I still feel like I haven’t woken up. You know that feeling when you’ve just snapped away from a dream? Maybe someone woke you up or you shook yourself awake from a nightmare? Either way there are these few moments when you can’t tell which world you have landed in- this is my current state of consciousness.
I left home on May 6th, 2016 at approximately 12:30pm. I was driving northeast towards Bellingham to catch the Malispina, the ferry that would carry me north towards Alaska. I had done this trip before when I was younger, but I must have been 8 or 9 so my memories are foggy. My parents both rave about the trip, claiming it was one of the best family vacations we ever took.
I was accompanied by a friend for this portion of the trip, knowing myself I knew that I couldn’t go from going away parties, friends, and family to being completely alone in a blink of an eye. I relished the company and the chance to share such a great start of a trip. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 4:30, I was told that in order to secure the best campsite you should have one person walk on and one person drive the car on. The great thing about the ferry on the Alaska Ferry System is that you can camp on the roof. Half of the deck is covered by a heated solarium that has folding chairs that lay all the way back, and the other half is free game for tents.
During high season the roof turns into a mini tent city and the best spots are coveted. Being from the Pacific Northwest I have no shame in being extremely passive aggressive - basically staring at someone until they move. (My passive ways were reinforced after a couple dragged two chairs right infant the entrance of my tent, blocking my entire view. At which point I also grabbed a chair and sat awkwardly behind them, making them uncomfortable enough to move. My plan worked flawlessly)
The other thing to note about camping on the ferry is that older, salty sailors who deem themselves alpha campers love to tell you where to pitch your tent. After moving my tent three times, I threw my hands up and duck taped that thing so heavily that nothing less than the hand of God could have moved it.
*Tip* There is no way to enforce your tent to the roof other than the use of duck tape (which I was told is sub par compared to gorilla tape- do with that as you will). When taping your tent to the roof take one long piece of tape and thread it through your guy lines and holes for tent stakes- creating a long rope of duck tape. Then tape this piece down- it creates more surface area for the tent to stick - imagine a little piece of rope trying to hold on during a big storm, not going to cut it. Take your rope and then duct tape long pieces on top of it- don’t skimp on duct tape you can always replace a $3 roll but replacing your $300 tent will hurt more. I saw people creating the littlest circle with tape and my tent had these foot long pieces holding it down- by day 3 I was the only tent that either didn’t collapse or required constant putzing.
The ferry pulled out of Bellingham to a perfect sunset. The inside passage is a series of islands and waterways that connect southeastern Alaska to the continental United States. Starting in northwestern Washington, and Vancouver island these islands pop up like giant turtle backs- green and rocky, misshapen and full of secrets. It’s a land thats shrouded in native american folk lore, where you can see an eagle and look over and see a humpback. An extremely productive area that attracts and hides it’s wildlife and people well.
The ferry takes two days to get to Ketchikan. During the voyage you are mostly protected in the inner coastal waters but there are 2-3 open water crossings that can get a little dicey. Other than watching for wildlife there isn’t a whole lot to do on the ferry, especially the Malispina.
The ferry is not large, in fact after "exploring" for 20 minutes you will have toured the whole thing. It has a fairly large dining hall, an observation deck, movie theater, and various rooms with chairs that people are sleeping on. The food on our ferry wasn't the best but it wasn't inedible, think basic burgers, fish and chips, and pasta. The ferry system has also recently become dry- aka no booze can be purchased on the ship. They do not however discourage people from drinking on the vessel. I saw a lot of people brown bagging it, or just sipping 24oz. cans of PBR in the open. We brought a box of wine and some beers and drank out of some Kleen Kanteen cups and had a great time.
The best advice I have is bring a good book, a computer, good snacks, a nice beer, and post up near a window. You’ll get the same views as standing outside, without the hurricane force winds.
En route to Juneau the ferry stops in Ketchikan, Wrangle, and Petersburg - with barely enough time to jet off the ferry to walk your dogs there is no possibility in exploring the cities. They all seemed very quaint though, and had their own flare that attracts people. Petersburg resides in a narrow passage that is best known for fishing. With a heavy Norwegian influence, the dock and waterfront was a mirage of bright colors, busy waterways, and an eclectic group of people. One of the women I met on the boat was living here for the summer doing owl surveys before starting grad school in Arizona. A farmer from Kansas had driven all the way with his boat and was going to fish with his dad for the summer.
The final stretch to Juneau takes you through the Wrangle narrows. A quickly shifting passage, many boats have dry docked themselves on when they didn’t time the tide just right - 20 feet on either side of the boat is all that separates you from the shoreline. A harrowing experience that results in an open waterway with dozens of humpback whales feeding.
We would be docking in Juneau at 2am.
Top tip: Bring ducktape for your tent, bring booze, and prepare to be astounded.
What I'm listening to: Rise- Eddie Vedder
What I'm reading: Outlander- Diania Gabaldon
Up Next- Sitka
Note: My style of writing is generally a stream of conscious style, these thoughts are my musings, my concerns, my fears. It’s a vulnerable place to put your writing out into a world where everything is edited and critiqued. I hope you will forgive any stylistic errors as I am representing my own process and not one of dedicated editing.