Friday, October 27, 2017

Alaska: Land Ho! Skagway

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We were so happy to finally get off the ship. We weren't seasick or anything, just happy to be able to roam freely (without human obstacles blocking us in narrow corridors) and experience food that actually had flavor.

Today's Skagway mostly exists to give tourists like us something to see other than ice and nature. The entire town is one shop after another - similar to a Disney Park Main Street. But unlike Disney's version, Skagway's downtown is filled with real turn-of-the-20th-century architecture and charm. As an added bonus, the town is also a National Park (Klondike Gold Rush NP).

In the late 1800's Skagway developed to serve prospectors adventuring to seek gold in Alaska and Canada. The city has a seedy history with booze, gambling, and hookers running rampant. Per Wikipedia, "Between 1897 and 1898, Skagway was a lawless town, described by one member of the North-West Mounted Police as "little better than a hell on earth." Fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Skagway's streets, and con man "Soapy" Smith, who had risen to considerable power, did little to stop it. Smith was a sophisticated swindler who liked to think of himself as a kind and generous benefactor to the needy. He was gracious to some, giving money to widows and halting lynchings, while simultaneously operating a ring of thieves who swindled prospectors with cards, dice, and the shell game." So this was our kind of place: old-timey charm with a few dank bars thrown into the mix.

Fortunately we had a 12 hour stop in town. Our kayaking/train excursion would start around 11:30 giving us about three hours to explore Broadway. We toured the National Park Visitor Center, browsed many shops, looked at the White Pass train display, and followed the historic trail showcasing original (or replica) structures from the late-1800's. The Red Onion Saloon opened at 10am - giving us a chance to enjoy sitting at the historic bar without all the crowds of cruisers that would be in the place at more respectable hours.

At 11:30 we boarded our assigned motorcoach and took a 45 minute ride up to Lake Bernard in British Columbia, Canada. We barely crossed the U.S./Canadian border to get to our destination. The dozen in our group were greeted by our guides and shown to our ruddered kayaks. We were given splash bibs to keep our legs and bodies dry from paddling. After orientation, and deciding on who would steer our kayak (Holly), we were launched into the gorgeous little mountain lake.

The paddling portion of our trip took about an hour. With some of the currents (lake was fed by a river) the last portion of the tour became quite a challenge. This excursion was a little out-of-the-box for us but we figured we would never go to Canada to kayak on our own. After kayaking our tour guides treated us to some light snacks inside a warm platform tent before walking us over to our private White Pass train car reserved for Packer Expedition guests. As an added bonus it was the train's caboose. The slow trip down very steep grades was filled with views of rivers, forests, gorges, waterfalls, and rock formations. We traveled over very high (and old) train bridges. The entire trip was narrated by a guide pointing out sites along the way. One odd sighting we had was two plastic Oswald dolls in a tree. No clue how anyone could have gotten there to place them.
Really cool house en-route to Distillery

Our ride ended around 5pm. We raced over to the Skagway Brewing Company for a proper late-lunch and beer. As expected it was crowded but we lucked into bar seats as a couple was leaving. We had some incredible halibut fish and chips here - the kind you dream about. While at the bar the owner of the brand new Skagway Spirits Distillery came in to talk to the bar about carrying his product. We had plenty of time left so we took a few block walk outside the tourist zone over to his business. We encountered the owner again and met his wife. At the time we were the only customers and spent some time getting their life stories over our cocktails. Many of the items in the lounge were relics from former businesses in town. We had a great time in there.

We wanted to hit one of the shops on the way back to pick up a carved otter. Surprise! The stores were closed while the ship was still in port. We thought they'd be open as long as the ship was around. Nope! We spent too much time in future ports trying to find a suitable substitute for that otter. Pro Tip: buy it when you see it. With limited things left to do in town we made the rookie mistake of getting back on the ship an hour before we were to weigh anchor. Surely we could have squeezed our way into the Red Onion or spent more time talking with the folks in the distillery.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

2017 Bozeman (MT) Marathon Race Report and Video

Here is Holly's Bozeman (Montana) Marathon Report with video and comments from Dave:

I chose the Bozeman race because it was a good time of year (September) and it was close to Yellowstone so we could make a return trip to see the things we missed from our trip last year. Unfortunately they moved the race up a week so we were just going to be back from a Disney World trip and then head to Bozeman. Not ideal for running a marathon.

We got into Bozeman the day before the race (Dave will handle the pre race activities). Our friends Jan, Mike, and Michael arrived early and picked up my race packet.

The race started at 7am and they said everyone had to take a shuttle to the start. The shuttle left at 5:45am so we had an early wake up. Michael and I were running this one together. Stan and Pam were to join us but they had a family emergency and had to cancel. We missed them both dearly. Dave was nice and got up and drove us to the shuttle pick up point. Michael and I got on the bus and we drove out to the middle of nowhere.

We were dropped off in the middle of an un-mowed field with 5 port of potties and a small tent. We immediately got in line for the bathroom and then went to huddle in the tent because it was actually chilly. Dave made his way to the start even though they said spectators couldn’t get there. He did park right by the starting van and Michael and I laughed at him trying to move. We finally started after one more visit to the bathroom.

It was a beautiful morning and we saw a group of elk running in the distance. We were enjoying the morning and feeling good. We ran through the one and only town on the course around mile 5.5 and saw Dave.

It was shortly after this that I started thinking that my legs felt dead. I said this to Michael and figured he would say it’s in my head. No such luck. He said his were too and was wondering what was going on. We were in trouble. I’m not sure if it was the heat, altitude, tired legs from Disney or a combination of all of the above.

We kept seeing Dave and he kept giving us drinks and salty chips. I know it was warm. We both didn’t have many gels at all. I only had 3 and I think Michael had 2 for the whole marathon. Very unusual and not good! At the halfway point we ran into some women walking their dogs. They asked us what we were doing. I said we were running a marathon. The one woman asked where it ended and I said downtown Bozeman. She said, woah, that’s really far from here. Thanks Lady! We got to Mile 16 and we agreed to drop our running ratio to 1:1. That helped tremendously, that and the fact that it was all pretty much downhill from there. It was REALLY getting warm. We were running through Montana's wide-open spaces with zero shade and a smoky haze from the wildfires in the area.

We finally make it to downtown and I have to say I was pretty disappointed in all the people that were having lunch along the finish line. Not many cheers and most not even looking. It was not the usual finish. The race announcers did a great job of calling us in though and it was a sweet medal! I’m not sure I would recommend this one due to the challenging course and the weather can be unpredictable. It actually snowed the following weekend.

Here's the video

Dave's Comments

Hooray for friends arriving early and getting to skip the expo! After landing we met up with the others (who enjoyed a morning hike) at lunch. Starky's had some great food, decent local beers on tap, and baked goods too! We enjoyed downtown Bozeman and wish we had more time to explore its shops and other eating / drinking establishments. After lunch we visited White Dog Brewing's beer side and wished some folks didn't have a race so we could have visited their distilling sister business next door. We stopped into the NU2U! pawn store on the way back to the hotel. It was massive! It did not live up to its square footage. Later that night we had dinner at Pizza Campania - a comfy newer space not too far from our hotel. The food was excellent. A few of us wanted a dessert so we went to The Chocolate Moose in town. Holly picked up some of their in-house made salt water taffy and Dave ordered a single serving cone of two flavors. It was like they stuck a pint of Ben and Jerry's on a cone. Even more absurd was the low price of $2.50 for the cone.

Race day was long. After driving Michael and Holly to the bus I went back to the room to shower, grab a few items from the hotel buffet, and illegally made my way to the start line. Where the hell were we? This was the middle of nowhere. I didn't follow the course at this point because the runners were so compacted. I took gravel roads back to the 5.5 mile point, and the last time I'd see a business (like gas or food) until mile 25-point-something. The course was pretty at times, but mostly a bore fest. I tried to entertain runners by blaring Hanson from the rental - didn't work. Given Holly and Michael were having a tough day I made frequent stops to keep them engaged and fueled. Back in town I scored great parking by the finish line and enjoyed local beer while sitting in a bar's windowsill. Best finish line ever.

After the race Holly was able to get a shower at our hotel, then we took off on the 90 minute ride to Yellowstone with a stop at Arby's in Livingston to pick up some lunch.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Alaska: Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park

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The advantage of taking a Princess cruise in Alaska vs. most of the other cruise lines is they have a license to go into Glacier Bay National Park. With our cruise originating in Alaska we had two full sea days ahead of us to take in the sights. We were dreading the sea days, and if they were on Caribbean or Transatlantic cruises we possibly would have gone crazy with boredom. At least we always had some land to focus on in Alaska.

Found this on the web as an example

The cruise line did a nice job of educating the passengers. There were maps placed around the ship giving us our touring itinerary, we attended the overview with the onboard naturalist, and once in the park rangers boarded the ship to take over narration from the naturalist. We were able to get National Park passport stamps from the rangers and purchase limited merchandise.

The Hubbard Glacier was our first target on Day 1 at sea (not located in a National Park). We spent our time viewing the glacier from our cabin's balcony. The naturalist's narration was broadcasted over the loudspeakers and over the in-room tvs. We lucked out by having some sunny blue skies during our viewing time. We could not get closer because they did not want to disturb the seal colony near the glacier. This is a very wide glacier.

Mount Logan is the second highest mountain in North America

The next morning the rangers boarded our ship once we entered Glacier Bay National Park.

It was a much colder day than the previous two. We decided to hang out on the main deck for a while in order to run to either side of the ship if something interesting happened. For the early morning goat viewing our cabins were on the wrong side of the ship. It was obviously crowded here with folks pushing loungers up to the railing for an all-day camp out.

Some people were actually kayaking out there. Hypothermia city right there!

Goat viewing frustrated the heck out of Dave. Everyone else was spotting them.... even with guidance from the audience it took him forever. We are lucky to have these photos.

Can you spot the sheep?

After all that fun we returned to our cabin and settled in for viewing the Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier. Dave hit the buffet and scrounged together some semblance of a cheese plate. While cruising the bay we saw another Princess ship on its way to Anchorage from Vancouver. We were able to see some calving action (glacier breaking). Exposure was not our friend on this portion of the trip. Skies were grey and bright making it hard to see the camera's LCD. Dave took some editing liberties on some of these photos to highlight certain features.

Seal colony

This was a great way to see some of the beauty of Alaska. After two full days at sea we were certainly ready to get to Skagway and be free of our captivity.

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