Miracle in Alaska (Day 6)

Our next and, as it turned out, last port (other than a quick “drop anchor, wave hello, wave goodbye and go”) was Ketchikan. It’s a small town (pop. 8,050), even smaller than the Texas city of Seagoville, where I lived, worked and served on the city council and as a police officer. I love small towns, and small town Alaska is a lot like small town Texas in attitude – but a whole lot prettier (and colder).

We arrived in Ketchikan on time, around 7:00 a.m., and got our first look at the town from the ship. D7K_6837

My flightseeing excursion was at 8:00 a.m. so I was up and dressed and off the ship early. Sharon wasn’t going on this one with me so I was on my own. I quickly found the bus that was there to take us to the offices of Taquan Air, which sits on the waterway right across from Ketchikan International Airport.

Our bus driver was full of information about Ketchikan. She told us the only way to get there is by air or water, with Alaska Air flying between Ketchikan Airport and Seattle every day and float planes being used to get to other nearby parts of Alaska. She was asked how much housing costs in Ketchikan and she said a 3 bedroom house rented for around $1500/month. After I got back home, I looked at Alaska real estate on the web and found that although homes are higher priced than comparable ones in Texas, they aren’t as expensive as I had expected.

It took us about 15 minutes to get to the harbor. Inside the offices of the small charter and tour airline, we had a short wait while we all completed the paperwork necessary for the flight. The offices were friendly and cozy, with a comfortable waiting/training room.

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We watched a short video and then we were ready to go. Our pilot, Joel,  assigned us seats in the little de Havilland Beaver, a little single-engine Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) aircraft made in Canada. He looked about twelve to me, but he turned out to be a great pilot.
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Because I was the lightest person in the group, I was given the back bench seat, all by myself. That was quite the win, since it meant I had two windows, one on each side of the plane, rather than just one. We donned our headsets and the pilot started up the plane.

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Takeoff from the water was smooth as could be, and soon we were soaring above the waterway, past the Miracle and the town of Ketchikan, toward Misty Fjords.

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Within a few minutes, we had left civilization behind and were into the fjords – and the reason for the name quickly became obvious as clouds of mist floated around us.

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The pilot kept up a lively patter as we flew, pointing out the various lakes, waterfalls, mountains, etc. It all reminded me a little of Isle of Skye in Scotland – another of my favorites of the places I’ve visited.

The photos don’t really do justice to the magnificence of seeing this wild, icy terrain in all its real-world beauty.

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We flew between mountain peaks, and sometimes it felt as if the wing tips were no more than a couple of feet from the mountains, although I know that was an illusion (I hope).

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We watched for bears, although we didn’t see any this time. Then Joel told us we were “going down” – but not to worry, it was just a planned landing in the fjord so we could get out and stretch our legs. He landed in the middle of one of the lakes and it was so smooth, you couldn’t even tell when we touched the water. He climbed out onto floats and the rest of us followed suit.

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While we were out there, another float plane came in for a landing nearby, which presented me with a great photo opp. Soon its occupants were standing out on the floats, too.

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UPDATE/NOTE: A few months later, I found out from one of my neighbors in Texas that the pilot of that other plane, N37756, is a friend of his. Texas and Alaska might be big states, but it really is a small world after all.

After searching the shoreline for bears again, in vain, we all piled back into the plane for the ride back. Soon Ketchikan was back in sight. There was only one thing that I really disliked about this excursion: It was over far too quickly.

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Soon we were down, and our pilot could claim one more perfect landing for his score card. I hated to say goodbye to my new friend, N67676. Now I want a pet Beaver of my own.

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Back inside, there was hot coffee waiting, and we had a chance to buy some souvenirs while we waited for our bus to arrive. We were each issued a certificate so we could prove – should the occasion ever arise that we need to – that we had flown in an authentic Alaska bush plane.

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The bus took us back to the pier, where I met up with Sharon (she had taken a bus tour of the city while I was flying) and we walked around and checked out some of the shops.20140511_113529 20140511_113538

There were the usual Diamonds International and tanzanite shops, but also a large number of fur shops and some stores selling beautiful sculptures and carvings – all of them far beyond the reaches of my budget.

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As time to return to the ship drew near, it was getting chilly – the coldest I’d experienced in any of the ports, which seemed odd considering Ketchikan is the farthest south. We made our way back and posed for one last photo in Alaska.

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Then it was time for “all aboard who’s going aboard” and soon after, time to start the journey back to the lower 48, which were going to seem a little mundane after our excellent Alaska adventure.

But we still had another fun day at sea to look forward to, and the briefest stop ever (but no disembarkment) in Victoria, Canada.

It was the second elegant night and it was also Mother’s Day so I splurged a little at dinner since I had skipped both breakfast and lunch. I had a penne pasta and fruit as appetizers and delicious spanakopita with stuffed bell pepper for my entrée.

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Then instead of a regular dessert, I got a chocolate mocha getaway – a yummy concoction made of Irish cream, rum, schnapps, Kahlua and ice cream.

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Since we were all dressed up, we had Rustem take our picture with Ferdinand and another waitress who was working our table that night.

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Later that night, the comedy club was back in action (we’d had no comedians on Glacier Bay night) so we went to see Tony Esposito, who was much funnier than the comedian we’d tried earlier in the week. We enjoyed both of his shows.

After the late comedy show, it was time to go back to the cabin and get ready for bed. Our towel animal was waiting for us, as usual. We had collected quite an assortment of them by then.

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I had no problem at all going to sleep that night, after such a long day of fun both in the air and on the sea.

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DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
deb@shinder.net    www.debshinder.com

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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