Alaska Cruise – Ketchikan & final days

Our final port of the trip! We definitely made this an epic stop: the guys went fishing and I went on a hike! Even better: as we finished breakfast while approaching port we were greeted by a bunch of whales right outside our dining room window!

Jon was definitely interested in trying to go salmon fishing as an excursion on our trip. Tim and David were also interested, but it was really early in the season for salmon fishing. Thankfully, Tim found a good tour operator who was honest with them about that fact, and suggested that they try for halibut first since that WAS in season, and if they wanted to switch over to salmon they could. This turned out to be a good suggestion, since everyone caught halibut!

The guys motored for about an hour to the fishing grounds, seeing whales and porpoises along the way. It was super cold at first, but it ended up being a beautiful day!

Everyone started off bottom fishing for halibut and Jon was the first to catch a halibut – within the first 10-15 minutes! It was about 33″ – a keeper for sure! The guys continued to catch fish – several “rock fish,” two smaller halibut (“chickens”) that they decided not to keep (since you can only keep one per person) and the most unique catch of the day – Tim’s “dog fish”. There were lots of exciting false alarms throughout the morning… when Tim caught the dog fish they thought they had a big keeper halibut, and they thought the smallest of the keepers was a real monster because it took nearly twice as long to reel in. When it was all said and done, they ended up with “keeper” halibut within just two hours! A very busy and fulfilling morning of fishing.

Since the plan was to hopefully limit out on halibut and switch over the salmon, their guide had strategically taken them to a halibut fishing spot that was just minutes away from a salmon fishing spot. So, after limiting out, they switched gears to start trolling with two poles setup off the back of the boat.

The guide warned them that he hadn’t landed a keeper salmon yet this season; and the entire fleet was only catching one a day. But it had been a banner day so far, and their luck continued and they got a big hit right away. Unfortunately, they lost that first fish but it got everyone really excited. Ultimately, they caught several juvenile “shaker” salmon that were too small to keep and then David landed a 20 lb keeper King Salmon.

After a very successful day fishing, they discussed the shipping options on the way back into shore. They had caught a lot of fish!! David generously offered to cover the costs to have them prepared and shipped back to Tim and Ruth’s house. The rock fish, which couldn’t be thrown back, were donated to a local charity.

All in all, it was a banner day for fishing, as everyone caught a “big one” and plenty of little ones that they didn’t keep as well!

While the guys were fishing, I headed off to Deer Mountain to attempt to make it to the summit. The season for this hike is typically June – September. Sooner than June you run the risk of the trail be snowed over. I figured it was worth the risk since the weather had been really nice the last few weeks, and the weather was perfect for hiking today. Bonus: this trail is considered one of the best day hikes due to it’s close proximity to town and the panoramic views that you earn. Although the trailhead was only 1.5 miles from the cruise ship terminal area, it is UPHILL. I didn’t know how arduous the hike would be, so I took a taxi to the trailhead.

My goal was to make it the 3.35 miles one way to the summit, hiking up over 3,000′ of elevation gain. The trail quickly began to switchback through moss-covered trees. The sound of running water was everywhere! After about 40 minutes, I reached the first view point, and it was just like the best pictures I saw on AllTrails! I was so lucky to have such a beautiful day, I couldn’t believe it. As I soaked in the views a huge blue jay kept me company, which was also super neat!

Continuing on, the trail continued to switchback and was very wet – at points water fully covered the trail and was essentially a shallow stream running down the trail! I walked carefully through the wet spots and eventually the trail began to reach the top of the tree line and I came across my first patches of snow just before reaching the second view point. The trail got a little confusing here, with the offshoot to the view point being just that – an off shoot. I worked my way back and continued along the trail which was quickly and suddenly covered in surprisingly deep snow.

At first I was able to follow others tracks through the snow but eventually reached a point where all that was ahead of me was a field of snow – no trail, no footprints. Being alone and with no other hikers in sight, I decided that it would be safest to turn back. I was about 2/3 of the way to the summit.

I knew that this had been a possible outcome for my day, so I wasn’t too disappointed not to make it all the way. The views thus far had been great, and the weather had held up perfectly. Heading down, I actually ended up taking a different route, although I don’t recall seeing any splits in the trail on the way up!

Since I wasn’t able to complete the full hike, I figured I owed myself a walk back to town. All in all, I got in about 6 miles and my feet were tired!! After a brief rest back on ship, Ruth and I met up to get some food and head out to explore Ketchikan.

As we were walking around, I couldn’t believe how tired I was. My feet were really tired of course, but my whole body was really tired too. It turned out that I was getting sick, which was a major bummer but I’m so glad it didn’t happen until the end of our trip, and we were still able to do pretty everything that we wanted to do.

We departed Ketchikan at 6 pm and began our 549 mile cruise back to Vancouver. We’d be cruising all day Friday, our last full day on the ship to make it back. Everyone had a relaxing day, and especially me – I pretty much rested in the room all day until dinner time.

Saturday we arrived back in port in Vancouver, and had a leisurely morning since our group didn’t disembark until about 9 AM. So we all enjoyed one last breakfast on the ship, then relaxed in our rooms until it was time to go. The entire disembarking process was super fast and easy – I think we kept waiting to find the line that wasn’t there. A great way to end the cruise in light of how much longer the boarding process took.

Looking back over the last week, we really couldn’t have asked for a better cruising experience. I would definitely recommend an Alaska cruise to everyone, even people (like me!) that aren’t big on cruises. Our particular itinerary was perfect as well, since you never were cruising for so long that you got bored/felt trapped on the boat. One day at a time was so great, since you got to relax a bit between the ports which were much more go-go-go, see-see-see. And we got SO lucky with the weather!



Alaska – Glacier Bay

After two epic days in port, we spent Wednesday cruising in Glacier Bay. We had seen Mendenhall Glacier at what seemed like fairly close up, but the scale and impressiveness of the glaciers we visited in Glacier Bay was no comparison. All of the glaciers we visited in Glacier Bay are tidewater glaciers – which means that they are fed by enough snow in the mountains to flow out of the mountains and down to the sea.

Our first glacier of the day was Lamplugh Glacier, which is about ¾ mile wide, 150 to 160 feet high at the face, 10 to 40 feet deep at the waterline, and over 16 miles long. While you hear about about global warming and glaciers receding, Lamplugh has been stable for the last 50+ years, and has actually advanced very slightly.

Jon and I headed off to our workout class, so we actually didn’t get to see the second glacier of the day, Johns Hopkins Glacier. Johns Hopkins Glacier continues to advance with Gilman Glacier as a single ice front. The glacier is about 1-mile wide, 250 feet high at the terminus, and 200 feet deep at the water line. It is formed from numerous tributary glaciers, many of which extend 12 or more miles into the surrounding peaks. It calves such volumes of ice that it is seldom possible for larger boats to approach its ice cliffs closer than about two miles.

We were able to rejoin Tim, Ruth and David on the bow in time to see Margerie Glacier, which was the most impressive of the glaciers we saw (in my opinion). Margerie is about 1-mile wide, with an ice face that is about 250 feet high above the waterline, but with its base about 100 feet below sea level. It’s about 21 miles long. The ice flows about 6 feet per day. It has been advancing about 30 feet per year for the past couple of decades. We even got to see some calving, which was pretty cool!

In addition to the epic sights of the glaciers themselves, we also saw a good amount of wildlife – some whales spouting, and at Margerie we saw seals and a bald eagle hanging out on the ice flow. We even saw more mountain goats along the hillside as we cruised!

One of the things that really jumped out at me was just how COLD it was by the glaciers. Which makes logical sense, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting the bitter cold after how mild and nice our first few days had been.

We were watching the glaciers until approximately 1:30 PM, then we relaxed and napped the rest of the afternoon. Tonight was our second and final gala night. We didn’t take too many pictures tonight, but did catch a few!

Alaska Cruise – Skagway

It was just a quick 102 miles to get to Skagway on Tuesday. This was our longest port day – 7 am to 9 pm. We had our first excursion of the trip booked for today – a bus tour of the White Pass and Yukon Route. Being the experts that they are, Tim and Ruth had previously done both the train and bus option and strongly encouraged us to do the bus option since you can actually stop along the way and take pictures. We followed their recommendation and were not disappointed. It was a beautiful day – the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we barely needed our jackets!

Our first stop was this stunning overlook with all these waterfalls running down the mountains. There’s actually a pipeline that collects all that water and creates energy from it, which powers most of Skagway and some of Haines.


The next stop was Bridal veil falls – the entire falls itself is actually about 600 feet, but you can only see about 45 feet from the road. The amazing part is that the water is so clean you can just fill up your water bottle and drink from the falls, no filtering required. You can see our guide filling his bottle in the first photo below so you can get a sense of scale.


Our tour continued on to the Canada/Alaska border. Fun fact: since the winters are so knarly up here, the border stations on both sides are 8 miles from the border itself so that the workers didn’t have quite such an arduous commute and so that they didn’t have to rebuild every few years after the buildings got destroyed by the snow.


While the whole tour was a beautiful exploration of Alaska and Canada, there were a couple stops along the way that were especially beautiful. This roadside lake was one of those spots. It was so awesome seeing freshly melted ice floating in the water, and seeing the reflections of the mountains in the water.


Our next break was at the Yukon suspension bridge, which I would definitely enjoy revisiting because they had some impressive displays that I was only able to scan.


We stopped at another lake which was apparently still frozen over just one week prior! But it was totally melted and smooth when we stopped. Our guide told us a story about a friend who was ice fishing on that lake and caught a 40-something lb trout that was so big he couldn’t get it out of the hole in the ice! Our guide thought this was quite the tall tale since large lake trout are usually about 20 lbs. But then, on a separate occasion, our guide was talking to a women who worked for the Department of Fish and Game, and told her to story and asked if his buddy was exaggerating. But she told him no – they’ve actually caught trout as big as 89 lbs up there!


Eventually, we make it to the northern terminus of our tour – the Yukon territory. The most exciting thing about this stop was that there were mountain goats really low on the hillside.


We didn’t make nearly as many stops on the way back but we did make a quick stop at our third lake. Then, a bit later in our drive we saw a porcupine and then a bear alongside the road!!


The tour was promoted as a 3 hour tour but ours easily lasted 4-4.5 hours. But we didn’t mind, it was fabulous and our guide was very good. Note to future travelers: definitely don’t book through the cruise lines. We booked the same tour directly and saved 40%.

Afterwards, we walked around town a bit checking out the shops and doing a little souvenir shopping. We had tickets for a National Park Service walking tour, but sadly our guide left a lot to be desired so we bailed and went to get a snack at Skagway Brewing Company and refresh ourselves with the local “spruce tip” beer – apparently it’s very high in vitamin C.


After our lunch break, the guys and I headed off to hike Lower Dewey Lake trail, depending on your data source the hike is between 3 and 4 miles. The first section was quite uphill and after a short easier section we reached the lake. We went around the lake clockwise, and the first 25% was really tough – a lot of rock scrambling! Although I suppose that’s better than having to cross that at the end…


It was an epic day exploring White Pass, the Yukon and a local hike but the day wasn’t over yet! We had to take our picture with the Welcome to Skagway sign! Then, despite the long day, we managed to capture the late light before bed – there was still so much light in the sky at 11 pm!!


Alaska Cruise – Juneau

On Monday we approached our first port – Juneau. As we got closer, the weather was crisp, the sky was blue and we were in whale watching territory!

Unfortunately, as we arrived in Juneau at 1 PM the weather took a darker and damper turn. But we were expecting it – the forecast had been calling for rain for weeks so it was no surprise and we were ready with our rain jackets and ponchos!

Today we were heading to Mendenhall Glacier, which is well known since it’s so easily accessible. The glacier itself is about 13 miles long, and is retreating – in fact the entire Mendenhall Lake area was previously the glacier itself back in it’s heyday. Although we got rained on a bit, it really wasn’t bad at all.

Next to the glacier is Nugget Falls – which is caused by snow melt from Nugget Glacier, which is no longer visible from where we were – but it’s back there somewhere. The waterfall was running quite full while we were there. It was very impressive, it’s actually 377 feet tall but falls in two tiers of 99 feet and 278 feet. I think we could only see the bottom tier.

We wanted to explore a little bit more before heading into town, so David, Jon and I checked out a bit of a different trail. The coolest part was the moss covered trees, and it was neat to get a different view of the lake and glacier. Had it been later in the season, this was also an area where we may have seen salmon swimming!

After departing Mendenhall Glacier, we headed back into Juneau to walk around town and bit and check out the shops. It was still pretty chilly and damp so we didn’t explore too long, but we did get a good taste for the town and got to see some of the local artwork, which I love!

We were back on the ship well before we left port (10 PM) and actually had a reasonably early dinner. Early enough to finish in time for an epic sunset (at 9 PM!!) before we headed over to the evenings comedy show… although “Pip” left a bit to be desired… A magical end to our first true day exploring Alaska.

Alaska Cruise – Part 1

There’s no way that a 10 day vacation is going to fit into a single blog post, so I’m going to break this up a bit. It was a whirlwind at work for both Jon and me leading up to the trip. Normally, I’d start laying things out at least a week in advance but not this time. We were grabbing everything the night before we departed and I was really glad that we were caught up on laundry so we had access to everything we needed!

Friday afternoon, we’re rushing out of work to get to our rental car in Oxnard. My step-dad, James, was kind enough to take us so that was one less worry to deal with. Now working through traffic to get to LAX. I don’t see how it’s going to take an hour and 40 minutes to go 60 miles, and we’re making good time by taking the 1 down the coast. As we get into Santa Monica, the GPS is saying we’re about 10 miles from the airport, but still have another 40 minutes. What?? GPS wasn’t kidding but thankfully we made it with enough time to check our bags and we could finally relax. Flying out of LAX is rough!!

Our cruise departed out of Vancouver, so we had an easy flight up. Customs was super easy, barely any lines. They have these fancy machines that do a lot of the steps for you so I think that helps it go faster. We were meeting the rest of the family at our Air BnB in Vancouver, so we got in a cab and headed over. I think our cabbie was in a race to see how many customers he could service in an hour, because he was flying!! We didn’t mind though – it was late and we were ready to go to bed!

Our Air BnB was really nice, and now that the family was all together it felt like the vacation had really begun! Especially after a good nights sleep. We slept in a bit, then headed off to the local Tim Horton’s for breakfast, which is apparently Canada’s Dunkin Donuts.


Soon enough, it was time to check out and head over to the cruise terminal and to check in for our cruise!! We were taking Holland America cruise line, a ship called the Nieuw Amsterdam! After a few hours of queuing, we finally boarded.


The good news was that our bags had already been delivered to our rooms, so we could immediately settle in prior to the “sail away”. As we prepared to leave Vancouver, it was such a beautiful clear day. That evening, we enjoyed our first meal in the dining room, which was excellent!! They did a great job with more “fine dining” style portions, probably assuming that most people are going to have a three or four course meal! Which we did! Yum!

Our first full day on the cruise was at sea – heading up to Juneau, 792 miles away. Being our first full day of vacation, we really soaked up the relaxation and explored the ship’s amenities. Jon and I did a workout class that we would somewhat regret for the next two days as it hurt to move any part of our body, and later enjoyed time up in the “crows nest” taking in the views of the coastline.

The big excitement of Sunday was Sunday night – our first Gala evening! We got dressed up in our finest – the guys in their tuxes! And headed down for an even more “stepped up” dining experience.

Race Report: Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3

After Vineman 70.3 sold out in 5 minutes in 2016, I was nervous that I’d be able to get into the new “Santa Rosa 70.3” which replaced Vineman in 2017. Further stressing me out was that I would be in a training session at work without computer access! Oh no! Mom to the rescue – She was able to successfully register me! Woohoo! In fact, it actually took a few weeks for the race to sell out … I think a lot of people were apprehensive about the new course and timing change – the race moved up from July to May.

Flash forward 9 months, and race weekend was finally here. Santa Rosa was a Saturday race, so Thursday night we headed up north to Jon’s folks place in San Mateo (save on those hotel costs). We left super late due to some work conflicts that had to be taken care of, getting into San Mateo after midnight. We got a few hours of sleep, but Friday was an early morning since we had a two hour drive to Santa Rosa, through Friday commute traffic, and lots to do. This was Tessa’s first road trip, and she did really good in the car for hours and hours.

We made it to Santa Rosa in time to check in and attend the 9 am athlete briefing. We got talking with another couple after the briefing, which was great but got us a bit sideways on time. So we hurried, dropping off my run gear, and hustling out to the Swim start, about 40 minutes away. The new course kept the split transition concept of Vineman, but there’s practically no parking up by the reservoir (since the large parking lot got taken over for T1) so we had to park way up a *steep* hill to check my bike. But first – a quick spin on my bike since I had to take off both wheels for the trip up so I wanted to make sure everything was in good working order.

Finally, the bike was checked and we could have some fun. But again, we were running a bit late for our reservation at Domaine Carneros for a sparkling tour! We arrived just a few minutes late and were still able to join Mom and James on the tour. I had done the tour years before, and was pleasantly pleased to still learn new information on this one! Afterwards, we had reservations at the “members only” tasting area, where we enjoyed some snacks! But I need more than snacks before a race, so we headed down the street to The Boon Fly Cafe, a restaurant that Mom and James knew was good. We all had phenomenal dinners, and Mom got the most epic fried chicken we’ve ever seen!! It was delicious too.

After a whirlwind day, we finally checked into our Air BnB which was amazing! It was the perfect little studio setup very close to the race finish. Definitely made us wish we were staying longer than 2 nights! It was an early night, since we had to be up VERY early the next morning.

Tessa enjoying the view from our studio.

After listening to the athlete briefing, we had decided that I would take the athlete shuttle up to the swim start, and Jon, Mom and James would watch for me early on the bike. Although the new swim venue (the lake itself) is very nice, the access was much worse IMO vs. Vineman. Essentially, the spectators would be trapped at T1 until all the athletes were out on the bike course since there was only one road in, and therefore out, of the swim start (and it’s the same road the athletes are biking out on). It would be the first time that Jon wasn’t with me at the start of a 70.3! In retrospect, I was glad that they didn’t try to make it to the swim start – the spectators that did come out were clinging onto the side of a crazy steep hill at the start of the swim. It had to be a pain!

Race morning came, and with the anticipation of the day it’s pretty easy to get up. I do my routine, and we’re only a few minutes late to meet up with my fellow tri club member, Cassidy, at the athlete shuttle. They did get the athlete shuttle down really well. There were more than enough buses for everyone, but they miss-quoted the amount of travel time… I think they said 40 minutes but it took closer to 55, getting us there with only 25 minutes to finish race prep before the start. That probably could have been improved a bit… We had to use the restroom, so tried to take care of that first. Bad decision. The lines were barely moving, and after 20 minutes of waiting I had to bail so that I could drop my bike gear before transition closed. I made it into transition with, like… 1 minute to spare. I was dumping my bags, switching stuff into my morning gear check bag and trying not to forget anything critical I would need for the bike as the announcers reminded us that transition was closed… I got everything done, running out of transition and finally got to use the restroom. Phew! Definitely more stressful than I would have liked. As I was hurrying down to the swim start, putting my wet suit on, a nice gentleman called me over to him to help me get it on all the way (I appreciate a second set of hands while hopping to get it up real good over my hips). We shared a chuckle since he is normally the one racing, but was there that morning cheering for his wife, and he commented that it’s harder being on this side of things!

I’m finally ready to start the swim, and Santa Rosa was also debuting a rolling swim start – my first rolling start! Basically, athletes self-seed themselves by their expected swim time. Logistically, this made things challenging since no one would know when I actually started the race, so Jon, etc. wouldn’t know when to expect me. The plus was that entering the water was definitely less chaotic versus a typical age group start! One area for improvement would be the pace signs – they were static, so if you didn’t find your pace group before the first wave went off you had no idea where the rest of your pace group was in the queue. It would have been better to have moving pace group holders (like in big running races) that move with the line as athletes enter the water. IMO… Since I got there late, I was definitely behind my pace group which sort of made me feel bad-ass since I passed a lot of folks on the swim which doesn’t often happen!

Our swim venue, sort of – This is a picture we took during training in April. On race day, due to weather conditions we actually swam on the other side of the bridge.

My goal for the swim was to finish under 40 minutes. As we approached the final turn, I snuck a peek at my watch and I was already at 38 or 39 minutes… I knew I wasn’t going to make my goal but I kept pushing, finishing the swim in 40:33.

From our course preview trip in April, I knew going into the race that T1 involved a long run up the boat ramp from the water. During the athlete briefing they kept saying how the ramp would be carpeted… reality check: it was carpeted for maybe… 10% of the run, just the part right when you get out of the water. Next time: leave a pair of shoes down by the swim start so you don’t kill your feet. Or wear swim booties – it was cold enough that they were allowed but I don’t own swim booties and I was too rushed to think to bring my shoes down to the start with me. Bummer, because my feet felt like they were burning up running up on that cement. Ouchy!

Finally, thankfully, I made it to my bike in T1 and got myself ready for the bike. The morning was chilly (in the 40’s), but not as terribly bad as you would think you’d feel being wet. I ultimately did decide to wear my bike jacket and gloves, and was glad for the most part that I had them. I never got overly hot, just a bit warm at times. The bike course was beautiful and rolling. I was looking forward to seeing Jon, Mom and James around mile 15 and kept my eyes peeled as I approached the town where they should be. It was a quick hello as I made my left turn through town – only another 40 miles before I’d see them again! I was pleased with my bike – the course is hilly, so it’s challenging but a do-able challenge.

After 3:10:43 I was rolling into T2 and saying “hi” to Jon, Mom, James, Tim and Ruth! My whole cheer crew!! It was nice that my rack was close to the side of T2, so we could chat really quick about how I was feeling… and I had to pee! A quick stop, then time to do work on the run. When conditions are right, I can run well. The trick has always been 1) weather – can’t be too hot and 2) the bike – can’t go too hard or I use up my legs too soon and sometimes… 3) poor nutrition like last year’s run at Vineman. In training this year I switched over to Huma gels, which are working perfectly for me thanks to their natural and light flavors. Yum!

I was feeling good heading out on the run. The first section was a bit new since we hadn’t 100% figured out all the loops and turns when we were here for training, but I actually kind of like the not knowing at bit. I knew the bulk of the run was going to be on these awesome tree covered trails, so I just had to get out of the sidewalk part first. The first mile or so while you’re on the sidewalk is super crowded. You can really only fit three athletes across and you have (human) traffic coming both ways. So it was really easy to get blocked in and sort of have to wait to get around people, which can mess up your pacing.

A sample of the tree-lined section of the run course from our April preview

This run is probably one of my favorite two-loop courses – the first loop goes out over 4 miles, then the second loop is a shorty – only about 2 miles out. So mentally you can really work with that. I ran really well on the first loop and set myself up for a good time. And I got that extra boost of energy at the turn around, since my cheering team was well placed. It was so nice to see them, and know that the next time I saw them I’d be all done!! On that second loop I was definitely hurting and mentally doing lots of math to keep myself distracted (I was doing something with seconds saved in the bank every time I ran a mile faster than my target pace and then taking seconds out of the bank when I went slower than my target pace… it kept me busy HAHA).

I kept pushing and finished the run in 1:52:22, completing 70.3 in 5:58:10. I had some long transitions that prevented this from being a PR race, but I was able to beat my previous best swim and run times, and improved my bike by 4 minutes from Vineman last year! A pretty darn good start for my first race of the year, and I still have a few months to get ready for Santa Cruz 70.3.

After the race everyone regrouped and we caught up on the day. Cassidy found us after her finish, she did great on her very first 70.3!! Tim and Ruth went off to explore and nap, while we wandered around the expo – I wanted to get my free beer! Then we went to Belly for some much needed food with Mom and James. Afterwards, we headed back over to transition for gear pick up – so much better than last year at Vineman. Now they let you go pick out your bag and just check the number on the bag against your bib/pick up ticket. We dropped Mom and James back off at their place then headed home for a much needed nap before dinner. We took Ruth and Tim out to LoCoco’s for an early Mother’s Day dinner, followed by walking around, finding Snoopy’s (Tim’s favorite!), coffee and treats!! Such an epic day and I’m so thankful for my family to be out there cheering me on!! It really does make a big difference being able to look forward to those sections where you’ll see them.