This year is a pretty big deal for my parents. It is their 50th wedding anniversary. You don’t see numbers like that often. My marriage lasted 4 years. The longest I’ve stayed at a job was 5 years. I can’t imagine 50 years of anything! It may not have always been happy or pleasant, but they get some pretty major kudos for sticking power. I guess they’ve seen it all, the good and the bad. My mom was just 19 and my dad 21. They’d known each other for 3 months when my dad received notice he was being sent to Vietnam. I would have said, “Well that’s a bummer. I was just getting to know you.” But they said, “Hmm. Let’s get married!” To celebrate such a landmark, we wanted to do something really special. So the whole family agreed to go on a once in a lifetime sail to Alaska. The last time we went on a cruise, it was to Hawaii, I was 10, and we got to go for free because my dad was giving a talk on financial planning. BORING! I don’t know if anyone went, because I didn’t. But apparently the cruise people thought it interesting enough to include it on the to-do list during a cruise of the Hawaiian Islands. Actually the cruise-to-Alaska people seemed much more interested in divesting us of our money. But I digress.
I had a couple extra days off work and stopped by Victoria on Vancouver Island to visit an old friend. She had turned her home into an Air B&B and all the rooms were rented out so I stayed in her VW van in the driveway for 3 nights. It was surprisingly cozy and comfortable! Victoria is beautiful and smacks of England plus there are lots of great outdoors activities so I highly recommend it.
Diane was a wonderful hostess and we had a great time riding bikes all along the spectacular coast line, sampling the wares at the local farmer’s market, and kayaking the inner harbor and up the gulch. I was sad to leave so soon, but had to get to Vancouver to meet my family for the cruise. The ferry ride from Victoria to Vancouver was delightful and wound its way through the picturesque San Juan Islands all too soon.
A bus whisked me off the ferry and to the cruise ship port in Vancouver where I stepped off and there were the parental units sitting on the steps waiting for me. That was easy! We found Todd (my brother) and Hannah and their kids onboard. The ship bellowed and we set off to Alaska! It was oddly hot, 80 degrees, and the bar tenders started pouring, the music started blasting, people were diving into the pool, and I’m not kidding, the ship staff were doing synchronized dancing. It felt like we were off to Bermuda on a booze cruise, not Alaska. As the evening wound down, I headed to my room. I’m usually not a very good sleeper but the gentle rocking of the ship lulled me to sleep like a baby for a solid 8 hours every night except the last but more on that later.
I was up bright and early and showed up chipper as can be for a morning yoga session. As we yoga-cised, I noticed the windows beginning to steam over. I was surprised we were putting off that much heat. It was a fairly gentle class. As my mom walked through the ship that morning she thought, “How disappointing. I really thought all these windows were clear and here it turns out they’re all frosted.” What was actually happening was that we had sailed into a thick fog bank. We wouldn’t see a darn thing for the next 30 hours.
The next day we pulled into Ketchikan where it rained steadily for most of the day. It tripped me out that most people spent their time on shore shopping for cheap plastic stuff that was probably made in China. You’d really spend thousands of dollars and travel all those miles to go to a place full of wild and beauty to walk up and down one street and go shopping for junk? I don’t get it.
That night, back on board I dressed up for dinner and was feeling very chic in my new cashmere wrap. That is until my four-year old nephew Gavin reached up and tugged my hand saying, “Auntie Krista! Why you wearing a blanket?” Love it. While I wasn’t so sure the whole cruise scene was for me, I did rather enjoy sitting down at dinner with a glass of wine and watching the gorgeous scenery slip by silently outside.
Day 4 was Juneau where it again rained most of the day. But we put on our adventure pants and loaded up in the rental car and headed out of town to the Mendenhall glacier. Wow. Mountains meet glacier meet waterfall. We did a short hike to the base of the Nugget waterfall. We learned that this was about the wettest summer they’d had in 100 years. The trail was flooded in parts and everyone had very wet, squelchy feet by the end. But good humor reigned and hair dryers on board ship soon took care of the wet shoes and socks. As we drove I saw a road sign that said “End of Road 24 Miles”. Where I come from roads lead to places or connect to other roads. It got me to thinking that in Alaska, there may be a road in town but then it just…ends. And then there are thousands of miles of…? The scope of Alaska is hard to wrap your mind around. I’ve been hiking in places where I had to walk for 2 or 3 days to get back to civilization. But Alaska? I think you could walk for 2 or 3 months without seeing civilization. It’s a mind bender for me. Perhaps Shel Silverstein best summed it up with his famous poem.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends”
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Day 5 had us waking up in the pretty little town of Skagway. Dad had arranged a hike up the Chilkoot Trail followed by a river raft back down. Now you’re speaking my language! We had an adorable and enthusiastic guide named Becca. She was a fan of fungus and lichen and introduced us to specimens unfamiliar to us. They had giggle inducing names such as “fairy barf”, “red-brown butt rot”, and a thorny one called “wiper’s remorse”. We saw bear tracks. We ate edible plants like the tart and puckery high bush cranberry and a leaf that tasted vaguely of cucumber. Later, as we floated down river we floated right past a Bald Eagle who was perched low on a branch. Becca was titillated saying she’d never seen one that close before. We also happened upon a juvenile Bald Eagle actually sitting in the river. There were so many salmon and she must have been so full that she just stood there as the fish practically bumped into her and swam away.
I was worried about being cooped up in the ship for over 48 hours. The next two days we would not be stopping but just sailing, cruising through Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier. I am a girl on the go. The cruise ship was big but it IS about the same as being trapped in a hotel. I survived. The sun came out and the giant plate-glass windows made being in the on board gym bearable. Normally I would fall over dead from boredom in a gym but it WAS pretty cool watching snow-capped mountains, tiny islands, the occasional fishing boat, and even a mama grizzly and her cub turning over stones on the beach while I chugged away on the elliptical machine trying to burn off too many multi course dinners and drinks.
The glaciers were mind-blowing. Again, the scope is hard to wrap your mind around. A chunk of ice would start to silently tilt, then break off and silently fall. It would hit the water and cause a huge silent wave. A few moments later there would be a crack and boom like thunder. We didn’t appear to be very far away but the delay in sound would suggest otherwise. A ranger who had joined us on board for the day informed us that the native Tlingit people called it “white thunder”. I leaned over to my mom and said, “That’s what they call me too.” All gluten intolerance jokes aside, it was spectacular. Another big wow was that this enormous ship would arrive at the end of a dead-end inlet where the glacier was and then do what I call a “sit and spin”. If you hold the middle of a pencil still while spinning the ends round and round, this is what the ship would do. I didn’t even know you could do that. We’d slowly spin around and around for about an hour, ensuring that no matter where you were, you’d get several amazing views of everything-all 360 degrees. Otters and seals were abundant in the slushy ice water. Ugh. I can’t even imagine how cold that must be.
Our last evening we headed out of the Hubbard Glacier inlet and out to the open sea to our final destination of Seward, Alaska. As we got further from land, the skies began to darken and the sea turned to an angry pewter grey. White caps started to whip up. Waves began to break. Hannah requested we sit at a table not facing the windows as it was making her stomach queasy. The wait staff tilted this way and then that way as the boat heaved to and fro. A glass crashed to the floor. My dad suddenly called out, “Oh my gosh, look at that one!” and we all instinctively turned to look. A wave rolled past the window. Mind you, we were on the 6th deck. My stomach did a flip-flop and I resolved not to look again or I’d be frightened. We called it an early night and all scurried back to our rooms.
That night was a real mind game for me. I’m TERRIFIED of waves. Despite a Dramamine and a melatonin, I didn’t sleep. It was like trying to sleep on a roller coaster. There was the heavy gravity pushing you down feeling as the boat chugged up one side of a wave and then your stomach would get left behind with the sudden drop down the front. Then a crash and the whole ship shuddered. Over and over again all night. I kept telling myself what a huge ship it was and that this is what they are designed for, but I had butterflies all night long. Needless to say I’m at home writing this story so we didn’t die and everything turned out fine. Boy this would have been a really exciting post if it hadn’t!
Overall it was a quick, down and dirty of some of Alaska’s beauty. It was a tiny scratch of the surface. Next time I want to take one of those little sea planes and really explore. But this was a very memorable trip with my family to celebrate a momentous occasion.