Seven Days In
Wow. Alaska. I hope I never wake up and see this view without the same sense of wonder I feel now.
Icy Straight Point, Alaska - Monday, May 28, 2018
I had a late morning training followed by an early afternoon set, so I only had about an hour to explore Icy Straight Point, or Hoonah, Alaska. So far, though, this has been my favorite spot. Hoonah is a tiny community on the edge of nothing - true, rugged Alaska. The people in this community make their money from fishing and tourism. Because it’s so remote, all the cruise ship excursions require another boat ride, leaving the actual village pretty sparse. There are several hiking trails deep in the woods and a kayaking spot that I can’t wait to explore next week.
I had three sets this day, and singing this frequently started to wear on my voice. Fortunately I’ve turned a corner and am now singing better than I ever have, but I felt the tiredness that day.
Juneau, Alaska - Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
Juneau, Juneau, Juneau. The best day I’ve had for as long as I can remember. This was my first day off, no trainings or sets, and we were in port from 7am to 9pm. I spent the entirety of that outside on (mostly) dry land.
I met with local shop owners, who directed me towards the only music store in the area. After walking around town for an hour I bought a joint ticket for 2 hours of whale watching followed by a shuttle to and tour of the Mendenhall Glacier. I’m so glad I did. I’ve had a fascination with the ocean world and marine life since I was little, and whales in particular have always resonated with me. We had the perfect weather - 50s and sunny (yes, temperatures in the 50s is considered summer weather here). Within 10 minutes of getting out into the area, we saw our first whale. I watched this with the wonder of a little kid. And then more whales came. In total, we saw 9, and the guide was stunned. At one point we had 3 circling the boat. Legally the boat must be 100 yards away to give the animals space. But then one breached directly behind us, maybe 50 feet. We watched this animal swim around us closer than most people ever get. I’ll never forget this experience.
The shuttled pulled up the Mendenall Glacier Park, and we were immediately given a full view of the glacier. Now that’s a shock. This is unobstructed terrain, a window into Earth before humans came along. I talked with the park rangers and got their recommendations for the best trails. I ended up taking the longest and most difficult hike, which was a gorgeous sight and great workout.
This glacier is retreating at a rate of 6 inches per year. Coming face to face with the impact of global warming was a punch to the gut.
I got back into town and willingly got lost in Juneau’s side streets. I stumbled into an outdoors store, and treated myself to a pair of waterproof hiking boots. After getting my shoes soaked at the glacier from Alaska’s notorious on-again-off-again rain, this was an investment for my future adventures this summer.
Then I had the best meal of my entire life. I got fresh Alaskan crab, and man, that was a feast. Worth every penny. I’ll be back to this joint every time I’m in Juneau.
I finished off the day with an Alaskan beer on the dock, watching the sunset over the ship. I don’t forget how lucky I am.
Skagway, Alaska - Wednesday, May 30th
I didn’t have much time to explore Skagway this time, but I look forward to coming back around for this. Skagway is known for the Gold Rush - you know, the Klondike one. I went for a long walk through town and enjoyed seeing original wooden homes from the 1800s still in working condition. Passengers told me they met Alaskan Dog Sled pups, and I will most certainly check that out next time.
Today I had 4 sets - a long, long day. But something magical happened. After being behind a microphone so much recently and feeling more at home on the ship, I felt a change. I became a performer instead of a musician. I really let loose on stage and the crowd absolutely loved it. My job is to play background music while people pass by. But I had the rooms packed, people stopping in their tracks, and people hollering applause after I was done with each song. I was asked to play an encore. I felt on fire. I think that’s why I came on this trip - to find my performer side, and I think it found today. All of my inhibitions and insecurities as a musician fell away and I just had fun. Real, present, invigorating fun.
Hubbard Glacier, Alaska - Thursday, May 31st
I set my alarm early for this. Today is the last day of this cruise, and we finish it by cruising past the Hubbard Glacier, an otherwise inaccessible area. Even then, many days it is unpassable with the ice chunks in the water, and is often seen at a distance of 1 mile. We got very, very lucky today. The captain got us up close and personal - a mere .25 miles away from this beauty. It went quiet as this glacier came into view, and then there was an audible gasp. I could hear the crackling of the ice in the water, and we saw small avalanches of ice break off and smash into the water. On the way out of the passage, we saw a sea lion dip its head out of the water and slide over a sheet of ice.
As we were sailing away, the captain came on the speaker and told us, “On days like this I am reminded of something my father said to me when I was complaining about a small problem - ‘Is this going to matter in 5 years?’ I realized that it would not. But days like today, sights like this, these are the moments that will matter for the rest of your life.” (Yes, we have a profound captain)
He’s right. This will matter for the rest of my life.