2016…56 Years Old

Soon after completing our “Lower 48” trip, a friend called and excitedly told me that she and another friend had a solution to our “Alaska Problem.” Gregg and I had barely unpacked the car so visiting #50 was not on our radar. Yet, they did have a point; visiting Alaska would be the crowning glory on our aspiration to visit every state.  

Our friends’ solution to our “problem” was an Inside Passageway Alaskan cruise. Several couples planned to go in August 2016, would we like to join them? We didn’t consider ourselves “cruise people” but agreed that we would love to see Alaska by ship. Why, yes! We will join you! And so, the planning began!

Gregg and I had been following Rick Steves’ packing suggestions, experiencing that when it comes to luggage, indeed, “less is more.” With the challenging goal of packing light for heat, snow, rain, and formal nights, we carefully planned our clothing to be worn in layers.

Purchasing good quality, breathable, waterproof jackets was well worth the investment. Keeping the wind out, we stayed warm with the lightweight jacket covering a layer of shirts and sweatshirt. Our experience with water-resistant pants revealed that the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are not interchangeable terms. Oops! Duly noted.

We flew into Anchorage a few days before our cruise. The first morning, we experienced local culture by participating in a 5K with Tim, Kim, and Brandi along the Tony Knowles Coastal Path. Our next few days were rather wet, but we loved every minute of it.

The rain (and some sleet) did not deter us from hiking and climbing to the top of Flat Top Mountain (altitude 3,500 ft.) where we celebrated that hard accomplishment. Nor did it deter us from riding bikes on the Coastal Path, where we came upon a momma moose and her calf. Awesome and scary!

We had a delightful visit with my second cousin and his daughter. And another day, we went south with the Johnsons and Gonzales to tour a wildlife conservatory and see glaciers.

I will be honest; until this trip, I did not believe that the earth was being adversely affected by changing temperatures. I assumed that the Climate Change argument was political propaganda with a hidden agenda.

Seeing glaciers with my own eyes, or lack thereof, gave me a different perspective.  Exit Glacier’s endpoint is denoted by yearly markers, making the distance and pace of recession clear – jaw drop and heavy heart. A 6-week time lapse video posted by the National Park Service shows how much the glacier changed beginning the week following our visit.

The day we arrived at the port was rainy, so we boarded the ship right away. Since we were new at cruising, we played the scavenger game to get acquainted with the ship layout and possibly win prizes. I did end up winning a week access to the spa’s thermal room. It would have been more enjoyable to sit in the sauna with a friend, so I didn’t go often.

The first two full days of our 7-day cruise were scenic cruising: viewing glaciers and God’s beautiful creation. Standing on the deck, feeling tiny as I looked up at the massive mountains, mesmerized by the breathtaking view, Brandi suggested the two of us sing “How Great Thou Art.” It was such an impactful worship experience. Since that time, I find my soul singing out in “awesome wonder,” whenever I notice God’s “power throughout the universe displayed.”

The couples in our party chose a variety of ways to spend their time. We would re-connect at dinner, sharing the stories of the day. Brandi encouraged us to stop and reflect by naming our “Top 5” of each day. Singing How Great Thou Art while looking at glaciers is on my Top 5 list for the whole trip.

Continuing that Trip Top 5 list, I enjoyed:

  • Afternoon high tea in the dining room – tea, sandwiches, cookies, cakes, and scones with clotted cream and jam were served by white-gloved staff. Gregg and I went each day we were on the ship at teatime. One afternoon, our companions joined us. I loved sharing the experience with them!
  • In Skagway, taking a vintage train to the White Pass Summit on the Canadian border. The 1898 railway tracks follow the narrow Klondike Trail used during the goldrush. At the top, we changed transportation to bikes and rode down the mountain, joined by Brandi and Christian.
  • The Easter Totem Pole outside a church in Ketchikan explained Jesus and the resurrection with culturally relevant symbols.
  • The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver, Canada, was the cherry on top of a great trip. We spent the day with Johnsons and Gonzales, exploring footbridges suspended high in the colossal trees. The Cap was unquestionably a highlight of our trip.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Hearing and seeing glaciers calving,
  • The blue color in the glaciers and icebergs,
  • Watching for wildlife and catching the quick sight of whales breaching,
  • Salmon jumping upstream and bears trying to catch them,
  • Realizing that the Japanese Americans sent to internment camps affected everyone (The Empty Chair memorial in Juneau),
  • Tasting new fruits with Brandi, and
  • Experiencing “the world, God’s hand has made.”

Truly, “my God, how great Thou art!”

Brandi, Kristin, and Kim. This was Brandi’s very first 5K ever! She has since done innumerable more as well as half marathons and marathons! You go, girlfriend!
Kristin and Gregg with cousins Hope, and Scott Walker
3,500 feet above sea level it was raining, sleeting, and very windy. The last portion was over rocks and boulders, not on a marked trail. It was HARD and WE DID IT! Although, it appears that everyone in our excursion group has begun their descent already. I’m thankful for Gregg’s great sense of direction!
Exit Glacier behind us
Our ship has come in!
Skagway to White Pass Summit
Gregg, Kristin, Christian, Brandi – riding back down to Skagway.
The Empty Chair in Juneau. Many beloved Japanese-American classmates were suddenly missing from school. The graduating high school class left an empty chair for their valedictorian.
The Easter Totem Pole outside a Methodist Church in Ketchikan. It fascinated me how it was creatively and culturally relevant because they had no context for things like a cock crowing since didn’t have roosters, nor bread, since grain doesn’t grow in the rain forest.
My Love took me to high tea each time we were onboard at teatime!
Gregg & Kristin Friend, Kim & Tim Johnson, Jeff & Margie Hesser, Joyce & Tim Whitley (the trip organizer), Brandi & Christian Gonzales.
Foggy first day of glacier cruising. The next day was clear and beautiful!
The long Capilano Suspension Bridge.
I can’t wrap my brain around the fact that Brandi can’t begin to wrap her hands around this ginormous tree.
We are way above the ground and the trees are still higher!

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