As you might guess, I’m a big fan of the conveniences of modern life like electricity, running water, heat, and fly swatters, and I think whoever invented window screens is a genius. While I really enjoy running, I’d rather run on a treadmill than run outdoors so I don’t get sunburnt or rained on. And I think my toes are way too ugly to not be prettified by some sassy nail polish. I acknowledge and embrace these quirks about myself, and thankfully, so does Rick, but as of late, he and I both are also embracing our need to connect with nature and be more physically active.
Two years ago, being new Seattle, I vowed to Rick, “I’ll never be an REI girl!” I desperately wanted to cling to my Southern California-ness: flip flops, tank tops, supahcute purses and all. Now, I’m up in Alaska, fully decked in duds all purchased from REI, and doing things that are so unlike me.
Since being on this cruise, I’ve seen whales jump for joy, I’ve scrambled up a mountainside to get close to a glacier, and learned about local animal and plant life from a National Park Ranger and four fantastic expedition leaders. I’ve kayaked near the mouth of a river to watch a bear catch some salmon, paddleboarded in 40-degree water and stayed upright, explored both timeworn and new-growth forests, and saw things that triggered my wild and racy imagination in evocative tide pools.
I’ve also met and been greatly inspired by so many wonderful fellow travelers and crewmembers that have nurtured my newfound adventurous spirit. Being around people who have an enthusiasm for the outdoors makes it easier to stretch myself beyond my own comfortable parameters and to discover new things about the places we visit…and about myself.
Any one of those things that I’ve done on this trip would have been enough to make this cruise one of the most memorable vacations I’ve ever had. And to have done all of those things on the same trip has been such a tremendous gift. Rick and I are grateful that we’ve been so fortunate to share in these priceless experiences together. It’s expanded our perceptions about what adventure travel can be, it’s challenged us to do activities we’ve never done before, and it’s brought us even closer to one another. What more could you ask for?
Well, despite all the amazing things we had already done, we couldn’t help but hope for one more thing: a calving glacier. You see it all the time in travel shows and nature shows, but I’d never seen it with my own eyes. But it’s not like you can plan those things. Nature will do what she wants when she wants, and no amount of hoping can change that.
On our last full day, we wanted to get in as much adventure as possible. Early in the morning, we boarded a skiff to explore an area called Ford’s Terror. Here, there’s a bottleneck entrance into a fjord. The fierce current changes direction every six hours, and if you get stuck inside the fjord, you have six hours until you can work your way back out. We got there when the current was transitioning from pushing us out to soon be drawing us in. We didn’t dare cross into the fjord.
Instead, we explored the coastline and came face-to-face with massive icebergs. The monoliths were so tightly compacted that there were virtually no air bubbles, absorbing all colors in the light spectrum except blue. Each of us, with jaws dropped open in amazement, reached out to make contact with these monuments of frozen water, appreciating their temporal beauty before they floated away with the current and continued their slow, melting demise.
Knowing that these icebergs had once been a part of the nearby Dawes Glacier, my excitement and eagerness to see it grew steadily. But patience was a virtue that I would need to invoke. Because of that changing current, we’d have to time things just right so that we wouldn’t find ourselves up a fjord without an escape route.
We continued exploring the bay, seeing harbor porpoises pop up here and there. There were checking us out as much as we were checking them out. We got right underneath a stunning waterfall whose drop point was so high, you had to bend your head all the way back like a Pez dispenser to try to see it.
Soon we switched to the next activity: kayaking the bay. This gave us a chance to revisit the icebergs and realize how much they had moved. Two icebergs that had been about thirty yards apart just two hours ago had now collided with one other. The scraping and groaning of the two icy beasts as they negotiated right of way still rings in my ears.
As we visited more waterfalls and more of the bay, we realized the greatest drawback of kayaking was that you couldn’t go fast enough to escape the mosquitos and noseeums that swarmed your face. Our fellow passengers Amanda and Becky told us to keep one hand raised above our heads because those pesky insects will tend to flock to the highest point. As they demonstrated this technique, the teacher in me kept wanting to call on them and answer any questions they had.
Finally, we had a window of opportunity in the afternoon to get out to Dawes Glacier. The temperature had dropped drastically and the foggy conditions made visibility a challenge. Even with numerous layers of clothing, hats and gloves, the cold seeped its way through.
After traveling about half an hour through the windy, drizzly fjord, we reached the majestic glacier. We kept our distance—staying about 1.5 miles from the face—because if it were to calve, a strong swell could easily topple our 12-person skiff.
We waited and waited. And then we waited some more. But time passed quickly with so many things to look at. There were sea lions lying on ice sheets, tanning themselves under an imaginary sun. Flocks of seabirds hovered and then dove periodically toward the water, presumably to scoop out some tasty morsels. It gave us a better sense of scale, knowing the relative size of these animals, seeing how far they were from the glacier, and then mentally calculating how enormous Dawes is.
So many sections looked like they were about to calve. We fixed our gaze on one wobbly-looking column that we were certain would go down anytime soon. Patience. Patience. Patience. Suddenly, we heard the gunshot cracking of ice. Stunned by how loud it was, we scanned the glacier to find the origin of the sound. But we were too slow to see it happen. All we saw were the last remnants of a splash. My disappointment lasted only a minute or so until we felt the rolling swell sway our skiff. It was so strong that I had to hold onto Rick and the metal bars to keep my balance.
We stayed there for another twenty-five minutes—our teeth chattering virtually in unison. As we were deciding to head back to our ship, another skiff came by. They were bold (read: crazy) enough to get much closer than we did. We hesitated about leaving. What if they saw it calve and we didn’t? We lingered a bit, watched them move even closer, and felt our jealousy start rearing its ugly head. Finally, our skiff skipper said we had to go back, but he told us to keep looking back at the glacier, just in case.
Slowly, and I mean slowly, he started to pull away. Within thirty seconds, we heard that familiar gunshot crack, but this time I had my camera focused and metered on the right spot. Ka-SPLASHHHH! I got it! I couldn’t believe my luck. Now we were all eager to stay a few more minutes to see it one more time. And sure enough, Ka-SPLASHHHHHHH! We saw another one! And I got that one on film, too.
This was the perfect climax to my virgin Alaskan outdoorsy nature adventure. Everything I could have hoped for happened, and then some. This has definitely whetted my appetite for more adventure travel.
Rick and I are so appreciative of our Captain Jill and her stellar crew of the Safari Endeavour. They made all these experiences possible and consistently made us feel like part of their ship’s family. Their mission to get us to the right places to see the best of what Alaska’s Inside Passage has to offer gave us the chance to see things we’ve never seen, do things we’ve never done, and to realize what we are capable of as travelers and adventurers.
As travelers, it is our hope and our goal to learn about the places we visit, to respect and appreciate the cultural similarities and differences of the people we meet, and to bring home a broader and deeper understanding of our world and of ourselves. This Alaskan cruise has been the perfect backdrop for all of those things. I may have only just dipped my toe into the world of adventure travel, but it definitely leaves me with the desire for more.