Part one - A "cool" summer trip!

Ashley Harris is one of my favorite Outside the Lines Travel clients. Not only do I love working on travel planning with her,  she is kind, adventurous, and committed to experiencing destinations all over the globe. This is part one of her trip report on her family's summer 2019 Alaskan Cruise. Thank you, Ashley!

In our quest to visit all 50 states before our oldest son graduates from high school, we booked an Alaskan cruise to check off one of the two non-contiguous states. The cruise was the second half of our summer vacation, which saw our family of four driving through the great northwest, ending with a train trip from Seattle to Vancouver where our cruise departed. 
We sailed with Norwegian Cruise Lines, our first cruise with them. The weather was wonderfully warm when we set sail and we spent the first afternoon in the pool. Our boys (ages 12 and 13 at the time) registered with the youth activity clubs, which they had enjoyed on an earlier sailing with Princess Cruise Line, so everyone was set for a fantastic sailing!

Ketchikan: For our first port, we took an excursion which included a great and interesting visit to a totem pole park. I never knew how much of a story the poles could tell. Everything in Ketchikan seemed very rural, muddy and gray. There was, however, a Walmart somewhat close by that rns a free shuttle to and from the port, so we were not that far off the grid. It misted some and the temp hovered in the high 50s, but we had our all-weather jackets and we were fine. We saw a lot of eagles flying, a HUGE eagle’s nest that the guide said probably weighed 800 pounds, and a seal swimming looking for salmon. We also saw a bit of the Tongass National Forest, which was beautiful. 

For all of its beauty, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I could not live in Ketchikan. They get an average of 14 feet of rain each year. Maybe if I was more of an outdoor girl, I would could handle that!
Next port: Juneau. 
Juneau was more what I expected Alaska to be like: small downtown, with several restaurants and shops. The state capitol building looked just like a bank, but the Governor’s mansion was a little more impressive. There were beautiful mountains and eagles everywhere. Fact learned from our time in Juneau: when you see a bald eagle with the white head, it’s at least 3-4 years old. They are born with brown heads.

The coolest thing on the cruise and possibly in the top 10 of all things ever was the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s just there, about 20 minutes from town and around a bend in the road. There is a nice park that has raised trails you can walk with signs about the plants, trees and animals. We walked down to the water opposite the glacier, and put our hands in. No surprise, it was quite cold! 

We saw a porcupine near the top of a tree eating leaves. I didn’t know they climbed trees! We heard lots of bear stories... LOTS of them. Alaskan words of wisdom: "if the bear is brown, lie down. If the bear is black, fight back". Grizzlies are monsters, so your best bet is to outrun whoever you are with. Brown bears will kill you, but not eat you. Black bears (also known as trash bears), are wimps and you can scare them off, but if they kill you, they’ll eat you. They eat anything, hence the nickname. My philosophy is to just do my best to completely avoid bears and not have to remember what color does what ;)

Skagway: We went a little crazy in this port and booked two excursions for the day. In the morning, we rode on the historic White Pass & Yukon Route railway. This train took us on the same rail tracks that the prospectors rode in the early 1900s on their way to find gold. Our guide told interesting stories about the miners, how the railroad was built and life back then. The train hugged the mountain side around several curves as it ascended, went over a couple of bridges and through some dark tunnels, all constructed by hand. An amazing feat accomplished through sheer will and lots of explosives. Only 35 men died out of the 35,000 who worked on it. We were in and above the clouds for much of the 2 1/2-hour trip. Very relaxing and beautiful ride.

Our afternoon excursion might have been my favorite of all time—it definitely was for the boys—musher camp and a sled dog ride followed by time with puppies. We took a bus about 35 minutes out of Skagway to a park where we boarded a Unimog. I don’t even know how to describe this vehicle. It’s built for rough terrain and ours was an open-air bright green one dubbed Kermit the Mog. We tightened our seat belts, then proceeded to literally bounce up the mountain path to the base musher camp.

This camp is like summer camp for sled dogs who are training for winter races like the Iditarod. Some of the dogs we met had already run that race and some will run it next year. During the summer, they do conditioning camp, building muscle strength more than endurance. 
The dogs looked nothing like I expected! When most people think of sled dogs, they think of Siberian Huskies. In reality, Siberian Huskies were used by miners when they had to pull heavy sleds short distances, and about 40+ years ago, Hollywood adopted them to portray sled dogs in movies. Today's  'real' sled dogs are bred to pull lighter weights over long distances. Over the years, mushers bred many dogs to emphasize certain traits (ex. Whippets for their base coat, Greyhounds for their running physique), and the resulting breed is the Alaskan Husky. These dogs are working dogs and LOVE to run. When they heard our MOG approach they started barking and whining ready to pull us on a ride. We had 12 dogs and they easily pulled a 600-pound sled with seven people on board. In fact, the musher had to ride the brakes at some points just to slow them down. Between runs they play, eat and sleep. They love people. 

We learned a lot about how they train the dogs and all they do to keep them healthy. Average life of a sled dog is 12-15 years. After our ride and lots of petting and praise, we boarded the MOG to head back to base and listened to a short talk from a musher about what it takes to race the Iditarod. Did I mention that race is 1,000 miles?! Then it was time to play with the pups. Once the pups reach about 10 weeks old, they are pulled into a separate pen called the Shark Tank as they are all about tearing things up with their sharp little teeth, eating and sleeping. We held and cuddled 6-week pups. So sweet!! Best excursion ever! 

You can read more about Ashley's adventures (all about glaciers!!) in Part Two, which you'll find HERE. And if you are interested in learning more about visiting Alaska, contact Joy at Outside the Lines Travel.

contributing blogger: Ashley Harris, April 29, 2020


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