on the way back home

I’m sitting in the observation deck of Alaska Ferry “Matanuska”, making observations about my day.

It’s quiet at 2020 Alaska time. We’re docked at the Juneau port—it would be nice to visit the town, but four children need bedtime. Being docked here for five hours seems a waste of time as they sleep. Whitish grey clouds cover the sky—one patch of pink red in the southern sky.

Already dusk is darkening our world. What a change from the land of the midnight sun—where two in the morning begins to appear dusky. But this quick darkening helps the children sleep though. The cold air blowing through the ceiling vent does not help. The lady at the desk helped me with that – a quick flick of her wrist and the fan was off.

We boarded, van and all, at lunchtime. By bedtime, we’ve expended the amenities of this water-bound vessel. Traversing the coastline of south-eastern Alaska — Skagway, Juneau, Petersburg, and then into Canadian waters, Prince Rupert, where we will eventually dock, we were entertained by a guide teaching about whales, porpoises, belugas and humpbacks.

And soon were entertained by blows and dives of the two humpbacks and a herd of porpoises playfully pounding the water, much to my daughter’s squealing delight. There’s been an island lighthouse, an ocean marker signifying an underwater sunken ship, endless walks on the car deck, the caving deck, the muster deck and the observation deck. One 4×4 play section is cordoned for the dozen children aboard. Not a luxury cruise liner.

All this assists us in two fewer driving days homeward.

The kids can avoid belt buckles for three hours at a time, have bed naps (not car seat naps), and meet new people.

Toddler Zach has come out of his shell. He was aware that he was tapping a stranger’s knee — Zach wanted to meet the gentlemen. The gentleman put out his hand to greet him with a handshake and Zach engaged. His first handshake. He’s also playing peek-a-boo with strangers.

Arctic Summer 2010 051

It has already been a four day journey home.

On Sunday, by lunch, we left Inuvik, travelling south on the Dempster Highway. No flat tire the first day.

Over six hours to Eagle Plains where we stopped for dinner. Warm and friendly, the waitress informed us that their groceries were low—no hamburgers, no salads, no chicken.  We were just glad for a hot meal and a place to rest our heads in such a lonely land (and hey, I was pretty tickled to have a bath with clear water again).

Hunters shared that they’d seen 21 bears and shot five caribou. We stopped for a few minutes ourselves to watch 12 caribou blazing across the tundra to meet the mountains.

Our second leg of the Dempster journey, through shale-bound road and continuous potholes, we cleared the road tire-change free. Our alignment and shocks are in need of repair though.

Engineer Creek became our luncheon location. Numerous rosehip bushes and a bear’s delight in cranberry bushes. We tried both, but were impressed by neither. Scurvy should have been avoidable with such a vast supply.

Since we underwhelmed our grocery supplies this day and there was simply nothing to buy in the Yukon wilderness for six hours, we opted for a warm campfire and tinfoil packets of oatmeal. brown sugar, milk powder, coconut, water and cinnamon. Ohh, I feel so rustic. I also tried tinfoil packets of cornmeal, water, milk powder, salt and sugar with less success. I feel so clever (or was it so clever to have forgotten to purchase lunch at the only stop available for six hours)?

Nevertheless, we had loads of fun. The girls declared they love camping, just not outhouses. They love chucking sticks into the river and ‘racing’ them downstream. And Zach loved chucking big rocks to the rivers’ bottom.

An overnight visit to Dawson City afforded us an abbreviated visit to the Bonanza Creek dredge, a drive to the top of Dome Road and an introduction to my local Member of Parliament at a town walking tour. Whoda thunk that I would meet this friendly soul in such a location?

With one stop in Pelly Crossing, we pulled out roasting sticks and smokies and enjoyed a brief campfire before finishing our long day. Six torturous hours to Whitehorse and an attempt at bedding in Carmacks, at the two local motels was unsuccessful; so onward we drove until no more videos would ply the children’s souls and into a hotel room at my bedtime. Expect a grouchy day tomorrow—for the kids, of course.

My desire to secure learning opportunities for the kids has passed after three concerted weeks of them, so we visited the Starbucks, a trendy used bookstore for ferry reading, and headed to touristy Skagway—the notorious Alaskan Klondike Gold Rush crossroads town.

I am too tired to shop! Jim takes the girls downtown Skagway to visit the jewellery stores — like cheese for mice or honey for tourists, these gold jewelry shops apparently do well staffed with only a half dozen employees. The girls opt for a gold flake Skagway pen, shiny rocks in a black velvet sachet, and polar bear stuffies.

Which brings me back to the observation deck, observing my day, and our very last journal entry to this remarkable summer Arctic vacation!

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