The Only Highway System That Includes Life Preservers
There are 656,425 square miles of rugged wilderness, scenic beauty and abundant wildlife that make up the Last Frontier, Alaska. This means traveling in Alaska presents some unique challenges as well as opportunities. Unlike the lower 48, many of the communities are not accessible by a land based road system, making the primary means of travel to them by air or sea. The Alaska Marine Highway makes up a large part of the Alaska 'highway system' and is a route so special it has been designated National Scenic Byway and an All American Road, the only marine route with this designation.
With Sitka, Alaska being my second island home, and my family spending vacation time on a third chunk of rock (Anderson Island, WA), plus recent journeys between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island, I have spent a wealth of time aboard numerous ferry systems. On a recent excursion, to Canada, when I had to walk across 36 lanes for vehicle traffic in Nanaimo, British Columbia., I was reminded of the importance and lifeblood of the ferry system. Maybe a lane for each vehicle color?
Aboard the Malaspina Ferry
Last May I was parked on the Malaspina, amid my life time collection of odds and ends, crammed into every nook and cranny of my bulging Subaru Legacy. Is there a stronger word to insert, then 'crammed'? Yes, I attempted to load everytttttttttttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnngggg, that I owned, into that poor, space abused vehicle.
If you were a gear junkie thief, you could have scored brilliantly. I was forced to abandon much of my belongings, including kitchen wares, books, tools, food and generally much of what it takes to survive on your own. Here I come Mom and Dad!
somewhere in Canadian waters
My position in Alaska had been dissolved and a job offer in Canada ended as only that. Poutine for lunch and my hockey dreams will have to wait. I was now making a beeline to the Southwest desert, a vastly different terrain and climate than my world of 87 inches of rain a year afforded this drenched soul in the SE Alaska rain forest. I will get back to the 'beeline' quip. This journey would be anything but......
A novelty found on some of the Alaska Marine Highway ferries is the Solarium. On the Malaspina, this is the area that is in the back of the boat, on the highest deck. Here you will find the traveling crowd that elected not to get a cabin. One of the beauties of the ferry system is that there are many areas that a person can throw a sleeping bag. Instinctively, I laid my sleeping bag on a reclining plastic chair in the Solarium, under a heater (the back end of the Solarium is open to the back of the boat/sea). This trip would slowly cruise to an end in Bellingham, Washington. Transit time would be 2 days 16 hours, so I would need a worthy place to crash. With the Solarium bustling, I moved camp to the aft lounge, where I was greeted with a striking view, fully cushioned seating/bedding area, close to restrooms, and only 1 other camper on the far side of the large room.
View of ocean and beautiful scenery from the Malaspina
The sailing was a photographers dream. Not being an actual 'photographer' on an relevant scale, I enjoy capturing the beauty and sometimes oddity around me. The beauty of Alaska and Canada was like an award winning slide show playing upon my spirit, 24/7. There would be unknown mountain ranges, bays, light houses, islands, etc. All breathtaking and worth the 68 million (or so) photos I snapped. It was also a good time to reflect on life, job situation, the ugly financial chaos, wondering if by crazy chance, there are any nice/cute/adventurous gals in Catalina, Arizona (my future home), the coming road trip and diabetes.
No trails, no gym, and no roads meant close to no exercise and additional challenge to achieving reasonable blood sugars. I maintained some weak level of sanity with repeated loops around the perimeter of the vessel. The desperately lacking track was open all day and all night. Perfect for laps at 1am.
Link below is video of the Malaspina
As we entered Washington waters I could feel the journey coming to an end. I was thankful to step aside from the crazy, busy time that I had endured the previous months. Slugging away at the job market, packing, making monumental donations to the Salvation Army and the White Elephant Thrift Stores and watching the $$ side of life take one hit after another. It was a welcome adventure (other than the staggering cost of floating a vehicle on a long ferry trip).
Less than 150 miles after exiting the Malaspina, my once-loved Subaru would break down twice and there was a additional stirring of the nerves as a tire developed a rather serious and threatening protuberance. I would live, temporarily, at my daughter's (Deanna) in the Seattle area, plunk down more of my dwindling resources on car repairs and eventually would toss most of my possessions in a storage unit in Seattle and catch Alaska Airlines for a very disrupted and disturbing 'beeline' to Arizona. So glad for additional blog material!
Malaspina at the Bellingham dock