Whales, Horses, and GoKarts

Well, this post was supposed to be published last Sunday, but I got distracted by the arrival of my husband, Mike, and the coolest Star Wars costume exhibit ever.  (Thanks for understanding, and I’ll share pictures later this week.)  Anyway, buckle your seatbelts, because I’ve got plenty of adventure to report from two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, I got up with the sun (that’s the sound of me crying into my breakfast) for an absolutely gorgeous day in Ketchikan.  Then I jumped on a bus that drove us north aways to an old logging road, for Adventure Karts!  What’s an adventure kart, you ask?

GoKarts1Those are adventure karts.  They’re a cross between a go-kart and a riding mower, with a jumpy accelerator and VERY bouncy tires.  Driving one reminded me of mowing the grass on our tractor when I was growing up – including my strong fear of running into something.  (Oddly, I don’t have that fear with a car.)

After a quick safety speech, we jumped into some waterproof overalls in a lovely prison shade, and immediately following we were in the karts and on the road.  I confess, I was a little taken aback at how simple it all was.  I don’t know, I guess I thought with a vehicle, they’d be more worried about our driving skills.  But nope!   I suppose that’s why they require proof of insurance…

GoKarts2It was a blast.  We were instructed to drive INTO the potholes, not around them, both for the mud splashes that usually followed and for safety, ironically.  For while the tires are made to withstand that kind of shock, the karts are not necessarily the most maneuverable, and so swerving increased the chances of driving into the ditches on the side.

I tell you, it took everything in my power to override my safe driver instincts and steer into those potholes.  The bounce to my jaw and neck took some getting used to, as well, but the ride was so beautiful and fun that it was totally worth it.  I also tried spruce tips for the first time – incredibly good for you (it’s how the Alaskan pioneers held off scurvy!) and delicious, like Christmas in your mouth.

The next excursion I took was a two-parter.  First, we visited the Mendenhall Glacier just north of Juneau.  I hadn’t realized that Juneau was a completely landlocked city, due to the huge ice fields to the east.  From those ice fields come the many glaciers surrounding the area, including the Mendenhall Glacier.

An absolutely gorgeous day!
An absolutely gorgeous day! (Click to open the full size panorama.)

Glacier2I’m going to be honest and say that while it was beautiful (see all these photos!), the glacier wasn’t a particularly overwhelming experience for me.  Maybe because I’ve caught glimpses of so many by now?  Maybe because we couldn’t get very close to it?  Maybe because it’s so melted?  I don’t know.  It was pretty sad to hear that apparently my children’s generation will not be able to see the glacier from the visitor’s center due to how fast it’s melting – quite startling.

The gorgeous visitors' center
The gorgeous visitor’s center

I had a lovely little walk out to a beautiful waterfall near the glacier, though.  It was so funny to stand on sand!  I haven’t seen sand in years.  Forgot how much I dislike sand in my shoes.  (I’m not a huge beach girl.)  Otherwise, I spent most of my glacier time talking to my family – sooo good to catch up with people.

Obligatory glacier selfie
Obligatory glacier selfie

The second part of my Juneau excursion was whale-watching.  Now, not many people know that I reeeeeeeeally don’t like deep water.  Titanic terrifies me, and I can barely watch the oceanic portions of Planet Earth.  But my dance captain encouraged me to try things that scare me on these trips, and so, ever the obedient student, I signed up for whale-watching, prepared to face my fear.

I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.  Sparkling clear skies, warm sun, and a refreshing breeze off the water.  The boat was much bigger than I expected, too, sort of the size of a small ferry boat.  I was prepared for a little fishing boat, which would have been much rockier and closer to the water.

Whales1We apparently had the most incredible day of whale-watching ever.  Not only did we see one of the biggest pods of humpback whales the ship’s guides had ever seen (there were at least 20 adult whales in it), but they were bubble-net feeding, which is when they work together as a group to blow bubbles to corral the schools of herring into tight bunches for ideal eating.  I couldn’t get a picture of the circle of flukes popping up out of the water, but it was breathtaking!

Whales3We were told not to expect any breaches, as it’s incredibly rare for whales to frolic about up here in the Alaskan waters; it’s much more common during breeding, when they’re down in Hawaii.  But if a whale were to breach, it would most likely be one of the babies, which are more playful.

Well, imagine the crew’s surprise when an adult whale decided to give us a show.  He breached not once, not twice, but over a dozen times (I think I lost count around 15).  Catching a photo was incredibly difficult, because I had no clue when he would jump, but here are a couple of the shots I got.

Whales4This is one of those excursions that photos can’t capture.  90% of the experience was sensing the size of the whales as they surfaced near our boat, hearing the groans and blasts of air, and feeling the collective gasp of breath each time the whale breached.

Interestingly, I discovered that I had no fear of the deep water that day.  Maybe it was because I couldn’t see into it (very opaque), maybe because it wasn’t the ocean itself, just a channel, or maybe it was because I was safely on a boat and not swimming in the water.  Whatever the reason(s), I was grateful to have faced one of my fears and dispel it.

Heading home in the sunset
Heading home in the sunset

The next day was Skagway.  Regrettably, it was heavily overcast and drizzling rain almost the whole day, but given how much sun we’ve had on these trips, I really shouldn’t complain.  Especially because I got to ride a horse!

Horses0Now, I never went through a horse phase when I was a girl.  Most girls dream of riding Black Beauty and read Misty of Chincoteague over and over again, but I couldn’t have cared less.  But somewhere in the last year, maybe due to how much Outlander I’ve been reading, I have become very interested in horses.  They’re such majestic creatures, and I love how humans form a deep bond with them.  (Actually, it’s possible my new interest stems from watching Lord of the Rings special features so often.  There’s a whole featurette on the horses.)  So the horseback riding excursion was one that I was really, really hoping to do in this Alaska season.

I admitted my lack of experience to the guides (I’m honest to a fault), but I followed it up with a request that I not be given a pokey pony.  “Something with spirit?” was my exact request.  I got my wish!  Johnny was the name of my horse, and he liked to walk a little faster than the rest of the pack, meaning I constantly had to pull him back.  He didn’t like to be told no.

Left, Johnny - determined to eat the forbidden grass.  Right, me reining him in (to his frustration).
Left, Johnny – determined to eat the forbidden grass. Right, me reining him in (to his frustration).

It was a very boring ride, to be honest.  We had to ride single-file, so we couldn’t chat with each other, and it was raining quite steadily, and it was a very flat trail we followed out to the Dyea tidal flats.  However, I still had a blast, as you can see.  (I wasn’t able to take very many photos because of the rain.)

Visible behind me, my passenger friends Joy and Sara!
Visible behind me, my passenger friends Joy and Sara!

Later that afternoon, I got to visit my ship’s bridge!  I wish my father-in-law had been there; as a retired Navy guy, he knows all the cool questions to ask.  But I had a great time with a couple other crew members, seeing the wheel (it’s so tiny!), the sensors, and the indicators.  It was such a clean, pristine room – I think I had been expecting lots of papers and people.  But you could have held a cocktail party up there, so much open space was there.  And the view!  What an office.

Bridge1A couple days later in Victoria, I got to visit the Butchart Gardens and the nearby Butterfly Gardens.  I wish I had been able to see both during the day!  It was hard to tell what I was looking at in the dark at the former, and the butterflies were all asleep out of sight at the latter.  But it was fun nonetheless.  The Butchart Gardens were particularly impressive – lots of colored illuminations, a breathtaking fireworks display set to music, and my favorite gift shop of the entire cruise so far.  (You’d be amazed how many of them have the exact same merchandise….)

Gardens1 Gardens2I was more than tuckered out after such a full week of excursions!  But the fun was just beginning, for the next day my husband arrived, and we had plenty more adventure in store for us.  I’ll have the post up in a couple days!

Though I am an employee of Princess Cruises, all opinions are mine only and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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