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Category: Journey’s end

So Long Alaska, And Thanks For All The Fish

So Long Alaska, And Thanks For All The Fish

Annnnnnd we’re done.

So ends our actual last long distance trip for what’s sure to be a while. Coming home this time, unlike the end of our New Zealand trip, is much more sweet than bitter. For starters, we were both pretty much done with the whole cruise experience this time. Unlike the last time we went cruising (over five years ago!) this was much less of a relaxation tour.

Rather than spending our days relaxing on the sundeck of the ship or some tropical island, this trip involved bear run-ins, frozen glacier viewings and being jolted out of bed at 1 am to see the Northern Lights. Amazing experiences to be sure – but not quite the relaxing time I was expecting.

The other part of it is that we’re looking forward to going home for once. First of all, we have Sammy, our newest member of our family to come home to. For the first time on a trip, we left someone behind. That meant that it was impossible to completely disconnect and well…

Our dog Sammy
Wouldn’t you want to come back to this dog too?

…we missed this guy!

We also have the baby on the way – which means we still have a lot of preparations to make. Unlike when we were in New Zealand (and every other trip before that), having one of us be pregnant meant the future baby was always on our minds. Between that and Sammy, we’re both looking forward to coming home.

Finally, our ship, the Radiance of the Seas, just wasn’t quite up to par with the last ship we took, the Norwegian Gem. I’m planning to do a full review later of the experience, but for now suffice it to say that despite being about the same size, there was a marked difference between the two.

With regards to Alaska though… Wow. Just what an amazing state. The incredible landscapes. The wildlife. And the food. Specifically, the salmon and the halibut.

It really is the salmon capital of the world.

We ate some form of fish literally every day on this trip, sometimes two or even all three meals had fish in them. It was really delicious everywhere we went. We’ve always been of the opinion the Pacific fish far outrank their Atlantic cousins. Alaska proved to us that it doesn’t matter if you’re out in Tahiti, back stateside in San Francisco, or all the way up in the Arctic north outside Denali National Park. It’s. Just. Better.

Seriously, I’ve had fish ‘n chips on four different continents. This place is the best in the world.

In the coming days, I’m planning to do a full round up on my general thoughts on Alaska including the highlights of our trip, lowlights, some recommendations on some must-see things as well as items to avoid.

But for now to Alaska we say:

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

As I sit here on night seven of my Alaska adventure with Ariel, my thoughts turn to last week’s solo adventure and really the last 12 years of solo travel.

This little getaway had a lot in common with my past solo trips:

  • Waking up not knowing where I’d sleep every night.
  • Major last-minute diversions from the itinerary.
  • Staying at the cheapest, crappiest place I could rest my head.
  • Eating most meals in the car or motel rooms.
  • Dicey moment at an international border.
  • Going off the beaten path and letting the road take me instead of the other way around.
  • Ultimate freedom.

But still, it was missing something more important than all of that.

My travel mate, Ariel.

I love traveling alone.

Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.
Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.

Anytime you travel with a partner you have to make compromises. Ariel is……less open to the kinds of places I’m willing to eat and sleep for example. She also is a planner. When we travel together, she will look at our route and look for places to eat, sleep and stop along the way and pre-book them. Our travel together ends up looking more like an organized tour itinerary than a disorganized wanderer’s journey.

Taking a breather in Northern Ireland.
Canyonlands, Utah
Standing atop the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. Not the brightest thing I ever did.
I get a little too close to a royal guardsman...
Pro tip: Never make physical contact with a royal guard in London.
Thumbs up or thumbs down at the ancient Coliseum in Rome.

This can have major advantages, especially as it pertains to cost savings on booking rooms months in advance as opposed to minutes in advance. And by preparing for your trip, you can research the best places to eat and the coolest sights to see. If this is your style of travel, I highly recommend doing it this way. Also, there are few things more demoralizing than driving for 10 hours in a day, then pulling into some tumbleweed town with one motel at midnight…only to find out there’s no vacancy there or it’s closed.

And that the next town is another 2+ hours down the road.

Not good.

The disadvantage is that when you make your reservations months in advance, it makes it much harder to call an audible like I did when deciding to go to Devils Lake just the other day. Or years ago, when I decided to go about 200 miles out of my way to see the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, which unexpectedly led me to my first view of the Milky Way Galaxy – one of my favorite travel memories of all time.

Pompeii, Italy
Even in Pompeii, random strangers will ruin your carefully staged picture.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s just not the same without her. The give and take between my spontaneity and her planning is really what makes us such a great travel pair. She makes the plans. I improvise whenever the plan doesn’t work out so well. We really do work so well together as a travel team.

From the deepest caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM
Ariel and I take a quick break at Carlsbad Caverns near Roswell, New Mexico.

To mountains in the sky.

Skyrim
Glacier National Park, Montana. Or is it Skyrim?

And all the way to the literal ends of the Earth.

The ends of the earth...
At The Sauvage in Rangiroa, French Polynesia. The residents refer to it as “the end of the Earth.”

I’ll still take the opportunity to go off on my own when the situation arises. A quick detour on a business trip. A short diversion on a weekend when I’m alone. But for the most part, having a child means the odds of these opportunities are rapidly shrinking to zero.

No. Going forward, travel – especially adventure-style travel – will no longer be a solo sport. It will be a team effort. As a unit. As a family. And while I may reflect back fondly on my times as a solo traveler on this blog on occasion…

Journey's end
The end of our New Zealand road trip was a bittersweet time for us.

…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On being home…

On being home…

So we got home late last night after an extraordinarily exhausting 53 hours of travel, including some borderline time travel that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Consider this, our flight left Auckland, NZ on Saturday at about 11:30 pm New Zealand time, crossing the international dateline shortly afterwards. We landed in California (after a 12 hour flight of nonstop turbulence) at 2:30 pm. On SATURDAY. That’s about nine hours BEFORE we departed.

We went to sleep in California at about 9:30 pm. So we were sleeping in California TWO HOURS BEFORE our plane left New Zealand. Go get your mind to grasp that.

How is this not time travel?
How is this not time travel?

After the initial depression of leaving transitioned rapidly into the depression of “I wish this miserable, never ending travel day was over” – all I wanted was to be home. Unfortunately for us, we had one last adventure left in this trip, when our baggage return carousel at Newark airport decided to jam, stranding us with 2 out of 3 bags for over an hour while the feckless Virgin America employees tried to figure out how to get 10 suitcases out of the machine.

By the time we got home, I was thrilled. Ariel wasn’t too excited, but there’s something about coming home to your own bed, your own sofas, your own TV and clothes and dining room table and refrigerator and everything else that just feels good. While New Jersey is pretty freaking far from Bilbo and Frodo’s Shire (although in some ways it’s more similar than you might think), to us, it’s our home. And there is real comfort in being home.

Not quite the Shite but it's home to us...
Not quite the Shite but it’s home to us…

As I got up this morning though, I had a very strange moment where I was highly confused about when and where I was exactly. After two weeks of never sitting still, never spending more than two nights (and usually only one) in the same bed, plus the incredible amount of time we spent in travel limbo, I’m in a strange place. Yet I’m also home. I’m back at my familiar desk in my familiar office. I drove my familiar car, with its familiar annoying noises, on the RIGHT side of the road (although now I’m struggling to remember that my LEFT hand is the turn signal hand), through the familiar New Jersey traffic to my familiar parking lot with its familiar lack of parking spaces. I went up the familiar elevator and said hello to my familiar receptionist.

Yet it all seems somehow unreal. Like any minute now I’m going to blink and find myself on a winding road in the Southern Alps or standing on the edge of a hike up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the shadow of Mount Doom.

This isn’t the first time I felt this way – in fact, this is always the way it feels the day after getting back from an extended trip away from home.

You see when you’re on the road (whether driving or taking public transport), there are certain routines you fall into. Every day you get up, pack up your stuff (don’t forget to check the bathroom and fridge twice in case you forgot something), arrange the cooler and BOOM you’re out there. When you get to wherever you’re staying for the night it’s a similar routine but in reverse. Unpack the cooler, freeze the ice packs, connect to wifi, put your stuff in the bathroom – but don’t spread out TOO much or you’ll waste time in the morning getting it all back together.

Even Facebook is strange when you're on the other side of the world - check out the notification icon.
Even Facebook is strange when you’re on the other side of the world – check out the notification icon.

Then, after a bunch of plane rides and grueling travel you suddenly find yourself at home. No road routine. No new bed tonight. Just up and go to work like the last two weeks (or months or years in some cases) never even happened.

I also find air travel to be completely disorienting. You get into a tin box and magically, a few hours later you’re in a completely different place with different temperatures, different scenery, different times, different people speaking different languages. Plus the whole routine of checking in, going through security, wandering around in the nebulous zone between airport gates amongst other dazed travelers from all over the world, who themselves have no idea where they are really, is just so strange.

It creates such a break from everything that preceded it, that when it’s over, no matter where I am, it feels like that’s where I’ve always been. For two weeks in New Zealand, it seemed like my whole life in New Jersey was nothing but a dream. Now it seems like New Zealand was nothing but a dream.

But then I realize that my sand fly bites are itching. And that I haven’t shaved in days. And I think about where those bites came from or where it was that I shaved last or cut my nails…and suddenly it’s all very real again and I’m back in Milford Sound or Wellington or Lake Tekapo or Matamata and it just takes me right out of it.

Hard to believe this is a real place that I stood in just a few days ago...
Hard to believe this is a real place that I stood in just a few days ago…

This is how it always is. Because even when you come home – it’s the same home and the same life and the same people – it’s you that has changed. It’s the fundamental beauty of traveling to far off places and why it makes sense to spend lots money on limited experiences as opposed to permanent items. Because while the travel ends, a good trip really stays with you for the rest of your life in a way that no 4K TV or leather sofa ever can.

Our experiences on this trip will be frames of reference for future experiences that we otherwise never would have been able to compare. Even in New Zealand, with all of the wild scenery and radically different lifestyle than what I’m used to on a daily basis, I was drawing on past experiences in the Rocky Mountains or Patagonia or other places I’ve gone. It was these past experiences that better helped me to digest what I was seeing around me and have better prepared me to deal with out of the ordinary experiences even in my daily life.

That’s why getting out of your comfort zone is so important. Because while it may not always be pony-rides in May-sunshine, real travel is the time we are most ALIVE.

The road goes on…

While I’m a little sad that this was probably the last true adventure away from home we’ll have for a while, I know we’ll be back on the road again one day.

And that is an encouraging thought indeed.

“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow, if I can.”