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August 26th, 2005

I got up at 9:30, and Vivian followed when I was done in the bathroom. We got up to the breakfast buffet at about 10:40, and while walking around ran into mom and dad, and then separately, Uncle Dennis. Leave it to all of the Martins to be getting up within the last 20 minutes of breakfast.

Mom and dad were in line at the omelet station this morning, and after Vivian and I going through the buffet line, we joined their table. Uncle Dennis joined our table at the end of our meal, and we had coffee and finished up breakfast.

Our excursion today consisted of:

STIKINE RIVER WILDERNESS & GLACIER ADVENTURE BY JET BOAT
Tour Code: WRG-003
Approximate Duration: 4 hours
Level 2 / Weight Restrictions
For more details about this tour, visit http://www.jetboatalaskatours.com

Immerse yourself in the pristine wilderness of the world’s largest temperate rainforest as you are transported to this special serene place by comfortable, enclosed and heat jet boats. Add the excitement of an exhilarating ride, gold rush history, world-renowned scenery, and the most experienced energetic Captains, and you are on the extraordinary excursion. John Muir called the Stikine River a "Yosemite 100 miles long", and is known historically by the region’s many native cultures as “The Great River”. Traverse the ever-changing river delta, meandering through side sloughs; explore the banks of the river and be ready to help your Captain spot the passing moose, bear or deer. Crane your neck to see the mountain peaks, spy on spawning salmon and listen to thundering waterfalls. Your journey culminates at Shakes Lake with the sparkling blue and crystal clear icebergs – close enough for you to touch! Venture in farther for a view of Shakes Glacier and the ancient ice from which it was created.
Note: Participants must be in good physical health with full range of motion. You may experience quick starts and stops and sharp turns. Guests over 250 lbs. must pay for two seats. Flotation devices are provided. Wear rubber-soled shoes. Depending on time of year, the tour routing may change due to conditions on the river.


The meeting point for our excursion was right off the gangway at the pier. The guy that walked up behind us was waving his ticket in the air, and saying, "Does anyone need a ticket? My girlfriend hurt her back, and can't go. It's already paid for."

Fortuitously for her, there was a lady, right at that time, who had decided to join her sisters at the last minute, and was buying a ticket. He offered her the ticket.

She seemed rather confused about whether he was offering her the ticket for free, or if he wanted her to pay him for it. Everyone else listening wasn't sure either. I mean it sounded like he was giving it to her, but the tickets were $199 after all, and she was just about to purchase one.

As it turned out, he was giving it to her, and she accepted it, and she invited him to hang out with her and her two sisters during the excursion. I heard the "chickie-chickie-boing-boing" music at the beginning of a porn movie starting, while he fantasized about hitting the jackpot with three sisters.



This excursion turned out to be one of the best. There were 18 of us in a high-speed jet boat, which twisted and turned through the small and narrow waterways of the Alaskan wilderness. Here is a picture of it:



Just before we left, the captain said, "If anyone would like to take these two seats up front here on either side of me, please feel free to."

Vivian and I both jumped up to take them, but the man sitting in front of us took the left one, so I stayed put and let Vivian take the other one. There she is in the catbird's seat in the upper right:



Because it's a ski boat, and stays on the surface of the water, it can travel, with 20 people on board, in water as shallow as six inches. They had a sonar on board, and the shallowest water I saw us traveling on was 1.3 feet deep.

At one point during the trip the water went from 150 feet deep to 750 deep in less than a minute. We were traveling at 35 miles per hour. We came within probably 300 feet of a glacier and the water there was at just around 840 feet deep. Amazing.

They had heavy jackets, which also contained a flotation part to them, that we were offered to wear, and in fact, had to wear if we wanted to step out in the uncovered area in the back of the boat.

There were two by each seat, and I grabbed an orange one, which was tucked down the side of my seat, and really struggled to get it on. I could hardly get my left arm behind my back to get that sleeve after having the right one on. I finally manged though, but it was very tight. Warm, but not that comfortable.



During the trip, we got a history lesson of the area, about people being uprooted from their homes when the federal government took over the area as a preserve in the early 1980s, and how some of them took to living in floating cabins to get around having to leave the area. Here's one of them:



Also, the Federal Wildlife Association (whatever) has "field stations," which are but cabins all along the way, and as a sort of "compensation" for kicking people out, that they rent out to folks for about $35 a night. Did I say small? Here's one of them:



We stopped for a "bio break" at one of them, and there were two guys who had rented it. The captain of our boat didn't realize that this particular one was rented out, and the guys seemed a little surprised when 20 people walked up in front of their cabin to use the outhouse on the other side of it.

Vivian said she distinctly smelled marijuana as one of them disappeared into the little cabin as we all approached. He was probably snuffing that stuff out. They were packing up to go out on a little boating excursion. Here they are making a getaway:





The highlight of this excursion was seeing the Shakes Glacier and some beautiful little icebergs near it:







I rode quite a lot in the back, and at one point stepped in the boat to have a seat. There I grabbed another jacket that wasn't being used, and looked at the size label, which said large. I slipped off the one I was wearing, and slipped on the large yellow one. So much better. I looked at the label of the orange one I'd taken off. It said small.

We saw several bald eagles on this trip, and a couple of nests, one of which was being staunchly guarded by an eagle.



We also spotted a black bear on the side of a hill, but I never could see it. It was up high on the hillside, and at times just its butt was showing. I never could find it. I told Vivian to take a picture of the general area, and that we'd PhotoShop a bear into later.

On the way back, we looked and looked for moose, but were unsuccessful in that quest. To that end, we had to be satisfied with this impression of a moose:



We laughed taking this picture, because she did this right in front of everyone on the boat, as she was sitting up front.

She said to the crowd, "This may be your only chance to get a picture of a moose," and everyone laughed. I wonder how many of them are showing this picture of a stranger moose to their families now.

At one point, glancing to the side and back, out of the corner of my eye, I thought the woman behind me was taking a $199 nap, but when I turned my head all the way around to check, I saw that she was awake. Bless my bitter mess.

Vivian asked the captain a ton of questions during the trip. I asked one. "How much gas does this boat typically use in one trip out and back?"

"About 80 gallons," he said.

I was trying to calculate what kind of "catch" this touring company was making per ride out and back. The boat held 20 -- two being the captain and the wildlife expert -- and the remaining 18 paying $199 a piece for this four-hour excursion. That's about $3582 in revenue, about $240 in gas (we saw gas later in town, which was priced at $2.99 a gallon), and then whatever the captain and expert were paid. At any rate, not a bad take for www.alaskavistas.com.



There were two guys together on this excursion about whom I went back and forth on thinking they were a gay couple. They certainly didn't fit the stereotype, and if they were, they were deeply in the closet about it. I found one of them extremely attractive.

Several of these excursions, particularly the ones on these small boats and helicopters and float planes, have a 250-pound weight limit on them. If you weigh more than that, you have to pay almost twice the price as those under 250 pounds. One woman on our boat looked like she surely did weigh more than 250 pounds, and she had a seat to herself.

I took various seats around the boat whenever I sat down, and eventually ended up spending the most time in the left front seat, next to the woman whose husband and jumped up to the seat beside the captain.

At one point Vivian said something about a meeting that would be going on right now back at work, and that she was so glad she was missing it.

The way she described the meeting let on that she was in the teaching profession, and that lady next to me, said, "Oh, is she a teacher?"

After almost falling over from breath that actually smelled like manure, I said, "Yes. She has her doctorate, so she's in administration at a university now. Are you a teacher, too?" I was going to say, "Are you a retired teacher?" because she was surely too old to still be teaching, but I decided to be polite.

"Yes," she said, "Well, I was; I'm retired now."

"Where did you teach?" I asked.

"Pittsburgh."

I said, "She's my sister, and she used to teach chemistry and biology in high school, but then when she got her doctorate, she moved to the university."

"Oh, I taught chemistry and physics! I only got as far as my master's though. I spent some time at home raising two children."

I felt like saying, "You don't have to apologize to me for having only a master's degree," but didn't. I was still reeling from the fact that this little gray-haired lady taught chemistry and physics. Talk about breaking down stereotypes. I'd had her pegged as the housewife of the Type A man up in the seat by the pilot, who was probably still working. But then again, I'm probably wrong about him, too.



Back in town with about an hour to spare before having to re-board the ship, Vivian and I walked up to the town post office. I mailed the post cards I'd already completed, and bought nine more stamps for the ten remaining cards I want to mail. I messed up one of the earlier 20 I'd written, so I had one stamp left.

Wrangell is a small, quaint town. A working-class town, unlike the much bigger cities in our previous ports.

From there we stopped in a little gift shop, where I bought ten more post cards. We got in line for a cup of clam chowder at a restaurant highly recommended by the captain of our boat. I say restaurant, but it was a trailer, really. After standing in the line for about 5 minutes, Vivian noticed a little blue sticky-note by the window where you ordered that said, "Out of Chowder." Damnit.



We walked up the very small street of the town, and while Vivian went into one to shop, I called Robert, then Joe, then Steve. It was so good to hear Robert's voice, and it warmed my heart when he said, "I'm so glad you got through. I miss you, and I've missed hearing your voice." Warmed my heart. Awwwwwwww.

I got Joe's voice mail, and left him a message. I spoke with Steve for just a few minutes, but it was quite nice. Nice to be connected.



Viv and I re-boarded at about 5:15, and went straight to our cabin to get ready for tonight's dinner, for which we had 6:00 reservations. Tonight we ate in the restaurant where they serve you, and in which you can't wear shorts of jeans. We had a reservation for nine at six o'clock at the Seven Seas restaurant, and joined Bob, Lou, Uncle Dennis, Aunt Terry, and Cynda.

This turned out to be such a great dinner. We had a great server, Zoe from Romania, and she was just a stitch. I believe all of us except Lou and Cynda ordered the filet mignon. Lou had the Shrimp Jumbalya, and Cynda had one of the kid's meals, chicken tenders and fries. Most of us had the Bananas Foster for dessert.

I bought two bottles of champagne for the table and Vivian made a great toast. She pointed to the various members of the group and said, "To sisters (pointing to Terry and Lou), to brothers (pointing to dad and Uncle Dennis), to brothers and sisters (indicating the two of us), to mothers and fathers (pointing to mom and dad, Uncle Dennis and Aunt Terry), and to cousins (indicating us and Cynda), and to family," she said to all of us. Just a little something she thought up on our excursion today.



We had lots of laughs with Zoe, especially when she told us about an 80-year-old passenger she had that when she told her, "Hi my name is Zoe, and I'll be your server tonight" she replied excitedly, "Oh, I have a dog named Zoe." Then as she served her, the lady kept saying, "Good girl; good girl."

Here's Vivian and Zoe wrestling over the second bottle of champagne. "Down Zoe, down girl!"





Upon exiting the restaurant we took some family photos -- Dennis, Terry, and Cynda; Bob and Lucille; and then the four of us. After that, we took a group picture of the nine of us.

Vivian took mom and dad to tonight's 9:30 show: Norwegian Cruise Line is proud to present "QUE NOCHE", [sic] a celebration of Latin Music featuring The Jean-Ryan Company. Remain after the show for a grand farewell from the officers, staff and crew of the Norwegian Sun.

While they were at the show, I finished up my postcards, and then renamed and organized the vacation pictures to-date in an album directory on my laptop.

When Vivian returned, we went for a mile-plus walk around Deck 6.

Back in the cabin, we set our clocks ahead one hour, and then I fell asleep watching Bend It Like Beckham, which was on the ship's movie television channel. Vivian was awake longer, and said in the morning that it just cut off before the ending.

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