Monday, October 30, 2017

The Into the Wild Bus

Last summer my travel buddy and I were approached by two young men at a rest area in central Oregon.  They were good looking, but dirty and barefoot.  One of them asked politely if he could borrow my cell phone.

"What happened?"  I asked.  "Did you lose yours?"

"No, ma'am.  We don't believe in cell phones."

They went on to explain that they needed to contact someone in Bend who was selling a camping trailer.  One of them had a telephone number scrawled in the middle of his palm.

I handed him my phone.  Despite the fact they didn't believe in cell phones, this young man was obviously familiar with one.  He plugged in the number, spoke to the party, and then quickly brought up a map and plotted a route to the address.

He handed me back the phone and thanked me profusely.  We then watched them get into a shiny black Jaguar.

"Trustafarians," my travel buddy muttered.

Ah, youth.

We couldn't help talking about these two young Alexander Supertramp Wannabes when we saw Bus 142 parked outside the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy, Alaska.  We had both read Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild about Christopher McCandless and his two-year travel adventures, which sadly ended with his demise in the great Alaskan wilderness.  The bus we entered was a replica of that infamous original and used in the making of the film. 

But . . oh, how we could relate.  Having spent four months in an old Volkswagen van in Mexico in the early 80's we remember so well that feeling of Absolute Freedom.  Since there were no cell phones back then, we were completely incommunicado.  Our parents were worried, but resigned.  They were confident we would return.  My dad, especially, seemed to recognize our need to have one final revolt against the status quo before we entered the Age of Adulthood.
So as my travel buddy and I sat in the 49th State bar and had a beer, we couldn't help but wonder if Alexander Supertramp (as Chris called himself) had been able to cross that raging stream, would he have returned to Virginia and gone to law school?  And what about our trustafarian friends?  Did they indeed abandon dad's Jag for a ratty old trailer? 

We then toasted to youth and idealism.  

Thank goodness we survived it.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Beautiful British Columbia

Cruising Down the Inside Passage

Once again I was out on the deck.  The cold air felt refreshing.  I leaned over the railing to watch the dolphins playing in the wake of the ship.  We were hugging the British Columbia coastline, thick with spruce and fir.  This is why I booked this cruise--to experience such moments.  But, in retrospect, there weren't enough of them.

As the day began to wane and chill even more, I realized I did not want to go back inside. Even to get warm.  I did not want to pass the slot machines, Purell dispensers and cocktail lounges.  I did not want to eat dinner in that massive dining room where I felt like a sardine in a tin can.

"Let's order room service," my travel buddy suggested and I smiled at the idea.  We ate dinner in the solitude of our room and continued to watch the coastline darken and then disappear into the night.

I would still like to take cruises in the future, but on much smaller boats.  Perhaps on a more intimate 100-passenger vessel where every stateroom has a balcony and every dining room table has a view.  After all, there are certain parts of this world that demand being seen from the water like Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords.  A cruise down the Nile remains Number One on my Bucket List.

The city lights of Vancouver greeted us the next morning.  Our cruise had come to an end, but rather than feeling sad about it, I was filled with hope.  The best is yet to come.

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Stroll through Ketchikan

Cruising Down the Inside Passage

Free at last!  The nurse took my temperature that morning and declared me fit to leave ship.  I wasted no time, let me tell you.  I joined my fellow passengers in a mass exodus.  Poor Ketchikan!  There were four ginormous cruise ships docked at this little town on the edge of the Misty Fjords.  As one waiter told us, "The population doubles when the cruise ships are here."  Then he looked longingly outside the restaurant window and added, "But next week we'll have the town back to ourselves.  I can't wait."

He realized, perhaps he shouldn't have said that.  "I mean . . ."

I laughed.  "It's okay.  I live in the Columbia River Gorge.  I know exactly how you feel."
This is the Port of Call I wanted to see most, so I enjoyed every single minute of my time here, even though it was rainy and cold and gray.  Even though I was weak as a kitten.  Even though I knew Tami-Flu and Extra Strength Tylenol were keeping me on my feet.  (I stopped for hot tea a lot!)
Walking through the historical area of Creek Street was especially fun.  This part of town used to be the red-light district and during the Prohibition, many speakeasies popped up.  Today most of the old wooden structures are shops.  There were several good art galleries and I ended up buying a soapstone sculpture of a grizzly, entitled "Bear with Attitude."  She has a special place on my dresser and reminds me every day not to be bullied; to toughen up. 
After a good hearty lunch, I wanted to continue on to the Totem Heritage Cultural Center to see the century old totem poles, but as soon as I started to walk, I got dizzy.  My travel buddy caught me before I hit the ground.  "We're going back to the ship," he said.  "You're still not well."

And so it goes with this travel business.  You win some.  You lose some.  I'm thankful I saw what I saw, but Ketchikan deserves a more thorough exploration.  I think I'll take that waiter's advice and return off season with my own car.  Go up into the Yukon and beyond.  Watch grizzly bears catch salmon in the rivers.  Rent a cabin in a lovely spruce forest.  Build a fire and roast a polish sausage and marshmallows.

No more cruise ships for me.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Day in Juneau

Cruising Down the Inside Passage

Still quarantined, I had only the above view to satisfy my travel lust that day.  I watched people taking the Mount Roberts tramway up and down, up and down, up and down.  Still . . . I had good news.  My fever had broken.  If I was fever-free the next morning, I could finally leave my stateroom prison.

So once again, I saw an Alaskan city through the lens of my travel buddy.  When he returned later that afternoon, he commented that he really liked Juneau; that he hadn't expected to.  "This city is real," he said.  It is the capital of Alaska even though half the state's population lives in Anchorage.  The fact that it is the only one of the 50 U.S. capitals that is not connected to a road system is almost unbelievable in this day and age.  To get here you must fly or take a boat.

This city does not rely on tourists for its existence.

He had fun walking the city streets taking pictures of the government buildings, public art, onion domed churches and colorful homes.  His enthusiasm cheered me up.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Day in Haines

Cruising Down the Inside Passage

The above photograph is the view of Haines, Alaska, I had from my stateroom.  This is the only view I would have all day.  I was quarantined.  Somebody brought the flu on board and yours truly picked it up.  The doctor told me I could not leave my room until my fever had broken and I was fever free for 24 hours.

So I thank my travel buddy for the photographs he took of this beautiful little town.  I wanted him to be a "guest blogger" but he panicked at the thought.  Writing is not his thing.  So today's post is a visual diary of his day.  He toured Fort Seward, the Alaska Indian Arts Center, the Shelton Museum and the Hammer Museum.  And like the pal that he is, he took lots and lots of pictures of art, knowing how much I would have loved seeing all the masks and sculptures.