I’ve had some great travel this summer: from the picturesque beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts and the bustling island of Martha’s Vineyard, to the canyons and deserts of Arizona. But Kodiak Island, Alaska could be one of our country’s best-kept secrets.
South of Anchorage, tucked away in the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak Island was born in a geological eruption, a volcano, and is a jagged piece of real estate lacking roads and harboring crazy weather patterns. At 100 miles long, it’s the second largest island in the US. Only about 6,000 people live here, half of who belong to the Coast Guard. Indeed, Kodiak Island is home to our largest Coast Guard facility, thanks to its proximity to Russia and here to protect Kodiak’s massive fishing. Verdant mountains landmark Kodiak, the biggest town, and across the bay, ripples of blue mountains as far as you can see. It is a stunningly beautiful place.
It’s also a challenging place to raise a son with hemophilia. I came here to visit my dear friend Kerry (Fatula) Halter, who lives in Kodiak with husband Ron and son Stephen. Kerry and I met years ago at a hemophilia event, and you know chemistry… we just clicked and have been good friends ever since. She moved from Pennsylvania, where she was executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of NHF, back home to Kodiak, her birthplace, two years ago. She and I had been plotting ever since about having me come and visit. My schedule finally permitted, and I took the 15+ hour flight from Boston to Alaska, my first trip there.
|Stunningly beautiful Kodiak Island|
|Laurie and Kerry|
Despite its stunning beauty, Kodiak is not always an easy place to live: prices are astronomical ($5 a gallon for gas?) as everything needs to be flown or shipped in. Fresh fruit? Kinda rare. Kerry warns me that before purchasing any fruit, it must be squeezed for freshness, and to check expiration labels of everything. There are few roads outside of the main city, and you need to fly a charter plane here and there. Planning ahead is key.
This is especially true with hemophilia. Stephen is the only child with hemophilia on the island. His HTC is in Anchorage. Clinic visits take planning. The Coast Guard will fly them for free in a noisy, unglamorous C-130 (that’s a big plane!), but only one parent can fly and it flies on certain days of the week. Otherwise they have to take a commercial flight. Now flying from Boston to Anchorage is not as expensive as you think, about $490. I could pay that much trying to get to Newark sometimes. But the one hour flight from Anchorage to Kodiak?
$500, thank you very much.
So visits to the HTC are expensive. Thankfully, in any medical emergency, the Coast Guard will fly him no matter what.
He put it further in perspective for me. “If I were still living in Pennsylvania, I’d still have to drive an hour to the HTC, so it’s the same thing pretty much.” Wise child!
And he has connections; the Alaska Hemophilia Association in Anchorage is well established, and is operated by Kerry's aunt, Louise Cobb! But Stephen has to contend with things most school kids do not. Kodiak is home to the famous Kodiak bear, a massive brute. There are thousands of them on this island. One was spotted once in their neighborhood, and so Kerry had to accompany Stephen everywhere, particularly to the bus stop, armed with Bear Spray (pepper spray), which works effectively to deter a bear attack. Still, it was frightening.
|Hiking to Fossil Beach|
Kodiak as so much to offer. I wish all Americans could see this extraordinary treasure. Yes, life is a bit more challenging due to hemophilia, and inhibitors, but Stephen is managing just fine, thanks to his proactive mom, the readiness of the Coast Guard to assist (thanks to Ron!) at any time, and Stephen’s own can-do spirit which compliments well the culture and attitude of Alaska, and his new life in Kodiak.
|We've got cows; a bison|
|Sunset at Fossil beach|
Great Book I Just Read
Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier [Kindle]
by Tom Kizzia