Monday, September 30, 2019

Alaska 2019 - Part II - Skagway, The White Pass Railway, and a Hike on a Glacier

On Wednesday we have to get up early for our next excursion that begins at 7 am. We are going to take the famous White River Pass narrow gauge railroad from Skagway up to a trail and then hike to a glacier! One of our guides, Ryan, meets us at the boat and walks us to where we are to get on the train. 

Me and Our Big Ass Boat

There we meet our other 3 guides for a group of 20 people. Because this is a strenuous hike we are by far the oldest people in this group, except for one other person, and even she is probably at least 10 years younger than us.  We take the train up the track 14 miles to our starting point. The train goes about 100 miles, up into the Yukon Territories. Nowadays there is also a road, but in the past it was the only land based way in and out of Skagway. Skagway is an old gold rush town. Only 800 people actually live there now, but 15,000 people descended from cruise ships the day we were there. They don’t hate us or resent us, like I thought might be the case; we are their livelihood. 

The first part of the hike is very nice, through the rain forest. We see lots of flowers, trees, and ferns. There is some climbing, mostly rocky steps, but nothing bad. We stop frequently for snacks, potty breaks, short lectures on what we are seeing. The other three guides, Meg, Megan and Josh, are also friendly and very knowledgeable. There is always a guide somewhere close by, they don’t let anyone fall behind, so everyone can walk at their own pace. I’m not a fast walker, but Lee is, so sometimes we are together and sometimes not. I also have to stop and take photos of course!

Sometime between miles 3 and 4 it becomes very obvious that the other person near our age on this hike is not at all prepared for this amount of activity. This is another reason there are 4 guides. Josh stays back with her and we don’t see them again until the end of the trip. After around 4 miles we arrive at the base of the glacier. First we have to scramble over a bunch of sand and loose rock that the glacier has pushed out in front of it. 

Then we stop to put on ice cleats and get ready to step onto the glacier itself. Stomp like an angry toddler, they say! That's so that the ice cleats will work properly. Don’t wander off and fall into a crevasse! Yikes! I’m a little scared and uncertain. Ryan leads and the younger bunch tromp off rapidly across the field of ice and rocks. I can’t watch my footing and stay up with them, but Meg stays with those of us that are slower so it’s ok and eventually I calm down and start to enjoy the experience. 

The glacier is not exactly what I expected. Its cold, that part was no surprise. All of our layers go on, and both my hoods. I could have used my gloves but I forgot them in the cabin back on the ship so oh well! I thought the glacier would be a sheet of ice, but it is ice mixed with lots of rock and dirt, which makes sense. It’s moving but you can’t tell. There are lots of little cracks in it, and small beautiful holes where you can see the very blue ice below. 

We make our way to a rocky point to eat our lunch. The guides have given us so many snacks to eat, and lots of water, and while we were on the train we made ourselves sandwiches too. We were not going to go hungry, that’s for sure! They also had hot water and mixes for tea, cider and hot cocoa. I had the cider and it was delish, and warming too. 

Then it was time to walk back down, off the glacier, back through the forest, and back to the train. On the way we stop at a mountain stream and feel the glacial silt, so soft and creamy. It’s supposed to be great for facials and if I had had a container I could have taken some with me. 

We are tired but not in a horrible way. It doesn’t really hit me until we are back on the train and then I can hardly keep my eyes open. It has been a long, long day. The train ride back seems to take forever, and I really don’t want to walk at all any more, like ever. 

As soon as we are back on the boat we stop at the bar and get Old Fashions. Of course it knocks me silly but who cares? We’re on a boat! 

We go to Los Lobos, the Mexican restaurant, for dinner. It’s pretty good, especially the guacamole made table side. I like talking to the people that work on the boat. Our guacamole maker is from St. Lucia. She has worked on cruise ships for 14 years. It’s so much more lucrative than anything she could do at home, but they work very very hard while at sea.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Alaska 2019 - Part I - Seattle to Juneau

On Friday August 9 we fly to Seattle. Despite some snafus regarding overhead baggage charges and a flight with a minor mechanical problem we make it to Seattle without much trouble. We get a Lyft ride to the Marriott at the Seaport and have plenty of time before we meet our friends for dinner  in the hotel restaurant. 

This trip is a dream come true, almost 2 years in the planning and waiting. Somehow Amy Dion talked all of the Westie crew into going on a cruise to Alaska. Some of us had to overcome various fears to commit; some of us had to overcome various misgivings to say okay to this vacation (ahem Mr. I'm Never Going on a Cruise Nill), but we did it.

We see Amy and Bill first. Big hugs and tears when they walk in. Then Paula and Rich arrive and I cry a little more. I just can’t believe it. I’m so happy to see them and it’s been too long. We talk and smile and eat. I’m starving. Fish! Good fish! Yay! I have salmon, Lee has halibut. Oh yum.

But we are soooo tired so we have to go to bed. I wake up at 3 and think no no no, doze back off until 5:30. That will have to do.

Its Saturday August 10th. I really want to run 12 miles. i need a long run day on my training schedule. It’s supposed to be 15 but 12 is close enough. It’s raining, pretty hard, but it’s not cold so I’m ok. I run along the waterfront and at first it’s pretty but then there’s a detour through some rail yards and that’s not so great. Then I run through a pretty marina and up a hill into some beautiful residential neighborhoods until I’m ready to turn around.

Back at the hotel I’m hungry and wet. I take a shower and we head up to Pike Place Market for brunch. We’re early so we walk around sampling stuff until its time.

Brunch is at the Old Stove Brewery. I have a frittata and a mimosa. Then Stephanie wants to go on the Ferris wheel and so do I. There are some great views up there! The rain has stopped and it’s a gorgeous day. 

From there we uber up to Kerry Park for more views and ice cream from Molly Moos. I get some really good s’mores ice cream in a homemade waffle cone. We walk back down to the park and Carol, Joe, Diane, Dennis, AmyC, and Chris have arrived. More happy tears, but this is the last of crying until the end of the trip.

Then we uber to a block party at Rooftop Brewery. There is beer, sun and a nice breeze. Its a dog shelter fundraiser of some kind.  From there we walk about a half mile to Chinnock for dinner. Lee gets crab, I get cod. So good but I am stuffed. Have to call it a day.

In the morning Paula and I go for a run. So much fun! I’ve missed running with her. We run an easy 5. She has gotten faster in the past year, also I’m tired from the 12 I ran yesterday but the plan I’m using has you running on tired legs a lot so that’s fine.

Then we go to Opla’s next door to the hotel and I get a breakfast sandwich on a Vietnamese baguette. Omg so good! Then to somehow cram everything back in my suitcase and get ready to board the ship.

When its our time to board its pretty easy to follow the signs, drop off our luggage and go through security. Before we know it we are meeting everyone in the lounge, setting things up so we can text each other during the trip. You use the ship's WiFi to talk to each other, it’s pretty slick.

We are going deep sea fishing in Ketchikan so we need to get fishing licenses and print them out. We went to the Internet cafe to use a printer. The only problem is we wasted $15 because the printer wasn’t on. Finally the internet concierge helped us out.

Then some lunch. THEN some random wandering around the ship getting our bearings. THEN I go on a tour of the spa and get a cupcake and some coffee. THEN we head to our stateroom to unpack our bags for the week. I bought some magnetic hooks and a mesh thing with a lot of pockets that hangs over the door, very handy. There’s plenty of storage in the room though, and we even have a balcony! So cool.

A fireboat sees us off as we leave Seattle and then we’re off! We watch from the balcony, then hang out in a nearby bar, and then go up to deck 16 for the sail away party. After watching a bit I go dance with my friends. I know I'm old but I don’t feel old. Well not with a glass of Prosecco anyway!

Norwegian does something called free style dining. Unlike a lot of cruises you are not limited to sitting in the same dining room with the same people every night. There are a bunch of different restaurants. Some of them are included in the price of the cruise, some of them are extra. We bought a package that let us go to three of the extra restaurants for $99. It turned out to be an excellent deal. 

For dinner the first night we go to the Teppanaki Grill with everyone. It’s fun, and a LOT of food. We get seafood, shrimp and scallops. I taste someone’s steak; wow. Then its time for bed. We crash right away but are woken up around 10:00 pm by the pulsing thump thump thumping bass from the theater right below us. The floor of our stateroom is vibrating. Even the white noise machine can’t cut through it. We complain, but there really isn’t anything they can do about it, or so we think.

Monday morning we sleep til 6:45 AM, unheard-of for us! We get room service and then I go off to run. I decide to not even bother with the little jogging track. I assume that unless it’s really early it’s just not going to work. The fitness place is very crowded but there are available treadmills and I hop on. I have to get used to a mill unlike mine, but I figure it out. It’s so boring though. I chat with the people next to me but still. And every 30 minutes the treadmill stops and I have to reset it, which doesn’t matter to me since I'm going by my watch.

Then we get a letter from guest services apologizing for the problems we have experienced. We go see them and lo and behold they’ve had a last minute cancellation and they are moving us to a higher floor, far away from the thumping bass. It takes a bit to get us moved but before too long we are settled in our new room on the 13th floor.

We go to a restaurant named Taste for lunch. Its one of the ones that is included, we don't have to pay extra to eat there. Pho for Lee, a tuna sandwich for me. Key lime parfait for dessert.

Then its time for me to try out the thermal spa. I try the sauna, the steam room, the salt room, and the therapy pool. I talk to Rich and Paula for a bit, go back to the wet sauna, try the snow room and I'm done. I feel great! I will be doing that again. I bought the spa package so I can go as much as I want.

On Tuesday I'm back on the treadmill again in the morning. Its hard to do speed intervals but I get it done. Later we hang out on the pool deck with friends, and I squeeze in another visit to the thermal spa. We land in Juneau at 2:30 pm  and I’m one of the first people off the boat to meet Sue Warner. She drives up in her red Prius and takes us to to a nearby beach where we walk along a trail with her dog and talk talk talk. There is no way to catch up on 30 years in an hour but some friendships are just forever, and Sue is still Sue. 

She drives me back to the pier and the meeting place for our first excursion. First we go on a short rain forest hike, uneventful except for a porcupine sighting. 

Then we go whale watching and have spectacular luck. Not only do we see humpbacks and lots of them, swimming, breathing, breaching, diving, but we also see orcas. They are really fast and hard to photograph. 

Then because we have time they take us to an island where dozens of sea lions are sun bathing and being noisy. They are kind of smelly and gross and wonderful at the same time.


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