Just a little over a week ago we were in Hawaii
and just a week before that, we were basking in the heat of Tahiti. Now Don is outside making a snow igloo with our nephews
Markie and Scottie in my parent’s front yard in Oak Harbor, WA. Talk about adjusting the thermostat!
Our plans had been to fly from Hawaii to Panama then take a
bus up Central America to Mexico City and fly home, on Feb 5th, our target date of return. But after just two days
in Hawaii, we realized that home was calling us stronger than we had been willing to admit. So we cancelled our flights and
booked a flight to SeaTac airport instead, deciding to make our last month a tour of the western US, visiting family on the
way home, starting with my family in Washington. While I was looking on-line to book our flight from Hawaii, I noticed that
there were flights to Anchorage, Alaska and Don got all excited. “Let’s go!” My response
was “Nobody goes to Alaska in the winter!” Little did I know that we would be heading up there just a week later.
Delta Air was running a special so that we were
able to buy first class seats for less than coach seats on the other days of the week. I snatched them up immediately. Don
was thrilled! He could stretch out with plenty of leg room and maybe get some sleep. But for some reason we couldn’t
sleep. It is only a 5 + hour flight but with the time zones, we ended up landing in Seattle close to 7 am after leaving Honolulu
at 11 pm the day before. It was just too short of a timeframe to get sleepy enough to sleep. Or were we just too excited about
coming HOME to the states? We landed at SeaTac airport Friday morning, Jan 13th. It was our
lucky day. The crew on the Delta flight was fantastic, slipping us a “Welcome Home” bottle of champagne as we
It was wonderful to
be in a country where everyone spoke American English, every sign was in English, the money was US dollars and the customs
were so familiar. Ah, it feels so good to be HOME in the States!
We caught the 8:40 am shuttle to Oak Harbor from the airport and headed up north. We reached the Mukilteo
ferry to the island and Don, asleep in the van, slept right through the 15 minute crossing. I had to go up to the cafeteria
and get something to eat and have some of their famous WA coffee. The van dropped us off at the 7-11 in
Oak Harbor and mom met us there in their Jaguar 5 minutes after we arrived. It was so nice to see a familiar face (mom does
look very sophisticated in that Jag!) and get hugs from family. Dad was anxiously waiting for us at home.
I knew Mark and Kit were coming up sometime this month to work
on their downstairs unit and I was so happy to find out that they were coming up the very next day! Marla found out we were
at mom and dad’s, so she drove over Saturday morning with little Markie and Scott, who really are not that little anymore.
We had a wonderful family reunion! As usual, one of my siblings was missing; this time it was Marlin and Dong but we will
be seeing them in San Francisco on our trip south but it would have been so nice if we could have all been together.
Don took the boys to the hobby shop and bought
them models to build (late Christmas presents!) while at the grandparents house. They spent the evening putting the helicopter
and tank together, with Don and Grandpa’s help. I almost think that they were as excited about the models as the boys
We woke up to snow Sunday
morning. It was beautiful! Don and I drove the Jaguar (thank you, mom and dad!) to church and on the return drive home, we
just HAD to detour to the beach. Snow at the beach! It was wonderful!
Later that evening, after our tummies were full of mom’s good home cooking, and we were settled
in for the night, Markie asked Don to help him build a snow igloo the next morning. They made a deal. Whoever wakes up first
in the morning wakes the other one up. As I was crawling in bed, Don reminded me that there might be a little boy waking us
up in the morning. Sure enough, I woke up to a whispered “Uncle Don, Uncle Don, it is time to build the snow igloo.”
I opened my eyes. It was still dark outside! Don later confessed that he had considered “sleeping” through the
call for early morning adventure. However, he got up and Markie discovered that all his snow clothes were in the room with
his mother. Not wanting to wake her up, they came back in our room and woke me up, again! “We
need gloves and a hat.” I gave them a hat and a pair of socks, since my only gloves were suede, not
good for snow. I rolled over and went back to sleep. A couple hours later I got out of bed to see the most original looking
snow teepee I have ever seen. Soon Uncle Mark joined Scott, Markie and Don. The igloo looked like one of Santa’s elves’
hat that had blown in with the night’s flurries. Little Mark got bored at some point and decided to try out the ice
on Grandma’s fish pond. It held long enough for him to dare to take another step into the deeper part and the ice broke
and down he sank. Luckily it is fairly shallow and he was only wet to the knees. His wet clothes and waterlogged shoes didn’t
stop him from continuing to help build the snow house.
There is something wonderful about us siblings getting together, something we don’t do nearly
often enough. Mark and Kit have a downstairs apartment and my parents live in the upstairs part of the
home. After dinner we all ended up in Mark and Kit’s, just shooting the breeze. We almost felt like little kids, sneaking
into each other’s rooms after lights out, and telling our secrets. We were all sitting on their couch and chairs, sipping
on wine, jabbering away, and mom and dad showed up, saying that they felt left out. I couldn’t help but think that I
would have felt the same if my kids had done the same to me!
We had been in Washington for several days and I was really looking forward to getting home. I had
thought we were heading home and never thought about home to ALASKA! I had lived in Ketchikan, Alaska in second and third
grade, but I never thought that I would be going to Alaska in the middle of winter. Who does that? I guess we do and my parents
were game to come with us! So, here we are, planning a trip with my parents, age 80 and 81, to ferry the inland passage of
Alaska in the dead of winter, the winter that has been one of their snowiest in decades! How did we ever switch from going
home to taking another week of travel to see Alaska?
One evening, while I was looking up train schedules to California, and Don and my parents started talking about Alaska
and the ferry and then it became “Why don’t we go to Alaska on a Ferry? Mimi, quick, look it up. See if we can.”
I closed the Amtrak website and switched to Alaska Marine Highway.com. Sure enough, there was a ferry going to Skagway via
Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Haines, and Juneau. Don was ecstatic! “Book it Mimi!” Again I asked the question
“Who wants to go to Alaska in the winter?” Us. My parents were so excited about going north
that my mom couldn’t sleep that night. Don was so pleased to give my parents a trip to Alaska, seven days of seeing
the most beautiful country in the US, my mom’s favorite state. Because it is a ferry, as opposed to a cruise, it only
stops in port long enough to let off cargo and passengers. We have 5 hours in Ketchikan and 3 hours in
Skagway, but only 40 minutes in all the other ports. On the return trip, we will take a detour to Sitka and Kake, but only
have a short port of call. Wish it were longer, but we will take what we can get!
We arrived in Bellingham a couple hours early, where we were
to board our ferry. It had been snowing and we weren’t sure the freeway would be clear so we left with plenty of time.
When we arrived the ferry at the dock and to my dad’s surprise, it was the same one that we took to Juneau, almost 50
years ago! I called my brother Mark and told him we were riding the old ferry and he asked if it was the
“Matanuska”. How does he do that? Who remembers names like that? The only thing I do remember was sleeping inside
on the floor and I thought that was so fun seeing all the kids running around with their pajamas on at bedtime. We, on the
other hand, were not allowed to run around.
It sounds like a ferry in our stateroom. You know, the low vibration of a big diesel engine. We have a bunk bed in
our cabin and a bathroom with a shower. It is very basic and it is clean. When we were exploring the boat, we found the top
sleeping deck that has three walls, a ceiling and the back wall is open. This area is for sleeping out on deck chairs. In
the summer months, you can “pitch” your tent out on the open deck. Don and I looked jealously at the people rolling
out their sleeping bags onto deck chairs. It is a little cold up there but there are heaters and it really is quite comfortable.
Next time we will bring our kids and grandkids and tents! But trust me, it will be in the summer.
The ferry ride has been so smooth, except when we have had to
go out on open waters. The ferry’s route is going up what is called the Inland Passage, going between islands and the
main land. Twice, so far, we have had to go out into the open ocean with no protection from the wind and ocean waves. It is
not my favorite thing, but I have to remember that this boat has been doing this passage for 50 years in much worse weather
than this. But I am still glad when we go back in between the islands to the smooth waters.
The landscapes are beautiful. Surprisingly there is not that much
snow in the southern part so far. We have had some rain and on the second evening got some snow. It is cold, especially when
the wind picks up. We had gray skies in the morning and then we saw some clear blue ahead. We followed that blue sky all afternoon
and the views were spectacular. We could see mountains with patches of snow in the hovering clouds behind the tree thick hills.
I particularly like the layers on shore: gray rocks, a layer of brown rocks then another
layer of gray rock, then the pine trees. There are hundreds of logs on the shores and some in the water, floating as if on
an adventure of their own.
seen eagles in trees, cormorants, and sea gulls. So far no other wild life.
Has the ride been worth it? Yes!!!
Tomorrow morning: Ketchikan, my home for two years from ’62 to ’64. Wonder if I will remember
It was great seeing my
old house and the church (we did go to the church since we were there Sunday morning) and I had time to show Don where I went
to school. We also were able to drive out to the Potlatch and see the totem poles. Such good memories of being a kid there!
Another highlight of the trip was seeing the
glacier just outside of Juneau. The color was a beautiful teal blue and was gorgeous. And it was huge! What a river of ice!
Skagway was a kick. We arrived close to 5 PM
so everything was closed but the Skagway Brewery that we got a nice hot chocolate and fries. Don knocked on the door of a
tourist gift shop as she was trying to close up so we could buy something from the quaint town of Skagway. These Alaskan towns
are like stepping back in time, to when the gold rush was in full swing. They are delightfully quaint.
Don got his gold nugget! Sitka was the only port that we docked
at in the middle of the day with time to shop. And Don found the only gold nugget store in town and bought himself an Alaskan
If you want to get to know
an Alaskan, take a ferry ride in the winter. Alaskans are another breed of people. I think they are the last of the pioneers.
There are no wimps in Alaska (once I leave!) They are such a hearty bunch. We chatted with some locals who moved to Alaska
from the “lower 48” in 1967 and the husband taught school in Ketchikan for several years then moved up further
north to live a much more rustic lifestyle. They are retired now and run a fish camp in the summer. To get their summer supplies
in, they have to load up two boats, hire a large boat to tow these boats across 35 miles of water to their lodge. She grows
her own vegetables in a green house that they built and all the seedlings, etc. has to be brought in the same manner. And
this is what they do for fun! My hat is off to them. They got off in Haines and were going to drive the
1000+ miles home in the worst snow Alaska has had in years to get home. They did say that they were going to caravan with
several other cars attempting this drive. If you have car trouble up there, you want a friend nearby. As they say, Alaskan
elements are unforgiving! Most of the passengers going to Anchorage and Fairbanks
were taking the ferry from Haines to Whittier over open sea and I heard it is a pretty rough ride! No thank you!
A little adventure is OK but 2 days worth…..my chicken is clucking inside!
Another passenger we met is a newly divorced, spunky woman in her 40s.
She was on her way down to Palm Desert via Oregon to stay with her sister who is dying of cancer. She drove from Anchorage
to Whittier to catch the same ferry to Haines. It was about 1000 miles of highway and she said she only saw 6 cars the whole
trip! That sounds heavenly, if you are from California, but when you are driving by yourself in sub-zero temperatures, a few
more cars would have been more comforting!
Probably our most impressive fellow rider that we met was actually from upstate New York on his way to a race in
Fairbanks area. He had an old U-Haul type truck that he had built in dog kennels to house 31 dogs with space for other items
as well as his sled. The dogs had their noses sticking out of the small holes in the side of the truck, sniffing in our odor.
They are small, sleek dogs and they are raced for their speed, not endurance like the Iditarod. The ferry let people go
down to the car deck and check on their animals, weather permitting, 3 -4 times a day. At one point, he had all 31 of his
dogs out on ropes, tethered to the truck.
able to play “dog pharmacist” for one of the passenger’s dogs. The dog had been given a Valium to calm her
for the three day trip but she was not doing well. I overheard the woman asking for some pills and thinking that she was looking
for sea sick pills for herself, I introduced myself to her and told her we had some Dramamine if she needed some. Then she
explained that she needed pills for her dog. I took her down to our room where Don gave her Pepto Bismo for the upset stomach,
Imodium for the diarrhea, and an antihistamine for her stress. The dog was about 80 pounds so Don gave her the dosage amounts
for a child. The next morning we asked the owner how her dog was doing and she was so grateful that the
medicine did the trick! Being married to a nurse gives me the advantage of seeing a different part of life
I had never experienced before!
Alaska in winter means snow, rain, sleet, rough waters, low lying clouds and cold temperatures!
We felt them all and Alaska was just as we thought it would be! Very different from southern California! And my parents
loved every minute of it and we were so glad we could share it with them.