Down to the wire!

AmaWaterways usually sends out a pre-trip kit with documents, luggage tags, a book about the area of the cruise, and a bag or two. We didn’t get one before our Douro River cruise (and I really didn’t miss it). But we were promised one for our Africa trip – and promised and promised and promised….

Last night, FedEx said they’d be delivering the package by Priority Overnight mail and it came just before lunch. Not only did they include the documents I expected, yet more luggage tags, a book about southern Africa, and a couple of bags, but it also had the first details I’d seen about our intra-Africa flights – it’s comforting to know where we’ll be going!

Packing took longer than I expected, even allowing for the usual problems. I discovered I had run out of intradental toothbrushes, so I drove over to the nearby CVS to pick up a package.

They were out. So was Walgreens. And Target. I finally found them at Walmart, but by the time I’d gotten there, I’d spent an hour driving and shopping. At least I got to catch up on my tech podcasts while I was searching!

The pressure is on!

It feels like I’ve spent all day today getting ready for the trip (returning stuff to REI, getting a haircut, printing South Africa entry forms, trying to calculate our cash requirements…), but that’s an exaggeration.

I also went to a Toastmasters meeting and answered my Learned League questions, as well as watched a little bit of the news. And Diane and I worked out.

Rumor (in the form of FedEx notifications) has it that we’re going to get our pre-trip packages from AmaWaterways tomorrow – that will be exciting!

Who needs bolt cutters?

We’re continuing to prepare for our upcoming trip. Our plan is to avoid checking luggage, but our travel agent suggested we might want to lock the bags we have to leave at a hotel for a couple of days while we’re out in the bush – and that made sense.

Diane’s favorite carry-on had come with a lock on it, threaded through one zipper. Unfortunately, the key was nowhere to be found, at least not in the time we were willing to devote to the search. So I had to find a way to remove the lock.

A thread on TripAdvisor discussing the merits of luggage locks mentioned using a hammer to break the lock, but the design of the suitcase made that impractical. I tried nibbling at the lock with a wire cutter – it made a dent, but not nearly enough of one to give me any hope.

The obvious tool was a bolt cutter, but I don’t own one. I thought about bringing the suitcase to a hardware store and “testing” a bolt cutter, but that seemed tacky. And then I noticed a pair of lopping shears hanging on the garage wall. A minute later…voilà!

I’m not going to bother with a lock.

Sense and Sensibility

I moved all of my photos from Alaska into the my main Lightroom catalog this afternoon – more than 2000 of them. I guess I wasn’t as diligent in weeding out the superfluous ones as I’d thought! Maybe I’ll do better in Africa….

I’m writing this before we leave to see the Silicon Valley Shakespeare production of Sense and Sensibility at Sanborn Park in the Saratoga hills, where the scenery is excellent, the play’s the thing, and connectivity is non-existent.

The Economist disagrees with IBM

There was a nice sky this evening when we went out for our walk.

And I needed it – I’d spent far too long doing battle with the website for The Economist. I wanted to pause delivery of the paper while we’re away – finding the right page wasn’t too hard, though the form I had to fill out was hidden behind an inconspicuous “Edit Details” link.

Simple, right? Just figure out the day you want to resume delivery and subtract a week (I guess it would have cost too much to have the computer do the work). And make sure you don’t want to suspend the paper for more than a month. And be sure to pick a valid date:

What’s a “valid date”? Telling me that would take all the fun out of it!

ETA: You can’t see it in the screenshots, but the site provides a drop-down date picker so I didn’t have to guess the right format to enter the date – but there were no hints about what dates might be “valid”.

I gave up and used the chat widget on the page to ask customer service to handle the suspension, which they did – they even let me stop the paper for more than a month!

Back in 1967, IBM commissioned Jim Henson to create an ad for the MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter), possibly the first word processor – the ad was titled “Paperwork Explosion” and told about how the MT/ST would help control the massive number of documents created by a typical office of the day. Near the end, there was a segment showing people saying this:

IBM machines can do the work
So that people have time to think
Machines should do the work
That’s what they’re best at
People should do the thinking
That’s what they’re best at
Machines should work
People should think
Machines should work
People should think
Machines should work
People should think.

And that was quickly followed by an older gentleman relaxing and saying “I don’t do too much work any more; I’m too busy thinking” and the IBM logo, ending the ad.

I wish the people behind the Economist’s website had seen the ad!

We open packages

Tonight, we opened the package of six teeny-tiny bottles of port that we’d bought on our visit to Cálem in Portugal and tried the “White and Dry“. It was nice, but nothing spectacular.

Diane’s old trackpad went crazy and started clicking itself at random times, which is not a good idea. The problem surfaced right after I’d updated her computer to the latest level of Mac OS, but I’m pretty sure it was a coincidence because the trackpad kept doing the same thing when I paired it with my laptop. Even turning the trackpad upside down so that the little buttons on the bottom that actually do the clicking were in mid-air didn’t stop it, so we made an emergency trip to the Apple Store for a replacement.

We couldn’t get the same trackpad – it was so old it wasn’t even Magic (just haunted). The Magic Trackpad is bigger and, so far, well-behaved. I hope it stays that way.

So many meetings, so little time

I just got home from chairing the Shir Hadash Ritual Committee meeting. Our focus was on the upcoming High Holidays – it will be exciting and different (as you’d expect with a new Senior Rabbi), and it will be wonderful to have services in person again.

The meeting was productive and lively and ran a little long to allow full discussions – which is all great, except that I also have the honor of being Toastmaster for the Silver Tongued Cats bright and early tomorrow morning, and it would be nice to be coherent in that role, so I’m going to call it a night.

It was too easy!

The Learned League off-season is filled with member-created events. There are One-Day Specials devoted to specific (sometimes very specific) topics, like Talmud, The Science in Science Fiction, or IATA Airport Code Combos Forming 6 Letter Words (not my strongest result!). There are also Mini-Leagues on various, usually broader, areas like “World Literature”, “Advice”, or “Gen X Culture 2 the Max” (a real learning experience for me).

One of the current Mini-Leagues is called “Stuff…or ELSE”. Each day’s six questions are about a single subject (like “Women in Science”); each question has an audio or video clue (for Women in Science, it was always a picture of the person in question) and a rebus-style alternative way to get the answer. For example, the first question in Women in Science had a photo of a woman standing near a computer tape drive holding a book labeled “Cobol”, and the rebus was “it’s a theological word in the title of a 1990 Sean Penn movie and a 2012 Taylor Swift song + the film villain who met his end being torn apart by the young of a predator (fortunately largely offscreen, given the target audience of the 1998 film).” The answer, of course, was Grace Hopper.

Yesterday’s topic was “The Muppets”; I was surprised and pleased to get all six questions right. Unfortunately, so did my opponent. Of the twelve people in my group, nine of us had a perfect day – not a result I’m used to seeing.

It could have been more frustrating, though; in one group, eleven players got them all right – and the one person who missed a question got lucky because their opponent assigned zero points to that question.

One of tomorrow’s One-Days looks like it should be interesting: “Your Body Is Trying To Kill You 4”. Time to channel my inner House!

Goodbye, old friend

I didn’t do anything terribly noteworthy today, but I did make a surprising discovery while removing some 200GB of unneeded iPhone backups from my travel MacBook Air.

I searched for the best way to get rid of old backups – most of the hits were for old versions of Mac OS, using iTunes. Eventually, I found the method for current versions of Mac OS on HowToGeek.

They documented several ways to get rid of the backups – one, “Delete Backups from Storage Management”, didn’t need me to attach the phones to the computer, so that’s what I used. It’s easy: Click the Apple in the menu bar, click “About This Mac”, click “Storage”, click “Manage”, and wait for a while. When the computer calms down, click “iOS Files”, then select the backups you don’t need and delete them.

But when I looked at the “iOS Files” section, I didn’t just find the backups; I also found an installer for iOS 12.1 occupying 14GB of precious SSD storage – it’s from 2018, so I must have copied it to this Mac from one of my previous computers!

It’s gone now.

I wish real-world housekeeping was as easy.

Our theatre weekend continues

We’ll be off to the premiere performance of Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in about an hour; there’s no phone service at the venue (Sanborn Park) and it’ll be late when we get home, so I’m posting now.

We did more preparation (mostly shopping) for our Africa trip this afternoon; Diane bought a backpack to use as her “personal item” on our flights, I bought another pair of tan convertible pants, and we found our copy of Mark Nolting’s African Safari Field Guide, which we’d bought in 2020 between our first and second attempts to take the trip. It had spent the intervening months in an undisclosed location, and it took me a while to find it!

The big news, though, was that I decided I was sufficiently recovered from the PDT treatment to shave this morning – shaving didn’t irritate my face, so I guess I was right. I do have a lot of skin sloughing off, but that’s progress!

Planning ahead

We spent most of the day working on final plans for our upcoming Africa trip.

We researched appropriate clothing colors – white is a bad idea; so is black and dark blue.

We shopped for new shirts in those appropriate colors and didn’t find them in the store, but did find it on their website – we should get them next week.

We started looking for interesting tours to take in Cape Town on the free days we have between arrival and the first scheduled activity.

We took the information in the Trip Book and excerpted relevant parts into a spreadsheet so we can see the trip at a glance.

And we’re looking for better backpacks to make the most use of underseat space; we want to avoid checking a bag if at all possible.

There’s more to life than trip planning, of course. We’re seeing Into the Woods at Lyric Theatre tonight; I’m not going to want to post after the show, so here you are!

Shabbat Shalom!

Reflections on Reflecting

I finished the Visionary Communication path at the Silver Tongued Cats meeting this morning – I’d started it more than four years ago, so the word of the day (tenacity) rang a bell with me.

The final project in every path is “Reflect on Your Path” – you’re supposed to speak for 10-12 minutes about what you learned during the path and how you grew – and that was my assignment this morning. I spoke a lot about the “Vision” element of the path and how I might have chosen a different path if I’d read the mandatory “Develop Your Vision” project description first. People seemed to like the speech – at least no one dropped off the Zoom session while I was giving it!

I’m already well along on my third path (Presentation Mastery); I don’t know what I’ll choose after that, but I probably have a year to figure it out.

Our Internet connection has been behaving today; I hope I didn’t just jinx it.

I’m still not ready to go out in the sun or to shave, but I’ve been much less uncomfortable today than I was yesterday. I took a walk around 8:45pm and got to see a teeny-tiny bit of sunset.

Yaks get shaved, not me

I went out for a walk with Diane this morning. I put on sunscreen and wore a hat that covered the sides of my face (and even more when I clipped the two flaps together at the bottom). I felt OK for the first 15 minutes – but then I realized that my face was beginning to feel decidedly warm and I turned for home, none too soon.

We were able to go out for a walk after dark this evening. Technically, it was Nautical Twilight when we left and Astronomical Twilight when we returned, but the UV index was a nice comfortable zero so I could walk as long as I wanted.

My dermatologist had told me not to shave for a few days, and I was happy to take her advice. I used the time I saved to do some yak shaving instead.

I wrote a little program to keep an eye on the status of our Internet connection, both looking outward from home and looking inward from my Linode server – it runs the ping command in a loop and writes any failures to the console.

And then I found that I couldn’t ping my home from the Internet – the router was throwing away ping requests for security. So I hunted through the documentation and figured out how to let ICMP Echo Request packets in, and then I could actually get data about my inbound connection.

After that I realized that I had no way to see what percentage of packets got dropped except by scrolling through the entire console log, which is silly. So I changed the program to update a little sqlite database after every ping result, and then I wrote a little shell alias to let me query the database and give me the results in a more-or-less human-readable format.

After running the program for a few minutes, I discovered that I was losing about 10 percent of the packets in both directions, which is insane. The cable modem showed lots of uncorrectable errors and several channels were no longer in use, so I powered it off and on and things got better.

How much better? As I’m writing this, both the outbound and inbound connections have sent about 45,000 packets and only dropped 6, or about .013 percent. I’m not sure if that’s acceptable or not, but it’s a lot better than 10 percent. And the cable modem still shows 31 channels in use, the same as when I rebooted it (and better than yesterday’s 28). I may still want to call Comcast, but I’m not noticing the problems I was having before, such as dropouts in streaming audio, so it’s not urgent. I think.

And then I got to work on updating the home automation server, which had been acting weirdly since we got home. Some parts of the software had crashed – like the ones which interact with the alarm system, the locks, and the lighting. I brought down newer versions of the software and that got everything back on the air.

Then I got really brave and updated Mac OS on the automation server. Downloading the update (more than 2GB) took about 3 minutes instead of the 30-45 minutes it had taken on my other systems – fixing the network paid off!

After the system rebooted, I took another look at the automation software; it has been logging data about events (like lights being turned off and on) for a couple of years, and I wondered if I could get any useful information or insights from it.

After learning more than I’d planned about the database (InfluxDB) that holds the data, the dashboard (Grafana) that lets you see what’s been going on, and the Indigo plugin that connects the automation server to the database and dashboard, I discovered that the system had spent the last couple of years logging every time that we turned a light on or off, but not useful information such as when the air conditioning is turned off or on or what the house temperature was. I deleted the old data and changed what’s being logged – maybe I’ll find something interesting the next time I look.

That’s progress, right?

My face is red

Over the last decade, I’ve had a couple of skin cancers on my face, and quite a few actinic keratoses – it’s kept my dermatologist busy. The last time I saw her, she had to remove another couple of actinic keratoses and suggested I consider photodynamic therapy to reduce the chance of recurrence; today was the day for the treatment.

The experience started with a facial acetone scrub, then the application of the photosensitized, and then a 90-minute wait for it to sink in. That part was pretty boring – I’d brought my computer, so I caught up on my email a bit.

And then came the real treatment – 16 minutes, 45 seconds with a very bright light bathing my face. They gave me goggles and told me to keep my eyes shut, which I was happy to do. They also gave me a little fan in case I got warm – I was glad I had it, because my face was on fire! I didn’t think to start a podcast playing before I had to close my eyes, so I had nothing to distract me; the best I could do was to tell my watch to time three-minute intervals so I’d have some idea of how long I had left.

I was relieved when the light went out; they had me wash my face with a very gentle wash and put on sunscreen. They told me to avoid bright light for the next few days because my skin will be very light-sensitive – we took a walk near sunset this afternoon and even then, I could feel the effect when the light hit my face.

On a more cheerful note, unplugging the cable modem and giving it a short rest seems to have helped my connectivity; it’s been nearly a full day and all of the channels are still “locked”, though I am seeing some packet loss, so I still see a call to Comcast in my future.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Our Internet has been very slow since we got home – better than the service on the ship, to be sure, but there were long pauses in downloads and many other random freezes. I’d updated all of our access points and switches over the weekend and it didn’t help.

Today, things got even worse. I logged into the cable modem and discovered that several of the downstream channels were “not locked”, and quite a few of the others were reporting lots of errors, not all of which were correctable. I also found some “MDD message timeout” warnings in the event log. So I rebooted the modem (and the router, just for good measure) and things got a lot better – all my channels were locked.

Four hours later, I’ve got two channels are unlocked again and I’m seeing lots of MDD message timeouts. And dropped packets. A little web searching says that the next step is physically unplugging the modem for a minute and letting it try to heal itself – after that, it’ll be time for a call to Xfinity. sigh

I shouldn’t have read the comments

I was making a quick pass through Facebook this morning (no thanks to their most recent UI change on the iPhone – no more “Most Recent”; now it’s “Feeds”) when I came across a posting from a friend who had gotten today’s Wordle on the first guess. I “liked” the post and opened the comments, which were, of course, filled with congratulatory messages.

Unfortunately, one of those messages included a five-letter word in ALL CAPS – and yes, it was the answer. I avoided the temptation of trying that word as my first guess, but it wasn’t easy.

We took our usual post-Farmer’s Market walk this morning; we could hear the locomotive whistle from the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad from blocks away, and it drew us to Oak Meadow Park. Lots of people were enjoying the beautiful morning and waiting to ride the train, but we had other plans in mind.

This afternoon, we saw the Lyric Theatre production of The Pirates of Penzance; it was excellent (and they have four more shows in the run!). The costumes were, as usual for Lyric, extravagant; the singing was terrific (especially Mabel); and the Hammer Theatre is a much better acoustic environment than their previous venue at San Jose City College. Go if you can!

All Tech All Day

While I was working on sending photos home yesterday, I ran into a problem with my home network – I couldn’t get into the Ubiquiti controller to check on the configuration. I even set up a screen-sharing session to a computer at home and had no success there. I didn’t have the time to worry about it then, but it was high on my list of things to deal with when I got home.

To make a long story short, something had gone wrong somewhere and MongoDB wasn’t starting properly on the controller. I tried to restore a backup of the configuration but it didn’t help. I even logged into the controller’s command line and tried a few things like repairing the database but it didn’t work – the repair script complained that it couldn’t get to the database server, which was the problem I was trying to fix.

Eventually, I found David Mello’s page on how to fix an unresponsive Cloud Key, which took me through the steps needed to get things operational again (there’s even a video, but I prefer reading to watching). I followed his procedure and all is well for now. I want to move the controller to a more robust environment, though, and I’m not willing to shell out $200 for a new Cloud Key with battery backup – I may put the service onto yet another Raspberry Pi instead. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath.

Once the controller was operational, it told me that all of my Ethernet switches and wireless access points needed updating, so I did that, too. It was easy, if time-consuming – but I was able to do it while we were walking home from returning our rental car, so it didn’t keep me from doing anything more fun.

After lunch, it was Diane’s turn to deal with a technical problem. Her iPhone 13 mini had started to act up a few weeks ago – once in a while, the camera would fail to take a photo and the camera app would crash. While we were on the ship, things got worse – first she got a message that Ultra Wideband could not be activated (which explained the problems we were having using AirDrop), and later that same day, she got the same message about the cellular network hardware. We made an appointment for the Genius Bar this afternoon at the Apple Store in Los Gatos.

That was a mistake – it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and people were headed to the beach. The best way to get there is Highway 17, but when it backs up, people exit and go through surface streets in the vain hope of saving time, and that ties up traffic in Los Gatos. It usually takes us about 12 minutes to get to the Apple Store; today, it probably would have taken 35 minutes. I don’t know, because we found a parking place and ran to the store to get there only a few minutes after our appointed time.

The Genius ran diagnostics which showed all sorts of issues, but she thought it was worth trying to install iOS again. The process took an hour and put up messages I’ve never seen before (“attempting to restore data”, for example), but it seems to have worked; the diagnostics are all green and the phone is behaving normally.

While we were at the store, I had plenty of time to ogle the new M2-powered MacBook Air; it’s tempting, but I don’t want to take a brand new computer to Africa next month, so I’ll wait a little longer.

This evening, we’re going to the Hammer Theatre Center for Lyric Theatre’s Light Opera Around the World – a full concert of familiar light opera favorites and beautiful songs from the cast’s home countries. It should be a nice change of pace!

Visual Flight Rules OK!

We sailed into Vancouver about 7am this morning, and I enjoyed watching the last part of the journey from our room.

We left the ship about 9 and took a Lyft to Vancouver International Airport for our 1:25pm flight; luckily, we had access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge which was comfortable and had wifi, though there were very few power outlets. I used the time to clean up the way I send photos home while traveling – I’ll write that up in a separate posting sometime soon, with appropriate content warnings.

We boarded the plane right on time – and ten minutes later, they asked us to get off because “the plane was going to be used for another route”. I also got messages from Air Canada saying it was a “maintenance issue”. At any rate, they moved us to another gate and another plane and we took off about an hour late.

The views from the plane were wonderful. We couldn’t see Denali (of course), but we did get nice views of Mt. Ranier.

And Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams.

And Mt. Shasta.

And the Bay Area.

And, just before landing, a United flight landing on a parallel runway – it was somewhat disconcerting when I first saw the plane out of the corner of my eye!

It’s good to be home!

Last night of the cruise

It’s the last night of the cruise; we’re entering the Inside Passage, with the best viewing expected around 7pm (during dinner, of course). I hope to take interesting photos, some of which may even be good – but it’s unlikely I’ll be able to post them tonight. But I can post the current view from our stateroom!

(“Current” is a generous term; it took 15 minutes to upload that one photo. I’ll miss a lot of things from the ship, but I really look forward to land-based Internet!)

Ketchikan Tour

We like booking private tours when we can – it’s nice being with a few friends instead of a busload, and the guides are willing to modify itineraries to better fit our interests. We’d booked one for Ketchikan with Cruin MacGriogair of Ketchikan Tours and were looking forward to it…until he sent an email on Monday saying that he had tested positive for Covid and was self-isolating. He also recommended another guide in town who was free and put us in touch, which was real service!

So we had a private tour with Tracy Wolf of Wild Wolf Tours instead, and it was great. She drove us out to Totem Bight State Park and gave us an interpretive tour of the totem poles there; the park had been built by the CCC during the Depression and has been well-maintained since, with lots of input from Native groups. The poles and the Clan House were built specifically for the park.

We began with the Eagle Grave Marker, copied from an original in the Haida village of Hokan.

We stopped by the Totem Pole Restoration Building; there were a few poles in the process of being restored.

Totem poles typically have a 50 to 75 year lifespan; when they fall, they are allowed to decay in place.

There’s a replica of a Clan House which we were able to see from the inside.

Here’s one more totem pole for the road; this one is “Raven at the Head of Nass”.

Tracy then drove us to the Settlers Cove State Recreation Site and the Lunch Creek Trail. It’s at the end of the road – literally; the North Tongass Highway ends at the parking area. It’s lushly wooded.

I was surprised to learn that trappers are able to set traps in the recreation site.

We walked part of the trail, seeing waterfalls and the Pacific Ocean.

There was a lone fishing boat out on the ocean.

Tracy drove us back to town so we could explore on our own, but just before we got there, she pulled into a parking lot so we could see the eagles and ravens there.

Ketchikan’s two biggest industries are tourism and fishing, and they want them to be synergistic.

Our time with Tracy ended at the Totem Heritage Center, which houses totem poles which had deteriorated beyond usefulness. In many cases, the poles were in towns that no longer had an active Native population, and some of the poles had been “acquired” by non-Native groups before being rescued by the Center.

Next, we visited Creek Street (where salmon and fishermen come to spawn); Dolly’s House was closed, but the windows had a few exhibits relating to the past.

Married Man’s Trail is at the top end of Creek Street; the name comes from its use in letting married men visit the establishments on Creek Street inconspicuously. I think I failed in being inconspicuous.

We walked up the trail as far as the fish ladder; it’s too early in the season to find any fish there.

We returned to Creek Street and patronized some of the respectable tourist traps there before calling it a day and going back to the ship.

Next stop, Vancouver!

Sometimes you get the bear….

And today was one of those times. We took a bus tour from Icy Strait Point through the town of Hoonah to the Spassky River to go looking for wildlife, and we found bears.

They take safety seriously; the first person we met when we got off the bus was the lead bear safety officer, George Dalton, Jr., a full-blooded Tlingit; he’s speaking with the two veterans in our tour group and thanking them for their service.

After George talked to us, our guide, Margaret, took us on a short walk to the first of three viewing platforms they’d set up near the river, and we saw two coastal brown bears (Kodiak bears) – one was easy to see and stayed around for many minutes; the other was fairly well hidden and hard to photograph for the couple of minutes it was visible at all.

Our bear safety guide, Emma, never let us out of her sight.

Emma said that she’d never even come close to having to use her rifle to protect a tour group. I was sure that she wouldn’t need to do it when we saw our third bear we saw wasn’t going to hurt us – our guide said it was “Travis, the guaranteed bear”.

After we took the bear tour, the bus dropped us right outside the Icy Strait Point Company Store. We survived that experience, too.

On our way back to the ship, we got a quick glimpse of the resident humpback, Frederick.

Connectivity is very tenuous tonight, so I’ll post this while it’s still possible to do so. Onward to Ketchikan!

Overcoming Connectivity Challenges in Skagway

We’re in Skagway, Alaska, today and took a tour into the Yukon. We booked our tour with Thomas Pickerel from Skagway Yukon Custom Van Tours, so there were only four of us instead of a busload of our close personal friends. Tom was a great guide – he’s lived in the area for 40 years or so, so he was a fount of information and knew quite a few of the people we met along the way.

We didn’t see Sergeant Preston; in fact, we didn’t see any Mounties at all. We did see interesting and beautiful sights, though.

Devil’s Club can be very painful to encounter; it’s also the basis of various healing salves.
On the way out of Skagway
The border is here at the summit. US Customs is 8 miles south and Canadian Customs is 8 miles north.
The weather got better the farther we went into Canada.
Our first stop in Canada was the Yukon Suspension Bridge; it’s actually in British Columbia.
This is Jacqueline, the owner of Yukon Rustic Jewelry, and the only resident in this part of British Columbia. She set up her shop at the BC/Yukon border.
We stopped in Carcross,YT, for lunch, shopping, ice cream, and good internet connectivity.
Our final stop in Canada was at Emerald Lake, just north of Carcross. Light reflecting from the limestone deposits on the lake bottom are the source of the green color.
Our final stop before returning to Skagway was this waterfall on the US side of the summit.

We returned to Skagway and asked Thomas to drop us in town so we could explore more before retiring to the ship.

Our guide claimed this is the most-photographed building in Skagway. I’m willing to believe him.
We walked back to the ship after doing a bit of shopping in town; I also looked for good Internet connectivity with no success.

We’re back on the ship now; their Internet connectivity is non-existent but our friend is getting LTE from the land and I’m leeching from his connection. I’m hoping the ship’s connection will improve when we sail away, but I don’t want to bet on it.

Tomorrow, we go to Icy Strait Point; connectivity is not supposed to be good there either, but hope springs eternal!

We bat .500 in Juneau

We planned to take two excursions today, whale watching and a helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier.

The whale watching was more successful. We walked off the ship and onto a bus, with just enough time to take a photo of one of the interesting fishy sculptures on the pier.

The whale watching boat left from the harbor at Auke Bay, about half an hour from the pier. As we passed the Alaska State Capitol, the driver mentioned that it had been voted “50th Most Beautiful State Capitol” and I think the voters were quite generous.

The operator of the tour guarantees you’ll see a whale or they’ll refund you $100 in cash – it didn’t take long before we saw our first whale.

Over the course of the three-hour cruise, we saw about a dozen whales – some alone, some in groups of as many as four. Most of them were humpbacks, but one had a white fluke, so it might have been a different species.

Whales weren’t the only wildlife we saw on the cruise; we also saw a bald eagle and even some ducks.

We saw a few more whales on our way back to the dock.

And then it was back to the ship to discover that they’d cancelled all of the helicopter tours due to weather, so we spent the afternoon wandering around Juneau. There were a lot of jewelry shops there – we visited many and spent money in none. :-)

Cruising the Hubbard Glacier

We sailed nearly 300 nautical miles overnight so that we could see the Hubbard Glacier up close and personal this afternoon.

The weather was less than cooperative – we dressed for it, though, and braved the outside to see what we could see.

There were many ice floes in the water – nothing big enough to threaten the ship, though!

When we got near the glacier, it was quite foggy, but the captain eventually brought the ship close enough so we could tell there really was a glacier out there.

He brought the ship even closer – our suite was on the side facing the glacier for a while, so we went out on our veranda and listened to the sounds of the glacier calving. We weren’t able to see any of the newly-hatched icebergs, but I’m sure they were out there.

There was an optional excursion on a small boat which brought people closer to the glacier – it was sold out by the time we tried to get seats. I know some people cancelled their seats when they found out what the weather was going to be like, but the excursion ran anyway; I wonder if they had better viewing than we did.

The glacier was amazing even though we couldn’t see it in its best light; it’s one of the few glaciers that’s still advancing (getting bigger), despite global warming.

We’re en route to Juneau; we’re supposed to go out on a whale watching tour and take a helicopter to the Mendenhall Glacier, weather permitting. Here’s hoping!

Anchorage to Seward and onward!

The morning was a little on the chaotic side – we had to have our bags out early so they could be taken to the ship, and some people had to go to get their Covid tests. Sadly, not everyone on our pre-tour was negative – four couples had at least one person test positive, so they had to stay behind (the good news is that Celebrity offers refunds or credit for last-minute positive tests so they can take the cruise later).

We had breakfast at the hotel – it was a buffet, which was not at all surprising. What was surprising was what our waiter, Milenko, did when he brought us the bill – he also brought a deck of cards and did a few magic tricks, making cards appear and disappear right under my nose.

We visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center after breakfast; it was fascinating. Raven greeted us.

When we arrived, they were demonstrating a game that involved jumping up and kicking a ball on a tether – it was based on an old Native signaling method!

The Hall of Cultures has artifacts from each of the major Native groupings in Alaska; I thought the listing of values was informative.

Our package included a bus transfer to Seward, but due to a shortage of drivers, Celebrity put us on the Cruise Train. I was very happy with the change!

The Cruise Train isn’t up to the standards of the Wilderness Explorer, but it beats the hell out of a bus. Or Amtrak. And the scenery was amazing – unfortunately, most of my photos are still in the camera, but here are a couple that i took on the phone.

If connectivity permits, I’ll add more photos later – but I doubt that will actually happen. I’m writing this post at dinner so I can take advantage of the last wisps of land-based Internet before we sail.

I’ll post what I can when I can, but there may be occasional service interruptions. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Talkeetna to Anchorage on the Wilderness Express

This morning, we took a Wilderness Jet Boat ride on the Susitna River, including a nature walk through a reconstructed trapper’s cabin and Native settlement.

When we got off the boat for the walk, our guide, Alana, was carrying a rifle in case of bear or moose.

After the jet boat ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through downtown Talkeetna, all four blocks of it. It’s a cute little town with interesting shops and restaurants. We had lunch at the Salmon Stop, which shares seating with the Historic Fairview Inn.

We tried to see Denali but failed again; I wonder if these people could help us?

On the train ride, the rail host pointed out Pioneer Peak in the Chugash Range (about an hour north of Anchorage). He said it’s often called “Little Denali”, so I’ll take that as a victory.

The sun doesn’t set on the Wilderness Express, but it can still look pretty nice!

We arrived in Anchorage and passed our pre-boarding Covid tests. Onward to Seward!

Denali to Talkeetna on the Wilderness Express

We got up at a much more civilized hour this morning and discovered that the weather had changed overnight. It was significantly cooler, much less smoky, and raining.

We packed our bags, wandered around the hotel for a while, and eventually boarded the bus for the short trip to the Denali Park Railroad Depot. We had time enough for a short visit to the Visitor Center, where we finally saw a moose.

We made a quick trip to the Park Shop and returned to the depot with plenty of time to make the train – especially since it was running a little late. I suspect we would have had enough time to walk the Spruce Forest Trail at the Visitor Center, but neither of us wanted to take the chance – next time for sure!

This segment of the trip was more photogenic than the stretch from Fairbanks to Denali; some of that might have been due to the misty, rainy weather.

About 15 minutes after leaving the depot, we passed by Denali Park Village where we’d spent the last two nights. We could even see the Thai food truck across the street that had saved the day for lunch yesterday!

We paralleled the Nenana River for most of the trip.

You can see the difference in water color where Carlo Creek (snow melt) joins the Nenana (glacier-fed).

Panorama Mountain isn’t as large as Denali, but it’s still a big mountain; we could only see a little of it.

The Northbound and Southbound trains met near Broad Pass and swapped conductors and supplies.

When the trains started moving again, Deana (our guide and rail host) told us to give the passengers on the other train the moose salute, and we did. They didn’t return the gesture.

The rain didn’t bother the ducks in the river.

The telegraph lines which once connected the far-flung outposts of Alaska were abandoned decades ago – they are now officially protected historical artifacts.

The bridge over Hurricane Gulch gave us some dramatic views.

Once we passed Hurricane Gulch, we entered the “flag stop” area; there are no roads here (the Parks Highway is about ten miles away), so the railroad is the lifeline to the outside world. Residents flag down trains and they stop – it’s almost like using Lyft!

The houses here are off the grid and the residents have to be able to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at them.

The line is mostly single-tracked, but there are sidings to allow two trains to pass one another; the conductor of one of the trains has to get off the train and manually throw the switch to change tracks. Our conductor had to do that when we passed a train pulling cars for another cruise line.

There was more beautiful scenery along the Indian River; on a different day, we might have seen Denali as we crossed the river.

Gold Creek was named by prospectors early in the 20th Century. I don’t know if they found gold, but now they offer R&R.

The trackside vegetation had changed; instead of spruce trees and grass, we were seeing meadows of Queen Anne’s lace and fireweed, with occasional ferns.

The conductor stopped by our car for an expresso and chatted with us a bit.

We disembarked at Talkeetna about 4 hours after we boarded; buses were waiting to take us to our home for the evening, the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge. The view out our window is in the direction of Denali, but the weather forecast says that we aren’t likely to see it. There are signs saying that moose have been spotted on the property, but I’m not optimistic about seeing them, either.

A day in Denali Park

The sky was bright this morning at breakfast time, even though it was only 5am. We had to get up very early to take the Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour – we were on Tour Bus 8 and had to be on the bus by 6:45am (I’m curious when Tour Bus 1 left and happy we weren’t on it).

We were on the Park Road by 7:20. Our driver/guide, Cassie, told us about the landscape we were passing through, beginning with the taiga forest.

She told us to keep our eyes open for interesting animals and to yell “Stop!” If we found one.

We reached the Sanctuary River bridge without any interesting animals being spotted.

At Mile 30 of the Park Road, we turned off for the one and only rest stop on the route, the Teklanika Rest Stop overlooking the Teklanika River. We’d been in the park for 90 minutes and were still interesting-animal-free.

A few minutes after leaving the rest stop, we had our first sighting of the day, a Dall Sheep far off in the distance, a few hundred feet below a small ice patch. Cassie said we could consider the trip a success!

Ten minutes later, our bus came upon a couple of hikers on one side of the road and a grizzly bear on the other! Cassie pulled the bus between the bear and the hikers and told them to get on the bus. They did.

The bear lost interest and took off on the best trail in the Park – the Park Road.

The hikers departed, too – we saw them a couple of hours later on our way out of the park, so I guess they survived.

The grizzly bear wasn’t ready to leave the area entirely – we saw him again just a couple of minutes later and stuck around until he was no longer visible.

Our next encounter was with another Dall sheep, this one much closer to the road.

After a while, she got tired of showing off and bounded away into the vastness of Denali Park.

There was a batchelor band of Dall sheep at the top of a ridge on the other side of the bus; I didn’t get to see them with my own eyes but Cassie used her video camera to show them to the whole bus, so I guess they count!

Our next sighting was a Willow Ptarmigan. It was on the far side of the bus and I didn’t really see it – but I did get its photo. When I was sorting through my photos from the trip today, I thought there was something unusual near the lower left of this picture, and I was right.

The Park Road is 90 miles long, but it’s closed at Mile 43 due to a huge landslide, so we turned around there. Cassie gave us another chance to get out of the bus (it had been an hour) – she had a hard time getting us back!

About 20 minutes into the return trip, the cry of “Stop!” rang out – someone had seen a caribou to the right of the bus.

When they were building the Park Road, they set up cook shacks every ten or so miles to keep the workers fed. Today, those shacks house Park Rangers during the winter months.

Tourists can drive their own cars into the park, but only to Mile 15 on the Park Road. There’s a checkpoint there – and an interesting rock formation.

During the winter, the Rangers use dog power instead of snow machines; the sled dogs live at the park year-round. Volunteers take them out for a run every day.

And that was the tour. Cassie told us that we’d seen more interesting animals than was typical; unfortunately, we were quite typical in not seeing Denali itself – only 30% of the people who come to the park see the mountain.

We returned to the Denali Park Resort (our hotel) for lunch. That was a mistake – the restaurants aren’t open for lunch! There are two dining options: the coffee bar and the bar bar. The coffee bar offered only pre-packaged sandwiches; the bar bar had four dishes on the menu, only two of which were available. None of the choices appealed, and there was no transportation available to the park for a couple of hours.

Fortunately, we’d been told about the Thai food truck at the Denali Grizzly Bear campground across the Parks Highway – we walked over and were pleasantly surprised.

This afternoon, we took a very short hike on the Oxbow Trail in Denali Park; the trailhead is just across the river from the resort.

We had to get back to meet our friends for dinner – fortunately, it was only a ten-minute walk!

We leave Denali for Talkeetna tomorrow morning; bags don’t have to be out in the hall until 8:30am, a positively civilized hour!

On the Wilderness Express to Denali

Today began bright (what else would you expect? We’re in Alaska in the summer) and early so that we could get our bags into the hall by 6am and depart for Denali on the Wilderness Express. They got us to the depot before 8 and we boarded our tour group’s private car for the day, complete with a bar.

We left around 8:20, and a few minutes later we were leaving Fairbanks, just as the temperature was finally getting more reasonable – it was the coldest temperature we’d seen on the trip so far.

The car was two stories high with lots of glass on both floors. The restaurant was downstairs, and there was Alaskan art decorating the staircase.

The first two-thirds of the trip was mostly through spruce forests and one small town, Nenana (on the Tawana River). There were lots of curves where we could see the front half of the train (the Wilderness Express cars are at the rear).

The scenery started changing about 11:30am as we started paralleling the Nenana River (like the Tawana, it’s glacier-fed and milky) as we neared Denali.

I knew we were nearing the park itself when we started seeing rafters in the river – they have to wear dry suits because the water is very, very cold.

We reached Denali Depot a bit after noon and were faced with a choice. We could stay in the Park and take a shuttle to our hotel in a few hours or go with our bus to “Glitter Gulch” (Nenama Canyon) for lunch and some light shopping before the bus took us to the hotel (the Denali Park Village). Our Tour Director strongly suggested the latter course, and we agreed. “Glitter Gulch” wasn’t all that glamorous, but we had lunch and then walked down the bike/pedestrian path to the bridge over Kingfisher Creek.

Hikers had built cairns in the retaining wall near the North end of the bridge for, as far as I can tell, no particular reason.

We walked to the second viewpoint on the bridge and then turned back to the Gulch because it looked like we were going to be hit by thunderstorms.

The storms never arrived, so we looked around some more, talked with the bus driver, went shopping for chocolate, and enjoyed a comfortable ride to the hotel. Two of our friends, serious dog people, had stayed in the park to see the sled dogs – they thought it was great, even though they had a hard time getting to the hotel due to shuttle issues.

The hotel is pleasant (even without air conditioning) and is on the Nenana River. Unfortunately, our room faces an interior road, but there’s a nature walk along the river that we enjoyed before dinner.

Dinner was a musical show called “Cabin Nite” – the cast (who doubled as the wait staff) were early settlers in this part of Alaska and they told us why they were here. Robert W. Service poems were prominent, beginning with the pre-show outside.

Several of the cast members came around to the table so we could take close-up photos – thanks, Wendy, for taking this photo of the chorus girl!

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be taking the Tundra Wilderness Tour, a 5-1/2 hour bus ride through Denali. We leave the hotel at 6:45am. Good night!

The CruiseTour begins

Our CruiseTour got off to a great start today. Our first stop was the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The bowhead whale skeleton gets your attention right away!

Diane and I went to the second floor to see the all-Alaskan art collection on the second floor. There were pieces by Alaskan artists (both Native and Western), as well as pieces by non-Alaskans of Alaskan subjects. Some of my favorites:

All American Picassoan Inupiaq Shaman Hero (1991) by Joseph T. Senungetuk

Bering Strait Faces the Last Roundup in the Last Frontier (1982) by Dan DeRoux

The Great Alaska Outhouse Experience was an interesting piece that you could actually touch and go into; it’s decorated with all sorts of interesting artifacts.

The first floor is devoted to the natural, cultural, and political history of Alaska. Bears are prominent:

There was a large area that talked about the expulsion and relocation of the Japanese and Aleut population during World War II. I knew about the Japanese relocation, but this was the first time I learned that the Aleuts were also relocated – not so much about trumped-up concerns about their loyalty as much as about “protecting” them from a Japanese invasion (the only part of North America that was occupied (briefly) by the Japanese were Alaskan islands).

There was a lot of space given over to the megafauna of Alaska, past and present.

The Gold Rush brought many Western settlers to Alaska, along with their firearms.

Native culture got a lot of attention, of course.

I had just a minute to get a photo of a tiny Northern Bluebell using their scanning microscope.

We left the Museum to go to downtown Fairbanks for lunch; our guide talked about the problems of living with extreme cold (for example, tires lose their roundness in temperatures below -50F!). Downtown Fairbanks is served by central steam heat and there are vent pipes all over the area, painted by local artists, such as this painting of Marilyn Monroe.

After lunch, we drove to the Riverboat Discovery Landing for a journey up the Chena River on the Discovery III. It was a wonderful afternoon, far more interesting than I’d expected.

We visited the “40 below” room before boarding the ship for a photo op – it was cold, even if it wasn’t quite as cold as advertised.

There was a Piper Super Cub on the river near our departure, and by a strange coincidence, not obny did the pilot have to wait for clearance to take off until we were nearby, but he was equipped to talk to the ship over our PA system. He taxiied down river so we could get a good view, then went back upriver and took off right next to us.

We weren’t alone on the river.

Our next stop was just offshore of the Trail Breaker Kennel, where they showed us how they train sled dogs, even in the summer.

We saw a herd of caribou.

We sailed to the end of the Chena river where it meets the Tanana. The Tanana is glacial and somewhat milky and you can see the boundary – the captain said it made for interesting sailing sometimes.

Our final stop was at “Chena Village”, which was a reconstructed Athabascan village. We saw demonstrations of various aspects of Athabascan life (mostly before Westerners came to stay), including fishing, textiles, crafting, and more. There was even a stuffed moose.

And then it was back to the hotel for dinner and packing – we leave for Denali early tomorrow morning.

Exploring Fairbanks on Foot

Our official Cruisetour doesn’t start until tomorrow, so we had nothing planned for us today. Instead of wandering aimlessly around Fairbanks, we decided to do the Historic/Scenic Volksmarch and wander around aimfully.

We got off to a slow start, having a leisurely breakfast and talking with other people on the tour, including our friends once they got to the restaurant. But eventually, we were ready to roll!

We registered and set out on the 10k walk; we had to cross the Chena River almost immediately.

We probably shouldn’t have followed the directions exactly – the bridge we walked across was under construction and the sidewalk was closed, but we persisted. A worker saw us just before we got to the end of the bridge and told us we were in the wrong place, but let us finish crossing.

The next stop on the walk was the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, the first Catholic church in Alaska. We were invited to go in and take a look – it wasn’t quite as ornate as the churches we’d just seen in Portugal and Spain, but it was still impressive.

We left the church and walked past Doyon, Limited headquarters; Doyon is the regional Alaska Native corporation for Interior Alaska. Even their parking lot is sensitive to the special features of Alaska, like moose.

The walk took us back across the Chena to Golden Heart Plaza, which has a clock tower, plaques commemorating Alaska history and families, and the statue of the “Unknown First Family”.

And there were flowers.

We left downtown on the 1st Street Bike Path and walked a couple of miles to Pioneer Park. Along the way, we passed more churches, like the St. Mathews Episcopal Church, which was originally built in 1905, burned down in 1947, and was rebuilt in the same pattern.

We also passed a power and steam heat plant, a water treatment plant, a hockey rink, none of which were particularly photogenic.

Pioneer Park was built for the Alaska Centennial Exposition in 1967 and is loaded with museums, shops, restaurants, and flowers. We had lunch at Souvlaki (recommended), visited the first checkpoint for the walk, and enjoyed the scenery.

We even found a memorial totem pole.

The return trip to town took us through a mostly-residential area with lots of historic houses. We walked past a wild park (sorry, it’s a “Natural Area”) and enjoyed the sculpture at Denali Elementary School.

Once we were downtown, the walk took us past Fairbanks’ first skyscraper, the Northward Building, built in 1952 to alleviate the housing shortage. It was the first apartment building in town.

The second checkpoint of the walk was in the Clay Street Cemetery; we were getting tired (and the smoke was getting to us), so we didn’t stop for photos – instead, we went onward to the modern Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, which featured air conditioning, bathrooms, water, and wi-fi!

After we left the Visitor Center, the walk took us to a different part of Golden Heart Plaza, where we found a monument to a very different era.

I saw a gleaming sculpture in the distance and we went over to it – it’s called Polaris and commemorates ice, quartz, and the Aurora Borealis.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the sky really looked like – the smoke was thickening and the AQI was well into the unhealthy range, so the sky was an ugly gray.

We finished the walk at Milepost 1523, the official end of the Alaska Highway.

There’s lots more of Fairbanks to see, but this was a good way to get the flavor of the place. Several people stopped us along the way to chat and suggest places we’d enjoy visiting – it was almost eerie!

It’s later than it looks

I’m writing this post in-flight for two reasons:

  • I have free Internet on the plane because my phone is on T-Mobile
  • The hotel is still a couple of hours away

So far, I’ve been very happy with Alaska Airlines – we got to Seattle 20 minutes early and left on time, the food has been pretty good (though I don’t recommend the white wine), and there’s free Internet. The real test is yet to come – will the checked luggage arrive?

The view from the plane isn’t shabby, either!

Shabbat Shalom!

Packing is such sweet sorrow

We packed today for our trip to Alaska. I hate packing, especially when the weather is unpredictable and it’ll be a week before we can do laundry.

Having to bring eMed test kits along didn’t help – they’re packaged in rather large boxes, and I want them in our carry-on luggage. At least we won’t have to bring most of them home!