Monday, July 28, 2008

The Alaska Marine Highway

The Alaska Marine Highway stretches from Skagway, Alaska through the Inside Passage to Bellingham Washington. I'd heard that this would be a particularly lovely time of year to enjoy the ferry trip, as the whales are out and the weather is nice (nice enough that many people camp on top of the vessel!). The journey takes three and a half days by government operated ferry, which seemed to me to be a long time to be confined to a ship, but I wasn't in a hurry to get back on the bike for another epic ride just yet. I'd picked up a copy of War and Peace in Skagway, figuring this might be one of the few times that I might be in a position to try it out.
The rumours about the weather and the whales were true. I also saw dolphins, porpoises and sea lions. Adding to the excitement, there was a park ranger on board that made regular presentations on a variety of topics, including marine life, plants and animals of the northern forests and settlement history of southeast Alaska. The nerd within me ate it up. I missed only one of the presentations, on account of a pod of dall porpoises being spotted beside the ship. As Ranger Brett put it, '[I] can't compete with the fastest of the marine mammals'.  

As it turns out, the ferry makes several stops of varied duration along the way to pick up and drop off passengers at locations, so I wasn't faced with 87 hours of total inactivity and confinement. Two of the stops were suitable for short bike tours of towns that are otherwise only accessible by airplane and I took full advantage of the opportunity to cruise around. The rest of the time, I was surprised to find myself content just chilling out on the ship. I got through War and Peace, despite having to re-read many parts, as I found it difficult to stay focused at times. Woody Allen once remarked 'I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia'. Indeed. 
I met several other cyclists, including Eric from Colorado, and John and Tom from England. Eric was on a similar short-duration solo touring trip and we were able to ride together for a few hours in Ketchikam. John and Tom were in the middle of an extended world tour that began fifteen months ago and took them around Japan on a container ship. 
I have no doubt that it is not all glamorous, but it sounded like one hell of a trip. Definitely the sort of experience you'd want to share with someone. Just let me know when you're ready to take off, Mr. Bakke. 


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