Amanda Dorough | She's Paying It Off

The Story of My Journey to Debt Freedom, One Tiny Step at a Time

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Off to Alaska: The Alaska Ferry Day 3

Six AM comes early, but that was the time we were scheduled to land in Ketchikan and with only 3 hours in port and a lot to see I wanted to make sure I was off that ship as quickly as possible.

The night before a woman I had met on the ship, Lynn, and I decided we would go explore Ketchikan together. She really wanted to see totem poles and I really wanted to see Creek Street so we figured if we teamed up we could see more and hopefully keep each other on track because if you’re not back at the ferry when it’s scheduled to leave it WILL leave without you.

We made an agreement to make sure each other were up on time so we could get out and off.  The wakeup call proved unnecessary however because as we approached the port the purser came over the loud-speaker to let us know.  For some reason the announcements would just reverberate off of the steel on the deck and there was just no sleeping through it.

Thankfully, as we pulled into Ketchikan, even though it was overcast it wasn’t raining yet.  However, having grown up in Seattle I knew it could start raining at any time so I made sure I was fully prepared in case it started (and it did).

As soon as we got off the ship we were approached by a man who runs a shuttle into town (the ferry docks about 2.5 miles outside of the tourist center while the cruise ships port right in the middle of town). For $10 they would take us into town and then bring us back later. We figured it was a good deal so we went for it.

And a big plus of getting into port so early? We beat all the cruise ship passengers to the hot spots. Hooray!

Alaska FerryWelcome to Ketchikan!

Alaska FerryIf you rub the totems stomach you were supposed to get money within in hour.  Unfortunately It didn’t work.

Alaska FerryThis cruise ship towered above Ketchikan.  I’m sure if you put our ferry next to it, it would be like putting a Chihuahua and a Great Dane next to each other haha.

Alaska FerryCreek Street!  So cool!

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerryPardon the poor quality of the photo but the river through town was literally solid with fish.  I had to document it.  Do you see them?

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

I had a blast exploring. After being on the ship for a full day it was nice to get off and stretch my legs. unfortunately by 8:00 the rain had caught up to us and we were experiencing a full on downpour so we hopped on the shuttle and headed back to the ship.

Now, if you remember, I had been sleeping in a tent attached to the top deck of the ship. unfortunately, when you’re set up on the steel deck of a ship the water has no place to go, so, when rain might not be a huge problem when you’re camping elsewear, on the ship it was a huge deal. While my stuff fared pretty well, poor Lynns entire bag was soaked. By lunchtime only 3 tents, including mine were left. Then the wind picked up and all the rest of us decided to just take our tents down. We didn’t want to sleep in them at that point anyway. Thankfully when people got off in Ketchikan reclining chairs underneath the solarium opened up so I was able to just claim a spot on an open chair and veg out.

Alaska FerryOnly a couple sad little tents left.  Mine was the grey one.

Alaska FerryMy new bed under the solarium for the last night on the ship.  It was actually really nice!

And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. Honestly if I went back and did it again I would probably just skip the tent and sleep on the chair from the beginning (with a sleeping pad of course). The only thing is, the heat lamps that hang overhead (and are constantly going) make you really sleepy. That coupled with the rain made me want to sleep all day, so, to prevent myself from missing out on everything I headed back up to the forward viewing lounge to charge my laptop and do some writing.

We began our approach into Wrangell at 2:30 that afternoon and as we got close the water visibly changed from a murky brown to a glacial blue. It was really cool.

Alaska FerryThe contrast between the regular water and the glacial water was intense.

Alaska Ferry

Even though it was raining I decided to get off the ship in Wrangell, just to say I had been there. Wrangell and our next stop, Petersburg aren’t on the cruise ship route because the passages are to shallow/narrow, so I knew it would be a unique opportunity to see the town.

unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and literally everything was closed, even the grocery store. It was like a ghost town. The only sign of life was a little girl and her mom sitting under a tent selling garnets. apparently there is a rule in Wrangell that only children can sell garnets. I thought that was interesting.

Alaska FerryLooking back at the Columbia after getting off in Wrangell.  See what I mean about it being dwarfed by the cruise ships?

After an hour we were once again on our way toward Petersburg.

As we cruised through the channel we passed tons of little fishing shacks and little fishing communities. Even in the rain it was cool to see. There were some points during the voyage were we came so close to land that it felt like I could toss a rock and make it to shore. No wonder the huge cruise ships can’t get through.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerrySome of the channel markers the ferry had to navigate through.  Insane.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

I kept looking to see if any wildlife would show themselves. It looked like prime moose/bear country, but I think even they avoided the downpour, bummer.

After being disappointed in Wrangell I decided I wouldn’t even try to get off in Petersburg. The town is much larger than Wrangell but the rain was pounding and our stop was pretty short so I decided it just wasn’t worth it and elected to take pictures from the deck instead.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Even though the weather for the day was disappointing I still really enjoyed the sights. I’d love to go back and cruise through there again on a day with more favorable weather, although I hear those are few and far between.

Stay tuned for day 4, the last day on the ship and the first day of my roadtrip!


Off to Alaska: The Alaska Ferry Day 2

Ah, onward to the good stuff!

Lets start off by saying the quality of sleep I got that first night (as well as most people in tents) was the pits. I don’t know what it is about night-time on ships but the wind just pounded us. I probably woke up every 20 minutes fearful that my tent was going to blow away with me in it. Thankfully it didn’t, no ones did. The gorilla tape really did do a good job, thank goodness!

Alaska FerryThe Gorilla Tape did it’s job!

Now, I have to admit, when I got up Saturday morning, I wasn’t to optimistic that we would see anything that day since we were socked in an endless expanse of dense fog.

Seriously the fog was so thick at points that the captain was blowing the ships horn every 1-2 minutes (or at least it felt like it).

Alaska FerryThe weather got foggier as the morning went on.

Alaska FerryThe weather looked awful, but at least it wasn’t raining.

Since there was nothing to see I journeyed down to the forward viewing lounge, which is filled with seats similar to airplane style or what you would find on a typical ferry, found a good seat next a window (even thought I couldn’t see anything) and watched a movie on my laptop to pass the time.

About an hour later we had left the shelter of Vancouver Island and officially entered Queen Charlotte Sound. Because we were now in what was considered “open waters” the ship quickly began to rock and while I don’t normally get seasick I was feeling it so I decided to try and take a nap instead to ward off the nausea.

Alaska FerryThere was a digital map by the purser’s desk letting us know where we were at all times.

I woke up two hours later to hot sunshine hitting my tent. Sometime during my nap we had blasted through the fog layer and the weather had turned beautiful.

Not long later we were further rewarded with our first whale sighting of the trip. While they were a decent way from the ship I was able to capture some of the humpback whales acrobatics with my telephoto lens. As the day went on we spotted more and more whales, more often than not it was just the spray as they surfaced along with a little hump as they dove back down again, but a few times the whale would wave at us with its great tail.

Alaska FerryThis whale gave us a great show, jumping and playing around in the water.

Alaska FerryOther whales’ would only give us a brief glimpse.

Later on in the afternoon the captain came over the loud speakers to announce they had spotted a pod of Orcas. You’d never seen so many people jump up and head to the rails of a ship so quickly. The orcas however proved to be a little ship shy and we didn’t see them come up again until we were well past them unfortunately.

The real star of the day however was just the landscape. Oh it was so pretty. Endless fjords, islands and steep mountains diving into the deep ocean waters. Everytime I had to leave the deck to do something like eat or use the restroom I got really anxious, fearing I would miss something cool.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerryEvery now and again you’d catch a waterfall flowing into the ocean water.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

We really did luck out immensely with the sun. A lot of voyages get stuck in rain the entire time, and while later on we got our fair share the day was spent cruising BC’s inside passage was so beautiful.

Stay Tuned for Day 3…

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Off to Alaska: Alaska Ferry Day 1


I’m writing this blog as I sit on the back deck of the MV Columbia, the largest in the Alaska Ferry Systems fleet, enjoying the scenery of the inside passage as it rolls by (although you will probably be reading this several days after the fact since there is no wifi on the ship). I must say God surely had a special plan when he created this piece of coastline because it is beyond beautiful.

I’m still in awe that I’m even sitting here to begin with. Although I dreamed of taking the Alaska Ferry one day, I thought that day would most likely be several years down the road. However because my parents weren’t to keen on the idea of me driving all the way from Seattle to Soldotna on my own they graciously offered to help cover the costs beyond my budget (because taking the ferry isn’t cheap) simply for their piece of mind.

Alaska Ferry- The milepost 40 years apartMy dad found an old copy of The Milepost that he had.  I thought it was interesting that they were exactly 40 years apart, and look at that price difference!

The ferry officially departed Bellingham at 6pm last night but they requested that all passengers be at the terminal by 3, so my plan was to leave my house by 11:30 am, 12 at the latest. That plan failed miserably. After last-minute items thrown in the car, pictures and tearful goodbyes I think I finally pulled out of my driveway just after 12:30. Even though I had beaten “rush hour,” traffic was essentially awful the entire way. My plans to stop for lunch had to be thrown to the wayside which allowed me to pull into the parking lot at the terminal at exactly 3:05. I thought maybe I would have a chance to walk up to Fairhaven to grab a quick bite but the guy who handed me my ticket let me know I needed to get my car in line ASAP, so I did.

Considering my car was the last in line I thought I’d get out and snap a quick picture of the ship. I was gone from my car for maybe 3 minutes and as soon as I sat down a man came up and told me he was going to let me go ahead and go next (as in skip the dozen+ cars in front of me) because “that is one of the benefits of having a small car.” My first thought was that my car isn’t that small but I wasn’t going to argue and drove past all the waiting cars with a big smile on my face.

Alaska FerryBack view of the MV Columbia.  This is all I could get before rushing back to my car and getting on.

What happened next was awesome and terrifying. I rode in an elevator in my car y’all. It was the weirdest feeling. Very unnatural.

The ferrys’main car deck is on the bottom deck of the vessel however they do have a smaller car deck on the second floor and the only way in or out is by elevator. Weird.

Alaska FerryThe car in front of me going up!

When I finally got my car parked I quickly pulled my bag out of the car and rushed to the top deck to find a place to put my tent. From research I knew that the Columbia has two decks where you can place your tent, deck 6 or deck 8. The deck 6 area was already pretty full by the time I boarded so I headed up to the eighth and there was plenty of space. And you know what? Even though I’m sure it’s a bit windier than the other deck, I feel like there is a greater sense of community between everyone up here on 8.  I like it.

I made friends quickly. People helped me set up my tent, I helped others set up theres and everyone became very fond of my roll of Gorilla Tape in order to attach their tents to the deck since there’s no way to stake it down.

Alaska FerryTent City set up and ready to go on the top deck of the Columbia.  The solarium is directly to the right.

Alaska FerryThe sign says it all.  To bad.

Alaska FerryMy “cabin” aboard the Columbia.

After everything was set up we all had time to kill before departure and started to get to know our neighbors.  I think the favorite question between passengers was “so where are you getting off?”

I was surprised, there are a lot of people on the ferry just for the ride, taking it up to Skagway then back to Bellingham.  Sounds like an adventure.

Alaska FerryLooking Back at Bellingham.

Alaska FerryThe Bellingham “cruise” terminal.

At exactly 6 we began to pull out of Bellingham. It was a bit bittersweet knowing it was going to be my last look at Washington until at least December but the air of excitement on the ship was contagious. Everyone anticipated the adventures to come and as we sailed past the San Juan Islands everyone knew the best views were still ahead.

Alaska FerryThe weather for our departure was perfect.  Here’s one of the viewing decks on the 7th deck of the ship.

Alaska FerryI’d say you can’t beat waking up to a view like this.

Alaska FerryI thought splurging on some fish and chips for dinner would be completely appropriate. 

Alaska FerryNext Stop, Ketchikan!

Stay tuned for day 2….