Saturday, October 1, 2016
Taking the Alaska ferry
My home disappears into a salmon-coloured dawn. Ahead of me are couple of days in the closest village, a day in the Yukon metropolis of Whitehorse, two days in Skagway, Alaska (all this with my partner) – and then a few more days by ferry and train to Smithers. It’s a slow-motion dive into civilization, a gradual dipping of toes into being constantly surrounded by numerous people every day. Our two months travelling through Alaska, plus my Europe visit this summer have already worn the worst crusty hermit edges off, and I don’t feel exhausted.
Skagway is abuzz with the last cruise ship of the year and a bewildering number of jewellery stores – I haven’t been in Skagway in over a decade and can’t remember all these diamonds and trinket stores from before. Maybe I just didn’t notice them? The town has its roots in fleecing the would-be miners of the gold rush and is now continuing that tradition with cruise ship tourists.
We spend our last day together hiking on the lower part of the Chilkoot Trail and relaxing at long last. I didn’t even have time to get all excited about my ferry trip!
The next morning, my Sweetie, our dog and Skagway recede into the dawn (notice the pattern?) as the ferry pulls away from the dock.
The ferry is half empty and there’s not much competition for the deck chairs in the solarium. The solarium is the best place to sleep and hang out – it’s sheltered from the elements and infrared heaters keep it warmish at night.
There’s really no need to book a cabin for the trip. Free showers are available to everybody, and even food costs can be kept to a minimum thanks to the free hot water and microwave in the cafeteria.
Mountains and glaciers span the western and eastern horizons (the ferry weaves its way through the maze of southeast Alaska’s islands).
Most of the passengers who got on in Skagway and Haines get off in Juneau.
After a few hours in port and replenishing the passenger numbers, we head into the night and gathering wind.
I’ve taken this trip once before, half a lifetime ago, but have no memories of Petersburg – maybe at the time the ferry got into port at night? It looks like a stunning place to live:
The buoys marking the channel into the harbour are wildly popular with sea lions who play musical chairs as the ferry drives by: whoever loses their nerve and jumps off the buoy is prevented from getting back on by his bellowing comrades.
And so the days unfold, peeling back layer upon layer of densely wooded islands and mountain ranges. The sea changes colour from dark blue to grey as clouds move in. Wind whistles forlorn in the rigging of the dinghies, and the ferry vibrates beneath my feet. Somewhere to the south the train tracks start that will lead me back into Canada and to the orphaned bears.