Category Archives: Whales

Alaska Inside Passage ~ September 6 – 13, 2014

Although Trey and I wanted to see Alaska, it was not on our original wish list of sites and landmarks to visit during our six-month journey. Neither recall why we had not considered Alaska, nor do we remember how we came to realize it was doable. Since we’d booked the cruise only a month prior, the inspiration probably came from one of the many bikers and fellow travelers we encountered during our stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our “we will figure it out” mentality is all about being open to options and opportunities. As I’ve written elsewhere, “It’s about having faith… that we will know which paths to take as we approach the many crossroads of our journey.”

ALASKAN CRUISE

First Sunset of our Alaskan Cruise
First Sunset of our Alaskan Cruise

“ It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
                                                                The Spell of the Yukon, Robert W. Service

Truth is of the highest importance to me. In fact, my book’s subtitle is Truth is Sacred. So here’s a serving of truth about non-stop travel that may not be disclosed or properly portrayed in travel blogs, including this one:

It isn’t necessarily glamorous; it can be exhausting; it’s not conducive to practicing self-care; and immune systems get weary.

Mart not feeling too good

Since leaving Austin more than three months prior, I had already experienced two bouts of food poisoning. First, from sketchy pigs ‘n blankets in Atlantic City, and then from a salad in Ottawa. The latter round was especially ugly, but nowhere as odious as the 38 hours I endured in our cabin’s miniature bathroom…I’ll spare you further details, just be assured it was the opposite of glamorous.

Westerdam

Being a seven-day cruise, I was able to rebound and enjoy most of the amazing scenery…

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Juneau, Alaska

Juneau

Alaska’s Capital, Juneau is a bustling tourist and government hub relative to the other communities we visited.

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Alaska’s (unremarkable, yet practical) Capitol Building

The path from the cruise port to the capitol building is a gauntlet of high-end jewelry stores and low-end souvenir vendors.

Juneau2
Our floating hotel blends in with downtown Juneau buildings

Our shopping goals included lunch and one item, a corkscrew to evade the cruise line’s corkage fee. We found both at the Red Dog Saloon. (Note, upon initial embarking, most cruise lines allow each guests (21+) to carry on one bottle of unopened wine. Don’t forget the corkscrew!)

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay, Alaska (2)

Glacier Bay was the highlight of Trey’s Alaskan scenic experience. Due to the aforementioned illness, I was officially quarantined in the cabin for the duration of our time in Glacier Bay.

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Though weak and fog-headed, I loved Trey’s regular and enthusiastic updates of the 65-mile voyage up Glacier Bay into Tarr Inlet. At some point, the ship was boarded by National Park Rangers to help with navigation into the bay’s narrow inlets and conduct informational discussions as we cruised past islands, wildlife, and glacial rivers.

Margerie Glacier (2)
Margerie Glacier

Travel into John Hopkins Inlet was not on the day’s itinerary, but the captain announced he’d been granted permission to enter the inlet due clear weather and decreased ice floes.

 

Through the photos Trey captured and his excitement in describing the day, I experienced it with him. It was absolutely beautiful!

 

 

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka’s city center sits on Baranov Island.

Sitka Sound
Sitka Sound

Our ship docked among the numerous tiny islands dotting Sitka Sound, and disembarking was done via a ship’s tender – a new transportation experience for us.

Tender unloading passengers
Tender unloading passengers

A hard working fishing community, Sitka was closer to our expectations of an Alaskan city than Juneau…

Sitka Skyline

less touristy, with a focus on its people and history. For me, it was like I had finally arrived in true Alaska.Arriving in Sitka

Originally the site of Tlingit Village, Sitka’s roots are prominently displayed throughout. Totems align a walking path in Sitka National Historic Park, and a Russian Orthodox Church is the focal point of Lincoln Street, the city’s main street.

Sitka

With limited time, and even less energy on my part, we were not able to explore beautiful Sitka as we would have liked. Yet, we were there long enough to discern it as a unique community full of grit, charm, and justified pride.

 

Rockwell Lighthouse
Rockwell Lighthouse, Sitka

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Harbor
Ketchikan Harbor

Ketchikan Sign

Ketchikan

I immediately recognized Ketchikan from photographs my parents had taken decades before. Quaint, colorful, and picturesque. Creek Street, and its elevated walk lined with vibrant shops perched above Ketchikan Creek, is quintessential Alaska.

Ketchikan Shops

We followed other tourists across wooden planks, in and out of shops, and around bends of the creek where an unimaginable number of salmon were making their way upstream.

Ketchikan Creek

Continuing beyond the walkway’s end, we found a trail leading up to and through a thicket of firs…

Trail above creek walkway

eventually emerging where the creek flattened and opened into a larger pool. Spawning salmon provided the effects of churning currents and rapids within the pool – a truly wondrous display.

With much amusement, we watched a beaver disguise himself with a palm leaf as he snuck into the pool for lunch.

Ketchikan Beaver

Rather than backtrack, we opted to forge our own path back to the cruise ship, and on the way, discovered totems, Ketchikan’s City Park…

 

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and the Totem Heritage Center, a sanctuary of 19th century Red Cedar totems rescued from neighboring uninhabited Tlingit and Haidi village sites.

Preserved Totems
Chief Johnson’s original totem is in the foreground

Heritage Center

The center was established in 1976 to prevent further erosion and destruction of the totems.

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC

After sailing five hours from Ketchikan, we docked in Victoria, British Columbia. We were happy to be back, and chose to spend our time on an evening excursion to Butchart Gardens.

Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden
Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden

Truly stunning, Butchart Gardens is a must see. The vision of a cement baron’s wife, its expansive gardens stretch across 55 acres in and around the site of a former quarry, the rock source for the cement that helped to construct Victoria and British Columbia.

Garden Entrance

Arriving at sunset, our visit was muted by the lack of daylight, but enhanced by fantastic light shows and special effects lighting that illuminated spectacular blooms.

 

Daytime or nighttime tour? I cannot say which is better, having not experienced the former. I think perhaps they’re just very different, and cannot be compared.

Though restricted on time, we managed to stroll through each section, starting with the sunken garden, through the rose garden, and finishing in the Italian garden.

 

Giant Redwood
Sequoia Tree, planted from a seedling in 1934

It’s a good thing we didn’t linger much longer, as the shuttle bus driver had miscounted heads and was readying to head back to the cruise port.

Disembarkment in Seattle began the next morning, a Saturday, at 7:00 a.m. Having endured long lines during initial boarding, we resolved to pay for an early disembarkment time.

Numerous tasks awaited, including dirty laundry, returning a borrowed formal dress (required for some cruise dinners), and retrieving our bicycles and camping gear from storage.

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It was nearing 2pm when we purchased tickets for the next ferry crossing to Bainbridge Island, leaving just enough time to walk next door and grab some fish n’ chips at Ivan’s Acres of Clams. Then it was…

Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island

on the road again…

More pics..

Ketchikan Otter
Ketchikan Otter

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City Park, Ketchikan
Ketchikan City Park

 

Whistler, British Columbia ~ August 25-29, 2014

Ferry Crossing to Vancouver

While there was no gorgeous sunset to mesmerize us during this ferry crossing, we stayed entertained.

 

The drive took us into the center of Vancouver and across its harbor via the Lions Gate Bridge.

 

 

Sea-to-Sky Highway

Howe Sound, Sea-to-Sky HighwayThe Beartooth Highway, which crosses mountainous passes between Montana and Wyoming, was distinguished as “the most beautiful drive in America,” and the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia, was by far, our most beautiful drive in Canada.

 

The first half of the 120 kilometer drive hugs the coastline of Howe Sound and offers breathtaking views.

Howe Sound, Sea-to-Sky Highway(3)

There are several lookout points to safely take in the beauty which stretched the hour and half drive into two and half hours.

Whistler, British Columbia

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and checked into Lost Lake Lodge, located in a wooded area west of Whistler Village near Lost Lake Park. Although drained from the day’s travel, we explored the area by foot after eating dinner.

Lost Lake at Sunset
Lost Lake at Sunset

We discovered a series of foot and bicycle trails that we later learned were cross-country and biathlon tracks used in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The trails were fabulous for forest walks, and we were able to use them to bike into the heart of the village and all over the Whistler area.

 

We fell in love with Lost Lake that first evening in Whistler. Not only is it peaceful and beautiful, but it’s also off the tourists’ beaten path (hence its name).

 

We’d end each day with a walk or ride to its banks, stopping to watch for tiny Western Toads migrating out of area marshes.

 

Alta Lake is the area’s main water attraction with its beaches and canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals. Challenging due to steep hills, we bicycled around the lake via the Valley Trail, a great way to experience both Whistler’s beauty and eccentricities.

 

Another great (but pricey) way to observe Whistler’s majestic surroundings is via the Whistler-Blackcomb Peak2Peak Gondola. Glass-bottom compartments cross the world’s longest and highest free-spanning wires joining Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

 

Probably not an ideal ride for the faint of heart.

The $53 pass gave us all-day access to lifts, providing easy access to great hiking trails. We rode to the top of Whistler Peak for more phenomenal views.

Panoramic from Whistler Peak

 

Then hiked down to Harmony Lake and continued onto, and looped around, two lower lakes.

Trey on Harmony Lake Trail

A steep, and somewhat strenuous trail, but we loved hiking among the fir trees, around glacial lakes, and along rocky ridges.

Arriving at Harmony Lake
Arriving at Harmony Lake

Our time in Whistler helped to rejuvenate this road weary traveler. It’s lovely and relaxing. In fact, Whistler is one of only a couple of places we have revisited since concluding this six-month tour.

Olympian Travelers

More pics…

 

 

Mini Inukshuk, Whistler Peak
Mini Inukshuk on Whistler Peak with The Black Tusk in background

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria, British Columbia – August 22-25, 2014

After a restful night in a Seattle hotel, and a fun breakfast at the Totem Diner in Everett, we entered British Columbia, Canada — a detour from our original plan to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca via Port Angeles, Washington.

Welcome to BC Sign

Our mistake was assuming our second ferry crossing experience would be as our first, where we drove to the landing, purchased a ticket at a drive-up booth, and then drove directly onto the ferry to cross Lake Champlain.

All crossings to Victoria from Port Angeles were sold out by the time we rose and attempted to purchase a ticket. In fact, our only option was to drive into Canada to the Tsawwassen Terminal, catch a 6pm ferry across the Strait of Georgia to Swartz Bay, and then drive 30 minutes to Victoria.

Ferry Crossing

It was a long day, but the sunset views across the strait were well worth the trek.

Sunsetting over the Strait of Georgia

Our cozy Airbnb apartment allowed us quiet time to sleep in and recuperate from the previous day’s travel.

Catch up time at Victoria Abnb

It was afternoon before we ventured into downtown Victoria, where vibrant colors enhance the city’s energy – it was bustling, yet laid back and friendly.

Victoria, BC

The city’s center surrounds a busy harbor and is comprised of a mix of Victorian architecture, modern condominiums and shopping/tourist areas. It works, and we enjoyed walking around the harbor interacting with street artists, musicians, and other tourists.

Provincial Legislature, Victoria
Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia

 

Fisherman’s Wharf & Whale Watching

Float Houses, Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria
Float Houses in Fisherman’s Wharf

We arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf well before our scheduled tour in order to explore the area and try Barb’s famous fish and chips.

Barb’s lived up to the hype. We both agree they were the best fish and chips of our six month trip, a perfect mix of crunch and tender flaky cod. And not too greasy.

Eagle Wing Tours had favorable reviews and offered a wide range of whale viewing opportunities.

Although a beautiful, warm day, the speed of the boat amped up the effects of wind and sea spray requiring us to break out our rain gear.

The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands provide an ideal home to wildlife, and the perfect feeding environment for Orcas.

Subsequently, Victoria is home to many marine biologists who study and research the great mammals. Their decline in population, compounded by a lack of new births, is the greatest concern.

Orca Pod

Orcas roam about in groups referred to as pods, and we encountered both the K and J pods during our outing. Overall, we witnessed six full breaches, and too numerous partial breaches and fin and tail slaps to count.

It was an incredible and magical day!

Orca

Our stay in Victoria passed quickly and did not allow time to explore all that Victoria has to offer, including Butchart Gardens. Gladly, we would have another opportunity to revisit the city three weeks later.

More pics…

Cross the Strait of Georgia
Sun setting over the San Juan Islands
Victoria, BC 5
View of Victoria from the harbor
Capitol Tree
Amazing tree on capitol grounds
seaplane landing
Seaplane coming in for a landing
Sailboat, Strait of Georgia
Sailboat, Strait of Georgia at Sunset