Thursday, September 23, 2010

North, to Alaska

Husband and I are back from Alaska, but I personally haven't quite recovered from the trip. Jet lag has kept me up late at night and had me sleeping in, and I'm eager for my internal clock to adjust back to eastern time.

At least the laundry is done, the cats are home where they belong, and I made dinner last night for the first time in two-and-half weeks. It has been nice having other people do that for a while. For me, vacation means having someone else cook for me. It's a treat.

So, Alaska. Here's how the trip went. We flew to San Francisco and spent a couple of days with No. 1 and her boyfriend. Then we boarded the ship, the Sea Princess, and sailed on a sunny day on the Bay, which is a pretty rare occurrence. Our state room was at the very back of the ship, and this is the view from our balcony:

We spent the first two days at sea—there were lectures by a geologist who talked about the details of Alaska (gold mining, glaciers, history), movies, music, food, reading, naps. And then our first port was Ketchikan. Apparently, this city sees an amazing amount of rain, but we arrived on a sunny, warm day, perfect for a walking tour. This was our guide, a Tlingit who told us about the history of the town and the culture of his tribe. We did a little shopping in what used to be the red light district, saw salmon swimming up stream and had lunch at a local place. Cool town. Here is a shot of the guide telling us about totem poles:

The next day, we stopped in Juneau, larger than Ketchikan and with more to do. We booked a tour of a summer camp for sled dogs, which had us in a van careening up the side of a mountain. At the camp, we were greeted by about 120 dogs, each eager to run and to bark. And then bark some more—they fed off of each other's excitement, and the sound was deafening.

One of the mushers who lives at the camp all summer introduced us to her dogs and explained the world of Iditarod racing. She hitched a team of dogs to a cart with wheels, and we climbed aboard, with Husband and I in the front, and we went for a ride of about a mile and a half. I love how these dogs in the back kept snapping at each other. I'll run next to you, but I hate your guts. They have short tails because they each bit off the tail of the other.

Later after lunch, we took a tour of the city and the countryside, which included pretty spots and a nice drive. Here is the Mendendhall Glacier, which is slowly retreating and leaving bits and pieces in the adjacent lake:

And here is a bit of ancient ice from the glacier. You can eat this stuff, it's so pure. In fact, our guide broke off a piece and put it in his water cup he kept in the van.

I've lost track and can't remember if we had a day at sea after Juneau or went straight to Haines, but Haines was out next port. It's a small village with not much going on, but it's in a beautiful setting and a great place for wandering. We took a walk through town and then took a tour of the surrounding wilderness. We saw bears and eagles at the Chilkoot River:

and then went to a beautiful lake and listened to stories from another Tlingit guide, a funny guy full of old-man jokes.

Next stop, Victoria, B.C., where we toured the Butchart Gardens and had wine at a nearby winery:

And then two days at sea to get back to San Francisco. Early the first day, we glided through Endicott Arm, a small inlet that is so quiet, you could hear glacial ice splash in the water. The purpose of that side trip was to show us the Dawes Glacier, a massive thing that is retreating a foot a day. Here we are approaching the glacier early on a cold morning.

When we got about as close as the ship could get, we started to pivot in order to turn around, so Husband and I ran back down to our balcony to get a close-up view. Fortunately, the ship sat still for a while, so we could sit there with our coffee and listen to the ice crack. Fascinating. As close as it looks in this shot, it's actually over a mile away, so that gives you an idea of how big this glacier is.

Now, after floating around for two weeks of 60˚ weather, back to real life and summer heat. That's OK, though, because real life isn't so bad.


dive said...

Wowee, Robyn! What a fabulous cruise and what beautiful scenery.
Thank you for sharing your awesome photos with us.
Oh, and welcome home, by the way. We missed you.

steve dvm said...

Thanks for taking us along. You don't know me, but Alaska is one of our hopeful destinations.

Madame DeFarge said...

Fab photos and the trip sounds great. Didn't you want to stay there? I know that I would have.

Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

Scout said...

Dive, it really was some of the most beautiful landscape I've every seen.

Steve, we only saw a tiny portion of Alaska, but it was amazing.

Madame, I did sort of want to stay there, although I haven't seen the place in winter.

Margery, thanks for this information. Not all of the dogs we saw were run in the Iditarod, and some were not even raced. I did wonder about their treatment, though. The musher we met talked a little about picking up injured or sick dogs at certain check points, and you have wonder about it all.

Alifan said...

Robyn, a star as always, thank you I felt as though I was there, great photos ..

I did wonder about the poor dogs, and it is sad to hear about them from one of your bloggers, but I suppose we all need to know that not all the world loves dogs or animals, and hate to hear they are mistreated,but life has to have its down side,.

I am sure the cats are loving having you home again as I am, so glad you had a great time and shared it with us, now hope you soon get back to sleeping right.xx