“Oh look, thar she blows.” Far out in the distance a whale blew, and a pillar of water fountained up. My eyes widened at the calm beauty. Ferrying for the best part of two days from Juneau, Alaksa to Prince Rupert, Canada became our third cruisey foray into exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage, courtesy of its Marine Highway. Taking the slow ferry gave us the flexibility to experience life and logistics as the typical family might along this coastal connection of communities: bring your vehicle, bring your dog (or “marvellous other”), and enjoy what is essentially a poor man’s cruise.
For us, opting for the communal catnap—rolling out the sleeping bags in a quiet corner—was a no brainer over forking out for a spendy cabin. Last time I checked, this wasn’t an option aboard the plush ocean liners. Gloriously, scoring some real estate in the lounge comprised: a couple of reclining seats adjacent to big viewing windows and power points; just in front of public washrooms with a hot shower; all above the deck on which to dine.
Honestly, we didn’t exactly go without. Not with the relaxing observation decks to get yet more birdlife and humpback whale watching under our belts. Or simply going walkabout in a Zen-like manner throughout the ample areas aboard. That said, I wouldn’t mess about finding your spot, nor would I overly recommend the food on board.
Halfway along the deck one evening, I stopped and hung my arms over a railing. It seemed that my course was set. I stared at the arrangement of the stars, the position of the moon and the pitch of the sea. Settling in for the night, I drew the pillow into my neck, listening to the sea whoosh and boom like Beethoven’s Ninth.
There’s nothing not to like with the calming water as your companion, rocking you gently into a deep slumber. That’s the sea for you, and it’s fathoms deep in colour. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue after dusk. Sometimes it almost looks red. Or it will turn the colour of old coins. Often, white strings of gulls drag over it like beads. Sometimes, the shadows of clouds drag against it, and patches of sunlight touch down everywhere.
Rolling off the ferry at Prince Rupert, BC, having voyaged through international waters, we took immediate departure from port and headed straight to Kitwanga, 150 miles in a northeasterly direction. But not before a meet and greet from a black bear and her obedient cub on the Cassiar. Walking right out in front of me on the highway, I slammed on the anchors to watch the littlun keep its head down and promptly reunite with the safety of the forest on the other side.
Mum eyed me up with warning as much as caution. Hoping my eyes were smiling in full upon her expressive dark pearls boring into me, “Just be careful, Lisa” descended through the intercom, feelingly. Up ahead a few hundred yards, Jason remarked it looked as though my bike was on top of the bears in his rear mirrors. Given the length of a motorcycle, I was.
Coat hanger wedged firmly in my mouth, on we went and set up camp at a rather charming little RV park just off the Cassiar. Otherwise known as Gitwangak or Gitwangax, meaning “people of the place of rabbits,” Kitwanga is located where its river runs into the Skeena. Myriad fluffy bums aside, it made a convenient halfway point to Salmon Glacier, just on the outskirts of Hyder.
One of Hyder’s other major draws we’d heard, possibly a double-edged sword as well, were the creeks crammed with doomed salmon but consequently alive with opportunistic bears..! Interestingly, as a result of its geographic isolation, Hyder functions as America’s only de facto outpost of Canada. There’s no requirement to stop and show your passport on the way into this postage stamp sized place. All businesses (bar the post office) price in Canadian dollars. Clocks are set to BC time, the electricity comes from a Canadian utility, and the nearest police are Mounties. It’s the only place in Alaska not to use the state’s 907 international dialling code—phone numbers begin with Canadian codes 250 or 236.
As the world’s largest road accessible glacier, Salmon Glacier is a must-see if you’re into scenes with horizon-spanning expanses of irridescent blue. Accessing the “Wow” glacier, we took the 40-mile aptly named Glacier Highway, winding through 20 glacier formations en route, including Bear Glacier. Another stop worthy of anyone with eyes.
Well aware it was a hotspot for bears, but also moose, fox, porcupine and mountain goats, we were privy only to engorged numbers of groundhog squirrels. With no excuse needed, more just because they can, the little fellas—often surveying their surroundings like a meerkat would—took every opportunity to squeal like a girl on helium. You know the sound: when someone’s snuck up from behind and pinched her bottom.
Doing our utmost to sight a bear, we failed quite royally on executing the pre-requisite early bird approach from atop Salmon glacier. Apparently a 6.30am motorcycle bootcamp start was not early enough. Alas, we missed catching the worm and thus, every one of Hyder’s bears entirely. The grizzlies would stay elusive, but there’s always next time. Predictable they’re not and admittedly, they seem to pop up when you least expect it.
Back in civilisation for a resupply, we stopped to replenish provisions in Prince George, BC’s largest city. While I bagged up groceries, Jason meanwhile—just outside in Walmart car park—bumped into a lady called Wanda. Kind, generous and bearing a beautiful soul the second we became acquainted, she seemed to transend herself, as if her existence was secondary to her interest in the world and the things in it. A night of pure indulgence in her home ensued, which took us both by complete surprise—she and the next 16 hours left me quietly overwhelmed.
After over 2.5 years on the road, we’d been hosted a fair few times, but the feeling of thankfulness towards relative strangers surged stronger than ever. Humbled further by receiving thanks for interrupting a lady’s routine, big portions of which are spent caring for her dear old mother; whose mind and humour, as it happened, was sharp as a tack and dry as they come. Wanda, you wonderful being, the pleasure was all ours.