P90x has been tossed to the wayside to make room for two incredible adventures. Last week my mom and I went on an Alaskan cruise. Below is the rantings and ravings of a girl drunk on the magic and beauty of the place. Please take it all with a grain of salt as I was not in my right mind when I wrote it and was deliriously happy and obnoxiously introspective.
The second adventure P90x is taking a step aside for is a new job that I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll be a full-time copywriter for an Internet advertising/marketing agency. Djya hear that, Internet? I’ll be a full-time, professional writer! Exciting stuff. I’m going to start going to exercise classes at my apartment complex to keep up with my new habit of exercising, but I think it’ll be good to go to group exercises and get out of my apartment and see people after the new job in an effort to stay sane. Not sure what’s going to happen with the regularity of blog posts for the next month but if I had to guess I’d say it would come to a halt. Be back when I’m back—in the meantime, here’s what my writing sounds like in Alaska:
Day 1: Travel Weary
After much ado (mom sat next to someone who vomited on the flight from Houston to Seattle and didn’t get to change seats for an hour, they misplaced her checked bag but it turned up eventually, when we got on the boat we had no idea where her company meeting place was and were escorted by a kindly and bemused security guard) we have found our room and are en route to Alaska! Today was exhausting. Hopefully will write more tomorrow.
Day 2: Good Morning, Ocean View
I woke up this morning completely disoriented. What time is it? Why is it so damned bright outside? Have I slept through the reception I was supposed to go to with my mom at 10 a.m.? Worse—have I slept through room service?!
Despite all my pep talks to my body the day before (You’re from good ol’ Irish stock, Leigh. Your ancestors came over to the United States on rickety boats and slept very near their underbellies with little chance of seeing the water or sky for months. You will not get seasick. Sea legs run in your blood…) I was feeling a bit queasy and more than a bit sorry that I’d been so high and mighty last night, scoffing at the very suggestion when my mom talked about picking up some Dramamine at the ship’s convenience store. My stomach feels as if it’s in my mouth. I have to keep force-swallowing it down my throat, and like an unruly child it just keeps repeating the offense. This is a new type of nausea. Still having not vomited, I am resolved to overcome it.
After I woke up today, I turned on the television to check the time because my phone was clearly very off. My phone said it was 2 p.m. and must have been on CST, because according to CNN, it’s 7 a.m. here and two hours before the pre-ordered room service that I’m pretty sure I can no longer eat will arrive. Even so, I’m no longer capable of going back to sleep so I get up and brush my teeth in hopes that the mint flavor will settle my stomach (it does). Then I go out onto our balcony.
The only word for the view this morning is “majestic.” I am literally in awe of it. The sun is rising over a cloudless sky. Everywhere I look is deep, crisp blue. I see what I think is a dolphin and I yell “Hello! Good morning!” before even stopping to think about whether or not my voice will carry to the other staterooms where people might be sleeping. I’m euphoric. I feel carefree and light and very alive.
After further investigation, I decide that the dolphin must not be a dolphin at all but maybe some kind of log way out in the ocean because it’s floating rather than swimming. I see another one far off, and it’s also just kind of floating in the water, hanging out. But now I know how sailors saw mermaids. Everything is beautiful in all that blue, and the eyes play tricks.
Looking out onto the water I start thinking about my Irish blood again, all of those people who came over with next to nothing after one of the potato famines wiped out their main food supply and the unknown was their best shot at survival—not a very good shot, but a shot, which was more than Ireland could give them.
Then I start to get philosophical, thinking about the way traveling has evolved over the last two centuries. Boats were a practical means of human transportation for a very long time, and now they’re for leisure. The human race did that, made things better for us with the invention of the airplane.
I’ve decided for our own future generations, we should take to the skies. Send those little buggers out to space on a jaunt paid for with our own sweat, blood, and dreams.
Day 3: Waking Up to Whales
The time difference is working in my favor. Try as I might, I have never in my life been an early riser. Luckily, I landed a job that doesn’t require that I make it in before 9 a.m. because sometimes even that is a struggle. But here, waking up at 7 a.m. puts me at about 9 a.m. my time, so it was no trouble at all to jump out of bed this morning and head to my new favorite place in the world: the balcony in our stateroom where through my mom’s work we have been awarded free private access to the most pristine views.
Still in my pajamas, I went outside just to take a look at what gorgeous seascapes the new day might bring. I thought I’d finally found my sea legs by this point, because I woke up feeling as if we weren’t moving at all. My stomach felt as settled as if I were back at my apartment in Dallas. Well, outside I could see the reason why. We were out of the open sea and into an inlet, well on our way to Juneau, and the water was smooth as glass or butter or whatever metaphor you like. The choppy waves took my breath away yesterday, today it was the crystal green-blue water juxtaposed with lush, forested rolling mountains and hills with snow-topped peaks. My God. These views. The word breathtaking doesn’t do them justice.
They’re almost hard to look at because I know no matter how many pictures I take, or how many times I tell myself, that, remember that bird or that boat or the way that water rippled just so…poetically, poetically ripped, remember that, I can’t take it back with me. There are some feelings of awe and wonder and appreciation of true majesty that you recognize while you’re having them but are entirely unevocable on a whim. I’m telling myself to appreciate them while they’re here, take in the joy they’re bringing me in this moment, and to remember that that’s the best way to experience any wonderful thing. To worry about losing it lessens the experience.
At one point in my reverie, a man sitting on the balcony one room over separated from me by a thin frosted glass partition suddenly and lept up to shout to his wife and kid next door “Whales! Oh my God! whales!”
I turned to the right and sure enough, Oh my God, whales.
They were playing in the water, jumping high and splashing like children or acrobats (but aren’t most of the former also the latter?). I only hesitated half a second. My mom was sleeping in the room and I thought maybe I shouldn’t wake her but then realized WHALES! I grabbed her and she came out without even getting a robe—that’s when I knew getting her up was the right decision.
Sitting here now sipping a bloody Mary a few hours from when we saw them, I can’t help smiling. I can’t wait for a few months to pass so that I can casually lean over to my mom in any conversation we’re having and say, “Hey, remember that time we woke up to whales?”
Later today we’re actually going out on a boat to see more—I’m thinking we’ll be able to get up close enough to get some great pictures which I’ll include on here if we do. We’re also going to a salmon bake, which I mistakenly called a “salmon fry” earlier, then laughed when someone pointed out my mistake and told the person that if you’re from Louisiana and there’s a party, the seafood is either boiled or fried, so it was easy to see where I got the wrong idea.
It’s a glorious, sunshiny day. The bartender who brewed my bloody Mary “extra spicy” (an unusual request for the guests on this trip, it seems) tells me that the last trip on this cruise it rained all day in Juneau. Well, the wind is at our backs and everything’s comin’ up Milhouse, as they say on The Simpsons.
I keep seeing these houses on the shoreline of these mountains and wondering what kinds of people live in them and what their lives must be like. There’s so much I don’t know about anything, and it’s nice to be reminded of that.
Day 5: Glacier in the Sun
So much has happened—I feel like I’ve lived a year’s worth of experiences in only a few short days. After waking up to whales, we went on a wildlife excursion where whale watching was the main event, saw happy little harbor seals bobbing up and down in a small island’s cove, sea lions lazing around on a buoy playing a game of what basically amounted to King of the Hill. The four larger sea lions lounging wouldn’t let two smaller ones on, kept knocking them off with their massive flippers whenever they made an effort.
Then we saw the whales. There were three at first and then two more. Our guide told us they were humpback whales. They were impossibly close to our ship. One came up right below the railing of the deck where I was standing, just popped up face first as if to say, Why, hello there. Welcome to my home. Won’t you stay awhile?
The most incredible thing about the whales were their tails—when those tails came up to wave as they dived back down into the water the animals we were looking at where undeniably whales…or maybe it’s their spouts spraying water as they breathed so close to us that we could hear the sound of it and feel the mist from it against our faces, or maybe it was their mouths smiling as they surfaced, or maybe the sheen of their bodies against the sunshine…God, I don’t know what to pick. They were so beautiful, I nearly cried.
I took a few pictures—it was hard to see what I caught in the sun, but after a while I was so afraid to look away for photos because I didn’t want to miss the realness of them. When I looked at my phone later, all my shots were of the water. But I don’t regret not getting better pictures myself because really, if I’d spent all of my time trying for the perfect shot (as many on the boat did) I feel like I wouldn’t have had the majesty of it all imprinted so well in my mind.
After whale watching we went to a salmon bake where we ate our fill of fresh, wild salmon and relaxed in the warm sunshine. It’s been unseasonably warm and sunny our whole trip. All of the locals and people working the excursions and on the ship keep telling us how lucky we are for this weather. Last time this ship stopped in Juneau it was so rainy that all of the excursions were cancelled.
Yesterday we stopped in Skagway. I bought a book at a local bookstore, always trying to support those kinds of places. It’s a collection of Jack London’s short stories. He lived in Alaska in their great gold rush era, the time when Skagway was the place to be with its miners and its bars and its brothels. I bought a few more things, too. A pair of pajama pants with bears all over them that say “I’ll be your hucklebeary,” some amaretto almond butter, and a wooden sign with an old-timey photo of a prostitute that reads “I should come with a warning label,” you know, the essentials. I guess I got so much that I made whatever cap it was to throw in a freebie and they gave me a lagniappe pocket knife. I have never owned a pocket knife, which is tough to get away with when you grow up in Louisiana and then live in Texas. It’s a little thing, but pretty cool and doubles as a bottle opener. Security caught it when I went back onto the ship and took it from me, but they say I’ll get it back when we make port in Seattle.
Today we woke up early to see Fjords from the ship and check out a glacier at the end of an inlet of some kind. It was so beautiful, and actually, the tips looked blue. Not just on the glacier but on the blocks of ice floating in the water near our ship that must have fallen off of the glacier. I’m sure it’s probably just from the light hitting it just the right way, but I’ve never seen natural ice as blue as Kool-Aid before. It reminded me of Waterboy when he gets that small bottle of glacier water and it’s clear, cold, blue. We took plenty of pictures of the glacier. The ship circled about four times to make sure everyone got a good look. The captain came on the announcement system and said we were closer than he could usually get and that the weather was so great, this view was something special, something that only comes about once a season.
The glacier was just majestic. There’s no other word for it, and that word itself doesn’t do it justice.
This country will really make you feel something. Something like a stirring in your soul. I wonder if the people who live here still feel it, or have grown numb to it…it’s just unlike anyplace I’ve ever been. The beauty is almost too much to bear.
Day 6: A 3-Mile Run at Sea
This morning the sea is misty and the air is wet, but it isn’t cold. My mom had a spa appointment at 9 a.m. but was out of the room by 6:30. I lay in bed until about 7, and then got up to grab some coffee. We can’t have coffee makers in the rooms; it’s a fire hazard. The closest cup, if you don’t pre-order room service, is two decks above our room by the pool.
I grabbed a blueberry bagel with apricot cream cheese (the cream cheese here has real pieces of apricot, sundried tomato, or dried salmon in it, if you pick a flavor) and a cup of coffee with creamer and sugar, then sat down by a window to watch the ocean go by and read my Jack London collection of short stories. I’m nearly halfway through and really enjoying them more than I ever have enjoyed Jack London, or maybe it’s that I forgot I ever enjoyed him. I can remember that I read a few of his classics for high school and wasn’t overly impressed, but I’m really loving these. Maybe it’s being so close to where all of those terrifying stories took place, so close to the wild and the winter only a few months away with its endless night and cold and danger.
The sun doesn’t really set here now. It goes down, but just barely, and the night sky looks like it’s the brink of dusk all night long. I never realized before that I used the setting of the sun in the day to gauge what time it might be, but I must have, because I miss it a little. It’s disorienting, having it overstay its welcome the way it seems to here. My mom loves it and prefers that we keep the curtains open all night long to sleep in the light, but last night I got my way and we had them closed; tonight she’ll probably win on that—it is her trip, after all :)
After the coffee and bagel, I went up for a run on the top deck. I decided today I was going to run three miles, no matter how long it took me, and that after that I’d finally go for a climb on the ship’s rock wall. Before this trip, I was over a month into P90x, but of course there was no real way for me to keep up with it on the boat and I’d been more than a bit lazy over the course of the vacation and eating enough for two of me because it all tastes so good and when we’re on the boat eating is one of the most fun things we can do, second only to drinking, which actually rather goes well with eating so there’s very little conflict when trying to decide what to do :)
I made it the three miles. The top deck is open, and the track is a quarter mile long, so I ran it twelve times. Even in the mist the sea was beautiful. It’s choppier than it has been, but I’m not feeling even a little sick so I think my body must have adjusted. There was a lot of people-watching to be done on the run.
There was a young guy, probably twelve or thirteen, playing guitar alone in one of the chairs. I could only hear the music for about five seconds while I ran past. The wind carried it away from the rest of the track. He was good, and reminded me of my younger brother, the musician living in Austin, and what he was like when he was in high school. He took his guitar with him everywhere we went, would opt to take that over a second bag of luggage if there was a limit and it came to it. He still plays guitar every day and lives in Austin where he has a steady gig Friday nights at Hole in the Wall. I’ll have to make it back down to Austin to see him play again when I get back.
I also saw a father with his young daughter, probably nine or so, start at the beginning of the track where he said to here, “here’s where it starts, let’s go!” and then saw them again, at the beginning of the track, so, a quarter mile into the run, and she was tying her shoelace. I didn’t see them again. She must have gotten tired.
It reminded me of a story my dad tells about my older brother wanting to go on a run with him and Dad’s friends from work, and dad telling him he could only go if he could run two blocks without quitting. He ran the two blocks and got to go on the run, only to quit about a quarter mile in. I remember wanting to go on runs with my dad when I was very little, too, even though there’s no way I could have kept pace. It was never really about the run. It was about not missing out on something I knew he really enjoyed, and wanting to be a part of it.
When I got to be older and while my dad was still a runner (he’s since discovered Bikram yoga and never looked back), we would go running together around White Rock Lake and the Katy Trail while I was in college and Central Park when he visited me in New York. The Katy Trail became our favorite place because of all the nearby restaurants. We liked to go for a good three mile run, then sweaty and happy, sit at an outside table at a French restaurant whose name I can’t remember right now and order a bottle of chilled white wine with some mussels with good bread for dipping and watch the world go by. I thought about that while running in the misty cool sea air and knew he’d love to go for a run with me around this track, Bikram be damned, and then head to the poolside bar with me for a bloody Mary and a laugh.
But, he’s over in Oxford for the next week or so and I’m on a boat, so I’ll just have to work on persuading him to make the Katy Trail again when we’re both back in D-Town.
After the run, I went downstairs to get some water and to mentally prepare myself for a climb on the rock wall. At the wall, two little boys were scrambling their ways up to the top quickly and effortlessly. Their mom was next, and I thought I could at least save a little face if I went after her rather than the kids, but dammit if she didn’t got right on up as if being lifted by invisible wings and ring that bell in less than five minutes. Well. I had quite an act to follow and, as the asshole who’d given me my belt had said after I told him I hadn’t done this in about five years, “the wall hasn’t changed—but your muscles may have.”
And he was right.
Where the mom of those two boys was a gazelle, I was a fish in sand, totally out of my element. I got about halfway up and made a rookie mistake. It was not the mistake of looking down, no, I’d coached myself not to do that under any circumstances before I even touched the wall’s surface. It was the mistake of looking up. That bell looked impossibly high. I reasoned with myself that there was just no way in hell I could ever get up that high, and that this whole thing had been a fun idea, but it should really end now while I still had the strength to belay myself down and to save myself the humiliation of being pulled down a sniveling puddle of sapped strength and fear.
“I think I need to come down,” I yelled. And there was my second rookie mistake. I’d said the word “think.” I wasn’t sure, and the woman on the rope took this and used it against me.
“Are you sure, Leigh?” said the South African woman holding my life in her hands. “Why don’t you just take a bit of a break, yeah? Shake out your arms and sit back. I’ve got you. Go on then!”
A break. A break sounded nice. I just had to sit back and dangle…nice and easy.
It took me a bit longer than I thought it would for my muscles to respond to my command to let go. It’s like they were also asking me, are you sure, Leigh? Well, I was sure about that and eventually there I was, dangling, shaking my arms out, an awkward landlubber dangling in midair putting on a nice show for the birds.
I swung back onto the wall and started climbing. Use your legs. It’s just like a ladder. One step at a time. The woman’s voice below barked orders like a drill sergeant but the only think I really heard was the voice in my head saying, if you took her up on her offer to rest and you still don’t make it…you might as well cut this cord because you’ve already sentenced yourself to die of embarrassment.
Sometimes negative reinforcement is the best kind there is. I made it to the top, rang the bell, and belayed down feeling like a million bucks with arms of lead (or gold?).
Later today I have a massage, so that should be amazing, and then we’re going to a sushi dinner at a specialty restaurant on the very tippy-top deck (higher than my climb this morning).
I’m probably going to grab a bite to eat and read a bit more before I head to the massage room. It’s a glorious, foggy day. Only two more to go.
Day 7: Pretty Flowers, Then Gulls Attack!
We made port in Canada at Victoria, British Columbia. It’s a quaint city with a beautiful harbor. Mom and I went on an excursion to visit the Butchart Gardens and have tea at the Empress Hotel. The gardens were breathtaking. Here are just a few photos from the day:
The tea was fantastic, too, and included those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off you only see in the movies, and scones, and meringue from Paris. Here’s the outside of the Empress Hotel:
Victoria is another one of those cities you can only get to by boat or by sea. Apparently, if the roll of the dice had gone just a bit differently it would have been part of the U.S. It definitely feels like Canada, though…hard to explain why, it just does.
We’re back on the boat now and have to set out all luggage that we aren’t carrying on the plane tomorrow for the crew to get ready for our departure. We filled out a customs form, too. We’ll be off the boat by 8 a.m. Sitting here on the balcony watching seagulls swoop by, it’s hard to believe that I’ll be in Dallas by this time tomorrow editing these entries to go onto my blog, but it’s true.
Tonight we have a reception with my mom’s work where I assume they’ll talk some business and then we’ll toast to the great trip we’ve all had…I’m looking forward to more of the free champagne they had at the welcoming reception :)
It’s been a really wonderful trip…reminds me how much I like to travel, and how I need to make it a priority to do it more often.
Ugh, speaking of the seagulls, stupid kids on the deck above me are feeding them so they’re swooping really low, near me, looking at me as if to ask, do you have food, too? The kids’ parents are encouraging them, saying funny (to use the term loosely) things like, “Who brought the stowaway on?!”
Those beaks are dangerous. This isn’t like feeding ducks frozen bread at a pond, people. Any minute now I think I might hear a child’s scream and I’ll know, well, they finally got a finger. What a way to end a cruise.
Some people and their children…
UPDATE: A seagull has just alighted onto our balcony, causing me to dive into our room and shut the door. My mom and the people next door do not see this for the dangerous situation that it is, and want to take pictures. My mom opened our door and with the people next to us is making clucking and kissing noises, trying to coax the best pose out of the feathered intruder. I am eyeing that beak and maintaining my distance, only taking pictures through the safe glass, like a sane person.
The gull sat up there a full five minutes, then presumably got bored due to our lack of frozen bread, and left. All eyes, fingers, and toes still intact. Vacation not ruined by feathered demon.