August 6, 2011

Into the Wild: Alaska Recap

Well folks, I'm finally getting around to writing a recap of the Alaskan cruise I took with my folks....nearly a month later. Better late than never, right? Actually, it was more a case of becoming overwhelmed from trying to sort through the nearly 800 pics I took, then I got a bit distracted by a little triathlon known as Vineman 70.3 : ) But I finally have some time now to put something together to share my amazing experience with you all! I'll try to keep it relatively brief in words, and honestly, the pictures tell the story best anyway : )

Day 1: Seattle!
We flew into Seattle Saturday morning and by the afternoon we were aboard the Golden Princess! It was an unusually clear and sunny day in Seattle, so after hitting up the lunch buffet (duh), we hung out on the deck looking out on the city skyline and Mt. Ranier.
 Mt. Rainier

Day 2: At Sea
Our first day at sea was filled with working out in the gym (running on a treadmill at sea is not fun), eating, napping, reading, and attending out first formal dinner of the cruise!
 view from the 'mill

Day 3: Juneau
Early in the morning after sailing through lovely green waters we arrived in our first port, Juneau, which also happens to be Alaska's state capitol. Since it was the 4th of July we were able to catch a glimpse of the local parade going on in the streets of downtown.
iceberg ahead!
first glimpse of Juneau
sea plane!
4th of July Parade
Alaska Capitol Building

After that we wandered around town for a while until it was time for our first excursion! After reading rave reviews, my dad and I had booked a helicopter tour through the Juneau icefields. So along with a few others, we loaded into the helicopter and were off! It was another perfect day, and the views were simply breathtaking. I gasped several times, just in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us. Just as I would think that it couldn't get more amazing, we'd come up over a pass and the view in front of us would once again leave me breathless. It was literally like flying through heaven : ) Our pilot took us on a tour of his choosing, giving us a glimpse of the famous Mendenhall Glacier as well as many other incredible glaciers and vistas. We landed on an actual glacier twice and were able to walk around and explore for a bit. It seriously felt like we were on a different planet. My favorite part was the intensely blue ice that's unique to a just doesn't seem real! It was undoubtedly the experience of a lifetime and one that I will never forget.
sitting shot gun!!
Mendenhall Glacier from a distance
 from green to white...
 river of ice
another planet
hanging glacier
 blue glacier ice
 Mendenhall Glacier from behind
 another hanging glacier

Day 4: Skagway
This was by far the longest day of the cruise, but it was full of seemingly endless amazing things! We arrived in the little town of Skagway, famous for it's role in the Gold Rush. My parents had decided to do a wildlife tour, so I headed off on a tour of my own, starting with the famous railway that winds through the famous White Pass Railroad into Yukon Territory. The ride itself lasted nearly 1.5 hours, but moves at a slow enough speed that you can stand out on the platform to take in all the spectacular views. It was a gorgeous day, and despite the cold I spent the entire time out on that platform : ) The stunning rock formations and valleys of endless trees reminded me of what I imagine Yosemite looks like (I'll know for sure next month!). We snaked through the mountains, over bridges, through tunnels, past waterfalls, and finally found ourselves in Canadian Yukon Territory with even more stunning expanses of nature. It was truly one of the most magical experiences of my life.
 perfect trees
 Bridal Veil Falls
 crazy tree line!
 just incredible
 the light at the end of the tunnel : )
 Fraser, Canada, the end of the line

Our railway journey ended in the tiny town of Fraser, Canada, where we then boarded a bus and headed to the Yukon Suspension Bridge. Below the main cabin building, the metal bridge is suspended between Tutshi Canyon, 57 feet above the white water rapids of the river below. Either side of the bridge offers spectacular views of mountains that leave you simply mesmerized. The bridge s actually quite stable, and after crossing to the viewing platform on the opposite side, I took my time coming back, just enjoying the experience.
 Yukon Suspension Bridge
hello up there!

After the bridge we reboarded the bus and made our way back to Skagway, this time along the scenic Klondike Highway whose history is richly intertwined with the Gold Rush. Our tour guide was fantastic, narrating the whole way and stopped the bus several times to allow us to take pictures. We crossed over the Canadian-U.S. border marked by a "Welcome to Alaska" sign, and then soon we were back in town.
 border crossing

Our last stop of the day was at Jewell Gardens for lunch and a tour. The grounds consist of a restaurant as well as a show garden and edible garden. We started out with a delicious lunch in the quaint little restaurant, with everything made from ingredients fresh from the garden. Then we were led on a wonderful little tour of the amazing grounds. It started drizzling during the tour, but it could hardly take away from the stunning flowers, plants, and vegetables thriving in the gardens. And to think, this was in Alaska! Jewell Gardens' history dates back to the Gold Rush, and now it runs one of Alaska's only CSA programs. Highlights included the giant rhubarb they've become famous for, and my favorite flower, peonies! I literally gasped when I saw them : )
 Jewell Gardens
 purple poppies
 vegetable patch
 kohlrabi (no idea what it is, but it looks cool!)
 GIANT rhubarb!
 flower "bed"
 my fave

When the entire tour was over, I headed back to the boat with a few more hours left in port. I had plans to do a run and had got as far as the onboard gym before I realized it was crazy to run on a treadmill when I could explore the town on foot! So off I went, feeling absolutely exhilarated. I got some strange looks, but it was the perfect way to see the sights along the tiny little street comprising downtown Skagway. I ran along some houses, away from all the touristy sights, with the mountains towering all around me, then came back around and straight down the main street with all these old-fashioned shops and buildings. I looped around a bit then found myself over near the railroad where I stopped to let a train pass before heading down to the pier and back toward the ship. Finished with 6.5 miles and a run I won't soon forget.
 tags left by cruise ships that came into Skagway
 running in Alaska
i had to : )
former brothel in Gold Rush times
 snow fleet, clears the railroad of snow & ice in winter
 our huge ship!

Day 5: Glacier Bay
The morning and afternoon was spent doing some scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. From the website: "The marine wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve includes tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes." It was another clear, beautiful day, if not a bit chilly, but everyone bundled up and packed the decks to get a view of some of the magnificent glaciers and gorgeous landscapes. We were able to get pretty close to a couple of the glaciers, so much so that we actually witnessed some small pieces cleaving off! The closer we got, the better our perspective got on the sheer magnitude of these things! The first glaciers we stopped at were the famous Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, which couldn't look more different from each other. The Margerie Glacier is more traditional, and at 25 stories high is quite magnificent! Just next to it is the dirty looking Grand Pacific Glacier which resembles a mudslide more than a glacier, caused by flowing through softer rock formations and picking up more debris. Besides the glaciers, the area alone is breathtaking with stunning peaks, lush valleys, emerald waters, and an overwhelming stillness.
 Margerie Glacier
see boat in lower left for scale
 glacier calving!
Grand Pacific Glacier
 John Hopkins Glacier
 Reid Glacier

After a while of trying to push through the crowds to get a clear shot, we realized we could see everything just as well from the comfort and privacy of our balcony, so that's where we escaped for the rest of the cruise of the bay. We spent some extra time at another famous ice river, the Lamplugh Glacier, with it's striking blue color and striations, flowing between two grand rock formations. I'll admit that before this trip I didn't really know much about glaciers (I figured they were somewhere in the same group as icebergs), so seeing them up close and hearing about their history and how they are formed was pretty amazing. Their beauty is greatly due to their uniqueness; each with a different shape, colors, patterns of striations, size. Nature at it's finest and most awe-inspiring.
 Lamplugh Glacier

After our day of cruising through Glacier Bay, we took advantage of a gift certificate we had to one of the ship's exclusive restaurants. We spent nearly 3 hours enjoying a 4 course Italian meal that was absolutely exquisite. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful day! die for
 crème brûlée

Day 6: Ketchikan
Our time in the little fishing town of Ketchikan was limited so we tried to make the most of it by going on a couple excursions. The first took us to Totem Bight State Park in the middle of a rain forest (yes, they exist in Alaska). We were taken on an excellent tour of the grounds, saw a ton of real totem poles and were given an excellent history of the native tribes and meanings behind these works of art. Fun fact: the most important figure on a totem pole actually is not the one at the very top, but rather the one at the base that supports the rest.
Totem Bight State Park
through the rainforest

Next up we headed back into town to see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. I'd heard great things about this, but I actually ended up being pretty disappointed. Basically the lumberjacks perform a series of competitions with their tools and wood, which was pretty cool to see, but the show itself was a bit cheesy for my taste.
sawing it up
axe throw midair
chop chop chop

the coolest part of the show

When the show finished we had about 15 minutes to get back on the boat so I raced a couple blocks away to see the famous Creek Street. The street is actually built on stilts supporting colorful little buildings, including an old brothel! It was quite beautiful and I wished I'd had more time to explore, but alas, it was time to get back on the ship!
Creek Street

That evening we had our second formal evening, complete with the infamous "baked Alaska", which interestingly enough, really has nothing to do with Alaska : ) During dinner we were also treated to the most gorgeous sunset right outside our window. Fun fact: the further north we went, the longer the sun stayed out. At the latest, the sun set around 10:30 pm!
mom & dad
baked alaska!

Day 7: Victoria, BC
Funny story. The morning of our last day on the ship, there was a message for me in our cabin saying that I needed to attend a special customs screening when we arrived in Victoria, Canada. I figured it must be like in airports, where they randomly select people to undergo extra screening, so I didn't worry too much. When we arrived in port, I was escorted off the ship along with 4 others (all older men) and taken to the customs building. I wasn't told any details or even how long it would take, just shown to a seat with dividers around it. As I sat and waited, I realized that I was going to miss the tour my mom and I had scheduled of the Butchart Gardens and I got a little annoyed. I just wanted a little information!

Finally I was brought in to speak with a customs officer who explained that part of their procedure is to run all the names of passengers of cruise ships and then pull any red flags for further investigation. Well, it turns out I have a bit of a rap sheet : / Two misdemeanors showed up on my record (both should be infractions), and according to Canadian law, if you have two within the past 5 years you aren't allowed into the country. Apparently this wasn't the big red flag though; no, they were more concerned with the charge of carrying a firearm into an airport.

Now wait, let me explain! A couple years ago I was flying home from Santa Barbara for the weekend and as I went through security, I forgot that I still had the pepper spray my dad gave me in my purse. I'd had it forever and never used it, so I didn't really even realize it was in their til they pulled it out. Obviously it's not allowed, so I told them I was sorry and to go ahead and toss it, which they did... Only to come get me out of the waiting room 5 minutes later and tell me that actually they were going to write me up. So I was slapped with a hefty fine, but the judge, realizing how ridiculous the whole situation was, agreed to drop it to an infraction. But somehow, two years later, it's showing up on my record with no explanation, carrying the same wait as bringing a gun into an airport. I told the officer this story and he seemed to believe me, but he said he still needed to search me. Well, that was when I had to admit that, once again, I had pepper spray in my bag! Luckily I could just hand it over with no repercussions, but needless to say I will not be carrying that stuff anymore. It's brought me nothing but trouble! And then, just for overkill, I had to be escorted back on the boat to have our cabin searched before I could be cleared to enter Canada.

By the time this whole ordeal was over, we only had a couple hours in port anyway, so my mom and I headed to beautiful downtown Victoria, got to see the palace-like Parliament, Empress Hotel, and lovely harbor. We hit up a cute little vegetarian restaurant for dinner and then just walked around a bit. By the time we got back down by the water, the buildings were all lit up making for quite a mesmerizing site. Despite the crazy beginning, the sunset and sparkling lights more than made up for it : )
Empress Hotel
"Welcome to Victoria"
all lit up : )

If you've made it this far (or just scrolled through the pics), I'm impressed! This is quite possibly the longest blog post ever. And honestly, this trip is the kind you have to experience first hand. Thank you for letting me share my photos and story with you. I promise after this it's back to all things running! I'll leave you with this: if you ever have the chance to visit Alaska, do it!

 "To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world."
- John Muir


  1. amazing pictures! I've never been to Alaska, but would love to go one day. Those pics make me want to go more!

  2. Cool pics! We were in Alaska last summer & I think we did almost this exact cruise backward (started in Anchorage, ended in Vancouver). Looks like you had a great time!

  3. Looks like you had an amazing time on your trip! What an amazing thing to do, run in Alaska!! I'm so jealous! :-) Your pictures are beautiful!