The Last Frontier
The following are the thoughts I shared at Greg Schuyler’s celebration of life. He passed in April, was my father-in-law and annual Alaska fishing buddy.
Ernest Hemingway once said “A man is never lost at Sea.” No one that I know loved the sea more than the friend, mentor and family man we celebrate here today. Over the last seven years, I watched Greg’s decade’s long love of the sea flow into a love of Alaska. To give you a sense of why Greg loved Alaska, I want to share three stories that open a window on the far northern side of the man we all loved.
If you have ever been to Alaska with Greg, please raise your hand. Keep them up please. If you have tasted some of his success there, also raise your hand. And finally if Greg has bragged about one of his Alaska adventures, please raise your hand. You have all been a part of Greg’s love of the Last Frontier. You may now put your hands down.
When I met Greg almost twenty years ago, I never imagined that we would bond over fishing in Alaska. He, a lifelong Californian, who spent years on the majestic San Francisco Bay. Me, a lifelong Chicagoan, who spent years indoors on a computer. One of life’s unexpected joys is discovering friendships in unusual places, at any possible moment.
What was the spark that brought Greg to Alaska?
Well, after my first trip to Seward in 2013, I heard through the grapevine about Greg’s strong interest to go fishing in Alaska. Living across the continent from each other, we had spent very little one-on-one time together since I married into the family. But I knew that he was at home on the water and didn’t complain much. And I knew enough about Greg to know that he would be happy just reading a book to occupy himself. So without a second thought, Greg joined us in 2014 for our trip to Homer, Alaska… and for each of the next 7 summers.
The first story starts five years ago, when we decided to visit a State Park and hike a trail with soaring eagles, hungry bears and a few tree huggers. The trail was a three mile hike with five hundred feet of elevation up and down. Greg’s seventy-five year old self was adamant that he wouldn’t be left behind and if Greg was one thing, he could be stubborn!
For the next four hours, we explored the park under a golden sun with clear blue skies. We cautiously hiked through a small forest making sure not to surprise an unsuspecting mama bear. We meandered across the glacial moraine, which looked like a Martian landscape. And we earned our reward upon reaching the ice cold lake set before a massive glacier that would make Ansel Adams blush.
After absorbing one of nature’s frozen bounties, we completed our hike to the return water taxi ride. Clearly to me Greg’s was excited because he spent the thirty minute ride back to Homer chatting up the boat captain, showing off all his marine knowledge and experience. I can only think that this was him testing out the idea for a future marine business venture. I’ll let Sharon comment on how far that idea went.
The second story is a fish tale from four years ago. I know that fishermen tend to exaggerate, but wait until the end of this one to judge me! We were on a king salmon fishing excursion one day. Now, king salmon are the largest, best tasting, best fighting species of salmon. Weighing between 20 and 80 lbs, they put a bend in your rod and a smile on your face when latching on to one.
Greg was hooked up to a big king salmon that decided to test his experience. With six fisherman, a captain, an anchor line and multiple fishing lines in the water, obstacles are plentiful for a wily fish to cause chaos and escape to strike another day.
Well, this day, Greg fought the fish back and forth. Reeling the king in and watching the king take line out. At one point, the king jumped out of the water and dove under the boat. These metal boats have sharp enough edges that just a tap of the line can set the fish free!
After a battle that seesawed back and forth, the mighty king came to the surface one last time. He looked at Greg, shook his head and spit the hook out! For what felt like minutes, but was actually two seconds, we all stared with our mouths open, waiting for the inevitable escape. But the fishing hook hung in the air and Greg showed his experience by constantly applying pressure to the line, the hook snagged on the top of the king’s back. Our charter captain lunged to net the king and complete this memorable fish tale!
If you’ve seen a picture of Greg today where he’s holding a large salmon, that is the fish and I have the video of this epic battle!
The third story happened only twelve months ago when our annual trip took us back to Seward, Alaska. Since Greg’s birthday and my birthday bookended the trip, we decided to celebrate with a helicopter flight around the Kenai peninsula.
When the day arrived, we were greeted with a picture perfect sunny day. Greg climbed aboard next to the pilot while I took the back seat. The turning rotors on helicopters are loud like a fourth-of-July fireworks show. So the only way to communicate in flight is through headsets with voice activated microphones.
During the hour and a half flight around the Kenai peninsula and Resurrection Bay, we flew around soaring cliffs, landed on a snow covered glacier, flew over turquoise mountain lakes and spotted an eagle perched atop a three story high glacier iceberg. It was like watching in an IMax movie at one of those giant screened theaters.
Throughout the flight, the pilot pointed out wildlife, shared knowledge about the area and asked about our trip. When we landed, we all looked at each other as the pilot asked Greg if he had a good time. Greg looked at him, pointed to his ear and said that “I didn’t hear anything that you said.” Some things are better seen than heard.
After we all returned home following Greg’s first trip in 2014, he sent me an email, written in his crisp everyman’s style. I felt that he had a great trip because we laughed like a night at a comedy club, we caught more fish than a freezer can hold and we bonded over Alaska.
How do I know he had a good time? Because in his email, he thanked me for checking off an item on his bucket list. Greg, may you have fair skies and following seas.