Ship Creek Adventure

An Alaska short story, Ship Creek Adventure tells the true story of a boy who fell into a deep creek, but couldn't swim.

ship creek adventure

by Michael R. Dougherty

It was slippery from creek water splashing over it and suddenly, my boot quickly slid right off the log I was using as a bridge.

When I was 12 years old, we were living in Mountain View, Alaska which is a suburb of Anchorage and not far from the waters of Ship Creek.

In the summer, my younger brother Tom and I and two neighborhood friends named Patrick and John would go exploring. We filled our Army Navy store packs with peanut butter sandwiches. For something to drink, we packed Fizzies (those flavored tablets that turned plain water into fizzy flavored drinks), and we would head off for a day of fishing and exploring in and around Ship Creek.

The wooded areas around the creek provided plenty of places to explore and of course the creek itself was a great place to hang out.

Near downtown Anchorage, the shores of Ship Creek are a magnet for the combat fishing crowd when the Salmon are running. And in 1915, Ship Creek Flats at the mouth of Cook Inlet, was where the now famous Tent City sprang up, that would become the town of Anchorage.

Our treks to Ship creek were always filled with some kind of adventure. On some days, it was all about fishing, and on other days, we were just exploring the woods.

Years before, when our family was living in a small cabin on Goose Bay Road near Wasilla, Alaska, I had become a good marksman with my BB gun. I was a good enough shot that I was able to bag a few Spruce Hen. As a result, a friend of my father's had rewarded my hunting ability, with a shiny new pellet rifle.

Later, we moved from the Alaskan woods of Goose Bay Road back to the city streets of Mountain View. It was fun to spend our summer trekking through the woods of Ship Creek, and I would often take my trusty pellet rifle.

One day, me, my brother Tom, Patrick and his older brother Tim were walking along a well-used path that ran along the sometimes swift waters of the creek. It had rained the day before and the grass was still wet. Along the banks, there seemed to be people fishing everywhere, so the creek was much more crowded than usual.

Our path brought us to a place where the creek had carved a sharp “eddy” into the bank, and it had created a large, deep and swirling pool.

The path led to a large fallen log that went across the deep pool to a spit of grass covered land on the other side.

Tim and Patrick were walking ahead, and my brother Tom was right behind me.

When we came up on the log bridge, Tim and Patrick crossed in front of me. When it was my turn I held my pellet rifle in both hands as I started to cross the log.

But about halfway across, my booted foot slipped off the wet log and suddenly, my body lost its balance. I then fell off the log and made a big splash as I sank into the cold, fast-moving water of Ship Creek where my world instantly changed.

I didn't know how to swim at all, but there I was in a deep and fast-moving pool of water. Not only that, but I was churning around, completely submerged. Not knowing which way was up, I couldn't find the surface. Underwater and frantically looking around, bits of wood and bark churned all around with me. I had suddenly been swept up into a cold and dangerous slow motion ballet.

Suddenly, the top of my head popped up out of the water and I had this weird view because half my eyes were still underwater. In the upper half of my vision I could see land in front of me, and in the bottom half I could see below the surface.

I knew that I needed air, but my mouth was still submerged.

Somehow I was able to bend my head back just enough so that I could catch a quick gasp of air before the current sucked me back down and underwater again.

Underwater again, I could see the muddy bank in front of me. In my terror I knew that if I got pinned against the bottom of the eddy, I might not be able to get to the surface in time to get the air I required. This was looking horrible.

Suddenly, my head popped up out of the water again, only this time my head was all the way out of the water.

At that moment, I was so horrified that I couldn't open my mouth to shout for help. In front of me, on the creek bank, was a small clump of grass. My mind raced as I thought that if I could reach out with one arm, I could carefully grab hold of the grass. But I knew that if I pulled too hard, the grass would come apart in my hand, and I'd end up back underwater.

For some odd reason, my memory reminded me of something I had either read or heard before. “If you go down under the water for the third time, you'll drown.”

I was determined not to go under for a third time.

Somehow I was able to grab hold of the grass.

But I was so cold and terrified that I still couldn't speak. Try as I might, I couldn't get the words “help” out from between my cold, chattering teeth. I knew my friend Patrick and his older brother Tim had been right in front of me, but I was out of site, below the grassy creek bank just bobbing around in what could have been my watery Alaska grave.

Then, out of nowhere, I managed to force a feeble and Trembley “help” out of my shivering mouth.

Suddenly, Patrick was looking down at me.

Then Patrick and Tim got hold of my arms and pulled me out of Ship Creek and hauled me onto land, where I lay on my back.

When I was able to sit up, I discovered that my poor brother Tom was still straddling the wet log with his feet in the cold water. When he saw me fall, he had become terrified, and he too was unable to holler for help. Then he had sat down on the log, so he wouldn't fall in with me.

Tim and Patrick rescued Tom and as we all stood there talking about what had just happened, Tim said, “where's your pellet gun?”

At that moment, I realized that as I had fallen in the water, my pellet gun came out of my hands and was now somewhere at the bottom of Ship Creek.

Then Tim got an idea -

Hey Mike, we can get some rope, tie it around your waist and lower you back in the water, so you can look for your pellet gun.”

I loved my pellet gun and was proud that I had earned it because of my good marksmanship, but I looked at Tim and still shivering with cold I said “are you crazy, no way… I'm not going back in that water.”

Tim tried to assure me that he would personally be holding the rope and that I would be perfectly safe, but I was not about to go back in that water, ever again.

Since that day, I've often wondered if someone might come across my pellet gun some day. You know, maybe if the creek changes course, or they do some construction. Wouldn't that be interesting?

It's been many years since the day I nearly drown in Ship creek, but I have recalled that terrible memory over and over in my mind. Since then, I've learned how to swim, but, I don't really think that would have helped very much.

As me, in my cold, wet clothes, my brother Tom, Patrick, and Tim started walking back home, one of the fishermen along the bank asked me, “Hey, what was that big splash I heard?” I said, “It was me, falling in the creek.” He said, “Oh, I thought it was a big salmon jumping.”

And that was my Ship Creek Adventure.

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