So we’re headed home. Today’s weather and temperature in Juneau would be a typical winter day at home, with the exception that it’s been raining (hard) for three days, almost non-stop. Before we take our shuttle, courtesy of the Driftwood Hotel, we stretch our legs and walk in the now intermittent rainfall. As we look back toward our hotel and the low hanging clouds part, we spy at least two long trailing waterfalls on the steep hillsides, that weren’t there two weeks ago. The culvert that was practically dry (Gold Creek) with salmon writhing in what little water there was, working their way “upstream”, are now hiding in eddies and behind rocks just to keep from being washed back into the sea. (Gold Creek turns out to be quite important to the city of Juneau. In 1880 Chief Kowee told prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris there was gold in them thar waters…hence “Gold Creek”. Miraculously the city of Juneau was founded that same year.) We head into downtown Juneau and have a coffee at the Heritage Coffee Roasting Co., where we are pleasantly surprised they give free refills…take that Starbucks! The morning is quiet. The streets are empty, and the sidewalks are peaceful, but not for long. Several cruise ships “lie in wait” as they begin to nestle up to the docks. A yawn and a moan can be felt amoungst the shops that line downtown, as the locals and seasonal workers begin to filter in, to provide goods and services for the eager “boat people” who will descend en mass upon this now quiet little town, which oddly enough is the capital of Alaska. Soon we will be back to the hustle and bustle of compacted civilization. We are lucky we live in a relatively “small”, laid back town, so going home won’t feel so awkward and suffocating.
On the way home we have a 2 hour layover in Sitka and plan to take a brief foray into town. Before doing so, we, and the flight attendants, had a major miscommunication issue that we didn’t realize at the time. Seeing that we had a two hour layover, and the fact our plane was going to Seattle. We and the flight attendants, mistakenly thought we were on the same flight (plane). We missed the part where they were also stopping in Ketchikan. Before we get off, we ask if it is okay if we leave our carry-on luggage (our backpacks and my technicolor souvenir satchel from Portugal, I will now name, Tecky), or if we should take them with us. They call forward to double check that we don’t have to take them with us. “No, your ID and boarding pass are all you need.”. So they will be here when we get back?, we ask in confirmation. “Yes, right where you left them”. Awesome! We don’t have to lug those things with us to town! An announcement was made to clear the aisle for the passengers wishing to get off the plane. A few people get off, but most stay seated. We thought it odd that one would want to sit for two additional hours on a plane when they don’t have to. As we exit we notice several people are “sawing” some significant “logs”. Believing we have a good 2 hours, we ask a gal who got off the plane with us if she knew how to get to town. “Oh, you won’t have enough time to really see anything”, she says. Well, at least we’ll try. Now there have been three clues that in hindsight had we paid attention to any one of them we wouldn’t have been in the predicament we soon found ourselves in: 1. Ketchikan. 2. Our Flight number(s) and 3. “Not enough time”. Yet, we went upon our merry way. Unable to hail a cab, as there were none waiting. We hitch into town. A Coast Guard officer picks up saying, “I’m not supposed to pick up hitch-hikers, but you don’t look like axe murders”. Cool! (The ride, and well the fact he thought we weren’t axe murders…cause we’re not). It’s a 5 minute ride into town, and he drops us at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, St. Michael’s, established in 1844.
It’s smack in the middle of town, and actually a replica of the original that burned down, along with most of downtown Sitka, on January 2nd 1966. The artifacts inside this active parish (masses Saturday evening and Sunday morning) are awe inspiring. The intricate craftsmanship of the Church’s 19th century liturgical items, paintings and icons are captivating. Being that they allow you to take pictures, I snap off a few, as reverently as possible.
On advice from the Sitka Visitor’s Office, we then walk over to “Castle Hill” where in 1868 the treaty and transfer of the “ownership” of Alaska from the Russians to the United States was ceremoniously completed, sans the Tlingit – First Nation peoples. From here you are treated to a peek of what Baranof Island (part of the larger Chichagof Island) has to offer. With an hour to go before we need to go back through TSA screening and reboard our plane, we debate on whether we should eat in town or head to the airport and eat there, as we don’t want to cut it “too close” for our flight. We decide the better choice is to head to the airport, besides I heard the restaurant there is famous for its pie – (plural). Pie it is! We stick out our thumbs and hitch back to the airport. I still can’t get used to doing this. Lunch is good and we get the pie to “go”, even though we have plenty of time. Just as we are about to board, we look at our tickets. It seems as though they changed our seat numbers for this leg. Odd, we think. Should we leave our packs back there and wait till everyone gets off in Seattle to retrieve them, or move them now? As we board the plane, I notice we have different flight attendants. Hmm, maybe that’s why there was such a long layover. It must have been to change the crews. Once we board, we are a little confused. Where’d all the people go? Then it hits us. Where are our packs? Tecky? Did we actually get on the wrong flight? How is that possible? We hail the flight attendant. Umm, are we on the right flight? Confirming this is going to Seattle, right? “What seems to be the problem?”, she asks. We think we may have missed our flight, we tell her. The bags we left on the plane aren’t here anymore. Perplexed, she asks for our boarding passes and confirms we are on the correct flight, Flight #62. Still a bit befuddled, we briefly wonder why our flight number changed from #58 to #62, and then it hits us. Ketchikan. Flight Number. “Not enough time”. SHIT! Our bags! Will we ever see them again? Paul now tells me our passports we’re still in his pack. Uh-Oh! The flight attendant is still a little hazy on how in the world they let us get off without our packs, especially since 9/11. We explain the conversation we had, and how they had called to double-check that we could leave our packs, especially seeing as we were going to Seattle, and so were they, but what we didn’t realize is that they were going via a stop at Ketchikan, and we were going direct. In double time the flight attendant and several other desk people are working furiously to find our packs (and Tecky) and to make sure we are reunited with them in Seattle. At first they told us they would pull the packs (and Tecky), and put them in the cargo area and we will be able to pick them up at the baggage claim when we get to Seattle. This didn’t make sense, as we were going on from Seattle to Orange County. “Well that’s not going to work, is it? Let me see what I can do”, our attendant says and then asks us for our flight number, saying she’ll be “right back”. She returns just before the flight departs. “I think I’ve got it worked out for you. Let’s hope it works”, she says. N10 is where the plane will be “parked”(upon which our packs and Tecky are traveling) when we land in Seattle. We “should” (should, being the operative word here) be able to pick them up there. If not, we are to go our gate (N1), in case they delivered them over there, as it’s almost directly across from N10. Worst case senario, we are to go to customer service in terminal N, and they “should” be able to find our bags. Oh goody! Lots of”shoulds”. On the bright side, at least this didn’t happen on our way to our backpacking trip! We settle in for our flight to Seattle. So much for reading the book my friend Jody gave me…and the Bailey’s we we’re going to add to our in-flight coffee. I fidget in my seat, and spy the airline magazine. The only choice I have now is to be that annoying person who fills in the Suduko, anagram and word problem puzzles in these in-flight magazines…in INK! BTW, what ever happened to the Sky Mall catalogues? How ever am I to figure out what products I should not be without?
In due time the snack cart starts to wheel down the isle. Biscoff cookies are handed out for free, and the other snacks are available, for a “price”. The cart pulls alongside our row of seats. “Would you like a snack?”, the attendant asks. I nod in the negative. She leans closer, and whispers in my ear, “Are you sure. You can have anything you want, considering how you’ve been inconvenienced.” We reconsider, and choose a bag of jerky, that otherwise would have been $9. “Let me know if you want anything else”, she says, handing me the bag, “It’s the least we can do.” No sooner does she wheel off, the drink cart comes by. “Anything to drink?”, the attendant asks. “Coffee”, I reply. “How bout a little Bailey’s for your coffee?”, she asks. “Can I make it a double? It’s on the house”, she grins waving the tiny bottle of coffee enhancing goodness. Can this flight get any better, I think. “I will gladly make it a double, and he (Paul) will have a rum and Coke, if it’s not too much trouble”, is my smiling response. “Shall I make it a double for you as well?”, she asks Paul as she grabs two mini bottles of clear rum. “Why not”, he replies. He looks at me and shakes his head. “Now how did you swing that?”. I shrug. Now we certainly didn’t ask for it, demand, or expect it, so I chalk it up to divine Providence and awesome customer service. We land in Seattle, and once we deplane we make our way to terminal N. We are immediately hit with the fact that this is most people we’ve seen in two weeks. Holy Crap! It’s a little unnerving. We recover quickly, and from terminal C, head toward terminal N10, which requires us taking a train. We arrive at terminal N. No people or bags at N10. We go to our gate, N1. Lots of people, headed to Chicago. No bags. In fact the desk clerk (not sure what their official title is) has no idea what we’re talking about. Uh-Oh! She suggests we go to customer service. We arrive just in time. They are about to send our bags to the “land of the lost bags”, in the event they can’t find any identification in them. The packs and Tecky have been sitting there for well over an hour, as our bags’ flight arrived well before us. Happily reunited with our packs. We are told we are lucky to have our bags back, considering the unattended bag protocols since 9/11. We are pleasantly pleased they weren’t blown to smytherines (if that’s actually a word). In due time (2 plus hours), we are truly on our way home. Somehow we again are pampered as we find ourselves in Premium seating, which allows us extra leg room, a snack box AND adult beverages. I think I’m in love with Alaskan Airlines! We touch down in the OC, and eventually are reunited with our freshly frozen fish and Schluffle.
And so ends this Alaskan adventure. If all goes as tentatively planned, we will be traveling, camping and backpacking through Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada next summer. In the meantime we have another adventure to plan, of which we will depart in another week or so to Yosemite to climb Half Dome…the long way from Tuolumne Meadows with our friend Scout (of Magnificent 7 Mt. Whitney fame) and his wife, Sandy…a “new” backpacker.