August 7, 2018
Juneau, Alaska: I’m not sure which is getting more of a workout – my Fitbit or my heart. Either way, I’m sure it’s a good thing. This morning we arrived in Juneau with a full itinerary and a full fog covering most of the scenery. It was grey and drizzly, which eventually gave way to a full rain, something they tell us they’ve not had enough of in Alaska this year. However, with it all coming at once, the news here was as full of weather warnings of dire floods as the Florida summer weather reports are of ‘tropical activity’ and ‘disturbances’ that send the weatherman into a frenzy.
We were slated to go on a helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier, but the weather was a concern, so we were glad we weren’t scheduled for an earlier flight. Instead, we all took a walk in the rain on the ship’s top deck track, putting in a couple of miles of steps to help walk off some of the delicious food we’ve been eating this week. Plus, we were hoping it would expend some of the kids’ energy before leaving for the glacier. I had plenty of energy – nervous energy because, as has been the case all week – heck, all year, I was experiencing another first today. Alicia had booked us for a helicopter ride and tour of the Mendenhall Glacier. I’ve never been on a helicopter, and it wasn’t something I had a burning desire to do, either, but since this is my year of stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing new adventures, I was right there in line when we got on the bus to the airport, trying to memorize every word of the safety video, strapping on the glacier boots they provided (the bottom was like the studded tires we upstate New Yorkers grew up with), and buckling up.
Watching the helicopters come in, it was hard not to start humming the tune from M*A*S*H because they came in a group of four helicopters, and we were sorted by groups and instructed that there would be no seat reassignment whatsoever – period. When we were all buckled in and on our way, I remembered the fear I’d had when my old boss gave a bunch of us a hot air balloon ride that took off from the parking lot across from Ithaca College. Once we were off the ground, I knew I couldn’t do anything about it, so I just tried to enjoy the ride and what I was sure would be my last few moments on sweet earth. And just as it had been so many years ago, it wasn’t my day to die, I guess.
Of course I was petrified when Peter, the pilot, banked to the left or made a turn to stay in formation with the rest of the pilots, but I just kept my mouth shut, applied the imaginary brakes, and clicked the shutter on my camera constantly. At least they’d be able to piece together our final few moments of life from all my photos rescued from the smoldering wreckage.
The glacier was breathtaking, but as you might expect, it was very cold. It was also very icy, and it took me back to a day when I remember the ice outside my door being so solid and slick that I had to crawl to the car on all fours.
Speaking of being on all fours, Braxton, our super-friendly and perky guide, gave us all a chance to do a ‘glacier push up’ and drink directly from a glacier. The water was absolutely delicious, and I could have stayed there drinking it all day, but that may also have been because it was really hard to get back up off the ice from a prone position without surrendering every ounce of my dignity. And I wanted to be up because I wanted to take photos, lots of them.
We only stayed at the glacier for about 45 minutes, and then it was time to get back into the helicopter and head back to the airport and shuttle back to Juneau. As cold and slippery as it was, the beauty and awe of seeing a glacier up close was well worth the fear and nervousness that had been gnawing away at me all week.
When we got back from the Mendenhall Glacier, we wandered around Juneau, found a lovely restaurant called the Twisted Fish, and did a little shopping. We had been scheduled for another helicopter tour this afternoon to a dog sled training facility, but the weather canceled that, so the kids and Alicia signed up for a summer dogsled training facility tour, and Dan and I grabbed a couple of t-shirts to make sure we didn’t run out of clothes before we headed home, and headed back to the ship for a hot shower. While neither of us particularly minds rain, it was a cold rain, and we were tired from a long day.
Tonight, Dan and I went to dinner alone and enjoyed our time, but we arranged to have dinner sent up to the kids and Alicia, who were also exhausted after a day of much fun and adventure. Dan and I may have been the only ones in our group who had never flown in a helicopter, but we certainly weren’t surprised by the bitter temperature at the glacier, and we weren’t surprised by its beauty…just by its complexity and fragility for something so giant and powerful.
Tomorrow we begin the downhill portion of the trip, with a stop in Skagway and a chance to try glassblowing. I’ve always wondered what it would be like, and since we seem to be checking off so many new adventures for me, I’m going to go to bed right now, so I can be refreshed and ready for new excitement and all the wonderful things that can happen when you step outside your comfort zone. Thanks for sharing the journey with me.