On this, my third day on the Alaska ferry heading south to Washington, the rewards of the sea and sky are abundant.
As I awaken in the dim predawn, I look up and see we're in a narrow passage (Grenville Channel) bracketed by forested mountains. While I'm in that just-awake-but-still-fuzzy state, I wonder why the ferry is stopped because it doesn't seem like we're moving. But we are indeed.
"Would you like some tea?" asks Art, a retired salmon fisherman camped on the recliner beside me here on the upper back deck of the mv Columbia, since he's headed down to get coffee. Sweet. I hand him my tumbler and a tea bag for hot water.
|The view at 4:30 a.m. Grenville Channel.|
Later down at the snack bar for my morning bowl of oatmeal, I ask Paul, the friendly cashier with the goofy laugh, what his favorite part of the ferry trip is:
"Ketchikan to Bellingham, when we're in Canada and out of cell range, and people aren't glued to their smartphones." Amen!
|Amiable Paul laughs at my lame jokes.|
"Whale!" says fellow solarium camper Blake as he heads quickly toward the port bow, camera ready. We watch a humpback whale chasing a salmon, just barely surfacing and blowing misty little geysers. This is the first of many whale sightings today. (Apologies for the image quality, but this is my best shot, taken hastily.)
By now, our temporary floating community is coalescing, and I'm charmed by the intriguing people along for the ride with me. Among my compadres are Karen, CEO of family-run JimBoy's Tacos chain; Leigh, retired software engineer and meditation teacher; Troy, Hollywood film guy/photographer; Joe, retired school principal traveling on his motorcycle; Hannah and Rodney, fresh-faced outdoor guides who just kayaked from Bellingham to Skagway, AK; and Blake, college math instructor who just rowed solo up the Inside Passage.
I could go on, there are so many interesting, friendly fellow travelers. Our common thread seems infused with a particular adventuresome spirit. While it's a beautiful, scenic journey, the human dimension really makes the trip memorable.
|Blake Miller, rower extraordinaire, rowed up the Inside Passage solo.|
|Rodney and Hannah just finished a 3-month journey kayaking the Inside Passage.|
Sunshine, whale sightings, and no smartphones will do that.
"There's a whale at two o'clock tail slapping," says the voice over the ship's speaker. Everyone hurries over to the other railing, lots of zoom lenses ready. I don't have a good enough zoom, but Blake shares some of his shots with me. (Thank you Blake!)
|Tail slap. Photo courtesy of Blake Miller.|
For years I've read about kayaking trips in Johnstone Strait, which has the largest resident pod of killer whales (orcas) in the world. Sure enough, when Blake points out Robson Bight, an Ecological Reserve famous for drawing orcas to its protected waters, we spot about a half dozen orcas swimming close to the shoreline. We're just a little too far for any decent shots, but it's always a thrill to see orcas.
Tonight I splurge on a sit-down dinner in the dining room (my first and only visit there in three days) with Karen and two lovely women from B.C. My wild Alaskan salmon and baked winter squash dinner is tasty. But as I'm finishing my meal, I realize it's SUNSET time and I'm not on deck with my camera!
So I dash up, a little too late, but still, I think the waning light is lovely on the surrounding sea and mountains.
And for an extra special treat, I've been reminding everbody that tonight the Perseid meteor showers will be peaking. As the evening twilight fades to dark somewhere just south of Campbell River mid-Vancouver Island, several of us pull our recliners out from under the solarium to lay under the open sky on the deck and wait for the stars to shoot.
And "shoot" they do. Although I can't stay awake past midnight before falling asleep, I see some spectacular color-infused blazes across the sky.
When I awaken about 5:30 a.m., I know instantly I'm in my home waters of the Salish Sea: Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island is coming into view to the south, and Mt. Baker is visible on the eastern horizon.
|Mt. Constitution ahead.|
|Mt. Baker to the left above the clouds.|
It's a beautiful early morning, with the promise of another bluebird day. Too soon this journey will be over, in just a couple hours.
So I pack up and collect all my gear spread out in my little patch of the upper back deck, say my goodbyes, exchange cards and emails, and then enjoy the last stretch around the southern tip of Lummi Island and on into Bellingham Bay.
To commemorate the trip, I'm inspired to compose a haiku:
Churning southward home
Through mountains, rain, sun, and stars
It's all just perfect
When You Go
The Alaska Marine Highway runs year-round, although the schedules vary with the seasons and tides. Although you can pay for a private cabin, I along with many others chose to "camp" on the upper back deck under the covered solarium, with overhead heat lamps. While often people pitch their tent on the back deck, no one did on my trip, which was nice because they didn't obstruct the views for those of us on recliners in the solarium. There are showers, outlets around the ship to charge your electronics, movies shown once a day (I didn't watch), a snack bar with sandwiches and hot food, a pricier restaurant, and of course heated clean bathrooms. ALSO next summer Blake is going to row solo again up the Inside Passage as a fundraiser for a hospital. I'll pass along the specifics about how you can contribute in due time.