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  • Writer's pictureKarl Sander

The Voyage South - Part 3

Uncivilized arrival and departure times were more common than we’d have liked. We guessed it was because of the tides or currents. Otherwise, it made no sense to pull into Juneau at 5AM and Ketchikan around 4AM or load the ferry departing Juneau somewhere around 3. But that’s what happened.

Our wakeup approaching Juneau was too abrupt to be a “courtesy call.” We got a sudden, violent banging on the door and a gruff “you have to be out!” Yet the ship was still moving – they weren’t going to let us on the car deck for half an hour yet – and the checkout process consisted of merely leaving our keys at the purser’s counter. We didn’t understand the sense of urgency.

When Kennicott finally tied up, the elevator made several trips for stateroom passengers like us who had more than we could haul down the stairs. Soon we’d repacked the car and unstrapped the motorcycle. Before long we’d unloaded and were headed for downtown in the early morning light.

Juneau is wedged between rugged mountains and the water, which makes the city long and narrow. The ferry terminal is 12 miles from downtown, and much of the trip is highway speeds. Even in early May, it was only in the low 40s, so it was a brisk ride.

The big question was what to do until someplace was open for breakfast. Since we’re both fascinated by the relative isolation of some of these communities, something was appealing about finding the ends of the roads. So, after parking the bike (because I was cold), that’s what we did. Our 6-mile round-trip excursion through the residential neighborhood of Thane to that end of the road and back took us just long enough for the rest of the town to start waking up.

The receptionist at our hotel recommended a place called the Sandpiper. It was nearby, and his recommendation was excellent. Its picture windows offered a stunning view of the mountains and waterfalls behind downtown – and the plates of food seemed almost as big.

Suitably stuffed, we continued exploring. We crossed the bridge to Douglas Island to take in the neighborhoods – evidently Juneau’s version of suburbia. We noted the turnoff for the local ski area and saw more ends of the road.

We weren't the only ones getting breakfast

We also saw a bear getting breakfast in a dumpster. It was worth turning back to get another look and a picture (from safely inside the still-running car). But as well as it played for friends and family back home, I hoped the bear wasn’t making a habit of it. It rarely ends well for the bears when they do.

After crossing back over to Juneau and heading north as far as we could, completing our “end of the roads” tour for this stop, it was close enough to midday for some different kinds of exploring.

Juneau is home to Alaskan Brewing, and visiting their tasting room in Juneau has become something of a pilgrimage. We tasted, we bought things, and we quietly stepped out when a van full of cruise ship passengers arrived.

After getting checked in to our room, our first stop was the Viking – a downtown spot we’d enjoyed on our previous visit. After that, we had a late lunch (or early dinner?) outside at the Hangar on the Wharf, where we took in the crowded harbor with its three large cruise ships and a never-ending stream of floatplanes. It was definitely that time of year in Alaska.

The high season in Juneau

For late night food in Juneau, we never miss Pel’meni. It’s in the same waterfront mall as the Hangar, and its Russian dumplings are incredible. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and the perfect way to end the night. This trip, we’d be in Juneau for two days – and eat there both nights.

The next day was our hiking day. On our previous visit, without a car, we’d taken the city bus as close to Mendenhall Glacier as we could and made the mile walk to the visitors’ center and the easy trails surrounding it. As nice as that was, we wanted to get closer to the glacier – and now, with a car, we could. We got to the trailhead on the west side of the lake before noon and hiked a bit over three miles to get close to the glacier. We could have actually gotten on it, but the very last stretch of the trail descends a steep slope covered in scree. Neither of us relished the thought of climbing back up. Still, the trip from the trailhead had offered great views of the lake and the glacier, and we got close enough for the air to be noticeably cooler from all the ice.

Mendenhall Glacier from the west trail

We’d already checked out of the hotel since our early ferry time made it hardly seem worth paying for another night. That meant spending the rest of the afternoon and evening in the same clothes we’d been hiking and sweating in. We hoped no one else noticed as we headed back into downtown.

We visited a new microbrewery downtown called Devils Club. With a ferry to catch in the wee hours, we limited our sampling but walked away with another T-shirt for the collection, and a recommendation for anyone visiting Juneau (seriously, check it out).

After wandering downtown and making another stop at Pel’meni, we made the 12-mile return trip to Auke Bay and the ferry. We’d made our appointed check-in time, but although there didn’t seem to be that many of us, the loading process seemed to take a long time. The sky was already getting light when we finally got aboard the M/V Malaspina, but that at least made things photogenic while we explored the new ship. After finally getting to clean up, we were finally able to rest – but not for long. The Inside Passage awaited, and it promised to be uncharacteristically sunny. We didn’t want to miss it.

Auke Bay (Juneau) from aboard M/V Malaspina

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