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Living the Seasonal Life in Ketchikan

 Beach bonfires and 10pm sunsets are some of the best parts of summers in Ketchikan. Beach bonfires and 10pm sunsets are some of the best parts of summers in Ketchikan.

What is it really like to move to Ketchikan and work a summer in Alaska? Our 2014 office manager and seasonal adventurer, Brittany, shares her experience in this guest post.

Seasonal (noun):

ˈsēzənəl

1. A person who travels to a location for a set period of time (typically coinciding with the winter or summer season) whose primary objectives usually include the following:  obtain wages, seek thrills, or just do something a little different.

2. A soul, tethered only to a body, that heeds the call of adventure and experience wherever and with whomever that may be.

It is difficult to really understand what you’re signing up for when you say yes to a seasonal job in a new place. For the most part, you’re just taking a leap of faith and hoping things work out. You are hoping that one: you enjoy your job; two: meet people you like; and three: have fun things to do. For me, I hit that trifecta this summer in Ketchikan, Alaska.

 Brittany kayaking with the seals in the Ketchikan Creek. Brittany kayaking with the seals in the Ketchikan Creek.

Despite my job at Southeast Sea Kayaks being the primary reason I came to Ketchikan, it wasn’t my whole life and it’s not what I am going to focus on here. Instead, I want to share a few things about Ketchikan, what it was like for me to live here and offer up some advice and info for any future Ketchikan Seasonals out there.

One of the greatest advantages about working for a seasonal company is that, despite moving to a completely new and unfamiliar place, you have already set yourself up to overcome one of the biggest challenges of moving – meeting new friends. All of your co-workers found and were hired by the same company, so the chances that you have other things in common is pretty high. Plus, beyond befriending just your own co-workers and housemates, you will find that by simply going out and exploring the town, you open yourself up to meet other Seasonals who are in the same position as you; new to town and looking for friends, fun, and adventures.

This leads me to a piece of advice that I believe will make help make the most out of any experience; always say “yes”.  “Do you want to go to a bonfire tonight?” Yes. “Want to go on a 9 – 12 mile hike, depending on how lost we get?” Yes. “Can you work an extra day this week?” Yes. “Want spend the day salmon fishing in the rain?” Yes. “Should we go invite that person sitting alone over there to come sit with us?” Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. There is so much to see, do, and learn that the best way to cram it all in before the daylight hours start decreasing is to jump right into it.

 The hike up Deer Mountain and over to Blue Lake is one of Ketchikan's best. The hike up Deer Mountain and over to Blue Lake is one of Ketchikan’s best.

If you start the summer open to these experiences, you will find that Ketchikan is easily one of the most unique, beautiful, and interesting places in the country. Each day, the constant ebbing and flowing tide, sometimes at a difference of 20+ ft in 6 hours, never fails to fascinate its observers. At low tide, there is endless intertidal life to watch, while high tide reveals new aquatic territory for kayakers to explore. By mid-June salmon berries start to ripen and stick around for your picking (and eating) pleasure until July, while huckleberries start to make their appearance at the end of August and blueberries sit on the alpine ridges the whole season through. In mid-June, the salmon start running and continue unceasingly until September. The Orcas make appearances early on and the humpbacks appear periodically, but it never gets old to see a seal pop up or an eagle soar by.  And this is all just scratching the surface of the natural wonders that will cross your path each day- don’t even get me started on the bear cubs, fox gloves, banana slugs that are just waiting to give you a crash course in Alaskan wildlife.

 Whales are a common sight in the Tongass Narrows in front of Ketchikan.

Whales are a common sight in the Tongass Narrows in front of Ketchikan.

It would be unfair to you for me to pretend that summer life in Ketchikan is all Orcas and berries, because it’s not.  For instance, if you choose to not bring a car here, be prepared to adapt your lifestyle to walking and biking everywhere, since the the public transportation system leaves much to be desired.  This means thinking a little more seriously about things like time management (also known as getting to work on time) and grocery shopping (for example buying a pint of milk vs. a gallon). This becomes an even bigger factor when you take into account that the Southeast Sea Kayaks employee guide house is about 1.5 miles from downtown (and work) and sits atop a dramatically steep hill. I am not one to exaggerate but just to back up my use of “dramatic” I would like to state that more than once I have wondered how much elevation I gain in the .2 miles up that hill.

Beyond carving killer thighs during a summer in Ketchikan, you do have to take into account the realities of your job. Even though there are going to be some perks, all jobs have their challenges. Patience and humor are characteristics commonly admired by people but in the tourism industry, they are survival skills. If you can’t answer the same question 5 times a day with a smile then you should probably think twice about applying for your tourism-based job. You will not enjoy your work, people will not enjoy you, and everyone will walk away sour. It really is that simple, so to quote Forrest Gump, “that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

 If you don't enjoy rain Ketchikan may not be the place for you.

If you don’t enjoy rain Ketchikan may not be the place for you.

I do feel obligated to point out that while you are living in the Tongass National Rainforest, it will rain. It’s not uncommon to have a stretch of three drizzle-filled days with nothing to look at but a white sheet of fog surrounding the island. But then suddenly, and gloriously, you’ll wake up one morning to mountains that seem to have appeared overnight and an ocean that is glittering under a bright, golden sun. As soon as that happens, those rainy days slip into a distant memory.

Throughout all these different elements, what I really want to emphasize is the unfathomable amount of opportunities that Ketchikan is ready to offer those Seasonals who seek them.  It would be a mistake to think that just because Ketchikan sits on an island with only 32 miles of paved road, there has to be limits to living here. If you put your adventure goggles on, you will see that this place isn’t just swimming with salmon, it is swimming with opportunities. You can’t turn around without stumbling across a new fascinating fact, or a chance to marvel at Alaska’s extraordinary beauty.

So come, summer Seasonals, and embrace the Alaskan adventures and opportunities that await you.

* If you’ve made it through this post and are still Ketchikan-curious, check out The Seasonals to read stories from this summer’s crop of adventure seekers*

 The town of Ketchikan, with Deer Mountain above and James in his kayak. The town of Ketchikan, with Deer Mountain above and James in his kayak.