Alaska Report #5… A Whale of a Ride

The ferry ride to Wrangell was the best (for me) for many reasons. Not the least of which was that I caught my first-ever glance of a whale's tail (several of them!) sweeping up out of the water. Until then, I had seen a bit of back and fin rising up and over, almost like a giant wheel rolling by. Or a blast of mist as one came up for a quick breath of air and went down, again. Once--at night--I even turned in time to see an entire head of an Orca pop up behind us to watch as we passed by.

I have also seen many of the small white Beluga whales that frequent the Cook Inlet in Alaska. I am always looking for whales. Even when I fly in airplanes, low over water, I am looking for them. Which is why I am embarrassed to admit that I did not recognize my first glimpse of that whale's tale for what it really was. This because I was so busy watching antics of the ducks and birds we were passing by (it was dusk, and dinnertime for most wildlife) that I thought I was looking at some giant eagle that had picked up a fish too big to carry and was floundering. Can you believe that? Too true. 

But then I saw a back and a fin, and a spout of steam, and--"Oh, my gosh, Shale--come and see!" They were all over the place. We saw them all along that particular passage. But try as I might, they were always too far away, or the ferry was too bumpy, to catch them on video. But I'm going to show you a picture from tour guides, to show you exactly what we saw. It was all very exciting, and one of the high points of the trip.

After the sun went down, however, everyone settled in for the long voyage. We had a sports team of high-schoolers aboard, along with many of their families. You could tell they were old hands at this form of travel, as they spread themselves all over every nook and cranny of the the ferry. Lots of family groups sitting in stairwells, while toddlers enjoyed running up and down cabin corridors, and one had to step over many sleeping forms to get to the vending machines if you wanted a snack before bed. 

Meanwhile, Shale and I got a lot of work done on our respective agendas. It was marvelous, really, to think one could continue a work schedule in the middle of large stretches of wilderness, with absolutely no towns, or villages, for miles and miles. But I did have one amazing incident during this time, that proved to me--beyond a shadow of doubt--that here is nowhere on earth where the good Lord cannot get in touch with you. Because in the middle of the night, with no cell phone or Internet service--I got a voicemail from a family member who needed some immediate prayer. I tried calling right back, but couldn't get through. But I prayed. Which was the important thing.

By the time we came back into civilization, the crisis was over. But I knew I was meant to get that particular message, and lend my prayers to others. Something that went a long way in convincing me that no matter how far one wanders, for any reason, one is never out of touch with the Lord. More importantly, I will not miss anything that He wants me to participate in. Even if I have to tap into "heavenly circuits" to do it. 

Probably one of the most important lessons I've learned out here.

Thank you, God.

Tomorrow, we dock in Wrangell: gateway to what is known as "deep north."

Hugs and blessings,


(who is waving hello to my good writer friend, Clare Revell, over in England, today… "Ahoy, Clare! Alaska is a fascinating place to send a character to for a bit of adventure… even if they have to come all the way from Headley Cross!)


Alaska Report #4…Edge of the Ocean

Shale Kenny and I arrived in Sitka and took a bus into town. We were the only two people on the bus. Never-the-less, the driver gave us a splendid tour, complete with historical facts and unusual stories thrown in. I don't know if we were the only people in the hotel, but it seemed like it.

Friendly people, though, whenever we met any, and that is what I will remember most about Sitka. That and they had the most beautiful location for a library I ever saw in my life. They went all out for their children's department, too. But--unless a child was over ten, I wouldn't advise them to look up

I took a picture of the outside bench from inside (where it was warm) but--as you can see--it would be more heavenly on sunnier days. I am told they do get some of those there. Except they also say the sun only shines about seventy-five days out of the year. The rest of the time it's raining. Or snowing. When we were there, it was what one might call freezing rain. blowing ahead of fifteen to twenty knot winds.

On to have a look at the boat harbor, where the Captain and I would put in with the Glory B, next summer. They said it was "just over the bridge." Have a look at the bridge. We were nearly blown off trying to cross it, and felt as if we had accomplished something huge just making it back from the other side. My ears were freezing, even though I had a hat on, and--poor Shale--she hadn't worn hers because she wanted her hair to dry after a wash. Let's just say there was no opportunity for that until we returned to the hotel.

Meanwhile, everything was pretty much closed up in Sitka. Well, almost everything. The post office was open, along with some sort of pizza place that doubled as an espresso stand. But as for the museums, the parks, and the dozens of other tourist attractions, it wasn't going to happen. Lots of roadwork and renovations going on, too, as everyone was gearing up for the first salmon run in a couple of weeks that would kick off another tourist season.

There were many lovely trails we could have taken that meandered through rainforest, beaches, and around lakes. But since they were measured in miles and we nearly got brain freeze just walking over the bridge, we decided not to top off the visit with having to be brought in by search and rescue. After that, there was only one thing left on my list to do. Since we were in one of the most popular fishing locations in the world, I wanted to try a bowl of their clam chowder.

We were told there was one place open that had such fare. So, armed with a couple of umbrellas (freezing rain, again), we set out to brave the two blocks we would have to walk to get there. Except it turned out to be closed, too. It was rather like being on an empty movie set. Because behind St. Michael's, a Russian Orthodox church standing in the Middle of the main street that had been there since the eighteen hundreds (which I dearly wanted to look in, but it was locked), all the way down to the water, the streets were empty. But, no… wait…

A block and a half away, a lady was walking her dog. So, we hurried to catch up with her. Oh, yes, there was a very good place open, and she said she would take us there. Which I thought was truly going above and beyond, until she took us down a side street, between a couple of buildings, and into the back of another with no sign on it. Where inside…

It seemed like half the town was crowded in, a lovely folk band was playing (fiddles and everything), and they were serving up some of the best food I have ever tasted. Ever. Including clam chowder. They knocked six dollars off the bill (maybe it was the off-season price) and there was enough food left over to cover our next two meals. And it did have a name. It was called the Larkspur Cafe.

Such were our adventures in Sitka. Up next: an overnight ferry ride to Wrangell… the first-ever outpost in Alaska. I'll be back Monday to let you know how that goes.

Hugs and blessings,

(waving hello to the amazing Sally Apokedak, today… who is probably off traveling somewhere, herself. "Ahoy, Sally! What a wonderful place for a writers retreat a ferry would be!")


Alaska Report #3… A Sailor's Eye

By the time the sun was high enough to finally reveal where we were… Shale Kenny and I were traveling through the middle of nowhere. A breathtakingly beautiful nowhere, but nowhere, never-the-less. The Taku was making a steady sixteen to twenty knots through wide choppy channels (hold on!), or slowing down to about six when it wound its way through such narrow passageways I could have spit over the rail and hit dirt. Except the icy wind (eighteen degrees) would have blown it right back at me. No one was out on deck at that hour.

Instead, they were either sleeping, enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in one of the observation lounges, or heading toward the cafeteria for an early breakfast. People were sleeping all over the place (you get to do that on the ferry). Some even brought their own pillows, sleeping bags,  and blow-up mattresses. Should you be the more private type, they will even let you set up a tent. Which people do mostly out on deck during the summer, when it's warmer. 

Traveling by ferry seems to have the same effect on people as being snowed in, or stuck in an airport with all planes grounded, due to weather. One simply settles down for the wait. No one is in a rush to do anything else, and they are all very friendly. On the Taku, there is a movie room (large comfortable seats with headrests), a computer room (lots of little desks and plug-in areas), and several various observation areas surrounded by windows for the best panoramic view. All very relaxing and enjoyable. 

Until sometime mid-morning, when there was a drill. 

First there was a blast of emergency bells, followed by the directive to disregard all announcements until a second round of the bells. Between those bells we heard running feet (all hands to stations!), "Fire on the car deck!" (roll out the hoses!), and other various scenarios played out and practiced for. 

When it was over, everyone went back to whatever they were doing while the huge (really huge) spectacular scenery continued to roll past the windows. Like a movie. Because those big, rugged, snowy peaks were outside. And inside--where we were--was a comfortable seventy degrees throughout the entire vessel. However, I couldn't really go back to enjoying that scenery until I had a closer look at the emergency instructions glued to the back of our cabin door…

YOU ARE HERE. In red. With an arrow pointing to our cabin. Then "Should you hear the emergency alarm, dress as warm as possible, proceed to the nearest muster station, then wait further instructions from a crew member." Hmm… two muster stations…upper decks…surrounding the lifeboats. Little red dots leading to the closest route up there (a person can get lost in all these corridors and stairways).

All of which suddenly reminded me to take a better look at what I was here for. The sea. And how it tended to behave (or not) in all these wild, meandering places. My conclusions? Some of those cantankerous straits, you couldn't pay me to try and cross in our little boat. But the calmer coves and passageways could be heaven on earth. Of course, I didn't see how I could ever tell that to the Captain. So, instead, I took lots of pictures and videos, so he can decide for himself.

I'll let you know how that turns out (on the other hand, I definitely know how it is going to turn out for Stella and friends!).

Alaska Report #4 coming up on Friday.

Hugs and blessings,

(who is waving hello to Karla Akins, today… "Ahoy, fellow adventurer--wish you were here!")


Alaska Report #2… A Cold Beginning

We arrived in Juneau, Alaska with thermometers pointing at twenty degrees, and a boarding time set for 4am the next morning aboard the MV Taku, for a 5am departure. It was dark when we got up at 3, and the sun didn't come up until around 7. We were headed for Sitka, the farthest western point of our journey.

So it was that Shale Kenny and I truly began our adventure. You might wonder why someone would come halfway around the world to Alaska in winter, when most towns (the ones we were visiting, anyway) seem to literally "roll up their streets" until spring. For me, it was an opportunity for a "sneak peek" at the very route the Captain and I will be traveling on the Glory B during my 2014 Mystery Tour. Not to mention a bit of research thrown in for a current WIP (work in progress).

For Ms. Kenny, it was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering Australian summer. More than that, really. Because for years, she's had a special place in her heart for Alaska. Shale Kenny has explored this vast state from Ketchikan (in the south), to Nome (in the north), all the way to the end of the Aleutian Islands that are strung out like pebbles strewn from some giant hand across the Bering sea, landing only a "stone's throw" from Russia. 

She even did a seven-month stint as a team member for a former Iditarod contestant. Which should tell you something about her determination to experience the "real Alaska." In fact, it was at a gathering of mutual Alaskan friends, several years ago, that I first met Shale Kenny. And now, we were in for this bit of a "working vacation" for both of us. What better inspiration for work than a warm and quiet cabin with a window that looked out onto some of the most beautiful stretches of wilderness in the world as we passed by?

We both agree ferry travel is the absolute most enjoyable way to do all that. 

Of course, I was caught off-guard (as I always am, in Alaska) at the spectacular beauty of this amazing place. It is truly awe-inspiring at every turn. Of which there are many, when you are winding in and out of narrow channels, and passing across wide straits that lead out into open sea. The "big water," as I like to call it. Which is what I really came here to look at. And--boy howdy-- did I see some!

Which is what I'll tell you about on Wednesday.

Hugs and blessings,

(who is "waving hello" to Linda Mapes, and Melanie Backus, today… "Ahoy, ladies!")


A Voice in the Wilderness...

Helloooo…. dear readers! 

Here comes the first of my "Walking Alaska" reports, with a delay in signals like you wouldn't believe. But no worries, I will bring them all to you, one by one. First, let me say this little trip is so much more than I expected. But isn't that how life always is? We started off noticing some "divine footsteps" right out of the gate.

Because it suddenly occurred to me (a little late, as usual), that while I made specific arrangements to meet with my "Mystery Guest" at our departing gate in the Seattle airport, we made no "Plan B" in case something should prevent that. Other than we would both be wearing purple hats so we could recognize each other. This because it's been four years since we've actually been together, and then only for a brief hour at a large gathering, where we met. Which happened to be in Alaska.

But we knew we were "kindred spirits" even in that brief encounter, and have since developed a wonderful friendship from opposite ends of the earth. So, the first clue I'm giving out in these Alaska Reports is: my Mystery Guest comes from Australia. A long way to travel to get to the "frozen north," but since we have been in constant contact via email and chat boxes, I didn't think much more about it. 

Somewhere during our many conversations about the coming itinerary, I gave her my address (where I would not be) and my phone number (always carry that with me). Bases covered. Except she (clue #2: the Mystery Guest is a she-- the Captain would not appreciate me traveling with a he) lost Internet and phone service as soon as she got here.

Meanwhile, I shot off a few welcoming emails (she had to get here in stages), which she never answered. Hmm…not like her. That's when I realized I had no contact information other than email for her. I knew she was married to Ken, but there are probably more than one of those back in Australia. And he doesn't do email. Hmm, again. What if she didn't show up? Should I go on alone?

But she did show up. She was already at the gate when I arrived, wearing her purple hat (we recognized each other right away), and wondering the very same thing I was. Should she continue alone if I didn't show up? Well, thank goodness, neither of us had to make that choice. 

Of course, it would be another couple hours until we could actually start our visit, because the chances of our sitting near each other in that crowded plane were next to nothing. She bought her tickets in Australia, as part of a much longer itinerary, and from an entirely different airline than me. On a different day, even. 

So, imagine our surprise when we discovered our respective seat assignments were right next to each other. Something we definitely took as a "divine footstep."

Sometimes, it's the smallest thing that makes one realize the presence of God.

More about that later.

Hugs and blessings,

PS… Alaska Report #2 coming your way on Monday...