Fraser Lake to Ketchikan (the middle passage?)

            June 23 – We had originally planned on leaving Fraser Lake today and driving to Prince Rupert where we would catch the ferry two days later, but Fraser Lake and the campground were both very nice and internet research indicated that the place we were going to stay in Prince Rupert was a dump.  So we decided to stay an extra day.  In the morning we rode our bikes around the area.  We got a glance of a bear by a road, but he ran away quickly.  In the afternoon we put the kayaks in the lake and did some paddling.  The lake was beautiful and calm.  We went along the shoreline seeing birds and jumping fish.  After about an hour we decided to cross the lake to the other shore and follow it back to the campground.  This shore had sheer cliffs that dropped off into the lake.  On the way we spotted what appeared to be some kind of painted symbol on one of the cliffs.  Whether it was modern or ancient we don’t know.  The waterproof camera box hadn’t been fitted up yet so we didn’t get a picture.  We had planned on following the stream that the lake drained into, but the wind picked up and the skies darkened and within 15 minutes there were one foot white cap waves headed towards us.  We decided to make a bee line for the campground.  While it never actually rained on us this squall was very challenging as the waves were pushing us sideways, but the wind was head on.  It was some tough paddling, but we made it back just fine.  We spent the evening by a warm fire, complaining about sore muscles.


            June 24 – We packed up camp in the morning, but our departure was delayed as Dave decided that it was time to hook up the CD player in the truck.  So after thousands of miles of constantly switching radio stations we had good tunes.  The drive to Prince Rupert took about 5 hours.  On the way we went through more pretty mountains.  When we arrived in Prince Rupert we drove by the place we had planned on staying at and it was an awful RV park.  Luckily, we had a back up campground about 15 miles away.  While in town Dave fuelled the truck fearing high prices in Alaska.  We stopped off at a fishing supply store and Stacie bought a new hat.  We drove out to the back up campground and settled in for the night.

            June 25 – Our ferry left at 1:45 in the afternoon, but we were required to be in the check in line by 10:45 (we had to go through Customs to re enter the U.S.).  We woke up early, paranoid about missing the boat.  We got into town around 9:30.  Dave decided to get a haircut and that killed some time.  We checked out the local home center (a Lowes it was not) and picked up some rope for our hammock.  We arrived at the vehicle line up for the ferry at 10:30.  There was no rhyme or reason to how things worked.  There was one employee wandering around measuring and inspecting cars and RV’s to make sure their propane tanks were shut off.  He walked by us several times but never stopped.  After a while Dave walked down to the office to see what to do.  There were two lines to choose from and all of the people who were waiting were equally confused – no one knew which line to use or what they were waiting for.  Dave picked a line and waited and waited, having some great conversations with other travelers.  About 30 minutes into the waiting, the rumor that the line was for people with unpaid reservations was passed around.  Almost everyone in the line had paid reservations, so they decided to stay in the line since the other line hadn’t moved at all.  A veteran Alaska traveler in the line commented that things move a little slower in Alaska.  Dave finally reached the counter, presented our passports and had tickets in hand within 2 minutes.  Upon returning to line up area Dave saw the truck standing alone.  Most of the other vehicles had been sent down to the loading area.  The RV inspector had stopped by the truck while Dave was gone and told Stacie that Dave had to see him upon returning.  Dave found the guy and he said “oh yeah, you can go down there”. 

            The next stop was the U.S. Customs inspection.  We pulled up to the booth and the inspector took our passports and started questioning us.  “Are you carrying any Canadian beef products?”  NO.  “Welcome back, please pull forward.”  And that was it, we gave our ticket to the Purser and were assigned another line to park in to wait for loading.  Loading was it’s own special chaos.  Since the ferry stops at 5 ports on a trip, they have to load the cars in some kind of order, putting those for the first stop in the front and those for the last stop in the back.  The Purser had assigned vehicles in lanes based on destination, but she hadn’t sorted by size so the first step of the process was a guy who came through and started telling people to switch lanes which was fine but we were all parked bumper to bumper in 6 lanes.  We were lucky and didn’t have to move.  After a while they started loading and the same guy would come through and look at a car and then call to the ship on a radio to see if it would fit.  Twice he signaled to us to start up and move and then heard the voice on the radio say “that won’t fit.”  This made us nervous because we were for the first stop.  Finally he came to us and told the ship he had a 21 footer.  They radioed back “got anything bigger?”  He muttered some expletives and replied “yeah I got one” and sent us, followed by a Honda chaser.   As we pulled on the ship the flagger directed us the left side of the ship and then chased us down and said “my mistake, the other side”.  Once on the right side we were directed all the way to the front of the lines where the crew member proceeded to talk us through every step of parallel parking into an existing line of vehicles rather than saying “put it there”.  While the Honda behind us was small enough to fit in behind us, there wasn’t enough room for it to maneuver in.  The crew members told the driver to pull in diagonally and leave it.  After the driver left four big guys came over and pushed the back end into place.  While we were getting our bags out of the truck one of the big crew members asked us where the wings were for our planes.  He also wanted to know where Virginia was.

            The ferry trip itself was uneventful.  There was what we would call a light misting rain (the locals insisted it was cloudy) that kept us from seeing any scenery so we have no pictures to share.  The Forest Service gave lectures on spotting wildlife and bear safety during the trip.  For short while the ferry left the Inside Passage area and was exposed to open ocean causing it to roll from side to side.  One great discovery on the trip was free showers – at least we knew we’d be clean each time we arrived in a new city.  Just outside of Ketchikan we did see a massive upside down tree stump with 9 bald eagles on it.  Upon reaching the dock we were the third vehicle off the boat.  Again the loader insisted on talking Dave through each step of turning right and driving straight off the ferry.  Not knowing how much room the truck needed to turn, the loader kept insisting Dave go straight instead of starting his turn.  By the time the loader allowed us to cut it hard we were headed for a wall.  At that point he walked away and let us find our own way off.  We headed north on the Tongass highway (the only main road) and promptly missed the turn for our campground.  Upon closer inspection we found that the U.S. Forest service learned how to give directions from the Canadians.  We knew the campground was near Ward Lake so we drove to the lake and wandered around, finally getting our bearings on the map and finding the campground.  We found the road the directions said to use – it had been abandoned several years ago and was now a hiking trail.

            Shortly after our arrival we were greeted by our campground hosts – a charming couple from Oklahoma (most government campgrounds have volunteer hosts who keep an eye on things and collect fees).  Unlike any other hosts we’ve ever dealt with, they were outgoing and interactive.  Plus they had lots of great advice – where to go for the best eagle viewing, what plants not to touch, who’s got the best halibut sandwich in town etc.  It really made us feel welcome in the area.  After talking with them for a while we got the tent up and crashed for the evening.