31 August 2017

Home Alone, Part Two

Juneau, state capitol of Alaska.  It’s a very small ‘city’.  Really more of a town, to be honest.  There are a few larger buildings, multistory office buildings and governmental offices, but most of the town is quite small.  It’s perched on the edge of the water and the water is the main highway.  Like most of the Alaskan coast, the mountains tower over everything providing a lush, steep, dark green backdrop. 

On the evening before arriving at Juneau, we had been on our way to the ship theater when KA caught the toe of her shoe on a raised threshold.  She fell, hard, on her left knee.   Thankfully, nothing was broken (yes, they have x-ray on cruise ships!) but it was badly injured.  Her knee swelled up to the size of a cantaloupe.  The crew member at the theater called for a wheelchair and we got her up and into the chair and headed to the infirmary.  The nurses looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing back here?’  I was starting to feel like Jessica Fletcher – only not as deadly.

We had booked an excursion to the Mendenhall glacier for the Juneau port of call.  It was a bus tour of the town, a self guided walk around the state park, and then a salmon dinner.  Lisa had developed a fever and felt horrible so there was no way she was going.  And now, KA was flat on her back with her leg elevated, wrapped and iced.  No way she was going, either.

So, Carolyn and Donna, the ‘Irish girls’, and I went on the tour.  It was amazing!  The tour of the town takes very little time, lol.  We had a voluble Texan for a tour guide, and she gave us more information than we needed on the cost of food, clothing, and other necessities in Juneau, Alaska.  She went on and on about the lack of fast food, the absence of clothing stores, the fact that everything is shut by 9pm.  I might have preferred a guide with more information about the natural beauty of the area, or the cultural background of the peoples, but you get what you get.  The Irish girls were amused and Donna can do a pretty good Texas accent now.

I thought that the Mendenhall glacier tour was actually a tour of the glacier itself.  As in, walking on it.  Unfortunately, no.  We were dropped off at the Park and told where our bus would pick us up.  So, the three of us walked out to the view point and took some pictures and skedaddled.  The thing is, it was so very crowded.  It was teeming, swarming, packed with tourists.  It is my least favorite way of visiting a state park, I say that for sure.  I get that yes, I was one of those tourists.  And that these parks and these communities rely on tourism to exist.  And that, it being chilly Alaska, there’s a lot more tourists in the summer.  Yes, I understand and appreciate all of that.  But, I wasn’t able to enjoy that part.  The visitor center was like sardines, so we didn’t even go in.  The walk out to the view point was more crowded than a city sidewalk.  There was a hike to the waterfall, and it was a little less crowded but it didn’t get you to the glacier and we decided to skip it. 

We were moseying back to the bus area when we came across another section of the park.  Since we had plenty of time, we followed the path.  It led to a raised walkway over a creek and out to the wetland downstream from the glacier.  There were fir trees and willows and alders, a nice boreal mix.  The creek was full of salmon!  Red sockeye salmon swimming, thrashing, spawning and dying.  We got a little excited by that!  But, that was nothing, for around the next bend on the walkway we saw brown bear cubs in a tree!  Wow! 

There were probably only about 100 people all spread out along the walkway where you could see the bear cubs.  But, there were also 4 park rangers answering questions and shushing people.  Because at the foot of the tree was the cubs’ mother, taking a nap after eating her fill of salmon.  I am so grateful to have seen this!

I strolled further down the walkway and watched some field biologists recording data from some device or another and spent an idle few minutes speculating about going back to work in that field.  Also saw an egret make an ungainly leap into the sky, no doubt weighed down by a craw full of fish!

When we had marveled at the bears to our hearts content, we made our way back to the bus and headed back to town.

Our salmon dinner was at a restaurant at the top of a mountain.  It is so steep that you get there by riding an aerial tram.  It felt like it was going straight up!  The view was incredible, of course, with the islands and the meandering waterways, the mountains plunging into the sea, the dense forests a dark green backdrop to the shining silver water.  Words can’t do it justice.

We returned to the ship before dark.  I checked on my friends and they hadn’t killed each other so that was good.

Next up: Skagway

30 August 2017

Home Alone, Part One

Well, my dears, it didn't go as expected.

Expectations are tricky things.  There were five of us, each with a picture in her mind of how the trip would be.  I'm absolutely certain that no one's expectations were met.

The good things: I didn't get seasick for even a minute.  I would have had we been in a room lower down, where two of our friends' quarters were.  Their room was on the third level (deck, I guess), and the window looked right out on the swirling sea.  I could not look at it without feeling queasy.  So, I avoided the seasickness by being up above the sea.  Hooray for deck 8!

Also, the ship didn't sink, or lose power, or suffer any other mechanical problem.  And, happily, not a one of us came down with a norovirus.  So, I'm chalking all of those things up in the Win column.  We need that.

What really went down?  How much time do you have?

Lisa (she of the kidney disease) started out the trip sick.  She had been sick for a week or so before the trip started.  Sick enough that she wasn't sure she would be able to go.  She tends to anemia anyway, and her red cell count had been alarmingly low.  She was given iron and some other medical things that I don't remember the details of right now.  Her doctor decided that she was well enough to go and I'm not sure that was the right decision.  But, it takes a lot of time to plan a trip for someone who needs dialysis and she didn't want to cancel.  Plus, the rest of us had long since bought our tickets as well and we couldn't all cancel.  Especially the Irish girls, coming all that way.

We started the trip in Seattle, and Lisa had to get herself from the airport to the hotel.  Easy peasy for someone in normal health, but difficult for someone with health challenges.  Just rolling her bag (ie: enormous suitcase) from the baggage carousel to the ride-share curb was more than she could handle.  She made it to the hotel and then had to sit and wait for the rest of us.  Time to catch her breath.

KA had driven up from California and spent the night before at my house.  Part of coordinating our arrivals in Seattle was parking KA's car at my daughter's house.  We did that in the late afternoon and Zoe and Rob gave us a ride back into Seattle (thanks, kids!).  Met up with Lisa there.  In an hour or so the Irish girls were there too, and we all thought 'Let the Vacation Begin!'

Lisa, KA and I shared a room.  It was supposed to have two queen beds, but honestly, they were the size of doubles - is that a hotel thing, smaller beds than at home?  Are there different mattress sizes for hotel beds?  KA is a substantial woman and needs that much space to herself.  Lisa and I took one bed and KA the other.  Much tossing and turning ensued.  Because Lisa's arm often aches from the dialysis, she typically sleeps with her arms perpendicular to her torso.  That doesn't leave a lot of space in a bed.  At some point during the night I got up, gathered up the spare pillows, found a bathrobe and made my self a pillow bed in the corner on the floor.  I felt like a house elf, crouched under the fireplace.

We had a nice breakfast (oh, stayed at the Edgewater, which is famous for everyone in the world staying there, including the Beatles, and correspondingly priced) and then got a shuttle to the cruise ship pier.  

We arrived at the pier and the first order of business was to get Lisa a wheelchair.  She could only walk (slowly) about 25 to 30 feet without stopping to catch her breath.  There was a whole lot of, 'No, no, you go on, I'll catch up.'  Which is basically bullshit.  We had to stick together!

Now, here's a bonus: KA spent a whole lot of her youth, adolescence, young adulthood and middle age traveling with her wheelchair bound mother.  So, she is an expert at seeking out ADA accommodations.  So, we get Lisa into the 'assistance' line, which means that we all get in that line.

Finally got through that process and on board the enormous vessel.  A nice crew member wheeled Lisa to our stateroom, with KA and I trotting along behind.  

KA had upgraded our room to one with a balcony.  Thank the Merciful Heavens that she did so!  Three women, all used to living alone, crammed in one room... recipe for disaster.  Having a balcony gave us an entire extra room, spatially and visually, and we needed that.  That it was outside was a bonus.

As soon as we got aboard, Lisa asked me to take her to the infirmary.  We had kept the wheelchair that the crew member had used and I wheeled her down to deck 2.  She was short of breath and had chest pain, the classic combo, but it wasn't a cardiac issue.  The chest pain was muscular, from wrangling her giant bag, and the shortness of breath was because she was anemic and retaining fluid.  The nurses and doctor were great and we left reassured.  

Of course, Lisa and I had missed the pulling away, or whatever the term is, the setting sail, the leaving of land.  When we finished in the infirmary and made it to the open deck, the ship was among the San Juan Islands.  

The scenery was gorgeous, of course.  Sitting and watching the landscape unfold is possibly the best thing about being on a cruise.  

Lisa had dialysis the next day.  Boy, was it bare bones!  It was in the bowels of the ship (next to the infirmary, but considerably smaller) and had just enough room for two beds, two machines and literally nothing else.  The 'office' was a storage closet stacked to the ceiling with supplies.  For what they charge, there should have been a tiny bit more comfort.

We were doing pretty well at this point.  Our first stop was Ketchikan.  

The cruise line we were on had a amenity that I really appreciated.  A cultural historian gave a presentation on every port of call.  She covered the Native history as well as the White/Gold rush history.  It added a very nice texture to the shore trip.

We didn't have a tour scheduled for Ketchikan but got off to explore the town.  A very nice crew member pushed Lisa up the long gangplank to the pier.  We moseyed along, bumping over the sections of wooden sidewalks, looking in shops and admiring the scenery.  There were lots of totem poles.  Miss Amanda, the cultural historian, had given us the basics of totem interpretation and we enjoyed piecing together a story of each one.  

We bought some souvenirs and some snacks (regular size box of Cheez-Its = $6.99!) and returned to the ship.

The next day, we had an absolutely magical experience.  We sailed up the Tracy Arm to the face of a glacier.  It was an experience I will never forget.  We started spotting ice in the water in the morning.  Yes, that did make me a little nervous!  I mean, come on... Titanic, amiright?

As we neared the glacier, the chunks of ice got both bigger and smaller, but much more frequent.  There were big chunks with smaller chunks perched on top of them.  There was a slurry of broken ice all through the water.  When we got as far up the arm as we were going to, the ship did a complete turn.  The sound was amazing.  All the ice crickling and crackling against the hull of the ship made an eerie sound.  The colors were also amazing.  The ice was many shades of white, sometimes streaked with brown, but the blue!  The blue ice, seen in cracks and crevices of the floaters, that was astounding.  The deeper the crevice, the deeper the color blue.  We were standing on the balcony with our mouths hanging open.  

Next up: Day 3 and Juneau.

01 August 2017

August 1st

We went camping last weekend, just a 2 nighter on the northern edge of the greater metro area.  It was fun to get the trailer out.  T has decided that she wants the trailer in a covered storage place, so she rented one and we parked Vivian there on Sunday.  It gave me a pang to leave her there! She is quite the presence in the driveway, and utterly charming.  I'll miss her.

I have a busy two weeks coming up.  My buddies and I go on this cruise dealio on Friday.  I might have mentioned that I am uncomfortable with everything about a cruise.  Nothing about it appeals to me!  Claustrophobia, seasickness, germ-riddled environment, etc.  On the up side, though, is time spent with my friends!  It will balance.  After the cruise, we are going to visit Zoe and her husband for 3 days.  Sorry you guys!  Then we are going to Port Townsend for 3 days to visit Lisa's sister.  Thankfully, we will be staying in a hotel.  The sister's house is undergoing an extensive remodeling project.

In the meantime, my friend KA is driving up from Cali tomorrow morning.  She'll spend the night here and then we'll drive up to Seattle on Thursday.  So, I've got her for one night and then my neighbor son who will be cat/housesitting for me.  I've been super busy getting the house ready to have multiple guests and for an extended duration.  It's a week long cruise, but then we have a second week of visiting around.  I hope Pierre won't be too mad!  Good think he likes Gavin.

Just to make things a little more urgent, we are expecting a heatwave this week.  The predicted high on Wednesday is 106!!!  Ridiculous!  I've been busy covering all the windows.  The house is like a dark cave, but it's a cool cave.  I have a second window a/c unit that was just sitting on the floor in a closet, so I installed that in the guest room.  I don't want my houseguests to suffer!  There's nothing for downstairs but fans.  A couple of big fans is usually all we need to keep a house cool here.  Sigh.  Climate change, what?!?

Wish me luck on the ocean-going adventure!  Makes me a little queasy to think of it...