Monday, June 25, 2012

Running in Circles

Deck Four of the Disney Wonder has a jogging track that circles the ship. Three laps is a mile. I tell you this not because you care how many laps I ran, but to give you some sense of how big the ship is.

The first morning at sea, all I could see during my run was gray rolling ocean and mist. It was that rolling ocean that woke me up. People who say a cruise ship is so big you don’t even know you’re on the ocean are liars. Big fat liars with their pants on fire. Either that, or they’ve never been on a cruise ship in the northern Pacific. It took a whole day to get my sea legs under me. I was never really seasick because Linda came prepared with these voodoo pressure point motion sickness bands, and those suckers really do work. But even though I wasn’t sick, when I lay down, I felt my bed rising and falling, and it wasn’t pleasant. Victor said he felt like he was being rocked to sleep. Me? Not so much. I felt like I was trapped on some sick and twisted amusement park ride. I had some really bizarre dreams. All in all, the motion of the ocean was conducive to getting my butt out of bed early every morning.

So that first morning, I was up at 5:30 and on the track a little before 6:00. We were in open water with no land in sight in either direction, just fog and ocean. The smell of the sea air, the waves rising and falling, and the mournful wail of the ship’s horn were perfect. Zen. We were in a thick fog bank, and the horn sounded repeatedly during my run. Only two other people were on the track that early. The temperature scared most runners into the gym. The three of us hardy souls were spread out around the ship, so for long stretches of my run, I was alone with the waves and the fog. I never really got cold. The track went inside at both the bow and stern, and I always started at the bow. Sailing north, the starboard side was shielded from the wind, and after a lap, the wind on the port side felt good. It was an awesome run, the most incredible I’d ever experienced.

Until the next day.

We stayed out late the night of our first full day at sea, so I was tired enough to overcome the discomfort of the rocking, and I slept a little later. I might have slept a lot later if the ship hadn’t bounced so hard around 6:00 that I was sure Captain Fabian was trying to catch some air…or that we had hit an iceberg. The alarms didn’t sound, so when my heart rate slowed I got dressed and hit the track.

Turns out we were entering Alaska’s inside passage between a string of barrier islands and the mainland. We had to slow almost to a stop to pick up a special pilot for that leg of the trip, plus the currents produce a weird chop at the entrance. The engines revving up in that chop probably woke me up. I’m kinda glad it almost bounced me out of bed because the second morning, I had this to look at during my run.

The second morning was the most incredible run I’ve ever experienced. There was land on both sides of the boat, but the starboard side was all snow-capped peaks. I’ve never been in a place where you can see both ocean and mountains stretching to the horizon. The early hour and southeast Alaska’s ever-present clouds made the world appear monochromatic, everything in shades of gray. I would make a silly comment here about how many shades of gray except it was too magnificent to reduce to a puerile joke. 

The water was silver sliding to a gun metal with the mountains rising almost black. The snow was stark and beautiful against all that gray. I stopped twice to take pictures. Once, another guy stopped running and looked with me. It was the kind of moment you wanted to share with someone, even a stranger.

Morning two was a prelude to some of the most spectacular vistas of the entire trip when we cruised up Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glacier. I’ll tell you all about that when I write Blue Ice.

On morning three, I needed the alarm to wake up. We reached Skagway during the night, and the boat was blessedly stopped. You really don’t appreciate sleeping in a stationary bed until you’ve slept in a moving one for a couple of nights. I made myself get up because I justified the ridiculous amount of food I ate by saying, “Yeah, but I ran this morning.”

I’m so thankful that I did get up because every morning the view from Deck 4 was different, and every morning it felt like a gift when I saw it for the first time.

This is what I saw when I stepped out onto the starboard side of Deck 4. I thought I had stepped back in time a hundred years.

The view from the port side assured me it was still 2012, but wow…

The track was a bit more crowded on morning three. We were allowed to disembark at 7:30, and folks were getting an early start on the day. I was out by 6:15, and I was dodging other runners and walkers. I didn’t mind because the excitement at finally getting to step onto Alaskan soil was palpable. I’m pretty sure I might have used that excitement as an excuse to cut my run short that morning.

Skagway was my favorite port. The town was quaint. The shops were fun, and I didn’t yet know that the cruise lines owned most of them and that I would see the same shops in Juneau and Ketchikan.

The canoeing excursion to the Davidson Glacier that afternoon was my favorite adventure of the trip. Once again, that is a whole other blog post, but one minor detail is relevant to this one. Hiking out of the woods in the heavy rubber boots we were issued, I wrenched my knee. It hurt like a @#*$! Linda had warned me in advance that there is no cursing on a Disney cruise, so I yelped and bit my tongue. (I should also note that it was Linda who upon realizing that the coffee shop in Skagway was not a Starbucks and could not make her a mocha exclaimed, “This is bullshit!”)

Morning four I woke up in Juneau. My knee was still pretty jacked up, so I didn’t run. I took this pic after we disembarked.

Juneau was the only port we visited which doesn’t rely almost exclusively on tourism to support the local economy. Shipping, mining, and government (it’s Alaska’s capital) keep the town running. Subsequently, it’s not as picturesque as the other places we stopped. If I was going to miss an early morning “first look,” this was the place to do it.

Missing my morning run in Juneau messed with my whole day, and I decided that pain in my knee was the lesser of two evils. On morning five, I got an early look at Ketchikan. Up to this point, both cruise line and excursion employees had been telling us how lucky we had been with the weather. I always raised an eyebrow when I heard this because it was cold and cloudy every single day.  When I stepped out onto the deck in Ketchikan, I understood why we had been lucky.

Rain, and lots of it. Southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest. That’s why they have all those incredible glaciers and lush green forests. It’s also why I traipsed aboard the ship like a drowned rat at the end of that day. Robert and I were supposed to go on a float plane excursion while the majority of the crew went on a crab boat excursion. Cruise Director Jimmy informed me during my run that all float plane excursions had been cancelled due to the weather.

Bummer. I was disappointed for myself, but even more for Robert. He worked so hard to make everything perfect for everyone else, and the thing he was looking forward to the most got cancelled. We found something else to do that day, and I’ll tell you about it later, but it was anticlimactic after looking forward to the Mystic Fjord Float Plane Excursion.

Morning Six, or If the house is a rockin’…get the hell out of the house.

The weather didn’t improve after we left Ketchikan. In fact, it got all kinds of crazy that evening. Around five o’clock or so, Captain Fabian made an announcement that we would be leaving the Inside Passage and there was some weather ahead. “We might experience some movement.”

Really Captain Fabian? We might experience some movement? What you meant was “the ship is going to crest a huge wave, fly completely out of the water, and then slam back down into the trough like the Andrea Gale in A Perfect Storm. Repeatedly.” We tried to go to seventies night at the ship’s nightclub, but our drinks wouldn’t stay on the table. Watching the band try to keep their footing while playing “Boogie Nights” was fun, but we called it quits early and held on to the wall as we made our way back to our staterooms. I lay awake for a long time listening to things fall in the bathroom. Kaitlyn said the creaking made her think of the scene in Titanic where the water burst through the wall as the old couple lay in bed clutching each other. Happy thought when you’re lying in bed on a ship.

We were still rockin’ and rollin’ the next morning, although not to the same degree. I was out of bed less than a minute after I woke up. Someone should patent that idea as an alarm. The clock strikes 6am, the bed starts rolling, and boom! You’re awake.

My last morning’s run was much like my first. Nothing but ocean on either side. There was less fog than that first morning, and the ship was rising and falling more, but otherwise my run was very peaceful. Zen. Unencumbered by distractions, I ran the farthest and thought the most. Later that day we stopped in Victoria, Canada, and we returned to Seattle overnight, but I felt like my cruise was bookended by those two runs.

Normally, I hate running on a track. Running in circles is boring. I like to go somewhere when I run, watch the scenery change. Running in circles in the middle of the ocean is different. You’re moving forward at the same time. I was moving forward in every sense of the word. Each morning I got up and ran on that cruise was a gift, a gift I gave myself just by getting up and doing it.

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