One of the houses on stilts pictured above hosts a small cafe where I had breakfast. I was still giggling about something that had happened the night before: thinking that I had spotted Olivier in his UHaul van, I drove onto the beach, stopped la bestia a few yards away, quietly walked over and then pounded against the van’s hull yelling, “Police! Open!” Unfortunately it wasn’t Olivier’s van. Thankfully, the two British blokes inside were half-amazed and half-amused by my mistake…
Right before reaching Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, we spotted an iceberg that had just been released by one of the many glaciers. The longest highway tunnel in the United States, it is actually pretty short compared to what one encounters in the European Alps. And yet, its setup is decidedly curious: it only has one lane, which is also shared by trains. The toll charge was fairly out-of-the-ordinary, too: $13. Ouch.
The first item on my pre-departure agenda was to find the post office where I was hoping to pick up my laptop charger that Olivier had mailed from Fairbanks. It turned out that Whittier’s post office is located inside the Begich Towers, a 14-story building that also houses about eighty percent of the town’s residents. The building manager, a woman from the Philippines, explained that during winter residents rarely left the condominium.
Whittier had been established as a “secret port” during World War II and later formed part of the U.S.’ first line of defense during the Cold War. The police officer I talked to told me that as a result of Whittier’s ubiquitous cloud cover, the tall building was not as vulnerable to airborne attacks as one would think.
The other major edifice constructed by the U.S. Army during the early years of the Cold War is the Buckner Building, which now lies abandoned. At the time, it was Alaska’s largest building. I couldn’t help but notice a striking stylistic similarity to post-war Soviet brutalism.
Even though I arrived a few minutes after the post office had been closed for the day, the friendly clerk searched for my parcel and handed it to me. Thanks to Olivier’s first-class logistical support, my laptop is fully operational again!
My first attempt to get dinner at one of the few local restaurants was thwarted by the staff’s reluctance to let me check my e-mails while eating (“for overnight guests only!”) but also made me run into the Filipina building manager again who–two hours after we had first met–was now staffing the reception next to the restaurant. “I am working three jobs,” she explained. “It allows me to save money and prevents boredom!” I eventually got to celebrate ‘Operation Charger Recovery’ with a sockeye salmon burger and a locally brewed pale ale.
The first night was rocky. I managed not to get seasick by lying down and napping as much as possible. The sky cleared up during the following day, August 18, although the waves still let the ship roll quite a bit.
I was impressed by the Kennicott’s cleanliness. Not even twenty years old, its youth showed — especially in comparison to the decrepit ferries that I remember from childhood travels to Italian and Yugoslav islands.
Harry was thrilled to finally be able to do his business ‘onshore.’ I had let him out on the car deck while the ship was still sailing, but he couldn’t get himself to take advantage of it. I am proud (and glad…) that he managed to hold it for so long.
The sea was even rougher during the first six hours of the second night, but thankfully my intestines had gotten used to the constant movement and I slept tight. Taking a hot shower in the morning of August 19 was bliss nonetheless. By then the Kennicott had reached more protected and therefore calmer waters, and I spent the remaining two hours of our ferry ride on the sun deck writing this post.
The Kennicott’s course didn’t follow a straight line as the one pictured above, not least because of our stopover in Yakutat, but the map hopefully provides a good idea of the distance and direction traveled. Tomorrow (August 20) we’re off to a–much shorter and calmer–ferry ride to Skagway via Haines, and from there on toward the Cassiar Highway.