DAY 4 – INDEPENDENCE DAY IN SKAGWAY
Friday wasn’t just our first port day and it wasn’t just the fourth day of our cruise; it was also the 4th of July – U.S. Independence Day. We woke up early in Skagway, to find it was raining. That was the first (and as it turned out, only) day I had encountered any substantial rain in Alaska. But we didn’t let it ruin our day.
The first thing we saw when we opened our curtains that morning was “the wall.” There is a huge granite wall that our side of the ship faced at the dock. At first glance it looks like it’s littered with advertising signs – old ones – but when you look more closely, you realize that the “signs” are the signatures of all the cruise ships that have docked there since 1928. A bit of searching located our ship and captain, about 3/4 of the way up the wall.
We learned later, from our excursion guide, that tradition says the height on the wall signifies how well the crew likes their captain. I was happy to see that Capt. Lazzarino wasn’t one of the ones near the bottom.
It was cloudy and rainy in Skagway and I was glad I’d brought a good hooded rain jacket. We waited on the pier for our tour guide, and were happy to get into the nice, dry van to start our trek up the mountain where the sled dog mushing camp was. We went through the main street of the town, where there was supposed to be an Independence Day parade scheduled for later that day. The weather gave the term “don’t rain on my parade” new meaning.
After we got out of town (which didn’t take long, given its size), we passed some interesting sights along the way, such as the “House of Bodily Needs” (a.k.a. brothel) with the jail handily located right behind it. We wound our way higher and higher into the mountains, past the streams and over the river where the salmon run and you can see bears “fishing” later in the season, but there were none in sight on this rainy day. Finally we came to the camp buildings, but we weren’t there yet. We had to leave the van parked there and get into an Army surplus vehicle made for negotiating the much steeper path on up the mountain to where the sled dogs were training. It was covered but open on the sides, so we were sheltered from the worst of the rain but still got wet. Oh, well. By now the weather had become part of the adventure.
Finally, we arrived at our destination and there were the dogs. Our guide had explained beforehand that real sled dogs that run the Iditarod and other races are not the pretty, fluffy, plump pure-bred Huskies you see in the movies. Instead, they’re mongrels bred for speed and stamina. Many are a cross between Husky and Greyhound, and you could a lot of the latter in the long, lean look of their bodies.
We met the trainer and all piled into the training sled, which is a wheeled vehicle, and we were off. They took us around the trails several times, and after the ride was over, we were able to get out and pet them and ask questions of the trainer. Then it was back into our all-terrain vehicle for the trip back down the mountain to the camp, which was even scarier than the ride up on the steep, narrow, wet roads. But our driver got us there safe and sound, and we did a tour of the camp, saw the “hamster wheels” on which the dogs run off some of their excess energy, and got to pet and play with the puppies.
We also got to talk with one of the Iditarod racers and see his sled and gear, and hear his stories about the annual 1049 mile race from Anchorage to Nome, that often involves going through blizzards at sub-zero temperatures.
The puppies were darling, as puppies tend to be, and we enjoyed watching them play, knowing that in the not-too-distant future they would be going to “work” pulling the sleds, with the best of them getting to actually run in the races. Of course, we wanted to bring them all home with us – but we knew Suki, Rolly and Beauty probably wouldn’t approve of that, so we reluctantly left them behind when it was time to pile back into the van and head back down the mountain the way we came. We loved our day with the sled dogs and their people, and vowed that next time we would shell out the big bucks and take the helicopter ride to the top of the glacier, where you can have the dogs pull you over the ice in a real sled.
Back in Skagway, the rain was still coming down and we were too wet to want to do anything but get back on the ship and change clothes. Because it was July 4th, Tom wore his red, white and blue bow tie and I wore Mardi Gras beads in the same colors to dinner.
We had worked up quite an appetite, and that night I went with the Indian Vegetarian dinner, which is one of my favorite MDR meals (it tastes a lot better than it looks), along with the chicken quesadilla appetizer. It was all yummy. I decided to forego dessert and just have a little frozen yogurt on Lido deck.
That night, we stayed up late to go to John Heald’s “Cigars and Jazz Under the Stars” event in the Serenity area. It didn’t start until 10:30 p.m. and at home, that’s way past Tom’s bedtime (though not mine). But he was willing to stay up for this, and it was a really nice, low-key little party.
There weren’t many passengers in attendance, but John and several of the staff and crew were there, and some of the brass players from the Miracles band played some great music. It was a great way to wind down after all the excitement of the day.
It had been a great 4th of July, but tomorrow was the day I was especially looking forward to. I love Juneau, and I love sea planes, and on Saturday, I would get both rolled up in one package.