It’s 10:30am on a Sunday morning and we’re parked in the parking lot at the Exit Glacier Nature Center outside Seward, Alaska. It’s pouring rain. The clouds are low over the mountains and through the mist I can see snow. Lots of it. It won’t be long before the snow makes its way down here.
Sam-a-lam, Miss B and I are hanging in The Big Blue Bus (and staying warm) while the others hike back to see the glacier. We’ve added a person to our menagerie. Jacob’s friend Julia is visiting from Houston. They attended the same online school (Williamsburg Academy) and have been best friends for a couple years now.
We were thrilled when Julia had the opportunity to join us here in Alaska for part of The Big Blue Bus Tour. Originally she was going to drive from Anchorage to Seattle with us, but since our plans have changed and we are barging The Big Blue Bus to Seattle instead of driving it, Julia is joining the Alaska portion of our tour. (Which is a better deal anyway!)
Yesterday morning we finally got the bus loaded and I’m surprised at how much it feels like home. Departing Palmer yesterday I took my seat behind Jake. I was giddy with excitement. I have missed living in our bus.
When we arrived in Alaska, we promptly unpacked the bus and started working on the interior. The woodwork was mostly complete, but Jake had to build the kitchen and add a few shelves that we realized we needed – like a place for us to stack our shoes at the door. Then it was time to sand and paint. The cushions went to a family friend to be upholstered. By the time the vinyls arrived from BushCreative everything started to come together.
During construction we’ve been staying with family, part of us living with my sister Becky and part of us living with my sister Megan. Perhaps my excitement to get back on the bus comes from being together as a family. It feels right.
It’s a different experience viewing the land you love through the eyes of a visitor. Julia arrived on a gorgeous Alaskan fall day. The sky was blue and the air was crisp. We drove to McHugh creek for family pictures. I took pictures for a family and then we had our own family pictures taken. It could not have been a more perfect evening. The sunset was glorious and as we drove home to Palmer, we spied Denali (Mt. McKinley) silhouetted over downtown Anchorage.
Yesterday we drove south along Turnagain Arm. It’s my favorite drive – of all time – EVER. Which is saying something – we’ve driven all over the U.S. and Canada and nothing stops my heart like that drive. I grew up in south Anchorage and this is home. (Though I’m still FREEZING. I haven’t been warm in weeks.) We watched the bore tide and kept our eyes out for beluga whales. We stopped in Girdwood and visited Alyeska Resort. We rode the tram to the top of the mountain. The views were magnificent and in the distance we saw a black bear frolicking near a lake.
Miss B charmed everyone we met and we handed out our Big Blue Bus Tour travel cards to new friends. She also stopped my heart at the top of the mountain. The girl has no fear and she pushes her limits. That’s not a great combination near cliffs. My lifespan was shortened by a dozen years last night. She asked if we could to the store and buy a hang glider so she could jump off the mountain.
As we climbed back into the bus, poor Sam wasn’t feeling well. He climbed straight into bed and fell asleep. Dark was approaching quickly and rain was falling. Our drive continued south as we headed toward Seward. Occasionally Jake would pull out the PA system and share tourist tidbits about Alaska. Eventually I took Miss B back to our bed and laid down with her in an effort to put her to sleep.
Jake found a campground 20 miles north of Seward where we stopped for the night. I was worried about the chill in the air. The temperatures were to drop to the low 30*s and we only have heat in the bus when it’s running. There’s nothing fun about being in an idling diesel bus. The fumes are noxious. My sister lent us stacks of extra blankets and I hoped it would be enough to keep us from freezing to death overnight.
Before turning off the lights and the bus engine, everyone changed into cozy sleeping clothes (making sure to wear socks!) and brushed their teeth. I distributed the blankets while Jake made sure his gun was handy. It took a few minutes for all the giggles and talking to stop once the lights went out. Finally it was quiet and the sound of deep breathing filled the bus.
We were awoken several times in the night. Sam-a-lam had a nightmare and had difficulty waking up. His fever had spiked and we tried to make him comfortable. An hour later Jake woke me up. Miss B was sleeping between us for body heat and she had peed. That was a special treat.
As I sit here and catch up on the latest of our adventure, I’m filled with gratitude and joy. I’m also hoping that those hiking to the glacier don’t meet a bear on the trail. Julia is hoping to see wildlife on our trip, and I’m hoping it’s from the windows of the bus, and not face to face on a trail.
We’re going to continue on to Seward after they return. My sister wants us to bring her back chocolate covered Oreos from the amazing little candy shoppe. Tomorrow we’ll tour downtown Anchorage and Tuesday we are going to head north to North Pole. Miss B can’t wait to visit Santa’s house! (Update: Due to early snow in the mountain passes, we’ve had to forgo our visit to North Pole!)