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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

On the Marine Highway home

Aug 27, 2022 (Sat) Skagway, AK

One of the things about living in Harvey is that everything has to be stowed exactly back where it belongs. If it’s off, even a little bit, things do not turn out well.

Which is how we ended up with the “Somebody didn’t put the jar of pickle relish back where it belonged” incident, which is also known as the “Somebody didn’t look before they pulled down the coffee maker” incident. To be fair, it was pre-coffee, so details are a bit fuzzy.

The upshot is that the jar of pickle relish ended up airborne with the lid, the jar itself, and the contents of the jar taking different trajectories. Apparently, the physics of pickle relish jars gets fairly complicated.

What is easy to understand is that nothing in Harvey is improved by having pickle relish added to it. Not Robert’s pack, or the floor, or Gini’s foot. Gini’s foot was also used to arrest the flight of the pickle jar, which led to additional uproar.

The moral of the story: Always stow things exactly where they belong, potato head.

Alternate moral: Look before you pull things off the shelf, nimrod.

4:45 pm

The rest of the day passed quietly—certainly quieter than the beginning. We hunted down some breakfast pastries (the bakery was closed, the Doughboy line was out the door, the coffee shop was sold out) and got a tomato.

Then we headed over for the ferry line and lounged around there, eating snacks and reading and taking a snooze. (This is where Harvey really shines—waiting in a ferry line is a pleasant experience.)

The ferry we’re catching is part of the Alaska Marine Highway. If you look at a map of Alaska and look in the lowest right bit (the South East) you’ll see a bunch of little islands with a scattering of settlements. Long ago (late 1950’s) somebody had the bright idea to start a regular ferry service amongst the islands so that people could move their cars and stuff, as well as themselves.

It’s called the Alaska Marine Highway, because it’s like a highway, but on the water.

We’re catching the Highway back to Bellingham, which will take a total of four days—versus the 30 some days it took to get here. We think we could have driven home in two weeks or so, so this is way faster and Robert doesn’t have to do any of the driving.

6:00 pm

Since we can’t stay in Harvey (against the Federal Rules) and can only visit him when we’re stopped (once or twice a day), we have to figure out what we need and stuff it into bags (since we have no luggage) and lug it upstairs. This only takes a couple of trips.

We have gotten a cabin on board and when we open the door, we’re in heaven!

Our cabin!

A shower! Our own shower! A bathroom with a door that closes! (Harvey’s door closes, but you can’t actually sit down with the door closed.)

There are twin bunk beds, which means the upper bunk is the storage area (for a thousandth of second, we consider one of us sleeping in the top bunk and get as far as “and then when Robert gets up to pee in the middle of the night, he…”).

Basically, this ship, the Matanuska, is a cross between a Washington state ferry and a cut-rate cruise ship. There’s zero entertainment, and no free anything (except for showers). There’s a cafeteria that serves adequate food (and doesn’t overcharge too much for it). There’s a bar that serves beer and wine and is open for four hours a night.

The Matanuska was built in 1963 and refurbished in 1978 (about the time Robert graduated from college) and hasn’t sunk once in all that time! Like all boats, there are crew constantly repairing things, but everything seems to be ship shape (literally).

And unlimited free showers!

You do get a fabulous view of the islands in South East Alaska, as the ferry wends its way through them—and sometimes they are very very close to the ship. There are two lounges where you can peer out the windows and hope for the best.

There are two areas where people who can’t afford cabins (or don’t want to spend money on a cabin) can sleep, and an area where you can pitch a tent. One of the areas is indoors, and consists of a bunch of chairs that lean back a little bit. The outside area has overhead heaters and the people there seem very young and rugged.

We are delighted that we chose a cabin and one with a window. We wouldn’t want to stay in a window-less cabin, because we’d always be worried we were missing something.

6:50 pm Haines, AK

We were a little late getting out of Skagway, but we’ve mostly made up the time and now we stop at Haines. We only stop for two hours, so although we can technically get off the boat, we could realistically get partway into town and have to turn around.

Aug 28, 2022 (Sun)

2:00 am Juneau, AK

“Let’s get up and look at the lights of Juneau!” says the more excitable of us.

“Mumble, mumble, grumble?” says the other one, but drags his butt out of bed anyway.

If you are ever in this situation, you can just roll over and go back to sleep. The “lights of Juneau” may be quite spectacular, but from where the ferry pulls into dock, all you can see is a lighthouse. Every minute the light shines our way. That’s all the lights you will see.

2:30 pm Sitka, AK

This time we are wide awake and ready to gaze out at the town of Sitka, which we anticipate will be quite delightful. Again, the ferry is docked well away from the town, and all we really see is the ferry dock and the cars waiting to get on.

Gazing out the window from the recliner lounge.

6:30 pm Lounge

The lounge only serves beer and wine. When we first arrive, the Bluetooth speaker is playing a female chanteuse regaling us with songs in French. We’re about to blow out this snooty joint, when the music changes to B. B. King and we share our beer and wine and our pain of being on the road with Mr. King. The bartender makes some fresh popcorn, and after drinking a couple of beers brewed in Alaska, all is right with the world.

Aug 29, 2022 (Mon)

4:15 am St. Petersburg, AK

We’re not falling for that twice! St. Petersburg can keep its lights.

8:15 am Wrangell, AK

According to Ms. Alaska, based on her experience from 60 years ago, it’s pronounced “ran-GELL.” In any event, we’re at a ferry dock and the town is nowhere is sight.

We spend a quiet day reading and practicing and taking a snooze. We’re not sleeping so great in those twin bunks with two of us Plus-Size people in one Minus-Size bunk, so the afternoons are spent trying to catch up on shut-eye.

When we dock, Harvey gets a chance to check out the local scenery as well

3:00 pm Ketchikan, AK

Robert watches us pull into dock and—holy cow! There’s a town here—right at the ferry dock! And it’s a real town with stores and everything. Unfortunately, we’re only here for an hour, so we can only gaze longingly at all this civilization.

We also realize that we have effectively been on The Small Town Tour of Canada and Alaska. We haven’t seen a town bigger than 30,000 and most of the places we’ve stayed have had populations of less than one thousand.

If we were to pull into New York City, we’re pretty sure our brains would overload and we’d just collapse. We’re getting nervous about pulling into Bellingham (“Will there be traffic lights??”).

Aug 30, 2022 (Tue)

11:00 am We saw a whale!

We were kind of idling around in the forward lounge, as we do when we get super bored and want to sit and read someplace besides out cabin when—Thar she blows!

We see a whale!

It’s not as spectacular as in the movies (and certainly no harpoons were being flung about), but we see a smudge of dark and then mist comes out, and then the smudge goes away and a tail appears above the water.

This is either a photo of Bigfoot or a whale tail. They are equally difficult to get into focus.

12:30 pm At sea

We don’t put in at any ports today, but instead we wend our merry way south towards Vancouver Island and our final destination.

To compensate for that lack of adventure, the ferry heads out to open water. Twice.

“Open Water” is a fancy nautical way of saying “it’ll be bumpy,” and it sure is!

In fact, the second time (about noon), the announcement lady says “Probably you should just lie down in your bunk so you don’t get bounced around the halls like pinballs.” They are expecting swells of two meters, which we think is pretty acceptable until we realize that’s six feet!

We scamper to our bunks and let the ship rock us to sleep. Fortunately, most of the rocking is back and forth (the ship is “wallowing” not “pitching”) and that’s the way our bunks are lined up, so it’ very tranquil.

Sometimes the land gets real close

Aug 31, 2022 (Wed)

8:00 am Bellingham, WA

At long last—we’re about to touch land again!

Of course, nobody can go down to the car deck until we are completely docked. At which point we can leave—except that we are up on Deck 5 with all our stuff, along with everybody else. The result is a sort of land rush with everybody scampering down the staircase so they can get ready to leave.

Harvey, of course, is first in line, so nobody leaves until we do, which stresses us out, but we make it to Harvey, throw our last bits into him and fire him up! He starts right up, because crossing the Inside Passage is nothing after crossing the Yukon, and we now know that Harvey is made of stern stuff. (Although his air conditioner is made of slightly less stern stuff.)

12:00 pm Woodinville, WA

Home again, safely!

We stopped and got a crate of mail from the last six weeks and then crashed home. We plugged Harvey in for a nice long nap, scratched Frankie the cat’s head, and the collapsed into our own warm, soft beds. Ah!

Thank you for joining us in our journey across the wilds of Canada and Alaska. We hope you enjoyed our tales of the road and they inspire you to make your own trips (but if you go north—bring DEET!).

Tomorrow is coming real soon!

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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