Well, I guess the part I didn’t tell you previously is that the boat ride back on Day 1 Halibut Fishing really did a number on my lower back. Then, the day after, I stood in the Kustatan River casting most of the day, which didn’t help matters. By the time dinner rolled around that night, I was having second thoughts about the fishing trip they had scheduled for me the next day, which I would be making solo. I would have to get up around 2 a.m. and drive about three hours through the mountains, in the dark, by myself down to Seward for an all day multi-species fishing trip in the Gulf of Alaska. My back hurt so badly, that there was just no way I could see myself taking that trip and enjoying it, so I talked to Don about it. (I also had a fear that it would be rough seas again, and I just couldn’t imagine putting myself through that, no matter how alluring catching multi-species might be!) He suggested I tell our host the situation, and then he suggested that I take a glacier cruise instead. Granted, I would still be traveling on my own, but it would be daylight, only about a 90-minute drive, and the large cruise ship would be very comfortable. In other words, no rough seas. So, that’s what I decided to do, made my reservation with the cruise line, charted my course to Whittier, and was all set.
As often happens with me, there is a back story, a divergent path that brought me to this journey--a serendipitous event, as is often the way with my life and something I look forward to, relish during, and love recounting afterward. This past Mother’s Day, Camp Dularge suffered damage from a tornado early that morning. A young man named Lee who lives on a farm just up the bayou contacted me. Having experienced no damage from the tornado, he offered his services to help me clean up the fallen tree debris. After we finished hauling all the tree limbs to the road, we sat and chatted. Somehow we got around to the topic that I was contemplating the idea of a Cajun Invasion fishing trip to Alaska in the summer. He pulled out his phone and showed me photos of Whittier saying that if I had the chance, I really should visit there. He gave me just enough information to pique my curiosity; so much so, that I came home and looked it up and did some reading about the place. I was very intrigued, to say the least, and had decided if the opportunity arose, I would visit this strangely unique place.
Now, the backache and cancellation of my multi-species fishing trip to Seward paved the way for me to embark on this adventure. The morning broke beautifully as my excitement built in anticipation of this trip on my own. I had my trusty new raincoat, notepad, and camera in tow as I departed for parts unknown in Whittier, Alaska.
I can’t possibly do justice to the rich history of this place in one blog post, so I will hit you with the high points. There’s only one way in and one way out of this tiny city that sits on the northeast shore of the Kenai Peninsula called Passage Canal, an offshoot of Prince William Sound. This happens to be a one-lane/one-way tunnel completed in 1943 for use by the US Army. But did I mention that a train also uses this same tunnel? For that reason, vehicles going into Whittier are allowed through on the half hour; departures from on the hour.
First, I stopped at the toll booth claiming ignorance (because I was a little nervous about the unknown) where she gave me quick instructions and a fold-out brochure. I approached the lanes of vehicles lined up waiting their turn to go through and consumed that pamphlet while waiting my turn to enter the tunnel of doom; I mean, the entryway to Whittier!
My excitement about driving through the tunnel was building, but it turned to panic when I realized that the gas gauge was showing less than one eighth of a tank. How in the WORLD did I let that happen in the wilderness that is Alaska? I thought I had read that there was one gas station in Whittier so I searched the pamphlet map for it but couldn’t find it. All I could think was please, please let there be a gas station, or at least one gas pump, and I don’t even care how much I have to pay per gallon. Meanwhile, I calmed my panic by studying the town map, familiarizing myself with the lay of the land. And then it was time to go!
The traffic is controlled by lights, starting with the left-hand lane first (I think) with signs instructing you to advance on green only and remain a constant 35 feet behind the vehicle in front of you and at 25 miles per hour to allow for best flow. Okay, I don’t have great photos of this because it required great concentration to follow those edicts AND take good pics, but I think you can get the idea from these cell phone photos. Ideally, the 2.5 mile drive takes only 10 minutes, and poof! Just like that, you’re out of the tunnel as the sky breaks forth in beautiful, picturesque Whittier.
As I pulled onto what I will now call the “island” (because that is how it appeared to me), the first thing I noticed on the left was a big Princess Cruise ship and then a woman directing traffic into a parking lot very near where I knew my boat should be docked. She was most helpful and directed me to the gas pump, which was NOT pictured on the map I had been given. I found it in short time, and with a huge sigh of relief, filled the tank. From there, I found suitable parking and had a very interesting chat with the parking attendant named Wren. She enjoyed our chat so much that she only charged me half price to park for the day.
Off in the near distance, because nothing is very far away in the 19 square miles Whittier, I spied what looked like an old army barracks building. I had read that all 250 of Whittier’s residents live there, and it also houses the law enforcement offices, post office, grocery store, school, church, and more. How unique is that? I asked Wren if she lived there, and she quickly set me straight that she had lived in Whittier all her life but there are two other buildings where she lives, not quite as historical as that building, so no one talks about them. Well, isn’t that interesting?
I purposefully arrived way ahead of my departure time so that I could walk the entire town, get my bearings, and see the sights of this small but very special small harbor town. I was not disappointed, and I was also not the only tourist there. But talk about picturesque? With snow-capped mountains and glaciers in the background, this place was like a slice of Heaven nestled there along the shores of azure blue water.
Honestly, there weren’t but a handful of businesses, and because I would be eating lunch on the cruise ship, I opted not to visit any of the restaurants and coffee shops, but I did walk past all of them. I was amazed at all the boats sitting on trailers in the parking lots and pieces and parts of boats just sitting around everywhere, with the smell of fuel and hydraulic fluid in the air. None of the tourists appeared to be put off by any of this. Of course, I felt right at home here where lots of folks have boats on trailers, pieces and parts lining the bayou side.
The pièce de ré·sis·tance for me was the harbor. I spent so much time there observing the different types of boats, the people coming and going, wondering what their stories were. Where were they headed? Out fishing for the weekend? On a pleasure trip? I even watched folks launch several boats, and man oh man what a swanky boat launch that was. Is this not picturesque?
My exploring finished, I trekked to the loading dock for my cruise and watched all the tourists waiting in line to board the larger of two glacier cruise ships. At the very end of the line, a couple spoke to a nice young gentlemen who had been directing the folks onto the gangway, mentioning that he was from Louisiana. Boy, did my ears perk up!
I made my way over to him and asked him where he was from. He told me St. Amant, Louisiana, and as I read his name tag, I was reminded that Don said he would make a call on my behalf to a Captain Cody he had met on a glacier cruise on a previous visit to Whittier. Lo and behold, this was the same man! I introduced myself to him and he said, “Yes, I received a voice mail from Don Dubuc this morning about you. I’m so sorry that my big cruise is all filled up, but you will enjoy the three-hour cruise just as well.” Turns out, his father owns a Louisiana tugboat company, and during the off-season in Whittier, he runs a tugboat for his dad’s company. I mean, how cool is that? Small world and all, right?
I realize this was a quick and dirty, nitty-gritty post, but I trust that you will take the time to follow the links if you want more information and that you will click on the photos for larger versions and let your imagination run wild and fill in all the blanks. As always, ask me any questions below in the comment section, and I will answer quickly as I can.
Part 2 of this story will be the actual glacier cruise, but it’s just way too much for one post, my friends.