I had used a State of Alaska Tourist guide booklet to plan our trip (a gold mine of information) and used it to make reservations for places to stay. I tried to ascertain what the place was like and if I became interested in staying there, I called the owner/manager and made reservations directly with them. During the call I tried to ‘connect’ with them and I paid whatever was asked for a deposit. As a result of this method that I used to make the reservations and deliberately not asking for a detailed description of the accommodations, we went to Alaska largely ignorant of what we were getting into. We were pleasantly surprised by what we found upon arrival most of the time and, more importantly, found the people we dealt with were very good hosts. Most of the accommodations were ‘Homey’ and ‘rustic’ and certainly not luxurious; this was just as we wanted our experiences to be.
Most of the places we stayed at were ‘bed and breakfast’ type accommodations that were often times a source of extra income for the hosts. We ate with them and we carefully followed any instructions about how to operate the water heater, stove, etc. We believed that avoiding damaging the property would beneficial to the relationships we were trying to cultivate. Patty and I encouraged out hosts to tell us about what it was like living in Alaska. We heard a lot about their lives and we were much the better for having had those conversations and we became acquainted with some very nice people.
Part of our plan was to travel by using the ferry boats operated by the State of Alaska and keeping the same rental car the entire trip. One such trip was to board the ferry at the Port of whittier and proceed to Valdez, the southern terminus of the Alaska Oil Pipeline. To begin this journey you first have to get to Whittier. At that time, there were no roads to Whittier; you had to travel there by driving to Portage, there loading your car onto a train made up of flat cars which carried you and your car through two long, dark , wet tunnels to Whittier. This method of travel is a ‘leftover’ from World War II. Whittier has the only ice free port in the State of Alaska and this made it vital to supplying wartime goods to Alaska during the winter. Our trip to Whittier was as uneventful as it was unusual. However, the real story is the flat tire we had on the rental car. We were waiting in line to board the ferry when I saw that our car had a flat tire. The ferry was about start the boarding of the waiting cars. I had a simple choice: either rapidly put the spare tire on or miss the ferry. I changed the spare tire in what must be record time and we made the ferry OK. Ferry trips can be rather uneventful, that is, boring. Not on this trip. The route the ferry followed took us on a detour down a long fiord to what was termed as “the widest tidal glacier in Alaska”. (The reference to ‘tidal’ means the terminus of the glacier is in the water of the fiord.) This glacier was actively sliding so it frequently calved into the water. Calving of a glacier is a spectacular sight. The ferry had to pick its way thru ice floes produced by the calving of the glacier until the ferry was near the calving glacier. The wall of ice at the terminus was very high and seemed to go on forever. It was very cold on deck and the grease in my lens began to freeze and it became harder to focus the lens. The captain turned off the ferry’s propulsion engines so we could listen to the sounds made by the glacier as it broke apart and fell into the water. The sights and sounds remain in my memory to this day. It was a good experience, cold or not. I got the photographs in spite of the cold air.