Before going, we had breakfast at the ship's buffet, which had some unoriginal restaurant name like the Garden Cafe, or possibly the Cafe Garden, but which we all called Washy-Washy because one of the Filipino crew members stood by the entrance, playing a guitar and singing, to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down," a composition called "Washy Washy" which proclaimed the virtues of constant sanitizing, while another crew member chased after you trying to squirt hand cleaner on you before you touched anything.
This was an effort to prevent the outbreak of one of those cruise ship plagues which are so bad for the cruise business, where everyone on the cruise gets sick and has to go home. It worked, as far as that goes, but at the risk of everyone on board humming "Washy-Washy" to themselves throughout the trip, which is almost as bad.
After breakfast, we and the other zip-line enthusiasts were driven out to the mountain by Bonnie, a ball of friendly energy who combined a complete lack of knowledge about the port of Skagway with a personal inarticulateness that bordered on pathology, in her effort to detail us on the town's history. “Over there is something,” she said at one point, then pondered. “No, it’s not,” she decided. “I don’t know for sure," she finally confessed.
That is an actual quote. At one point she announced it was Wednesday, then said “What day is it for you guys?”
“It’s Wednesday for us, too,” I assured her.
Bonnie had only been in Alaska a few weeks. Most of the people I dealt with were likewise as much visitors there as me and my girl were—they were brought in to deal with the influx of summer tourists and would leave when the place froze over for the winter, most of them scheduled to go to the Caribbean to sell T-shirts and jewelry to the seasonal visitors there. So if you decide to go to Alaska to meet authentic Alaskans, however you imagine them to be, solemn natives or mighty woodsmen with majestic beards and smelly feet, don’t go by cruise ship.
At the zip line we were paired with another couple pushing retirement age. I suspect this was deliberate. We were given over to the care of a an expert zip-liner named Finn and an equally accomplished zip-lining young woman he addressed as “Aunt Carol,” even though both of them looked a year or two past legal drinking age at the most.
We soon learned that zip-lining was easy. All you have to do to get going is step off into empty space. Let me assure you, this is by no means instinctive when you are sixty feet above the ground. But we all managed it, clinging desperately to the cable that attached us to the zip line with our hands as we floated briskly to the next platform.
“Why are you using your hands?” Finn demanded. He then pin-wheeled off the platform and did a full one-eighty on the way to the next while waving at us with a psychopathic leer on his face. When we caught up with him, he told us “You guys are going to do that on the next one.”
“The intercourse we are,” I replied.
But he did get us to do some tricks. I managed to fly though the air with my hands outstretched in front of me, just like Superman, if Superman also needs to wear extremely tight, constricting underwear to remain aloft. Which, if you look at his costume closely, he might.
At Finn’s encouragement, I did a “trust fall” off one of the platforms, where you fall off backwards with your hands at your sides and trust that he has attached you to the zip line. He had.
At the end Aunt Carol offered to take a picture of me and the girl standing on the bridge over Grizzly Falls, as graduates of the Zip Line School of Arts, and managed to take the pic attached instead.
Oh, well. She belongs to the selfie generation.
Our only bad day was our day at sea on the way back from Skagway. We hit the open ocean about three in the morning and were promptly engulfed in fourteen-foot seas, which can make even a 900 foot cruise ship roll a bit. I had been on the ocean on many a snotty day before, and my girl was the Scopolamine Queen, with a patch behind each ear, so we were fine, but other passengers were not so lucky. “How are you today?” I greeted one fellow cruiser heartily in the forward elevator.
“I’m going to my room to be sick,” she replied without hesitation.
Feeling superior, I went back to my room to shave. While I had been in rough seas before, it was my first time attempting to shave in them, and a few minutes and six scraps of toilet paper later, had successfully figured out why beards are so popular with sailors.
Oh yeah, and Alaska was unbelievably beautiful. Whales spouted by the side of the ship, and we passed beaches that had more bald eagles on them than seagulls, navigated between sheer mountains where one nameless waterfall after another fell three thousand feet into the sea and sailed for days between majestic snowcaps that crowned utterly empty wilderness.
Go if you can.