Thursday, June 12, 2014

In which I have maybe the best day of my whole life

Watch out - this is a long one, since I have stuff to catch up on before I get to today. But I think it's worth it! ;) If it's too long for you, skip to the second half, because today was the most amazing day.

Last Wednesday was Stephanie's birthday! We surprised her in the morning with a cinnamon crumb cake for breakfast and a bowl of some of her favorite things. We did a few shows, and Jon brought it a whole dozen cupcakes from Sugar Mama's! After the shows, we went out to dinner in honor of the birthday girl, who wanted wings at BrewCo. Tess' parents were also in town and came along – and treated us to the dinner, which was very generous of them! After that, we headed over to the Mile Zero B and B, where Tess' parents were staying. It's a beautiful space. Maggie, the assistant there, who just graduated high school in southern Missouri and is heading to Boston in the fall as an aspiring model, let us use the living room to watch a movie. Steph had picked The Room, which is known as the “best worst movie” ever. I had semi-watched it with my Cohoes family one night, but no one else had seen it at all. We didn't quite make it through, but we all affirmed its worst-ness!

Then, last weekend, Jon Hays finally came into town! He's a co-owner of the company, and, more important to me (lol), the other pianist! He slotted into the show smoothly, and now I officially have regular days off until September! They actually gave me three whole days off this week, I imagine to give me an extra break, since I worked 20 out of the prior 21 days. All the work hadn't been too bad, but I'm definitely excited to have more time both to rest and to do amazing Alaska things!

So on Monday, I shared my day off with Tess. She called up Alaska Excursions, a company that runs a bunch of the tours, that morning, and was able to get us comps for a horseback tour at 1:00. We headed out, met our adorable/fun/awesome guide whose name isn't coming to me at the moment but I'm sure it will later because we're going to be friends plus she reminds me of my friend Elizabeth (hi, Elizabeth!), and loaded onto the van with the rest of the tour group. We were driven to Dyea, a drive I've experienced several times now but am not at all tired of, and up to the horse paddock (is that what you call it?). Tess and I had fun trying to guess which horses we would be put on. 

I was given Wayland, a beautiful black horse, and was behind Tess at the end of the tour line. We set out, guided at the front by our van driver's twin sister Sarah and at the back by Joshua, who is from North Carolina and has never been to any big cities but has spent several years in Alaska after first coming up here to try to get an ex-girlfriend back! Anyway, the woods were beautiful, as usual, and it was super fun to be on the horses. And when we emerged at the Taiya River Inlet, I was (yet again) awestruck by the view, and the feeling of being out in Alaska on a horse.

We turned and headed back before too long. The ride back was peaceful, and as with the hike and float tour there was hot chocolate waiting for us at the end, along with incredible salmon dip. I've got to get the recipe!

Once we got back to town, I showered and fell promptly into bed for an hour-long nap, while the other gals went to yoga. Then we headed to Olivia's Bistro, which is the cute restaurant across the street – we'd been thinking about trying it for weeks. The first half of the menu is Mexican food and the second half is other seafood. I was torn, but we all ended up ordering some kinda Mexican food or other. We're pretty deprived in that regard out here! It's no solid California Mexican, but it was both tasty and plentiful. Steph and I got the white chocolate rum bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and fresh mint for dessert. It was everything it's cracked up to be. We also found out that our server was Olivia (as in Olivia's Bistro). She's the daughter of the owners, and she's about our age. She spent three years in New York, working for a law firm and then for Citigroup, but decided it wasn't for her, and she's back for the summer working in the restaurant until she figures out what to do next! We got her number so we can let her know when we go out next and she can come along!

And today – holy crap, today. Oh my god, today. Today, thanks to Renee, I showed up at the Temsco base by the airport and asked the check-in desk if they had any extra space on a helicopter glacier tour. Sure enough, they had an extra slot on the very first tour of the day. I did have to pay, but I only had to pay the local rate, which is still expensive but half of what the tourists pay. It was an easy decision to hand over the money!

We got orange safety vests and over-the-street-shoes glacier boots, were divided into groups, and loaded into the helicopters. I got to sit front and center, right next to the pilot! The pilot's name is Ian, and he already knows Tess a little bit, since she's been hanging out with one of the other pilots, and has met a lot of the Temsco crowd in the process. We took off and flew out over the inlet.

From here on out, I don't even know what to say. I was grinning the whole time. Eventually we turned left over the mountains, and flew over little bits of glacier before soaring out over a big section of the end of the Meade Glacier. 

 bit of glacier

this might be my favorite picture I've ever taken in my whole life

The Meade has lots of little glaciers flowing into it, which creates striations of crushed rock in the ice. I forget what they're called. The surface of a glacier is rough and cracked, because the deepest ice flows almost like honey, whereas the upper ice is still delicate and cracks when it is moved. 

I didn't even know before this that glaciers are made of super-compressed snow! It takes about a hundred feet of snow to become one foot of glacier, but Alaska can get 200-300 feet in a really good winter! Of course, the glaciers are receding at the rate of about 200 horizontal feet per year, and a bunch of vertical feet, too (maybe it was 50?). At this rate, the section we were standing on will be gone in 20 years. Boo, global warming!

We landed by the tent that serves as home base for the glacier crew during the day. Our guides – Rachel, Ben, and Ashley – welcomed us and started showing us around. It was cold up there! But with my jacket on, my hood up, and my hands in my pockets, I was pretty ok. Anyway, I was too busy being amazed to mind much. We trekked over the rough surface of the glacier, crossing streams of glacier melt.

Best of all, we peered down into moulins, which are crevasses caused by said streams and can be as deep as two or three hundred feet. Those were the places where it's the most beautiful, since the top of the glacier is dirty but the deep, smooth sides of the moulin are an incredible, perfect blue. 

At one point, Rachel kicked a mass of crushed ice down a stream into a moulin, and we could hear it roaring all the way down. It was crazy that it was so loud for so long! She says she only gets to do that on the first tour each day, because later in the day it builds up and isn't so kickable.

Just before we had to go back to the home base to wait for the helicopters, we stopped one more time at a stream where we could kneel down and drink. My hand got very cold ferrying the water to my mouth, but it was worth it for what was about the best thing I've ever tasted. Rachel was also kind enough to get a couple pics of me on the glacier!

 real pic of me on glacier

hilarious selfie on glacier

I was so not ready to leave, but I got back in the helicopter so as not to be abandoned. The flight home was equally beautiful and amazing (I feel like I overuse those words here, but there's just nothing that communicates the majesty, the profundity, and the utter beauty of this place). It was a lot like my very first flight into Skagway, actually! Ian pointed out the cruise ship sitting in the dock in Haines – Skagway can only dock four ships, so on five-ship days one of them has to dock in Haines and ferry people into Skagway.

We landed with a fun, tight left-hand turn into the Temsco base and exited the helicopter.

As I walked away, back in to town, I was so exhilarated I had to scream and shout for a minute! Good thing no one was really around ;)

To top it off, as I passed the Lemon Rose cafe on my walk home, I spotted hot-out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls in the window and just had to pop in and buy one. Somehow that really just pushed my happiness so over the edge that I almost started crying!

The power of the experience has only stayed with me and grown all day - as I cleaned the house, as I wrote a letter, as I went grocery shopping (and actually got every single thing I wanted at the grocery store!! A Skagway first!! They even had buttermilk!!), as I read my book outside, as I made granola, as I took Renee's wonderful silks class, as I sit here watching Psych and drafting this post. The awe and the joy are still with me. I can't think of anything better I could have done.

And that's it for now, folks! All caught up at last :)


  1. Yeaa!!!!! Your pictures are so gorgeous.

    ps- can I send you a romance novel? Jeff and I read one several months ago and the ending RIPPED ME APART in a good way.

  2. Aw wow!!!! It made me a lil teary at the end there, with how overwhelmed with joy you were! :D What a wonderful feeling.

  3. Thanks, Mary!! You can absolutely send me a romance novel!! I'll message you my address :)

    Laura - it so, so is! I wish you could come see it here! Miss you and hope you're having a great time in the West :)