Alaska Recap (4 of many, Skagway)

Photos associated with this post can be found here: Day 04 – Skagway

The ship arrived in Skagway at 8am, but we had decided to wait until 9am to leave the ship. We had the entire day in Skagway (until 9pm), and we figured that we had plenty of time to accomplish our plans. Skagway was the only port that didn’t have beautiful weather for us. It was cold, grey, and rainy in Skagway. However, we bundled up in layers. DH hadn’t brought a raincoat with a hood, so I lent him my travel hat (sun and rain resistant, and folds up for packing…gotta love L.L. Bean!). He looked adorable in my green flowered floppy hat all day. 😉 But, it kept his head dry!
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It was quite a walk from the ship to town down the dock, but the Pearl was actually parked at the most convenient of the four docks in Skagway. You could actually look straight down Main Street and see our ship at the end of the street.
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Most people do the White Pass railway in Skagway, which is part of why the ships stay there so long. Neither of us were that interested in the railway, especially because it took up so much of the day to do. Instead, we planned to visit a summer dogsledding camp and spend some time with puppies!

As we were walking into town, we saw a red hut selling tours, and we booked our dogsledding with them. We saved around $30-$40 versus the ship’s pricing. We did have to meet up with the tour at a different pier (the NCL Star’s pier) that was quite a walk away, but it was worth it. We booked for a 1pm tour so that we’d have time to do the evening White Pass railway if we decided we wanted to do it after all. That also gave us plenty of time in town in the morning to browse shops and locate internet access. DH was desperate to update his podcasts and ended up setting up camp at a wi-fi hotspot. I browsed the stores and picked up souvenirs for folks at home, including Pancake. (Pancake is getting some Alaskan salmon, intended for humans, as his souvenir.)

We went back to the ship for a quick lunch before our tour. The ship’s buffet always had some kind of curry meat (like pork curry or beef curry), and I ate that for lunch almost every day. It was very tasty and just spicy enough to be interesting without burning your mouth. We also dropped off our laptops. Then, we headed over to the Star’s pier to meet up with our tour. It was a bit hectic trying to find the meetup point, mainly because the train was also loading at the time, but we got there eventually. A mini-bus picked us up, along with Star passengers, for the tour. The actual tour is run by Alaska Excursions. Here’s a link to their site.

They drove us out of Skagway up a mountain road that was, in many areas, just wide enough for the bus and a small car. This is a map showing the road that we were on and where we went. The bus driver told us about the town and scenery as we headed to the camp. It was around forty minutes to get there from downtown. The bus driver told us that Skagway has one school, one bank, one grocery store, one post office, but thirty jewelry stores. 🙂

This jewelry thing makes sense in the Caribbean, but in Alaska, it perplexed us. In the Caribbean, at least you might have the vague impression that you’re saving money (despite the stores all being owned/operated by the cruise ship companies), and people tend to be more willing to spend money while on vacation anyways. The only reason we could think of to buy jewelry in Alaska from one of those Diamonds International places or similar is because of the lack of sales tax. Anyways…

The camp was near Dyea, which was a homestead camp during the gold rush, near the start of the Chilkoot trail. Our bus driver (I wish I could remember his name!) told us that people will still hike the Chilkoot for fun, usually over several days, but that his crazy girlfriend did it in one day. (His girlfriend is also a musher, and she gave the talk to us at the camp.) The area we drove past was beautiful, and that alone was almost worth the money…getting out of town and just getting to see the area.
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After the drive, we switched over to smaller mini-vans to ride through the camp and up an even steeper and narrower (and unpaved) road to where the dogs were eagerly waiting for us. We were divided into smaller groups and assigned a musher and team. Then, after a brief explanation of how the summer sled (essentially a large golf cart that was modified and had no engine) works and how to be safe, we were off!

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What the video doesn’t show very well is that one bad turn, and we’d be hanging off the edge of a cliff. But, the dogs clearly know where to go, and the mushers actually ride the brake on them the whole time to keep them from taking us too fast for safety. Our musher pointed out that if he wasn’t riding the brake, they’d be taking us so fast that we’d end up out of control on the curves. He also noted that on the real sleds for racing, there’s no brakes. 🙂 After the run, we got a chance to meet the dogs that had taken us for a ride.
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Then, we rode in the vans back down to the camp to listen to a quick talk on dogsledding. We learned that the most important rule of dogsledding is to never let go of the sled, because then you’re alone in the cold, and your sled will be miles ahead of you before the dogs get tired.
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We also learned that dogsledding is a dying sport. It costs a huge amount of money both to enter the Iditarod and to run the race, and there’s safety issues as well. Because it’s not (yet) TV friendly, it doesn’t get sponsorship, and so it’s getting smaller and smaller every year. All the mushers we met at the camp were either former Iditarod mushers or soon-to-be Iditarod mushers, and they’re working at this camp to get experience, build up their pack of dogs, and earn money toward the cost of running the race. We also learned that the dogs these days are a mix of greyhound and husky generally, versus the pure huskies that used to run it, that the dogs burn about six thousand calories a day when they’re running, and that the dogs wear little booties to protect their footpads from the ice.

Then, it was puppy time! I mostly held a puppy named Oscar. Oscar really was far more interested in chewing on my hoodie than me, but he was fun to hold and cuddle. We got to meet little 3-week old puppies, and we met a puppy named Pancake!

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After puppies, the bus took us back to Skagway, stopping at an overlook so we could get some pictures of the valley (which are in the gallery linked at the top of this post). Our driver (same guy) told us about how the tide changes by 20+ feet in this area. Sure enough, we got onto the ship on the fourth floor and had to use stairs. We’d gotten off on the sixth floor, and we were level with the dock at the time. I did a little more wandershopping in Skagway while DH enjoyed the internet. I also wrote and mailed postcards. 🙂 Then, we headed back to the ship. We were worn out, and we were planning to wake up early the next day for the Glacier Bay trip, so we just grabbed some wings at Blue Lagoon and crashed.

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