Cordova: day 1

Jun 16, 2016 | 6 comments

I can’t believe I’ve only been in Cordova for 4 days. I already have so many stories to tell, and more things keep happening, and there’s no time to tell them all! I figured I’d start with day 1, and try to catch up from there. Tomorrow I leave for Baird Canyon in the backcountry though, so it may be a week or two before I can continue the saga on here.

My journey began on Sunday. I left at 6:30pm, and had a couple hour layover in PDX where I ran into one of the other UO students traveling to the same place. We flew together to ANC, and did our best to snag a few hours of restless sleep on the benches in the terminal. I had a flight out at 8am the next morning, and hers would leave later in the afternoon. We parted ways, and I boarded a small 28-seat prop jet from the tarmac that only had 10 passengers. Despite my bleariness, I was totally captivated by the snowy mountains and glaciers and icy blue water we flew over in the short 45 minute flight to Cordova. Before I knew it, we were landing, and I was waiting in the tiny one-room “terminal” for my bags. They were the first ones to slide out, so I hurriedly grabbed them and scurried out of the way.

The main problem was that all my bags combined weigh quite a bit more than I do (thanks to all that camera equipment), and I had to get them all across the dirt parking lot to the rental car place where I was supposed to pick up one of our group vehicles. Somehow I accomplished this, and left them in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. The rental car place is strangely an old diner that still looks like a diner, with a bunch of junk and random things piled up inside of it, and a counter with a guy who fills out paperwork and hands you your car keys.

By the time I got keys for a Ford Explorer after waiting in line behind a couple other people, I was one of the last ones leaving the airport (there are only 3 flights a day, so it’s not very busy). An older man walked up to me and kindly asked if I could give him a ride into town. A thousand different thoughts rushed through my head at once, but trusting my gut and succumbing to my morals, I said sure and he ran back to grab his small bags. As he was loading them up, I asked him a few questions about himself, and he seemed ok. He said he was a construction worker, doing a project down by the harbor, and he had just had a long weekend in Anchorage.

We began driving towards town (only one road, so it wasn’t hard to find) and chatting. He seemed a little odd in a very Alaska sort of way, but harmless. He told me he’s worked out here for a long time, he works long hours, but gets good pay.

He then called his boss on his cell phone and said he was “back in town and getting a ride in by a ‘pretty little lady.'” Oh please no. But I didn’t say anything.

We made small talk for a while, and then he told me he had broken up with his girl in Anchorage this weekend. My first thought was Let’s not go there. But he went there. I told him I was sorry, and that always sucks, and he followed up with, “I see you don’t have a ring on your finger!”

Oh god, whyyyyy??!!!! I’ve been in this town less than 20 minutes! But I responded, “Oh, no but I’ve got a great guy back home.”

I can’t remember what he said after that, but it sounded disappointed as I turned the conversation back to him and asking where to drop him off. Fortunately he wanted to be dropped off on the main road on the way to where I was going, so I let him out and carried on my way quite relieved.

I never felt endangered, but it was also annoying to have those feelings of discomfort confirmed when you’re just trying to be nice to someone. He was a nice (albeit opportunistic) man, but it was a good reminder that I AM back in Alaska and will find that a lot here.

When I finally got to the lodge at the end of the road, I checked in, they showed me around the bunkhouse where we’re staying, and I took a quick shower to wash all the airport off me.

Feeling refreshed, I went back to the lobby and got some recommendations for good hikes in the area, and headed back into town to go explore. I took a quick stop at the local grocery story, the AC (“Alaska Company”) to grab some food in case i didn’t have a chance to go out again, and then found my way to one of the hiking trails using the crude print out map I’d been given.

The Heney Bridge Trail was about 5 miles down a road that paralleled the coastline. I parked across the street from the trailhead where another vehicle was sitting, and made my way into the rainforest. It was a warm, sunny day, the air was so clear and fresh, and the sounds of the gulls and eagles and trickling creek and the breeze felt familiar and comfortable.

I was exhausted from traveling all night, but the windy trail kept beckoning me forth, calming my nerves from the flight and the drive and my nagging anticipation for my work ahead. I kept telling myself to slow down and be in the moment, that the time would come for work and play, but right now I just got to be here alone. There is nothing quite so special as being in an incredible place all alone, to be at home with your feelings and your thoughts, and not have to care what anyone else things or wants or feels.

I don’t know how far I hiked, but eventually I found a giant log footbridge that crossed a wide part of the river, and I knew this was where I should turn around. Before doing so, I hopped down to the river bank and picked my way across the shallows onto a gravel island and sat there to have a snack (my second favorite part of hiking!). As I sat there enjoying myself, slowly the thoughts of bears started creeping into my head, followed by the realization that no one else on this earth knew where I was or where to find me if I never came back. Maybe only the guy who gave me the map might think to look on this trail if I disappeared, but even he probably wouldn’t know I had picked THIS one, of the half dozen he showed me.

Reluctantly I got back onto the trail and followed my footprints all the way back, making noise around blind corners and brushy areas for bears… just in case.

It wasn’t until later in the day I heard that this was the one trail where a woman hiking alone had been mauled by a bear just two years ago, and that this trail was known for its bear activity. Oh well, nothing happened this time! :3

I drove back across town to the lodge where I realized how very exhausted I was, and took a two hour nap before another group of UO students and our professor showed up from the next flight. As much as I enjoyed my day alone in Cordova, it was nice to have people show up to share it with. We made teriyaki chicken and rice for dinner, and then — all of us being photographers — we spent the evening out behind our bunkhouse on the shore taking photos in the golden late night sunlight. Our lodge is an older cannery, and so many of the dilapidated buildings are still standing and partially in use, so it’s quite picturesque. A big waterfall spills directly into the inlet nearby, and when the tide is low, you can walk right out to it and bathe in its icy snowmelt waters if you don’t mind your breath being taken away by its freezing temperature. Sea lions roar periodically off shore, floating on the buoys out in the inlet, and sea otters play outside every evening.

This place is paradise. I feel like I’m both home and in a strange new land.


  1. amwillingham

    I do have bear spray now!

  2. amwillingham

    It’s true! 🙂

  3. amwillingham

    Thanks Newton! As much as I would love lighter gear, I’m focusing on getting really high quality footage this trip so we have lots of fancy equipment. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’ll pay off! 🙂

  4. Newton

    I love this!! I miss Alaska so much. It’s so different than the world I live in. I hope your research makes an impact.

    Have you considered lighter camera gear? I use micro 4/3 primarily for the weight and size.

  5. swillinghams

    Bear spray might work well for creepy guys that want a ride into town too. LOL

  6. gped2

    I really love your lodge! Glad you made it to Cordova safely, Andrea. Do you still have bear spray? If not, please obtain more ASAP!

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