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.
Having learned it was “bubble net” season for a short spell sporadically through the summer months, and hoping to catch the tail end of it—no pun intended—I unearthed that such a phenomenon only occurs in Southeast Alaska by an elite few. Indeed, there was no time to lose in catching the ferry to the state capital and book on the next available whale watching tour with Juneau Whale Watch.
Regrouping with the Fishhook Fatties in Wasilla from coming down the Dalton, we jumped at joining them in celebrating Jade Laughlin’s birthday. Over a succulent hog roast (formerly known as Leona, hand reared by one of the younger Fishhook Fatties), and locally brewed beer: a refreshing Rhubarb Hefeweizen and Salted Caramel Red blend, which had been commissioned by the Fatties no less.
After perhaps the liveliest non-rallies I’ve experienced—Dust to Dawson—the road to Thompson’s Eagle’s Claw Campground in Tok beat backward under us. I rose the following morning muddy-eyed having burnt the candle down to a nub. Stepping out of Tok and leaving behind the fairytale of trees whose brindled bark reminded me of muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason, we rode into a peevish wind towards Fairbanks. The sky told of something dark and foreboding, evening-coloured beneath an unbroken ceiling of charcoal grey at two in the afternoon. I got the most spectacular chills. Something wayward and menacing, wild as the day was long, not knowing a forest fire had triggered part of the expansive cloud cover.