Normally if you were to ask me if I’d like to vacation in Alaska, I’d tell you, “Hellz no.” I think of Alaska and I think of: Cold. Snow. Bears. Salmon. Sarah Palin. I don’t think: Vacation!
But then if you were tell me that Alaska is actually stunningly beautiful and you can enjoy it from a swanky cruise ship and your parents are going so you won’t even have to really take care of your kids, I’d say, “Let’s leave immediately.”
So that actually happened.
Damon, the kids, and I had an opportunity to go on an Alaskan cruise with my parents and we obviously took it. While Alaska was never one of my must-sees, it has been on Damon’s bucket list for years. He envisioned bear sightings, salmon fishing, kayaking through fjords… Meanwhile I envisioned enjoying the scenic views while sipping the cruise line’s unlimited free wine. It was a win-win.
(In reality, we were traveling with two small children so none of the above happened.)
On our first night on the ship, my dad announced he had a surprise for Damon and me. A surprise? My interest was piqued. What kind of surprise could he possibly have planned on a cruise ship?
“I’ve booked you two on the helicopter ride/dog sledding excursion when we’re in Juneau. Mom and I will babysit!”
Um… Say what?
Damon was excited. I was terrified. And confused. I’m not a huge fan of heights. Or animals, for that matter. So going up in a winged death-mobile to hang out with hundreds of dogs on a glacier is not really my thing.
“Are you excited?” my dad asked.
“DAD! DO YOU EVEN KNOW ME?”
“Your husband will enjoy it.”
“BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER?”
“You used to be adventurous,” he said.
“I have children now. Children who need their mother not to die in a catastrophic dog sledding accident.”
My dad just laughed at me. “It’ll be good for you,” he said.
A massage would be good for me. An uninterrupted nap would be good for me. A treacherous expedition* to the top of a flippin’ glacier? Not so good for me.
Had I done something to him? Was this some sort of vendetta? Did he realize that if Damon and I died, he would get the kids?**
I almost didn’t go. Really. This was pretty much exactly the opposite of how I wanted to spend my precious vacation (and free babysitting) time, but I put on my big girl panties and went anyway, knowing I would never hear the end of it otherwise (assuming I survived.)
My friend, Guy, and his mother, Lisa, were also on the excursion. Once at the airport we listened to a safety briefing in which we were reminded of things like not getting too close to the propellers of the helicopter. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Clearly no one but me remembered the story of the poor model who lost an eye and had her face and arm disfigured by a moving propeller because YOU CAN’T SEE THE MOVING PROPELLER! WHY DID NO ONE TALK ABOUT THIS!? We then signed a terrifying waiver – which I actually read – in which we agreed to assume responsibility of the dog sled should the musher become incapacitated. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! And by the way, what the heck is a musher?!***
At some point a man-boy appeared to escort us to the helicopter.
“He looks like he’s 12,” I muttered.
“I don’t think he’s the pilot,” Guy whispered.
Guy was correct; the twelve-year-old was not the pilot. The pilot looked closer to 16. It was very reassuring.
I plastered on a smile and boarded the helicopter. My stomach dropped as we took off. We rose over the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier and – oh, hey! A mountain goat! And then we landed. It was about a seven-minute ride. OF SHEER TERROR.
Okay, not really. I found it a bit nerve-wracking, but the awesome views were a good distraction.
So big deal. The helicopter ride was not all that perilous – but we still had the whole dog sledding in the middle of a glacier thing to contend with. Most of what I knew about dog sledding prior to this – which admittedly was not much – had been informed by movies or television, and involved images of rabid dogs wildly careening through a snowy tundra until they violently crashed, severely injuring their hapless handler. Not confidence-inducing stuff.
We exited the helicopter and were greeted by the owner of the camp who explained the history of the camp and what we would be doing, and introduced the mushers who would be driving us.
The mushers all seemed sane and competent, which was a good sign. But really, these people choose to live completely isolated in the middle of a glacier with only a handful of other mushers and 200+ dogs – so they must be a little nuts, right? And we were going to trust them with our lives?
Damon, Guy, Lisa, and I boarded our sled, with Damon “driving” in the back, and off we went!
There was no careening. There was no crashing. It wasn’t even that cold. It was like It’s A Small World in snow.
The dogs took us around about a mile loop, stopping every few minutes so we could switch seats and pet the dogs, ask questions, etc. It was all very tame. And actually kind of fun. I mean, check out the scenery.
Pretty spectacular, don’t you think?
And even I – one of the most animal-adverse people you could meet – had to admit the puppies were kind of cute. I even held one. It was a big moment for me.
Though I hated to admit it to my dad, the excursion was one of the highlights of the trip. If you ever go to Alaska, I would certainly recommend it.
And the best news? I still got my massage.
Below are some of our other highlights of our trip. Enjoy!
*This is a tad dramatic.
**I’m pretty sure he didn’t think that through.
***A musher is a dog sled driver. Duh.