Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


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Off to Alaska: Days 5 & 6

I purposefully planned the last 2 days of my road trip so that I would only have 6-7 hours of driving each day, so on day 5 I was in no hurry to get up.  I figured I could take my time and get rolling whenever so I ended up leaving the campground around 9:30.  Thankfully there wasn’t a rain cloud in the sky which I thought was a good sign compared to the last few days!

Alaska Highway

When I looked at a map it didn’t seem like I had far to go to reach the Alaska border so I thought the morning drive would be cake.

Oh was I wrong.

While I’d had some pretty bad stretches of road the day before the last stretch was by far the worst.  At one point I came upon a stoplight, in the middle of nowhere (which seemed really out of place) advising me to wait for a pilot car which comes around every 15 minutes.  Great.  So I turned off my car and settled in for the wait.

 Alaska HighwayThis seemed so out of place.

About 5 minutes later a RCMP officer (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) pulled up behind me and walked up to my window.  My first thought was that I was doing something wrong and didn’t even know it, but no, he just wanted to chat (since he was now stuck waiting for the pilot car too).  He asked me where I was from and where I was going.  I let him know I was moving to Alaska to go to Paramedic school and he thought that was pretty cool.  After our chat I didn’t have much longer to wait, only a couple minutes later the pilot car showed up and we were on our way.

I learned really quick why we needed a pilot car.  The road was crap and my car got a nice mud bath.  In fact my car is still covered in mud.  Even the rain won’t wash it off.  There must be something about  Yukon mud…

Alaska HighwayPlaying follow the leader.  This was a nice, muddy, bumpy 10 minute drive down half finished highway. (BTW, the original color of the pilot truck was white, betcha couldn’t tell)

About 30 minutes down the road, I rolled into Beaver Creek and thought it would be a good idea to get a little gas since I was pretty positive what I had in my tank wouldn’t get my to Tok.  I reluctantly put in 8 liters (just over 2 gallons).  At roughly $5.55 a gallon I couldn’t let myself get more without crying.

Just 2 minutes down the road I was excited to come upon the Canadian border station.  I pulled out my passport and got ready to head back into Alaska, and then I saw the sign…

US Border station: 30 KM.

Really?  That’s odd.  Why is there 30 KM of wilderness between the US and Canadian border stations?  I may never know.  And for some reason those 30 KM seemed to take FOREVER.  Thankfully when I finally reached the US border crossing there was no line (because honestly I hadn’t seen another car since Beaver Creek) and I got through without any issues.

Alaska HighwayStraddling the international border between Canada and the US.  There’s actually a stone obelisk marking the border as well as a 20 ft or so swath cut through the trees stretching as far as you could see.

Alaska HighwayYay!  Finally in Alaska!

Onward to Tok!  By this point I was starving and I could not wait for lunch.  Alaska is an hour behind Yukon so I set my clocks back an hour and headed on.  I had decided to stop at Fast Eddies in Tok for lunch because apparently it’s THE place to go.  They talked about it on the Milepost and they raved about it on the ferry.  Honestly I thought it was good, not extraordinary, but good.  It was definitely a nice break from driving and the first time I’d allowed myself to eat at a restaurant on the trip (aside from the two times I bought stuff on the ferry). I also saw my first state trooper while I was there, which is no big deal in real life but it made me super excited since I’ve probably watched every episode of Alaska State Troopers.  Love that show.

Alas I needed to keep moving on so I filled up my gas tank ($4.29/gallon, ouch!) and headed off.

The rest of the afternoon was rather unextraordinary.  After the incredible scenery in BC and the Yukon the sites from the Tok Cutoff where just kinda blah.  After I moved onto the Glenn Hwy things started looking prettier, thankfully, I was beginning to worry about all the grand visions I’d had of Alaska’s beauty and wondered if I was wrong about anything else.

Glenn HighwayThe Glenn Highway is when things started to get really pretty again.

Glenn Highway

I stayed that night not far from the Matanuska Glacier and overlooking the famous “Lions Head.”  I pulled into the campground and got set up right before the inevitable rain storm rolled in, thankfully it only stuck around for about 20 minutes and then it was all blue skies again.

Glenn HighwayWhere I camped for the night.  I snapped this pic before I set up my tent right there in front of my car.  That cool shaped mountain formation in the middle is Lions Head.

Glenn HighwayI may have been trapped in my car waiting out the rainstorm, but I had to step out for a second to take a picture of this pretty double rainbow over the campground.

I slept Ok that night, I did get pounded by another rainstorm and had moments when I thought a bear might come by and eat me (irrational), but I survived and by 9:30 the next morning I was on my way again.

I stopped briefly to take pictures of the glacier and then headed on to civilization.

Matanuska GlacierThe Matanuska Glacier as seen from the highway.  You can actually do glacier tours, but obviously I didn’t have time for that.

Anchorage did get a little confusing.  I managed to get on the wrong highway in town but I did end up finding my way in the end.  I met up with a college friend from Liberty for lunch, Sarah, at the Olive Garden and then began the last leg of the journey, which was also the part I was most excited about, the Seward Highway!

I had heard on so many occasions that the Seward Highway was gorgeous and since the day was sunny I knew I was in for a treat.

It didn’t disappoint.

Pardon the lack of pictures from this leg.  I was both really excited to get to the school and a bit pressed for time so I didn’t pull over anywhere (also I figured I’ll have plenty of chances to do it in the future), but trust me, this was the Alaska I’d always pictured.

Seward Highway

My not so great pictures of the Seward Highway.  I actually took them while driving.  I know, shame on me, but that tour bus in front of me was going 10 mph below the speed limit, that makes it a little better right?

Seward Highway

It’s actually a pretty sizable journey from Anchorage to Soldotna, about 2.5 hours.  Luckily, like I said, most of that is beautiful.  Sadly, the ugliest part is actually when you get closer to Soldotna.  You’ve left the mountains at that point and are surrounded instead by these strange stubby trees.  Oh well.

I pulled into the school around 4 in the afternoon unloaded my car and started to settle in, so relieved to be at my final destination.

I’ll write another blog later showing you guys around my new home, but thanks for following along my journey to get here, it really was an adventure and I can already tell that is going to be the theme for the year.  I can’t wait!

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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!


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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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Announcement! Announcement!

You guys, I have a big announcement.  At least big in my books.

It’s something I’ve sat on and prayed over for many months.

It was a decision that was simultaneously really exciting and really terrifying.

It still terrifies me…

This has probably been one of my biggest tests of faith thus far.  It’s required a lot of trust and begrudgingly coming to the realization that sometimes things aren’t supposed to be crystal clear, plans aren’t supposed to by crystal clear, because that’s how we exhibit our real trust in God.

So what is this big announcement?  Why is it so terrifying?

Well…. I’m moving! Now I know you’re next question, where?  If you know me you’re probably imagining somewhere foreign and exotic.  South Africa possibly, or Turkey or Thailand?  Nope.

Still wondering?

Here you go, drumroll please…………….

Moving

……………….

………..

……

Alaska!That’s right, Alaska! Yay! The land of mountains and moose, bears and long dark winter days (but really sunny summers!).

Now I know the next questions to come to mind, when, where and why?

So, I’ll be living in the town of Soldotna, about 2.5 hours from Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.  Theres no Walgreens, no Target and no malls.  It’s going to be different, but I’m Ok with different.

The why takes a little more to explain.

For years I’ve wanted to be a Paramedic.  I’ve attempted to pursue it on several occasions since graduating from college but other, awesome opportunities have always come up instead.  I’ve always accepted it, trusting in God’s timing.  There’s been a few points where I thought I might do something else, but I kept just coming back to EMT.  My heart skips a beat every time I see a fire truck or ambulance.  I just know it’s right.

Last year, when I started working for World Vision, I thought it would give me the perfect opportunity to do an EMT program at a local community college, but it became apparent pretty quickly that my schedule wouldn’t allow it.  Once again, something got in the way.  In hindsight though I realize just what God was doing, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Last fall I discovered the show Alaska State Troopers on Netflix and I just binge watched 3 seasons while working on various projects.  Because I like to research things I randomly googled EMT programs in Alaska, just to see if they existed or what they were like.  It was at this point I discovered that EMT/Paramedic programs run differently depending on the state.  Each type of program has it’s own merits, but this opened up a box of opportunities I never knew I had, the chance to find a program that really is right for me.  See, I’d always assumed I’d do a program in WA, since it’s home, but in WA EMT programs are certificate based then you have to work for a large amount of hours before even considering applying to a paramedic program.  In other states, like OR and AK, EMT programs are actually degree programs, meaning you’re eligible for financial aid.  They are also consecutive, meaning you can get everything done and be a full Paramedic in just over 2 years.  This was very appealing to me, so in January I started thinking of moving to go to school, then in March I started praying about going back to school, and finally in May I decided to take the plunge and apply to a school.

Oh that was a scary moment.

In the end I decided to apply to Kenai Peninsula College, a branch of the University of Alaska Anchorage.  First of all I chose it because they’ve been developing a pretty great Paramedic program, and the second reason, and this was huge, was that out of state tuition was waived. Yay for cheaper education!

When my acceptance letter and financial aid offer came in at the beginning of June I knew I had a lot to ponder and pray over.  This is where the whole trusting God thing came in because I’ve never been to Alaska and I don’t know anyone in that part of the state.  I’m literally going in blind.  It also meant quitting my job at World Vision and trusting that God would provide some way to earn a stable income once I got there, because folks, Alaska ain’t cheap.

I still need to find a job, but I have no reason to think that God won’t help me find one.  After all, he helped me find a great car for an incredible price.  Did you see it?

New car

I knew my poor little Kia Rio would be eaten alive by Alaska, I mean, it would cringe in the rain around here, I don’t even want to think what would happen in the snow!  So, right around the same time I started considering moving to Alaska I started checking out cars online.  I’d found a few good ones over the months but nothing I was ready to commit to or that completely met my checklist.  Then, last week I found this beautiful 2009 Saturn Vue online.  My Dad headed down to the dealership with me Saturday evening and within a few hours I was signing the papers for my new car!  I couldn’t beleive it.  God had provided it at the right time for the right price.  This car is going to be perfect for Alaska and perfect for the drive up because yes… I’m driving.

It’s going to be a LONG road trip.  I’m super excited for it and super exhausted by the thought of it.  Right now the plan is to leave August 15 (class starts the 25th) and to take 5 days to travel up to Anchorage.  It’s definitely going to be an adventure.

And speaking of adventure, did I mention I’m going to be living in dorms again? Ya, oye.  I feel like I paid my dorm dues the first time around (I lived in the dorms all 4 years).  I loved it, but I’m a lot older now, and the idea of living with a bunch of 18 year olds is kind of exhausting.  At the same time there was something deep down telling me this was the right move to make, at least for now.

See,  I don’t know anyone up there, I don’t know what the good and bad parts of town are, and rent is expensive. These dorms are also a little different than the ones I lived in before.  They’re apartment style.  Each apartment has 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living space and a full kitchen.  Everyone get’s their own bedroom which is really nice.  I don’t think I could have done it if I’d had to share a bedroom with 2 roommates like the first time around.

So there you have it.  Today I officially gave my 2 weeks notice at World Vision, that’s why I felt like I could finally share this with y’all, and trust me, it was REALLY HARD to keep in.  Leaving World Vision is going to be really tough.  While working in a call center isn’t my dream job, the organization is actually really, really great and is by far the best place I’ve ever worked.  I’m going to miss working for a place that is so Christ centered in everything, but, I’m SOOOO excited to finally be following my dream.

Less than 4 weeks to go.  Let the freak out begin!