North, to Alaska

What I Did On Summer Vacation, by Doug Kreinik

For summer vacation this year, my wife Myla and I sought out an adventure as a relief after the death of our son Charles. We wanted to get away, do something different, go somewhere that we'd never been before. We chose Alaska, land of glaciers, whales, seals and open space, and booked an Alaskan cruise.

The trip began with flight delays, missed flights, and late flights, but then we eventually landed in Vancouver, British Columbia, the second most expensive city in the world after Hong Kong. The air was clean, the vistas beautiful, the parks magnificent and the food great. We took a guided bus tour around the city and discovered beautiful Stanley Park, named after the founder of hockey's Stanley Cup.  It had very tall trees, wonderful bike paths and great views.

The ship left from Vancouver Harbor. We walked through line after line, got our passports stamped, pictures taken, answered security questions, had our luggage examined, and eventually marched aboard.  The first event was eating, of course, which we did and continued to do for eight days.

It was fun to meet people from all over the world on the cruise. Being from West Virginia is an anomaly, for most people have never met anyone from this state, so I suspect we were a novelty to some ("We met West Virginians!") Being on ship was like being in a floating mall, however, and we were constantly being bombarded with products to purchase, spa packages, special dinners and photographic moments to buy. Myla had given me a FitBit for Father's Day, so I tracked every step I took on board. I would often walked more than 10000 steps a day (outwalking the sales people?).  Myla had a pedometer, so we would compete as to who had had the greatest number of steps.

We portaged in Ketchikan, Alaska, where we saw a lot of eagles. There are more than 17,000 eagles in Alaska, so numerous that they are almost like pigeons are to New York. We also toured Dolly's House, the last house of ill repute (prostitution) from mid 20th century, which is now just a museum. Coincidently, one of our tour guides was from West Virginia. Small world.

Other stops on the cruise blended together in some ways. Workers from all over the world come to Alaska in the summer and work in the jewelry stores lining the main streets set up by the cruise lines. We saw the same shops in all the cities we visited on the cruise: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Wittier. In other ways, however, the stops were fun and interesting. I had no idea, for example, that Juneau cannot be reached by road from the lower 48 States. The very cute town Talkeetna, near Denali, was the model for the television show Northern Exposure. I asked a local if they catapulted pianos.

We learned many interesting tidbits on the trip. For example, reindeer are domesticated caribou. Some of the rivers are filled with so much sediment from the glaciers that they are not passable because a boat will not float on the muck. The main extent of the Alaskan gold rush last only two years. Only 30% percent of tourists who go to Denali Park actually see Mt. McKinley (Denali) due to weather, and the others are forced to take photos of photos. Amazing as it might seem, most of Alaska is a cold desert with less than 14 inches of moisture a year. Being from a small town in West Virginia, I was stunned to discover that Fairbanks is smaller than Parkersburg, WV with only 30,000 residents.

We almost made it to the Arctic Circle, short of 2 degrees.  We almost saw the Northern Lights, but you find that only during the winter months. We almost saw a moose, but missed by three hours.  We almost saw a pod of whales (should have gone later in the day). Early morning tours saw a grizzly bear, but we toured in the afternoon.  The tour the day after ours saw Mt.McKinley (Denali) on a breathtakingly clear day.

I did get to visit numerous needlework, knitting and bead shops through the coastal area and up towards Fairbanks. One shop I visited was Changing Tides in Juneau. They carry Kreinik threads and have a nice mix of needlepoint, cross stitch and quilting. 

Overall what I did on my summer vacation was was spiritual, quiet, beautiful, memorable, peaceful and just fun. We are glad that we experienced this extraordinary expanse of our country. If you get the opportunity to visit Alaska, we recommend it.





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