Well, finally I have achieved another recent dream of mine: making it to Alaska via the state ferry system.
After 5 different bus connections in WA, I found myself at the Bellingham ferry terminal and shelling out $358 to take the ferry through the fjords of British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska to wind up in Haines. As soon as I boarded, set up my gear on the heated upper deck, and met everyone up there, I knew it was going to be a memorable experience. There were 25-30 yr old fisherman returning to Kethican to start a new fishin season, expecting to round up a few grand per week, then take a few months off of work and living on that cash. A few other people were just traveling through Alaska like myself. Tom, a Brit, is heading up to Anchorage to train dogs for mushing. Kim is just taking the ferry to Skagway, and returning on the ferry, without stepping into Skagway, just to spend a week out on these mystical waters. Within an hour we were into great conversation and the ferry was leaving the dock in Bellingham.
Vancouver Island on the Port side of the boat emitted lights at night that drowned out stars that we should have seen. When I awoke, there was what may have been the best sunrise I've seen on this entire trip. Next to the boat's wake, i couldn't believe that there were Dall Porpoises leaping through the sun-tinted red water. 30 minutes later after the sun finally reared its head over the mountains to the East, an enormous pod of at least 30 dolphins was swimming right next to the ferry. They were close enough that I could even hear them making their high pitched sounds. Very very cool. A few hours later there was an announcement on the PA telling us that whales were spotted at the front of the boat. Sure enough, we saw 2 whales, and throughout the day saw a few more. The wildlife out here is dense.
Bethany and Tom wound up turning into really good friends, and we spent time together walking into the first port town, Ketchican. The weather was typical Southeast Alaska fare: cold, cloudy, windy, rainy. We made it toward Creek Street, which was a fantastic boardwalk perched upon pilings to keep the 'street' out of the creek below. There were business and a boardwalk for pedestrians all elevated above a large creek. In the creek we couldn't believe that we saw hundreds, no THOUSANDS of salmon. The air reeked of death, and we later found out that many fish were now dying since they finished their runs for spawning. There were a few fish floating on the top of the water, hundreds and hundreds below swimming, and soon a seal came into view and snagged a fish! We'd see this seal later in the day swimming around the creek, not seeking fish, but seemingly having a good time. What a scene! After wandering around the 'street' checking out toursity shops and native art, we walked the boardwalk over some rapids in the creek. There were salmon flying through the air, trying to fight their way upstream, but we didn't see any of the make it.
I glanced at my watch and realized that we only had 40 minutes to get back to the ferry before it left again, and the ferry was 2.5 miles away. We walked casually, then had to run the last mile to make it back just in the knick of time. The further we headed north from this point, the thicker the fog would become, and the less we could see.
Nearly all of the rest of yesterday was spent inside of the ferry. Conversations. Book reading. Naps. Nothing exciting. Today, it was a bit sad to tell Bethany and Tom goodbye when they got off the boat in Juneau. 2 hours later the scenery got fantastic. I happened to spot a waterfall coming out downhill from a glacier so I stepped out into the intense wind and rain to check it out. Hidden in a calm doorway, I was amazed that finally we have entered the signs of autumn in Alaska. Half of the hillsides were covered in yellow trees, growing on what appeared to be sheer cliffs that dropped into the ocean. No beach. Finally this was the Coast Range of alaska, and these mountains were huge and impressive. Lots of snow on peaks. More glaciers. More waterfalls. And many more photographs taken.
I stepped off the boat finally in Haines, got a quick lift from a local who claimed the security onboard had torn his van apart, and was surprised that the town is even smaller than I expected. Great setting and I can't wait to explore it even more.