Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Trip to Cordova--First Basketball Games of the Season

Fate would have it that our first basketball game of the season, only 10 days after the start of practice, was in Cordova, which is one of those epic journeys. The boys varsity, girls varsity and girls JV coaches are all new this year, having just moved here from out of state, so not only was it their first game, but it was their first time in the bush. It turned out to be an exciting weekend in unexpected ways.

Because the girls coaches are both men, a female chaperone was needed, so I volunteered--both for the trip to Cordova but mostly to see the kids play.  Here's how it worked out:

A relic of the past: a phone booth
with a phone in it, just across
the tunnel in Whittier
We all met up at the high school at 7 a.m., loaded up the bus and took off. I rode with a parent who was taking their car over to Cordova on the ferry. At 10:44, with seconds to spare, we drove through the tunnel to Whittier. The bus was a few minutes behind us and didn't make it so they had to wait till the next tunnel opening at 11:30. We checked in for the team, which meant getting the tickets for all the kids, confirming spellings and trying to track down the middle name of one person (a required piece of information!). It took a few phone calls but we got the tickets and handed them over to the coaches to pass out once they got there at 11:45.

Whittier is such a small little berg--and yet so isolated with the tunnel on one side and the water on the other, mountains hemming it in. While we were in Cordova the Alaska Dispatch News had a headline article that Whittier is going to be the scene of 90% of the filming of a new big budget thriller, "Hunter Killer," that is slated to begin filming in January. That will put it on the map, for those who might otherwise miss it! Personally, I love coming to Whittier though I hope to make it when the weather is nice sometime and not just coming through to catch the ferry!

If there is a word that sums up sports travel in Alaska, it is waiting. One needs to become sophisticated at "killing time," and while I knew this intellectually, it was fascinating watching kids' (and my own!) use of time. The waiting was on the bus, almost 5 hours, then in the ferry terminal, 45 minutes or so, then onto the ferry for 3 1/2 hours, then into the school where the JV boys immediately changed and began warming up to play the first game and the varsity teams suited up and...waited!

But I get ahead of myself.  Here are some pictures showing the process: 

Waiting in the ferry terminal. What to do without electronic devices?!

Loading gear onto a cart for the ferry so the kids wouldn't have to lug it around during the ferry ride

Vehicles wait in their lanes to load while a Lynden Transport semi disembarks from the ferry

Cute bear prints show the way on the walkway to the ferry from the terminal

Crossing the dock to enter the ferry

The car hold, which will be mostly filled by time it is loaded today

Comfy seats with plenty of legroom, tables, benches--lots of seating and sleeping options on the ferry. Just one deck since it is the fast ferry (a catamaran).

Leaving Whittier behind...view from the solarium

Beautiful views on the ride to Cordova

We were blessed with mostly calm seas besides one stretch where there were gentle swells

A real-time map showed the progress of our boat across Prince William Sound

These kids are experienced travelers. They know to take their pillows with them wherever they go...and their electronic devices, decks of cards, food and water bottles. Once everyone had dropped their stuff in a seat on the ferry, most kids made a beeline for the coolers each team had brought along. Lunch for the girls (I was the foodmeister for the trip, a job the chaperone often takes on) was make-your-own sandwiches, go-gurts (yogurts that don't need spoons), carrots and trail mix. Kids came and got their food, ate and wandered off to do homework, sleep, play cards, talk, or get on their electronic devices. I expected all the kids to be glued to their electronics, but they were not. There was quite a bit of interaction, and the card games (Egyptian Radscrew, popular among high schoolers here) got loud. We had 27 people on the ferry between coaches, a bus driver, a chaperone and administrator coverage, so we took over the whole front section of the boat. I would guess there was another 20 or so folks on the ferry in addition to us.
Cordova ferry terminal

By time we arrived in Cordova it was dark, so just the harbor lights were visible. The bus was waiting to shuttle the teams the mile or so to the high school. Downtown Cordova is like any small town U.S.A. What you see in the picture below is the few blocks of downtown, with the blue high school in sight at the end of it. I gathered that there are 3 bars, a handful of restaurants, a downhill ski area, a grocery store and more. I saw a Catholic church, Baptist church and the Orthodox cemetery. The elementary school is newly remodeled and is very nice; this weekend it was the scene of a Christmas craft show which I visited.

Christmas lights grace Cordova's downtown

But all this I will discover later; for right now we had games to play. There is not a lot to do in a town this size so everyone shows up for basketball games. We had 4 Homer fans there, but the rest of the gym was full of Cordova folks. I did notice that a few local folks clapped for Homer, which I appreciated. Our JV boys lost badly, our varsity girls just squeaked out a win (Cordova doesn't have enough girls to field a JV team) and our varsity boys won a hard-fought game. The games in Cordova are streamed on, so plenty of folks back home were watching. New for this year, the games are posted online after the streaming so folks can go back and watch them later, which we did this weekend.

Home for a few days
The boys got 2 classrooms to sleep in and all the girls and I got a room. Once again, the kids' experience was evident. Once they were shown their room they went into action pulling out air pumps for their mattresses, unpacking sleeping bags and claiming their space. One girl even had a 3-foot-thick air mattress! I was the "key" person for the weekend, so when no one was in the classroom the room was locked, and if someone needed in they would come find me.

Cordova High School agreed to feed us 4 meals for $22 per person--dinner Friday and all meals on Saturday. We were scheduled to take a bus to the ferry at 8 a.m. on Sunday so that breakfast was on our own. It was typical lunchroom food, but it was food, and it was prepared for us. We likely couldn't have eaten cheaper than that even if we'd brought our own. So after the kids played Friday night they all headed down to the cafeteria to grab their dinner. 

Once the games were over and fans left, we had the school to ourselves. Kids wandered downstairs to shower, hung out in the classrooms playing cards, went to bed early or hung out while the coaches sat in a strategic spot in the hall and kept an eye on things.

Saturday games were scheduled for 3:30, 5:00 and 6:30, so we had all day to wait around. Originally we had breakfast planned for 9 a.m. but they moved it back to 10 a.m. and even then we had to wake most kids up (teenagers!). After breakfast was study time for the girls, then lunch, then a walking tour through town, then back to prepare for games. The day went by fairly quickly. Once again the JV boys were trounced, the girls won by 17 points due to a great effort on the press, and the boys lost in closely contested game.

One parent who brought her car over offered to let me drive around, so I got a brief tour of the area Saturday morning, out to the airport, up to the downhill ski area, and around town.  Here's my photojournal of it:

The Orthodox church cemetery

At the airport--left back to town or right out to Childs Glacier. The road to glacier was icy so I skipped it...this time. I'll be back!

Each bridge on the 12-mile road to the airport is named after someone from Cordova who served in World War II

A glacier in the distance, across the outwash area. Not too long ago this area was covered with ice

Eyak Lake is a great feature of Cordova, with 19 miles of shoreline and an average depth of 8 feet

The spillway at the mouth of Eyak Lake

The old, moss-covered Episcopal Church in Cordova

The newly-remodeled elementary school is very nice!

View of Orca Inlet and the ski chalet from partway up the ski hill

A mile or so from the ferry, the City of Cordova has a few tent platforms for use

Painted dumpsters are a common sight in Cordova

Once again, the school cleared out after the games Saturday night and we had it to ourselves. This time the boys set up their card games in the cafeteria while a few studious kids hit the books. Others shot around in the gym, while the girls got the projector in their classroom hooked up to their laptop and streamed movies from Netflix "on the big screen" while cuddled up in their sleeping bags. 

Word had been circulating since we'd arrived that  big storm was coming in and that it was unlikely we would get out on Sunday. The decision was set to be made by 7 a.m. Sunday morning whether the ferry would run or not. The Cordova bus driver was our go-to person for this:  he would contact the ferry and let us know whether we were on or not.  Come 7 a.m. Sunday morning I got a text from the boys coach, "Ferry not running today." So we were stuck for another day! We set up a breakfast that kids could get whenever they woke up from food I'd brought (Homer's The Bagel Shop bagels!) and just let them sleep in. 

I went to the Catholic Church service with another parent, her daughter and my daughter and enjoyed their little kids' Christmas program, "The Real Story of the Christmas Star." It was cute. We skipped the potluck and church-decorating afterwards, which I am still regretting. The food smelled divine! It was nice to be away from the school for a bit; the constant bouncing of basketballs was getting to me!

This day played out much like the previous one, punctuated only by meals. The kids attempted to study. The girls watched the game from the previous day and had a short practice; the boys ran a practice as well.  A run to a local convenience store got the kids set up with their junk food fix after dinner.  An epic game of Bump was a highlight of the evening (shooting baskets and trying to get others out...I'm not quite sure of the rules), then epic games of cards into the wee hours of the morning (the guys) and movies (the girls). 

This weekend was a study of sleep deprivation for me. My Thermarest didn't hold air, the heaters sounded like lockers being slammed, the door would clunk shut when folks went out to the restroom, and each time someone turned over their mattress would squeak. Although I wasn't getting sleep, I was getting work done. The college semester ended Saturday night so I found myself on my laptop grading papers, messaging last-minute panicked students and resetting tests. By late Sunday morning my final grades were submitted, which had to be a record! Usually I take till Tuesday to get it all done and wrapped up, but I had lots of unoccupied time.

Monday morning dawned with another text:  still no ferry. Swells were still at 7 feet, too large for catamarans, which can get a wave underneath and crack down the middle in high seas.  This time the girls were awake at 7 a.m. and they were not pleased to hear they would be stuck in Cordova for another day, during finals week no less. A pow-wow of coaches ensued. Our bus driver has another day job he needed to get back to so he and his daughter flew out at 9 a.m. They would hitch a ride back to Whittier to get the bus. Another parent arranged for their daughter to be flown all the way back to Homer. Coaches were in contact with the principal of Homer High (yep, my husband) and he was working on the plane ride out angle. There was no assurance we would get out the next day, or the next, or the next on the ferry. But the planes were still flying.

The classrooms were needed so we got all the kids up and out, with their gear stashed in the mat (wrestling) room. A new phase of waiting began. Different place, same activities. Tension was palpable; kids needed laundry done so the school offered their 2 washers. Finals were on everyone's mind. Meanwhile back in Homer parents were getting antsy--they wanted their kids home.

Finally a deal was worked out:  one way plane tickets for all 27 of us were available on Alaska Airlines for $244 per person on the 1:30 p.m. flight.  Our bus driver could get the bus up to Anchorage from Whittier and pick us up and get us home.  Figure it out: 27 people. That is going to take a lot of fundraising to cover this ride out of the bush. The coaches balked. Funds are always tight on these teams with the immense cost of travel. Alaska Air had given them 10 minutes to make the decision; that is as long as they would hold the seats. I put in my 2 cents as a parent, and finally they decided:  Go for it!

The school went into action to get a purchase order rushed through the district office to pay for this. Alaska Air wouldn't take a PO so the district office had to pay with a credit card. Meanwhile, Cordova bused us all out to the airport and the payment hadn't gone through yet so we couldn't check in. Once again:  the waiting game, this time in a small airport terminal. I was on the phone with the high school secretary, who was on the phone with the district office, who was on the phone with Alaska Airlines, and finally they said payment went through and the airport check-in folks tried again.  Success! It was paid for and we were in!

The airline was generous and didn't apply weight limits, which was a tremendous relief because the kids had packed for a ferry, not for an airplane ride. Kids added tags to bags that didn't have them from the ferry, dumped out liquids from their carry-ons or put them in their checked bags, and queued up in line to check in, one by one. The school had gotten the list of all the kids' names, birthdays, etc. and faxed it to Alaska Air so kids were checked in off of that. It was an amazing feat for just a couple hours work.

Getting on the plane to Anchorage

Out of the bush! In Anchorage for the final leg of the journey home:  a 5-hour bus ride
For me there was a sense of unreality about this. The plan had been to get on the ferry and here we were getting on a plane to Anchorage! Two parents were still stuck in Cordova with their vehicles till the ferry could go (it would end up finally going on Wednesday). I hadn't wanted to ride the bus, but I was so relieved to be out of Cordova and moving homeward that I wasn't complaining (though my numb butt was!). 

Ahhhhhhhh! The joys of traveling to sports in Alaska! Another epic journey!

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