I’m comfortably ensconced in my tent on the bridge deck of the M/V Malaspina, just aft of the solarium. It’s a frighteningly dark night, with a layer of clouds obscuring any stars, the moon or any outline of the islands and the mainland sliding past. A cold, crisp wind blows, making for a chill night when one is out wandering the decks of the ferry, but here in my ancient VE-24 tent with a winter sleeping bag and a down comforter on top of a queen-sized inflatable mattress, well, I’m as snug as the proverbial bug in a rug.
We’re 24-plus hours out of Bellingham and about 12 short of Ketchikan. This first day at sea has been a great reminder of what’s missing in these hectic days of air-only travel. Yes, the pace is slow (compared to the Alaska Airlines 737s streaking past above the clouds) but this reversion to Alaska Time has been therapeutic. Sightseeing was tremendous, even by Alaska/British Columbia standards: the weather today was nothing short of fantastic, featuring blue skies with nary a cloud (until this layer rolled in right around sunset), green islands easing out of the steel-blue and cold-looking water, and high snow-covered peaks on the mainland to starboard. And in the slower going of ferry travel, one can take all these elements in, process them, and savor the connection between observer and observed that’s really there, visible and palpable if one chooses to breathe and see. It’s a therapy that has me growing ever more peaceful and comfortable the farther north we travel. Where just 24 hours ago I wondered (read: worried, fretted…stressed) about my path, now I’m simply enjoying it. And that’s been a welcome return home, not necessarily in terms of location (though it might be that, too) but psychologically.
And the ride has been just plain fun. It’s strange: I’ve taken two stints and watched DVDs on my laptop, and in those few hours it was as though this trip wasn’t taking place and I was back in California, Utah, Massachusetts…anywhere but here. And now. And while the intermissions were enjoyable, they’re not nearly as fun and enjoyable and comfortable as simply enjoying the scenery that surrounds the boat.
The clientele on board the Malaspina has been pretty cliche: military families bound for a new post; outdoor-sports enthusiasts fresh off several months in Joshua Tree heading north to enjoy what remains of winter and get a jump on summer; standard-issue rednecks loudly lamenting the demise of the “land of the free” heading to what they swear must surely be their salvation; and so on. The preponderance of southern accents is hardly surprising, especially the Okie and Texan twangs of the oil workers. The solarium tends to attract the solitary travelers, where they bunch up, swap cigarettes and stories; I’ve been enjoying my comfy front-row seat for this never-ending exodus to the holy land for society’s outcasts.
Or maybe that front-row seat is actually on the stage and I, too, am a player?