Addictive Alaska. It is difficult to write about Alaska without gushing like a teenager meeting her heartthrob for the first time. Alaska evokes a passionate response, and I did not expect to be this moved by the state.
I have fallen in love with the southeast coast of Alaska. The Pacific Coast Range of mountains are the most beautiful mountains I have seen on this trip, and I have seen some really majestic mountains in the last few months. It is understandable why people move here to escape the hustle and stress of the lower 48 states.
The journey north on the ferry MV Columbia is my favorite part of this journey so far. I spent a lot of time on deck and in the observation room in the bow of the ship. You can only watch the ocean passing by at 17 knots (a bit over 15mph according to the captian) for so long without getting very dizzy. It's like spinning on an office chair.
I took hundreds of pictures of the mountains we passed, and the islands created out of the tips of those which are covered mostly by water. Only saw a whale once, and it did not cooperate by posing for pictures. I did get some pictures of the dolphins that swam by the ship for a while, they were too far away for my lens to get good shots. And the dear swimming across the bay at Ketchikan.
Being on board the MV Columbia evoked an unusal response deep within my soul. The deck pitching and rolling beneath my feet when the seas were rough. The very smell of the open ocen brought forth memories of sailing, and in my heart, I remembered the creaking of the hawsers, the snap of canvas catching the winds, and the groans of wooden beams as they struggled to stay afloat on the billowing seas. I don't know where these memories are from, perhaps a genetic memory. Or, of a life lived long ago?
I can honestly say I have never seen a more beautiful landscape in my life. I could not have imagined how overwhelming beautiful Alaska really is. I have watched every show on Discovery, Nat Geo, History, and A&E, I could find about Alaska, and although they show how powerfully lovely this part of the country is, no pictures will ever be able to do justice to the reality.
The ferry is part of the Alaska Marine Highway System, and follows the Inside Passage weaving in and out of the many islands formed by the Pacific Coast Range. And it seems like an eternity waiting in line to be boarded. I suppose it is like the ultimate Tetrus game, getting all the various vehicles packed on the 3 decks of the ship. Large, small, some pulling trailers, motorcycles, and RV's of every size. Even a couple of semis wanted a ride.
Eventually, they got all of us loaded, and I made my way to the Pursers desk to check on my cabin. I had a 2 bunk cabin, and a private bathroom (with shower). The cabin was smaller than my tent, which has a 10X9 footprint. The bath, including the shower was probably smaller than the average closet, but functional. The sink was on the wall oposite the bunk. There was a window, which did not open, on the outside wall, with a heavy curtain. Thank goodness for the curtain, for when we got close to Juneau, I came to know the 24 hr daylight that is Alaska in the summer.
Tipping is not allowed on board, as this is a State owned and operated ferry. All crew members, including wait staff, and housekeeping, are employees of the State of Alaska, and it is illegal to tip them. Any and all tips left on board are put into the “Alaska Treasury General Fund”. There are signs on every table, and on various walls around the ship, citing the ordinance, and warning. This is a shame, as the service is very tip worthy.
I found myself at the very edges of my “comfort zone” more than once as I sat and let someone else drive. Those who know me, know I like to be in control of my own fate, and letting someone else drive is slightly disturbing.
It is somewhat disconcerting to look out a window and see the trees passing. It gives the mind a jerk, for the nanosecond it takes to remember you are on a boat. The islands float by, as do the mountains in the background. But for the rumble of the engines beneath your feet, the passing scenery is the only indication of movement.
I feel the small surges of the powerful engines as they plow their way through the swells, and wonder if anyone else can feel this.
As I watch the mountains and islands go by, I know for sure where Bob Ross got his inspiration for most of his paintings. The mountains look like they have been created with his pallate knife, and the trees look like the familiar “happy little trees” he made with his fan brush. Even the colors look like his paintings. Of the hundreds of photos I took while in Alaska, most of them were of the mountains. It was very difficult to choose which ones made it into the albums. I saved all of them to look at when the time comes that I miss being there, as I know it will in the years to come.
Sometimes, in the early mornings, watching the clouds covering the mountain tops, it looked like smoke rolling across them. The clouds below the peaks looked like smoke floating above the tree lines. By 9 or 10 am, they were gone, and the skies were clear. It grew warm on deck, so I would move to the observaition lounge to watch the scenery go by.
We made landfall at several small communities along the shore. These towns and villiages are only accessable by boat, or seaplane, although a few, such as Ketchikan have small airports. Anything they cannot produce or grow, must be brought in by ship, or plane. The cost of living here is very high due to the cost of importing everything.
It was very hard to leave the ship once we landed at Juneau, then again when I disembarked at Skagway. But, when I got back to Bellingham, WA on my way back south, I shed a few tears, knowing it would be a while before I could return to Alaska, where it appears I have left a piece of my heart.