Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


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Journey to Alaska: Let the Roadtrip Begin!

The wake up call my last day on the ferry was definitely early but not so bright.  We officially docked in Juneau (well, 12 miles outside the city actually) at 3:30 in the morning, and, despite the early hour the purser still came over the loud-speaker to announce our arrival, of course waking me up.  I think most others fell back asleep, I tried but for some reason I couldn’t.

Even though Alaska is “the land of the midnight sun,” this part of Alaska, and at this time of the year still has darkness early in the morning so there wasn’t a lot to see off the ship, so instead I just people watched, people getting on, people getting off, making up stories in my head of where everyone was going.

At 5:30 we finally pulled away and were on our way to Haines, my departure port.

Sometime during the night we had outrun the rain so I kept my fingers crossed that it would stay away.  I had heard that this was the most beautiful section of the journey with snow-capped mountains and glaciers.  unfortunately, even though the majority of the 4 hour journey was rain free, low clouds and fog made visibility poor.  Every now and again we would see something spectacular peek through a crack, but that was it, a small peek.

Alaska FerryThe first peek that there were good things behind all the clouds.

Alaska FerryAnd sometimes the clouds would part a little more to show something even more spectacular.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerryHanging out in the Solarium.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

As we approached Haines my heart began to sink a little.  It was that same feeling you get when vacation is over and you know you have to go back to work.  Even though the ferry was far from luxury it was nice to allow someone else to do all the work for me for a few days while I sat back, read, took pictures and talked with new friends.  Even though I was excited to get to Soldotna I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get there and I would be by myself most of that time, so I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

As we pulled into Haines, new friends helped me carry my ungodly amount of items down to my car, making the three deck journey infinitely less painful.  I wasn’t sure how long they would give us before we needed to be off the ship so I wanted to make sure I was loaded up as quickly as possible.  It seems that I forgot the whole car elevator part though, because it was a good hour before I was off the ship.

I made a quick stop in Haines to give my Mom a call to let her know I was alive before crossing into Canada and then I was on my way.  The further I drove away from Haines the nicer the weather got, Thank goodness!

Alaska Roadtrip

I drove through an eagle sanctuary, where I didn’t see a single eagle (come on!) and 40 miles down the road officially crossed into British Columbia.

And, Oh. My. Gosh.

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, which covers essentially the entire drive through BC along the Haines Highway is INSANE.  I don’t think I could ever think of the correct words to describe it or ever take a picture that would do it justice.  It was an otherworldly beauty.  Like being on top of the world, far above any tree-line, and the glaciers, oh the glaciers.  There were dozens of them.  Everywhere I turned there was a new glacier.  Guys, if you ever get a chance to drive this highway through the park, do it.  It’s so worth it.

Haines HwyYou can just see a glacier straight ahead.

Haines HwyI haven’t even edited this picture, these vivid colors were real.  It was amazing.

Haines Hwy

I was a little sad to leave the park but as I continued into the Yukon it was still beautiful, different, but beautiful, and just so you know, everything you’ve ever thought about the Yukon, you know, that no one lives there and that its vast stretches of empty wilderness, ya, it’s all true.  I felt like I pushed forever just to reach Haines Junction, the point where I would meet up with the Alaska Highway.  I thought I would find a nice little town when I got there, but seriously, blink and you’d miss it.  I was so confused.  It’s definitely not a town that you need to spend any time in.  I filled up my gas tank and headed on my way.

Alaska HwyThe sunshine in Yukon was a vast change from the rainy weather that morning.

About 45 minutes down the road I officially made it to Lake Kluane, the Yukon’s biggest lake, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations.  It was beautiful (and freezing!).  The water was a pretty glacial blue, so photogenic, so I found a place where I could pull over and take some photos.  I could have honestly spent hours there but I had no idea how long it would take me to reach my campground for the night. I’d heard this would be the most difficult portion of the Alaska Highway to drive (and boy was it rough), so I wanted to make sure to give myself enough time.

Alaska HwyLake Kluane with a couple cairns stacked in front.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyLook at the color of the water.  So, so pretty.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyThe bugs in Yukon y’all, there were SO MANY!  My windshield was gross.

Not even 30 seconds down the road, I look out my window and what do I see playing on the shores of the lake?  A big ‘ole brown bear (Aka grizzly).  It’s a good thing the road was empty because I slammed on my breaks and yelled “that’s a grizzly!” out of sheer excitement.  I didn’t stop and take any pictures, although looking back I wish I had, but it was a pretty cool site and one of only a couple of wildlife sittings I had on the whole drive (the other was a group of wild horses about an hour down the road).

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful although very rainy.  I swear, I just couldn’t escape the stuff.

Alaska HwyThe road was terrible in many spots.  This is a small taste.  Later on it was full on gravel.

Alaska HwyThe rain would come in swift and hard.

Alaska HwyThen it would be as if the sun had never left.

Alaska Hwy

I ended up pulling into my campground around 5, it wasn’t raining at the time but the sky showed a real potential for it and I wasn’t excited in the least to set up my tent and spend the night in it, so when the owner of the campground offered to rent me one of their hard sided tents (it was only $10/night more) I jumped at the chance.  To have walls, a floor and a real bed?  Not a bad deal.

I moved in, cooked myself a bowl of ramen noodles for dinner and watched a movie, simply because I could.

Alaska HwyMy home for the night (the tent, not the car) at Discovery Yukon Lodgings.  I totally recommend this campground (they have cabins too!) for anyone traveling the Alaska Highway in the future.

Alaska HwyIt’s a bed, a real bed!

By 9:30 I was so wiped out I was more than ready for bed however I looked up and there was a spider on the ceiling directly above me.  Oh no, that was not going to work.  I jumped out of bed and did my best to explain to the spider that it needed to leave or I was going to be forced to kill it.  This went on for 20 minutes, 20 minutes!  I really tried but unfortunately in the end the spider had to meet its maker, I just couldn’t sleep otherwise.  The funny thing was though, as soon as I killed the spider I began to hear howling outside.

I thought “it can’t be…nah…..wolves???  wolves!” and a whole pack of them by the sound of it (at this point I was really VERY happy that I had opted not to sleep in my tent).  They could have been half a mile away, I’m not sure, but they sounded a lot closer, like feet away.  Way to close for comfort.

My thoughts?  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Stay tuned for one more blog post as I wrap up the journey with days 5 and 6!

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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: Alaska Ferry Day 1

8/16/2014

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….