North, to Alaska!

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Hedonism, thy name is cruising. Nowhere else can you find the invitation to indulge each and every whim and luxury perk as easily than when you are on a cruise. You are offered the opportunity to purchase jewels, or fine art, or just have another drink any time you desire. Want to throw away your money faster? Just take a spin or two in our casino for a chance to come out ahead. Want a foot massage? We're just waiting for you to show up at the spa entrance. Want to take a helicopter trip up to the surface of a glacier? Just buy the tour. All it takes is money. After you have spent the initial outlay for the cruise, and ancillary expenses like port fees, transit fees, and beverage packages, each additional charge for another luxury is just a charge card away. Money is the lubricant for cruise operations.

We went last week on a cruise and land travel package up to Alaska, including two days in and around Denali National Park. We were unbelievably lucky to enjoy clear blue skies as we drove into the park, and we had a crystal clear view of the mountain itself. If we had visited the day before, or the day after, all we would have seen would have been fog and clouds shrouding the peak.

If you go to Alaska for a cruise, you cannot help but feel sympathy for the salmon that are completing their life cycle in an attempt to return to their birth waters and spawn before dying. You see them crowding the waters as they surge upstream to their place of birth, ready to give up their entire existence for the chance to reproduce. Then they die, and their bodies serve either as food to the animals of the forest, or they decompose and release their nutrients directly into the waters to serve as fertilizer for the entire ecosystem. The salmon are the mechanism for sending the nutrients of the ocean back up onto the land.

In much the same way, the passengers on the cruise ships migrate upstream as well, stopping at various ports of call, and spreading fertilizer in the form of money. Money spent directly in bars and restaurants, money spent at souvenir shops, money spent at the jewelry stores that crowd the docks of the larger towns. But the fertilizer goes to others as well. It supports people like Bear and Ryan up in Haines Alaska, where Bear came up for the season in a cargo van that has served as his home for this season. He'll drive on back once fall hits and the cruise ships depart on their migratory routes across the Pacific. Ryan takes his independence a step further, and has lived in a tent on the outskirts of town. He didn't share his future plans once the season is over, but it likely will not be to spend the winter in a tent in the Alaskan panhandle. But both of them served ably as driver and guide for tours in the town of Haines, sharing their stories and the beautiful vistas as we went to the Raptor center to see eagles and owls and falcons.

 

The monetary fertilizer also lands far from the ship route as well. Cruise ship workers are bound to the ship for 9 or 10 months at a time. There was Ivory, who is studying to become a sommelier and better her lot. Yes, being away from her 2 and 4 year old children is tough, but she's hoping to have her aunt, who's serving as caregiver, bring her children to the ship when they dock near her home in the Philippines. It will only be after her full term is through that she'll be able to try to re-bond with her children for the 2 months allotted before she is obligated to return to the sea. Her fertilizer is being saved in order to eventually buy a house so she can stay with her children before they grow up.

 

Entire economic ecosystems are supported by the five month cruise season up in Alaska. That's when the lengthened daylight makes the place tolerable for those who don't love winter sports. Many people grab a piece of the money. There was the retired biologist from Wisconsin who served as an ecological evangelist and bus driver on our Tundra tour through Denali. Her stories of the relationships between species served as a reminder that the web of life is complex, and unraveling a single strand can lead to many other effects on the web. There was the petroleum geologist who used to work on the North Slope, but now had weekend gigs driving tour buses from Denali to Seward. There were the guide and bartender on our train coach heading up to Denali from Anchorage. Money helped to lubricate that trip as well, either for souvenirs or for beverages. Hot chocolate in August? Well, especially with a little peppermint schnapps in it to chase the gloomy clouds away.

 

The transit experience to and from the cruise was the antithesis of the cruise experience. The fun of being shoehorned into 9 and 10 seat rows at the back of the massive planes for a 7 hour bout of claustrophobia. The joys of walking endless airport corridors, only to turn a corner and see another set of moving walkways for you to manipulate your carry-on bags. The ultimate joy of having gone through airport security in Vancouver, only to have to go through an entire extra set of security checkpoints and facial recognition software in Toronto to ensure that you matched your passport picture. And the final indignity inflicted on US travelers by the security system, having to have your luggage unloaded from your connecting flight, go through US customs inspection, and then and only then will your initials and destination appear on the giant screen, enabling you to finally leave and find your gate. After all that, the walk into the nether regions of the airport parking lot at 11:30 at night was a walk in the park. Admittedly, after the sweat drips off of you as you reacquaint yourself with the world of humid air, it is difficult to remember all of the good times you had on your cruise. Maybe the travel to and from the cruise is your penance for having been able to forget all of the worries of the world for your week of hedonistic pleasure seeking.

 

Posted first on my blog at https://evenabrokenclock.blog/

Comments

Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 4:31pm
And now you see why I was absent from these pages for a few weeks.
Dino Manalis Added Sep 5, 2018 - 4:38pm
 Alaska is big and beautiful!
Jeff Michka Added Sep 5, 2018 - 4:42pm
Hope you and yours don't have "Cruise ship Disease," aka Norovirus, EABC.  Hate to just echo, but cruisee ships are a curse, up in SE, or down here where theY are based.  Most of SE's economy is now cruise ships.  Alaskans have taken advantage of the sucker squad, err "tourists," but are paying a real price.  Personally I find cruising an ego thing, and if I want a "sea experience," I'd take a working vessel to have it on, like an Alaska State ferry, or even a container ship, which I've done before.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 5, 2018 - 4:53pm
Thanks for sharing your trip with us! Never been to Alaska.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Sep 5, 2018 - 9:47pm
DUHmerican gov't commands:
 
Thou shalt not have any fun!
 
If Thou shalt have fun Thou shalt be made to pay dearly for it in money, time, humiliation and inconvenience. 
 
 
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 10:47pm
Dino, I can definitely agree with you on the big and beautiful line. The tour we took to go into the heart of the Denali park took 6 hours. And when we took the picture that is at the top of this story, we were still 30+ miles away from the mountain itself. Then we spent 4 days just cruising down the southeast coast. It is big.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 10:51pm
Jeff - I tried to capture that aspect of the economy. So much of the economy of southeast Alaska is dependent upon the cruise ship trade. In fact, when we pulled into Juneau, there were 4 cruise ships there at the same time. But the season only lasts for 5 months, and many folks have made the decision to make their entire year's salary during those 5 months, and either hibernate for the other months, or migrate back to warmer climes. I heard people say that if they took the census in the summer months, they'd have a much larger population in Alaska - but not in early spring.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 10:54pm
Jeff- posted too soon. Yes, cruising is an artificial experience. We actually were berthed next to one of the fishing ships from the show Dangerous Catch when we were in Ketchikan. But with limited time, at least we were able to see a bit of the country we'd never seen before. You have to have a writer's eye to observe beyond the obvious things. Too many folks were immersed inside their phones as the most marvelous scenery was being unveiled outside of the bus windows. A shame, really.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 10:55pm
Burghal - I had always claimed Alaska as a state when I stopped there on a refueling stop in '87 on a trip to see my brother who was stationed in the DMZ in Korea. Never did set foot in the state though. Now I can truly claim it.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 5, 2018 - 10:56pm
Jeffry - all I can say in response to your comment is "AMEN".
 
James Travil Added Sep 5, 2018 - 11:26pm
I've never taken a cruise to Alaska, it sounds like a great time. My first wife and I once took a cruise in the Philippines, it was a wonderful experience. And back then, in the mid ninetys, there were no smartphones to distract. Overall nice slice of life Clock. 
opher goodwin Added Sep 6, 2018 - 6:59am
Sounds fabulous. I'd love to go. You didn't bump into Palin wrestling grizzly bears?
Ward Tipton Added Sep 6, 2018 - 8:24am
I love the Bay of Alaska ... proof positive that there has been global climate change for ... as long as we have had a climate! 
 
That being said, I am glad you enjoyed yourself but locking myself in an inescapable vessel with literally thousands of people I do not know ... really does not sound like much of a vacation. 
 
Still confusing Tina Fey with Sarah Palin Opher? It seems to be common ... and even accepted, so probably nothing to worry about ... but I would not expect to be taken seriously quoting most comediennes or comedians. Though Carlin did have some excellent quotes throughout his career. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 9:54am
James, thanks for the comments. It was fun, but a week is about as long as I can take the cruise life. I would not like to commit to a month-long cruise for sure.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 9:56am
Opher - Sarah Palin was definitely mentioned as we passed through Wasilla. But alas, no one got a view of her (or her alter ego, Tina Fey). Whatever your politics are, you have to admit that Tina captured Sarah perfectly, which is why so many folks think Sarah actually said that she could see Alaska from her porch.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 10:05am
Ward, one of the most interesting parts of the tour was when we were in Glacier Bay, and the geologist giving talks showed how the mountains were smooth up to about 4000 ft. in elevation. Above that level, they were jagged. That just goes to show the depth of the ice that once weighed heavily on the surface.
 
It is important to know that the deglaciation going on now has little to do with rising global temperatures. This is just a continuation of the ongoing retreat from the last ice age. The changes going on in places like Glacier Park has more to do with rising temperatures.
 
Of course, if you take me on a place where there are geological experts, I'm the one asking to confirm igneous or metamorphic or sedimentary. I didn't realize that Denali is basically sedimentary rocks. Shows the power of plate tectonics (I wore my Stop Plate Tectonics sweatshirt on the Denali tour).
 
Ward, this ship was as large as I would like to be on - about 1900 passengers. The southern cruise ships with 5000 passengers would be horrendous, I think. What is amazing is how often we interacted with people we had met on the cruise. Maybe it's a human trait to find a familiar face even if you only met during a meal, but we did make connections even among a crowd of strangers.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 6, 2018 - 10:19am
And the Grizz ... no matter how powerful Boo Boo may be ... will always pale in comparison to the Kodiak. 
Neil Lock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 11:27am
Broken Clock: Thank you for the fine article. And indeed you're right, money is a lubricant; not the root of all evil, as some would have us believe.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 6, 2018 - 11:52am
Money was never written as the root of all evil ... it is the love of money ... the idolatry if you will, that is the root of all evil ... greed, envy etcetera ectetera et al ad infinitum. 
Lindsay Wheeler Added Sep 6, 2018 - 11:57am
Great article. Thanks for sharing. Money is a lubricant and a way of relaxing and helping others! 
Jeff Michka Added Sep 6, 2018 - 5:51pm
Well, glad you had a lick of Alaska, EABC, if not a taste.  I guess people here take Alaska for granted, but don't really know it.  The lower 48 (known as "outside" by Alaskans) is seen "as on TV.  That crabber you were tied up near is, in itself an endangered form, and is the vessel of hard and dangerous work.  I like going to sea, but not in a cruise ship or a crabber.  "Excess" is as it is, and IMO, to be avoided.  SE is quite a beautiful place, not sure if your ship took Inside Passage or not. Not, I expect. given the size of vessels I see heading out of the Sound.   I guess if you wanted to see Sarah Palin, you could have looked for her hanging off her front porch, looking at Russia. LOL
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 6:03pm
Ward - we lost count of how many bears we saw in Alaska. As they describe it, there are 3 species in the state - black, brown (includes Grizzlies and Kodiaks), and Polar. We saw many family groups coming and going - sure some of them were the same ones. We also saw a lot of moose in the lower elevations where there was still a lot of trees. Up at 63 degrees north, you get above the tree line very quickly, and once you lose trees, you lose moose. We also saw ground squirrels, so we did see "Moose and Squirrel."  But the best was the caribou who had a magnificent rack, who just stood there and posed about 20 yards from the bus as we all watched. It was quite a Tundra trip.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 6:07pm
Neil and Ward - money is just a medium of exchange. It just struck me up there how dependent these communities were on the influx of outside money in order to survive there. After all, there's not much other reason to be there unless you work in logging or fishing. Mining is a pale relic of what it was when the boom kicked off. I was sorry that I didn't get to the tour up to Skagway - when I was young, the stories of individuals trudging up that slope to get to Skagway for a chance at Yukon gold was quite an appealing image. You don't realize when you are a kid how much misery was part of that image.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 6, 2018 - 6:07pm
Lindsay - thanks. I enjoy doing posts that are not political in nature - we need more of them on this site, in my opinion.
opher goodwin Added Sep 6, 2018 - 6:51pm
FUNDAMENTALIST ALERT!!! FUNDAMENTALIST ALERT!!! FUNDAMENTALIST ALERT!!!
WE HAVE A SITUATION!!!
THE CHILD IS TAKING OVER THE SITE!!!
wsucram15 Added Sep 6, 2018 - 8:19pm
Opher are you ok?
EABC..hope you really enjoyed it.  Like I said, I will never cruise it but plan on moving outside Seattle soon so going to Alaska is close.  Cant wait!!!
Jeff Michka Added Sep 6, 2018 - 9:28pm
Think opher is reacting to the spate of Ryan posts that, for unknown reasons appeared from bit bucket land.  This has happened before, but author was Riley Brown.  FYI, you can take an Alaska State Ferry from Bellingham, WA.  ASF trips are fun, sites wonderful, and pleasant overall.  There are staterooms available on ASFs.  Many passengers crash in lounges and on deck, but that can be a little unpleasant due to weather.   Haven't been up in SE for over a decade, and as this post has noted, some things have changed, but it is a wonderful place to be and see.  Think you are an explorer of sorts, wsucram15, you'd enjoy.  I learned alot while there, including how to smoke and can salmon, among other "bush arts."   Sadly, lost most of my connections up in SE, so getting salmon sent down is tough, these days.  I won't eat salmon or any fish/shellfish out of Puget Sewer, errr...Sound.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 7, 2018 - 10:47am
Jeanne - in order to get to SE Alaska, you either have to take a boat or fly in. I really got to see the flying culture as we docked, since float planes kept taking off and landing all the time. Anchorage also had hundreds of float planes just waiting for their turn in the skies. Given the storms that can rack the place, and the fact than visibility can turn from great to total obscuration in a minute, I would not want to fly there myself.
 
But if you wish to go, those are your options. You can drive to Haines, but it is a long long way out of the way to get there from Seattle.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 7, 2018 - 10:49am
Jeff - we are going to have some smoked salmon shipped to us. We really enjoyed all of the seafood we had. Delicious oysters, halibut, and of course, salmon.
 
Didn't know about the Alaska State Ferry. Sounds like a good alternative to a cruise.
Johnny Fever Added Sep 7, 2018 - 10:50am
With or without money from tourists the Salmon will still swim upstream. That is the argument environmentalists will use to the extent you make the argument that tourism is helpful.  After all, if it weren’t for tourism, a lot less people would live in Alaska, meaning a lot less natural habitat would be used for human consumption. I think it’s critically important for the natural world that tourist visit and spend their money.  However, it’s not an easy argument to make, and 
I didn't quite follow your purpose for equating the salmon run to tourists spending money.  
Jeff Michka Added Sep 7, 2018 - 8:28pm
Hey, Johnny F...Tourism up North is impacting water quality and hence lowering salmon runs.  A lot fewer salmon swim up stream.  How is the "It's okay, there's a lot of wilderness in Alaska, we can use it up, really working out for everyone?  Unmentioned in Sarah Palin's Pantheon of "Success." is she personally cancelled the Skagway-Juneau highway project due, as I was led to understand it, from one of the designers, because then people could drive to the state capital, instead of fly or boat in.  Then more people might get involved in government or make demands.  Talk about a hypocrite.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 8, 2018 - 7:10am
You can keep the smoked salmon, good enough I suppose, but not for the price to have it shipped. Gimme a smoked groundhog any day of the week though! Preferably with enough beans to fill the rest of the pot. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 8, 2018 - 11:22am
Johnny, sometimes I may miss with readers. The connection was that fertilizer is spread around bringing the bounty of the sea back on land. In the salmon's case, it is their entire selves. For humans, it is just their money - much less of a sacrifice. That was my intended point.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 8, 2018 - 11:24am
Jeff - we did get to see the location where the "Bridge to Nowhere" would have been placed. I wasn't aware of the highway you mentioned though. Thanks for enlightening me.
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 8, 2018 - 11:26am
Ward - I know, haven't even seen the prices yet. Never had groundhog, but I love to use my gas grill for smoking just about anything else. My father-in-law really had it in for groundhogs, since he was a farmer and a groundhog burrow could break a tractor's axle if it fell into it.
Jeff Michka Added Sep 8, 2018 - 3:41pm
Ward didn't say, but fans of groundhog prefer "pressed" groundhog.  I understand the flavor improves when the rodent is pressed with a tire or two.  Personally, I prefer dog to groundhog.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 8, 2018 - 10:52pm
Dog does indeed make a fine meal, though we generally cook it differently here than we did in Mexico. But groundhog ... no ... never eaten it from roadkill so not sure about "pressed" ... but fresh or smoked and cooked in a pot of beans ... cannot be beat! 
 
EABC - "In the salmon's case, it is their entire selves. For humans, it is just their money - much less of a sacrifice. That was my intended point."
 
So you are saying that using money is just spreading shit around ... in a manner of speaking? An interesting way of looking at it! LOL
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 9, 2018 - 12:51pm
Ward - good one. Yes, if my analogy is that money is a fertilizer, then it (distributing money) indeed is a form of spreading feces around. That is the logical conclusion of the analogy.
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 9, 2018 - 4:04pm
EABC, It sure does sound like you and yours have been getting out lately and exploring.  I enjoy reading your accounts of you travels.
Sure would have like to hear more about those raptors and owls.  The Aleutians are home to some rarities like the Siberian Rubythroat and the Bluethroat. See anything interesting from the ship?
 
Mustafa
 
 
Even A Broken Clock Added Sep 9, 2018 - 7:48pm
Mustafa, we saw bald eagles from Haines, mostly. They were wheeling above the harbor. Also saw an eagle sitting on a pole in the harbor in Juneau. But otherwise, did not see anything interesting when we were on the ship. I had my binoculars, and we had a cabin with an outside access so I could watch, but I did not see either a whale nor any type of raptor from the ship itself. I also was not able to have a clear enough night to watch the stars, but given the nature of the inside passage and its clouds, that didn't surprise me.
 
The raptor center had two bald eagles inside in a relatively large enclosure, but I'm sure it seemed piteously small to the eagles. After a discussion, we went outside where there were a few more raptors in enclosures, and then a peregrine falcon with its handler. She clearly was very fond of the falcon, and the falcon seemed to be attached to her (beyond the straps that the falcon wore). The falcon nuzzled her, teased her bangs, and nibbled at her earrings showing that there was affection there. She described falcon behavior in detail, but after about 15 minutes, there was not much more to talk about. The center is in the midst of trying to expand the raptor enclosures, and I hope they are able to do that, but it is always tough to balance seeing magnificent animals at close range, but the trade-off is that they are prevented from their free-range behaviors.
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 9, 2018 - 10:38pm
EABC, thanks for that, especially the account of the peregrine, Im awfully fond of peregrines and prairie falcons, but have a special place in my heart for Merlins. Have you read 
The Goshawk by Terence White, the author of The Sword in the Stone.
It is magnificent although heartbreaking.
 
Mustafa