North To Alaska

Travels With Kathi #20 – On Vacation: North To Alaska

On vacation: North to Alaska

I have been able to visit the Alaskan part of the world a few times in the past. Each time I have returned home wide eyed like a kid coming home from Disneyland. Kathi has had to endure my repetitive, excited description of every marvelous detail of nature’s treasures; I’m sure she has become as tired of my repetitive descriptions of this magical land as she has become tired of years of cleaning up after me at home. So, when we decided 2017 would be the year we traveled as a couple to Alaska, I convinced myself this trip was for Kathi, so she could experience the northwest for herself, so she could share in my enthusiasm. I must admit I feel a compelling urge to return to that part of the world. As she frequently has done, Kathi has recognized my obsessions and I suspect her primary reason for excitement in making this trip was me and my excitement.

During my previous two trips, I had made destination trips where I traveled to remote areas and stayed there for the duration. On those trips, I was able to experience nature very intimately. For this trip, we planned a northwest coast overview vacation(an Alaskan cruise) with two great friends and two of our great family members, our daughter and son-in-law.

The Cruise

The cruise lasted seven days of which about twenty-eight hours were spent on land either on excursions or hiking around the quaint little towns of the inland passage. The remaining one hundred and forty hours of those seven days were spent on the ship. A variety of activities were presented by cruise staff meant to entertain every passenger. Food was made available at all hours of the day or night, and the cuisine selection would leave visitors to the Taste of Colorado envious. The activities were scheduled from first thing in the morning until late at night. You could learn to cook salmon, make a martini, swim, play shuffleboard, play cards, dance, or play bingo or lose your money in slot machines. There were several showings of movies, as well as live song and dance stage shows. Oh, did I mention eating? There was lots of eating.

Swimming Upstream

My favorite movie was one shown on the large screen, a national geographic-type movie about the epic journey of salmon up streams to spawn. Of course, brown bears were shown stationed along the rapids catching salmon that were completely engulfed in their journey; so much so they ignored the bears, a mistake that frequently led to their demise. As we cruisers left the ship for shore excursions, I was reminded of that movie. But now as the cruisers made the precarious journey past souvenir stores, we were the salmon and the store sales people were the brown bears. As we passed by in search of the perfect souvenir, the “bears” were reaching out attempting to capture us. I am always amazed how the laws of nature are enforced on all species, even humans.

My favorite part of the cruise was the opportunity to sit on one of the many decks or in a warm inside observation location and watch the passing of the magnificent vista. The ship’s usual speed of twenty-three miles per hour allowed for not just seeing the landscape, but for studying each inlet, valley, and mountain ridge. Our route took us up the inland passage, so much of the time there were mountains on both sides of the ship. Careful observation of the ocean frequently rewarded me with the sighting of a spouting whale or a group of dolphins momentarily leaving the water as they shared our path through the sea.

Glacier Bay

But the highlight of this trip, and even the highlight of my sightseeing life was the day the cruise ship sailed into Glacier Bay. The day was overcast with a low ceiling of dense clouds. There was no wind. The 1:00 pm sun cast filtered light onto the six-mile-wide Disenchantment Bay, bordered on both sides by lush green mountains. The sea around us was dotted with chunks of glacier ice, some the size of cars, others the size of a large houses. And the piece de resistance was the Hubbard Glacier, a six mile, four hundred feet above the ocean, wall of blue ice which visually filled the space between the mountains on either side of the Bay. It seemed every passenger was on deck as the three-hundred-foot long ship crept closer to the blue wall of ice. There was an eerie silence among the thousand-plus people on deck as we all stared in amazement at the site before us. The greatness of the site was hypnotizing!

The silence was occasionally interrupted by a muffled explosion, not unlike a distant cannon blast, as a piece of the glacier broke off from the wall of ice. This phenomena, called calving, resulted in the initial sighting of the ice sliding down the wall, followed by the delayed cracking ice sound; the delay of the sound was caused by the fact the sound traveled more slowly than the speed of light that brought us the vision. After a time that seemed liked minutes but was actually nearly an hour, the ship started a 360- degree spin-in-place, and we prepared to depart. I moved from deck to deck in an attempt to extend the breath-taking view by gaining a better vantage point. But much too soon, that vision disappeared into the horizon. I hoped that day would not be my last visit, my last chance to observe a calving in the sea, a piece of ancient ice falling into the ocean, not the calving I was accustomed to.

Our land excursions were certainly memorable too. At Juneau, we visited the Mendenhall Glacier, a glacier that today does not extend to the sea but once did. We also went on a whale watching trip in a small purple boat. At Ketchikan, we visited a rain forest where we saw a few salmon swimming up river rapids with a black bear nearby looking for scraps of unsuccessful fish. I am happy to report I did escape unscathed from the souvenir shop “bears” in the shops near the docks where our ship had docked.

Seven days just isn’t long enough to visit a place as large and magnificent as Alaska. But we had seen it in a completely different way and been able to enjoy the experience with the best of friends and the best of family members. It was a wonderful trip. Besides, that’s the way it’s supposed to be on vacations: go, have a good time, and return home. Home is the place where we have a life, a family, a purpose. But anyone can have a dream. Can’t they?

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