Dinosaur Bear Presents:
North to Alaska Part 4 of 4:
Just a little south-east of Nome’
[Continued from Part 3]
When we last met SB and I had just headed back to our cabin for our final night on the Coral Princess. After packing up we got to bed (later than planned, as usual) and then the next morning we woke up in Vancouver!
After leaving our cabin we headed up to the front of the ship for our last breakfast onboard and then from there we went to our mustering disembarkation station. Getting through the disembarkation process was actually fairly easy, especially since we just had travel backpacks and no luggage to pick up. In fact, that we didn’t have luggage seemed very foreign to the Princess and port people – including the Canadian customs guy. We are not your typical cruise passengers in that regard I suppose.
Anyways, after getting off the ship we met up with our next guide – a native Canadian named John was about as genuinely (and stereotypically) Canadian as you could ever hope for. He even apologized for apologizing so constantly. It was grand. Since our flight wasn’t going to leave Vancouver until like 7:30pm (it was originally supposed to leave around 4:30 but they moved it back by 3 hours sometime after we booked) we figured there was no point in going straight to the airport. So, instead we went on a tour around Downtown Vancouver itself, as well as to Stanley Park, Lynn Canyon, and Capilano Canyon.
While I wouldn’t say that the sun came out, the light drizzle of the early morning faded away for the most part.
Both SB and I were really impressed by downtown Vancouver – the place had the cleanest sidewalks of any city I’ve ever seen, it was almost Pleasantville-ish. I had remembered liking Vancouver a decade prior, but last time I’d only been whisked straight to the airport (and almost missed our flight at that) so this time I got to see a lot more. Stanley Park was really cool, I liked the totem poles and horse carriage rides (though we sadly did not have the time nor money to take one).
A lot of the tour involved driving along Vancouver Harbor which made for some nice views of downtown as well as interesting spots such as Deadman’s Island, the 9 O’Clock Gun (which took me back to Edinburgh), and a statute of Harry Jerome (and yes I had to look up who it was, I had no idea, but hey it’s a cool photo anyways).
We also got to see (and cross) Vancouver’s famous Lions Gate Bridge. This was a landmark I vividly remembered from 10 years ago, namely sailing under it – but this time we were asleep because we had a latter disembarkation time this time around. 🙂
We also got to learn why the bridge was built, and it was kind of funny because the basic gist of it is that the Guinness family, yep of Guinness beer fame, had some valuable land on the other side that they wanted wealthy people to buy and build fancy houses on. Problem was, there was no good way to get there – so they built an entire friggin’ bridge. The bridge is named after “The Lions” – which are a pair of pointed peaks near Vancouver, if you were curious.
Before you get to the bridge there is a statute in the harbor named “Girl in a Wetsuit” which while not being an exact copy, is pretty much a conceptual twin of “The Little Mermaid” in Copenhagen. So now I’ve seen both!
After crossing the bridge our first stop was the Lynn Canyon area, namely the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge!
I’m a big fan of suspension bridges, the more treacherous-looking the better (keyword: looking). While many a person might freak out when they sway to and fro I think it’s fun.
Plus, with cables like that there isn’t much that is going to happen. Of course if something did happen you’d have a nice 160’ plummet to the rocky canyon below.
Naturally the government is quite aware of this fact and before you even get to the bridge there is a nice friendly sign warning of not only how many people have died in the canyon, but also how they died. It was kind of macabre, I liked it.
Not only were a lot of the trees extremely old and extremely huge, they were also covered in all sorts of funky moss.
One less natural element in the canyon is the Cleveland Dam:
…which, despite being a giant wall of concrete, still managed to look like it fit perfectly in its surroundings. Oh, and if you are HUGE cinephile that area might look vaguely familiar to you. Don’t fret, your cinephilia is not failing you – that’s actually the exact spot where they filmed some scenes from Rambo: First Blood. Pretty cool.
After that we progressed a bit deeper into the forest where John – who is an ecologist-turned-tour-guide by trade – told us lots of interesting information about the trees and fauna. Here’s John next to a rather large Douglas fir.
I even got brownie points (on multiple occasions) for asking “really good questions.” In fact we became buddies by the end of the tour. One of the surefire ways of getting me past my crippling asspie social awkwardness is to get me interested in something, then I’ll never shut up.
Once we’d walked along the canyon wall for a bit we headed back down and checked out the Capilano River Fish Hatchery.
They had a lot of information about the different kinds of salmon in the hatchery as well as those being routed into the hatchery by the weir:
This information of course included the “Hand Trick” about salmon which SB and I had heard about 12,000 times by that point. However, you might not have heard it, so here’s a cool way of remembering the five most common types of Pacific salmon!
Take your hand, yes rip it off and look at it. First, you’ll see your thumb. Got it? No don’t eat it, just look at it. Well, thumb rhymes with Chum, as in Chum salmon! Next you’ll see your pointer (or index) finger. Well, you can use that finger to sock someone in the eye. Go ahead, go sock your finger into someone’s eye right now (but don’t mention this blog to the police afterwards). So, you’ve just socked someone in the eye, or Sockeye salmon! Next you have your largest finger, the middle finger, or as cool people like to call it, the King Finger. From there it’s no surprise that a King of fingers is kind like a King of salmon, or the King Salmon! It’s technically called the Chinook salmon but don’t argue with me it’s not like you knew that anyways. Next is your ring finger, where you wear fancy minerals that some horribly abused person mined from the earth before they were killed. A common example is silver, so you wear silver on your ring finger, as in a Silver Salmon! Ok, so this one is also technically known as something else – the Coho salmon – but seriously you try to relate coho to a finger. Finally, you have your pinky finger, which… well you get it pinky = pink, as in Pink Salmon! There you go, you have now acquired a piece of knowledge which might stick with you for the next 30 5 minutes! Go you!
After hanging out at the hatchery for a bit and seeing some itty bitty salmon babies we made our way back into downtown Vancouver were we dropped a few people off at various swanky hotels before making our way towards the airport.
Along the way I got some more brownie points with John by somehow pretending to know things about baseball (don’t ask me how I do this stuff I honestly don’t know, maybe I was adopted from an NSA laboratory – or more realistically rejected from an NSA laboratory and left in cornfield in Northern Mississippi to die before being found) .
Once at the airport we braced ourselves for US customs – as I had had a horrible experience here 10 years ago, but this time around the place was practically deserted and most of the agents have since been turned into computer terminals. And while the customs people were still basically robots, at least they were efficient robots this time around. Once through we got some coffee and lunch, or rather I got coffee, SB got tea because she still wasn’t feeling well (the olds had infected her and soon enough she would infect me). Then we settled in for a long wait until 7:30pm. Or at least that was the plan. I decided to go talk to the United People about getting bumped up to an earlier flight, and despite initially being told the flight was full ended up getting a seat without even waiting on standby. Of course, for as helpful as the employee was, he also accidentally deleted the second leg of our trip – you know the one that actually would take us home. But I noticed the lack of second boarding pass and was like “Yep this is an issue.” Turns out they had to call HQ to fix it because the oversold second flight – San Francisco to Boston – was crazy oversold and thus SB and I had been bumped from the plane entirely when he deleted our second leg. While they did get it worked out, I could see utter horror looming just beyond that employee’s face; my guess is that he got the vibe telling me: “So, uhm, sir – I just deleted your flight and, uhm, since that was the last flight of the day you’re now going to have to wait until tomorrow to fly out” would not end well. It would not have ended well, but as much as being on “Canada’s Most Wanted” sounded appealing to me, I’d rather be home. But it was fine and we got our flight moved up by 3.5 hours.
Of course that meant waiting the extra time in San Francisco, but I felt much better waiting in San Francisco – in the US of Murka – than I did waiting in Canada and trying to make a pathetically small connecting window of <30 minutes (also thanks to United moving our flight times around) and risking being stuck for 12+ hours.
So we waited for several hours in San Francisco – SB slept on the floor, we had some dinner, I pondered quantum mechanics, Tristen ate someone, Pig ate bugs, Valentino drew flowers, and Pigsten organized his rocks. All was well. Then 10:30pm finally rolled around and we were on our overnight flight back to Boston.
Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have only been on three overnight flights in my life. The first one was freaking terrible. The second one wasn’t much better. So for this third one, I was anything but enthusiastic. Namely I just cannot sleep on a plane; I’d never been able to accomplish it for more than a 5 minute stretch. However, in the grand scheme of things this time around wasn’t terrible, in no small part because I learned that leaning forward onto my tray table works better for me sleep-wise (bubonic plague be damned). In fact, on our ~6 hour flight I probably logged 3 hours of sleep, which isn’t great, but it’s much better than on past occasions.
Plus, around 3am we were flying over a thunderstorm and I woke up just in time to watch it. It was absolutely incredible.
I tried taking like 600 photos and finally caught the lightning – no exposure delays makes it quite hard – but even those photos weren’t great. So just trust me it was cool.
The next morning we woke up to clear blue skies, which was a nice change as in the past the weather has been f*cking horrible when I’ve returned to Boston (though Hermine was only about 24 hours away at that point).
In fact the whole affair of getting to our apartment was pretty easy. We had all of our luggage with us, so there were no delays or destroyed/lost luggage to deal with. The Silver Line actually showed up on time and didn’t careen into the ocean. The Red Line also arrived on time and didn’t catch on fire (sadly not much of a joke here). Then we were early enough (on a Sunday) that the swarms of tourists hadn’t descended onto Harvard Square yet (they generally seem to begin propagating around 8am).
One thing most normies don’t realize that getting to Logan Airport is really only the start of getting home for us. Sometimes it has literally taken as long to get from Logan Airport to our apartment has it has to fly from Indiana to Boston – no I am not joking.
Anyways, once home we went to bed and slept for like 6 hours (or 8 hours in SB’s case). I love blackout curtains and loud window air conditioners when it comes to blocking out the incessant noise of neighbors’ children.
As mentioned I woke up a bit earlier than SB – her illness had worn her out – which allowed me to continue my wildlife tour. Yep, despite no longer being “on” our trip, the wildlife followed us home in the form of two wild turkeys right behind our building.
Believe it or not wild turkeys are quite common here.
From there it was mostly just unpacking and preparing to return to the real world. For Pigsten this meant starting the process of getting his rocks organized on his box:
Top Left Rock: A magic rock from gold-panning in Chicken, AK – it changes color when you put it in water (seriously)!
Bottom Left Rock: An Arctic Circle rock taken from the shores of the Arctic Ocean outside Kaktovik, AK. SB pointed out that it looks like a snow-capped mountain from the right angle, everyone agreed.
Top Right Rock: A rock taken from between Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. It’s full of white (think ice) and black (think sediment) just like a real glacier!
Bottom Right Rock: A rock taken from the depths of the Tongass Narrows outside Ketchikan, AK. It’s shiny and slick from the fast current of the narrows, just like the rocks we snorkeled above.
For Tristen this meant accounting for his newest “rokens”:
During our travels in the northlands Tristen had acquired some Canadian currency including a Loonie, a Toonie, a 25 cent piece, and a 10 cent piece [seen closest to him in the above photo]. And yes, they seriously call them Loonies & Toonies, it’s awesome.
Of course Tristen also had his official Alaskan Railroad “License to be Dangerous” – but that’s not a token in the traditional Tristen sense.
As for me, my organization (photos, luggage, etc.) would take a day or two, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a beer in one of my newest acquisitions:
I almost bought a shirt that looked just like that in Dawson City, but decided not too since I’m not a big shirt collector. Turns out patience was the way to go as SB later found this beer huggie in Anchorage.
But more than anything, for all of us being home was the start of a great deal of reflection. It had been 20 days since we departed and we were only just beginning to process the incredible journey we’d had. In fact, even though I’m writing this two weeks after returning to Boston, I’m still reflecting on everything we did – which has kind of been the impetus behind this post series. That said, such lengthy reflections are neither a bad thing nor a surprising thing. I mean heck, look at how much ground we covered (including flights):
As predicted, it involved (very) roughly 12,200 miles of travel, though there is probably about a 1,500 mile margin of error there, haha.
Of course it’s not really the miles that count, it’s how you spend them – and SB, the boys, and I made the best of every one of them. There is nothing about this trip that I regret, not a single thing. Sure there were days were I had to push hard to get us where we needed to be, but I never felt like I was driving, but rather I felt like I was exploring. And yes, while the Taylor Highway was beat to hell and right next to huge plummets in a few places, we made it through just fine – thanks in no small part to Beckett’s suspension – and now it’s just another notch in the ole’ belt called life.
Since returning a few people have wondered how much it cost. Well, the truth is we haven’t even added it all up yet. Because it doesn’t matter. If you’re wondering why I talk about us not having much money but then saying “it doesn’t matter” then I don’t blame you. But the thing is, we don’t have much money for things because we don’t spend money on things. We spend money on experiences. So yes, SB and I work hard (frequently for less pay than we are worth, truth be told), and I have socks with holes in them and I eat store brand lunch-meat sandwiches essentially every day, but that’s the balance SB and I have chosen for ourselves. I have regretted spending money on things more than a fair share of times, but I have never regretted spending money on an experience.
So the answer is, I have no idea how much it costs, and truthfully I might not ever know.
But that’s fine with me; it was worth it, whatever it was.
Because on just this trip – among countless other things – I’ve driven over 2,600 miles in a truck named Beckett who was just as excited to get to Alaska as we were, I’ve camped at a Canadian rodeo, I’ve passed lakes that extend for miles and miles into the untapped wilderness, I’ve fallen asleep to the sounds of an owl in the mountains of British Columbia, I’ve interacted with some of the friendliest first nations people you could imagine in a town the size of a football field, I’ve felt the icy wind blow through my hair from a glacial ravine, I’ve crossed an internatonal border four times in one day, I’ve drove up an old mining trail to the summit of mountain where someone named the “Bear Man” lives in a tent, I’ve seen numerous black bears foraging for dinner, I’ve drove through a storm so strong in the Yukon that even a Ford F-350 XL struggled to stay on the road, I’ve spanned the longest bridge on the ALCAN, I’ve pried a frozen septic cap off of a camper in the icy cold Yukon morning, I’ve had lunch in the middle of the Klondike wilderness with not another soul for countless miles in any direction, I’ve seen the sun rise over the Yukon River, I’ve panned for gold in Chicken Alaska, I saw Santa Claus in North Pole, I saw the twin of the North Pole, I’ve played an xylophone made of ice and bathed in hot springs, I’ve crossed into the arctic circle in a bush plane, I’ve seen wild polar bears by the dozen (and met another Hoosier all the way up there no less), I’ve dined with roughnecks and fishermen at the top of the United States of America, I’ve traveled 12 hours by train through the most glorious countryside you could imagine, I’ve seen the tallest mountain in North America – again, I’ve met conductors who travel with polar bears named “Mr. C.,” I’ve followed a portion of the Iditarod trail, I’ve met friendly hosts and learned their stories as well as shared my own, I’ve sailed on a cruise ship where I played putt-putt and got a hole-in-hone while surrounded by the Inside Passage, I’ve heard the thunderous roar of the largest tidewater glacier in north America calving, I’ve laughed at a late night comedian while having my first ever mojito, I’ve learned about the plight of the glaciers of Glacier Bay while peering into their mesmerizing blue depths, I’ve zip-lined down Grizzly falls while upside down and doing the robot, I’ve watched a mamma grizzly feed her cubs with a family of bald eagles looking down overhead, I’ve seen a mother humpback whale teaching her baby to dive, I’ve hiked to Nugget Falls in the shadow of Mendenhall Glacier and felt the cool mountain water misting against my face, I’ve seen whales making magnificent jumps out of the water in the light of the setting Alaskan sun, I’ve snorkeled and free-dived into the frigid waters of the Tongass Narrows, I’ve watched a swarm of balloons fall to the dancing crowd below, I’ve seen a bartender play drums better than most professionals, I’ve traversed a suspension bridge while the river roared beneath me in Vancouver, I’ve gained knowledge while sitting in a grove of ancient fir-tree sentinels, and I’ve looked out in awe from the silence of a 3am flight to the magnificent display of a thunderstorm while everyone around me slept peacefully.
Or, to paraphrase the words of another:
I took the path less traveled by, and that made all the difference.
Until next time,