Part 3: 1988 – Canada and Alaska
The night before the retirement party, I stood, looking at my garage, where I saw both a new van and a new car – what am I doing? – but this was all in our plan. Anyway, it was time for travel, both in our van and by other means.
The first trip we wanted to make was a trip into Western Canada and up to Alaska. We had traveled with another couple in the past, and since he just retired a well, we started planning with them for a trip to Canada and Alaska.
Joe was lukewarm on the idea, his wife was raring to go. While discussing options, we found a small ad for a trip to the Pribiloff Islands, where 150 varieties of birds nest each summer. Joe was an avid birder, and this caught his attention. So in the Spring of 1988, off we went to Anchorage.
Our fist visit was to the Wetland preserve on the edge of town, then a tour around town. We had a couple of days to sight-see in the area, then we were to fly to Pribiloff Islands. The Pribiloff Islands sit one third of the way between Nome and Russia.
When the plane lands, it touches down on a crushed lava runway, no pavement. There is no terminal, just a school bus to greet you. The airport is part of a military base, so there is no access to any of the buildings.
A side note on the flight – the plane only flies three days per week, and some times the fog is so bad the flight is cancelled. It is recommended that you plan a couple open days in your schedule. We were fortunate not to have a problem.
St. Paul Island has One and a half restaurants: a cafeteria operated by the locals, and a private home that serves meals only if the porch light is on.
One evening, I became the prime attraction at the cafeteria when I turned too sharp with my tray, and ended up with spaghetti all over the floor. All the locals laughed and I turned red. The manager said to just get another plate full, that it happens almost every week, and the locals come to watch.
We saw Terns, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Murrs, skates, and a herd of reindeer that live on the island. We also saw locals scale the cliffs to harvest Murr eggs. If you take the first clutch of eggs, they will lay a second.
There were other hikes to see other nesting birds, and our friends had a great time, but we are not birders, so we stayed with the puffins.
We next went to see the seal harems and beach masters, and watched the fights for mating. In the 1890s and early 1900s, St. Paul and St. George, the two main islands in the Pribiloffs, were Russian prison colonies set up to harvest seal pups. In order not to harm the pelts, the pups were clubbed to death. Although no longer a prison camp, and they no longer club the pups, seals were harvested up to 1948.
Our return to Anchorage was via Cold Bay in Aleutian islands, where we went through security. This was long before 911, but was a possible smuggling entry, so we went through full inspection. There was a guard with two pistols and tear gas canisters, so no funny business.
Back in Anchorage, we had a couple of days for a visits to the Alaska Native Heritage Center and to the Anchorage Museum, plus various shops and sightseeing things.
We flew on to Fairbanks, where we took a Riverboat tour, saw the salmon catching wheels, and watched an Iditarod sled dogs demo. It takes on whole salmon per dog per day to run the race. Then we took the bus tour for views of Mt. McKinley and panned for gold.
Next was the train to Denali, where we took the tour of Denali National Park and then stayed overnight to catch the morning train back to Anchorage. Joe was wearing a neck brace, so we got on train first and were able to sit at a table on the observation level.
Unfortunately, the train was late arriving in Anchorage, so we missed the connection to our boat. So they put us on a bus, and put the bus on a flat car, attached it to a freight train, and went off to Whittier, where the tour boats dock.
Here we boarded the “Love Boat.” We were actually on the one used in the TV series. I wore a shirt, tie and sport coat. We were assigned to the Captain’s Table for entire trip.
We were allowed on the bridge as the Captain’s guest, so we were first to know of Whales, etc. along the way.
The boat made many stops along the inland waterway, so we had time for things like a helicopter trip to the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau. We watched elk and moose swimming across the waterway. The Inland Waterway is the smoothest tour boat trip, and is suggested for those who might fear sea sickness.
Our boat trip ended in Vancouver, where we rented a car, and drove to Butchart Gardens in Victoria. An outdoor wedding was in progress amongst the flowers.
After returning to Vancouver for the night, we flew home. And so ended our first, and easiest, retirement trip.
Soon after our return, my wife and I sat down and each listed about 1000 goals in our life. Travel to all seven continents is not one goal, but seven. To visit all 50 states is not one, but fifty goals. Some of these goals we had done.
We each did our own list, then compared notes. All the goals that were the same became our ”do it together” goals, some of the other goals became “time apart” goals, some became more of our “do it together” ones. Once you write them down, they are no longer “I Wish” thoughts, but real goals. When my wife passed away, we were down to a couple of hand-fulls each.
Next we will go live in a cottage in a cow pasture in Ireland. Isn’t that everybody’s goal?