It’s June and I’m cold. A heavy rain pelts my black Musto jacket and I pull the brim of the hood down slightly to let water drip off. I watch the drops fall on the toes of my boots, roll off and disappear onto the cockpit floor. Looking up, I scan the water in front of Yahtzee and see nothing but grey. Well, there are white caps whipped up by a brisk wind, but other than that it’s all shades of grey — water, clouds, rocks, mountains.
Clenching my hands together into a loose ball, I bring them to my mouth and blow a steady breath inside for warmth. It does little. I was warm yesterday. Hot, even. And I know it will come again. Maybe in 10 minutes when this squall passes.
Sure enough, the precipitation turns from a downpour to a steady rain to a surly drip. Then it stops. A patch of blue sky breaks over Stephens Passage and within minutes I’m closing my eyes, lifting my face to the sun. Smiling.
Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Rain, sun, wind, no wind. This is the end of spring in Southeast Alaska and I love it. There’s no place I’d rather be.
That night the rain pounds hard on deck and I lay awake, listening. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I’m thinking about the tide instead. It’s low and we need to move 25 miles up Endicott Arm with the flood to catch it high and slack at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. I’ve built in extra time and go through my daily engine checks leisurely. Water is on the stove for coffee when I climb on deck to hoist the anchor. I find patches of blue sky breaking over white mountain tops and am happy yet not surprised.
Nearing the entrance to the long fjord we pass a massive iceberg that we stopped to admire the day before. Leaving it on our starboard side, I think about Jill and the boys paddling around it just twelve hours earlier and how much it has changed and how far it has drifted since then. A metaphor for life. It’s much smaller and in a completely different place. The brilliant blue emanating from its craggy shape is still breathtaking and its color is something that truly can’t be duplicated.
Brakes hissed, horn sounded. The train lurched slowly forward away from Skagway towards the mountains. With a clickety-clack, clackety-click, we climbed from sea level up through forests and dark tunnels, around cliffs, over bridges and past craggy, snow-capped peaks before reaching 3,000-foot White Pass.
All the while, we gently rocked back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks and the boys looked out the windows with wide-eyed excitement. Up, up, up. Pointing, laughing and non-stop talking, you’d think they’d been waiting for this moment their entire lives.
Stepping from the marina parking lot onto the sidewalk, cars rushed by in a flash and I felt my heart beat a bit faster. Rain pounded on the hard pavement, the stench of exhaust hung in the air and I winced at the noise. It had been over three weeks since we’d stopped in a place with so much traffic and it put me on edge.
Later, I was nearly run over stepping into a crosswalk when a driver ran a red light while texting. I was instantly shell shocked, as was the man next to me. I turned to him and said with wide eyes and a lump in my throat, “Wow, life can change in an instant. Live it every day.”
“I can’t believe that just happened,” he replied with an apprehensive chuckle.
In the moment, I felt safer offshore on Yahtzee in a gale than I did in this madness — I wanted to retreat to the sea.
The unease of life ashore didn’t come from traffic alone, though. Moving from the tranquil, subdued sounds of the mountains and ocean to bustling cities and towns is always an all around feast for the senses. These fast-moving places are a whirlwind of activity where advertising is seemingly everywhere, begging us to “Buy NOW!” And when unnerving glimpses of the “real world” are caught, they can be of things we don’t often think about in the course of our normal cruising lives — contradictory news outlets, horrifying acts of terrorism, an embarrassing government in disarray, trashy celebrity gossip and the drone of sports coverage. To be bombarded with all of this creates an anxiety that we’ve felt before and know well.
While Yahtzee leaned gently with the wind, I stood on the edge of the cockpit and took a long, awe-inspired look at my surroundings — mountains, trees, islands, animals, water. A wide smile spread across my face.
The breeze played with my hood as I spun 360-degrees, basking in the grandeur and pristine world that lives within the borders of this hallowed place. It had been a week since we entered Glacier National Park and Preserve and with each passing moment, I’d come to realize that I was experiencing the world around me in a deeper, more ethereal way than I ever have. We all were.
The park itself is immensely hard to describe in words or pictures, let alone the experience we had, and I can’t accurately provide a day-to-day rundown of our time there. It just wouldn’t do it justice. The concept of time was immaterial and our week unfolded from one anchorage to the next during a magical spell of warm weather, sunny skies, light breezes and just enough gentle rain to make wildflowers pop in bloom.
We spotted humpback whales everyday, multiple times a day, and many times while in the comfort of an anchorage. Bears roamed shorelines. Wolves watched us from a distance. Birds sang. Eagles soared. Oystercatchers squawked. Arctic loons cooed. Mountain goats munched on grassy cliffs. Porpoises dove. Sea lions hunted. Seals sneezed. Sea otters played.