The Tribe

best part of travel?

coming home to your ”people”

who live to love you

stay tuned for the reunion photo….

Victoria, British Columbia

We’re scheduled to take a tour of Victoria this evening on our last night aboard the Carnival Spirit. The last night of a cruise is almost always one of dread as we anticipate debarkation and have only the memories and the transitioning sea legs to take with us from such a fun week of overindulgence in fun and food. We’re hoping to get off the boat briefly, but we aren’t booking an excursion because of stricter Canadian protocols and the threat of rain (only the first we will have seen except a heavy mist at the Seattle airport upon arrival).

Stay tuned for photos, which I hope to post tomorrow morning.

Eagles

majestic eagles

swooping, skimming, clutching fish

symbols of freedom

Hovercrafting Ketchikan, Alaska

On our visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, we booked an excursion to ride in a Blackbird Hovercraft over to Black Sand Island, where eagles and pods of whales are known to frequent.  While we didn’t see any whales on the tour, the eagles more than made up for the lack of whales as they dove for herring and put on a spectacular show for us!  

Eagle with a herring clutched in his talons

The Hovercraft uses air and a boat skirt to float above the surface of the water, and can seamlessly transition from land to sea for an ultra-smooth ride without the negative impacts on wildlife.  This more eco-friendly method of transportation offers a unique and thrilling experience for water travel.  

Jellyfish in the surf on Black Sand Island

Our guide gave us some history of the immediate areas around Ketchikan and the greater Alaska territories and took us to a small rock island where harbor seals seek refuge from Orca whales in the area.  

Harbor Seals seek refuge from predatory whales

It was an unforgettable experience seeing the eagles swoop down for a morning snack, and we enjoyed the breathtaking wonder of these moments that will become indelible memories!

(Later in the day, somewhere between Ketchikan and Victoria, we did get to see the dorsal fin and tail splashing of a young male killer whale, according to the ship’s naturalist, right off the port side of the ship).

Killer whales off the coast of Ketchikan

Mendenhall Glacier Dog Sledding Haiku

Mendenhall Glacier

Iditarod dogsledding

No better day lived!

Sled dog peeing in snow

It’s probably a little-known fact that sled dogs poop on the run, but it comes as a bit of a jolt when you’re in the lead sled seat and discover it for yourself. They do. They’re trained that way, and the next generation of Iditarod dogs is already learning this distinctive skill as they summer at Mendenhall Glacier Sled Dog Summer Camp in Juneau, Alaska. We met upcoming teams of 9-week and 13-week old Huskies who will literally be following in their parents’ footsteps.

The tour begins with a ticket purchase and a weight check. Both are disturbing, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for which there is no substitute. So you do what you have to do to make it happen. Assigned seating in the helicopter from the helipad to the glacier is based on weight balance in the aircraft.

Helicopter ride to Mendenhall Glacier

The guides will show you a quick safety video about making sure you heed their directions and stay in the yellow lines when entering and exiting the helicopter, and you’ll have to sign the waiver in case you forget and walk into a blade. The ten minute helicopter ride is the most beautiful scenery your eyes will ever behold, there above the snow-capped mountains with rivers, streams, and creeks the basins for the outpouring of melting glacial ice plummeting to the depths below, attracting krill – and therefore whales – to these waters. And then – – then – – then, you round a mountaintop and there below, you see the spectacularly striated Mendenhall Glacier, with its variegated white and blue layers of ice. It’s nothing short of spectacular, and you have to catch your breath for a moment. The beauty up and slaps you square in the face.

View of Mendenhall Glacier from the helicopter

You see the equivalent of flotsam and jetsam in the snow below and wonder what in the world it is, and through your helicopter earphones they tell you. That’s dog camp. There’s a United States flag and an Alaska flag staked right in the 30 feet of snow that you’ll be walking around on in the glacier boots that fit snugly over your own shoes and gather your pants at the ankle shins, buckling tightly there to keep your legs warm.

Dog Camp on Mendenhall Glacier

Next, you meet the mushers and the dogs. You take turns “driving” the sled, which basically means you lean the opposite way if the sled begins to tilt. It’s still all about weight distribution and balance. The musher uses voice commands and a snow anchor to take the dogs on their trek, and they know left from right with words like “HA!” They also know the sounds of the clicks of her tongue. Yes, our musher was a female college student from Savannah, Georgia, attending school in Fairbanks and working at the dog camp for the summer so she can train her dogs for the Iditarod, which she has already successfully completed, along with two of the lead dogs on this team pulling us. Just like helicopter weight balances, these dogs are strategically placed for their muscle and demeanor. Her two most muscular but calm sled dogs are placed in the front, and the next two most muscular but a bit more anxious dogs are at the rear where they are closest to the weight of the sled but chomping at the bit to follow their team.

The sled stops at various points along the way for those on this adventure to rotate seats on the sled. Each seat offers a different perspective. And it also offers the musher the opportunity to once again untangle Pumpkin, who is a master at getting criss-crossed in the ropes, because Pumpkin hasn’t quite yet mastered the art of pooping on the run. But her musher obviously is holding out hope for this dog, sweetly petting her face and telling her that she thinks she’s smart before asking her, “Can you believe I said that about you, Pumpkin?”

Briar on the dogsled

High above us, at the top of the mountain, thunder! A small avalanche came rushing down. We saw the evidence of danger and realized the risks of hiking mountains in the snow. The musher pointed out the pile of broken-rock looking snow at the base of a nearby mountain, telling us that this particular avalanche had occurred last week. Her buddy had been planning to scale the rocks of this one, but after the avalanche told us that he valued his life more than the view. When we saw two hikers at the summit of a high mountain from the helicopter on the way back, we knew the risks they’d taken to get to where they stood, and there were no success t-shirts proclaiming their accomplishment waiting for them up there.

After our ride, we met the entire team of sled dogs. We even saw one named Boo and thought fondly of our own Boo Radley, currently kenneled at the groomer’s, no doubt cussing us in forbidden dog language for leaving him with his brothers in one small space. Now that we know what true teamwork means for dogs, we’ll be training our schnoodles to work together more. To collaborate. To poop on the run.

Before the return ride, we met the puppies and got to hold and hug them. The spirit of the team is already alive, thriving. In the picture where I am holding the puppy, his attention is not solely on me. He is yearning to be returned to the pen, to his team of brothers and sisters, where his heart is. He is the future generation of sled dogs, and you can already see it in his heart.

He is right where he belongs on this glacier.

Future Iditarod dog

Tracy Arm Fjord

We took a smaller boat into Tracy Arm Fjord yesterday to get up close and personal with Sawyer Island, North Sawyer Glacier and South Sawyer Glacier.

On the way in, we saw a half dozen eagles and dozens of seals, some with babies. The views were majestic. Briar whispered, “I finally understand what you meant — there are no pictures that can do this view justice.” For a man who never wants to leave home to say, “We’re gonna have to do this again,” tells me all I need to know about how he feels about the destination and experiences. I’m giving a photo dump today, since there are no words.

There simply are no words.

No Crappy Diems!

Since I don’t have access to most of the cell phone functions where I am, I’ve let most of my friends and family know that I would post some periodic updates on the blog just to let you know we are okay and give a few details of our trip along the way. Many had asked for pictures, but with technology as limited as it is, we’re taking a lot of them but won’t be able to share them until we return. As I write from the Lido deck on the Carnival Spirit, it is 6:30 a.m. here and 10:30 at home.

Briar’s feet atop the Space Needle

Seattle is a scenic city, full of fun and ready to be explored. We went to Pike Place Market and ate in a little pub and grill for lunch. The smoked salmon salad was out of this world. I’ve abandoned all possibilities of sticking to a sodium count in any acceptable range – but I’m being mindful to make good choices given all the tasty temptations. We also went up in the Space Needle for quite the view. We walked along the glass bottom rotating platform with no squeamishness whatsoever. Then we headed back and had dinner in a little Greek restaurant that was out of this world good.

The afternoon was spent in sheer frustration waiting on the digital results of our negative Covid tests (thank goodness they both came in with no problems). With the VeriFly app and the MobileCan app having to have specific information uploaded such as passport details, flight information, Covid Test and cruise booking information and health questionnaires completed, I was on my ear between the wait and the working technology to get it all completed. Finally, we got the green checks on each area of VeriFly and could rest easier.

Briar summoned his first Uber in the city of Seattle! We’d gotten his app on his phone and connected it to his credit card before we left, and I showed him in a demonstration how to do this when we’d needed our first Uber down in Pike Place. The funny part was that I showed him how to do this and told him we were looking for a blue Toyota RAV4 with the license plate number blah blah blah, and started looking around for a Caribbean blue car just like mine. It said it was two minutes away. We looked and looked, but I wasn’t checking the live turn-by-turn map to see the car arrive. Turns out the car had been waiting on the curb the entire time, even as I put in for the ride. It was navy blue, and Briar happened to notice that the license tag was the one we were looking for…….but the best part was the next morning when he called for the Uber himself. On his first-ever Uber, the man gets a gray Tesla, and he was over the moon to ride in it.

We met a nice couple leaving the cruise as we were getting ready to board, and we stopped and talked to them for a good 20 minutes about what they had done and the fun they’d had. They were frequent cruisers – six cruises in six months, which is easy for them since they are retired and live in Miami, where the cruises are so inexpensive that it may actually more affordable to live on a cruise ship than in their own home. They confirmed that the Tracy Arm fjord excursion was worth it to get up closer to the glaciers, and told us that they’d enjoyed the horse trolley tour in Victoria.

I’d been iffy about booking any excursions in Canada since the restrictions seem about ten times more stringent than the ones in the U.S. Sure enough, once I booked it, Briar’s status changed from green to yellow and he would have to report to the Canadian authorities at the border (even though he meets vaccination requirements, he put his booster off since I’d had such a difficult time with it and thought I was about to die). So I promptly unbooked it and he switched back to green. We took a ship’s credit for that excursion, which allowed us a little time in the spa in place of a horse trolley ride through Victoria. We’re only there for four hours on the last night, so we will enjoy that port from the balcony of the room and a less crowded ship while others are walking through Victoria for the mere four hours that we’re scheduled to be there (which means some writing time for me)!

Today, we look forward to the small boat tour through Tracy Arm Fjord. When I visited Alaska before, I didn’t take the small boat to get up close and personal to the glaciers to experience the calving and hear the thunder. I didn’t get to see the seals hanging out on the icebergs, so this has me thrilled, camera in hand, to bundle up and go.

More later. For now, we’re making the most of every moment and reminding ourselves that we can do a better job of living more fully every day, whether we are traveling or at home. There’s a new adventure waiting around every bend.

Seize the day! No crappy diems!