Have you traveled to Alaska?
If not, add it to your bucket list.
Tiffany and I sailed the Inside Passage on the Norwegian Bliss. We departed Seattle for Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan. We missed our last stop in Victoria, British Columbia due to high winds.
Besides spending time with the person I value most in the world, I was humbled and awed by nature. I also made an effort to capture memories to create a sense of time abundance, as Laura Vanderkam describes it.
All the Alaskan shirts have the phrase, the “Last Frontier.”
Doubtless, it is the most primitive environment left in the U.S. It enables you to imagine what the natural world might have looked like 100, 200, or even 1000 years ago. Wild.
The coast, visible the entire way was beautiful mountains, one after another, covered in towering trees. If you were paying attention, you might glimpse a whale’s spout followed by his tail popping above the water or an otter floating lazily on his back.
We stopped first in Juneau, the Alaska state capital. Juneau nearly doubles its population of ~34,000 people when a few cruise ships dock there. The third largest city in Alaska, it’s the largest one we stopped at.
While there, we rode a helicopter and landed on a friggin glacier!
We were on Mendenhall Glacier, and pictures do not do it justice. The ice continues for miles and miles to the ice shelf. You can taste the purity.
These glaciers, enormous masses of slow-moving ice, are incredible. The Inner Passage, the fjord our cruise ship was traveling, was carved by these massive glaciers.
Many of the mountains, thousands of feet above sea level, were smoothed over but for the jagged peaks above the glaciers’ range. These moving bodies of ice literally tore these mountains apart, thousands of feet above the sea level.
Next, we stopped in Skagway and took a water ferry to Haynes, a town 45 minutes away by water. It would’ve been an 8.5-hour drive, one way, passing through Canada.
Right outside of the harbor, we saw a pod of orcas beside us! We did not see them upon our return as they can swim at rates up to 45 miles per hour. Much faster than our boat.
From Haynes, we floated down the Chillkat River where the current subtlety changes daily due to the dynamic flow of water off the mountains.
The river is surrounded on both sides by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls.
We observed several bald eagles, a few standing guards over their massive nests. During the season when the salmon make their runs up the river, there are thousands of eagles in the area.
Our guide Dave explained by looking at the slopes and varying levels of plant life, you can determine how long areas have been exposed from their glacial covering.
First comes moss, then weeds that are carried into the area by winds. Slowly, the variety of plants expand, stabilizing the nitrogen in the soil. As the area matures, the spruce and hemlock trees take root with the spruce trees slowly reaching towards the heavens.
The most amazing and frightening part was our trip into Glacier Bay, a national park that was inaccessible at the beginning of the 1900s due to ice. Yet, the glaciers are now in full retreat.
If you click the picture below, you can see more on the history and regression of the glacial lines as their boundaries have retreated back over the last 250 years.
While in the park, we had park rangers on our ship narrating what we were seeing including all the wildlife whether mountain goats on the steep slopes beside us or puffins in the water.
We were within a few hundred feet of Margerie Glacier, watching as it crackled and dropped chunks of ice into the water every few minutes.
It’s a tragedy, but the days of glaciers are numbered; their melting releases additional carbon into the atmosphere accelerating their demise.
These wonders will likely not be here for the next generation. Will the animals that depend on these environments adapt in time?
Due to the port cancellation, our final stop was Ketchikan. Alaska’s first city, many of the buildings have been preserved or built in a similar manner to homes 100 years ago. It was like a time warp.
We strolled down Creek Street which was where all the prostitution, booze, and drugs could be found during Prohibition and after prostitution was outlawed on the other side of town.
A preacher owned a home on Creek Street and changed his address to a neighboring street to disassociate with the shameful activities there.
The biggest highlight was walking along the marina with a bald eagle standing on a post just a few feet away. I thought he was eyeing us, but then he swooped under the dock and away with his morning meal.
Then, because I’d never been to Canada, we traveled from Seattle to Vancouver. If you’re going to take a train up the coast, make sure you get your ticket in advance! We took a bus.
From Vancouver, we took a short ride to the Sea to Sky Gondola. There a cable car transported us 3000 feet up a mountain for some light hiking.
Vancouver was the greenest city I’ve ever seen and the area was gorgeous.
Living in our modern world, we often find ourselves far removed from nature, but this trip left me awed, humbled, and inspired.
I made a conscious effort to make more memories and take more photos. Laura Vanderkam talks about the idea of time abundance. While time is a physical resource, how we experience it is subjective.
To build a sense that we are making the most of our time, she suggests making a conscious effort to think about how you’ll share and remember those moments, like writing about it afterward. Savor the moments. Always think, how can I share this memory later? Slow down in the moment. Share the joy with others and remind yourself that nothing lasts forever. Enjoy it.
I look back at photos from runs in the past, hiking the Appalachian trail, and, already, these pictures from my Alaskan trip trigger similar feelings of joy.
I was told Alaska was the cruise of a lifetime. It lived up to the hype.
If you have an opportunity, do it and sooner than later as the environment is changing rapidly. Our future generations may not have the same opportunity.
My biggest suggestion, if you cruise, is to do some excursions. The towns are interesting, but they’re small and extremely touristy.
If you want to see nature, do an excursion and get into nature. After all, that’s why you’re there, right?
Have you taken trips that have triggered similar feelings of awe? I’d love to hear about them, they might just be the next thing on my bucket list.