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An Adventure Made in Alaska (Part One)

The first hint that this would be an interesting journey to Juneau came while I was checking my bag at Ted Stevens International Airport. I was told that “you might just end up in Seattle because the fog in Juneau hadn’t lifted all weekend.” The thought of an adventure didn’t faze me. If I was meant to go to Seattle, then so be it. Once through security, I ran into Carla and Sarah who were headed to the same meeting in Juneau. They were not optimistic about our chances. I waited at the gate, watching the clock and the board for awhile, only to be told we would have a one hour delay. I decided to grab some lunch, thinking that this might be a long day. That turned out to be an understatement.

Back at the gate after lunch, we were informed of another delay and by then, I was fully briefed on what was happening in Juneau with the fog. The experts at the gate, those with weather apps more sophisticated than mine, told me that the fog over the Juneau Airport had not lifted in three days but there was a chance it was going to lift at 4:00 this afternoon. Hmm. I looked at my less sophisticated weather app and it told me that the sun would set in Juneau around 4:10 – not usually the perfect time for a fog to lift. But what did I know? I have only traveled to Juneau three or four times. Most of the people I was talking to, including Carla and Sarah, appeared to be old pros at this Juneau routine.

I was just about to walk away and see if I could get a ticket for a different day when an announcement came over the loudspeaker. Our flight had been cancelled, or at least the part of the flight that was supposed to land in Juneau was cancelled. Instead the airplane would fly into Petersburg and we could take the 8:00 pm ferry into Juneau, if we wished. Wait a minute, I thought to myself. Petersburg. Ferry. I had never experienced either of those, so I jumped in line.

Carla and Sarah approached me and asked what I was doing. My answer: I was up for an adventure. I must have been convincing because they didn’t give it a second thought – they hopped in line as well. By the time I was on the plane, I had been briefed by the other passengers that Petersburg to Juneau was an 8 hour ferry ride - not the 2 hour ride I had told myself earlier. The ferry would cost $66 and I guess I thought $66 was cheaper than a night’s stay in a Seattle hotel, so why not?

Once the plane was loaded I figured out just how adventurous we were – the plane wasn’t even half full. We could have each had three seats to ourselves – even six seats, for that matter. The flight attendants seemed happy to be flying somewhere, anywhere it seemed. By the time we were preparing to land in Petersburg, the sun had gone down but there was still a glow in the window until we sank below the clouds. Then the engines revved and the pilot came on, telling us that the fog over the Petersburg airport was too dense to land. They were awaiting instructions from headquarters.

Soon the pilot announced that we were headed for Wrangell and, if things worked the way they hoped, we could catch a water taxi to Petersburg, a regular taxi to cross the island and then the ferry to Juneau. The landing in Wrangell was abrupt, but there we were, safely on the ground at a very small airport next to a very small town. We hopped on a shuttle and made it to a boat that sat 17 of us tightly, including the captain and his first mate.

We boarded the boat with a quick safety briefing – “The life jackets are under the seats, but it is too damn cold to get in the water.” Off we went, no lights, just straight out into the harbor at top speed. We raced into the darkness with dark mountains all around us. Nothing but darkness above and below. We didn’t slow down until our captain reached across the passenger on his right, grabbed a flash light and said, “It gets a little tricky here.” He instructed the passenger to shine the light out the window straight ahead and there it was – a big orange triangle that simply said DANGER. No sooner than we saw the sign did our captain see the boat launch and we were out of the boat. We turned to walk up the very isolated, very dark boat launch.