Trip of a Lifetime

Sailing through Glacier Bay

The Alaska Blogs #4

The woman sits on the couch. Looking up, she sees 5,000-foot-tall snow-covered mountains inch past the window, guarded by pines that hug the shoreline. The mountains seem close enough to touch; she could reach out and scoop up some of the Alaskan snow, bring her cupped hands to her face, and lick up the melting coolness, as she once did in her backyard decades ago. But this glacial accumulation is special; few people have ever seen this pristine whiteness, compared to the winter snows that covered her street and kept her home from school and then quickly grew mottled and grey as they melted away.

The memory of those long-past snow days scatters as she feels the warm kiss on the back of her neck. She smiles. Only one set of lips would greet her like that, here. Anywhere.

“Hey, baby.”

He slips silently beside her, a smile to match hers. They both look out at the passing peaks and rocky protrusions that fill the bay. It’s a wonderful trip. The trip of a lifetime. Once in a lifetime.

That could have been me and my traveling companion, I think. Should have been. I saw this Alaskan voyage as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And it has turned out to be that, though in a way I never would have imagined months ago. Let’s face it, who imagines taking this kind of trip with a FEX? Who would want to? I try to let the relaxing aspect of any cruise and the breathtaking beauty of Alaska carry out the anger and hate that too often boil. Sometimes it works. Less so as the trip goes on. Especially as I see people like the woman on the couch and her baby, exchanging the easy intimacy that marks a couple genuinely enjoying each other, whether home or away. Here, now, not much feels easy for me anymore.

But some moments are OK. Better than OK. I forget the particulars of the real-life travails that await back in CT and soak up the newness of the place, laugh at the jokes of the people we meet, enjoy the food and drink and the release that comes when you are so far from the daily routine. (They put mats on the floor of the elevators, to remind you what day it is. I thought it was kind of silly at first, but now I see it does serve a purpose, to keep at least part of your brain anchored in the world that exists away from the ship. Though for those of us having the time of our lives on the trip of a lifetime, the advancing days on the floor are a sad reminder that we are 24 hours closer to the end of our adventure.)

Mendenhall Glacier, on a somewhat gloomy day.

Yesterday in Juneau, our first port, had some of those good moments. We took an excursion to Mendenhall Glacier and a ride through a small sliver of the temperate rain forest. There was the natural beauty, of course, and a little education. And then at night, after dinner, we headed out again and found a local watering hole, the young, gracious bartender serving us in between shots of his pool game. The clientele this night: three locals and four passengers from our ship. Two of the latter, some hard-partying women, had been there for hours. It showed. The bartender asked us to make sure we got them back on board before the ship sailed. They reluctantly came with us. Later, we chatted with a couple from Denver and quizzed the ship’s DJ about the depth of his collection (what, no Zappa?). Yes, it was a good day.

And there was even some touching, if not quite of the intimate variety. An exchange of shoulder rubs, which used to come so often, without thinking. Now they feel a bit strained. Purely therapeutic as opposed to revealing or inviting anything more. Certainly not like a sneaked-in kiss on the back of an unsuspecting neck.

More of the bay.

The trip is halfway over. In my experience, that’s usually a sad point. A bit of travel fatigue can set in, while simultaneously you feel a little cheated; only five days to go? Conflicting emotions. But I have become a master of those conflicts during the last few weeks, and never more so than on this trip. So as good as yesterday was, as far as the traveling aspect goes, today leaves a bitter taste. Even the beauty of Glacier Bay – increasingly near now as we move farther in, the mountains closing in on both sides – even that cannot soothe. The reality of life, of the IMD, has not intruded often on the trip so far. That’s my doing, of course. I’m the only one who still has anything left to say about it, but I hold back most of the time since I was informed there’s  no need to reveal every littlest detail. Indeed. And if nothing else, I have become expert in following orders and taking suggestions these past few weeks, all in the name of preserving some semblance of harmony. I suppose some might say I should’ve done more of it earlier, and then we wouldn’t be here. Ah, divorce can bring out eagle-eyed hindsight.

But today, a little reality did emerge. I asked, “Is this as hard for you as it is for me?” Of course, the responder does not know how hard it is for me.

Well, take a guess, I might have said. Pretty damn hard.

Instead, I don’t say a thing. The question has said too much already.

But I have thought many, many things. And here is one thought that emerged yesterday, as the glacial scenery unfolded around us for the first time. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I will come back. With someone who will smile when I sneak that kiss on the back of her neck as the snowy peaks close in around us. I will take this trip again, and it will be so much better.

Because it will be with someone who can do one thing my current companion cannot. (I was going to say “one simple thing,” but evidently I have overestimated exactly how simple it is. Perhaps it’s actually Herculean, or even at times Sisyphean. Any other ancient Greeks to trot out?) Yes, someday I will sail these same Alaskan waters, bask in the relaxation, experience the awe-inducing natural splendor of the Last Frontier – with someone who actually wants to be with me.

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~ by mburgan on May 30, 2010.

2 Responses to “Trip of a Lifetime”

  1. Mike,
    Just finished the Alaska blogs. You made me laugh out loud with the Miss Adams references – I remember her, too. And god was she miserable or what??
    The “last trip” stuff reminded me of my first marriage and the last trip that was to Aruba. I played nice, too, and wish I had, just once, poured a rum on his head.
    You’ll be happy again.

  2. She doesn’t drink rum, but I understand the sentiment.

    Thanks for reading and for the encouragement. Still more Alaska blogs to follow; that was just the first outpouring. Some already written, some still just noes. And of course more photos of that gorgeous scenery.

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