I desire to connect with positive situations, positive people, and share that positivity with others. I have also started meditating, doing some light yoga, and grounding. Grounding is a new thing for me, I am just learning about it. I started with hiking barefoot about a month ago, and I also really like submerging myself in really cold water. There is a river running thru my hometown, with a perfect sand bar. The water is shallow, and allows me to lay completely flat with the cold water lapping over my chest.
My point is basically that we spend so much time caught up in our daily lives: work, relationships, hobbies, kids, shopping, eating, sleeping all these things and we forget to spend time caring for ourselves. If you drive your car to work, every day, and only put in gasoline, how long do you think that car will run without issues? Your car needs oil changes, tires, maintenance and love in the same way that your own body needs these things. You can not effectively do your job, take care of your kids, live a happy life and love your partner if you first don’t take care of yourself. Go outside, stand in the grass barefoot, jump in a river, and smile at others. We have to look deep within ourselves, conquer our demons and enjoy all the amazing things that life has to offer. This is a topic that could take hours to effectively cover, and one I will talk about in-depth when I start my new podcast soon.
When I went to Dutch Harbor last month, I had no idea what was in store for me. I anticipated beautiful scenery, and long hard work days. I have heard about how beautiful this island is in the summer time and that was the main thing on my mind. We arrived on the evening of June 22. As the plane was landing, 4 whales popped up out of the ocean. It was a perfect introduction to my stay on the island. The hotel can be seen from the airport, remember this is a very small island. Within an hour of our arrival, I had checked into the hotel and was standing on the beach just across the road. I took off my shoes and socks, and walked barefoot down the rocky beach. These rocks were of all sizes, and the smoothest that I can ever recall touching. The more time I spend grounding, connecting with nature and water, the more perceptive I become of the small details. I only stood in the water for a few short minutes, the temperature of the water was turning my toes pink. I have been reading that the cold water causes all your blood to rush away from your extremities and concentrate on your vital organs. When you remove yourself from the cold water, the blood rushes back to the extremities and feels like a complete system flush. Its a very powerful experience, one that I challenge you to research and try for yourself.
As I walked back to the hotel from the beach, I took a different route and ended up in some strange grass. Have you ever seen this before?
The next morning we had to take a skiff from the dock to the boat. The Seafreeze Alaska was out in the bay, tied up to a tender for offload. The skiff from the Seafreeze never arrived to pick us up, because it broke down in the middle of the bay. A couple of guys from the dock offered to take us to the Seafreeze. We found our skiff broken down, threw them a line and towed them back to the Seafreeze. I was loving every minute of it, just enjoying the scenery and the calmness of the island. As we approached the Seafreeze out in the bay, eagles were flying around us and had landed all over the boat. Listening to the sounds eagles make is something I haven’t heard in years, and a memory that I am glad my phone captured so vividly.
We worked from 7 am to 7 pm every day. In this part of Alaska, the sky didn’t get dark until around 1 am. This allowed us an hour or two to explore the island after work each day. My good friend Matt is a history buff, specifically regarding World Wars. I knew that Dutch Harbor played a vital part during WW2 and had previously visited the islands museum on my visit 10 years ago. I had no idea how much actual history remained on the island. During my last visit, I saw snow, snow and more snow. With the summer weather having melted 95% of the snow away, we were able to explore many places that I had never seen before. The island was littered with quonset huts and pill boxes. The harsh winter winds and weight of the snow had completely flattened many of the huts. I am currently fighting a knee issue, so the hiking was slow going. Everything we saw involved walking up steep hills. Its very humbling to think about the work these soldiers did building all this stuff, in such harsh conditions. Most of the base was built in 1940 and 1941.
The first day after work we went on an easy hike just off the road back to the hotel. The old road was blocked by a gate, so we had to hike up the last half mile or so. We were all eager to explore the area, despite the rain and wind. In my initial excitement, I left the hotel without my camera. The beauty of the scenery lives within my mind. I was bummed about forgetting my camera, but I was not going to let that ruin my adventure. The hill we walked up had a beautiful view of the bay that our boat was docked in. I stood and viewed our 300′ boat as such a tiny piece in the grand scenery before my eyes. This was my first real hiking experience in Dutch, during the summer which was a dream come true for me, standing there on the rugged green mountain overlooking the water and our boat, beat up from the harsh environment of the open ocean.
I remember the relentless wind from my last trip to Dutch. I actually enjoyed the wind and rain, because it reminded me so much of the weather that I experienced last time. My friends Matt, Kelly and I were all unprepared for rain in one way or the other. I had a nice rain jacket, but my shoes and pants were soaked by the end of our excursion. Despite the rain, the island holds such a sense of calmness about it. Perhaps my perception of calmness comes from the intense lack of sounds. We are so used to hearing our neighbors, the garbage truck, dogs barking, sirens, radio stations, etc that I noticed some of my friends have a hard time hanging out with me without background music. I like to spend time in silence, just listening to nature, just as much as I enjoy jamming out to my favorite cd. It is hard to hear much over the intense winds. Have you ever been to the beach on a windy day? Then you know exactly what I am talking about. That wind acts as a white noise, a constant background noise that isn’t offensive or distracting, and allows your mind to relax the sense of hearing a little bit. If you can practice letting go of 1 of your 5 senses, the other 4 are extremely heightened. Letting go of your hearing allows you to perceive so many other things. For instance I felt the wind rushing over my skin, the moisture in the air was felt by my skin, my tongue and my sense of smell, while I saw the colors become more vibrant, each color tone more distinct from the one next to it.
While I was getting soaked, my knee hurt and I forgot my camera, that hike was one of the most memorable and scenic hikes of my life. I saw a Quonset hut for the first time in my life. We talked a lot about the history of the buildings, their defense strategies and WWII in general. I really enjoyed the fact that the original road was still intact. You could see exactly how it had progressed, how the soldiers planned out ammunition storage, and there are still remnants of power lines strung all over the island, tubes in the ground for water, natural gas, drainage, and more.
The next time we went out exploring, we hiked around Fort Schwatka on Mt. Ballyhoo. This Fort was 1 of 4 that protected Dutch Harbor during WWII. I will just let the photos do the talking on this expedition.
I want to give a shoutout to my flashlight here. Bigger is better as they say, yet I never follow convention. I appreciate that this flashlight goes with me everywhere in my pocket, and AAA batteries are easy to find. The lighting in my video and in my photos were provided by this little guy the entire time.
This post has been weeks in the making. I still have 30+ more photos to share and a couple more videos! I am going to release what I have written so far and continue the story in another post. Stay tuned.