Change of plans.
Travel fatigue kicked in at 3 months, instead of at the 13 month mark, like our last road trip. Is it because we couldn’t get satisfying access to a massive world heritage site we drove past for days and days, with few photos, and mediocre views, after steep hikes on rough terrain? Is it because our minds were blown every day with the dramatic Arctic scenery in Canada, followed by amazing wildlife, volcano and glacier viewing in Western Alaska so our EYES are tired…or is it the mass of biting insects (in their third hatch!) due to the especially wet summer?
We think the fatigue is probably explained by our bodies’ difficulty acclimatizing to 24 hours of sun all day and night in July at the Arctic Ocean, to Autumn’s freezing, dark nights with Aurora Borealis and howling wolves only 6 weeks…and thousands of road miles later, in August. Certainly our new rig with the queen size bed leaves no excuse for not sleeping well. Maybe we just need a daily dose of competitive tennis to keep us vibrant, and of course, there are few courts to be found in tiny Alaskan hamlets with long severe winters. When we find them, they are made of cracked asphalt (no cement in the land of the deep freeze), with barely visible lines, sagging nets, usually wet…and we love playing them anyway.
Whatever the reasons, we are taking a break from asphalt and gravel highways, opting for “free-style cruising” courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway; at the last minute we jumped on a southbound ferry from Haines, Alaska without reservations to let the ship’s Captain do the driving. We have been driving our rig off ship to explore the towns, glaciers, hikes, and wildlife in the Inside Passage for days at a time, sharing the water with the early morning fishing boats.
Although more expensive than driving our 23 mpg rig on the supposedly beautiful Cassiar Highway south, we’ve enjoyed daytime ferry travel with hot showers and kitchens to cook our food, and whales and porpoise pods for company as the ships travel through narrow steep fjords. On the overnight ferry trips, we have no access to our land yacht, and sleep out on the deck with other, usually younger, adventure travelers. So, who needs a cruise ship?
The towns of the Inside Passage are all year round commercial fishing villages, and seasonal tourist traps where the cruise ships visit. Yet they each have their unique charms: Ketchikan is the seaplane capital with aircraft, ferries and cruise ships sharing the waterfront above.
In Juneau, the Alaskan Capital, we enjoyed camping on an iceberg strewn lake before the Mendenhall Glacier at the edge of town (above)…but really, a State Capital with no railroad or road access? All of the Inside Passage is abutted by the Tongas National Park…dripping with rainforest. The hiking is extraordinarily beautiful, with lots of pesky bears fishing in the creeks (you don’t need a fancy tour to find sows and cubs chowing down!). All you need is your rain gear and your muck boots, to contend with the 55 inches of rain the area gets every October. You can see at the top and below, the happy mushrooms and furry green landscaped carpet.
Some of these towns are weirder than other. We loved Haines, Alaska with the Hammer Museum, displaying a rock hammer used to build the Mycerinus Pyramid at Giza in 2500 B.C. When the rocks made of dolerite (hard, igneous rock) were used to cut blocks of softer limestone, they eventually chipped down to small round rocks themselves. Abandoned until archaeologists determined their purpose in a recent dig, one sits amid hammers for specific purposes like watch repair, horseshoeing, metal work, fire hydrant release, and animal husbandry, ones with printed names from nightclubs like the Cotton Club, given to patrons to “ding-ding” on their glasses for a fill. Thousands of them. Amazing collection by one passionate collector. Alaskans!
Our best experience in Haines was catching a performance of the African Children’s Choir from Uganda at the local public school our last morning. The school is a K-12, tiny, with only 20 graduating seniors each year. All the students seemed enthralled by the age 9-12 drummers, singers and dancers in kente cloth.
Haines, Alaska raises funds for Africa’s Kilimanjaro Orphanage, founded by a local Haines physician and run by a Haines Board of Directors. Like the children at that orphanage, these performers have lost their parents to AIDS. After the one year tour of the U.S. and Canada, these children who have become like siblings to each other, will stay together at a boarding school for the duration of their childhood. Talented ambassadors for Uganda.
In Prince Rupert, we will leave the marine highway, and Alaska, and take to the paved one, for the long ride home…we hope before the snow starts. There really is nowhere like Alaska where almost 90% of the state is dedicated to public land. We’ll be back.