Saturday, June 17, 2006

I "Drove" Alaska’s Marine Highway!

My return trip from Ketchikan was on the ship Columbia, part of the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet that travels the Inside Passage. I was able to board early, well ahead of the 5:00 p.m. departure time, and stake out my camping space on the top deck under the Solarium (a glass roof with hanging heaters). For most people staying up there, “beds” are slatted plastic deck chairs, although a few hardy souls stretched out flat on the deck. Strategic arrangements of packs, duffels, pillows and blankets, supplemented with creative use of bungees and duct tape, marked out the individual spaces. No one touches your stuff except the ravens who have a fondness for bread products as some naïve travelers learned to their dismay.

The ship offers many amenities including a dining room, a snack bar, a 24-hour coffee bar, a movie theater (with first run movies), a lecture hall, cabins (these cost a bit!), laundry facilities, showers, and an awesome GPS system outside the purser’s office. It takes two nights and a full day to make the journey to Bellingham which allows time for visiting with other adventurers, reading, knitting, napping, and watching the beautiful natural scenery on all sides. We were visited by a pod of Orcas that entertained us for half an hour. We passed historic lighthouses (some still occupied) and small settlements nestled on the banks.

I met people from England, France, Germany, Australia and Texas. And most extraordinarily, the woman camped next to me was moving to Clinton, Missouri! (A few miles from Osceola.) There were many young backpackers as well as families with kids. Not any other “seniors” up top as that required hauling your gear up some steep stairs. My ThermaRest pad was a vital part of my bed arrangement. Could not have slept without it. My Columbia sleeping bag was toasty and my pop-up expando pillow worked very well. I was very snug and comfortable.

When I arrived in Bellingham, the train station was located right by the Ferry dock so the transfer was smooth. Only a two hour layover. The train was crowded with people on their way to the Rose Festival in Portland. And many delays due to passing freight trains that have priority on the tracks. More reading and knitting and gazing into people’s back yards in small towns along the way. Home a little later than planned. Windy and Phil met me and brought Princess and Little Buddy. Hugs all around. We all missed each other. It was good to be safe home. I realized I already live in an equally beautiful place where similar cruise ships ply the nearby waters, although there are no whales in the Columbia River.


Blogger ejramblin said...

OK, that Clinton, MO connection is QUITE astounding! It's that Seven Degrees of Separation...or less!

5:50 PM  

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