Travelers to Alaska just love ferry tales

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

I love ferry tales.

I was in Alaska in November. The population of Alaska is 722,718. There are 42 million people who visit the Mall of America annually and Central Park in New York City has 38 million visitors. The Mall of America and Central Park have more weekly visitors than the population of Alaska.

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I was in a tiny floating village in Alaska. I took the watery way from Juneau to Haines. Traveling via ferry slows you down. It takes time to get there. The ferry is a poor man’s cruise.

I was on The LeConte, a 235-foot long ferry that holds up to 250 passengers and 34 automobiles while cruising along at around 14.5 knots per hour.

I enjoy traveling by ferry. All I had was the ship beneath my feet, the wind on my face, the mountains, my bride and a whale. Some people are followed by a moon shadow. I’m followed by a whale. A whale made a number of appearances above the water while I was ferried to Haines, much to the delight of the passengers.

The ferry invites talk. It has a social nature. Why not? We’re all in the same boat. A trip by ferry provides time for thought. An opportunity to answer the questions for which we are allowed to know the answers.

I talked to a wet guy. He had obviously missed the boat.

I made that up. I don’t know anyone who has fallen from a ferry. That reminds me of the mountain climbing guide who warned a tourist, “Be careful not to fall. This is a dangerous place. But if you should fall, remember to look to the right. The view is extraordinary.”

I talked to a woman on the ferry who was originally from Brainerd and is now the principal of schools at Gustavus and Klukwan — two small towns in Alaska. Gustavus has a population of 421 and is situated on the Salmon River 48 miles northwest of Juneau. It is the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Klukwan is 22 miles north of Haines and has a population of 95. There are 16 kids in grades K-12 in Klukwan and 54 students in the Gustavus school. The teacher to student ratio is good. Klukwan has two teachers and there are five in Gustavus. Gustavus has a graduating class of one. The lone senior is guaranteed to be the class valedictorian.

After we docked at the ferry terminal, my wife and I drove off in a rented Subaru. I drive a rental car as if I owned it. Some folks enter their rental cars in demolition derbies, but there’s no use renting trouble.

I met a friend in Haines who I hadn’t seen for a year. He said, “I don’t feel well. I came in on the ferry and I had to ride in a seat facing backward and riding backward always makes me sick.”

“Why didn’t you ask the person sitting across from you to change places?” I asked.

“I couldn’t. There wasn’t anyone sitting across from me.”

Haines has a population of 1811 and is visited by people who enjoy seeing bald eagles, bears, mountains and Alaska Native arts among other things such as the Hammer Museum, a quirky homage to percussion tools. The Southeast Alaska State Fair is held in Haines and Disney’s movie White Fang was filmed there. It’s located along North America’s longest fjord, the Lynn Canal

It snowed and rained. It rained and snowed. Last winter, 31 feet of snow (11 feet in November) fell in Haines. Still, the weather was nice enough that Yogi the Bear would have found it bearable, as a grizzly was spotted near Chilkoot Lake.

I stood under a tall tree decorated with bald eagles until a weary bough released the snow it had captured, allowing it to tumble down the back of my neck. I grunted in protest, but found solace in the words of Robert Frost, “The way a crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree has given my heart a change of mood and saved some part of a day I had rued.”

I was in a snow globe that had anger issues.

I smiled, just happy to be somewhere.

I was grateful for the reminder. Life is whittled away a day at a time. On that day, I was given 7 hours and 33 minutes of daylight.

I wasn’t promised perfection.

But I promise to be thankful for each day.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.