2000: Alaska

Juneau

September 2

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Farewell to the Spirit of '98.

We awaken at 7 a.m. -- two hours to disembarkation. We finish packing and leave our luggage in the hallway for the crew to collect.

We have a final breakfast with our friends, fun and sad. Everyone lingers in the dining room as long as possible, then there's a mad dash to collect last-minute possessions. Perry has to leave early for an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier so we bid her a quick farewell.

We dock in Juneau at 9 a.m. All the crew members are lined up along the gangplank to say goodbye.

It's a jubilant and painful process, with many hugs and a few tears. A few of the passengers dawdle on the dock, reluctant to leave; if we don't leave the dock, can we stay forever?

Saying goodbye. Grace gets a hug. Ed and Connie dance? Grace and Donna share a last laugh. Roger and Jean look back.
John, Marian, Tom and Berte.

For most of the cruise passengers, there will be an overnight stay in Juneau, with time for some shore excursions.  The Gold Rush Hotel, across the street from the dock, is their destination, but it's not yet check-in time for individual rooms so the hotel provides a place for our cruisers to wait.

We enter the hospitality room at the hotel and see some of our fellow passengers waiting for their rooms to be ready.  Sol and his wife are once again in the throes of a deadly serious card game.

We are bound for Anchorage today instead of staying in Juneau, to get a jump on our next destination -- Denali National Park. We have about two hours before departure to the airport, so we stash our luggage with the hotel safe and take off for some exploration.

Mount Roberts tram.

Juneau is a pretty town of 30,000 crammed into a small coastal space between the Gastineau Channel and 2,000-foot mountains which loom alarmingly over downtown.

As we came off the dock, we noticed a tram moving up and down cables, ferrying people up the side of one of the mountains. We walk a few blocks along downtown streets, where most of the shops are closed, to reach the tram station.

The tram takes us up the side of Mount Roberts, lifting us from 27 feet to 2000 feet in only six minutes. The tram is owned and operated by Goldbelt, Inc., Juneau's urban Native corporation (the Tlingit tribe), and it cost 17 million dollars to build. The view is spectacular as we rise high above the city. But why is the ground still moving after we get off?

The weather continues to bless us with more beautiful sunshine. However, the wind at the top of Mount Roberts is brisk and cold, reminding us this IS still Alaska! We decide against the "nature trail" and enter the visitor center at the top of the tram.

We enter a small movie theater, where we view a twenty-minute film titled "Seeing Daylight". This film depicts Southeast Alaskan Native culture from the Tlingit point of view. A bit of browsing and a few purchases in the gift shop, and then we make our way slowly back along the harbor to the hotel.

Juneau from Mt. Roberts.

After a few final goodbyes, we leave the hotel with our CruiseWest shuttle driver Bill, headed for the airport and our noon flight to Anchorage.

The road to the Juneau airport is just that: it goes nowhere else. To my surprise, the capital city of Alaska is accessible only by air and sea, there are absolutely no roads leading inland!

Mike spots a couple of eagles in the salt flats alongside the highway, and our driver Bill laughs. "I can always recognize the disembarking cruise passengers," he says. "You really know how to spot those eagles!"

The Juneau airport has several glass cases containing taxidermied examples of Alaskan wildlife. My favorite is Ursus Alaskanus Theodorus, a.k.a. Ted E. Bear. A partial rendering of his caption: "These bears have comforted countless Alaskans during the long, dark, cold winter nights. They are the only species more interested in comforting children than in eating them."

The Juneau jig?

At the Juneau airport we encounter Brad and Barbara Washburn, who are also flying to Anchorage today. They are heading to Denali as well, to meet with members of the park board of directors about conservation policies.<

After a long thumb-twiddling wait, we exit the terminal to board the plane, This is a small airport, with no breezeways cocooning us from terminal to airlock, this is the old-fashioned way where you walk the tarmac and climb the flimsy aluminum stairway-to-heaven.

We start toward the front stairs of the airplane but an airport employee motions us back into a pathway of painted yellow lines which leads to the aircraft's rear. Inside the yellow lines are yellow stenciled bear tracks! Like children at the beach, we match our footprints to the tracks and reach the bottom of the stairs with a smile. The whimsy of Alaska permeates the very concrete here.

Peaks from a plane.

As we take off from Juneau, we have a wonderful view under the clear blue sky. We get a fantastic look at Glacier Bay and we think we spot the confluence of Johns Hopkins and Margurie Glaciers, seen at sea level yesterday from the ship. From above, we get the full impact of how huge these glaciers are.

The pilot announces that we are flying directly over Mount Fairweather, and although we cannot see it, the name evokes yesterday's serendipitous spotting aboard ship.  The landscape unfolds below us, as harsh, rugged, and splendid as anything you could ever hope to see -- peak after peak of  snow-covered mountain,  vast expanses of smooth blue water.

As we leave Juneau, I feel strangely lonely -- where is our newly-adopted ship family? Where is Philip with our five-star cuisine? As Marian observes, a soggy turkey sandwich aboard the plane is NOT what weíve become accustomed to! After a visit to the lavatory, Marian notes that walking aboard a plane is a "different kind of wobble" for our just-acquired sea legs.

Anchorage.

We arrive in Anchorage without incident. We can tell we've re-entered a metropolitan area: this airport, as with all big-city airports, is under serious construction. Itís also spread out and meandering - we feel like rats in a maze. A week on a small catered cruise ship has seriously impaired our survival instincts. We gaze about in vain for a friendly face to tell us where to go and what to do next.

Mike gets us to the car rental counter, where the pick-up ritual takes the usual eternity. He opts to upgrade to a Dodge SUV rather than the "mid-size four door" we had reserved. It is expensive but necessary - according to him, they assigned us a Kia - either Marian or the luggage would be riding on the hood!

In the parking lot, we must examine the car with a magnifying glass and document every dent and scratch (there are plenty), then Mike treks back into the terminal to duly record our findings.

Finally we rumble off in our rented carriage for the hotel in Anchorage. We have maps and directions and find the general area with no problem, but as we had been warned, downtown Anchorage is a maze of one-way streets, always going the one way you DONíT want to go.  After a series of backtracks and canít-get-there-from-here turnarounds, we finally reach the hotel -- and we are underwhelmed. This district seems full of cheap apartments, which our hotel resembles. I mentally chalk up one more demerit for the AAA travel agent. But the place is clean and adequate for our one-night stay.

After checking in and separating luggage, we meet in the hotel coffee shop for dinner where we find a "buffet" as our only choice. The lone employee, a man in thick glasses and a long ponytail, bemoans his lack of help because everyone has already fled for jobs to the south, in anticipation of the seasonís end (on Sept. 2, yet!). The buffet is all he can manage on his own. People really know when it's time to "get out of town" here.

The food is adequate if uninspired; we whine unmercifully among ourselves at the memory of ship's cuisine. Philip! I could use that SOUP now! With ice cream!

We are strangely exhausted for such a minor day of exertion. I can no longer deny having a full-blown cold; I'm grateful to Mal for giving Mike some cold-symptom pills before we left the ship. Early to bed, and I sleep eleven hours. And that doesn't even count my 20-minute nap before dinner!