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In 1999, I started writing down my travel memories. They're still in a rough jotted-note stage. I'll polish them and split this into separate pages as I flush out the info a bit. For now, it focuses on my first big solo trip, which was back in 1997. Hopefully by the time I get back to finishing this page I won't have forgetten too much!

Northwest 1997

1. The Decision to Go

Before starting grad school in 1997 I decided to travel. I originally wanted to do Europe, but figured that would cost too much and I'd have to worry about languages and thieves and sickness and all that yucky stuff. This was going to be my first solo vacation, so I wanted to keep the stresses to a minimum.

So I thought, "where's the coolest place I can go within the States?" The first location that popped into my mind was Alaska. The more I read up on it [using the Internet of course], the more enthusiastic I got: wilderness, cool weather, the ocean, no huge crowds of people to worry about! Yes!

My mind was made up.

2. Preparation

First, I had to quit my job. I told my employer that I would be leaving in May instead of waiting until August, when I was scheduled to enter grad school. So basically I would get the whole summer off. My rent was up in May anyway, so that made it easy.

One the immediate questions was transportation. How would I get to Alaska? How would I get around in Alaska? I didn't want to drive because because my car was old and I'd heard bad things about the road up to Alaska. Also, I was too young [24] to get a cheap extended US/Canada car rental. I didn't want to fly, because that was too expensive [in terms of dollars per minute] and I'd be missing out on a lot of scenery. I absolutely did NOT want to feel like I was being hurried.

During my last couple of weeks at work, a co-worker (Dave) had mentioned hearing about a ferry from Washington State up the coast to Juneau. I decided to look into it. After some more Internet searching I found the AlaskaPass, whose 30-day unlimited ferry/train/bus option looked really cool.

I decided to go ahead and order the AlaskaPass, set to start on the 4 July. By this time it was late May [the AlaskaPass people said I was lucky to get a ticket and that I should have called months earlier]. The pass was pretty expensive (around $1000) but it, for me, seemed like the best option.

My plan was to take my bike along. I...

3. Charlottesville to Bellingham

Long hall from Virginia, but worth it. I bought the greyhound ticket that gave me unlimited travel over the period of a week or so. This let me make pit stops in Chicago (visiting a friend and seeing Taste of the Town) and Montana. By the time I got to Bellingham I was getting used to looonnngggg days on the bus.

4. Bellingham, Washington

Beautiful little town. Stepping off the bus I was instantly in a good mood. No more bus, no more big cities like Chicago and Seattle.

The bus from Seattle dropped me off near the Ferry terminal. The train station is right near by.

I was trying to decide where to sleep and shower when I saw a guy unloading his bike from a bike box. Hey, I thought, that looks like Chuck Norris! :) Feeling friendly and enjoying the fresh air, I walked over and talked to him about his bike and his trip.

The guy's real name was Jeff Schatz. He was from San Francisco and was a school teacher for challenged kids. His job went hand in with his personality. Jeff was very relaxed, tolerant, educated, and a superb listener. He was so attentive that he seemed to get inside my head when I talked. He also had a great sense of humor [something I deeply appreciate] and enjoyed the independence of traveling alone rather than with a group.

Jeff had taken the train up from California and was going to be taking the ferry the next day to Alaska. He didn't have the AlaskaPass since he was only doing the Inside Passage. His plan was to get off at Skagway and bike down to Montana. Wow!

Like me, Jeff didn't know where he was going to stay.

I pulled out my Let's Go book and saw a hostel listed. I'd never stayed in a hostel before, but Jeff was enthusiastic about the hostel idea so we decided to give it a go.

The hostel itself was a converted house. Half the bunks were on the ground level and half were in the basement. I claimed an upstairs bunk, showered, grabbed my Let's Go, and put on my Tevas... It was still early in the day, I had tons of energy from sitting on the bus for so long, and there were a lot of neat places listed in the Bellingham area.

A note about Tevas. These are "sports" sandles that fasten with velcro. I love 'em, and am wearing a pair right now. I wore them every day on my Alaska trip. There was only one day that I ever put on my boots, and I quickly got tired of them and put my Tevas back on.

Yes, the whole trip in Alaska was done in Tevas. Hiking, biking, trudging through streams, walking on a glacier... All spent in Tevas. I never had any problems with them not offering enough support or protection . Every once in a while I'd get a pebble under my foot, but that was very infrequent and trivial compared to the blisters I would have gotten from regular shoes.

Even today, two years later, I still wear Tevas all the time in anything but the coldest weather. I jog in them, hike in them, do everything in them. The only thing I cannot do in them is use the college gym [they require tennis shoes]. Tevas were great for me, they are great for me, and I strongly recommend you check 'em out.

Anyway, I put on my Tevas and hit the streets.

This part of Bellingham is known as Fairhaven, and can be thought of as "Olde Towne." Fairhaven houses the Ferry terminal, the bus station, the walking tour, and a handful of streets full of small shops.

I decided to do the historic walking tour. There was a little house on one of the streets [to the left of the street to the terminal as you are facing uphill] where I got a walking tour pamphlet. I forget if it cost anything. It might have been free. Anyway, even if it's not free, it's worth a couple bucks because it's entertaining and serves as a nice souvenier.

The tour took me around some history houses, down the street to the terminal, through a nature area, and out towards the beach. I think I spent about an hour exploring and filming [I brought a video camera].

A note about my video camera. I bought this camera especially for the trip. It cost me $900. It uses 8mm standard film, and has motion cancellation, a color screen, a black and white traditional viewer, and various fades and titles.

I consider it an excellent investment. A video camera captures the essence of "being there" much better than a still camera. Plus, you can be much less conservative with video, since you don't have to worry about film development costs, and you can always erase over stuff that didn't work out right.

I had three main concerns regarding my video camera, and these are things you need to consider if you're planning to bring a camcorder along.

First is the battery. I only brought one 40-minute battery plus my recharger, so I tended to be a little stingy when I wasn't near an outlet. Whenever I could, I recharged. Airports, restaurants, hostels, ferries... They all have outlets.

In case I forget to mention this later, the Eislson [sp?] outpost in Denali has running water and power outlets, but many [possibly all] of the other outposts don't. Therefore, you should do all your cleaning, hair washing, recharging, and other business at Eislson before continuing towards Wonder Lake.

Secondly, I worried about theft. On this trip, I didn't have any problems; no one pickpocketed me, no one so much as threatened me. Usually I am paranoid in the big cities, am always looking around behind me and checking my pockets; I'm anything but oblivious, so it could be that my mannerisms deter thieves. Or maybe it's how I look [innocent, young, fit] or maybe I am just lucky. However, I will say that I felt the video camera was the biggest target I had, and that I wished I had something other than a tell-tale camera bag in which to store it.

Thirdly and finally, the camera was bulky. It weighed heavily on my neck. I got used to it, and didn't let it hamper me from doing things, but it might have made me look like a dork, or might have even hurt my posture my pulling me into a slouch. Something you might want to think about if you're concerned with your appearance.

In the old days there used to be Saloons there, and prostitute houses. These are marked by plaques in the sidewalk.

There's a walking tour you can take.

I stayed in the hostel.

The ferry loaded at 12:30???

I took the FERRY from Bellingham Washington up the coast to Juneau. The ferry ride was amazing, all 3 days of it! I read a lot, took a ton of pictures. But Juneau was lame.

(this is still in the note-taking stage; I'll fix it up after I finish overhauling the rest of my pages)