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September 2012

Life for me is like running stream that occasionally encounters rough spots, but also runs into delightfully easy places to flow at times. My wife, Young, had a horrific accident in June 2012, but thankfully she recovered well enough in a relatively short time to be able to join the family for our cruise to Alaska. We were then able to spend a full week with our children on a celebrity cruise.

We thoroughly enjoyed being with our grandchildren, and especially Tobin and Chloe, who might not have had the opportunity to feel their grandpa’s love as much as I did with my own grandfather. I’m very grateful to Dave and Susan, who worked so hard to organize such a wonderful family gathering and devoted so much time and effort toward making the event memorable for all of us. I’m fairly certain that Susan was feeling some annoying concern about her career during the cruise, but if she was, she never showed any sign of that stress.

Young and I had been to Alaska several times, including a Norwegian Lines cruise with friends in 2008, but this cruise was organized by Susan so that we could get together with all of our family members to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary. All thirteen family members gathered in North Vancouver, Canada, although Ben couldn’t continue on with us on the cruise to Alaska. He found out that he was going to need to take an examination for his college admission during the time we would have been sailing.

My wife and I, along with ten other family members, departed from the Vancouver harbor on August 12, 2012. We settled in happily, and over the course of the next week, the older generations were afforded plenty of opportunity to share our stories over special breakfasts, varied lunches, and fabulous dinners. For their part, the younger generation enjoyed their own dining table, which allowed them not to have to listen to the seemingly endless stories of their elders. The dinner fare was scheduled each evening, but breakfast and lunch was a time when we could choose what we wanted from an extensive buffet, which was better suited for retirees.

We were fortunate to be on a ship that was cruising along the coast of Alaska in relatively mild temperatures (though it was actually a bit chilly during most of the cruise). After all, we had friends in Seoul and various U.S. cities who were suffering either from severe heat or excessive rain. We considered ourselves lucky to be where we were at the time.

As we sailed along, I thought about how much America has benefitted from the purchase of Alaska. The territory was bought from Russia on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million (which amounted to approximately two cents per acre at the time). That would equate to about $120 million in today’s currency. To demonstrate what a tremendous bargain that was, think about this: In today’s terms, the net assets of the current Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, would have allowed him to purchase Alaska twice!

However, there’s no way to truly calculate the value of such an amazing land of natural wonder, fish, gold, copper, and oil, not to mention its strategic location as an outpost for monitoring any possible conflicts with Russia or China.Over the next century, Alaska went through a number of administrative changes before it became an organized territory on May 11, 1912. It finally was named the forty-ninth state in the Union on January 3, 1959.

Two of the most memorable highlights of our cruise were our visit to the Hubbard Glacier and a fishing excursion to Knudsen Cove in the Ketchikan harbor.

Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier is located in eastern Alaska and part of Canada. Our cruise ship brought us within the closest viewpoint of the glacier for two hours to allow us to see the huge glacier that squeezed toward Gilbert Point in 2002. The glacier is close to sealing off Russell Fjord at the top from Disenchantment Bay at the bottom.

The longest point of Hubbard Glacier is some seventy-six miles from its source and located approximately five miles west of Mt. Walsh (which has an highest altitude of about 11,000 feet). Before it reaches the sea, the glacier is joined by Valerie Glacier to the west.

The Hubbard Glacier has continued to advance for about a century as the global warming trend has increased. In May 1986, it surged forward, blocking the outlet of Russell Fjord and creating Russell Lake. All that summer, the newly-formed lake filled with snow runoff until its water level rose to eighty-two feet and the decrease in its salinity began to threaten the sea life that had become trapped within its boundaries. Three months later, the dam began to give way and the fjord was reconnected to the ocean. The event marked the second largest glacial lake flood in recorded history, with a flow that was equivalent to nearly thirty-five Niagara Falls!

In spring 2002, the glacier approached Bert Point, pushing a terminal moraine ahead of its face, finally closing the opening again in July. On August 14, the terminal moraine was washed away after heavy rains had raised the water level behind the dam to some fifty-nine feet above sea level. The fjord could one day become dammed again, perhaps permanently. If this should happen, the fjord could eventually overflow its southern banks and drain through the Situk River, threatening both precious trout habitat and a local airport.

It takes about 400 years for ice to traverse the length of the glacier, meaning that the ice at the foot of the glacier is at least 400 years old. The glacier routinely calves off icebergs the size of a ten-story building. Where the glacier meets the shore, most of the ice is below the waterline, and newly-formed icebergs can shoot up dramatically, so ships must be careful to maintain a safe distance as they make their way up and down the coast.

King Salmon

Our last stopover was in Ketchikan, a fantastic harbor for many cruise ships that offers superb charter facilities for fishing. That makes Ketchikan one of the most popular excursion destinations because of its close proximity to excellent salmon and halibut fishing. Dave had planned ahead for this venture, since he is known for his fishing expertise. He scheduled our itinerary to give us four hours in Knudsen Cove, and Anthony and I were excited to try something we had never had a chance to experience.

We caught many salmon in the two-to-five-pound range, which we immediately released, since it’s an expensive and tedious process to send fish home. However, we took many photos of our catch and thoroughly enjoyed our first salmon fishing expedition. Just as we were about to return to the ship, Anthony hooked into what turned out to be a twenty-pound king salmon. It was a great moment for him, as well as for Dave and me, who were able to cheer Anthony on as he fought the mighty fish. The fish was so big and powerful that the captain of the boat finally had to help Anthony get the huge fish on board. As he congratulated Anthony, the captain told us that it wasn’t easy to land a king salmon of that size—and Anthony knew firsthand that the captain was telling the truth
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