Monday, January 11, 2010

1541 Miles Traveled

We barely got on our plane. The stewardess at the desk kept telling the crowd, “No planes have flown in Juneau for two days. The runway is completely iced over and there is cloud cover to 500 feet.” Right before our scheduled departure time, we got word that the anti-freeze had finally been successful, and we were let onto the plane.

The landing in Ketchikan was uneventful. The pilot was mildly optimistic as he welcomed the new passengers onto the plane. “Hopefully…” he said hesitantly, “we’ll have you on the ground in Juneau in about forty minutes.” One of the new passengers was a shackled man dressed all in orange, accompanied by another man with a jacket that read “Juvenile Justice.”

It seemed like all the clouds congregated right above the Juneau airport, and we had to do a very rapid descent. Three times we lost thousands of feet in a few seconds. Just when we thought we were going to land, we began ascending again. We had to try again.

When the pilot turned around, we descended in one stomach-turning drop, and then began to approach excruciatingly slowly. The passengers were silent until we finally touched down. Then, everyone clapped and cheered wildly. Before we arrived at the gate, there were two more rounds of applause for the first pilots to land in Juneau for two days.

As we waited for our luggage at the only carousel in the shoe-box sized airport, Denny arranged a method for buying groceries for twenty. Each person was assigned a list (mine was 5 lbs flour, 5 lbs white sugar, 2 lbs brown sugar, and almond extract), and sent into the store. That was the easy part.

It became more difficult when the vans we had rented could not traverse the solid ice that covered the road to the lodge we were staying at. We had about a hundred yards of the most slippery, icy terrain to cross from the parking area to the lodge, and about a hundred suitcases, backpacks, and grocery bags to transport.

The lodge is part of a Catholic retreat center called the Shrine of St. Therese. We’re staying in a rustic log house with a spiral staircase that leads to countless beds but only three bathrooms. The door to our house has a sign that cautions: “Quiet. Retreat in Progress.” Happily, there aren’t any people around to make noise.

When we woke up this morning, we realized that we are about thirty feet from the ocean, with a gorgeous path leading to a pine-covered island with a stone church right in the center. Sea lions and seals hop around just off shore, and bald eagles soar above. Each step crunches over empty mussel and clam shells as you walk across the rocks towards the ocean in low tide.

Another sign next to a small creek that flows into the bay cautions “Sewage Drain-off area. Do not eat the shellfish.” The creek is lined by a stupendous orange and red microbial mat. However, the fear of hepatitis kept me from poking around in the water.

Apparently on clear days, you can across the bay to the glacier. Later this week, we will be visiting the glacier, as well as the Alaska Game and Wildlife center, the University of Alaska, an Alaskan museum, and wetlands. Even though it’s just the first day, I am so excited for everything to come and I think it’s going to be amazing!

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