September 21, 2006

Sitka - I run this town

September 20th

Wow! What can I say about today's run? I set out for a long run, getting up at 6 a.m. and was ready to go long before the first tender was ready. We docked at 7 and the I got on the first non-tour tender out at 7:30. Plans changed immediately: it was raining. And cold. And here I am, the only person on the tender with nothing more on than my running shorts, ball cap, and a long sleeve T. This was necessarily going to have to be shorter than 12-16 miles - the last thing I wanted was to get caught in some remote area, exhausted, out of energy, soaked, and cold. That would spell getting sick. Besides, I had a timetable to stick to, so putting in about 10K sounded about right.

The nike thing failed to work again today (I'm going to have to return it) and so I just put on a Phedipidations of 54 minutes and figured I'd run until I was through 10 minutes of it's second playing.

The run was pretty standard as I jogged along the streets of the waterfront until I came across the Sitka National Historical Park, where I hopped on a trail and prayed to God I didn't get myself hopelessly lost. In an attempt to keep track of where I was, I kept taking right-hand turns at forks, and tried to keep the water in sight.

I fairly immediately found myself in a dense second-growth rainforest with extremely well-kept improved cinder trails. This was my very first trail run. Turns out I did a little over four miles on those trails, and ran nearly all the trails in that little park. The park itself holds more than thirty totem poles of the Tlingit tribes and various markers commemorate the 1804 slaughter of the Russian settlers at Sitka by the Tlingit warriors - and the consequently 1806 beat-down the returning Russian navy gave the Tlingits. It is a sad story, this bit of history - little different than any other white-man/native-American encounter elsewhere on this continent. For a truly well-written account of Alaskan history, including the settling of Sitka, read Alaska by James Mitchener.

One of the bizarre aspects of the run was that even as I was jogging along these trails looking at these historical spots, I was listening to a Phedipidations that focused on the "towns we run through" and how we, as runners, get a better connection to the history and culture of the geography than people who merely drive by at 75 miles an hour. This is true, I'm sure, but Steve Runner could have had no idea I'd be doing a jogging tour of an historical park in Alaska while I was listening to him!

At one point, I came across a little footbridge over a stream. I'd been smelling something pretty fishy and foul for some time and now I'd found the source - it was a stream full of spawning salmon. I went down on the bank for a closer look. The banks and edges of the creek were lined with dead and dying salmon, while those still with their vitality - some males fighting out for dominance over a female - were towards the center. Pale pink salmon roe could be seen lying on the river bed. In the middle of this place I'd discovered accidentally and all alone in a misty, moisty morning wood, with the rain continuing to come down - well, this was creepy, awe-inspiring, and nothing short of stunning.

I did a loop of trails on the far side of the bridge, retraced my steps out of the park, then headed back toward the cruise ship. I hadn't reached my time mark, so I kept running all the way to the far side of a distant suspension bridge and back to the tender dock, where I immediately got a tender all to myself. I could have run longer - I was only just beginning to feel tired - but there were other things to tackle today. A quick, hot shower, a large breakfast, and I met my family for the native-guided tour of Sitka - which included some of the park I'd just been to, including the footbridge and salmon stream, and also included a show of native dancing and a visit to the National Raptor Center - an impressive hospital for eagles, hawks, owls and other birds of prey. For the first time in my life, I got to see a bald eagle up close - no more than ten feet from me as he sat on his handler's arm. Stunning, simply stunning. We got to see a couple of other bald eagles while on the tour, this time free wild ones sitting in trees drying their wings in the brief sunshine.

I could live in Sitak. It is not large and I don't know what I'd do, but I could live here. And with the other runners I saw, I wouldn't be alone as a runner. Ah, Sitka - all the exoticality of Alaska, all the weather of Seattle.


Beast said...

Pictures. Where are the pictures?

marty said...

As a local Sitka, I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Sitka on such a personal level. I think you would do well here- you sound like you have a nice healthy respect for culture and nature. Are you Native American yourself?