OLD FRIENDS

This past weekend, I had a

SPECIAL TREAT

–I was able to visit with a great blogging friend and her family.

We had only met once before, at a wedding reception.  This time, it was at a Regency ball.  I was leader of the dances and Carpebanana and her family were dancing for the first time.

She is a good friend with a lot of wise thoughts and thoughtfulness.  We were shy with each other–sometimes it’s easier to talk through email than in person–but I was super thrilled, and I’m sure she was too!

 

 

ALASKA:  KISSIN’ THE MOOSE IN TALKEETNA

 

 

I tried kissing a moose a couple of times.

 

I tried BECOMING a moose once.

 

And I even tried to dance with a bear.

But cousin Adele REALLY kissed a moose antler, and it wasn’t pretty.

When we left Anchorage to start our land tour, we boarded the Wilderness Express train to go north. 

Our cruise company (Celebrity, owned by Royal Carribbean) had private cars with a restaurant on the lower deck and huge windows on the upper.  It allowed us to walk during the trip, to look for moose and bear, and to learn a lot of info about Alaska from our tour guide.

 

Tom & his wife Rita

 

Our first stop was in the small town of Talkeetna.  It’s often advertised as being like the town of Cicely in television’s Northern Exposure.  Broad streets, quaint buildings, VERY low-profile and quiet. 

 

Although 50 miles from Denali, it is the starting place for climbers, who fly in to Base Camp.  Talkeetna has a small museum that talks about the history of climbing…and also a cemetery that honors some of those who have lost their lives.  At least six men have died on the mountain this year.

The shuttle bus dropped us off at the town, and we were off!  The very very first tourist shop had a cute decorative garden of gravel, flowers, and several moose antlers laying there, and when Adele walked past this lovely decor, she slipped and fell!  FLAT ON HER FACE, wham!  Down!

Of all the impossible things to happen, her face hit a moose antler, and the point of the antler went INSIDE her mouth and punctured the inside of her cheek!

Did you ever hear of such a thing?!

It was large enough to be concerned about, and so a doctor was consulted, but they decided to leave it untouched.  The whole side of her face was bruised for the rest of the trip.

But you have to admit, there’s a lot of humor to be found in it too.  Of course we were concerned about her, but it was hard not to laugh as well.  I imagine the doctor did–and went off to add it to the book he’s going to write some day, called My Crazy Adventure with Tourists in AlaskaMeanwhile, Adele got a lot of “ribbing” about moose every day.

 

ALASKA:  A GUNMAN HELD US UP

When you go to Alaska, they say you should do the land tour first and the actual cruise afterward.  I think this is a good idea.  My cousin Tom had chosen to do the Cruisetour #12* offered by Celebrity Cruises so that all transportation and hotels were taken care of (with our time free to do what we wanted).  It was a great way to get commentary and teaching about everything we were seeing, along with making friends whom we would later see on the ship.

We began in Anchorage, took a train up to Denali, and took a motor coach back south all the way to the ship.  Our last night before the cruise was spent at the Alyeska Resort near Girdwood, with the biggest ski mountain in Alaska.  The accommodations were very luxurious.  We rode the tram to the top (wedding photos were being taken),

 

 some of our group rode bicycles,

 

some of us just hiked around,

along the highway

and through the woods. 

 

Claudia petted a local dog who was milking all the tourists for anything he could get.

 

But the next day we had troubles.  We were to meet our bus at 1 PM for the final leg of our trip to………THE SHIP!!  Until the gunman arrived.

It seems a gunman took another man and his car as hostage–in Anchorage.  They began driving south toward Seward on the only highway there is–the Seward Highway.  The Point A is where we were in Girdwood.

Along the way, the gunman decides he needs a restroom break, so they stop at the rest area in the scenic Turnagain Pass, he locks the kidnapped victim in his car, takes the keys, and is off to find the loo.

BUT the kidnapped man has an extra set of keys–HA-HAH!  So he happily drives off and contacts the police.

Now EVERYONE has problems, because this is the only highway going south.  It is a Friday afternoon, and many tourists want to get to Seward to get aboard their cruise ship.  Many tourists are getting off their cruise ship and want to come north.  AND “the red are starting to run” (the red/sockeye salmon are starting to enter the creeks and to upstream spawn), so all the locals are getting off work and going south to the Kenai Peninsula to fish for the weekend!

All traffic was halted for 3 hours while the police searched for the gunman.  This included the bus that was supposed to take us to our cruise ship.  I can’t remember the reports, but it was between 20-30 miles of backed up traffic??

We were fortunate to be stuck at the hotel and not in a bus sitting on the highway.  But still…we had to hang around in case the bus came. 

 

Some of us passed the time making phone calls. 

                                    Cousins Tom & Greg                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of us created roadrunner jokes, started by (yours truly):  for example, what did the roadrunner do when his best friend died?  Weep-weep. Why does the roadrunner shop at the Dollar Store?  Cheap-cheap.

Aunt Carol & Cathy

                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband and I tried to make interesting photos.  Here’s a fountain growing out of his ear:

 Kissing a moose

Leaping up in the air

Being roasted alive

 

Because we were on a Celebrity cruisetour, the Celebrity ship would have to wait for us if we were late.  But we got there just in time (literally) at 8 PM.  The ship was churning the water by the time my big toe touched the deck.  We missed the sit-down dinner meal and wandered around a bit confused for a while, but our on-board adventures had begun!

* Cruisetour #12 cities:  1 night Anchorage, by open-ceiling train to Talkeetna (1 night) & Denali (2 nights).  Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali National Park.  By bus to Alyeska (1 night) & Seward (where the cruise ship is boarded).

P.S.  Who is the Roadrunner’s favorite female movie star?

 

ALASKA:  TALKEETNA FLIGHT

When you pay for a cruise, the cost covers the ship, but not the extra trips you might want to do on land.  For Caribbean cruises, that might be OK–you can shop, see the sights, and lay on the beach.  But in order to have a great Alaska experience, you must go on excursions to get yourself deeper into the wild.

Save your money.  Go there.  Do it.

At Talkeetna (the base town where mountain climbers gather), my husband and I booked a flight and glacier landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi.  A fellow flew us around the mountains (hoping for a glimpse of Denali) and landed us on the snow part of a glacier.

 

 

To get there, we flew over dead rivers full of glacial silt.  Fish and plants don’t live in them, and animals don’t drink from them.  The silt is almost like cement mix.

 

 

Sometimes I thought the airplane’s wing was going to clip a mountain.*    *scary words in this post are underlined

 

 

Landing on the glacier really spooked me because we came over a 5-mile valley of dangerous crevasses before we landed.  We went lower and lower so I thought we weren’t going to make it.

Another plane landed at our spot while we were there. He asked for help in getting his plane turned around for take-off, because he wanted to be ready to go right away if he needed to.   The plane was so light it only took 2 guys to do it.

Here it is coming in, just landing after flying over the valley of crevasses.

 

 

Leaving our cliff really spooked me because the pilot drove right to the edge of the cliff before we began to fly.  He said he wanted to make a good driving path for the other plane, since it was smaller and the weather was getting bad.

We had to wear special snow boots so our feet wouldn’t get wet.  The snow was slippery, as evidenced by how hard it was to walk around, and by how the plane slipped back and forth as it tried to take off when we left.

 

 

The beautiful blue lakes can be very very deep….

 

We followed Ruth Glacier out on the way back.  The brown stripes are all the silt the glacier is carrying with it.  The satellite version of Google Maps gives a great view of Ruth Glacier and many others, like curling fingers all over Alaska.

 

 

We were fortunate; some of the cousins took a flight 30 minutes after ours, but the weather turned bad and they weren’t able to land on a glacier at all.

A fun side story:  We met Donna and Bob from South Carolina!  As a reader-and-planner-before-I-take-a-trip, I spent a lot of time on the forums at CruiseCritic.  While there, I had some correspondence with a lady named donna&bobfromSC, who said they were going on the same cruise and the same land tour as ourselves.  When the pilot began to call out our names to board the airplane, he asked for a Bob and Donna.

Could it be?

When they replied “South Carolina” to his queries of where we all were from, I asked my husband “How many Bob and Donnas do you think there are from South Carolina”?  So I asked them, and indeed they were the same people.  We saw them many times on our trip and had good conversations.

 

ALASKA:  MUCH TOO PERSONAL

Our cruise ship, the Celebrity Millenium, was wonderful, with large and clean rooms, great food, excellent service, and lots of things to do.

 

But because I am a read-it-ahead-of-time person, one event I intended to avoid was The Newlywed Game.  Especially since my husband and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary and had a large cheering section who knew us, I did not want to be one of the couples who got picked to go onto the stage and answer personal questions. 

So we didn’t go.

But my cousins Randy & Adele got picked.  AND THEY WON THE CONTEST!

It’s one of those “games” where the wives are taken to the back room to answer questions and the husbands must guess their answers (and then vice-versa).  One of the questions was “If you were stuck on a desert island, which one of your wife’s relatives would you NOT want to be stuck with?”

Randy got that one right:  his wife’s sister.

Then of course the most interesting question was “Where is the most unusual place you ever had sex?”

They got that one right also.  And they will hear about it for the rest of their lives, THAT’S for sure!

My husband and I got to see the show after all, because it was played over and over and over again on the ship television, just in case there was one last person who had missed their answer!

 

ALASKA:  THERE ARE ALWAYS PEOPLE

I’m sure you-all have been on vacation and seen people you know, or people that are from your own town, own county, own state….

While in Alaska, I met a man who was delighted that we live close together–he’s from Virginia (I’m from western PA).  shocked

But we also were walking the streets of Ketchican, Alaska, and met someone who is not only from our own town–but also from my husband’s place of work!

 

 

I met homeschooling folks who live not too far from here.  We met a man whose son is coming to GCC in the fall.  And of course, someone we know saw us at the airport as we were leaving.  No secrets around here!

 

ALASKA:  A STORY OF A WHALE

I have always wanted to see a whale, but I figured…yeah, right.  Even if I DID get somewhere in the correct vicinity, AND could afford to go a on “whale watch”, what are the real chances of seeing a whale?  Probably not very high.  So I had mixed feelings about going to Icy Strait Point, Alaska, and signing up for a whale watch tour where we were GUARANTEED to see whales.

Icy Strait Point is a geographical area that is one of the premier places in the world for whales.  Celebrity Cruises built a dock nearby, with a few shops and touristy things, so that cruising folk can take tours out to the Point.

This was the day I cried.

Our ship docked and my alarm clock told me it was time to wake from sleep.  I walked to our room’s verandah, opened the curtains, and SAW A WHALE!  Just like that, just a glimpse, the beginning of another amazing day.

Before our excursion, my husband and I decided to walk to the island’s Tlingit village of Hoonah, a beach stroll that promised bald eagle sightings. 

Walking along, we suddenly heard a very loud noise behind us.  We turned and saw the most unexpected thing I ever thought to see:  right along the shore, not too far from us, a humpback whale roared up with his mouth wide open to the sky.  I almost fell to the ground.  I think I exclaimed, “Jeez Louise!” or “Holy Moley, Batman!”.  I was a little scared, it was that close.   A memory-maker for sure.

Here is a harbor view of the same whale coming up with his mouth open, when we were in the boat for the official excursion.

 

We learned that he was fishing for herring, using a technique called “bubble-net feeding.”  When he finds herring, he will circle around them and blow bubbles.  The bubbles confuse the fish and they tightly bunch up together.  Then with a roar, the whale will come right up from underneath them with his mouth wide open to get a nice big mouthful.

At times, we were able to actually see the bubbles.  “Get ready, get ready….” we would say as the circle formed right before our eyes.  And then up he would come.  The thrill of it was stupendous.

If you look closely, you can see the circle of bubbles here:

 

Because I’m a planner and a reader-of-things-ahead-of-time, I was able to book a whale tour excursion with a retired man who has a small boat and lots of experience.  His name is Floyd.  He took 5 of us out for a trip.

 

My cousins signed up with the cruise ship and went in a big boat.

 

 

My brother said our boat reminded him of Gilligan’s Island, but actually ours was smaller than that.

 

 

We tooled around watching the humpback in the harbor, went along the shores and saw a brown bear, a sea otter, and sea lions, who looked so silly popping up in a row like comedians, trying to see what we were.

 

We also had rare and close sightings of 2 male orca (killer) whales.  They are actually of the dolphin family and have large fins.

 

 

When we arrived at the Point where whales are “guaranteed”, there were so many humpbacks we couldn’t possibly count them.  The horizon was filled with whale plumes as they came up for air.

This one isn’t my photo, but you can get the idea.

 

 

I think this was the point at which I began to cry.  Each day of the trip was better than the one before, and I was so grateful to be there.