Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Miraculous Rescue of Whiskey Ted

It was just another normal night in Alaska. Yes, just as I promised last year, it's another true tale of winter survival against incredible odds, from back in the day. It's the story of The Miraculous Rescue of Whiskey Ted.

It was my first winter in Petersburg, Alaska. And by that, I mean it was probably October, and the first snowfall of the year came in fast and hard that day, in a blizzard that brought with it a foot of snow in no time at all. I was lucky to make it home from work, 3 1/2 miles out the road to the little house I shared with my future first husband Glenn, 3 cats and a cockatiel named Hairy. We were just sitting down to dinner when the scanner went off (I was a reporter, so I had it on at all times). The call went out for the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department to mobilize and get personnel and an ambulance out to 4 Mile to try to find a guy who was floating out to sea.

To help the picture I'm about to paint come alive in your head, it might be helpful to know a few things about the lay of the land. Petersburg was on Mitkof Island in Southeast Alaska, on the Inside Passage. Mitkof is about 30 miles long, and just a few miles wide. Back in 1989, when this story took place, there was just one road along the western edge of the island to get from the north end to the south, and instead of regular street addresses, we used mile markers. So we lived 3 1/2 miles 'out the road.'

Mitkof Island was separated from Kupreanof Island by a stretch of water so skinny that you could kayak across from one island to the other, crossing "The Narrows" in about 15 minutes during slack tide. But when the tide comes in and goes out, it doesn't play around. The ocean becomes like a fast moving river. You do not want to get caught in that tide on a cold winter night in the middle of a blizzard when huge swells flip your little boat over, and you don't even have a lifejacket on. But that's exactly what happened to Whiskey Ted.

Out at 5 Mile, Bob Larson's house was on the water side. Across the road on the uphill side, his parents. His dad stepped out onto the front porch for a smoke after dinner. Although he didn't hear too well, he thought he heard a faint cry for help down towards the water. Worried that it might be one of his grandkids, he called the house below to ask Bob if any of his young boys were outside in the snow. But no, everyone was cozy inside the house.

Bob stepped out and saw the craziest thing floating down the Narrows: a man in an Australian Outback type oilskin coat and Xtra Tuffs clinging to the top of his overturned skiff, rapidly passing his house on the swift tide, yelling his head off. Bob called 911, and the community jumped to its feet to help a man who was headed towards certain death on a stormy night.
Whiskey Ted, back in the day.   Credit: Petersburg Pilot

I remember hearing the call to mobilize the search & rescue team, which was planning to head out to 4 Mile, where the Beachcomber Inn & Restaurant had a dock. It sounded like they were planning to try to get a boat out into the water to try for an interception. We dropped our forks and ran for our boots and gloves. Glenn grabbed both of our snow shovels. I grabbed my mic and tape deck.

We ran down to the bottom of our driveway, just in time to see a convoy of emergency vehicles slush by. It was blowing sideways, and the snow was deep on the road. When we caught up with the team, they had realized that to get down the hill to the dock on the long, unplowed driveway, they'd have to shovel it. If only they'd brought snow shovels. So we handed ours over, and they went to work, breaking both of them within minutes. I followed one of the firefighters, Jim Stolpe, as he walked in the snow, yelling out towards the water in the pitch black night, trying hard to listen in the wind for a response. The first ambulance started down the hill, and became stuck immediately. Someone said they were pretty sure the little upside down boat had just passed by, so they decided to turn the second ambulance around and head closer to town to the next place with a boat ramp to try for a 2nd interception. I honestly didn't think it was possible.

The 2nd ambulance started to turn around in the middle of the highway, and it became hopelessly stuck as well. Somebody got on their radio to call for the last rescue vehicle, still in town at the firehall, to head out the road to the next interception point.

And that's when the lights went out. The entire island went dark. Just as the door to the ambulance bay was on the way up, but not quite enough for the vehicle to get out. There was no way any more emergency vehicles would be heading out for the next half hour to help Whiskey Ted, who was still floating down the Narrows, towards the open ocean a few miles away in the middle of an Alaskan snowstorm.

Meanwhile, down at the Harbormaster's shack in the middle of the city's main harbor, just before the Wrangell Narrows opens up into Frederick Sound, Hofter Gjerde was listening to events unfolding on the scanner. Hofter had lived on the island his whole life, and grew up on boats, but still didn't know how to drive a car by the time he was 40 (I know, because I was there when he did a few years later, but that's a whole 'nuther story). Hofter knew that if any more time was wasted trying to find a way down to a boat ramp, Whiskey Ted was really gonna be a goner (not that we knew it was Whiskey Ted at the time. We just knew it was some guy screaming his head off, sprawled on top of a little skiff). So Hofter got into the harbor master's boat, and sped off into the Narrows, hoping to come across our hapless victim before the boat flipped over again.

Miraculously, Hofter found him. He pulled Whiskey Ted aboard his boat, and took him back to town. I don't know how Whiskey Ted got to the hospital, since I know Hofter didn't drive him the 3 blocks. But Whiskey Ted pulled through. In fact, he lived until last year, when cancer took him at the age of 64.

So when the wind is blowing and you can feel the chill to your bone, when inches upon inches of snow are coming down and you start mourning for your oranges and jasmine, when you lament that you might have to walk to work the next day or entertain your kids because the schools are shut down, remember Whiskey Ted. And how much worse it could be. The plants in our garden might not survive, but we will.

Have a warm and safe holiday, don't EVER get in a boat without a lifejacket, and enjoy the Whiskey Ted Xtra Tuff Xmas Cocktail Hour Playlist.

Click on the Xtra Tuff Xmas Cocktail Hour Playlist below to play, or go directly to the playlist at Grooveshark.
Xtra Tuff Xmas Cocktail Hour by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Locked Out

Not that I'm bragging (mainly because I don't want anyone to try to prove me wrong), but potential burglars would have a hard time breaking into my house.
Now I've known this for a long time, but my husband, who just moved in a few weeks ago, is just finding this out now. Twice in the past week, my guy has locked himself out of the house. In both instances, he walked out of the kitchen door and onto the back porch, forgetting that when the door knob turns on the inside, it's actually locked from the outside. Fools him every time.

Fortunately, he's had two important things on him both times...his clothes and his phone.

If you're familiar with my husband, you know it's not that farfetched that he'd end up naked in the backyard with no way to reach me at work. Of course he tried to find another way into the house before calling me, but short of throwing a deck chair through the kitchen door, he quickly realized that it just wasn't gonna happen. He was hopelessly locked out, and needed someone to let him back in.

The first time I was able to drive home and let him back in the house, but the second time he had to walk all the way from home to my office so I could give him the key. All this reminded me of the one and only time I ever locked my self out of the house and learned for myself just how difficult it would be to get back in.

It was a cool December evening right about this time of year. Sophia was invited to an afterschool  Christmas cookie baking party at a friend's house. We were already buckled into our seatbelts with the motor running when I remembered that I'd left a gift inside on the counter. I took my house key off the ring so that Sophia could stay in the warm car while I ran back in the house. I was back in a flash, and we headed off to the party. We returned home a few hours later (when it was pitch black and really cold), and after looking through every pocket, my purse and under the seats in the car, I realized that my key was gone. It was not on my person. It was not in my car.

I drove back to the party, and soon all the moms there were looking through their purses, wondering if one of them might've somehow accidentally swiped my house key. I started to get a little panicky. I'm a little surprised I didn't take a bite out of each Christmas cookie we'd made to see if maybe, possibly, perchance my key was dropped into the batter. Eventually, the man of the house, Adam, followed me back, positive that he could get me back into my house in a few short minutes.

A few minutes turned into a few hours. We tried credit cards. We tried removing the hinges from a door that opened outward. We tried prying open the garage door. We tried peeling back the rubber insulation piping from around the front door. We went into the backyard (which required maneuvering a combination lock in the dark because all my flashlights were inside the house), and worked on all the doors and windows. Then we worked on shimmying the sliding glass door out of its track. Nothing worked. The place was locked tight. 

Adam hated to give up. We'd been so sure that he could save the day. But finally, he admitted defeat, and I called the locksmith. He showed up around 9pm, and after trying for 45 minutes to get in through all the same doors that Adam had been working on, announced that I had the hardest house to break into that he'd ever come across. The locks were expensive. The doors were solid. Most of them had high quality deadbolts in addition to doorknob locks. All my windows and glass doors had locks plus wooden rods for an added protective measure. Finally, the locksmith resorted to a method that might (he warned me) destroy my front door.

It worked. He got in, and I started running around the house looking for my key, which I thought for sure had to be somewhere inside. But it wasn't. We were all freezing, so I made a quick pot of coffee as the locksmith removed my lockset, telling me that he was going to go down to his van and make me a new set of keys. I grabbed a flashlight (because this was before I added security lights that come on when anyone gets within 50 feet of my house) and headed down the front steps to bring him a mug of coffee. As I walked across the driveway, the beam of light picked up a silver flash. Right there, in between my car and the front steps. Right where Adam, the locksmith and I had all tromped by no less than 6 times apiece during the ordeal. Right where I had dropped it running back out of the house when I ran in for the gift. My key.

Today's playlist is dedicated to my husband, my friend Adam, and everybody else who has been locked out, locked up or somehow found themselves without the key on the outside looking in (or the inside looking out, I suppose). And here's hoping you don't find yourself out in the cold without a way back in, or someone to call.

Check out today's Locked Out Playlist directly at Grooveshark, or hit the play button on the embedded streaming playlist below.
Locked Out by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark
  1. Let My Love Open The Door - Pete Townshend
  2. Lookin' Out My Back Door - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  3. Locked Out - Freelance Whales
  4. Open The Door - Otis Redding
  5. Locked Up - Ingrid Michaelson
  6. She Holds A Key - Gavin DeGraw
  7. Picking The Same Lock - Alias & Tarsier
  8. Locked Out Boogie - Leroy Foster
  9. Lock 'Em Up - Charles Mingus
  10. I'm Gonna Lock My Heart - Billie Holliday
  11. Lock, Stock & Teardrop - k.d. Lang
  12. Somebody Done Changed The Lock - B.B. King
  13. Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
  14. Skeleton Key - Margot & The Nuclear So & So's
  15. Lock You Up - The Love Dogs
  16. Key To Your Door - Magic Slim & The Teardrops
  17. Key Signator - David Grisman Quintet
  18. Key To The Highway - Steve Miller Band
  19. Secret Door - Arctic Monkeys
  20. Back At Your Door - Maroon 5
  21. Stitched Up - John Mayer & Herbie Hancock
  22. Out The Door - The All-American Rejects
  23. Pop That Lock - Adam Lambert
  24. Under Lock & Key - MxPx
  25. Get Out The Door - Velvet Revolver
  26. Knock Knock - MacMiller