>1 Canadian province
1 965 foot long cruise ship
2 Southwest 737s
4 Airports (5 if you include Gastineaux Channel – Juneau, AK)
5 US States
8 family members
2150 airline miles
2197 nautical miles
1 incredible vacation
Vacation has not been a word in my vocabulary for nearly 3 years. The last vacation was more a celebrative excursion (3 days in San Antonio for our 1-year wedding anniversary). Suffice it to say that this was the first vacation of my single or married life. I’ve lived in Dallas for 8 years and haven’t taken a “vacation” since I moved here. I went on our honeymoon, our 1-year wedding anniversary excursion, been on several mission projects, but haven’t experienced a vacation as a single, out-of-the-folks’-house, or married man.
Last Friday morning, May 9th, we loaded up and headed for Dallas Love Field. It was the beginning of about 6 hours flying to Seattle, WA. I’ve always loved flying. It’s a kind of rush for me. The beauty of flight, seeing the world from a different perspective for a moment. It’s an awesome experience. Flying with a 2-year-old on the other hand, a little nerve-wracking. (I have to say my son did a fantastic job even with 2 stops on the way home.) We arrive in Seattle – a place I’ve never been before – and make our way to the pier to drop off our bags. From there we went to Pike Place Market – yep, the place where they throw fish, guys hula-hoop while playing guitar, and where you can get a fresh cup of joe from the original Starbucks’ Coffee. It was a beautiful moment, sipping a honey latte on Pike Place looking out at the channel. Not much compares at this point (I’d be proven wrong several times during the ensuing week.) We ate dinner at a great Mexican restaurant in Pacific Place and then made our way to the ship. I even got a nickel tour from a friend of my father-in-law. He drove us from Pacific Place back to the pier. I can officially say I have a special place in my heart for the city of Seattle – not to mention the fact that the Rangers won the series against the M’s the night before we got there. Altogether a great experience.
Our ship didn’t sail until 1 AM Saturday. It was a little unnerving trying to keep my 2-year-old happy while we waited to board our ship at 10PM. Remember, there’s a 2-hour time difference so he thinks it’s midnight. He’s exhausted and we’re hauling him around like there’s no tomorrow. He did great though and we finally made it to our stateroom around 10:30PM. Beautiful room, balcony overlooking the skyline of Seattle (right across the street from Safeco Field). It’s starting to become a little surreal…in just a few hours we’ll be in Ketchikan, Alaska. We settle in and get down for the night. The boat leaves at 1AM and we wake up the next morning out in the glorious Pacific, bouncing along in some high seas. Started feeling a little sick, but I got some good meds and a motion-sickness patch so I was feeling good after the meds kicked in. We enjoy the day on the boat and the formal dinner that night…the boat was rocking pretty good so a few of us looked a little green. All in all a good day and topped off with a great meal and show.
We arrive in Ketchikan, AK on Sunday morning, Mother’s Day. It was a pretty special day for our family. My wife, her mom and her grandmother celebrating Mother’s Day in Alaska. There were 4 generations eating together at our table most of the week (Grandma (my wife’s grandma), Mema (wife’s mom), my wife and son). We went to a Lumberjack show. It was amazing. I’ve watched the show on ESPN several times but this totally one-upped the TV competition. Those guys are amazing – one guy went up and down a 50-foot pole in under 30 seconds…amazing! After that we browsed around town and ate dinner at a great little restaurant – the best clam chowder I’ve ever had! We set sail for the Hubbard Glacier.
We arrived at the Hubbard Glacier around noon on Monday. Sailing into Yakutat Bay was absolutely breathtaking. Huge snow-capped peaks on either side of this wide channel and sailing on glassy waters dotted with large pieces of ice. Words are not sufficient to describe the beauty. As we approached the glacier, we were listening to running commentary from a naturalist who had kayaked those waters to investigate the glacier. He was giving great insight into each piece of our journey. The glacier finally came into view and it was amazing. At this point we were about 4 miles from the face of the glacier and it looked massive even from that distance. By the time we set sail from the bay, we had come within 1/2 of a nautical mile (about 7/10 of a mile) from the face. This glacier is 6 miles long and rises to nearly 400 feet from the surface of the water. It is constantly thundering and booming as it “calves” large pieces of ice into the water. These pieces break off and tumble into the water below. The capitan let us know that to be within 2 nautical miles of the glacier was unheard of in a vessel the size of our ship. We counted ourselves very lucky to get to be that close. It was absolutely amazing! From there we set sail from Juneau and would arrive early Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning, 7AM, we’re sailing into the Gastineaux Channel of Juneau, AK. This 2-mile wide channel separates Juneau from Douglas, AK. It’s peaceful, quiet and at least one whale surfaced alongside our ship as we sailed into the channel. We docked and made our way to the Taku Glacier Lodge. We loaded into a DeHavilland Otter floatplane and flew the 35 miles to the Taku Glacier Lodge. Over those 35 miles, we flew over 5 glaciers and the most beautfiul landscapes I have ever seen. Seeing the face of a glacier (the day before) was pretty amazing…flying over one was a completely different story. The crevasses and cracks, the crystal blue ice, the sheer size of these massive pieces of ice was absolutely breathtaking. Then we land just outside the Lodge. (Check out www.wingsairways.com for info). We tour around the grounds, take photos and the sit down to a freshly prepared King Salmon meal inside the historic lodge. (When you check the website, make sure to read the Taku Lodge history link…it’s incredible). Inside there is a roaring fire, fresh bread and drinks with glacier ice – the lodge doesn’t use refrigeration, they gather ice from the river in front of the lodge in 100-200 pound chunks and use it to freeze food and supplies. The meal was perhaps the best meal I’ve ever tasted. My wife purchased their cookbook so hopefully there will be an attempt to prepare this meal in Texas. After the meal, we heard a presentation of the history of the lodge from the owner’s son. He’s a guy in his mid 20’s who spends 5 months a year at the lodge. The closest neighbors are 1/4 mile away and the only way to get to them is by boat…it’s definitely a remote lodge but very cool. There is a massive glacier about 2 miles across the river and out the front window of the lodge. It is an exquisite view and no words can describe the view. It’s absolutely beautiful. We take a short hike after the presentation and then load the planes to head back to Juneau. After arriving back in Juneau we took the Mount Roberts Tramway up the mountain for more breathtaking views of Juneau and the surrounding area. This 5-minute ride takes you up 1800 vertical feet to a visitor’s center overlooking the channel and the city. It’s quite a site. We browse around, see a short move about the Tlingit people (who settled Juneau and the surrounding areas) and then make our way back down the mountain to our ship. We board the ship and set sail for the Inside Passage and Victoria, BC.
Wednesday evening and Thursday morning introduced us to 20-22 foot seas in a 1000-foot cruise ship. I’ve discovered that no matter how large the boat, big waves are still no fun. Big waves are awesome when you’re wakeboarding, skiing, jet-skiing, but in a boat…no fun. When we arrived in Victoria late Thursday afternoon, they had to move a crane alongside our ship to replace broken panes of glass from the Sports Deck on the bow of the ship…pretty scary when waves break 1.5 inch-thick panes of glass…
Victoria was absolutely beautiful! There are no words to truly describe the simple beauty of this little city. There are manicured gardens and beautiful flowers everywhere. Floatplanes make 300 trips a day from the Inner Harbour. There are shops and quaint restaurants all over the place. Horse-drawn carriages carry tours all around the city. We weren’t able to see much of Victoria but a bus-tour around a small part of the city was breathtaking in its own right, though. I wonder if they would respond to an evangelical church up there…:-)
We set sail from Victoria around 11:30 and we would wake up in the Port of Seattle on Friday morning. Our sailing journey was over. The past 6 days were amazing and, needless to say, I enjoyed most every part of it (short of the “green” moments of seasick-ness). We disembarked the ship and gathered our bags for the trip to Sea-Tac airport. As we took off over Seattle, I felt a little sad as we made our way home. I don’t know when my travels will take me back to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, but I hope it’s not too long. I’ve grown very fond of that part of the country in a short time.
I hope that vacation doesn’t elude me for another 8 years. If it does, I can only hope that the next one is as good as this one was. On most occasions, I was left at a loss for words taking in the most beautiful and breathtaking scenery on which I’ve ever laid my eyes. The most incredible thought came on Monday as we sailed through the Gulf of Alaska. I began to think about how I was so small on an enormous ship, in a vast ocean, on a massive planet, in an endless universe. As I pondered, I kept getting exponentially smaller and smaller. I remained lost in the bigness of the One who created all of this. In the midst of my “small-ness”, He could tell me the number of drops of water in the ocean, how many fish were swimming below me, how many crystals of ice in that massive glacier and so much more. It was amazing!
Altogether, words fail to paint a sufficient picture of the beauty I’ve witnessed over the past 8 days. It is perhaps a painting trapped in my mind that you’ll only see if you travel to Alaska yourself. Of course I’m sure your mind will paint a much different picture that will be uniquely beautiful to you. In the end, I’m reminded that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. It was a beautiful sight to pull in the driveway last night, walk into my home, set down my bags and rest in my own chair. There is nothing like being home.