The Vacation–Part 5: “Excursions”
There are two kinds of people for the sake of this next sentence. You have people who love to go out and do things, party, drink, what have you and then you have people who like to sit around smelling the breeze and not really interacting with the rest of the collective organism that is “humanity”.
If fall under #2 for about 95% of what matters, however if you can assure me there will be more trees, squirrels, and fresh air than humans I am willing to go outside. With this in mind we picked up some excursions. I’ll discuss them in order and see what comes to my mind this far in the future.
This particular adventure involved taking a bus with a driver who looked a lot like a comedian. I can’t for the life of me remember the guys name, good image searches are turning up nothing, so I suppose you’ll just have to pick a comedian and imagine they were driving us.
We traveled through Juneau (which is the capital of Alaska, for those wondering) and saw various buildings, construction work, and even a road that literally just ends. Which doesn’t sound too odd till you realize it is a highway. Basically they were building it and then decided one day “Meh fuck it.”
It was a controversy that I didn’t realize I had actually heard of before, didn’t come back to me till now.
The actual float itself was 90% preparation and 10% shivers. It was a brisk Alaskan morning and we were putting on boots, fly fishing pants, and live vests. We were basically geared to not only float but to also fill up with water and sink. I wager if you filled those nipple high pants with water you could get someone just deep enough with the life vest to put their head below water. Smooth move.
The glacier in the image above was amazing, massive, majestic, all sorts of other large M words. Our guides name was “Lee” if my memory is not failing me. I’m probably going to mix up guides for the rest of the excursions. He was fantastic, a mountaineer/outdoors kind of fellow. As we traveled down the river he told us of the things he liked to do, of what we were seeing, and a few other topics that I think should be probably kept unsaid.
Why? Well I know enough about the internet to figure with my luck his boss googles their business.
On the way down the river he took us through a white water part sideways, I took a gallon of Glacier water down my shirt, pants, and into my shoes. I would spend the rest of the time shivering like a nicotine addict in withdrawal. But I had a great time, the scenery was gorgeous, Lee was knowledgeable, and the air was so fresh I felt like I was breathing in fully for the first time in forever.
It’s a refreshing escape from the toxic fumes that flow from every cubic foot of the average popular American city. Folks complain about Tobacco smoke then tail gate at a red light, that sort of “If I can’t fully smell it, then it isn’t harmful.” mentality. That was missing here, and I was not missing it.
It turns out that when that river was flooding the US Army Core of Engineers dropped a bunch of cards into it to help stop erosion. We had planned to take a picture but our water proof camera has one major flaw, if you are soaked and the lens gets wet there is no way to dry it off.
At the end of the float you are given some of the best hot cider I’ve ever had, they also sell very expensive pictures and have beer on tap for the 1 in 1 Americans that appear to love beer.
“The Rainforest Bike Ride (Skagway)”
”You’ll probably not see one of these.”
At our next stop we would find ourselves in an enclosed area known as Skagway. This is a town with about 900 people living in it. That’s not too shabby or unexpected in an old Alaskan town, what’s remarkable is that when the cruise ships role in there are up to 4 times more people in the town than there are actual natives. Our ship alone brought more than the entire population of Skagway, and there were 3 in port at the time. The joke in the van for our bike ride was that we could stage and invasion and conquer Skagway, “The Great Cruise Pirate Invasion of 2011”.
Sadly we didn’t do it.
We had two guides for the Bike Ride, I’m forgetting the guys name sadly but the gal who would do most of the talking was Michelle. There are multiple levels of enthusiasm that I am aware of, you have happy, then excited, and then you have what she was bringing to the table.
A pure unbridled love for all things natural. She was nearly maniacal at times about new fungi, toads, or even dying salmon. Her knowledge about the fauna and flora was far beyond what one would expect of a guide. It was, in the end, quite obvious that she loved her job.
I certainly envied her.
The bike ride was fantastic, the roads were full of pot holes which meant I had a chance to try and create an adventure out of it. Seeing if I could wind through the holes without hitting any. For the most part of our 1 to 2 hour bike ride I succeeded. My wife would not be so lucky, the repeated bumps would give her quite a beating.
There are dozens of different things you can eat in Skagway. By that I mean if you got lost in the woods, more often than not, the thing you are about to eat probably wouldn’t kill you. It might even be good for you. Generally speaking though you did not want to eat anything colorful.
“The yellow mushroom all grown up.”
Our instructor had mentioned that the largest living organism on the planet is a network built of a single fungus, it stretches 10 square kilometers and is located in Oregon. I had mentioned the single tree that comprises an entire forest in Utah (I would have to Google later to recall the name). By now your amazement and wonder towards this news post must be unbearably high. These folks were good, if you find yourself in Alaska and somehow make it into Skagway, take their tour. Ask for Michelle, if you get a fuzzy fellow with her that’s probably the guy we got. He’s fantastic too.
Few things in my life could have prepared me for the above image. We were encircled by large mountains (or as Liz puts it “hills”) and ahead of us was a seemingly endless stretch of “currently” dry land. There were streams to our right that had spawning salmon, and the breeze was phenomenally strong (that breeze being what gave the town its name).
I drank in the moment. It was as close to life as I had been in quite some time. Sure there was technology in the distance, some of us had digital cameras, and so on. But the moment was pure and serene. It’s not something you could really put a price tag on, and the price of admission for that bike ride was easily a steal for this moment. There are many pictures from our bike ride which I might put in another section or post later, but this particular one resonated with me. Because I can still feel that moment, how wonderfully small I was at that time.
It helps to remind you of the unyielding universe around you and how petty all of humanities foibles are.
“The Train Ride (Skagway)”
Remember when I mentioned earlier that I don’t like going outside if it is more people than trees? What about 0 fresh air because you are in a moving box? Now imagine that box isn’t well lubricated and screeches as it moves.
Further imagine you are sitting in front of an asshole and his son. Also someone else decided to have a litter of children and brought all of them as well. Complaints about food, boredom, exhaustion, all these things. Then add onto that a group of tourists who don’t understand how rude it is to act as a human window when the guide book and tour guide specifically said not to stand up in the isles.
Now that you have all of this, have your train get delayed so that you are spending nearly 4 hours with these people. If you find yourself not murdering your entire train by the end of it you deserve a gold medal and a throng of fans.
Sadly the image we had taken on the train to remember the moment has the worlds worst comedian dad and his shit son in the background. I’m going to assume that at some point in my life I had met god as a human and bumped into him without saying I’m sorry.
Otherwise I can’t understand any reason these people would manifest, surely nobody could love them.
Alright I’m being a little harsh. We probably got a bad car, but this excursion is extremely dependent on who you are stuck with for hours upon hours. I would suggest that you never take this excursion and that if you are on the trip with someone you hate, tell them to take this excursion.
It delayed the entire boat for an extra hour, I had heard later that the captain was not pleased in the least.
We would spend that night cruising faster than normal, in darkness, through Arctic waters. I couldn’t help but remind myself of the titanic.
“The Rainforest Walk (Prince Rupert)”
Our last excursion and location of the trip would be in Prince Rupert. A tiny town in our northern neighbor: Canada.
I can’t for the life of me remember the name of our guide on this excursion. This is a damn shame because he was very good. During our excursion an old white woman mentioned Big Foot. There was a pause, everyone waiting for that “psyche” moment. But she pressed on.
She told us that Big Foot was real, not only real but very intelligent, and not only very intelligent but he hides his dead so that humans never find them. Our guide kept a relatively straight face and explained to her, logically, why this is highly unlikely.
She pushed through with a resolution I rarely see outside of a steeple. He would ask a few more times from other people if they believed in big foot, if ever there were eyes rolling so hard they were endanger of popping from heads, that was the moment.
The image above is of a remarkable area where a glacier had once been. What was left was 60 feet of moss piled upon itself. This bog has full grown trees in it that look like Banzai, and the rock walkway we were standing on bent and gave like foam. It was amazing, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around this gravel (similar to cobblestone) walkway bending and curling like Jell-O beneath my feet.
Unlike Skagway, you don’t really want to eat just about anything in the rainforests of Prince Rupert. The rivers and streams are tainted with the runoff of Hemlock, giving them the remarkable properties of both getting you sick and, at one time, being used as birth control. Take that in for a moment and recall it the next time someone talks about how we should abolish modern contraceptives, there is always a much worse option that was once used.
Near the end of our walk we saw the Devil’s Claw, up close, for the first time. This plant had been mentioned on all of our excursions and was remarked as this magical beast of a plant. It has thorns on its roots, on its stems, and even on the leaves. It humorously places its berries at the very top of the plant, so if you are a creature willing to take on the truly agonizing task of climbing it, you’ll get something to munch on.
The thorns apparently will stick in you for about a week, in which time you will get infected, and it hurts like a donkey kick to the balls.
The “First Nation” people of the area used to turn it into tea, and presumably would wield it like cat-o-nine tails to battle black bears. Additionally, and perhaps my favorite bit of info, is that they would light it on fair and waft it. Because apparently it would give you a strong high and you could not only communicate with spirits but you could keep away bad ones.
I wish I could remember why a burning bush and hearing words from beyond is familiar…probably just my imagination.
So that does it for excursions. Looks like we’ll have one more post about the trip home. Then I can go back to the boring stuff, like topical issues.
Next Update: Coming Home, or NO GOD DON’T MAKE ME LEAVE!?