KODIAK, Alaska —You have to really want to go to Kodiak. The first two times that I tried I failed - a cancelled flight, and then another thwarted by a low ceiling of fog that obscured the landing strip at the last minute. Even if I did get there, friends warned, I should pack for a stay longer than expected, just in case I couldn’t get out.
Once I made it I started to feel like not being able to leave might be just fine. Kodiak is green -- explosively, irrepressibly, intensely green -- and so lush that in places, it evokes the Big Island of Hawaii more than Alaska. "This looks like Jurassic Park," exclaimed the Floridian Orthodox priest sitting next to me on the flight as we landed.
In the harbor area, you'll also find massive fish processing plants and hardware stores, along with a funky art co-op called Emerald Isle Framing, next to the much-loved Kodiak Island Brewing Company. Talk to the brewers, buy a “Sarah Pale Ale” t-shirt -- named cheekily for a former Alaska Governor -- and drink a pint or two in the comfortable seating area that smells pleasantly of hops and barley. The hoppy "Liquid Sunshine" is a popular brew, and you can get growlers to go. The beer pairs nicely with smoked salmon or black cod from Kodiak Island Smokehouse, a longstanding local business that offers custom processing and smoked fish to go.
I stopped at the Monk's Rock Coffehouse & Bookstore, which was advertising a "pilgrim's special" for guests in town for the annual Russian Orthodox pilgrimage to nearby Spruce Island. The special turned out to be a steaming bowl of dill-heavy borscht topped with a dollop of sour cream and dense, freshly baked rye bread. The coffeehouse, which is operated by students from the nearby St. Innocent's Academy, offers books chronicling the long history of the Russian Orthodox church in Alaska along with icons and other religious items.
The Baranov Museum and the Alutiiq Museum & Archeological Repository are must-visit attractions: the Alutiiq Museum offers tangible living history of the people who've occupied Kodiak Island for thousands of years, via fascinating exhibits. And the Baranov Museum chronicles the Russian and early American history of Kodiak. You can see things like seal-skin currency printed by the Russian American Company in the 1820s and a 26-foot long wood-frame Alutiiq baidarka kayak.
Drive out of town on Mill Bay Road (another coffee shop work checking out: Mill Bay Coffee & Pastry, next door to a well-stocked local bookstore called Next Page) on the way to Ft. Abercrombie State Park, where you can explore the historic relics of a World War II-era defense instillation among fields of wildflowers, mossy forests and cliffs with sweeping vistas of the sea.
If you drive all the way out to the end of the road to the east of town (only about 20 minutes) you'll find anglers plucking fish out of a stream that leads to serene Monashka Bay, fringed by pale sands. From the beach I saw a red fox skitter through the brush and watched fish flopping out of the water away from shore.
On my way back to my lodging that night, I drove along Womens Bay as the late-night sun began to set. I noticed a knot of headlights parked on the roadside. It was a group of Kodiak residents -- fishermen, two young Coast Guard members -- watching a young brown bear race along in the shallows, batting at fish. Wild, indeed.
It rains a lot of Kodiak. Don't let it ruin your fun, just dress for the weather. XtraTufs are everywhere. You can pick up your own pair at Mack's Sport Shop downtown.
Like many places in rural Alaska, flights are sometimes cancelled due to bad weather. Try not to schedule totally inflexible travel plans, and stay calm. Marnie Leist, who has lived in Kodiak for five years and works at the Alutiiq Museum, advises guests to pack for an extra two or three days. You can also take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Homer ??? a 10-12 hour journey.
Consider timing your visit to coincide with one of Kodiak???s festivals. The Crab Festival , held in late May(motto: rain or shine!) is a big community celebration that gets fun and rowdy.