Right then. We'll start with getting the rest of the way there. Last I related I was stuck in SeaTac after Alaska Airlines' epic fail and 12 hour delay in getting me to Seattle. Seriously; I should have just driven.
Anyway. Up bright and early again at 4 AM the next morning, to catch yet another 6 AM flight. No trouble of note with SeaTac security, just the usual rigamarole. On the plane and off we go. At Ketchikan, we have an hour wait. I ask the flight attendant if it's okay to go into the terminal to get a mocha. She says that shouldn't be a problem. She is wrong.
Ketchikan is small enough that as soon as you get off the plane, you're considered outside of security. Seriously, you can't even turn back around at the bottom of the stairs (yeah, stairs to the tarmac, no bridge) and go back up, they freak out about it. So I go into the terminal building, walk through the downstairs debarking area, buy a mocha, and head upstairs, where I'm immediately met with the friendly face of the TSA. I talk to the security guy at the start of the line for a few minutes, explaining why I'm out and will need to go back in. Then I chill my heels and read and drink my mocha for half an hour or so.
Now the fun really starts, as I go back through security. I'm lucky number whatthefuckever and am chosen for "enhanced screening" (Bruce asks why they can't find a name that's less obviously reminiscent of "enhanced interrogation"). So I get the lovely pat-down, whoo. And the nitrate test. Which comes up positive. Joy.
So I get pulled into a "private screening room" where they pat me down AGAIN. They bring in my bag, and someone else's too, just for good measure? Hah. First thing out of my mouth is "I don't know what's in the black bag, and it isn't mine." I'm sure that's not suspicious at all, yeah? Luckily there was someone outside loudly wondering what became of her computer. Comforting revelation 1: they can't even keep track of what luggage came with their suspect!
So they run the nitrate test AGAIN and AGAIN and of course it comes up positive both times. I get grilled on where I've been (SeaTac airport, their security thought I was fine, since which I've been on that plane sitting right there that is getting ready to leave, and on which I'd like to be again now, please) and then in YOUR OWN AIRPORT. No, I haven't been anywhere else. No I haven't been playing with explosives. Now we get comforting revelation 2: TSA woman tells me that the nitrate scanner picks up all kinds of extraneous shit, like dust from construction sites, and guess what? They're doing construction downstairs in THIS SAME FUCKING BUILDING. So best I can figure, I tested positive on this test because of the fucking airport. How safe does that make you all feel? Because it doesn't make me feel safer, just harassed and cranky. They go through all the stuff in my bag, and can't find anything suspicious.
Eventually, the 2 women who can't figure out what to do with someone who is obviously carrying nothing threatening decide to ask their supervisor. Who turns out to be the TSA bloke I chatted with at the gate while drinking coffee. He looks in, sees me, says "She's been sitting here reading for 45 minutes. Let her get on her damn plane," and walks out. Seriously, I swear he said "damn", I'm not making that up. I think he was fed up with the nitrate BS too, and it makes me wonder how many times they've dragged someone though this crap.
Can't find much about these nitrate sensors to link for you, unfortunately. Just vague comments here and there, about how sensitive they are. Sensitive enough, for example, to trigger if you've recently taken medication with nitroglycerin; guess heart disease makes you a potential threat. Whoot! High sensitivity and low specificity while looking for a VERY small percentage in a huge sample size--how many false positives do we want to wade through here? There is, of course, not a single mention of any actual bomber ever being discovered via this scanner.
So. Back on the plane. And off we go again. To Wrangell. Where we are grounded for a mechanical. Seriously, Alaska Airlines? 2 mechanicals in 2 days on what was supposed to be 1 flight? FUCK. This is NOT impressing me with your reliability. So there's no mechanic in Wrangell, of course. 45 minutes later, they've rounded up a mechanic, who pokes about at the leaking hydraulic for another 45 minutes before declaring he needs parts not available in Wrangell. They'll be brought in on the afternoon flight south from Juneau, 5 hours from now. We're told that when they get the plane going, they'll be skipping Petersburg (where I'm supposed to deplane for real) and going straight to Juneau. They offer to put us up in hotels there and fly us back to Petersburg the next day on the afternoon flight, thus getting me to my destination a full 48 hours late. If that's not acceptable, we can jump plane now, and catch charter boats to the other island. Which is great, but will land us on the south end of the island; Petersburg is at the north end. Oh, and since the flight is not officially cancelled, Alaska Airlines won't be paying for any of it if we leave. We can wait and see if they officially cancel the flight at some point, after which Alaska Airlines might pay for other transportation, but might not, since they already offered hotel rooms, etc.
"Fuck that noise" is the general consensus of about 30 people on the plane, myself included. We leave en masse, pile into 2 taxi-vans to the marina, then onto 2 charter boats to Banana Point. From there we catch vans up the island to Petersburg. The charter boat is the first leg of this entire trip that's actually gone smoothly, and I wasn't even supposed to be on it! But birds and seals and water and open air are good for my head and for calming the rage. Pigeon guillemots
and marbled murrelets
. Guillemots are pretty cool looking birds, and murrelets are just darn cute. (Have I mentioned that I bought a new camera just prior to this trip?)
So apparently this is a not unusual thing, as the charter boat crews seem well versed with the "pick people up from the airport" routine. Again, not impressed with the reliability of the airline!
Saw several very fat black tailed deer, a Stellar jay, and a 3-toed sap sucker on the drive up the island. Also several smaller song birds, unidentified. Sorry, winnett
. No pictures of those; somehow taking pictures through the window of a moving van didn't seem to work well.
On arriving in Petersburg, I call Toni again, and explain where I am and how I got there, and that I'm going to the airport to find out what I can do about getting my baggage at some point (recall that it spent the night in Juneau while I was in SeaTac). She says she'll get in touch with Doug, the private pilot who will be flying me to the boat, and let him know I've managed to arrive. I get into the airport just as they officially announce the cancellation of the flight I was suppose to've been on. Which incites an immediate (and totally predictable) rush of people to the ticket/check-in desk, just about 45 seconds too soon for me to get there when they were empty. Gah. So I stand in line for 12 minutes. Yeah, I timed it. I was bored. And seriously annoyed at spending 12 minutes staring at the sign behind the counter, which read
Time is important to you, so it's important to us.
#1 in on-time flights, major North American Airlines 2010.
Oh, the joy that sign gave me. And by "joy", I mean "rage". FOURTY EIGHT HOURS LATE is very much not on-time, people. Bad enough that I'm "only" 22 hours late, and that by giving up on you and finding another way!
Ticket lady informs me that baggage is still in Juneau (not dreadfully surprising, I guess, since there's only 2 planes through Petersburg in a day, the one going north that's not happening today, and the one coming south that will bring the part for the broken plane sitting in Wrangell). She informs me that I can come pick it up at 2:30 this afternoon. I inform her that I have no intention of still being in Petersburg at 2:30 this afternoon, as I was supposed to be on a boat YESTERDAY, and there is right this minute
a pilot waiting next door to get me to said boat. So in the only actual customer service moment that I receive the entire time, it's arranged that when my luggage gets to Petersburg, they'll have it flown out to me at the boat via private plane. Then she ruins any good feeling by telling me she can't reimburse anything for the part of the flight on which they didn't actually fly me, nor can she reimburse me for the charter boat, but she can give me 2000 free miles! Like I'm going to be booking a flight on your line anytime in the foreseeable future?! Whatever. I'll call customer service when I'm back home. I leave and go next door to catch the float plane to Kake and the Northern Song. Which flight goes quite nicely, with no mishaps (and no TSA!). We stop at the Kake airport to pick up someone going back to Petersburg, see 3 black bears grazing next to the runway, and then head out to the boat. I got no pictures of the bears; which is especially sucky because they're the only bears I saw the whole time. Home for the next week will be Northern Song.
I get passed over to the boat, meet the crew of the Northern Song (Cap'n Dennis, Mate Leanna, Chef Ocean), am immediately handed food and good humor, and just as we finish lunch the otter crew radios that they've "caught a big one!"
When I arrived, the otter crew had been out netting for a week already. The otter they caught as I arrived was otter #11. They were aiming for 30-33, and had 6 days left. They may have been a wee bit stressed. I was shuttled over to the hospital boat (Jerry O) to watch the fun.
Otter #11 was a young male, who really was a "big one". He weighed in at 101 pounds, and was almost exactly as long as the measuring tape. Basic procedure for otter trap/release, since I assume that you are mostly as ignorant as I was:
Set out nets in areas that otters frequent. They were using salmon gill nets.
When you catch an otter, pull the skiff up next to them, 2 people pull the otter, net and all, into the boat and stuff it into a plywood box with holes drilled along the top. One person uses a "stuff sack" to trap the otter's head in a corner of the box while the other person (or persons if there are more than 2 people in the skiff) work the net off the otter. That usually involves cutting the net, and hopefully not the otter. A "stuff sack" is a foam roll inside a duffel bag inside another duffel bag, and it takes on all the damage that your giant water weasel would like to dish out to its captors. The stuff sack is not expected to survive longer than this 2 week project!
Once the net is removed from the otter, the box is closed, and transported to the Jerry O.
Box and otter are then dropped in the water to float for 20-30 minutes while the otter calms down and vents any frustration it has on the Kong toy fastened inside the box.
When otter is calm, the box is lifted onto the Jerry O's deck, the otter is reintroduced to his favorite victim, the stuff sack, and while he's busily mauling that, a doctor jabs him in the rear with fentanyl and midazolam. Then the box is shut again.
Otter soaks up his drugs for about 10 minutes, then is lifted out and weighed. Drugs are touched up if necessary, since he was dosed by estimate based on how hard he was to get in the box in the first place...
Otter is moved to the surgery table, and a nasal oxygen tube placed. Blood, feces, and urine are collected, and milk if available. A premolar is extracted for aging,any wounds and scars are noted, girth, total length, tail length, paw size, and temperature are recorded. While doctor scrubs in, the otter is prepped for surgery.
Now, otters rely on their fur for thermoregulation in cold water; they don't have blubber. So no shaving. They kept the hair out of the surgery site by slicking it back with a mixture of iodine in sterile lube.
Doctor puts a radio transmitter into the abdomen (can't very well expect a water weasel to wear a collar). Bright colored tags are placed in each back flipper, and tissue samples taken from the piercings there.
Then the drugs are reversed, the otter is returned to the box, and the box is transported back out to where the otter was caught, where he's released.
Pictures of this whole process (though not posted in any particular order, as I was present for different stages on different days) are posted here.
Back to Northern Song for dinner (beef bourguignon, yum, and carrot cake with absolutely amazing lemon glazed icing). My bag had arrived while I was at the hospital boat, so I "moved in" to my bunk, and then I collapsed in exhaustion. So that's all you get for today, I'm tired of typing!