Ketchikan - Seaplane Ride & Ziplining
Aug 28, 2007
|Another early morning sunrise welcomed us to the day as we headed into our first port of call. The weather is perfectly sunny and Julie and I are excited to be going ashore today.
Since we had already mapped out Ketchikan - thanks to the literature provided by the Princess, we already knew our intentions for today. Unfortunately having cancelled our Seaplane excursion which was planned to leave at 7:45 am this morning, Julie and I found ourselves faced with a dilemma. Now that the clouds have burnt off and the day has turned out to be clear, we found ourselves wishing we still had plans for our seaplane excursion.
Regardless of what we do today, our first priority of business is to update the blog and call home now that we have signals. After completing these tasks, Julie and I pondered on what to do with our morning since we arrived at 7:00 am and our Zip line Tour isn't scheduled until 11:20 am.
As we accessed the town below our balcony I located a Seaplane Tour Van which had a number on the side. A quick call to them and Julie and I wondered no more. Five minutes later, we found ourselves in a van headed towards a one and a half hour Seaplane ride that was cheaper than the one we originally had booked and had a flight time of double the one originally booked. Once again, we are God's favorite for today and we were both so excited. We are both hoping that we aren't His jesters also though.
A quick shuttle over to the dock where our Seaplane resided and a few quick snapshots later and Julie and I, along with 4 other passengers and the youngest pilot we have ever seen, boarded the aircraft. Our Pilot informed us that he began flying while in High School and has been flying for 10 years. He is 28 years old and a native of Maine. He had served in the Air Force and now flew these seaplanes during tourist season for 7 months out of the year. Since throughout our excursion, he successfully took off and landed safely, we felt that he had proved himself to be a great pilot.
Our initial takeoff was from the water between the four cruise ships anchored outside of Ketchikan. It was so smooth that we never realized we had left the water except for the change in view of the small town below which lined Front Street. We are told that these shop hours are "as long as the cruise ships are in port". Other than that, there are no set hours.
Ketchikan is somewhat of a shanty of a little place delicately decorated with brightly covered buildings that line the downtown streets. You can definitely tell it caters to tourism especially with the four huge cruise ships docked at the pier as reminders. There doesn't seem to be much else on the island except salmon hatcheries and these store fronts. There aren't any traffic lights, only teenagers holding stop signs that run out into the road and act as human traffic stops. During our brief walk through town, Julie and I laughed as we accessed the dangers that accompany that job.
As our plane left the little town behind us and headed out toward Misty Fjords, civilization faded and the view gave way to the nation's largest national forest. It is Tongass National Forest which boasts of 17 million pristine acres. The view consists of beautifully snow capped, tree lined mountains which reach high into the heavens. There are lakes and waterfalls and the tallest trees I have ever seen. All different shades of green and brown paint the view below which is so clear that you can see for miles and miles. As I snapped away at the sites below, I looked over to see that Julie wasn't enjoying this quite as much as me. A good indication of that fact was the white knuckles that surrounded her camera. While changing altitude, we had encountered a little turbulence which had made her very uncomfortable. Attempting to get her mind off of it, I challenged her to look for bears. Our pilot had advised us that they were very active this time of year because of the salmon. She would have no part of that. A few more minutes of flying (smoothly) and she had recovered. She began to take pictures and actually get into the trip.
After a 45 ride, we found ourselves landing on a lake in the middle of an area called Misty Fjords. I cannot begin to tell you about the view this landing afforded. Once safely on the water, we were free to get out of the plane and walk along the plane's "floaties" as Julie and I had so appropriately nicknamed them. It was from that vantage point that you could take pictures as long as you were careful not to fall off of these 18 inch wide platforms. We were warned that the water was a cool 40 degrees and that the Pilot didn't want to go swimming. Luckily, no one on our trip went for a swim as one passenger never even left the plane and Julie only got out after a little coaxing. I, however, took full advantage of this opportunity going from side to side snapping away at the picturesque view only seen from this type of passage to this area. We watched as another seaplane landed in the water and it was nice to take in the crisp cool air. After a 45 minute return flight, Julie and I found ourselves safely back on shore. Julie is extremely happy now. She claims to have enjoyed the flight, although there are seriously moments which I beg to differ.
With the flight behind us, Julie and I proceeded downtown to purchase some cold medicine. Since my sinus infection appears to be getting worse, we decided to take advantage of the drug store located at the end of town. We grabbed some snacks, a couple of drinks and a $9 box of Extra Strength Tylenol Sinus and we were on our way again. We had 1 hour to kill before our next excursion so we went shopping. We purchased a few postcards which we mailed from the post office located inside one of the stores and we took in the sights this quaint little area had to offer. It was a pleasantly cool walk through town with the other 8000 people which had bombarded this little frontier today. Its streets are lined with jewelry shops eager to sell cruisers their prized gems. There are a great deal of cliché' little souvenir stores where you can purchase t-shirts, magnets and anything else they can stamp with the words "Ketchikan" or "Alaska" on.
A sign across Main Street welcomes you to Ketchikan and boasts that you are in "The Salmon Capital of the world". Amazingly though - it doesn't smell that way, or maybe it doesn't to me because I can't smell anything. We are told that the 7 canneries located on this island produce 1.5 million cases of salmon per year. Now that's a lot of fish.
After a few encounters with some unsuccessful yet eager sales people, Julie and I reported in for our "Rainforest Ropes and Canopy Zip line" tour which was gathering at the pier. After we signed our "waiver" and boarded the bus, we found ourselves on an 8 mile ride out of town to the Rainforest. The bus driver whom Julie formed a quick fondness of after she found out he was from Raleigh, North Carolina - was very informative. It was here that we learned that Ketchikan gets 13 feet of rain per year, which seemed quite appropriate since it was beginning to sprinkle a little. We were also told the history of the people which possess this land and all about the totem poles and which tribes they represent. It was very informative although right now, each of us is more focused on the Zip line excursion that awaits the end of this ride.
Once in the rainforest, we were transferred from the bus (which could no longer make the treacherous highway) into a huge "Hum V" type 4 X 4 Mercedes which took us up the hill to the outfitting chalet. It is there that we were given our harness, gloves, helmet and backup support cables. Once we were "geared up", the 18 of us were split into 2 groups, assigned our 'instructors" and began our adventure.
The first zip is purely instructional and only lasts for about 25 feet. It is there where you learn where your hands and feet should be located, how to turn yourself around and how to brake. In our course today, there are 8 zips totaling 4600 feet of dual high tension cables and 600 feet of aerial swinging bridges. You get to know your "Zip" friends really well as you hover above the ground at each platform you reach. All 9 participants and the 2 instructors zip from one platform to another prior to anyone proceeding. This means that 11 people are hovering several feet in the air on a platform that is built only 3 foot wide from the tree. Of course, you can't fall to the ground because you are constantly hooked to a line, but you do realize that you can fall about 6 to 8 feet before your hooks would catch you and that's a scary thought from this altitude. Upon the arrival of each "zipper" the tree will sway from the force. Let me just say there was a lot of "tree hugging" going on up there high above the ground and the nervous tension kept the jokes flying.
The zips themselves were exhilarating. They ranged from the shortest - being 80 feet long to the longest - the ultimate - nicknamed "Ben's Revenge" which was 850 feet long and 135 feet above ground. At the courses lowest point, you are 55 feet in the air swinging above the bear infested, creek bearing lush land below. You are constantly reminded that this is bear season because of the salmon and that you are wearing a brightly colored hat which attracts bear. They ask you NOT to scream so you won't draw attention to yourselves and you really aren't sure if they are kidding or not.
Our last two aerial bridges and our last 3 zips (including Ben's Revenge") were done in the cold rain. As you zipped across the line, the rain pelting onto your face, you only hope you can see the instructor on the other end since he/she is responsible for telling you when to brake. If you brake too soon, you won't make it to the platform and you will have to pull yourself up. I didn't brake at all on one of the zips and I had to do this act. It really isn't that difficult, but it is a pain.
Julie came in so fast on one run that she couldn't stop. She plowed into the platform knocking the steps away and knocking our instructor halfway down. Everyone was okay, Julie included, although she was a little bruised. Luckily, the only person waiting on the platform at the time was me since I had made this run before her. Shari (our instructor), Julie and I were the only ones who knew about this little mishap until Michelle (the zipper behind Julie) did the same thing. The cables are wet now from the rain which is making it very difficult for people to brake. Before the excursion was over, everyone was joking about the "Julie". Since another gentleman on our trip had cut himself on his helmet while putting it on, we had already come up with the slogan - don't do a "Gary" so adding the "Julie" to this list of what not to do seem quite appropriate. A final zip and we descended the stairway to the gift shop below. Greatly needed hot chocolate, cookies, salmon & crackers waited. As we browsed through the shop, Julie found some scrapbook items which she didn't have and I found a hat. Since I now boasted an unbecoming "helmet head", I had to do something. My "Alaska" hat did the trick.
A bus ride back to town and we reboarded the ship. It's about 2:45 now and we don't leave port until 4:00. Having gotten wet today, I am feeling worse so I head to the room. Since we haven't had a meal all day, Julie headed to "linner" - you know - lunch & dinner. She was kind enough to bring me back a drink and I doped myself up in attempt to be prepared for our dog sledding tour scheduled for tomorrow.
A few quick calls to home and several futile attempts to access the internet and we found ourselves kicked back watching television. Moments later, Julie was fast asleep. As I watched Ketchikan fade in the distance, I couldn't help but wonder what the next port had in store for us.
A brief nap and a shower later, I ordered some room service for Julie and me and we retired for an evening with the movies on the television. I hate that we are missing the shows scheduled for tonight, but I don't feel well enough to even get ready and I think the Zip line accident Julie encountered has left her feeling a little sore (especially since her ankle has swollen a little now). We both agreed that we will be fine tomorrow as this day comes to a close.
Our cabin steward - Chris brought us an elephant tonight made from a hand towel which once again brought Julie great glee. She loves these things and I am completely amused by her excitement.
Our gratitude for today: Ketchikan and all its rain - is not where we call home
Our High Point: Zip Lining
Our Low Point: Julie's zip lining accident and my cold getting worse.