We arrived in Juneau on August 22. It was cool and somewhat misty, but that’s to be expected for a temperate rain forest. We disembarked the ship and headed off for our first shore excursion of the trip, on that combined two of my favorite activities: bicycling and drinking beer. Well, it didn’t exactly combine them so much as schedule them sequentially, which is probably a better idea anyway.
We cycled for about 9 miles, stopping every so often for photos and for the guides to share their knowledge about Alaskan foliage and wildlife. Some things I learned:
- Beware of Devil’s club–nasty, prickly stuff
- If it’s black, fight back; if it’s brown lie down (this is in reference to bears)
- The forests near Juneau abound with berries. Although most are edible, you should know what you’re doing before you attempt to eat any.
- The bark of the sitka spruce is like potato chips; whereas the bark of the Western hemlock resembles bacon
During the excursion, we got great views of Auke Lake and the Mendenhall glacier. One thing I really didn’t expect was for the glacial ice to be so blue. I had heard things referred to as “ice blue” before, and I never understood why. Ice is clear or white, not blue. Now, I understand!
After finishing the bike ride, we were driven to a brewpub near the docks where we sampled several different types of Alaskan beer. Yum!
After the beer tasting, we had an hour or so to wander around Juneau (ie, go shopping) before we headed back to the ship. In an incredibly surprising move (or not so much), I bought a hat (not the one pictured, I’ll keep you in suspense.
That evening on the ship, we dined at the teppanyaki restaurant. Normally, Japanese fare is not my thing, as it tends to be a bit boring if you don’t eat seafood. Teppanyaki places are usually entertaining, though, and our chef did not disappoint. He sliced. He diced. He threw eggs in the air and caught them with his hat and then pulled from his hat a wind-up chick. Domo arigato!
The following day, we docked in Skagway, a town of fewer than 1000 permanent residents. However, its population more than doubles during the summer in order to cater to the some 900,000 tourists that visit!
Our first excursion in Skagway was called a “hike and float.” We began by hiking a small portion of the Chilkoot trail in Dyea, an abandoned gold-rush town that is now a National Park. Although it was only a 2-mile hike, it was somewhat strenuous and made me feel slightly better about the massive amounts of food I had been consuming on the ship. According to our guide, the highest elevation we reached was about 560 feet, but I decided that meant we could round up and call it 1000 feet.
When we finished our hike (which, incidentally marks the farthest North I have ever been while on the ground), we donned life jackets and got into a pontoon boat for a float down the Taiya river. Our guide reminded us of the water temperature (approximately 34 degrees Fahrenheit) to provide an extra incentive to be careful about not taking an accidental swim. We, or rather, our guide, successfully navigated what he chucklingly referred to as a class 0.5 rapids, and we all arrived safe at shore, where tea and cookies awaited us. Our excursion was at an end, and we were driven back into Skagway and very conveniently dropped right in front of the Skagway Brewing Company. The Spruce Tip Blonde was delicious. Apparently, the fresh shoots of spruce trees are very rich in vitamin C. Spruce tips were originally brewed into a tea, which was given to sailors to prevent scurvy. It seems that not many were fond of the tea, and, as an alternative, spruce tips were used to make beer. Never mind that the process of brewing the beer broke down most of the vitamin C!
If you are not hiking or on some other type of excursion, the main things to do in Skagway are eat, drink, and shop. We did all three until it was time for our next excursion.
At about 6:30 in the evening, we boarded a train, which would take us approximately 20 miles up to the White Pass summit. The railway was originally built to transport prospector, but unfortunately, the gold rush was over by the time it was completed. Now, it serves solely as a tourist attraction. As I looked out the windows of the train at the terrain around me, it seemed to me that it’s a wonder that the railway was even ever built. I’m thankful it was, though, because the scenery was stunning, even on a misty day.