Alaskan Cruise: A Caregiver Takes a Break
Halfway into planning a vacation with my husband that doubled as my 50th birthday present, the stress of work and caring for an elderly parent left me with zero energy to map out a road trip up the California coastline. A friend’s offhanded suggestion about a cruise to Alaska intrigued me under the circumstances, even though I was the last person who envisioned packing winter woolies and a hat to freeze on a ship. We no sooner called her travel agent than we had gotten the last cabin aboard the Statendam on Holland America to take the Glacier Bay Inside Passage tour.
I cried through half our flight to Vancouver, for the first time allowing myself to release the baggage I’d been carrying. But knowing Mom was in good hands in our absence, I let it go.
We had no expectations of this trip and surrendered to the surprises ahead. No phones; no newspapers; being waited on hand and foot. We’d adapt!
Leafing through the brochures to select land excursions, the most appealing was one described as three hours of being carried through the trees, experiencing the lush flora and fauna. I pictured the leisurely E.T. ride at Universal Studios. We booked it. This “activity” was otherwise known as zip-lining…
After traveling by pontoon boat from Juneau to a lush and wild looking island, we were driven up a mountainside, got some quick training, and were outfitted with harnesses and the thickest leather gloves I had ever seen. As we climbed the hill to the first “trainer” zip-line, I realized what I had signed David and myself up for. We would be sitting in a harness – alone –, suspended from a cable and “zipping” through the trees at 35 miles per hour. Dear Lord, what have I done! But there was no turning back. This was my bright idea. I had to macho it out.
An actor for thirty years, I’m very good at taking direction. I obeyed our guides’ instructions to the letter. The first zip-line was 25 feet long and 10 feet off the ground. Not so bad. Of course, each was successively higher and longer – I screamed my bloody guts out! By the fourth zip-line, I was more than 100 feet off the forest floor, flying between the trees and having the time of my life. The seventh one proved too long for me, however, as I didn’t weigh enough to propel me hundreds of feet to the next platform. The crew was impressed to see me calmly turn my body around (as instructed), and then reach behind me to pull the cable hand over hand until I reached the high platform. After nine of these things, two suspension bridges right out of Indiana Jones, and rappelling down a rope at the end of the last platform, I felt like a Marine! David and I were exhilarated.
Proud of ourselves, we giggled through the return pontoon ride, grabbed a few souvenirs in Juneau and danced the night away on the Statendam to a band called Sea Breeze – four gentlemen who did everything from work the auctions to help with catering. They seemed to be everywhere. This talented foursome could sing and play anything. We didn’t miss a performance.
A helicopter ride and a walk atop a glacier was breathtaking. A trick of the light made the ice look bright blue. Musher’s camp, where we cuddled gorgeous husky pups and learned about the amazing dogs that run the Iditarod was also a treat.
The towns of Ketchikan – built on stilts – and Skagway were rustic and charming. Driving through the glorious Alaskan countryside in late August, seeing bald Eagles, black bears catching running salmon, and a city of totems rounded off our voyage.
But the high point was standing on the top deck of the Statendam, chilly but mesmerized as we watched new glaciers forming just as we could see and hear other parts crack and fall into the sea. We rarely broke our silence to take in the experience. Only hunger pangs pulled us away after four hours.
We capped off our cruise with a couple of days in Vancouver, cooing at baby Beluga Whales in Stanley Park, and then a day trip to Victoria and Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island.
Describing Butchart Gardens is nearly impossible, the land so vast, the arrangements stunning. We lost ourselves for hours in a peaceful paradise of flowers, waterfalls, and winding paths leading to one romantic view after another.
Our ten days felt like three weeks; we started our vacation practically shaking with stress and returned renewed, serene and joyous. Our cruise was made all the more wonderful, not only because of our surprise at the beauty of this voyage, but our deep enjoyment at a type of trip we never thought we would take.
And Mom was fine when we returned.
Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook
Photos courtesy of David Givens