12 hours in Salt Lake City

Honestly, I can’t say that I’m very impressed. Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted (after waking up at 4:30 this morning and taking a five hour bus ride from Jackson Hole down to Salt Lake City) or maybe because it’s freaking hot here and I’m in jeans and sneakers and have a heavy pack on my shoulders. The first place I found after dropping my bag off at the airport and taking a bus into the city was a sprawling outdoor mall with every retail shop you can imagine and kids playing in a jumping water fountain. Not a good introduction to the city. I found a Starbucks, though, and sipped away my headache with a soy latte. I also did a little research on things to do in Salt Lake City and the #1 attraction, according to Trip Adviser, is the library. I had plenty of time – 12 hours to be exact – before my plane departed at 1:00 am, so I thought I might as well try to find it. I hopped on the Trax, an above-ground train, and went several blocks to where I thought the library was located. After walking a few hundred yards away from the station though, I felt the sweat start to drip down my back and thoughts of the air-conditioned Barnes and Noble back at the mall sounded pretty good. I retraced my steps without finding the library and spent the remainder of my waiting game browsing the shelves.

Once again I have been very bad about updating my adventures and whereabouts. My three week contract in Alaska ended with lots of rain, a massive calving in Tracy Arm, bubble net-feeding humbacks, breaching whales, and a salmon fishing bear who wasn’t very good at fishing. The calving was actually a little frightening. I was out in one of the Zodiacs with a few of the guests and we were viewing the glacier from a safe distance amid floating pieces of ice and harbor seals. But even though we were at a quarter of a mile away, we weren’t prepared for the whole face to come sliding off! I didn’t have my camera out to catch it, but it wouldn’t have done the phenomena justice anyway. After the ice broke off we were faced with a ten foot wave slowly rolling its way towards us. Thank g*d it didn’t break, because then we really would have been in trouble. The only thing we had to worry about was the floating bits and pieces of ice surrounding our Zodiac. Several were quite large and it would not have been good if they rolled over beneath us. We made our retreat from the active glacier swiftly and stealthily, riding out the waves and dodging the ice. I’ll admit that my heart was pumping a little faster than usual. I thought it ironic too, that just a few days earlier the Captain Cook experienced a similar calving and a passenger unfortunately fell and broke her leg. Even though I didn’t get any shots of the calving, our Video Chronicler was out in a Zodiac as well, so he caught the whole even on film and I managed to get a copy of the DVD. It’s just as good on video!

After saying goodbye to the Bird in Sitka, I flew down to Jackson Hole to visit my brother for a week. I’d never been to Wyoming, so I was excited to explore a new place! Jackson is a cool town, a little touristy for me, but lots going on and some great outdoor activities. Will took me up to Amphitheater Lake, a ten mile hike in Grand Teton National Park, the first day I arrived. It was beautiful and the lakes at the top were spectacular, but I found it a little difficult to breath. 9,700 feet was a little high after just being at sea level for a month! I also went white water rafting on the Snake River, mountain biking down the steep and winding Blacks trail (which resulted in two bloody knees and a major cramp in my side), and a 7 mile hike around Jenny Lake, also in the Grand Teton National Park. I set out on the last hike by myself, but met another couple somewhere along the trail and we formed a group of three. The trail was mainly flat except for a steep climb up to Inspiration Point that looked out over the lake. At the top I wondered what inspiration the view sparked and for whom…

Will had to work at the hospital during the day, but I managed to fill in the hours with yoga classes at Inversion and delicious smoothies at Lotus Cafe, my new favorite restaurant. Lots of vegan options and mostly organic! I also spent quite a bit of time making calls on my phone and writing e-mails back and forth to the patient and ever-so-helpful office staff at Lindblad. My first day in Jackson I received an email saying that there was an opening for the Baltic trip on the National Geographic Explorer! Of course I jumped on it (check out the itinerary!), but the problem was getting a Russian visa and flights in two weeks. I got it (mostly) sorted out though, and all I’m waiting for is my passport to arrive in the mailbox! Then I’ll be off to St. Petersburg Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Poland, Germany, and Denmark on a 15 day cruise! I can’t wait! And I’ll try my best to keep everyone updated on the things I see and the adventures I come across. Not sure what kind of internet service I’ll have though…

Just curious, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?  

Swimming? In Alaska?!

Yep. I did. And it wasn’t by accident either! We had a beautiful day at Fox Creek last week – blue sky and warm. After sitting out in the sun for several hours in a black Zodiac with the third mate, watching the kayakers (and rescuing one after he tipped his kayak), I was ready for the polar bear plunge. We had nine kids onboard, and they all wanted to go swimming. So Jen, our expedition leader, loaded them (and me) into a Zodiac and motored us 20 feet away from the ship. One by one we all plunged into the 42 degree water and after surfacing, swam as fast as we could back to the ship and climbed up the fantail ladder. Because the air was warmer than the water, I wasn’t at all cold after getting out of the water. The water, on the other hand, was quite chilly. I didn’t have anyone take my picture the first time, so of course I had to jump in again.

We also had some great wildlife last week too. We saw our first bubble net feeding humpbacks just outside of Glacier Bay National Park. Bubble net feeding is a type of cooperative feeding where the whales organize themselves into different positions. There is a bubble blower who blows a ring of bubbles around a school of fish 20 feet or so below the surface. Then there’s a caller who makes a loud whining noise and comes up in the middle of the bubble net to scare the fish to the surface. The remaining whales come up after the caller with their mouths wide open to catch the fleeing fish and they all surface looking like giant clams. I didn’t get any pictures of the bubble net feeding this week, but here are some from a few years ago.

We also saw a pair of male and female brown bears really close. They were browsing along the shore and we nosed the ship up close without scaring them. Later we dropped a Zodiac and got even closer, maybe 30 feet. Close enough to see the individual blades of grass hanging from their mouths. I could have watched them all day!

Finally, we saw some orcas too! We had just entered Glacier Bay National Park and someone spotted the characteristic dorsal fin of the animals. There were perhaps seven  all together, and they were having fun rolling over, showing their flippers, occasionally spy-hopping (sticking their heads out of the water), and we even saw one of them fully breach just a few hundred yards from the ship. That was their first time I’ve seen an orca breach! So cool.

To finish off the week, we sailed into Sitka early last night to watch 4th of July fireworks. They got cancelled last week in Juneau due to rain (no surprise), so they lit them off a week late. I was exhausted after a week full of hiking, swimming, yoga, wildlife viewing, and 15 massages, so I only watch for 15 minutes. It was still fun though. I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks…

So now I have one more week to go. There will be 18 kids on board, so I’m hoping (sheepishly) that I won’t have too many massages! I’m ready for my two-week break!

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to see bubble netters and orcas, and I did. So this week I’m hoping to see orcas on the hunt!

In Fairy Land

Well, I finally made it to Alaska, after 24 hours of sitting in airports, standing in lines, squirming in airplane seats, and not really knowing whether I’d make it to Sitka on time. My flight from Miami to Dallas got delayed three hours due to bad whether in Texas, so I grudgingly accepted that I would miss my connecting flight from Dallas to Seattle, but kept my fingers crossed that I could jump on a later one. We finally got underway and arrived in Dallas around 9:30 pm where I spent the next two hours standing in line waiting to see whether I could get on the last flight from Dallas to Seattle (which already had 62 people on standby – the weather in Dallas had messed up many peoples flights significantly and the airport was teaming with stranded travelers. I could only laugh when I saw airport workers roll out stacks of army cots for people to sleep on).

I must have good karma because when I finally reached the counter and gave the woman my ticket (the one for my 6:00 flight), she promptly printed out a boarding pass for Seattle. Somehow I had already been confirmed, which made my night look a lot more manageable.

I slept most of the way to Seattle and by the time we touched down it was almost 2 am. I had a hotel booked through Lindblad, so I picked up my bag (slightly amazed that it made it) and took the shuttle to my hotel to sleep for the next three hours… I had to be back at the airport at 6:15 to catch my 7:45 flight to Juneau and connecting flight to Sitka.

It was uncertain at times whether I’d make it, but I am on the ship now and just returned from a beautiful hike a few miles outside of Sitka. I went with Lavon, the purser, and we hiked up through the mossy forest and old-growth trees to a cascading waterfall, and then down to a small lake nestled between steep ridges. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. I felt like I was in a fairy land. Lavon brought her camera, so hopefully I can upload some pics later.

My last day in Miami was good, but I wasn’t ready to leave! The evening before I did a water massage workshop, which was amazing! The instructor had made props out of foam noodles that supported our heads and legs. Then we took turns either floating and receiving, or giving the ‘massage’. It’s not really a massage in the sense that you palpate the body. Instead you use your hands, the traction made from moving in the water, and your own body motions to move the other person. It felt amazing to both receive and give and it’s definitely something I want to pursue later. The next morning, after yoga class on the dock, Mina and I had a nice chat over breakfast (really good homemade granola!) about my new position and the company in general. We did a bit more training for the treatments on the ship and then it was time to leave!

Being staff now is a lot different. It was weird to step on the ship and know that I didn’t have to worry about getting my cabins turned or setting up the dining room for dinner. I didn’t really have any obligations, so that’s why I got to go for a hike. Being Wellness Specialist will be a lot more laid back and less stressful, which I’m very very grateful about!