No one was more surprised than husband Ray and I to find ourselves winging toward an Alaskan wilderness adventure - especially one that involved nine days on a small cruise ship. We are consummate landlubbers, and I personally have suffered seasickness on ocean ventures of less than an hour, and occasionally in the bathtub.
We boarded The Spirit of Discovery at Juneau (where it rains 222 days a year) with 40 other passengers, many of whom, like us, were stunned to see how tiny the cabins - especially the bathrooms - were. "There isn't room enough in this bathroom," I complained to Ray, "for me and my hiking boots."
But Ray was glad for the cabin's small dimensions when huge waves rocked the ship as he was taking off his jeans. On one leg, he quick-hopped the length of the room, where he crashed into the door, then hopped back until he collided with the chest of drawers between our bunks. "What was THAT?" he asked.
"I think it was the wake from that big cruise ship."
"Oh, good," he said with relief, "I thought I was having a stroke!"
The next day, in groups of eight (our group was proud to be designated Humpbacks), we climbed into small yellow inflatable boats. I expected to sit IN the boat, but was instructed to sit on the inflated rim, where it took me 20 minutes to release my death-grip on the rope. As our helmsman maneuvered us through the brilliant blue (who knew?) glacier bergs to the base of a mountain waterfall, fellow Humpbacks began asking the accompanying naturalist to identify exotic flowers and rocks. In one crevice, I noticed an unusual white patch, artistically streaked with black and gray. "What is that?" I inquired.
"Oh ... blonde, you know."
A later expedition took us to an uninhabited, at least by humans, island where a naturalist with naked hands dissected bear - how can I put this delicately? - poop.
"Yuk!" said an observer.
"It's all natural," explained the naturalist, "just berries and small crabs."
"Yeah," I exclaimed, "but it's been through the bear!"
I am grateful that the scores of whales performing for us didn't leave any poop floating on the water for her to retrieve and examine. As for the harbor seals littering the rocks, I learned one thing about them: They stink. They really, really STINK! I also learned that puffins are cute, but otters are cuter.
Bob, the ship's chef, promised to put 10 pounds on us and nearly succeeded. He'd appear during dinner and, to our eager anticipation, read the next night's menu selections. Then came the night when one table mistakenly was given the next evening's menu. When Chef Bob came out and asked, "Do you want to know what's for dinner tomorrow night?" one diner voiced a request: "I'd like some caramelized onion soup."
Chef Bob smiled, happy that he was able to honor that request. His smile turned to puzzlement as a diner exclaimed, "I'd love some veal orso!" and another chimed in, "How about grilled salmon with vinaigrette and asparagus?"
When a fourth diner added, "and for dessert, creme brulee with a burnt sugar topping," Chef Bob turned on his heel and walked back into the kitchen. A second later, he reappeared. Chef Bob was a great cook ... and also a good sport.
Before our Alaskan adventure ended, we visited Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks, where Ray booked an Arctic Circle Adventure that promised us a flight that would land 150 miles beyond the arctic circle and allow time for exploration. Prior to that flight, Ray had been in a small plane only once, and it must have been a very calm day. Fortunately, I was familiar with the bumpy rides offered by small planes because I often flew with my father in his little Cessna 140.
The first time our eight-passenger twin-prop hit turbulence and dropped fast enough to plaster us to the ceiling had we not been securely belted in our seats, Ray squeezed my hand hard. "I thought we were going down!" he later apologized.
It took a lot of guts for him (me, too, if I'm honest) to get back in the plane for the return trip to Fairbanks. We arrived at our hotel at 1:30 a.m. and set the alarm for 3:45 a.m. to transfer to the airport for our early morning flight home.
Alaska is beautiful and we had a lot of fun (no seasickness for me), but I am glad to be back. With all the animals living around us - longhorn cattle, miniature horses and donkeys, emus, swans, llamas, a camel and lots more - I have never witnessed any neighbor dissecting critter poop.
There's no place like home!