Thom and I had the good fortune to check something off our bucket list.
Yes, we went North to Alaska and realized why we, and so many others, have it on their bucket list.
1) It takes a long time to get there. We flew cross country from eastern Florida to western Washington state (well, Vancouver, British Columbia actually, but that’s a different blog adventure). It actually felt like we flew home to London, and not just because of the time zones we crossed. Bucket list items tend to be far away, that’s why they’re on the bucket list. They can’t be done in a long weekend.
2) It’s pretty expensive. Expensive to get there. Expensive to get around. Expensive to eat. Bucket list items tend to be “not cheap”. Otherwise they wouldn’t be on the bucket list. We would have already done it. Several times – because it’s “cheap”. Alaska is not cheap.
3) One needs to be in fairly good health to do the things one wants to do. Like hiking (or just brisk walking). And climbing waterfalls. And braving the elements for hours at a time. Or standing for hours on end. Bucket list trips tend to stay in the “dream” stage for a long time because all these details need to come together, resolved, in a perfect trifecture.
We finally got to Alaska after years of planning. We got the time blocked off, organized other humans to do what needed to be done in our absence. We got the finances in place along with those plans. And we got over our health issues. We healed from surgeries. We recovered from Covid. We built up some stamina and prepared for cold, cold weather having lived in hot, humid Florida for decades.
And we went North to Alaska!
Travel has been a priority of mine my entire life. However, as I’ve grown older, the creature comforts have become more important. I can no longer sleep in youth hostels, on couches or in hammocks. I don’t want to drive for hours on end and arrive exhausted at my destination. That worked when I was younger, but I’m no longer “younger”. LOL
Our bucket trip meant someone else would take care of all the details, the transportation, the directions, the reservations and the food. Regular trips? We’ll continue to do that ourselves.
In Juneau, we found ourselves on a catamaran, our binoculars peeled for whales. After 3+ hours standing on deck, Auke Bay rewarded us with 2 sightings of humpback whales. It was thrilling! It was extremely cold and windy standing on that little deck, but to see the majesty of such a huge creature, a Leviathan of the sea, made by heart skip a beat! First there was the vertical puff of spray through his blow hole which caught the corner of my eye as he came up for air. Then the unmistakable sight of the end of a whale tail as it gracefully cut through the freezing waters to dive down for his lunch. Even if it were a warm day, I think I still would have been frozen to the spot with the sheer excitement of what my eyes just beheld. Planet Earth’s largest mammal right in front of me!
A little while later, I was elated to see another whale. I’m assuming it wasn’t the same whale as the boat was moving around the bay, an area known for being a popular hang out for whales back from Hawaii for feeding season. (Apparently Hawaii is for breeding, Alaska is for feeding, if you’re a whale).
Did I mention bald eagles? All over the mountain, which seemed like it was just at the end of the street, there were bald eagles! So many, they were like seagulls. But unlike annoying seagulls with their high pitched , raucous screams, these birds soared like the dignified dames of the skies that they truly are. They seemed not to care that beneath them was a high street of shops selling t-shirts, fudge and jewelery. I didn’t care either. It was quite enough for me to lean up against a wall and look up at these magnificent creatures of prey and the mountain around which they danced.
When we arrived in Skagway, it looked like everyone had already left on their own Klondike gold rush expedition (we like no-crowd off-season travel). The town literally looks like a set from a Western movie set with a narrow main street, a saloon with swinging doors and houses built into the mountain behind. Apparently 100,000 set off on the arduous journey into the Yukon through the White Pass on the Klondike gold rush, but only 30,000 made it. (The California gold rush has it’s own set of disastrous statistics).
We too set off through the White Pass – but because we’re not hardened gold rush prospectors, we took the train. Why? 1) Because Thom loves trains 2) Because despite climbing a mountain in Scotland many moons ago, we no longer have that hiking stamina, particularly with 8 foot tall snow banks around us. We climbed almost 3,000 feet on the original narrow gauge tracks that those prospectors built and can I tell you, the views were spectacular!
We went over sky high trestles, through completely black tunnels, over treacherous gorges that truly looked like they’d been gouged out of the earth. We gazed at all kinds of cascading waterfalls coming out of the sides of mountains and generally marveled that mere men made that journey in 1898, for GOLD! I have a brand new appreciation for the yellow metal on my finger and in my earlobes.
We arrived at Mount Denali National Park just a few months after they experienced a 100-year snow storm. Joy, great joy! Still, we were on a bucket list trip so we went in, with a park ranger, and covered a teensy corner of it’s 6 million acres. We saw moose, taller than Thom. And snow banks taller than both of them put together. We met a young man from the Athabaskan tribe who told us stories about hunting moose with his grandfather. I’m still searching for a place that serves moose stew like his grandma made. Did I mention that it was 28 degrees?
The absolute highlight of this adventure / bucket list trip, however, was Glacier Bay National Park.
A travelers’ mecca, it has over 3 million acres of awe-inspiring glaciers – over a thousand of them! A mere 250 years ago one single glacier covered all of Glacier Bay. It is absolutely impossible to find the right words to describe the sheer magnitude of these imposing frozen rivers of ice. These glaciers were between mountains walls rising 10,000 feet high from sea level, with mountain goats hanging onto their sides like absailers off the Shard. A park ranger gave us a whole education about how glaciers were formed, how they melt and how they move. At a glacial pace, they are still moving, at the rate of about 5 feet per day, we were told. That seems rather fast to me, but I’m only just beginning my study of glaciers, having merely being fascinated for the last few decades.
The power of these colossal piles of shimmering, blue-tinged ice to move, and change an entire, vast expanse of landscape in so doing, was breathtaking. Even though we were there for 9 hours, most of that time, standing around, outside so as to get the best views of the glaciers and the wildlife and capture vivid photographs, it seemed like a hasty visit. I realized that “glacial breeze” isn’t just the name of a chemical air freshener. There is an actual breeze emanating from a glacier. Who knew? When surrounded by such grandeur, one might think it would become monotonous after a while.
There were bellowing sea lions, and floating sea otters. We saw our third humpback whale. A huge “lump” of ice calved from the crevasse riddled face of a glacier and was discharged into the icy water with a thunderous crash. The iceberg that killed the Titanic was also just a piece of ice that fell off a glacier. But we saw a newborn ‘berg born! From a grand, immense glacier!
These stately glaciers form gorges. They fill massive lakes and feed a plethora of rivers. If there were ever a time I realized just how miniscule humans are, in comparison to Almighty God, it was in this icy, dramatic landscape called Glacier Bay National Park. There were glittering icebergs all around us, some large, some small. By the time they washed up on land, they looked like they belonged in a cocktail glass, which in of itself was a mind-boggling thought.
Glacier Bay National Park, you truly are a National treasure!
Real innkeepers often find it difficult to get away and be a guest. When one is used to serving others, and guests arrive at all times of the afternoon and night, there are lots of hats to wear. Thankfully, I love what I do (and I hope it shows!). We’re grateful to still be in business 19 years after we first hung out our shingle, particularly with the shutdowns of the pandemic. What the pandemic taught us, and many others, is that the time is now. Instead of putting off “someday” for those bucket list items, it’s time to make them a priority. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, another sad lesson of the pandemic.
Followers of this blog will know that every so often I relate a little “adventure” story, many from decades ago. (It can be difficult to get away from our little hotel!) We’re hoping to have more adventures in the near future.
We went to Alaska and fell in love with it. The pure, rugged wilderness was not something this city girl had every experienced. The nearest thing I’d ever come to seeing tundra was a sandy Panhandle Florida beach. Nice, but not impressive. Alaska’s landscape is a cross between mountains being ripped up from the earth, and heaven coming down to meet them. To say it was impressive, and a bit intense, is a bit of an understatement!
We returned a little sleep deprived. Their sunset was somewhere after our bedtime but before midnight. The sunrise was a couple of hours after that. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a lot of complete darkness, and thus, too much to see and do. The light also seemed to have a different quality to it. Inconceivably clear, frosty, startling perhaps. It’s difficult to describe. Maybe because we’re just used to the hazy brightness and 100% humidity of Tallahassee.
So we slept when we came home!
And we checked Alaska off the bucket list.
And then we put it back on. LOL
What can I say? Sometimes once is just not enough.
What’s so great about Alaska? Ask me next time we go, maybe I’ll have some better answers for you.
Life is short! Eat the cake. Take the trip!
Go North to Alaska!