“Alaska is what happens when Willy Wonka and the witch from Hansel and Gretel elope, buy a place together upstate, renounce their sweet teeth, and turn into health fanatics,” claims Sloane Crosley. I would have to agree because Alaska is a great place to hide out, especially if you have a questionable past, and you’re looking to reinvent yourself. Aren’t we all.
Who could ever have imagined a rush for gold would turn into a rush of tourists flooding off floating cities in search of adventure. Nearly one million people visit Skagway annually and we added six more to the count.
Skagway is one of only three cities in Southeast Alaska accessible by road. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Skagway holds the Guinness World Record for the most people in an egg toss. Oh, and by the way the founder of Nordstrom’s, John W. Nordstrom, spent two years in the Klondike during the Gold Rush. He earned $13,000 from a gold-mine stake before returning to Seattle and starting Nordstrom. Nordy swag claims more than half the space in my luggage. Now that’s a worthy nugget.
“To awaken in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” says Freya Stark. Peeking out the window for our first glimpse of Skagway is surreal, not only the lush forests, and snow capped mountains, but a rather “big” city awaits us by Alaskan standards.
Our plan today is to not only explore the town but board a train for a rail adventure to White Pass and the Yukon. It’s like stepping back in time when the railroad first carried weary miners toward their destination in the Klondike. The scenery is stunning and only leaves me hungry for more, so after gorging on shimmering glaciers, and towering waterfalls Looney decides we need more substance. Alaskan king crab anyone? Hell yes.
As luck would have it, a rustic crab shack is conveniently located on the very pier where our ship is docked, so we can stare at the ship that has free food and booze, while we pay for cold drinks, and royal crab. One leg cost Ron a bloody fortune, but it was fleshy, with plenty of crab for all, and our waiter came with a plethora of information. He told us Alaskans work approximately six months out of the year, while the cruise ships run, and then he boasted, “I practice doing absolutely nothing the rest of the year.” #Goals
Skagway has a population of about 900, what I found impressive was the PFD (based on oil reserves), developed by the state of Alaska, which pays, yes pays, the residents of Alaska to live there as an incentive to help make up for the higher cost of living, and “doing absolutely nothing,” so keep that in mind when considering retirement communities.
Marcus Sakey says nobody is accidentally in Alaska. The people who are in Alaska are there because they choose to be, so they’ve sort of got a real frontier ethic. The people are incredibly friendly, interesting, smart – but they also stay out of each other’s business. Did not know this when interrogating our waiter, we’re big tippers, no regrets.
Back on ship we had to hustle to prepare for “white night,” yes it’s a real thing, decked out in white from head to toe, we met up in the Silk lounge, and ordered expresso martinis just to be rebellious. I believe dancing was involved at some point in the evening, then we put down a fabulous dinner at the W. I had a generous slice of prime rib, baked potato (with all the toppins), and salad. I have no idea what the others ate because I was so engrossed in my own plate, minding my own business, I’m all about acclimating to the culture. We ended the night out on the deck, sipping wine, counting the number of buttons that have popped off our Nordstrom cruise wear. #allworthit
Today was epic! Yes, I throw words around a lot but honestly “epic” is the only word that adequately describes what our eyes beheld on this day. While we slumbered our fearless captain guided our slender ship down a narrow passage known as the Tracy Arm. Larry was barking orders before I downed my first cup of coffee, “Get up, get dressed, let’s get outside.” #Sacrifices
I slept in my Spanx, because they’ve finally grafted to my skin, and will not come off. Honestly, all I had to do was slap on sweats, put a brush through my unwashed hair, a touch of lipgloss, and we were out the door. I’m what you call low maintenance and that’s not up for debate.
We found our people, and as if a school of salmon, we stood there with our mouths wide open, as God claims in Psalm 81, “open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” She did indeed, the views were breathtaking, colorful icebergs dotted the water, upon which groups of seals lounged in the sun. Older icebergs reveal vivid hues of green and blue, resulting from a high concentration of color, microorganisms, and compacted ice, just like people who grow more colorful with age.
As we made our way deeper into the bay we stood in awe before robust waterfalls, and valleys so lush it’s as if they were painted by the hand of God. Two enormous glaciers mark the end of the passage appropriately named Endicott. We stood before this majestic slow moving river of ice absolutely mesmerized as pieces broke off and slammed into the water with a delayed boom. “The glacier was God’s great plough set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth,” says Louis Agassiz. #That
Well let me just say that experience worked up a powerful hunger so we stormed the buffet a few decks above along with a round of Bloody Mary’s. “Cuz we can.”
Due to a colorful but aging memory I spent the afternoon by the pool, computer in my lap, scanning for whales, and outlining our days at sea before Sue dragged us all to bingo. Yes, you read that right. We had ten minutes to buy a pack of preprinted cards, bingo markers, order drinks, and get settled before a darling young woman started shooting numbers at us, but she couldn’t pronounce the number three, it came out more like free, and Looney kept remarking his free space. Jim and Sue won two out of the four games? #TotallyRigged
Bingo King and Queen are hosting another cocktail party in their massive suite tonight, Zoltan the butler will be serving, so we decide to go easy on them. Not. Enjoyed another extraordinary meal at the W, I have only two outfits that fit, and ended the evening on the outside deck, teaching Debbie and Ron how to play Mexican Train. While attempting to order more wine from our perplexed stewart, who kept saying, “two glasses?” “No, two bottles.” I know, I know, we’ve become such ragers.
Ketchikan is our destination de jour, located in Southeast Alaska on Revillagigedo Island. Ketchikan is named after the Ketchikan Creek, which flows through the town, emptying into the Tongass Narrows. You might not know this but Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles that dot this historic city. Due to its steep and forested terrain, Ketchikan is long and narrow, as if fringe on a blanket, with much of the built-up area being located along, or no more than a few city blocks from the waterfront.
Not that I relish gossip but the area near the mouth of Ketchikan Creek earned a measure of infamy during the first half of the 20th century for a red-light district known as Creek Street, with brothels aligned on either side of the creek. We actually walked the path known as the “married mens hidden passage.” #WalkOfShame.
Our much anticipated excursion is a sea plane flight over the Tongass National Forest, largest in the US, some seventeen million acres. We gather at the designated statue, greeted by a cheery woman who explains the process, and guides us to the shuttle. We have a confession, I’ll not say who, “we sort of lied about our weight and now we’re worried the plane will crash.” Our guide laughs, “not to worry, we plan for this, and add ten pounds for the men, and twenty pounds for the women.” In unison, “thank you God.”
This was a worthy experience and I highly recommend it if the opportunity should ever arise. I have never seen so much undeveloped landscape, our flight was two hours, with a landing on one of the interior lakes. It is impossible to describe the beauty of the Tongass, from the steep mountains, to the tiered waterfalls, pristine lakes, and lush foliage. My primary thought was gratitude. Our pilot said, “It’s a huge place that needs a microscope to truly appreciate.”
After a quick lunch aboard ship (God forbid we miss a meal) we returned to Ketchikan for a stroll through town, visited the local museum, and followed the Ketchikan creek for a few miles. It’s Ron’s birthday today and although we have razzed him mercilessly about upstaging Jim’s event we have plans to celebrate his birth at the famous Prego restaurant on board ship. Unrivaled best of text of the trip was penned by Debbie Guditus, “Best gift would be for Jim to lay off Ron for a little bit because we go back to the room he cries for an hour.” #Bahaha
It’s a dressy night and may I just give a little shout out to all things polyester? After a champagne toast to the birthday boy in the lounge, we’re seated at a table for six in the charming Prego restaurant, with three waiters assigned exclusively to our needs. Things went south rather fast. The waiter says as he fluffs Larry’s linen napkin placing it in his lap, “has anyone ever told you you look like George Clooney?” Really? This has to stop.
“I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime associates, food, for me, has always been an adventure,” beautifully stated by the late Anthony Bourdain. We took a risk, trying just about everything on the menu, and thanks to Looney the service was exceptional. Best thing on the menu, mushroom soup, in a tiny bread bowl. #SoSatiated
We ended the night at the piano bar, another epic day on the Crystal, another memory to tuck away, and feast on while we attend Weight Watchers.
John Muir, the famous naturalist, wrote in his journal that you should never go to Alaska as a young man because you’ll never be satisfied with any other place as long as you live. Although I’m missing my grandbabies I wholeheartedly agree. This is our final day and we’ll be cruising the Inside Passage.
Today, because I’m sort of desperate about all the enlargement going on here, Larry convinced me to walk the deck with him, for like two miles, I got dizzy, but no perceivable change in my girth. We met up with everyone on the pool deck for a rousing game of Mexican Train. It took four hours, several rounds of beer, and two bottles of wine to complete, as we’re dealing with beginners. Larry tries to explain his gaming philosophy, “I don’t play for fun! I play to win!” We decided he’s a triple type A. And not to rub mud in the faces of those who lost but Sue came in first, Cheryl second, and Debbie third. #winnerwinnerchickendinner
On our final night we decided to revisit the Brazilian Steak House, we think we may have missed one type of meat on our last visit. This time I was prepared and only took one serving of each marvel presented. When all our cards were turned to “no” we waddled over to the Palm for a nightcap a little saddened to have arrived at our final evening.
A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. John Steinbeck
It was real. It was divine. It was gospel because travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world says Gustav Flaubert. While that tiny space may have expanded in the course of a week I believe Marcel Proust says it best, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. This has been a most magnificent indulgence on not only the eyes, but the mind, and most definitely the alimentary canal. Benjamin Disraeli says like all great travelers, we have seen more than we remember, and remember more than we have seen.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, I’ll teach you Mexican Train with a little Sauvignon Blanc.
- Work, Travel, Save, Repeat
- Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey. Donald Patrick “Pat” Conroy
- Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going. Paul Edward Theroux