Alaska is gorgeous – I cannot say that enough. Everyone should go to Alaska, even if it just to visit. I admit I have only ever been to Alaska while working, but just being in Alaska and having the opportunity to mingle with the residents and learn even a little of what it means to be Alaskan was amazing. Living on a boat in Alaska vs living on the land while in Alaska is also very different. I recommend any and all of the above. While it is gorgeous, if you are attempting to explore on your own and not with a group make sure you do your research. Alaska can be unforgiving.
When I first arrived in Alaska I was hired as a deckhand on Lindblad Expeditions, so I knew I was going to be outside most of the time. Our route was through the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska, an area that is also referred to as the Alaskan Panhandle. The majority of the area is part of Tongass National Forest, the largest forest in the United States, and prone to rainy conditions. The major ports we stopped on during our travels through Alaska brought us to Petersburg, Juneau, and Sitka. Each city has it’s own individuality and unique Alaska fee.
Petersburg is a small community that lives off the sea, very reflective of their Norwegian heritage. They even celebrate Norwegian Constitution Day! Petersburg was where we first docked in Alaska after arriving via Seattle, and where I first experienced Alaska. I went into an outfitter store and geared up! Thermal layers and waterproof layers are so important in a cold rain-forest, and I am especially thankful for the assistance from the staff! Petersburg is also the town where I left my computer for a few weeks (we only stopped in town once a trip, which was 7-10 days) at another shop for them to fix. Communication is hard as there isn’t great internet access or phone signal, at least there wasn’t in 2010 when I was there. Losing access to my computer or not being able to call my family was difficult, but a reality in remote areas.
Sitka was a town that I remember always having a bar open at 6 a.m., which for a deckhand was amazing! Working on a ship as a deckhand meant 12 hour shifts, and usually we docked around 6 a.m. After working from 6 p.m the night previous all you wanted was a beer! Sitka blends their native Tlingit and Russian cultural heritage together in a unique way that is evident when walking around the town. It is home to around 9,000 people, so it is rather small but still larger than the town I live in now! Back in 2010 I obviously did not have the foresight to take pictures of the dock, but from what I remember is was very large and heavily depended on the tide. This was a port where a deckhand definitely watched the lines (the rope tying the boat to the dock) while we were docked because the fluctuation of the tide could be extremely substantial. It was a “turn-around day” when we got to Sitka and Juneau, which meant we dropped off passengers in the morning and spent the remaining part of the morning and afternoon cleaning. Deckhands “swabbed the deck” and performed maintenance on the boat. My favorite part was getting geared up in my waterproof gear and rinsing the entire boat off after cleaning!
Juneau is the capital city of Alaska, and it is also the only capital city in the United States that is not accessible by road! You can only access the city via boat or plane because of the rugged terrain around the city. Only 12 miles away is the Mendenhall Glacier, which is part of the Juneau Icefield. Icefields and their Glaciers have always amazed me. Icefields like this create their own weather, help scientists understand our climate and the resulting changes, and are gorgeous to look at. Don’t take my word for it, though!
Throughout the Inside Passage are other beautiful landscapes as well, including Frederick Sound, Tracy Arm-Fords Terror, and Glacier Bay National Park. I will save Glacier Bay NP for another day so it gets its own post. The area is absolutely breathtaking. Frederick Sound is an excellent area to view whales and other types of sea life around Alaska. Alaska has an enormous assortment of sea creatures and because of how remote and inaccessible it is to every type of vessel the area has remained more wild than other heavily visited areas. This is also another great location to see glaciers. Tracy Arm-Fords Terror is actually a wilderness area that is known for two deep and narrow fjords: Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. Over 1/5 of the area is covered in ice, so even when visiting in the summer there are considerable sized floating ice along the thirty miles long path. Fords Terror is only accessibly when the tide is right – just like the name suggests! Back in 1899, a naval crewman named Ford paddled into the area and was stuck for six terrible hours in the unrelenting tidal surge. We were able to make it once during our travels, and while it was definitely gorgeous, the narrowness and even the tide surge going out of the fjord still explained a bit of the experience he possible had!
While this is only a little bit about our experiences working and living in Alaska, I hope it has peaked your interest. Alaska is amazing, and I hope you are able to see it yourself one day! If you decide to visit while traveling, I highly recommend you do your research on what type of work you are looking for. We worked on both land and sea, and enjoyed both but each had their own disadvantages. You do not have a lot of time off when working on a boat, and you live with your co-workers for your entire contract. I had a 6 month contract with one day off a month. Usually your day off is when it is convenient to the captain, which means it may be a day out to sea and not docked at a port. You do save a ton of money and meet interesting people, some that will stay friends with you forever. Clinton and I met on Lindblad in Panama, where I started my contract. But, that story is for another day…