I was 10 years old when I read Jack London’s, Call of the Wild. With the turning of each page, I was transported from my childhood home on our farm in Southern, Louisiana to the frozen and untamed Yukon, an arctic territory of year-round white capped mountains and snowmelt lakes. I knew I would explore such a place one day.
Fast forward over 25 years later and I’m on an uncomfortably bumpy flight and God willing will soon be landing at one of the world’s most perilous airports in Sitka, Alaska. Sitka is on the coast of Alaska so it’s not exactly the Yukon, but for a girl from Southern Louisiana, it's close enough.
It seems that in every place I’ve lived, locals say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.” I’ve found that statement to be completely true in only a few places I’ve traveled so far - Southern Louisiana and Sitka among them! Sitka receives around 235 days of precipitation each year making our arrival on a mostly sunny day worthy of the mile-and-a-half walk from the airport into town.
It’s early fall and the cruise ship crowds are gone for the season. The small town is quiet. We meander through a few of the local shops and decide to stock up on groceries before heading off the grid to our own private island for the next 4 nights.
We leave the local market and walk toward the harbor carrying steaks and potatoes for dinner and honey for the tea I’ll sip in front of the outdoor fire pit. We are breathing in the cool, crisp air on the densely tree-lined street when we encounter a recently placed caution sign at the edge of the forest. On the sign, a warning to passers by - use extreme caution, bears in the area. As if struck by lightning, I’m immediately aware that in Sitka, we are no longer top of the food chain. What foolish Alaska newcomers walk down the street with steaks in their backpacks while in bear country?? Needless to say, we pick-up our previously nonchalant pace and arrive at the harbor with our heads on a swivel looking in every direction for hungry bears.
Fortunately, we don’t wait long before our water taxi arrives to transport us across the bay to Rockwell Island and the Sitka Lighthouse. We load up quickly and as we leave the harbor, I wish I had a fishing pole or even a net! Fish are jumping everywhere and so close to the boat that it feels like I could almost reach out and catch one. Fishing tours are common in Sitka, but from the looks of the harbor, one doesn’t need to go far to catch fish.
It’s a short trip from the town of Sitka to our private island, but we already feel a world away. Rockwell island is roughly the size of a football field with a private dock stretching out over jagged rocks and the lighthouse perched above the crashing waves at the Northern tip of the island.
After a short introduction to how everything works at the lighthouse (hottub, firepit, boat in case we need to get back to town) we are left to ourselves. My husband and I watch the taxi pull away from our dock and look over our shoulders to the hottub conveniently located close to the fire pit. Smiles spread across our faces as we realize just how private the island is.
Fishing charters, whale watching excursions and an extensive network of hiking trails are a few of the more popular activities in this coastal wild land. But, with eagles soaring through the skies like pigeons in central park and rainstorms moving in and out as frequently as the crashing waves, we find little need for entertainment beyond what can be found on our island. We cook, read, explore the shoreline via kayak and cozy up in front of the outdoor fire even as the storms roll in.
The boat we are left with to get us back to Sitka has just enough horsepower to get us into and out of Sitka Harbor, but not enough for us to get ourselves into any trouble by venturing further out. We make only one trip off our island to visit the grizzly bear sanctuary and enjoy a salmon lunch on the sundrenched front porch of the Beak Restaurant.
Storms move in quickly in Sitka
As the sun sets on our last night in Sitka, I think of how grateful I am for places like this where I can get off the grid completely. I always have a choice about how tethered I am to modern life and it’s entrapments. But, Sitka is sort of like a hard reboot. When you really need to disconnect and reconnect with nature, this is a great place to do it.