Alaska Cruise Log Day 4: Skagway

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Sunset over the mountains and water after having left Skagway, Alaska

In The Shadow of a Mountain

ISO date 2015-08-04. Having left the curtains open the night before, I awoke on my own at 5:04 despite having gone to bed after midnight. The four page folded newsletter for the day said sunrise would be at 4:52 (no need to guess apparently), yet when I looked outside, the sun was just starting shine on the tops of nearby mountain peaks.

My roommate stirred, I asked him if he wanted to see the sunrise, he said no. Should I close the curtains? No. I let him keep sleeping. I got dressed and went up to see what was blocking the sun.

We had docked right next to a giant mountain, just the pier, a broad boardwalk with minimal vehicle access, and train tracks between us and the mountain’s sheer vertical face.

A forklift on the boardwalk carefully lifted and lowered gangplanks into place. I went outside and up to the Star Deck (19) to take more photos.

Another cruise ship was docking behind us, it had a giant helipad on its bow. Sunlight continued to descend down the sides of the mountains in front and to our port side.

An older gentleman powerwalked with walking poles on the official jogging track, a small loop on this highest deck. I descended back down to the Sun Deck, and took photos of Skagway from the bow, still lit only by dawn’s refracted light above.

The buffet finally opened at 6am and I was too hungry to wait for anyone else. Smoked salmon, a small premade veggie omelette, scrambled eggs with mushrooms & swiss cheese with salsa on top, diced roasted potatoes with ketchup on top.

An hour later I had caught up with my personal journal, and finished writing most of day 2’s log. Just as I got up to return to our rooms, I saw my mother approaching and saved my table for her. A few more of our crowd drifted in, sat down with their full buffet plates, and we tossed around ideas for our day onshore in Skagway.

With hours remaining before disembarkation, I returned to my room to nap a bit, and read some more MATM. Mom came by our balcony and we quickly summarized Skagway plans. I succumbed to connecting, tethered via her iPhone6. I found out later that media (like video) sent over a tethered connection is heavily down-sampled, until the grainy result is barely identifiable. I took another video of helicopters taking off and returning to the cruise ship across the way, an upsell tour option no doubt.

Got to about 1/3 of the way through MATM and finally cleaned up to get ready for shore. The kids had finally woken up, a good time to grab second breakfast and blog a bit more while they grabbed their first.

The entire process took long enough that I was hungry again, with only a few minutes to wait until the first cheese slices of the day were ready. My dad waited with me while I grabbed a couple of slices and we found a couple of lounge chairs, now finally illuminated by the mid-day sun. We eventually returned to the rooms to collect everyone to disembark together.

Skagway Summary

Skagway appears to be the northernmost stop for these massive Alaska cruises (it was certainly ours). By the time we walked into downtown Skagway, it was quite warm, and the tiny town looked like it was being overwhelmed with awkward tourists. The town itself had only one major street (“Broadway”) and certainly seemed to be deliberately presenting itself for tourist shopping.

While everyone else shopped, my younger sister and I found a semi-independent local coffee shop (they “served Starbucks coffee”) and picked up cold drinks. It was far warmer than usual in Skagway according to the locals. There was fairly universal acknowledgment of global warming being a real thing, despite the perhaps dominant conservative attitudes.

Being from a city that has its own far too touristy parts, I’m not a fan of such areas in other towns, especially when the town appears to have reorganized itself around as much. I photographed a few moments of cute small town design. After sampling some fudge from the “Alaskan Fudge Company”, I bought a 3-pack for my mom, and started walking back toward the ship with my dad. Everyone had their own idea of what they wanted to explore on the little touristy strip. I was done.

We made it back to the ship less than three hours after we had stepped foot in Skagway. It felt like it had been longer.

A Return to Cruise Comforts

The poolside grill had a halibut steak special, so of course I ordered one instead of the usual buffet fare. It was the perfect substantive snack before afternoon tea.

There was just enough time after tea yet before dinner to read some more MATM in the cool air-conditioned quiet of my stateroom. We dressed for dinner, and took the steps down to the “Da Vinci” restaurant for seated service. I sat between nephew2 and my dad.

I had noticed that the impulse to check my readers/notifications had returned even though I was offgrid. I think it took 12-24 hours of being off the grid the first time before I stopped checking my mobile for activity. Yesterday’s connectivity in Juneau seemed to refresh bad habits.

Dinnertime Dates and Seagulls

I asked nephew2 what was today’s ISO date. He got it after a couple of tries. When I asked him for the ISO ordinal date, it was trivial for him once he’d gotten the Gregorian ISO date right: 2015-216.

The kid’s placemat had an origami exercise, and a suggestion to start with a 5" on a side square sheet of paper, along with a printed ruler. Noting that all we needed was a square piece of paper, I taught nephew2 how to make a square piece from any rectangular piece by folding the corners over to make a square, then folding that crease back & forth repeatedly to weaken the paper to the point where it would tear cleanly in a straight line.

I pointed out that we had done so purely with the power of knowledge and our bare hands, without any tools. This seemed to please nephew2.

We proceeded to fold up origami seagulls one by one — a shape I hadn’t folded before, so I talked it through out loud with him, as I was figuring out each step myself, and he kept up. There were a few folds where he needed some help, however he’d apparently done some origami before, so he picked up the rest very quickly.

Triumphantly placing our seagulls on the table we talked about what to try next. Both of us have short attention spans so we tend to get along quite well, not being content to just sit and wait for whatever is supposed to happen next at a grown-up’s dinner table. We decided more math instead.

Squares, Cubes, and a Connection

He easily reviewed 1 through 10 squared. I pointed out that cubes were merely those same squares, multipled by their square factor again, and we started from 1.

1 was obvious. 2 he guessed without thinking so I made him talk it through. 3 he had to think through. We got to 4 cubed and the appetizers finally arrived. Caesar salad for me, a shrimp cocktail for him.

I walked him through 4 cubed with hints, and how the result was also a square! We broke it down to how many 2s it took. And how many 2s it took to multiple into an 8. Eventually he put it all together and got the right result: 64.

5 cubed was easy for him. 6 cubed took a bit more work, but once he got it he was super happy: 216.

I asked him if he remembered what the ISO ordinal date was that he had just figured out. He paused a moment, recalled, repeated 2015-216 from memory, his eyes lit up and he roared with laughter. He had just connected why I had chosen to drill him on cubes. (It being the 216th day of the year, 216 also being 6 cubed).

My dad the retired mathematician (math professor even), decided to keep quizzing him on cubes, and asked him about 7. Nephew2 figured it out as 7 time 50 minus 7. He knew 7 squared was 49, and that he could more easily figure out 7*50 = 350, and then subtract 7 = 343. Neither of us had taught him that explicitly. Interestingly, his older brother figured it out the more traditional way, 7*40 = 280 + (7*9 = 63) = 343. He went on to state 8 cubed and 9 cubed. They nephews challenged each other to 10 cubed which they both remarked was easy: 1000.

We finished dinner (I had a baked Alaskan salmon special, coffee, bites of others' desserts), and returned to our rooms.

Bittersweet But Real — My Vanilla Sky

I gathered my reading & writing things and went back outside to the Lido deck, grabbed a reclining chair by the pool under the big screen, caught up on my personal journal, and finished writing up day 2’s log.

The outdoors movie happened to be “The Longest Ride”, seemingly a classic Hollywood romance cliché, with an unrealistic and deceptive narrative as usual.

Removing myself from such reinforcements, I noticed the sky had turned into a swirling blend of blue, purple, pink, orange, and yellow (featured photo at top). We were on our way and the natural beauty around us snapped me back to reality.

I took it in and a few photos too, then returned to my room and got in bed. I read more MATM under the glow of my iPod’s backlight until I was halfway through the book.

I’ll take bittersweet but real triumphs & failures any day over deceptive cheery narratives that set unhealthy expectations.

My iPod lockscreen clock read 0:04. I put everything down and seconds later fell asleep.