Bringing a 30-year-old goal to fruition always puts the soul on high alert. Anticipation of the event, the potential for a last-minute breakdown in the plan, and the moment when things really start to happen are sources of bright sparks of energy for the system. In this case, I got on the ferry just before 4pm, and there was no turning back.
I’ve decided to include some suggestions in my travelogue, because I hope it will persuade you to take the ferry sometime soon. I’ll jump right in.
I chose to disembark at Ketchikan because, as I noted, it was the city I intended to visit in 1989. But a compelling reason to choose that port is that it is the sweet spot between ferry cost and time on land. As the ferry continues its loop, the stays in towns become progressively shorter. If you decide to stop in Skagway, the only way to have more than three hours there is to stay a week for the next Friday ferry, or, perhaps stay a day for the Saturday ferry to roll in. You will be there either too long or not long enough. Ketchikan gives you a stay from 7am Sunday to 3pm Wednesday, a good amount of time to investigate the area without spending too much on lodging or missing out on local attractions.
The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) website says to arrive two hours before departure to check in and board. I didn’t know if I would be denied boarding after that time, as on an airliner, so I arrived at 3:45 to be safe. I learned that I might be allowed to board early, which was good news, but I also saw people boarding at 5:45 for the 6pm departure. You can use your own comfort level to choose how early you want to arrive.
I parked in the long-term parking at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, and it has quirks worth mentioning. To pay for your parking stall, you have to remember your number, then go to a big box like the mailboxes at a condo complex. There is a tiny slot for your $30 weekly fee. You fold the bills individually and cram them in, or you write a check. I did not mention using plastic. If you have no cash, you’ll have to run into the terminal and use an ATM. In order to be sure no one pulls your money out, you use a “bill stuffer” to push the last bill all the way in. You get no ticket, so I assume someone makes a note that your stall is in use for a week. To me, it is a scarily low-tech system. I won’t know if I followed procedure correctly until I get back and find my car still sitting there.
Here was where I made my first blunder. I should have parked at the terminal, checked in, loaded my belongings in my cabin, and then moved my car to the long-term parking. As I parked first, I had to roll a suitcase with a sleeping bag perched atop it, and in my other hand, I carried a second bag and a garbage bag with my pillows. The garbage bag scraped the sidewalk a few times, tore in a couple of spots, and left my pillowcase black. I also had a backpack that kept trying to slide off my shoulder.
I worked up a sweat on this trek. I had to roll my bag over railroad tracks at one point, and the two items interfaced about as well as an iPad and Windows 10. My sleeping bag fell off the suitcase, my backpack fell off my shoulder, and I had to stop to do a total reboot of my system. Since I thought I had to arrive by 4, some of my perspiration was from anxiety in addition to the workout sweat.
I had taken my passport in case we ran aground in Canada, but all I had to show was my driver’s license to get my boarding pass. I dragged my goods to the tiny elevator, went to see the purser, and he gave me a key to my cabin.
And there I was, nestled into an outside cabin on the Alaska Ferry. A thirty-year-old dream has come true.
What have you written today? Talk to you soon!