Story last updated at 3:29 p.m. Thursday, May 16, 2002

Discovering history, hardship and Wal-Mart in Kodiak
Nick C. Varney
Before I start this tale, I thought that you might be interested to know why my bosses were so elated to help fund the adventure. When I picked up the voucher, I found out that it was a one-way ticket. Rather than giving them a socially unacceptable call, I paid my way back just to get even.

On with the story

A travelogue expert once advised me to always research my selected mode of conveyance, so I studiously checked the fine print describing the M/V Tustumena. It reflected that the 296-foot ferry traveled at a service speed of 13 and a half knots (16 knots on the downhill side of a wave) carried 210 passengers, 36 vehicles, and had 18 two-berth cabins along with eight four-berth units. Now, if one does the stateroom math, it reflects that 142 travelers must assume the position of shipwide floor tile if they want to catch a few serious Zs during the night.

Traveler's Note: There are some comfortable options if you follow these tips. Board early and make a break for the forward observation lounge. There are reclining chairs and padded booths that provide somnolence sanctuary from lurching size-13 sneakers and/or stampeding tykes. If you miss out on a padded booth bench and have a hard time sleeping while sitting up like Capt. Kirk in warp drive, then here's a little secret. The recliners' seat cushions are easily removed and converted into great floor mats. Warning: This is not a good idea if the aforementioned seats are already occupied. Lest I forget, there is also the semi-open solarium area. It's really not recommended for the April trip unless you have full arctic gear and a dog team for additional insulation.

The first segment of the voyage consisted of a night run from Homer to Kodiak. When we docked around 9 a.m., it was windy and raining (a real surprise, huh?).

Since there was an eight-hour layover, most of the passengers jumped ship. The smart ones stayed within easy walking distance, the smarter ones got together and rented a car for the day. The idiots (me) decided to explore everything from the dock to the city limits by foot. Hint: Before aimlessly wandering off like a brain-dead gnu in search of a herd, check for a walking tour map of the city.

The only reason I found the famous Old Russian Orthodox Church and the Baranov Museum was because I almost had to walk through them to get to town. Nor, was it hard to miss The Star of Kodiak, a huge World War II liberty ship converted into a cannery after the 1964 earthquake. A quick left off the terminal dock and you're staring up at its bow. If something happened like that nowadays, the ship would probably end up as a Burger King.

When I went ashore, my quest was two-fold. First was to explore the city and the second was to replace everything that I had forgotten (let's not go there, OK.) I ended up ambling a couple of miles out the Mill Bay road where I discovered huge Safeway and Wal-Mart shopping centers. The area looked like a piece of Anchorage had floated in from the Cook Inlet. The stores were so big that they should have provided GPS-equipped carts and product-location coordinates.

By the time I meandered back through the city, checked out the Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository, the St. Paul Boat Harbor and strode along Cannery Row, my kiester was draggin' and I was sporting a couple of blisters that would have rivaled the Goodyear blimp.

Tip: Never make the severely intelligence challenged decision to wear $9.99 blue-light specials on hikes of over 7 feet.

Back on board, I had just started to pamper my peds when a couple of sea lions showed up off the port rail. The beasts resembled bloated bratwursts with flippers and were tossing bottom dwelling snacks around like demented sushi chefs. The show came to a sudden halt when a pod of orcas cruised through the channel bent on turning the blubber boys into 2,400 pounds of hors d'oeuvres. Observation: Sea lions can climb boat masts under such circumstances.

Coming next in Nick Varney's ferry voyage: Chignik, The Poop Group Gang, a documentary film crew and the devious dogs of Sandpoint.