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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Living La Vida Loca



Family on the Dock!

By now, many of you know that Mike has returned to Arizona to be with family. After much consultation with the folks at home, he made that choice. He didn't even know until he got there whether it would turn out to be the right choice or a premature decision. He says it was the right choice and I am happy for him and them that he is there. I do miss him so! And so do a lot of the Skagway people. Thank you to everyone here for their thoughts and good wishes.

Of course, leaving just wasn't going to happen without some kind of partying or shenanigans. On Wednesday, July 17 the three of us--Mike, Taylor and I--did a parallel tour up to the Yukon. That is one of our longest tours. Often, when it is absolutely cloudy and socked in at the White Pass, the Yukon will be overcast but without the blinding fog. So, it's a very welcome tour after days of fog.

The night before our parallel tour, we had talked about some shenanigans and with the blessing of one of the dispatchers (I won't say who), we pulled it off with style and panache. The idea was for us to drive each others' coaches....with each others' people still in them. We really hadn't discussed how we were going to go about this. Here's how it went down. At a picture stop, I went in to use the rest room on his coach since there was a line in my coach. As I came down the aisle of his coach to leave, I saw my coach pulling away. Mike's people laughed and were all in on the joke. It went off perfectly. Of course, my tour narration was totally shot, but more importantly, the people and we had a lot of fun together.

A lot of our tours require our passengers to wear a sticker designating to the vendor what tour they're on and what is included in that tour. This was no exception. Sadly, one of the most picturesque photo stops contains a guard rail that is plastered with these stickers. So many of us now give our passengers a choice. They can save it for their scrapbook, toss it in our very well designated trash bags or they can put the stickers on us. Many passengers have a lot of fun putting the stickers on their driver. This time, I told everyone that because Mike hijacked my coach, he needed to wear the stickers!

Sorry it's so dark, but it IS inside the coach!

Later on that evening it was taco night at the Dredge, followed by more drinks at the Pizza Station, then karaoke at the Bonanza. Mike did an amazing job with "Mack the Knife." And I don't think he looked at the karaoke monitor even once! A lot of folks came out to wish him well and that was much appreciated.

Lounge crooner

On Friday, the 19th, he was due to leave Skagway at 5:30 a.m. He got out of Skagway, but the plane only made it 14 miles down to Haines before it had to land due to fog. Lots of calls with our management to rearrange his flight from Juneau to Seattle....and he landed in Juneau twenty-five minutes before the flight was due to leave. The airline desk told him that he couldn't go because he had to check in THIRTY minutes prior to departure. He wasn't even checking luggage! You can imagine the frustration. Because I'm aware of the fog and how weather can really alter travel plans up here, I'd purchased travel insurance for his flight from Seattle to Phoenix which we pay for. The company will get you to Seattle...you're responsible from Seattle to anywhere else. After numerous calls to US Air and the travel insurance company, it turns out we have to pay the $150 change fee up front....and we're supposed to be reimbursed by the travel insurance company. We're waiting on that. After staying over an unplanned night in Juneau, he did get to Seattle on the 20th. Everyone at home was very happy to see him.

The question you're probably wondering is how I'm going to get home. I will be driving our pickup with the majority of our "stuff" at the end of the season. Yes, I'm driving alone. The 3,136 miles. However, no worries...I will be convoy-ing with several other vehicles at least as far as Seattle. After that, at least I'll be back in the U.S. Who knows...maybe your house will be one of my stops on the way.

Life does goes on here and Sunday, the 21st was a bridal shower for Daisy. Daisy and Chris are one of THREE couples who work for the company who became engaged this summer. Now this was a shower, Skagway style. What do you do when there just aren't a lot of stores to choose from?!?!?!? You just make do. You order online and have it shipped, you make do with what's at the hardware store, gift stores and clothing stores. Games were fun, delicious crepes. The young couples hosting the shower did a lovely job.

Shari, Daisy and Amanda at the shower

Other than that, it's been work, work work all week. Work...and more drivers leaving. We will be very busy in the last few weeks. Happily, a few of the highway drivers are staying on and will pick up some of those tours that right now we're scrambling to cover.

One day the sun shone through a crack in the clouds at the Yukon Suspension Bridge and at least the passengers were treated to:

"What does it mean?"

Generally, the Skagway River is a milky greenish gray color due to glacial silt being suspended in the water. But with all the rain we've had, it got very high one day and quite a muddy brown. The compensation for that was that the steep mountains again have many tiny waterfalls.

The rain continues....the high and muddy Skagway River.

As for work, some great tours, some tours that were meh, some that tipped well, some that didn't. Essentially, all the usual. Happily, no problems, accidents or complaints for me. One day I had an afternoon Bridge and Bake where you drive up to the place in the pic above that has the rainbow. There was NO FOG!!!! There was no fog the entire journey up nor back. And we saw two black bears. What a difference being able to see the scenery can have on one's outlook on life!

Alas, it was just one day and then it was back to fog as usual. Today, I requested the day off for my fantasy football draft. I think I have a good team. It will be very, very odd to be watching opening games without Mike. Hope he's happy that I've got a couple of the Jets on my fantasy team!

Later on in the morning, despite the drizzle, I took a wee hike up to Lower Dewey Lake and hiked around it. I believe it's about a 3.6 mile hike. That doesn't sound like much, but it's the longest solo hike I've taken since breaking my ankle last November. I wish I could say that the picture is of blue sky, but it's clouds. But no wind on the lake, so a lovely reflection of the surrounding mountains. It is so special to walk through the mist as your feet crush the fragrant spruce needles. It was good to hike....even a little bit.







Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lots of Rainy Days

Brian and Mike setting off on the Chilkoot Trail 7/22/11

When I'd last written, Mike and Brian Vickers had just set off on the Chilkoot Trail. While it's not my story to tell, this is the only venue Mike uses for his stories. So his stories are from my perspective and cannot do them justice. Here are a few photos of their achievement. According to Mike, they hiked well together. Being a good hiking partner is a difficult thing. A lot depends on compatibility of pace and temperament. They're both pretty easy-going people and it was just a few days. Mike was expecting to feel crippled in his knees by the end of the hike, but he reports feeling quite well and in better shape than he expected. He had spent a few days doing multiple hikes to Lower Dewey Lake as training.

I asked him if hiking the Chilkoot would affect how he gives his tour about the Klondike Gold Rush. He said, absolutely! Actually, he said, "Those people were crazy!" Remember, they had to hike it multiple times during the winter carrying their year's supply of goods over the pass. Had to be pretty damned determined! I would love to hear his tour at this point.


On the Golden Staircase
(I like the line of people in the snow in the background.)


Summiting!

Mike owling at the summit.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owling_%28internet_meme%29

After that weekend, things were "back to work," as usual. Mike does the highway tour with 1-3 days off in between runs. I'm working 4-6 days a week. Last year at this time, many of my co-workers were saying they couldn't wait to get back home. All I could think was, "I NEVER want to leave here!" Well, maybe it's being here for the second year. Maybe it's the fatigue of driving and being "on" for all the guests. Maybe it's thoughts of things going on back in Arizona and that we should be there. But I understand the sentiment of being ready to move on. There are 5-1/2 more weeks of the work season in Skagway.

Last weekend, August 4-6, we had three visitors up from Juneau: Todd, Dan and Rhonda! Now, Todd wasn't here to specifically see us. He was actually attending a wedding of a friend of a friend. The wedding was spectacular in a hippy-ish sort of way and the weather was actually half-sunny for a few hours. Wish I'd known the couple. Looks like a fun time.

But Dan and Rhonda came and stayed with a friend of a friend here in town. So, they were able to do this trip very economically! First, Dan and Rhonda rode on Taylor's Best of Skagway tour. Taylor said she felt a little nervous having people she actually knows listening to her tour. But Rhonda said that Taylor had "a good flow" with her narration and that they enjoyed it very much. Alas, Rhonda hadn't received her passport yet, so she couldn't go on any of the tours that go up into Canada. But they had a great time with Taylor. That night, Rhonda treated us to dinner at the Brewco to thank us for having her in our home during training. No need to have done that, but we enjoyed dinner and even more so, their company!

The next day, Mike had plans to go fishing with Joe Ashton. They did catch a couple of salmon, but we haven't yet downloaded those pics to our computer. Alas, you won't get to see Mike holding a fish he caught. As many of you know, there are already hundreds of pics of Mike holding a newly caught fish. But one of him with a salmon is a new thing entirely.

With Mike busy fishing, I went with Rhonda and Dan to go zip lining out in Dyea. This is the newer of the zip line adventures here in the Skagway area. This one has TEN zips! The first couple, you're still getting comfortable. By the third or fourth, you're hanging upside down, swinging around, going forwards, backwards, etc. It was a blast. Truly wonderful to almost feel like you're flying. Of course, since the lines are constructed for the tourist trade, there are enough corporations involved that the safety issue is pretty bomb-proof. We were tethered and cabled at all times. Very little sense of danger. Lots of exhilaration!
Rhonda, Dan and Shari...having a LOT of fun!

Me...reaching up to slow down at the end of a zip.

We continued to spend time together, meeting Betty, the woman they were staying with. We shared a couple more meals together, before they had to return to Juneau. I would love to go to Juneau and partake in some of the adventures there!

The days since included a company barbecue of tri-tip, brats, etc. Sadly, the day was rather cloudy, windy and cold. So, that party broke up pretty early. Mike's pretty bummed because he's been on the road for almost all the barbecues this summer except perhaps the first one. This one was held in honor of the fact that we have had no DOT violations so far this summer. Last year the management hosted a feast for us each month. This year they're tied to DOT performance. Ok. We're pretty good. Unless you've lied in your logbook, all you need as the driver to pass is to drive decently, have your license/medical card/logbook up to date and have the paperwork for the coach up to date. I've been stopped twice. It is so non-threatening.

Yesterday, Mike and I hiked to Upper Dewey Lake. It's a popular, moderate/strenuous hike with a 3080 foot elevation gain from sea level in 4 miles. It was one of two things I didn't do last year that I wish I had done. (The other was the zip line!) I had attempted this hike last year, but got about 3/4 of the way from Lower Dewey to Upper Dewey before returning due to snow on the trail being too deep and due to fatigue. Well, I was every bit as fatigued this year... just no snow. We'd hoped to have a good day, but we haven't seen a sunny day here in weeks. In fact, it was one of the rainiest days of the summer...and certainly one of the foggiest.

We reached Upper Dewey Lake after more than twice the time it takes the average person to hike to it. That was due to me being so very much out of condition. Happily, it was NOT due to my ankle being so out of condition. My ankle did hurt and I was being uber-careful, but it wasn't what was slowing me down. We knew we were at the lake because we reached the two cabins that are up there. We were able to see just the edge of the lake. The fog was that thick.

We stayed up there for about an hour. We found the geocache up there and Mike built me a fire in the stove in one of the cabins. He's good at building a fire...even with all damp wood!!! And since the cabin is just at the edge of treeline there, there wasn't much wood to be found...especially in the fog. Then we headed down. I wasn't much faster going down than up. My right knee is pretty much kaput for downhill hiking. Our hiking paces were not at all compatible. However, Mike was there to make sure I was safe at all times. I can't say that either of us "enjoyed" the disparity of our hiking paces. I certainly didn't enjoy knowing that in this condition, I'm a miserable hiker. At least this time, I didn't wig out from fear of being hurt again. Let's just say that the hike was an achievement, if not enjoyable. What this means for the future, I don't know and don't even want to consider. Unfortunately, I didn't think to download the few photos we took of our hike before Mike left for Whitehorse on his next run today and took the camera with him.

5-1/2 more weeks. Tony left. Chad left. Jaz is leaving tomorrow. The diaspora has begun. People are talking about their plane/train/bus tickets. People are talking about their winter plans. Two are going to work with dog mushers for the winter. Tony is going to China. Several are going back to college. Many have no idea. Many have plans in the works for various jobs. We'll definitely be returning home to Peoria, AZ.

The colors began changing the last couple of days of July. The temperatures have certainly gotten colder. The salmon are running...far more in number than last year. Wildlife sightings for me have decreased, though we did see a marten up by Upper Dewey yesterday. That was interesting. Mike has seen more wildlife, but he's on the road covering a larger territory than I am. However, we did happen to see the same bear and her THREE cubs in about the same area...but on different days. I was unable to get a photo, but Mike did:

Mama Bear and 3 cubs...one is hiding in the fireweed just below mom's head.

Mike knows I love flowers, so he took this photo in Dawson City just for me.

I know I haven't said it, but reading your comments, e-mails and posts to Facebook have meant so much to me. We're apart by the miles, but please know that you're each in my heart. And when you comment, it reminds me that I'm writing to you as individuals and not as a group or for mass publication. My blog is not intended to be a book for the general reader, but something that is my way of talking to each of you and including you in this wonderful adventure that is Alaska. Much love from the land of the midnight sun...no longer sunny at midnight at this time of year.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why blog?



Summer evening at the Skagway Inn

It's really not that odd a question. Blog to record self-absorbed musings? Blog to communicate with more than one person at a time? Blog because of the searing compulsion that one lives to write? (We know that's not my answer...obviously.) Blog because everyone's doing it? (Everyone isn't.)

Over half the season is over and my blog posts are way down from last year...as are the number of "followers" of my blog...whatever that even means! This year is so very different from last year on several levels. There is much I can write on being a driver/guide and maybe that will come a little later in this post. But the primary difference on a personal level is number of hours worked and amount of fatigue at the end of the day.

Other drivers are working every bit as much as I am and they still manage to go out and do things to have fun. Me? I don't know if my quota of fun being much less this year is due to my age, being so overweight or simply my temperament. When you work 10-13 hour days, at least 5 days a week, there just doesn't seem to be that much energy left for fun. Wake-up is often 4:45 a.m. to have an hour for morning routine and to give me an hour for a pre-trip of the coach. Return to our room is often 5-7 p.m. Makes for very long days.

Not much to say about June except the joy in watching the season change from spring to summer. That means watching the snow melt and the flowers bloom. Also, animal sightings still continue to be a delight. Sadly, we both had bad colds in June....lasting about 3 weeks for each of us.

We took an overnight out of town to Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon Territory about 110 miles north of Skagway. While there we went to a couple of very interesting museums....one a history museum and the other one on Beringia: the land bridge between Asia and North America. Most surprising thing learned about that is that it wasn't just some 15 mile bridge over the Bering Strait. It stretched almost a thousand miles north/south. Also, the ice ages didn't uniformly just flow south. There were patches of non-glaciation, one of which accounts for gold being found in the Klondike. Ok...so that may be more interesting on my tours than in a blog.

Mike with Canadian flag in his hat at the parade.


A public art project

But as a surprise, we happened to be in Whitehorse on our getaway on Canada Day, July 1! Parade, tents in the park, free cake, exhibits, and fair food! The highlight for me was being invited to sew a button on a piece of artwork representing the Yukon flag and then signing the guest book with my name, where we're from and what we love about the Yukon. The flag will be displayed around Canada and eventually auctioned off.

FerrieK and Shari with Klondike Goldrush TB
(I keep forgetting how short I am until I see photos.)

Other highlights of being there for Canada Day was geocaching. Last year, we found all the caches within easy reach of Skagway. Up in beautiful Miles Canyon, we found a travel bag that had as its mission to visit the Yukon and Alaska and return home to the Netherlands. We picked it up in the Yukon with the intention of bringing it back to Skagway. At our next cache, located at the SS Klondike...a steam boat used during the gold rush days, we met another cacher. Now this does happen from time to time that you run into another cacher at a cache. What was pretty exciting is that he is from the Netherlands! Mike ran back to the car and fetched the TB and this is me handing it over to our new caching friend to help the TB complete its mission. It is now back in the Netherlands.

Another interesting moment was watching a sea bird screeching and dive bombing an eagle's nest. We had heard that the mama eagle had been killed and that the male was guarding the nest. There is at least one eaglet in that nest. I tried to upload the video of the attack, but it just gave me an error message after twenty minutes! Grrrrrrr!

Seth feeding Shane...Winners!

The day after we got back from Whitehorse, Mike had to leave on another run. So sadly, he missed the July 4th festivities here in town. The company bbq was a blast again and the weather was dryer if not warmer than last year. There was the pie-eating contest, a silly game, volleyball, sausages on the grill and too much drinking. Fireworks began at 11:30 p.m. and it was never totally dark throughout the show. This year, the group I was with went to the end of the Ore Dock where we had a much better view. Fireworks were shot off from a boat moving around in the harbor and also off of the Railroad Dock to the east. A very good show...far better than you would expect from a small town. But WINDY!!!! Yes, we felt cinders on our faces and were freezing. An hour after I'd huddled in bed with pajamas and a heavy robe under the covers, I got up and took a hot shower just to get warm!

Taylor in white in the middle of the photo during the egg toss.

Shari, Our Egg and Amanda

The next day included the dunk tank, egg toss, basketball competition, duck race and many other festivities. Amanda and I entered as a team and we did set the bar quite low...we just didn't want to drop the egg on the first toss. We made it toss 4 and felt very smug about it. Taylor and Alisha made it to the point where you didn't toss across the street from boardwalk to boardwalk but went even further to tossing it down the street. They did wonderfully! And Chris Rowland and his new bride, Brianna made it to 3rd place! Bravo!
Teri at the mining ruins at Lake Tagish

Since then, I have been on an exploring trip up to Carcross with Brenda and Teri. We poked around some mining ruins on the shore of Lake Tagish. And we walked around the cemetery in Carcross, locating the graves of a few of the people involved in the discovery of gold at Rabbit Creek in 1896: Kate Carmack, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie (not to be confused with Tagish Charlie...but that's more tour info type detail). We were very respectful and didn't disturb the spirit houses, take photos or any other shenanigans.

Other than that, it has been working and not working. My driving is improving, well...except for that little incident of parking too close to the boardwalk, turning my wheel to leave and having it pop up a board. Two new boards sit in front of the Days of '98 Show at the Eagles Hall. I've left my mark on Skagway. And my tours are smoother. It was a mark of some sort the day I realized that I had more information in my head than I had time to relate on a tour to the Yukon...our longest tour.

Knock on wood, I've been very lucky and not had any really bad, in-your-face angry types. I've had people with walkers and those who use canes. I've had people who are deaf and people who are blind. I've had children and very old people. I've had fun people, quiet people, rowdy people, sleeping people and people who read books during the tour. I've even had a great-great-grandson of a stampeder who hiked the Chilkoot Trail. He was gracious enough to tell his ancestor's story to the rest of the passengers.

Yesterday I had a passenger who had a seizure. Sadly, they had just had a city tour of Skagway after disembarking from their 3 day cruise. They were about to start a 10 day trip up to Dawson, out to Denali and down to Anchorage. After getting her and her husband to the local clinic for care, she was then med-evac'ed to Juneau. Last I heard, they had gotten the seizure under control. She was going to stay in a Juneau hospital overnight before she and her husband returned home. Very sad for them, scary for the other passengers and a day that ended for me by enjoying some lovely red wine on the patio at the Skagway Inn.

Winter 1898 photo of the Golden Staircase

Two days ago, Mike and another driver, Brian, headed out on the Chilkoot Trail. It is one of the two main trails used during the Klondike God Rush and includes the Golden Staircase. This section is an elevation change of 3500 ft. in a mile and a half and 1500 of that in a quarter of a mile. Happily, their first two days which included summiting were stunningly beautiful sunny days. They are expected back tomorrow afternoon. It's a total of 35 miles and people fly in from all over the world to hike this historical trail. Along the way are artifacts discarded by the stampeders. Of course, at this point in the year, the Golden Staircase is not steps carved from the ice. It is, instead, a massive boulder field. Brian and Mike both expect to be hurting puppies by the time they complete the trail. Mike has our camera, so I can't post their start-off photo.

My "Chilkoot Trail" hike
One of the attractions we bring our passengers to is called Caribou Crossing. They have a set where you can put yourself next to man-sized silhouettes of those early stampeders. That'll have to be my extent of the Chilkoot Trail for this year.

Being in Alaska is, as it was last year, everlastingly scenic. It is blissfully cool while the rest of the country is experiencing record highs and drought conditions in many areas. Animal sightings are always wonderful: grizzly bear, black bear, bald eagle, moose (once), porcupine, Arctic red fox and marten (once). The flowers continue to delight me, even if I don't know most of the names. What I'm missing this year is the energy and time to get to know the other employees and people in town. But the stay up here has been a financially good one. I believe we are also spending less money than we did last year. The salmon are beginning their run and people have already gone bear watching over in Dyea. I still try to learn something new every day for my tours. It is guaranteed that someone on most of my tours will ask a new question that I don't yet have the answer.

Today's research yielded the following: 3-5 people die in Skagway every year, not including the occasional cruise ship passenger (no passengers yet this year, 2 last year). The nurse practitioner or police chief have the authority to pronounce the death. There are two drawers at the clinic for bodies. Bodies are flown to Juneau for autopsy, cremation or embalming. Almost no one has a wake or funeral home hours since there is no funeral home in Skagway. There is one active cemetery in Skagway and two that are closed.

The exodus is starting in just two days. The first employee is leaving having completed his contract. He is leaving to teach English in China through a faith-based organization. Two weeks later, some of the BYU students will be leaving to go back to school. And so it begins.

Finally, I'll close with just a couple more photos...just because I like them.


Steam train coming into Fraser, BC through the fog.

Skagway River looking south, 2 miles from the harbor


Monday, May 30, 2011

Earth, Wind, Air and Fire

Mountain that looks like a man lying down. His forehead is at the right. I looked at it every day last summer and never noticed it until it was pointed out to me this year.

...Just wanted to get the Fire part out of the way before starting the blog. There are several different housing locations for employees who don't choose to find their own place to live. One of them is MP2 (aka Mile Post 2 or the Shop House) which is next to the garage and the property where the coaches are parked. If you live there, you can pretty much roll out of bed and be at work. Here at the Westmark, we're about 1-3/4 miles from MP2 and the Westmark is NOT conducive to having a campfire. MP2 is a good place to have a campfire and one is built every few nights.

One night it seemed like a good idea to not sit in my room, watch TV, be a Facebook ho, play solitaire on the computer, read or write a blog. Having the pickup up here is a bonus because even if I wanted to walk out to MP2, it's pretty clear that late at night when I'm tired, I wouldn't want to walk back to my room. Thus, "fire." It's a bunch of folks sitting around with the usual chatter and this night, some hula hooping. It's how we roll. (All this being said, this whole talk about fire sounds totally out of the blue and irrelevant. However, the video I was uploading to show some hula hooping by a campfire wouldn't load. So there was A context. And that's how Alaskan internet rolls. Stinkily. I was e-mailed an 8:36 video that took 35 minutes to buffer.)

Mike left mid-day Saturday for Dawson, Whitehorse, back to Dawson and back home this coming Thursday night....or something like that. As always, I miss him when he's not here. But if he hadn't chosen to drive highway, we might not have returned to Skagway. He always likes new things and that's new enough.

At least, he hasn't had the misfortune one of our co-workers had on his first highway tour. First off, a rock hit and destroyed a windshield. When you're on highway, you are really far away from our mechanics. Secondly, he had just pointed out a black bear sow and her two cubs to his passengers when one cub decided that suicide by motor coach wheel was a good idea. Thirdly, he had a tour director with him who has a reputation of being one of the more difficult tour directors to work with. (The name will not be divulged, but Nathan would guess it immediately.) And thus it was for our driver guide friend on his first highway tour. It can only get better from there and we certainly hope it does.

So far, the scheduling has been that when Mike has been home from highway, I've been working. And I'm just completing two stunningly beautiful days off and he has been on the road. It is sadly my habit to just stay by myself if I don't get explicit invitations to join people. That's not one of the traits I'm proud of. It's just a pattern I've noticed. Happily the invitations to get out have been fast and furious the last couple of days. Like "Wind" the time off has flown by! Ok...so that may be a lame lead-in to the wind, but aside from the meaning of Skagway being "home of the north wind," it's the best I could do.

It was a very busy work week this past week. There are two days of the season when a corporation books a huge number of cabins on a ship and books a specific tour for all of the people traveling with this group. They are all scheduled to go to Liarsville for a salmon bake. On those two days, they feed 250 people an HOUR!!!!! It is a never ending line for the grilled salmon and crowd control is imperative. The people in this grouop were everywhere taking pictures of the littlest things: the buffet line, their food plates, the salmon being put on the grill, the salmon cooking, the men doing the grilling, the driver-guide who assists by putting sauce on the salmon once it's on the plate (me), a picture of themselves with any of the above people, etc., etc., etc. My tour at the time was enjoying the show and gold panning before being squeezed into the rolling tide of salmon eaters. Despite all the busy-ness of the day, it was my best day in tips. (Tips being those things we don't solicit, but are oh-so-grateful when they come our way.)

I also had my first tour up to the Yukon. Those are the more coveted tours in that they are more time with your guests...pretty much a 6-8 hour day. Thus, hopefully more tips. I paralleled with Teri and Brian. Brian has been with the company for a gazillion years and is one of my favorite resource people, not to mention my occasional beer buddy. So my first Yukon tour went pretty well. It was a sunny, but hazy day. The views were visible, if not stark against an azure sky. AND there were THREE bear sitings: 2 black bears and a grizzly. My narrative lasted most of the tour up and included gold rush history, geology, animals, life in Alaska today, how I came to be working in Alaska. In other words, the usual stuff...only expanded to fill the time. And we were able to make 6 picture stops. The tips? Fair at best. Then I dropped them off at the train station in Fraser and they got the scenic train ride back to town. When I dropped them off, I picked up a group who had come up on the train. It is considered just a transfer. But, they had no other tours scheduled, so I gave them a couple of picture stops and some narration. I got almost as much in tips from this group than the group I'd spent most of the day with. It is another example of never being able to tell.

I was also scheduled on wash crew ("water") twice this past week. Being scheduled on that means you have tours or transfers in the morning, get your coach washed and clean the interior. Around 3 p.m. you go help out in washing coach exteriors for the rest of the day. You do get to go in jeans or shorts and a t-shirt and not your uniform. Speaking of cleaning coaches, it is something that is done EVERY day. I would rather clean 22 exteriors than one interior. It's just such sweaty work! I had already been taking a t-shirt to change into before cleaning. Finally on Saturday, I wore a t-shirt beneath my uniform shirt in an attempt to make the uniform shirt last for more than one day! I used to go three days last year on one shirt....show you how little activity I had while working last year!

Uh-oh! It just occurred to me that the three-bear day was NOT the day of my Yukon tour. It was when I drove up to the Suspension Bridge the previous day (Thursday). This is an example of a major obstacle in my tours. The days and tours run together. There are many times on a tour that I cannot remember if I told THESE people something or did I tell this information yesterday or the day before. Yeesh. That's a tip killer right there.

Again it occurs to me that last year I so underappreciated how tiring being a driver guide can be. You're "on" with the people, concentrating on driving, managing logistics, timing and people management. I am nothing but a limp noodle at the end of the day. I was so happy to have Sunday and Monday off this weekend. Saturday night I had dinner with a young friend with a broken heart. She will heal, but it will take time and it was hard to see her hurting. I'm glad we could spend that time together. She went on to hang out with a bunch of young people which I think is essential to her getting back to enjoying her summer. It's always hard when what we expected turns out to be so far off from what is presented.

Brenda, Stanley and Teri in front of Captain William Moore's original cabin.
Moore was the founder of Skagway.

Sunday was the 25th anniversary of Brenda's 34th birthday and we ended up celebrating just about all day. A bunch of us went to Glacial Smoothies and had breakfast sandwiches, veggie quiche and/or scones. It had started off as a cloudy day, but the clouds burned off and it became one of the most spectacular days we've had up here. Then I introduced Brenda, Teri and Stanley to geocaching. They really seemed to enjoy it. But I have noticed that so far, none of them have asked for instructions to the website to log their finds. Introduced them to the hobby, but maybe didn't convert them. Still, it was fun. We found three caches that I'd found last year...both in town and on our drive out to Dyea.



Stanley, Teri and Brenda: newbie geocachers!?!?


Pilings from the 1898 pier built during the gold rush near the ghost town of Dyea.

On the drive we had two animal sitings. The first was a sea otter. Photo attempts resulted in that "see the dark spot in the water...that's a sea otter" quality of photo. We had gotten out of the car and did our best with various cameras to little avail. So, it was best we just enjoyed watching it. On we drove and came upon a stunning bald eagle in a tree and a nearby buddy of his. Just gorgeous!
A bald eagle on Memorial Day weekend.

We drove on to the Slide Cemetery where the victims of the April 3, 1898 avalanche are now buried. Hemlock and spruce grow in the moist soil. The smells of the woods and nearby tidal flats are such a marriage of the "earth" and the sea. Those primal scents make you feel at home wherever in the world you find yourself. But then we found a depression near a grave and became a little...ok...very irreverent:

Stanley is such a good sport. She'd already had one huge spider crawl on her. I didn't have the heart to point out the nearby webs in her pseudo-grave.

We drove to the footbridge where Mike and I had had our close encounters of the bear kind last summer. No salmon running yet. No bears. But it sure looked like there was gold in the creek! Glistening on the bottom were all sorts of shiny dots. Fool's gold if ever I've seen it! Brenda waded in the very cold creek just to check it out. After that we drove out onto the tidal flats as far as it felt safe to do so...out to the pilings.

Brenda and Jazz

Upon our arrival back to the Westmark, Jazz had made good on her promise and had made not one, but surprised Brenda with TWO birthday cakes. She said she didn't know which one she would like, so she'd made one that she liked and one she thought everyone would like. As far as I can see they were both winners. There was no cake left by morning! If I'm spelling Jazz's name wrong, I do apologize!

A late night watching some t.v. and reading and then I slept in until 7:30 a.m. That IS sleeping in when you're getting up at 4:45 or 5:30 a.m. every day! Brenda stopped in for a cup of coffee that evolved into one of those conversations where you really get to know another person on a deeper level.

Two hours later...the fire alarm in the Westmark went off. It did that quite a bit last year and was never anything. Ditto for today. It was just the right signal to get us going on one of those things we'd told ourselves individually that we would do more of this summer: hike. The short story is that we hiked up to Lower Dewey and back. The long story....did you really think you'd get off with the short story? Really?

Brenda has asthma. I'm still recovering both from breaking my ankle which is not 100% back to strength and flexibility and also beginning to deal with the fear of having done so. Steps that I used to take without much thought have become challenges. Oh so cautious. But we did it, chatted along the way, enjoyed the lovely day, chatted with people who passed us by. At one point we were at an overlook and a man we know came by and we chatted with him. He went on up and met up with others and hiked a different trail. We went to the lake and back down and were at the very same spot when he and the others we work with hiked back down. He said, "You didn't get very far!" We were falling all over ourselves to convince him that we had, indeed, hiked up to the lake! Laughter all around!

Brenda and I went our separate ways when we came back. She went in search of gold. Well, hopefully, maybe gold. She had toured a group out to the dredge last week and helped her guests pan for gold. One couple found a total of $28 worth and were effusive to her in their thanks and enjoyment of her tour. They came up to her with the little film canister that the dredge attraction uses for people to put their panned gold in and said they wanted to give it to her as a token of their appreciation. She shook it and joked that it sounded like rocks. The man made her promise not to open it until she got home at the end of the day. They shook her hand, but did not tip her when leaving her coach for the last time of the day. Later at the Westmark, she partially poured out the contents....and she had been right. Only rocks. So the story has been passed on that this was a truly mean-spirited act on the part of this couple. But today she told me that she never poured ALL of the rocks out. I told her that, in fact, he may have added pebbles to his poke of gold and had given it to her to pan for her own treasure. Now she cannot find the film canister. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! It then becomes an ethical question on whether he was mean-spirited, joking or truly creative in his giving. Personally, I like the idea that she cannot find it. It allows us to think well of him instead of negatively.

We are enjoying our CSA boxes of vegetables from Jewell Gardens. I'm eating more salads and the fresh herbs are delightful. And then there is the ever present rhubarb. Because of the Kuroshio Current out of Japan (similar to the Gulf Stream on the east coast of the U.S.), Skagway's climate is milder than the interior. The long growing days of the summer, the warmth provided by the current and soil containing glacial silt combine to create an environment suitable for a gardener's paradise. Most fruits don't do all that well here because of some cool temps at night. However, rhubarb thrives. It was grown in truck farms here prior to WWII. With the influx of men and material stationed in Skagway to become part of the building of the Al-Can highway, many of the farms were broken up. Rhubarb was transplanted all over town to preserve it. So, we will get rhubarb a lot this summer. A lot. I don't really like rhubarb. The first week I made rhubarb-apple crisp. This week we combined our rhubarb and Brenda is making rhubarb crisp. Rhubarb is like cranberry. Any fruit that requires that much sugar to make it palatable might not be such an enjoyable fruit at all.

I spoke with Mike tonight. He is in Dawson City with a day off. The driver housing in Whitehorse and Dawson City barely qualify even as substandard. No room darkening curtains, showers that are iffy, no delivery on promised internet. Rooms sleep two to three people to a room. And he has been there alone until after he'd eaten dinner and then saw a few drivers he knew who had arrived this afternoon. I am hoping things improve for him and that he can enjoy the downtime out of town that is part of being a highway driver. As long as he is touring people, he's happy. It's just the nights that are unappealing.

Mike informed me that a few people are sick with Norwalk virus on the highway trips. We had already read on dispatch for tomorrow that this was something we were to be hyper-cautious about. Norwalk virus is a nasty gastrointestinal virus that has you expelling in both an upward and downward fashion. It is said that you will have no doubt that you have it when you get it and that you will never forget it. I never want it. So we will all be wiping our coaches with Virox and taking extra Extra EXTRA precautions. I will not have any highway arrivals on my coach tomorrow. For that I'm grateful. I will be doing a tour called a TBD: train-bus-dredge. This means a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad; ride on a coach down the South Klondike Hwy. and an hour and a half at a gold dredge exhibit (to look at a real dredge) and panning for gold. Short day. I am not complaining. Wednesday will be the second of those very busy corporate group days. I ought to be sleeping and storing up sleep for Wednesday!!!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Training and First Tours


It had been my goal to wait to blog until the evening after my first tour(s). So much for that goal since my first tour was May 13. Before my first tour, there was so much going on in training: reviews of things we'd learned during training in Phoenix, some valuable new information and ride-along trips with experienced drivers...I didn't go into those details. There isn't much to say about the training meetings. They are training meetings and most have sat through enough of those in our lifetimes.

The ride-alongs we took were very valuable. I'd been on Mike's tours several times last year. It was informative to hear how other drivers toured their passengers. What interested them? What jokes did they tell? Did they mention the similarly-dressed people (us rookies) in the back of the coach to their passengers? (Only one did....and he said we were all new drivers awaiting our psych evaluations. We thought that was pretty funny!) How did they present gold rush information? How did they talk of animals or the geology...IF they talked of those things? And finally, we all wondered about what would we say when we did our first tours?

We rookies knew that we had to go home and STUDY! I had the advantage of knowing some things about the gold rush, Skagway, flora and fauna. Just not nearly enough. So we all said...every day...that we would study every night. And then ever evening would find us hanging out with other people instead. Or it would be a good idea to have movie night for a few people in our room.

Brandon uploaded 117 movies to an external hard drive for us before we left Arizona. YAY!!!! Plus, we are guaranteed mail by continuing to use Netflix. One night we hosted "The King's Speech" and another night "Ghostbusters." Sorry to say, I am still not convinced that it is the funniest of movies.

There have been a company pizza party, a company bbq with softball game, trivia night at the Red Onion (more on that later), ranger talks at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center (ain't that a mouthful!) and impromptu gatherings and shared meals. We are seldom lacking in companionship. Our niece, Taylor is positively thriving on all the activity!

Strutting my tongue-twisting stuff at the Red Onion.

Now...the Red Onion. Trivia night is always fun. People come out for it and form impromptu teams from 2-???? people. I don't even know how many people we had on our team, all folks from the company. Our team's name was The Short Bus. We lagged behind forever until we had a multiple guess question on how various famous people have died by choosing what would have saved them. ie., Marie Curie might have been saved if she'd had a lead apron. We aced the dead people! Mid-game, all trivia questions were halted for a Mexican Hat Dance-off challenge for the prize of a pitcher of beer. (It was Cinco de Mayo.) Tom's bravura performance won us the pitcher! At the end of round one, our team made it to the tie-breaker. This year, instead of all tie-breakers ending in a dance-off, they use a spinner to choose what the challenge would be. I volunteered to do the tie-breaker and gave the spinner a flick. This night's tie-breaker challenge was to repeat a tongue twister 5 times with flair and speed. Winner would be determined by the amount of applause. Yeesh! We each picked blindly from a handful of cards. Happily, I got "Toy Boat" and proceeded, with mic in hand, to gavotte about the bar with various intonations and pitches of "toy boat." My opponent, sadly for his team, got: "The sixth shiek's sixth sheep's sick." That's even difficult to type! The Short Bus now has a certificate for a free pizza and pitcher of beer! Wooohoooo!!!!

Mike was out of town from May 9-14. He and the other highway drivers who would be taking guests on multi-day trips into the Yukon interior were on a familiarization trip. He says he has a whole lot of studying to do before he gives his first solo trip. These driver/guides are also more responsible for maintenance of their coaches since they are hundreds of miles from a mechanic. The coaches they drive also have some different transmission systems and other technical "upgrades." He had a great time and is looking forward to being out on the road. I, of course, missed him. Happily, there is another couple around our age. The husband will be a highway driver and the wife is a local driver. We can be road widows together!Nanny and kid at Caribou Crossing.

Elyse Bracken, me and Seth Bracken at snowy Caribou Crossing


Holding a three-week-old sled dog puppy at Caribou Crossing

Here in Skagway, we'd "enjoyed" many days of clouds, rain and snow from before we arrived in town right through May 12. During that time we rookies trained and did ride-alongs. We visited each vendor and found out where to park and what the timing logistics were for each location. We learned who gave out free lunch and who wouldn't give an appetizer to a driver/guide even if they were throwing away the food after the guests were served. What I soon realized, more than ever before, was just how hard driver/guides worked. There's the driving to attend to, crowd management, tour narrative, and timing logistics. Some day I would like a day where I always remember to turn off my fast idle before driving, only keep hazard lights on when they're supposed to be on, always remember to count heads after picture stops, and always remember to tell them about the coach bathroom. I wanted more work than I had in sales and service last year. And I've gotten it. Again, be very, very careful what you ask for in life!

The Disney Wonder caused a lot of stir in town and onboard ship when it made its very first Alaskan port ever as well as our first ship of the season. Everything went very smoothly and our comments back from the ship were quite favorable. The first few ship days were very light and that is where we rookies did our ride-along trips.

Finally on Friday the 13th, many of us rookies gave our first tours. I thought I wouldn't sleep the night before, but amazingly sleep came easily. It wouldn't be the same story a few nights hence (when I had nightmares about dropping my guests off at the wrong place). My first tour was off the Carnival Spirit and I toured them around the city, up to the overlook above Skagway, to the sculpture garden and museum and then to the Days of '98 Show, a musical revue with history about Soapy Smith...the gangster who ran the town during 1897-1898.

G-gauge model train at Jewell Gardens

My afternoon group was a small group off the Disney Wonder and we went to Jewell Gardens....a beautiful garden (mostly not yet as beautiful because it's too early in the spring). After touring the garden with Aaron, guests were served wine and appetizers and watched Kerry and Neil give an amazing glassblowing demonstration. I had not seen this demo before, so it was an excellent diversion to watch with my guests. I enjoyed my glass of water immensely, too!

It was my first day and I was tired. One veteran driver, Brian, offered to go get a bite to eat with me and four of us ended at the Skagway Fishing Company where I spent more money than I'd intended on beer and fish & chips. Yummy stuff, though and good times. We finished dinner just as we noticed the Disney Wonder pulling out. We drove over to the dock to watch its departure in enough time to hear it give the 3 toots of the big foghorn that signal a port departure. It was followed by the first line of "When You Wish Upon a Star." Great fun!

Next day (Saturday), I gave a city tour to the Gold Dredge. Tuesday was my biggest and longest day: 13-1/2 hours. Many of the tours have a bus trip up the South Klondike Hwy to Fraser, BC where the guests take the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad back down to Skagway (or vice versa). Tuesday, I had two tours where the people rode on the coach up to the Yukon Suspension Bridge AND rode the coach back down. That is one long day of lots of being-with-people-time.

The first tour on Tuesday was off the Sea Princess and they started with breakfast at the Red Onion saloon and brothel: 12 happy people ready to party from the start. We then went up to the Yukon Suspension Bridge in BC. This is a small attraction with lifesize photographic displays from the gold rush. It's easy and fun to put yourself in the picture with miners and mounties. I told my people to take some goofy pictures. Their families at home will enjoy a different kind of photo from the 5,752 pictures of Alaskan scenery that they will show on their return. The Suspension Bridge attraction also includes a relief map of the area and a metal suspension bridge over the Tutshi (pronounced TOO-shy) river gorge. It's informational, a good place to stretch your legs, have a snack/buy gifts and get some photographs. Then we toured back down the highway to Skagway.

After dropping these 12 off, I picked up a group from the Holland America Zuiderdam: 36 of the quietest people on the planet. It was my first opportunity to ask if there were any questions, be met with dead silence and use Mike's line: "No questions? My children don't think I know anything either." They tittered a little bit. Their tour ended with a delicious salmon bake at Liarsville: an attraction that can include a recreated 1898 camp, hokey (but enjoyable) show and gold panning. Depending on which tour they buy is what one gets at Liarsville. There was no show or gold panning for this tour, but the guests enjoyed a walk around the camp and the salmon bake. The Liarsville staff are a great bunch to work with! Actually, most of the vendors have friendly and helpful staffs.

On tips and tours. Tips are always appreciated and are absolutely against company policy to solicit. In fact, it is an offense that can get you fired. However, we may accept them. I've heard other drivers state that you can never tell. Already, I've learned that you can never tell. A group may love you verbally, remember your name, shake your hand, take your photo and return to their ship leaving you with no tips. Another group may dilly dally at photo stops, look bored and then hand you more money than expected. You may think your tour narrative stumbling, disconnected and dull and make good money. You may give the tour of your life and it just doesn't sell. You may get a coach full of people from another country's whose culture doesn't tip at all and still find yourself with green in your pocket. You just can never tell.

And then there are the questions. As yet, I have not gotten a stupid question. Stupid questions from the past include: Do they take American money in Skagway? What time do they turn on the Northern Lights? How often do the rangers go up and rebuild the glaciers? At what age does a deer become a moose? And my favorite...one that I've actually heard just after they've walked off their ship: What elevation are we at?

However, every day I seem to get a new question that I don't know the answer to. While integrity and truth-telling are intensely ingrained in my character, there have already been times I've lied. It is said that the favorite words in any guide's narrative are "about," "around," and "close to." You can be honest when using those words. You don't have to say July 17, 1897. You can simply say mid-July or even the summer of 1897. Here are a few questions (and answers) I've been asked:

How often do the winds get to 75 mph in the winter?
My answer: I don't know.
The right answer: There were 45 days this winter where the wind was 60 mph or more in Skagway.

How many gold mines were in the Yukon?
My answer: A lot.
The right answer: That number fluctuated as claims were staked, sold, divided, surveyed, broken up and resold.

How many people does a quonset hut sleep?
My answer: It depended on the size of the quonset hut.
Follow-up question: How many people did THAT quonset hut sleep?
My answer: 16 (having no clue)
The right answer: It depends on the size of the quonset hut. That one slept 8-12.

So far, no one has asked me the names, ages or breeds of the three dogs at Liarsville. But I am ready for them.

For those of you who don't know, I "enjoyed" a sports injury this past November of breaking my ankle while hiking. It entailed a fire department rescue off of one of the mountains around Phoenix (happily not by helicopter) and surgery in which I now incorporate a plate and ten screws in my anatomy. The internet states that emergency rooms are now seeing this particular type of injury more often due to our "increasingly active older population." Unnecessary verbiage, in my opinion. Also, my ankle is slated to continue to be painful and become swollen up to a year after the injury. Joy. It wasn't fun in dry Arizona. It's less fun in wet Skagway. I'm doing a lot more walking now that I'm here, so hopefully it will strengthen as the summer unfolds.

Mike and I took a walk down by the Skagway river on a stunningly beautiful Sunday, turning north after the footbridge on the end of town...just to see what is there. Had we turned left down to Yakatania Point, we would have seen whales in the harbor. Damn! Next time. We had a few beautiful days of sunshine and it was great to take advantage of it.

Last year, you may remember that I joined the other kids in jumping off the 30-40 ft. (truly unknown height) high rock into Lower Dewey Lake. It was a 79 degree sunny day and the water was cold and refreshing. I was SHOCKED to learn that several of the young people hiked up to Lower Dewey after work the other day. And jumped in the water. That water has just lost its ice in the last couple of weeks. And you thought I was nuts.

It has been great greeting people trickling in from the lower 48 that I worked with last year. The new bunch of people seem like great fun. I had wondered if I would lose my awe and wonder at being in Alaska because it's my second year. I've noticed two things. One, I am taking less photographs. Two, every couple of days I look around and say with awe and wonder: "I'm in Alaska!"




Thursday, May 5, 2011

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Never had time to access the computer during the trip up. So there's some already-old news to recount. The nights before leaving were filled with family and friend good-byes. They all will be very much missed. Dan, a trainee from Tucson, stayed the night at our house to be part of the crew riding up on the coach. We said good-bye to Lauren in the morning. After exploring all options, it ended up that Dan and Taylor would ride the coach and I would convoy with the pick-up. Since I enjoy driving, that was fine with me...plus I wanted to get a couple of geocaches on the way to Las Vegas.

No, we did not go to Las Vegas simply because we are inveterate gamblers! Railroad Pass is right on the line between Boulder City, NV and Henderson, NV. It was there that we picked up Todd and Rhonda, also trainees. We all had lunch there along with Todd's friend, Linda and our friends, Al and Lou. The destination that evening was not far away: Mesquite, NV...simply because the rooms are inexpensive. Rhonda was nice enough to accompany me the rest of the afternoon....and patient with a couple of very unsuccessful attempts at geocaching using only my phone. Blyecch! Give me my GPSr with downloaded caches!!!!!

We stayed at the Virgin River Casino. For the duration of the trip to Seattle, we shared a room with Taylor and the other three shared a second room. Virgin River Casino turned out to be loads of fun....I bet $40 at the craps table and turned it into $82. Then I turned that $82 into $350(!!!!!) at the blackjack table. All this with Todd grabbing his head and saying, "GET OUT NOW!!!" I am happy to have ignored him. When everyone was ready for dinner, it was on me. Only sorry we couldn't find Dan and Rhonda so they could benefit from my good luck.

I drove the pickup the next morning and Rhonda again was kind enough to accompany me as we headed up through Utah.We made good time and had lunch at a Cracker Barrel north of Salt Lake City. We ended up the night at a Best Western in Jerome, ID. What a nice place! Each guest gets a free beer; gas fireplace in the lobby, very friendly staff and a full breakfast bar. Pizza Hut delivered and we partied in the lobby until late...about 8 p.m. Yeah, what partiers.

We woke up to COLD and RAIN and headed out. No more shorts for awhile! This time, Dan drove the pickup with Rhonda accompanying him as we headed up through COLD and WINDY Idaho and Washington. It stayed extraordinarily windy throughout the day. A lot of talk about how far we would drive that day. With some switching of passengers in Union Gap, WA and taking a wrong turn or two while finding a bathroom break...we ended up in Tukwila, WA...just south of Seattle at a Days Inn. I've stayed in better places, but it was ok. Dan graced us each with a piece of the jewelry that he makes. What a fantastic memento!

We said good-bye to Todd, Ronda and Dan and wished them safe journey and lots of fun as they work in Juneau. It's only 45 minutes away by air...but over $200 for the round trip flight. Still, Jo Wulffenstein from last year is down there and that now makes 4 people I could stay with. That works for me. It is bittersweet to say good-bye to now only them, but to the others in our training class in Phoenix. Yes, Chippy, that means you, too! Haha! We bonded well and it just always seemed odd that we weren't all ending up in the same town. But Chippy, Dom and Mary are in or will be in Fairbanks. A whole bunch are in Juneau and a few in Anchorage and Ketchikan. We will miss them and hope to hear bunches about their adventures in their own locations.

We didn't say good-bye to Taylor because it was her first opportunity to sleep in. So we eased out of the Tukwila hotel room and dropped the coach off in Seattle at the Gray Line bus yard where we met up with Will and Keegan. Finally, we were alone in our own little pick-up and headed out.

We had a bit of discussion on whether we should try to contact anyone, but most everyone we would be able to see we would be seeing in a few short days/weeks. Still, I felt guilty when we spent a good hour at the Horseshoe Cafe in Bellingham for lunch. Bellingham is another training site for HAP drivers and we know a good number of folks who live in the area. However, we wanted to put a lot of miles in that day.

Last year crossing the border we had our vehicle complete searched, had to pull out our pockets and lift up our pants legs. So, I was fully prepared for another thorough inspection. Yay! Only 25 minutes crossing into Canada and we were off...no personal or vehicle search! We made it to Quesnel, British Columbia where we stayed at Billy Barker's casino...where we did NOT make any money. But the room was quaint and quiet and worked perfectly for us. The next day was a huge mileage day as we made it up the Cassiar Highway to Dease Lake to a too-high-priced motel room (usual rate for the area, however) and amazing food at Mama Z's. Highly recommend this place and she's opening another one in Dawson City, YT soon. The Cassiar Hwy. is known for its amazing scenery. However, this year we were treated to rain, snow and low clouds. No scenery for us.

"That being stated," (the quotes are a private joke...apologies) the animal sitings were so much better this year. The whole province was lousy with caribou. We saw a grizzly, a black bear, 3 moose, several ptarmigans, a coyote and a snowshoe hare. It really made up for the lack of mountain scenery. We won't discuss the price of petrol. It hurts.

Monday morning our excitement was rising as we crossed back and forth between the Yukon Territory and British Columbia on the Alaska Highway and the South Klondike Highway. Mike narrated the South Klondike Highway to me, noting places to park, where to have tourists take photos, etc. And we got closer and closer to Skagway. We arrived about 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon. LET THE HUGS BEGIN!

So much fun re-uning (is that a word?) with everyone...some in new positions from what they worked last year. And a whole lot of greeting new people. As the title says, though....the more things change, the more they remain the same. Our room is the same and after unpacking, it looks almost identical to last year. The main differences being that we brought up the flat screen t.v. and we left our Yukon map at home, so we don't have that on the wall. Other than that, here we are. Same room. Same view (beautiful mountain view). But not only are we in the same room, so far all of those returning to the Westmark are in their same rooms, too! There are more married couples this year than last year. Teri and Steve; Elise and Seth, soon Chris and Bri...and that doesn't count those couples where only one person works for HAP. And it doesn't include the dating/living together couples. And it doesn't include the splitting-up couples and the new couples.

So there is drama. As ever. Despite requests to do so, I will not have a public, tabloid, tell-all of the gossip, dirt, accidents and sensational news belonging to the people I work with. Really. I won't. Promise?

Driving down the highway, Chris Whetton was doing dual driving with Taylor and we were all furiously waving...not realizing it was Taylor. Daisy was at the Westmark and she offered to make us hot dogs for lunch. She was a most welcome goddess! I cannot continue to mention everyone who greeted us so very warmly. I'll forget someone and feel awful. Dinner that night was at the Red Onion with Taylor. It's been cold and rainy and/or damp and windy. It's been Skagway.

And then we went right to work the next morning. Experienced drivers drove with new drivers, switching off, showing where to park. I got to experience driving the hill...without a Jake brake (an engine retarder that slows the vehicle down in addition to downshifting). And I got to experience dual driving as quadruple driving because there were THREE experienced drivers with me. How lucky can a girl get? Carolyn or Jeanette asked if I was going to practice my spiel and I said I didn't have a spiel. But then they told me it was a good time to practice. Then everyone later who saw me driving was asking me why I was on the coach microphone like I was giving a tour!!!!

I did well. Very few mistakes. I asked Tony what I could improve and he told me to RELAX. I am, in a phrase, a hot mess. Typical me, I want to be competent and knowledgeable on day one and am stressed that I won't be competent and knowledgeable even by week one....how about month one? I am stressed. I am worried. Knowing I'm the creator of my own angst isn't helping. After the busy day, dinner at the BrewCo seemed expedient. It cannot continue that we eat out every night (I cooked for night 3...all is good).

There is also worry over other things....primarily the health of our parents. Anyone who wants to be a god or goddess can help out by keeping in touch with them if you know them. My mom has fallen and has two cracked ribs and a cracked coccyx. She has a bunch of tests coming up and I'm not there to be with her for those appointments and make sure she has a ride. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Bridget, for all your help! Right now, the rest of the parents are status quo with no new problems or issues. Thank goodness!

So far it looks like Taylor is fitting right in here in Skagway and that makes us both so happy. Mike is everywhere at once, it seems. He checked for the coach we used in Phoenix for training to see if it has arrived with more of our stuff on it....won't be in for another week. I took care of cooking, laundry, bill paying, etc. on my half day off yesterday and half day off today. He, Taylor, Manz, Will and Jess hiked up to Lower Dewey lake. Great pics that I saw on the camera, but they haven't yet made it onto the computer. So photos to come. Promise.

There seems to be so much more to say. As if you haven't read for a long enough time! I need to get out of this room and walk off some of the angst. 3 hour operations meeting this afternoon followed by a company pizza party at the Red Onion. And tomorrow....our first ship. And it's a biggie. It's not just a big ship, it's this ship's first Alaskan port which makes it Skagway's first time to impress Disney. A lot of Disney and HAP brass in town for tomorrow.

The Disney Wonder is arriving tomorrow. Allison, who is a station master for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, posted a video of the Wonder passing under the Golden Gate bridge and tooting its horn. Its horn plays the first line of "When You Wish Upon A Star." All experienced drivers will be doing the tours tomorrow with us rookies riding along to listen and garner information on how to be great tour guides. That's a good thing. I don't need to be on the hot seat just yet.

So much is the same. So much is changed. I will relax. I can handle change with grace and aplomb.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ambivalence

Welcome to 2011. If you read Skagway 2010, you'll remember I can be rather verbose. So there's your warning. Follow it or not, your choice. I'm ambivalent. Hahaha! Seriously, I hope you do read it. Elsewise, this becomes merely self-indulgent. But several people have encouraged me to write about 2011. Yes, really. They have! And you know who you are.

Mike, especially, has been encouraging me to write...starting with training to be a driver/guide. However, my hesitation arises from my own fear. Going to Skagway in 2011 doesn't have that excitement and heightened anticipation of a new love affair that 2010 contained. Last year, it was the newness of our leisurely drive north through the sequoias, the funny little post office with community center attached, the Columbia river gorge, the newness of driving the vast distances in Canada, the magnificence of the Cassiar highway and each approaching mile of new landscape into Alaska and down into the Skagway valley. What would we find? Who will we meet? What will we actually be doing? What will our living space look like? What is it like in a small town? What does it look like when the seasons change? What is the hiking like? How is July 4th celebrated?

No overt newness. What if I get up to Skagway and do NOT find myself saying in wonder "I'm in Alaska!" every 2 days? And so I've been reluctant to even have a blog this summer. I could say I don't want to disappoint my multitude of readers. Ok, the 18 of you. But I don't want to be disappointed. The worst thing to say about anyone or anything is that it is boring. A single comment of "meh" and I could want to crawl into my room cave.

But that's all worry and made-up story and really shouldn't even own a place in my head. So, let's go forward with wonder and awe and an open mind. So we'll bypass the sequoias; they're very big. And our drive looks to be a push instead of an adventure. We'll be skipping that little California town and the Columbia river gorge. Canada will still be VERY big. The Cassiar highway will still be magnificent. And each mile on the South Klondike highway down into Skagway will have a frisson of the excitement of a homecoming.

There will be a few key differences this summer:

1. Mike will be a highway driver this year.
2. I will be a driver/guide this year.
3. Our niece, Taylor, will be a driver/guide with us this year. (Wooohooo!)
4. We will sorely miss many people who aren't returning.
5. We can't wait to see everyone who IS returning...some in new jobs, some in old jobs, some in unexpected jobs.
6. Who are the new people?

1. So what is a highway driver? Last year, Mike was a driver/guide IN Skagway. What that meant was he picked up people on excursions just for that day off the ships in port. They would return to the ship at night and sail away...leaving the town peaceful again. (As peaceful as it can be in the summer when the population nearly triples.) And he would be home every night. That explanation is important before explaining "highway driver" because it is what Taylor and I will be doing.

A highway driver is a driver/guide of Cruisetour passengers. These passengers have booked a multi-day trip beginning or ending in Skagway. His world will consist of other highway drivers, tour directors, hotel personnel in other cities and guests that he gets to know over those few days. He prefers to be always learning and doing new things, so this suits him well for this summer.

2. I've already explained what I'll be doing. It'll be in the details that could become the stories I'll post this summer.

3. Taylor will be with us! How wonderful to have family up in Skagway with us! Last year, we wanted everyone we know to experience what we were experiencing. We especially wanted all of the young people in our lives to have the opportunity to see the world by working seasonally in a beautiful location. Taylor's long-term goal is to be a wedding planner and she's studying for that now. This is a good way to get to deal with a crowd of people who have certain expectations of enjoyment. And she's going to have a blast. This, I know.

4. I'm not going to list all the people we will miss. I'll forget someone and feel badly. You know who you are. You were such a part of my wonderful experience last year and not a day goes by that I'm not telling (or re-telling) another Skagway story in which one or more of you are featured.

5. It'll be old home week! Hugs, smiles, high fives and endless chatter will bubble and sizzle.

6. Can't wait to meet the new people and see how it all comes together this summer!

So you may be asking the question of why is she becoming a driver/guide rather than returning to sales and service? I worked with great people and had a laid-back manager in sales and service. But it was a job with a couple of busy days and a LOT of downtime. A LOT of downtime. A whole slew of downtime. Drivers are out and about, meeting the tourists, having stories, having a camaraderie with each other, and make more money.

Many times last year I said how I was very much looking forward to the guiding part, not so much the driving part. Turns out there was a reason for the dread of the driving. In the last 10 years, one of the "aging" pieces of nonsense that has occurred in my body is a change in depth perception due to astigmatism. I had thought my driving was deteriorating. In fact, my driving was fine, my confidence was waning as it seemed that while driving on highways other vehicles were way too close, encroaching or even appearing to swerve into my lane.

Training to be a driver of a 12 foot high, 8 foot wide, 40 foot motor coach has helped so much in my confidence and I learned to compensate for the change in depth perception. My regular vehicle driving confidence has improved 500%!

So what was training like? There were several day-long classroom experiences that were much like any other classroom experience: some interesting things, a lot of corporate CYA stuff, the same couple of people constantly interrupting the presentation, tests, sore butts, etc. Then there were the training days.

We trained either 2-1/2 hours alone with a trainer or 3-1/2 hours with another student and a trainer. Mike was one of the three trainers. Each trainer, Mike or Bill or Judy, had something to offer in that each one of them focused on specific aspects of being a driver. They all taught their trainees how to drive a coach. Bill focused a lot on proper turning techniques. Judy was all about the pre-trip. Mike's intent was on how driving properly affected your passengers. It was a good mix.

First hurdle was the pre-trip. This was a 300+ item list, 20-75 minute examination of the coach and being able to verbalize what the doohickey, gizmo, whatchamacallit, butterfly nut/wingnut thingie is and what could be wrong with it. What once was Greek to me is now a patter of very studly-man engine talk pouring forth from my throat and leaving traces of oil on my dirty gloves.

Second hurdle is a skills course. I'd have to say that the skills course: slalom around cones, backing up straight or with a wiggle, and parallel parking were a lot harder than driving on the road. We won't discuss a set-up called "offset alley." Forwards I'm fine. Backwards, if you're an orange cone, you're Dead Fred. Driving went from slow turns around a quiet neighborhood (complete with a group drinking out of their brown paper bags who waved to us as we drove by, aka "the party"), to traffic on wide boulevards with people doing screwy things to driving on the freeway. Training started Feb. 1 and for me and Taylor ended April 16 when we passed our road test. Along the way were the milestones in the training, taking our written test at DMV, comparing our progress with other trainees and making new friends.

It's so hard to think that Chippy, Todd, Rhonda and others won't be in Skagway with us. There are others going to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, Ketchikan and Juneau that we will miss. But we got to know the three mentioned a lot better due to commuting together or if they stayed in our home because they lived out of town. Chippy's name isn't really Chippy. It's David. But that's another story.

Happily, it didn't get outrageously hot while we were training. Just in the 90's at most. And during training, Mike was working full-tilt as a trainer and I was still working per diem at hospice. Happily, NOT the hospice I worked at last year, but Hospice Family Care. The nice thing is that they are looking forward to me returning to work for them in the fall. It's good to be appreciated. So different from the other place where I worked for the Queen of Hearts whose management policy was "off with their heads!"

Leaving family and friends is, perhaps, even harder this year than last year. Our youngest daughter is graduating from ASU with her master's degree and we won't be with her to celebrate. That is a BIG sadness. Our older daughter is about to take on a career entry job where she gets her foot in the door for her career, makes more money and works "normal" hours. And our son is interviewing for a job far away that we hope and don't hope he gets. We hope he gets this great job, but don't look forward to him being so far from home.

Our parents are getting older and some of them are not as well as they were last year. We internally battle with the desire to be here to care for them, be there for them and support/be supported by our siblings while we watch our elders age. It is a very real possibility that we will be needed. We think about the joy in our work in Alaska, work that is financially needed and a beautiful place to be. Could we work here in Arizona? Possibly, but not with as much joy as Alaska...and not as steady a job here in Arizona for me as I'd have in Alaska. Mike would have to be out on the road driving again, so he'd be away much of the time if we stayed...though not the 5 months that we'll be gone from Arizona. It is a more difficult choice this year to head north for the season.

But as of today, we are still planning on leaving Wednesday, April 27. This year, instead of our leisurely tour up the coast adding two states for me that I'd never been in before (along with a province and territory in Canada), there is a push. For training purposes, the drivers drove down three coaches. They had arrived by barge from Alaska to Seattle in the winter. Now two have to return to Skagway and one to Juneau. They have to be in Seattle by April 30 to be loaded onto the barge for their shipment north.

Mike will be driving a bus and several trainees will be riding on the bus and then they will fly from Seattle to their Alaskan destinations. I'll be driving in the pickup...overloaded with all the stuff I think I need...including extra groceries to avoid paying the high cost of food up there. My 99 cent box of pasta could easily cost $3.00 up there. Once the bus is dropped off on the 30th, we will hightail it through Canada and up to Skagway. Work starts May 2 and we will probably arrive that afternoon and miss our first day. And unlike last year when we arrived early, we won't have leisurely days to unpack and get acclimated.

So there is a flurry of activity. A few more people need to take and pass their road test. Mike has some more training hours the next couple of days. I work Friday night and Sunday day at the hospice inpatient unit. Packing bustle. Good-byes hustle. And then off to Skagway. 2011.