We stumbled down the awkward stairs off the Pen-Air Saab and onto the asphalt tarmac. This year’s opening crew of six has a combined 78 years of experience at Bristol Bay Lodge, meaning as a group- we’ve stepped onto that pavement with pretty much the same emotions running through our heads 78 times.
Most years, Dillingham greets us with temps in the 40s and gray skies. We often laugh and shake our heads as the cold rain pounds us in the face on the walk into the airport. Someone always proclaims-“It’s like we never left,” referring to the autumn weather encountered the year prior as we walked the opposite direction, heading for home.
This year, the typical, “here we go again” or “what the hell are we doing here” facial expressions are different. After the usual handshakes and hugs, excited conversations fade to silence and confusion. We find ourselves looking left, right, and up towards the sky, expecting the mirage to dissolve into a reality of grey drizzle. But today the mirage is real. It’s almost 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky.
The last flight is on a DeHavilland Beaver, as our three planes are still in the hangar waiting to come out of hibernation. After arriving at the lodge, the crew follows through with the norm, spending the rest of the day and well into the night slaving away opening the can of worms that is a 40 year old fly fishing lodge in a remote part of Alaska. Everyone is smiling. We’re completely exhausted and covered from head to toe in dirt and diesel, but we’re all smiling- it’s good to be back.
My final project for the day is to get a head start on cleaning out my mouse-infested cabin so I can sleep without having to worry about dying from the Hantavirus. I begin to sort through my heaping pile of junk, but my eyes are drawn upwards towards the breathtaking scene in front of me. The midnight sun casts long shadows on the shoreline in front of the lodge. Snow-capped peaks are lit up with an orange glow above and below the horizon, mirrored on glass. Although I’ve seen it more times than I can count, the image is almost surreal, as if it were a painting. It’s good to be back.
Tonight, we’re exhausted once again after a full day of opening up the lodge. We’ve got power and water to the main lodge and a good start on emptying a hangar filled with boats and planes. Bob Dylan is belting his famous lyrics from my computer as I sit here in my chair, much dirtier than yesterday and now reeking of diesel fuel. The 70 degree sunshine has faded into an all too familiar scene. Crashing waves break the silence and last night’s beautiful peaks are invisible through gray rain-fog. It’s good to be back.