Saturday, July 28, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on the ferry to Alaska

  1. Duct tape is essential. This is especially true if you're pitching a tent on deck.
  2. If the life ring deploys accidentally, a smoke flare marks the location and they WILL turn the boat around, lower the little chaser boat from the ship and retrieve the life ring. This may delay your arrival into the next port, depending on how quickly it takes to circle the ship around. (Seems the bosen was checking the life ring and accidentally launched it, causing great excitement on board and a flurry of activity with the crew. They later announced it was a "training exercise" but I got a tour of the bridge and learned it was an accident.)
  3. You have to pay a $5 fee to be searched for any Alaska Marine Highway Ferry going northbound. (Yeah, right ... like I should ~pay~ to be searched! That is really adding insult to injury.) Before boarding, they actually search your vehicle with a K-9 unit. (Of the 4 ferries I took the car on, this was the only one where they searched vehicles and checked your ID ... and it was no simple search, either. They use a K-9 unit!)
  4. Pick up your feet when using any doorway and be aware. Sometimes, but not always, there is a step over the threshold. Just to make things really tricky and let you know if you drank too much, the only doorway on board where it is a step over and then step down is the women's (not the men's) bathroom next to the bar. In addition, the push/pull direction of doors is the opposite of whatever you think it should be.
  5. Smoking is on the port side of the ship only. (Apprently, this is true of all ships but I have no idea why.)
  6. You will be instructed on the use of TPAs (thermal protection aid) and PFDs (personal flotation device), all of which is no BFD and no one on board paid any attention whatsover to the demonstrations.
  7. Listen to the cook. If you place an order and they yell a number from the menu at you repeatedly, don't argue. Even if your order is not the food associated with the menu number, use it. For example, I ordered two eggs and two bacon ala carte, which is close to a number 6 (one egg, two bacon, one piece of toast). That is the number they want you to tell the cashier and it saves you $.
  8. Any and all water used (cafeteria, bathroom, etc.) is "treated and released" when at sea. (I'm not sure if I like the sounds of any of this and I bet the sea life likes it even less.)
  9. I cannot stress enough how essential duct tape really is. A little rope doesn't hurt, either. Both are especially useful when the wind on deck kicks up at night and blows your neighbor's tent onto yours (because he skimped and only used 2 pieces of duct tape per tie down.)
  10. Don't bother bringing a book. I brought 3 and read 0 pages. One guy got through 10 pages of his book. Another woman got through 20 pages of her book.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back in the good ol' U S of A -- photos available

OK, here's what you've all been waiting for: pictures! Yeah! You should be able to click this link and see the road trip photos:

I made it through customs and all that with relatively little hassle, although the guy kept giving me a hard time that Alaska was the other direction. He also really, really wanted to know what I do for a living. Could that possible matter?

Although the line to get in was relatively short (90 minute wait), I about asphyxiated myself from all of the exhaust fumes from hundreds of cars, semis, RVs, etc. idling and inching forward 5 feet every 5 minutes. Good thing I had some easy Sudoku puzzles with me!

Now, I'm in Bellingham, WA. Tomorrow I board the ferry (finally) for the last leg of the journey. I'll be on the ferry from Tuesday until Friday. Hopefully, I will see lots of whales, dolphins and scenery (fog and rain does ~not~ count as "scenery" so keep your fingers crossed for me). I doubt I will be able to blog any until the weekend ... unless there's somehow wireless on the ferry? Is that even possible?

Friday, July 20, 2007

They'll let anyone into Canada

I made it into Canada with relatively little difficulty. Of course, I made it on a ferry, not the traditional border crossing, so that helped some. The loaded-down Jeep with the snow shovel sticking out was a big topic of discussion. (I doubt my trip back across the border will be as easy.)

I'm now on Vancouver Island and headed to The Buttchart Gardens later today. Tomorrow it's over to Vancouver (another ferry) to see Della (friend) and Jelly (friendly dog). Yesterday was beautiful and sunny but today is rainy. This is good training for my days in Sitka. With all this humidity, my hair is bigger than it's ever been. I must be 6 foot tall now!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on San Juan Island

  1. A lone British pig was the one and only casualty of an England vs. U.S. skirmish over this territory. The poor pig was simply searching for potatoes but mistakenly rooted in the wrong American's soil.
  2. Popeye is a resident seal who lives in Friday Harbor where the ferry docks.
  3. Don't take any advice from a woman named Donelda.
  4. The town has two gas stations less than a block apart owned by the same person. One of them is a penny less per gallon ($3.52 vs. $3.53).
  5. The window of opportunity for doing most things is very small. Things don't open till late (10 a.m.) and close very early. Few restaurants are open past 9 p.m., so plan accordingly if you're arriving on the 9:30 p.m. ferry.
  6. There are no chain stores here, which has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, everything is an adventure. On the minus side, you never know if a place will be open or not (even though the posted hours indicate it should be open), or what the food will be like.
  7. Restaurants are pretty hit or miss. Recommendations: hit the Blue Dolphin; miss the China Pearl. If you hit the Blue Dolphin during the morning rush, don't worry. A nice local going in for coffee club is likely to let you have his table.
  8. If you want coffee, get it before 1 p.m. After that, every coffee shop in town except the one by the ferry closes. (Don't expect the coffee to be very good, either.)
  9. You can find free 8-hour parking by the courthouse at the end of 1st and 2nd streets.
  10. Wanda, the dog in the wine shop near the ferry, has a lot of food allergies. Only give her attention (she loves it) and no doggie treats.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wired in Washington

Wow, Washington has wi-fi access and free coffee at every rest area. Caffeine, cooler temperatures, precipitation and all that oxygen from being at sea level are making my head spin.

I'm now on San Juan Island and will be taking a whale watching tour later today. I took a sunset ferry over yesterday and it was spectacular. The scenery is just like the photos with the mist hovering over the water and around the islands. I even saw several dolphins.

Temperatures have definitely cooled off to a wonderful 70 degrees with a light rain. I had to break out one of my new raincoats and I'm in shoes for the first time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Burning in hell

Hells Canyon is on fire — literally. I took a jet boat tour on the Snake River through Hells Canyon and there is a wildfire burning. You could see the flames. There were even a couple of helicopters filling their buckets from the river and dumping it on the fire. It was pretty awesome to see. (Yes, I have photos but no time to upload them so hang tight ... lots of photos are on the way.) And, don't worry. I was on the water so not in any danger of burning up myself, unless it's from internal combustion. Did I mention it's ~still~ extremely hot here? Over 100 degrees every day but after 114, it's really quite mild at 105.

On the way through Boise, I noticed the Extreme Makeover crew/show was in Boise. But, they had enough volunteers so I didn't help out.

On the way to Hells Canyon, I ended up staying at a combination cafe/motel called Bucky's. They had three rooms. All were available. We discussed the differences between Room 1 (twin beds), Room 2 (full beds) and Room 3 (queen beds), deciding to take Room 2. They weren't willing to give up Room 3, I'm not sure why. But in the cafe, I had the world's largest piece of coconut cream pie. Yum!

I'm currently in Coeur d'Alene, ID, more or less back in civilization. (Civilization being defined as cell phone coverage and working pay phones.) Once I left Boise, there were no working pay phones and absolutely no cell phone coverage until Lewiston, ID...about 6 hours/400 miles or so.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The road to hell runs through Idaho

The stench of smoke was in the air. The charred ground next to the interstate was still smoldering. My eyes and throat were starting to rebel from the raging and unruly fires not far from I-84 in Idaho. Combine that with outside temperatures hovering between 104 degrees and 112 degrees in a vehicle with no air condition...well, you can imagine the stench in the car (and who knows what the internal car temperature is — I can't even guess). The only good part so far is that I'm making excellent time because I don't have to make any bathrooms breaks because I'm sweating out every stinkin' drop of fluid in my body. Who knew Idaho would be so f*&#ing hot?!? Well, maybe some of you did and warned me but I obviously blocked it out.

I spent the night in Twin Falls, ID. This location is the only location in the U.S. where base jumping is legal all year round (there's one location in West Virginia or similar that opens up for base jumping for a week each year). Plus, it's all the location where Evel Knieval tried (and failed) to jump across the gorge.

Where am I headed, you might wonder? Where else ... Hells Canyon. For all you particular people out there, no, there isn't an apostrophe missing. It truly is Hells Canyon. In fact, there was a government commission who studied the issue and made the determination some years ago that in fact, it is and would remain Hells Canyon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Top 10 things I learned about Provo

  1. There is some sort of disturbance in the space/time continuum happening here. There's seemingly no Starbucks in town. Having covered more than 3 miles walking yesterday, I spotted 0 (yes, zero) Starbucks. Incredible. Plus, people here don't know what an Internet cafe is and if you're looking for a pay phone, forget about it. No one has seemingly ever heard of either. Tip: If you are traveling in the area, forget about paying the $3.95 the hotel wants for 15 minutes and go to the library. You'll get 90 minutes of Internet with your "Internet Passport" for a mere $1. What a value!
  2. Provo isn't normally hazy. The haze surrounding the town and mountains isn't pollution ... it's smoke from the state's largest-in-history wildfire and three or four others burning within 100 miles.
  3. The Utah Conference Center headquarters is just around the corner from my hotel ... only in the best spirit of Corporate America, they're holding their conference ~in~ my hotel.
  4. Despite results from an informal survey of hotel workers where everyone says the train definitely does not stop in Provo, I would testify in court without fear of perjury that Amtrak does indeed stop here. (Results based on a survey of 4 people, all over the age of 18.)
  5. Weirdness isn't the (only) reason people walk hugging the buildings ... it's the shade they're clamoring for. It's hot and dry here (even compared to Denver standards); 104 degrees at 11 a.m.
  6. If you're looking for a scintillating conversation, plant yourself across the street from the Marriott. That's where all the people are hanging out in front of the Judicial Center (is the term "court house" somehow politically incorrect?).
  7. If you stay at the Marriott, you receive a complimentary membership to the "club." This entitles you to the privilege of sitting in the bar and drinking (gasp) alchohol. Or, budget in $5 for a temporary, 2-week membership. But that's not all! You can also bring along, free of charge, 5 of your closest drinkin' buddies. You also have the option for an annual membership that's $25.
  8. The grocery store chain here is called Smith's ... what could be better? Maybe I should see if they'll give me a discount.
  9. If you need a Galaga fix, it's only 25 cents in the gameroom of the Marriott. Of course, ya gotta withstand the hot air steaming the room from the hotel laundry room.
  10. The Travelodge serves a mean breakfast burrito, included with your room, one per guest.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Top 10 things I learned on Amtrak

  1. Bring food. The dining car ran out of some food by noon (I left at 9 a.m.), and it closed down completely after noon because the A/C quit entirely. I wondered why it was so hot in there at lunchtime!
  2. Don't drink — anything. The toilets are so tiny that there was not enough room for me, my backpack, and the toilet. Let's just say I basically had to have someone outside the bathroom hold my backpack for me. Needless to say, the toilets were a mess.
  3. Bring plenty of entertainment. Track work prevented this train from going faster than 50 MPH, which was excruciating. My train was more than 2 hours late!
  4. Don't expect to get off the train. Of the 7 or so stops the train made prior to my final stop, I was allowed to get off only once, and then only for 15 minutes. That's hardly enough time to make a phone call (the Mennonites were hovering to use the phone), go to a restroom wider than 14 inches x 14 inches (and the line was unbelievable) and get back on the train. Plus, there is no where to buy food, either, even if you had time.
  5. Pick your seat wisely. Don't even try to sit on the lower level — those are the handicap-accessible seats and someone will sure let you know it, even if there's no one in that car.
  6. Don't believe a word anyone from Amtrak (the government) says. My nifty brochure detailing the ride talked about a quiet car (no cell phones or babies allowed), on-board movies, an on-board Forest Service Ranger narrative about the area and much, much more. None of that was available.
  7. If you smoke, wear the patch. Maybe two (or three). Unless sucking in enough nicotine in 2 minutes or less every 3 hours or so works for you, you and your surrounding passengers are in big, big trouble.
  8. Bring Purell or similar disinfectant for your hands. Between grabbing onto things to maintain your balance whenever you get up to walk around, the bathrooms, and lack of general train cleaning, I cannot speak highly enough about this substance.
  9. The Amtrak workers are just as strange (if not more so) as many of the Amtrak riders.
  10. I now completely understand why Amtrak is not a successful government enterprise (nor will it ever be at this rate).