Major Road Trip

This is the last post I need to get the blog caught up with real time – I’ve been behind for quite a while, and new things to blog about are piling up as we experience the Holiday Season in a Small Alaskan Fishing Town (which is really awesome, just to give you a hint).  After zooming down to Washington to retrieve our car and ferry it (literally) back here to Miktof Island in October, we quickly had to get ready for a major “road” trip (which involved a bit of flying to get things started).  We were heading back to the east coast for a good friend’s wedding, to visit family and friends, and to spend Thanksgiving with Jim’s Dad.

It takes two days to fly from Petersburg to The Rest of the World – we flew to Seattle the first day, and then on to Baltimore the second day.  Flying is tricky these days since we had to keep within the 50 lb limit for our one checked bag each, and we needed clothing for a month that included: wedding clothes, northern clothes, and Florida clothes, plus enough camera gear and knitting to keep me from having withdrawal symptoms.

The wedding was fantastic, and it was a perfect, beautiful late fall day with some trees still in full color. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA20141116 3833 bobs frankie rWe packed a ton of visits into a short amount of time but there were a number of people we wanted to see that we just didn’t have time for, which is frustrating.  We ran ourselves ragged and Jim ended up with a sinus infection, but we had fun despite the crazy schedule we made for ourselves.  We spent a little time with my brother and his wife and their dogs – this one is Frankie.  I got to watch my beloved, heart-breaking Giants with my brother, and laugh because we made many of the same comments at the exact same time through the game.

We vowed to take one day of our time in the Washington DC area to enjoy a museum – there are so many wonderful ones, and we chose the Udvar-Hazy Center – an extension of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum that’s located next to Dulles Airport.  It has been on our wish list for years, so we finally went… and it was outstanding.  The first aircraft you see, front and center, is the SR-71 Blackbird.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was so exciting to be able to get so close to see it, as well as the extensive collection of planes throughout the history of aviation.  Jim loved seeing the F-100 and F-105s – which he worked on when he served in the Air National Guard in Vietnam.  We also got a kick out of some of the  displays, particularly this one… an example of out-of-the-box thinking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe number and variety of aircraft was staggering – from the actual Enola Gay to the Concorde, small planes and big planes, modern and antique.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There was more than we could absorb in one visit, so we’ll definitely go back the next time we’re in town.  My favorite was the Space Shuttle DISCOVERY.  I was at Cape Canaveral for her maiden launch in 1984, and I have a little flag that flew on that mission – so it was special to see her once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could see into the hangar where more aircraft were being restored, and we were just so impressed by the magnitude and quality of the museum.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got to see one of Jim’s brothers and and one of his sisters, as well as a niece and nephew and all the spouses – we always have a lot of laughs.  We visited friends at their weekend house in West Virginia and had fun splitting logs, running around on their ATV, and catching our breath after too much visiting and eating and sitting around.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA20141126 3838 linda and ed rFrom the chilly mid-Atlantic we drove down to sunny Florida to see Jim’s Dad for Thanksgiving.  In the “small world” category, we made the happy discovery that our Canadian boating friends from the Northwest were in nearby St. Petersburg on their RV, so we met them for lunch and a very happy reunion.

Unfortunately Jim’s sinus infection was still hanging on, and the new medication that his doctor prescribed didn’t agree with him, so he ended up skipping Thanksgiving dinner since he was still pretty wobbly… poor kid.  He took another day to rest and was feeling well enough to go visit some other boating friends who just crossed the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s panhandle.  We strolled around Tarpon Springs and ate wonderful Greek food and toured around in the dinghy.  My friend Carol is my best birding and photography buddy, and we got to see the pelicans and the young wood storks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey have faces that only a mother could love, but it’s neat to see the feathers on the edge of their wings – a pretty iridescent green-black.  Some snowy egrets and a few blue herons were hanging out around a fish cleaning table, and the pelicans were smart to sit beneath the table’s drain pipe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe warm sunny Florida days were lovely, but we’re acclimated to Alaska weather now and sometimes it felt a little too warm.  Two years ago we would be in jeans and long sleeves at 70 degrees… now we’re comfortable in shorts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw another of Jim’s brothers and another sister down in Florida, but ran out of time to see some of my Florida cousins.  Sunny and Jim spoiled us with their usual killer hospitality, and we enjoyed the time we spent with everyone very very much.

Bringing Our Car to Petersburg

I’ve often mentioned that the communities on the Inside Passage in southeast Alaska are interesting because you can’t get to them by road (with the exception of Haines and Skagway, way up in the northeast corner – but they’re a very long way from anywhere).  Even the state capital, Juneau, is only accessible by boat or plane.  Once we wrapped up the cruising season it was time to go down to Washington (state) and get our car for the winter.  As I describe the process of getting the car here, you’ll be convinced that we’re crazy to go to all that trouble so we can drive on the whopping 35 miles of road (aka the Mitkof Highway) on the island here.  The car will give us access to more hiking and snow shoeing trails, and it will be vital for taking all the camera gear to one of the parks on the north end of the island to photograph stars and the aurora on clear cold nights.  To get it up here, we need to fly to Washington, get our car, and drive it up into Canada to meet the Alaska State Ferry in Prince Rupert.  At this time of the year the ferry only runs once a week so we had a VERY tight schedule to keep.

The first step was to fly down to Seattle.  Since we would be returning with the car we could do some shopping in the Lower 48, and we were armed with long lists of things we needed from big box stores, things that are expensive to ship to Alaska, or things that are just hard to find.  Flying from Petersburg on a 737 we took the “milk run” with stops in Wrangell and Ketchikan on the way to Seattle, and it was a “combi” flight.  A combi is a plane that is half cargo, half passengers and we have a lot of those kinds of flights around here.

We rented a car in Seattle and spent the day running errands, then up to Blaine (at the US/Canada border) for dinner with boating friends, picked up our car, and then spent the next day running around nearby Bellingham with our long shopping list.  We had so many stops that I used an online tool to calculate the optimal route among them all!  It was hectic, but by 8pm we declared success.  Total road miles between places so far: 90 (not including all the running around).

The next morning we drove 340 miles from Bellingham to Walla Walla to visit friends in the southeast corner of Washington.  Along the way we had a check engine light and we caught a rock that cracked our windshield.  Sigh.  We got to Walla Walla (so nice they named it twice!) late on a Thursday, and we only had Friday available to get the car repaired if we were going to make our ferry in Canada.  We got lucky with repairs, had a wonderful time with our friends, and then began the 3 day drive to the ferry terminal in Prince Rupert.  The first day we drove 460 miles up the east side of the Cascade Mountains into British Columbia and stopped in Kamloops for the night.  We passed miles of farms – primarily apples, cherries and grapes (wine!), with trees in fall color (this was back in October).  With election day approaching we saw plenty of signs, including some for candidates for Coroner (you can’t make this stuff up).  Here’s a map to show our entire route:car ferry trip to pburgThe next day we drove 325 miles from Kamloops to Prince George, BC, going over mountain passes with snow and passing lots of signs to watch for various kinds of wildlife.  We’re used to seeing signs about deer and even moose, but the Dall sheep and wolverines were new ones for us.  The roads were basically 2-lane, fairly lightly traveled; traffic was primarily logging and construction trucks, and once a week a number of cars heading for the ferry.  We got into Prince George early enough to pick up some tire chains at Princess Auto, and to rest up for the last day of driving – 450 miles to Prince Rupert for a total of 1665 car miles in a week.  Whew!

The ferry departed at 0700 the next morning and we had to be at the terminal by 0500 to check in and clear Customs.  Fortunately we decided to get a little cabin on the ferry for the 17 hour trip to Petersburg, so we were able to catch up on sleep and rest since scheduled arrival in Petersburg was 0300.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough the weather was bad, the 352′ ferry TAKU managed to give us a pretty good ride, even crossing Dixon Entrance into Alaskan waters.  We had a few hours layover in Ketchikan, but we stayed aboard to nap, watch a movie, and to give me time to finish a magazine article before the deadline.  It was a gloomy, rainy day – perfect for a little rest. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe woke up when we felt the ship starting to wiggle-waggle through Wrangell Narrows around 0200, so we just got up and watched the Captain navigate the narrow passage and were glad we weren’t in our boat trying to share the same channel as the big ferry.

The ferry ride was another 265 miles in addition to all the driving, giving us a total of 1930 miles for this little adventure.  We arrived home to our boat after 8 days away, and we had 6 days to get unpacked and re-packed for the next adventure.

Last Cruise of the Season

We headed into Juneau to hit the big box stores for some final winter provisioning, and we were hoping to make it a short stop.  We commando-shopped and got all our errands done in one day, but the weather forecast changed and we were stuck for at least a week.  The fates were smiling on us though – we saw a DeFever 49 and as we were standing on the dock admiring it, the owner came out to investigate the strange people who were staring at her boat!  When we explained that we were fellow DeFever 49 owners she said they knew all about us since they’ve been following the blog for several years.  Glasses of wine and long conversations followed, and our new friend Brooke showed us some nice hiking trails around Juneau, and took us for a hike with her two dogs.

20141001 3624 juneau boy scout trail dog r20141001 3638 juneau boy scout trail mtns rIt was so nice to get some good local knowledge about Juneau, though you really need a car to get to a lot of the hiking trails north of town.  Note that there are only about 40 miles of road in Juneau – you can drive locally, but you can’t leave.  Like most of SE Alaska, you can only get there by boat or plane.  Just for fun, we drove “out the Road” to the northern end since it was a glorious fall day.20141001 3665 juneau the road r20141001 3669 juneau end of the road rWe ended up waiting 8 days for the weather to improve enough so we could leave, though we were hoping for a 2-day weather window to get back to Petersburg.  We saw a 1-day window and not much else on the horizon so we departed Juneau on October 7 at 0430.  It takes about 17 hours (depending on how much the current impacts us) to get to Petersburg.  The good news is that we had a nearly full moon to give us some light to help spot bergy bits and other obstacles in the dark; the bad news is that a full moon means bigger tides and stronger currents, which can really rip through Petersburg harbor.

As the sun was rising we saw a pod of orcas; we haven’t seen many this season compared to BC.20141007 3742 juneau orca pair rA little farther on we saw a large pod of bigger whales – humpbacks or possibly minkes – they were at a distance, but there were about 14 of them.  The mountains were particularly pretty since the heavy rain we had over the past few days left a nice dusting of fresh snow on the mountain tops, bringing thoughts of skiing. Juneau has a ski hill that we hope to check out this winter.

We savored the last day of cruising for the season – appreciating the whales and birds and evergreens and mountains just a little more than usual.  We had sunny weather, flat seas and a smooth ride.  Near sunset some rain clouds caught on the mountains and we saw some beautiful late day light reflected and refracted through the clouds, plus a number of rainbows.20141007 3689 frederick sound double rainbow bow horiz rWe arrived in Petersburg in the dark with the current in the Narrows ripping at full flood, but we got into our slip and secured ADVENTURES for the winter without any problems.  It’s bittersweet to see the cruising season end, but exciting to settle into the community of Petersburg.
Our first real taste of the town was meeting some of the other liveaboards in the harbor, starting to listen to the local radio station (a font of information about events around town), and the school Fall band concerts.  We both played musical instruments when we were youngsters, and we believe in supporting the band.  The concerts were well done, and we particularly appreciated the Beginner Band.  In the 6th grade here, every student is required to play a musical instrument and play in the Beginner Band; the student can choose to continue or quit after that year.  The director gave a great explanation of where these students were in their musical development after just 6 weeks with their instruments, and we enjoyed their performance.20141016 3779 petersburg band concert r20141030 3780 petersburg band concert programs rI’ve joined the Sons of Norway since they are a major hub of social activity in town, and Jim joined the Elks.  We got our library cards and P.O. Box, and we’re starting to find our way around and make friends.

Firsts

Fall in Glacier Bay is very different from summer in more ways than just a drop in average temperature.  In the last two weeks of September we had the enormous park almost entirely to ourselves.  There were a few last cruise ships for the season, a few charter fishing boats near the entrance, and maybe one park patrol or research boat running around.  We had to play duck-and-cover as the fall pattern of gales and weather fronts came off the Gulf of Alaska, and the number of hours of daylight were significantly less than in summer – which became a consideration since the distances between anchorages and sights in the park are long.  The puffins and other sea birds are back out to sea, and most of the whales have headed to Hawaii for the winter.  The sea lions and sea otters were still as lively as ever, though the otter pups are now almost as big as their parents.20140928 3596 two sea otters 3 rWe experienced two really exciting “firsts” on the same day, after watching the mountain goats and dodging brash ice up around the Lamplugh Glacier.  Another weather front was coming in and we headed into Blue Mouse Cove to anchor for the night just as the sun was starting to set.  Nosing the boat closer to shore to check out the anchorage, we spotted a black bear sow and two cubs, though one was black and the other was a gray-blue color, almost camouflaged among the rocks.  Jim passed the big camera up to me and I was able to grab a few fuzzy photos in the fading light just before the bears vanished into the woods.  You have to look closely behind the black cub to see the other one – we were pretty sure it’s a rare “glacier bear” – a blue morph of the black bear (which was later confirmed by the park’s bear expert).20140923 3326 blue mouse glacier bear cub 3 rWe kept a sharp lookout on the beach the next day in case the little family returned.  Wow – what a great sighting… how do we top that?

The sun set and we had a clear, chilly evening with no moon – perfect conditions for looking at stars, which are incredible so far from civilization and city lights, and that’s when we had our second “first” – we saw the aurora borealis (aka the northern lights).  The aurora has been on my “bucket list”, and we hope to see it many more times during the Alaskan winters.  It was green and it waved gently like a huge translucent curtain.  Absolutely awesome.  Through the evening it was sometimes brighter and sometimes very faint.  It was an amazing day, though we weren’t too comfortable with the strong winds that occasionally gusted into the anchorage.  With the strong wind and bears on the beach the conditions weren’t the best to try to go ashore and photograph the aurora, but we got a better chance the next day.

The weather forecast continued to deteriorate for the next week, though the wind settled down for a bit in the late afternoon and we decided to use the brief lull and the ebbing tide to make a dash for Bartlett Cove – the park headquarters and better protection from the predicted wind direction.  In the off-season the park allows boats to tie to their massive floating dock for up to 10 days at a time, putting us behind the big breakwater to shield us from wind and waves.  That evening the sky was clear and moonless, and luck was with us since the aurora put on its show once again!  Dressed in warm clothes, we took the tripod, camera, star tracker and remote shutter control ashore and set up on the rocky beach to experiment with exposures to photograph the aurora.  The good news is that I got some successful exposures and made notes for future aurora photography; the bad news is that I accidentally bumped the focus ring and everything was quite fuzzy, which I didn’t notice until I downloaded the photos the next day.  Our luck ran out and the sky was overcast for the remainder of our days in Glacier Bay, but we’re ready the next time the conditions are right.  You have to be a dedicated night owl to take good aurora photos – the light is best later in the night, and it gets pretty cold dragging a metal tripod around and standing around waiting for the best effects.

Rainy weather is a good time to head into the forest for some hiking since the thick evergreens provide some shelter from the rain.  Wellington boots are a must for the muddy trails.20140917 2937 glacier bay forest hike jim rWe love to notice the little details in the forest (while keeping “bear aware” and making noise), and the little tiny mushrooms were varied and beautiful.20140917 2909 glacier bay forest tiny brown mushroom r20140917 2913 glacier bay forest two tiny orange mushrooms r20140917 2984 glacier bay forest mushroom cluster 2 rWe didn’t see any bears, but we did come across this grouse and I love that they are fairly “tame” and don’t mind people getting too close.20140927 3530 gbnp grouse 1 rJim worked on some boat projects and I took the kayak out to explore the cove and to see how far up the creek I could get at mid-tide.  These mergansers were almost camouflaged against the rocks and rock weed, and I passed them before I noticed them.20140917 3083 bartlett rvr merganser mouth open r20140917 3096 bartlett rvr merganser 2 rCraving a meal that we didn’t have to cook for ourselves, we got the bikes down and rode about 9 miles up and down the hills to the tiny town of Gustavus for lunch.  At the restaurant… the only one, from what we could tell – good exercise and a fun little adventure.  We had one remaining chore to take care of, and the park dock in Glacier Bay was a good spot to get it done.  We needed to replace one of the sacrificial zincs that protect the underwater metal on our boat (such as shafts, props, and rudders).  It was time to drag out the dry suits, masks and fins and get in the water!  We hadn’t used our dry suits in many years – we spent a lot of more sensible time diving and snorkeling in the Florida Keys and Bahamas the past 8 years or so – but we’re in the high latitudes now and we needed to bite the bullet and find out just how leaky our old suits had become.

Aside from a small leak in one of Jim’s boots, the suits did well and we were comfortable in the water… as comfortable as one can be dressed like the Michelin Man.  We replaced the big plate zinc and we scrubbed the waterline all around the boat.  It was much better to do it here with virtually no current and no sea lions close by.

We were sad to finally leave the park but we’ll be back next season, and with the weather patterns changing we had to start making our way back to Petersburg, via Juneau since we needed some things from Costco and Home Depot.  We stopped in Swanson Harbor for two nights to wait for weather, and we enjoyed the mountain views and wildlife before heading to The Big City.  20140915 3047 swanson harbor eagle r