“Fancy kayaking uris Tracy Arm, and spending the night?” Jason asked me and our mate Josh, an experienced whitewater kayaker with a quiet gravitas about him. This won’t be a day at the beach like itaddling across the lake to Mendenhall Glacier, I was promptly informed. Tracy Arm is a narrow fjord 50 miles southeast of Juneau leading to Sawyer Glacier. There are zero rangers in attendance; it is deep in the Alaskan wilderness. “Okay, let’s do it—what’s the worst that could happen?”
Yup. It’s been a while. Stark raving mad-as-a-box-of-frogs, the radio silence is o-v-e-r. “Delighted” is a weak term; I’m finally able to relieve the itchy feet as we hit the road again. From late summer last year right through to the onset of spring based in Alberta’s Narnia, this summer found us back in Southeast Alaska—trigger-happy on the humpbacks, (Sony style). U.S. visa expiry and friendship renewal have led us full circle. Fortunate to write the backstory from May 2017 in the comfort of the Stowasis, it’s overwhelming to know how to pack it all in. But pack it in, I will.
The thought of halting our trip was completely untenable. Coming up to three years in maintaining a steady momentum, why would we stop now? Yet staying a few nights over late summer at Nevil and Michelle’s place merged rapidly into a fortnight, which fused at equal speed into a few weeks, that somehow extended into autumn with: “Well, you might as well stay until spring. The weather’s going to catch you out any day now, and I think it’d be fun for you to spend winter here with us in Alberta.” The birds were busy in the trees, and the air still gave promise of warm if not mild days to come. Five months later and through the inexhaustible dictates of the warmest hospitality—notwithstanding the coldest winter we’ve experienced to date—we’ve become strong contenders for the “Longest lodger” status at the Stowasis.
A turn in the weather whistled a bolt of cold over my body, goose-fleshing as we journeyed towards Jasper and Banff in Canada’s Alberta province. Cold inquires at first investigated the tips of my fingers, chin and nose, feeling their sharp little claws sink in when my gums were no longer warm. What did I expect from alpine towns—amid the snow-capped Canadian Rockies—revelling in their own microclimates.
“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.
Where the city ends, Juneau Icefield begins—and keeps going and going. Undoubtedly, its centerpiece is Mendenhall Glacier. Like just about everything else in Southeast Alaska, it sits inside Tongass National Forest. Incredibly, a temperate rainforest no less, which in parts endures more than 16 feet of annual rainfall. No surprise that a fine drizzle falling on the coastal city is often present, wetting the leaves and branches, then gathers into big drops that plop onto your head and arms. Although the rain is such a natural occurrence in Juneau, it almost starts to feel invisible. The incessant murmur on the rooftops wasn’t likely to dampen the euphoria here.