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A Bear In Ketichikan, The Inside Passage And Vancouver

A Bear In Ketichikan, The Inside Passage And Vancouver

Well, this is almost it. We are now at our final stop before making the long journey home to New Jersey. Looking back on this trip, the definite highlights were Denali and the humpback whale watching trip in Icy Strait Point.

But the last few days have had their moments.

First we stopped in Ketchikan, Alaska which is apparently the salmon capital of the world. It was pretty clear why this is – every year thousands (or maybe tens of thousands? Or hundreds of thousands??) swim up the creek that flows right through the center of town to spawn. They didn’t really come out so great in my pictures but all you really need to do is look down and you can see thousands of them.

With salmon of course, come bears and eagles. And we got to see both! Including one bear that just kind of popped up out of the bushes behind us!

Note of course my filming technique, which is critical for filming bears at close range. Essentially it boils down to staying a few steps behind the morons who rush up to get close to a bear. I mean seriously, these animals can run 30 miles per hour! Personally I would have never chosen to get this close to a bear but it really just kind of popped out of the bushes behind us. It was never really scary because except for that one look he gives us at the end of the video, he really didn’t seem all that interested in us.

Plus, there were literally a dozen idiots who rather than staying in place or slowly backing up actually ADVANCED in his direction. So if anyone was getting mauled – it would have been them. Still it was the closest I got to a wild animal since that time I foolishly stared down an elk at Rocky Mountain National Park.

In any case, our new bear friend didn’t really bother much with us. Rather he was much more interested in the thousands of salmon in the stream below us, which is where he immediately went after creeping up behind us.

After our run in with the bear, we then went to see some native totem poles. This was pretty cool, but the really exciting thing was yet another encounter with some Alaskan bald eagles! This time they were just about close enough to get a somewhat decent picture.

Bald eagles in a tree
Note that I said it was a “somewhat decent” picture…

After a quick lunch, it was time for our last real Alaskan event – the Ketchikan lumberjack show!

Alaskan Lumberjacks try to roll each other off of log.
What can I tell you guys, just another day in Alaska.

This was……OK. It was fun to watch (although man the seats were uncomfortable) a staged “competition” between guys doing things like axe throws and racing to chop logs. Think of it as like Medieval Times but with lumberjacks representing the United States and Canada. You’re supposed to cheer on your “country” (they sort the audience into US and Canada as well) and yell things out like “Yo Hoooo!” along with the performers. Fun for kids. And pretty fun for adults too. But at about $40 a ticket for a 45 minute show with no food……..I don’t know.

It certainly wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before, so I’m glad we went. Buuuuuttttt if I ever find myself in Ketchikan again…I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this.

One other really cool thing to do in Ketchikan is to visit the Tongass National Forest Visitor Center. It’s right next to the lumberjack show and has a really great overview of all the incredible national parks and lands within Alaska. Incredibly, only about 40% of the entire state is private land. To put that another way – that would be about 25% of the ENTIRE Lower 48! Incredible to learn and really put our whole Alaska experience into context.

Alaskan land is mostly publicly owned!
This land (of Alaska) is your land, this land is my land.

From Ketchikan, it was basically straight on through until Vancouver. We traversed the “Inside Passage” which is a really narrow body of water with hills, mountains and trees on both sides. Also present, tons of birds, sea mammals and other wildlife. We also shared our journey with another cruise ship with was pretty cool.

We traverse the Inside Passage of Alaska.
Welcome to the Inside Passage of Alaska.

Unfortunately for us, like a lot of the rest of time at sea, this day was completely overcast and occasionally really foggy.

A distant view of fog in the Inside Passage of Alaska.
You can actually see the fog we spent hours in right behind us. We couldn’t see ANYTHING.

So yesterday was mostly a relaxation day. After going through The Hobbit on the last trip, this was my day to try and make a dent in Lord of the Rings on this one.

This morning we awoke in the port of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Port
Bienvenue au Canada.

After bidding adieu to the Radiance of the Seas for the final time, we made our way to our lodging for the evening to drop our stuff off and do a little sight seeing. But Ariel and I were both so completely drained (also having to chase down our taxi driver as he drove away with my wallet wiped out the remainder of my energy) that all we did was head over to the Space Museum and get some lunch (including vegetarian gravy poutine fries!!!!) on Granville Island.

Ariel gives the thumbs down to feeding pigeons.
Please don’t feed the awful pigeons at Granville Public Market. PLEASE.

We’ve also already been to Vancouver on our first road trip as a couple way back in 2012 when we did 2,999 miles in just a week and half. So we’re pretty much done here.

Now, we prepare for the long journey home and radical change in our lives.

An overlook viewing of Vancouver Harbor.
Looking out into the sea from Vancouver.

Final thoughts on this trip, plus some reviews and guides to follow.

Exploring The High Seas Off The Coast Of Alaska

Exploring The High Seas Off The Coast Of Alaska

After a last-minute sidequest adventure, on top of a more aggressive/eventful couple of days than expected, we finally made it to our cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas.

Unlike a Bahamas cruise, Alaska cruises are a bit more demanding. For example, on our first day out, we sailed out to the Hubbard Glacier.

Welcome to the Hubbard Glacier. It looks much more awesome in person. But it’s also way colder.

And – much as you might expect – it’s pretty cold. So that means no lounging around on the deck like you would do on a tropical voyage. It also means you’re going to be dealing with pretty unpredictable weather. Like when you go to a warm destination and it rains, it’s a nuisance, but not a day killer. 45 degree rain really takes the energy out of you. Same for standing in the wind and staring at a giant block of ice for an hour.

In addition, unpredictable weather can cancel planned excursions or – as was the case for another cruise ship – shut down the port completely with a rock slide forcing you to go to a completely different place than you thought you were going. In our case, 80 mile per hour winds kept us from getting up close and personal with Hubbard.

The flip side of this though, is that you’re going to see some astonishing things.

The Fairweather Mountain Range. No joke, this was the view for hours one day.

Over the past three days we’ve come face to face with 19,000 foot coastal mountains, bald eagles, humpback whales and more glaciers than we’ve seen over the course of the rest of our lives combined.

Seriously, these mountains are all over the southern Alaskan coast.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking to just relax and lay out in a pool, stick to the Bahamas. If you’re in search of something more adventurous, an Alaska cruise is right for you.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a purely relaxing vacation – sometimes you just want to recharge the batteries. But if you’re coming on an Alaska cruise (really anywhere in Alaska), expect to be adventurous both off the boat and on it.

After our first day at sea, we landed in Juneau. We rented a car for the same price it would have cost to just take a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier and drove out to the further point we could. Juneau is not connected by road to…anywhere. So 40 miles from town, the road basically just ends.

We saw a creek where salmon come to spawn and then…die. It’s actually pretty brutal/disgusting. There are literally dozens of salmon carcasses just lying around in the water.

Look closely at the creek and you’ll see it’s a veritable salmon mass grave.

This effectively makes it a sashimi bar for bears and eagles. We didn’t see bears, but we did see multiple bald eagles flying around, which was awesome.

From there we continued on to the Shrine of St. Therese, which was pretty cool. Best part was the “labyrinth” which you could walk through. Quick and easy little diversion.

The “Merciful Love Prayer” Labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Sherese

After that it was time for Mendenhall Glacier.

The Mendenhall Glacier. Like Hubbard it’s much more impressive in person. And colder.

Just incredible.

We spent some time driving around Juneau too, stopping by the governor’s mansion and the state Capitol building. Cool I guess, but whatever.

Yep, our mighty steed on this leg of the journey was a fricking Buick LeSabre boat.

Our cruise then departed Juneau for Skagway. And well…it was pretty rainy and miserable. Our helicopter trip was cancelled for safety reasons, so instead we just walked around town. We learned from pretty cool stuff during an excellent Ranger talk at the National Historic Park there. Skagway, you see, was the jumping off point for tens of thousands of people “stampeding” to the Klondike Gold Rush. Best fact – Klondike Bars are named for bars of Klondike gold that apparently less than 1% were able to get their hands on.

Cold and rainy Skagway. The day after we were there, a rock slide would close the port.

This morning we arrived in Icy Strait Point. When we arrived the whole place was covered in a dense fog.

Fog and a cruise ship in Alaska.
The fog here was RIDICULOUS.

This made our little forest hike really cool.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep…

Pretty much the whole day after that was spent on a humpback whale watching tour with Glacier Wind Charters. They were awesome. I mean really awesome. Just check out this video.

Hopefully I’ll have some time later to do a full write-up on the whale tour. But the views were really amazing once the fog lifted and we saw easily over a dozen humpback whales on our trip out.

This time of year, Humpbacks do a whole complicated technique calling bubble net feeding. Basically they circle around a school of herring to get them bunched up together and then all breach the surface together to eat them. Just an incredible sight to behold. I mean we saw this event play out like 10 times and I would have watched it another 100 times. If you have the opportunity to witness this first hand you must do it.

As we headed back to the ship, the fog really lifted and we got a view of an awesome bald eagle in a tree, as well some truly incredible views of the bay.

The bay around Icy Strait Point is full of amazing islands like this one.

Now we are back on the ship and cruising to our last destination before heading down to Vancouver and eventually…home.