Monday, July 31, 2006

If it's Tuesday, this must be Skagway.

The next morning, we hopped off the ship in Skagway, just up the Lynn Canal and Chilkoot Inlet from Juneau. Year round, only about 850 people live in Skagway, but in the summer, the cruise ships can bring in as many as another 10,000 people. And I thought Charleston’s tourists are pesky.

Kathie and I wandered around on the main drag for a short while, then joined a walking tour at the National Park Service office. Our tour guide, college student Jason Ibarra of San Antonio, had been a park service employee for all of three weeks – the same amount of time he’d been in Alaska. He did a great job of showing us the sights and explaining the history. Kathie and I were both impressed with his presentation, and of course by how cute he was.

In 1896, gold was discovered on the Klondike River, more than 500 miles north of Skagway. Most of the “stampeders” landed in Skagway, gathered their supplies, and headed north over the mountains to get to the Yukon River. From there, the 500 mile float to Dawson City must have been a piece of cake after the brutal trip over the mountains. I can just imagine Kathie hauling her ton of provisions over White Pass and staking a million dollar claim. Me? I would have stayed home.

After Jason showed us the Red Mascot Saloon, Soapy Smith’s Parlor, and William and Ben Moore’s homestead, we took a speed ferry back along the Taiya Inlet to get to Haines, a small town on the Chilkoot Inlet. Talk about Northern Exposure! Humanity doesn’t have a lot going on here, but the scenery is wildly beautiful.

In Haines, we were picked up by our driver, Pizza Bob, who regaled us (or so he thought) with about 30 minutes of ranting and tasteless commentary along the way to Chilkoot Lake. I was embarrassed to hear he had come to Alaska from Ohio. Why couldn’t he have come from New Jersey, or some other state more deserving of him? He did share one interesting factoid with us. He said when he arrived in Haines ten years ago, the average annual snowfall was thirty feet. Last winter, only three feet fell. Hmmm…

Finally, we arrived for our long awaited kayak ride! Our guides, Ozzie and Steve, helped us on with our spray skirts and loaded us into our three person kayak. Kathie and I were hoping for a third kayaker, but no such luck. After about five strokes (was it that many?), my sore shoulder warned me in no uncertain terms that I was not to lift that oar one more time. Thank goodness Kathie’s as strong as a small ox, because that girl locomoted us all over that big old lake. When I spotted two bald eagles in a tree about a quarter mile away, Kathie cut out of our line of kayakers paddling back to shore for lunch, and headed straight for those eagles! The woman is tireless! We had a great time enjoying the vistas, though, and as we landed, I was wishing we could stay another two weeks to see the annual salmon run. Kathie had other things on her mind, I think, like the wet clothes she was wearing (her spray skirt had a huge leak) and the sandwich fixings Pizza Bob had put out for us.

Back on ship that evening, we ate made-to-order pizzas and sundaes while we watched the mountains along Logan Canal pass by. Somehow we stayed up until 11:15 p.m. Exhausted and deciding the sky was not going to darken any further, we went to bed.

Tomorrow, we will wake up to Sitka.

1 comment:

FarrellFamilyStuff said...

Although the writer's metaphor referred only to strength, my twisted mind will always prompt a smile when I think of her sister as a "small ox".
Oxen, "buey" in Spanish are still in common use in poorer countries like Cuba and even in rural areas of more developed countries like Chile. I've been around lots of oxen and, come to think of it, I don't recall ever seeing a "small" one!