Free Alaska!

It’s been two months since my Alaska trip and I’ve been holding off on publishing this post because I thought that other people were going to send me their photos. But, it’s about time that I share my experiences and really express my gratitude to Craig and Pam Goldman for the trip of a lifetime.

I don’t write in my blog as much as I should by any means.  I usually just let people know what is going on in my life through Twitter and Facebook.  Not only is it hard to type with my hand tremors, but it is hard to summarize what I want to say in a post that is short enough to make my readers interested enough to actually read the whole thing.  Everyone that knows me has been asking about my fishing trip to Alaska though.  Rather than just saying it was amazing, I figured it was time that I do write about it.

Craig & Pam Goldman

Craig and Pam are the truest, most caring and giving people that I have ever had the privilege to meet, or even hear of.  They don’t even consider what they do for veterans as charity, but feel that it is something they owe to us.  Craig was not drafted during Vietnam.  He tried to join the military anyway out of love for our country, but for a reason that I don’t remember, failed the physical.  But that didn’t stop him from taking his God chosen path which gave him the opportunity to do for those of us that were called to duty. What impressed me the most about the Goldman’s is that they don’t just contribute to a foundation, but they actually get to know the people that they share with, and actually go on the fishing trips with them.

I actually told Craig that his charity was too much!  Then jokingly I told him that my father died 20 years ago and that I’m up for adoption.  He as actually been treating me like a son, and signing dad to all of his emails. Those of you that know how evil my father was, it is so comforting to find someone like him to even jokingly take a father’s role. (I meant it as a joke, not to disrespect my mother’s husband Lester.)

      So last September, when I was on a weekend trip to Roscoe, NY with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF), our Regional Coordinator Tim Daly asked me if I’d be interested in going on an all expense paid fishing trip to Alaska.  I said what anyone else would have said of course. (DUH!) He told me that a generous donor wanted to not only give money to PHWFF, but he wanted to bring two veterans with him personally on the trip.  It was so unreal to me that even after the flights were booked, I still didn’t believe it could be true.  Do you know how long it would take a disabled veteran like me to afford such a trip?  I never could.

      In April, I met Craig and Pam for the first time. Tim, my Program Leader Harry, other chosen veteran George, and two of Craig’s friends with our wife’s met at their beautiful home to talk about the trip.  We started with crackers, cheese and nuts in there library and then they took us to their clubhouse for lunch.  The only thing Craig asked me to bring was a sense of humor.  Once I got comfortable with him, I think he may of regretted saying that.  He warned me that I could be un-adopted fast. So I tried to behave myself a little better. 🙂

Well, we flew first class; which was a first for me.  As sore as I was after a day of flying though, I don’t think I’d try flying that far with less leg room.  So basically I’m stuck on the east coast, unless he liked me enough.  My anxiety was so bad for at least a week before the trip, and I was out of medication.  My doctor at the VA was on vacation, so I couldn’t get more.  Fortunately that morning I found that I did have the medication.  It was just underneath the pile of the other meds that I have.  It turned out though that I didn’t need them in Newark; because it was early morning and empty.  Then Denver and Anchorage where pleasant experiences.  The only time I ended up needing them was at the San Francisco airport on the way home.

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Rapids Camp Lodge (owned by Deneki Outdoors), in King Salmon, AK is unlike any fishing lodge that I ever heard of.  They picked up our group of six in Anchorage with their own aircraft (about an hour flight).  We were met at the airport by a van and a pickup truck to drive all of us out to the lodge.  We were shown to our rooms, fitted with waders and boots, got our fishing licenses, and socialized with all of their staff until dinner, at the open beer and wine bar.

Digger, the lodge chef is five star!  Our first night, we had the biggest, most tender king crab after filling up on sushi appetizers.  I cant remember everything that we ate, but every meal was the best of the best.  Smoked duck one night had almost like a ham/bacon flavor.  OMG it was good.  Even when we were on the water fishing and Digger and his two sous chefs, Dan and Max, packed us sandwiches, they were not plain, except Craig’s; he likes his PB&J’s.

The next morning we set out after breakfast for our first day fishing.  All of us except for Craig (he couldn’t get on float plains due to recent surgery.) were flown on their largest of four float plains to the Nushagak River to fish for king salmon.  We fished with conventional rods that day instead of fly.  It was a great way to start a seven day excursion.  I caught my two biggest kings ever.

The sakai  salmon started their run up the river a little later than expected.  But, when they started running, it was the best fly fishing that I have ever experienced.  The first day, I limited out at 5 of them, and then caught five more that I had to release.  It was a little slower the second day, so we flew out again to a place called the Narrows to fish for arctic char and graylings.  The landscape there was so heavenly.  We were standing in the crystal clear river among the greenest of grasses and shrubs.  The temperature was in the mid 70’s and we were surrounded by majestic white capped mountains.

One morning, the group flew out to sight see, but I stayed to fish for more sakai.  They went to the Katmai National Park to view the brown bears.  Afterward they flew over the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which is within the Katmai park.

To rate this trip would be impossible.  Every employee of the lodge and all of the other guests became almost immediately like family (if you love your family).  Every night when my group was getting shut-eye, I was up with the crowd; drinking the free beer and smoking good cigars.

If you can afford an Alaskan trip, look into the Rapids Camp Lodge.  When I saw their prices at first, in nearly choked.  But after I thought about what was included, I wondered how they could provide their services at such a price.  The rooms, the food, the flights from river to river, the personal guides, the open bar, not to forget the hot tub, sauna, gym and masseuse.  Take in the beauty of Alaska and you’ll find it more than worth it.  If you can’t afford it, I understand that Deneki Outdoors also owns other lodges (including an unguided one) so that they can accommodate your budget; in Alaska as well as across the Americas.

So I told you, that I couldn’t keep this post short.  I owe Craig and Pam the recognition for how much they  mean to me and to other veterans that they have treated in the past; and will in the future.

I also want to thank:

  • PHWFF for connecting me with him and choosing me for the trip.
  • The staff at Rapids Camp Lodge for making the stay amazing.
  • And, my wife for letting me go; and along with my daughter and mother, babysitting my psychotic dog.

Living with PTSD is a terrible thing.  I can’t complain about the life I was dealt when it comes to my beautiful family; but sometimes a get away (especially one like this) is much needed therapy.

 If Craig and Pam read this post, I want you to know that I love you both and look forward to seeing you again soon.  I’m not asking for another trip.  I’d love to just spend time surf fishing with you.  You are truly wonderful people!  I pray that God continues to bless you always.

Author: Charles Bombard @ Healing on the fly

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