Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Juneau there's going to be a pun.

In 1917 miners in the Treadwell gold mine began undercutting the shaft supports in order to get the last little bits of gold out. This, in combination with an unusually high tide, caused the mine to flood and collapse, leading to the close of the mine. It's believed no one died, though one person went missing - possibly fleeing town to avoid his debts.

This is one of the three or so facts you will hear right after someone in Juneau says hello to you. [They really don't want anyone to have died in this, but I ask you if you have a mine collapse and one guy is "missing" do you assume he died in the mine or that he got out out and simply skipped town to avoid bills? I'm betting on the first. Sorry Juneau, he's dead.]

Dan, again, in brackets.

Getting off the boat at around four in the morning was not one of my highlights for the trip. As a bonus, neither Dan nor I could get a consistent cell signal, meaning we were a bit in the dark as to what to do while we waited for the hostel to open. [It also made it very hard to say call a cab, thankfully the ferry terminal had a local phone with which to call cab companies.]

A note about the hostel - for $12 cash and a chore, one can stay at the only hostel in town. The price opened up some possibilities (else you paid $100/night and had to forego any large expense), but the catch was the hours - the "office" was only open 8-9am and 5-11pm. This meant there was some waiting in Dan and my future. [Juneau has many good aspects but it is not a town that's hopping at 4 a.m.]

We waited a few hours for Donna's, a recommended diner, to open (6am). We took a taxi over there, then I had too much coffee while we waited and waited. After some false starts (oh, bonus, it was Labor Day, so even things that would normally be open were closed), we got another taxi to the hostel. Finally checked in, we were kicked out until they reopened at five. What's open on Labor Day? A mountain was open.

I don't know if you know this, but mountains go up. A lot of up. With bonus mud and, like, icky nature, Dan and I went up for about two hours until we reached [close to] the top of Mount Roberts. "Oh, look at the view" quickly turned into "it's scenic, look left" then into "yo - verdant, etc." While I'm sure you, dear reader, would have no trouble with this feat, Dan & I are two fat guys from a very flat Philadelphia. The most climbing we do is out of bed. Luckily, there was beer at the top of this mountain.

[The presence of a good drink at the mountain was a key selling point to hiking this particular one. It's also near the hostel. Juneau has a lot of mountains so there's a real plethora of choices. I'll also be fair and note we reached a local top at about 2,200 feet or so. We didn't continue on for the additional 4 hours to reach the highest part of the peak on account of not wanting to do all that work.]

I drank three beers just to spite the Alaska Marine Highway's drink limit, then Dan & I rode the cable car down. More than two hours to get up, at most ninety seconds to get down. [The cable car was free with $10 dollars or more of purchases from the restaurant/gift shop, so we had two good reasons to have a beer. They also never checked our receipts so we could have just gone down for free anyway, but after all the hiking the beer was welcome.] We then wandered along the boardwalk (which ends much sooner in real life than on the map) then to the Alaska State Museum / Archives / Library. Open every day... except Federal holidays. Exhausted, I took a nap on the bench.

Beer. I needed beer. Beer would breathe new life into this zombie. Life bringing water and yeast and grains. We stumbled into a bar that we'd been told had $3 drafts.

I have never despised anyone more than I despised the worm-man behind the bar. Condescending, rude, and slow, he made fun of the customers (many visitors to the city) for not knowing his complete draft menu (and pricing!). It'd be one thing if he'd handed a person a menu and they'd waffled on the selection, but to just be "what do you want?" "what do you have?" "I'll come back when you know what you want" (actual dialog) was infuriating. Dan & I stuck it out for a couple, but when the hostel was finally open, we booked it over there. [To make the visitor part clear, Juneau has a population of something in the mid-thirty thousands. Every day during the 'tourist season' when the cruise ships are coming it gets between 2,000-8,000 visitors. So a good percentage of the city consists of people who are somewhat new. You'd think this would encourage the local bartender to have some good social skills when folks come in not knowing what's for sale, but you'd be wrong.]

We bought some breakfast supplies while Dan talked a big game about going to this place for dinner, that place for craft beer / spirits; he was asleep a half hour after we got to the hostel. I knew I was going to have sleep for dinner from around the boardwalk, so I didn't even pretend to fight it. We slept until our alarms went off.

Breakfast was eaten together at the hostel then we split for the day. I needed a recovery day, so it was libraries, poems, and a tour of the State Capitol Building. We met for drinks across the street from worm man bartended and I ended the night soon after. [Simon and I have both learned that the key to any moderately long travel with someone else is ditching them! Obviously it depends on the details of travel but every 4-6 days you should split up and explore things alone. You come back with something new to talk about and get a nice break to be with your own thoughts. I checked out libraries, the state capital, and also went to the city museum and the Sealaska museum. Sealaska being an Alaska Native corporation, which were founded to handle prior legal issues regarding Alaskan natives and the government. They have a lovely museum in downtown Juneau.]

On Wednesday we did breakfast together again, then kind-of showed each other what we did the previous day. I had a delightful encounter with a barista. We wrote a bunch and just kind-of wandered around. To our great amusement, we kept running into one of the people from the hostel. He did not accompany us on our seaplane adventure though, which we thought would end the day. [Simon left out the details of this floatplane trip. We got afternoon tickets, this being one of the expenses we used the money saved by staying at a hostel for, and had a delightful 40 minute flight over the glaciers and ice field. It's staggering just how much ice there was, enough to cover Rhode Island, and how varied it could be. We saw mountain tops peeking above the ice like little rocks or sandbars peeking out of the ocean, except the waves were frozen shards of ice cracked apart and turning for hundreds of feet. It was honestly breathtaking.]

With the promise of a halibut dinner, we made our way back to the hostel, but no one knew where the cook was. Being two men of trivial knowledge, we went out and lost a pub quiz (five categories, the first two were Alaskan History and the NFL). At some point during trivia the cook showed up to the hostel, so Dan & I had the leftover scraps. Not that we needed to eat after days of gorging ourselves on the boat. [We did do pretty well on some other categories. Also one of us, we're not sure who, managed to snore enough to chase off the one other person in the hostel room to the empty one next door.]

Another day, another breakfast. Basically everyone staying in the hostel got on the same bus to go to the Mendenhall Glacier. Everyone except us stayed on the bus as it went toward the western trail - we opted for the easier eastern trail. We walked a lot (but not as much "up" as before) and had a scenic time. [After climbing the mountain these trails were a relief. A lot of the view was, amusingly, blocked by all the darn trees. We mentioned on multiple times how pretty the forest would be if these trees weren't in the way. We also saw that in the 1920s the visitor's center we stopped at was underneath the glacier. Impressive how fast it both retreated and how quickly life sprung up.] Hoping worm man wasn't on shift, we went to the cheap bar and were in luck! I was able to turn myself back on and chat up a fun bartender (and make friends at the bar).

Sleep and laundry and breakfast soon followed and we checked out of the hostel. To kill some time, we visited the cafe I had the good encounter with the barista in and, to my delight, she was working again. I wrote her a poem, then four others about general shit. Sometimes I give poems away, one to a person. This time I fumbled a big "I wrote some poems - one is about you - here have them - give them away" which, really, isn't a big deal. I'm just hyper alert to all my awkward encounters. In any case, it was time to continue on.

We got a decent rate on a hotel (with 24 hour shuttle! Something that would have come in $50 worth of handy at the ferry terminal) and had a few beers at a bowling alley while we waited for the room to officially open. After which we lounged and watched movies like a pair of slugs. Dinner was some tasty Indian food at a hoppin' spot. A little too hoppin' for one of the servers, who was entirely overwhelmed that people might want to eat there (but it was okay when we were finally seated by the other server). [They did serve an excellent and filling meal. A feature that Simon hasn't mentioned is that every single meal we got was a massive one, not just one or two. No small portions up here, if you order something you get a massive quantity of food. I think we survived on two meals a day most of the time. Frankly after the hostel's requiring we be out all day and then being with people at the hostel the ability to just sit down and do nothing at the hotel was relaxing.]

Instead of making breakfast, we treated ourselves to a restaurant. Huge portions and stuffed bellies later, all Dan wanted was to try the ostrich egg and game meat omelette (feeds 4-6). Next time, Dan. Next time. [If someone offers to cook an ostrich egg and add antelope meat, I'm going to have a hard time saying no. Given that any one of our breakfasts was enough for two people already I do admit that we probably couldn't have handled the ostrich egg meal.]

For once, security was a breeze and it was a quick flight to Anchorage. Dan stayed in Juneau for one more day and, as far as I know, died a horrible death at the hands of bigfoot. [Indeed I had to battle for my life against the Bigfeet who storm Juneau weekly and eat any visitors there. It's akin to SkiFree without the snow.]

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