The Ship Creek Adventure

by Michael R Dougherty

Ship Creek

Ship Creek

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

When I was 12 and 13 years old, we were living in Mountain View, Alaska not far from the waters of Ship Creek.

In the summer time, me, my brother Tom and two neighborhood friends named Patrick and John used to fill our Army Navy store packs with peanut butter sandwiches, and 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 of course, way back in the day, Ship Creek itself 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. Sometimes it was all about fishing, and sometimes 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 fathers had rewarded my hunting ability, with a shiny new pellet rifle.

When 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 time 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.

Our path brought us to a place where the creek had carved a sharp "eddy" into the bank, and it had created a deep 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. There seemed to be fisherman everywhere along the banks, so the creek was much more crowded than usual.

Tim and Patrick were walking ahead of me 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 half way across, my booted foot slipped off the wet log and suddenly my body lost it's balance. I then fell off the log and into the very cold 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. I was churning around, completely submerged. I didn't know where up was, so I couldn't find the surface. I remember that as I frantically looked around, I could see bits of wood and bark churning 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 under water. In the upper half of my eyes I could see land in front of me and in the bottom half I could see under water.

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.

Again I was under water, and 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 needed. This was looking very bad.

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

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 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 on the grass it would come apart in my hand and I'd end up back in the water.

For some odd reason, my mind 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 couldn't speak. Try as I might, I couldn't get the words "help" out of my mouth. 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 might still be my watery grave.

Then, out of nowhere, I managed to force a very weak and trembly "help" out of my shivering mouth.

Suddenly, there was Patrick 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.

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

Tim and Patrick helped get my brother off the log 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 creek, my pellet gun came out of my hands and was now somewhere in the waters 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 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 a lot of 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 fisherman 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."

Check out Part 1 of this story, Davy Crockett in Alaska?

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Ship Creek Area
by: Bill McFarland

Loved your story!

I spent a lot of summer days at Ship Creek from Mt. View to the Post Rd Bridge, 61-65.

What a great place for a kid to grow up.

by: Mary J Dougherty

What a frightening experience that was Mike.

Many times I have heard you tell your story about Ship Creek To family and friends. There reaction was just like mine, frightening. And to think of your brother Tom sitting there and couldn't help. So glad you made it out alive.

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