After leaving Ketchikan, it was another 30+ hour voyage to Juneau, Alaska’s state capitol. The rain did not stop as we traveled north, leaving the landscape drenched in heavy fog: sky, land and sea sharing a monochromatic palette of green-grays. We stopped at three smaller ports, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Kake picking up and dropping off passengers. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have skipped Juneau in exchange for a day in each Wrangell and Petersburg, as both are working Alaskan cities that have little contact with the cruise industry.
During the journey, the ferry had to navigate the treacherous Wrangell Narrows, which demands upwards of 87 directional changes by the captain. Sometimes, the shore and the spruces looked so close it was as if you could almost reach out and touch them from the side of the ship. This waterway is used only by the Alaskan Marine Highway and local fishing vessels as larger cruise ships could not possibly navigate the waters
I slept in the solarium during this leg of the trip; this ship, the MV Malaspina, was smaller than the Columbia and noticeably less full of passengers. As I continued my travels, I would learn that each ship in the AMHS fleet has a distinct personality, from art displayed on the walls, to the flavor of the crew.
Looking down the side of the boat into the beginning of the Wrangell Narrows:
There were several communal puzzles set up throughout the boat. Anyone was invited to fit a few pieces into place at their whim.
Finally I arrived in Juneau on Tuesday afternoon. The rain broke as we docked. I gathered my gear up and strapped everything onto my bike. I have to admit, I was not thrilled at the idea of biking in the rain so I was happy that the clouds were holding for the time being. As a thrifty traveler, the thing I dislike most about Juneau is how far the ferry terminal is from the downtown area. The terminal is 14 miles outside of the city. Since bikes are not allowed to access the majority of those 14 highway miles, a cyclist has to bike upwards of 20 miles to get into town. However, there is a bus stop a mile and a half from the ferry, so I opted for that route. I biked to the stop, loaded my bike onto bus and sat back… for an hour long ride into town. Taking a bus allows one to have a true sense of a city’s demographic. I didn’t like what I saw. The main stops for the bus were Walmart, the mall, Costco, Fred Meyers, a hospital and what appeared to be a reservation… with a high security prison sitting right outside of it. The overwhelming majority of the patrons on the bus were first peoples. When I finally got downtown, the class and race distinctions were appallingly apparent. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I was and still am. I did, however, have a half hour discussion on the bus with a teenaged dude about wrestling which was rad. I could tell that people were listening to our overly excited conversation and laughing to themselves.
Downtown Juneau is hellaciously hilly, easily on par with Seattle.
Russian influences are still prevalent in Alaska, as Alaska was not purchased by the US until 1867. The old Russian Orthodox churches are beautiful. Sitka is especially proud of its Russian heritage.
Downtown Juneau is ruled by the cruise industry. It’s pretty gross, way worse that Ketchikan. Most of the stores are actually in partnerships with the cruise lines and close through the winter and spring, their owners returning to their Caribbean homes. Some are truly Alaskan owned however. These display signs in the windows proclaiming their store as authentically Alaskan, whatever that means. Regardless, these souvenir shops look like Alaska vomited Tchotchkes for blocks upon blocks.
The purpose of my trip to Juneau was actually a tour by boat through the Tracy Arm – Fords Terror Wilderness area the following day. I retreated to the hostel after stopping at a rad local health food grocery store to stock up on bulk items for my next several meals. I could tell a several stories about this particular hostel, but I won’t. Know that the beds were uncomfortable, the staff was rude, and they had an annoying lock out from 9 – 5 and an 11pm curfew.
Anyway, the next day, I was Adventure Bound. Literally. This tour was $150 bucks but it was seriously one of the highlights of my entire two week long trip in Alaska and worth every single penny. I cannot recommend Adventure Bound Alaska enough. The captain of the boat was so knowledgeable of the area and a total pro at navigating through treacherous terrain. Cruise ships thankfully cannot navigate these waters. We left that morning at 8 and did not arrive back until after 6pm. There were 50 people on board but it was still a fairly intimate trip. He totally obliged all the camera bugs on board (ahem) and knew all the best spots for glorious panoramas. He could maneuver the boat so close to a sheer granite cliff that you could literally touch the rock wall. He would circle icebergs, these weird frozen sculptures floating in the sea. We sat in front of two immense glaciers for over an hour each waiting for ice to calve. Truly amazing, and some of my new favorite photos.
Approaching the North Sawyer Glacier:
Then, later, the South Sawyer Glacier:
After returning to Juneau, I had a few hours to kill before taking the last bus back out to the ferry, where I would head to Skagway and Haines, two small towns with distinct histories. Since I would be returning to Juneau in two and a half days, I left my bike locked up at the hostel. It was still pouring and I knew both these town were small, walkable communities whose population numbered in the hundreds during the “off-season.”
On our next installment: The Sarah Palin Store and Wild Grizzlies!