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By Elizabeth Youngman Westphal
Special to The Village News 

Kicking It: Facing fear with fear in Alaska

 

Last updated 5/28/2020 at 6:50am



And, yes, it can get worse.

After spending 11 weeks isolated on Little Diomede in northern Alaska to provide medical care for the 78 natives isolated there, wouldn’t you know on Mother’s Day morning my daughter slipped and fell sideways over a stool and severely injured herself?

The soonest help could arrive was the next day. She was taken by helicopter to Nome, Alaska, for a CT scan. She was diagnosed with three broken ribs and a punctured lung. It took a week in acute care in the hospital before she was released.

If that weren’t bad enough, worse still, I couldn’t get to her. Nome, Alaska, is still under a lockdown. I was stuck in Anchorage, Alaska, worrying. Actually, I was terrified, fearing the worst.

It was my own fear that gave me the courage to do one of the scariest things I could imagine. I did the “thing I feared the most.”

It was frightening, but I did it anyway. To add to my angst, I am terrified of water. I can’t swim a lick. I float like a rock. And, I can get motion sickness driving out of my driveway unless I am behind the wheel.

Still, I did it. I went deep sea fishing for halibut.

Partly because I am here in Alaska. Partly because I was so frightened for my daughter’s well-being this would provide a gap in my constant worrying. And partly because I’m in the fishing capital of America. I did it. I overcame every instinct telling me not to do this foolish thing and yet, I did.

Fourteen people were on board the Perseverance, a 48-foot trawler headed up by Capt. Jimmy and two mates.

We pounded over rough seas for three hours, bouncing between 700-900 feet above the ocean floor and making headway toward a 72-foot shelf where the allusive halibut hang out.

There wasn’t much to see on the way, just miles and miles of Pacific Ocean with seabirds overhead. We were surrounded on three sides by snow-capped mountains headed 50 miles out to open sea.

I did get a brief glimpse of a whale spouting in the distance, but we couldn’t get close enough to discover anything else about it.

Under a clear blue sky, Capt. Jimmy plowed through 6-foot swells as we pushed past gusty-side winds, surging through the bone-chilling cold. Even clipping along at 18 knots, it felt like forever to get to the fishing spot.

Fishing wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. Short on patience, I got to practice a lot. Plus, it seemed it was all about focusing on the end of an 8-foot pole waiting for it to bob. Easy to become cross-eyed staring at the tip and waiting. Lots more waiting, coupled with a bit of luck.

I was right. My fear blocked the persistent worry for Deb for nine hours. Not until the drive home, did I begin the worrying cycle again. Of course, it was too late to call her, so I fretted until the next morning.

It was a happy ending all-around. I caught a halibut, albeit the smallest of the day. It dressed out to just over 8 pounds of delicious delicate fish.

Deborah is with me at her condo in Anchorage, Alaska. She is sore and still in pain but no longer on morphine.

My big Alaska adventure will end Saturday, May 30, when I catch a red-eye flight to LAX and take the train down to Oceanside, arriving Sunday, May 31.

This joke is the result of nine hours of fishing: Knock. Knock. Who’s there? Halibut. Halibut, who? Hal – I – but you get on my hook?

Yes, you can groan. Alaska is not for everyone.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected]

 

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