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Tooken

Before we left, we made arrangements to go on a day cruise near Kenai National Park, leaving out of Seward. We thought that taking the train would be the more scenic way of getting there, and because it was on the Fourth of July, we made sure to make the reservations well in advance. On Saturday, we stopped in the tour office in Anchorage to find out where the train station was, and the lady there told us we should be at the train station an hour before departure. The train, we discovered, was leaving at 6:45 a.m. Which meant we had to be there at 5:45 a.m. Which meant we had to be up at around 5:00 a.m. Right after a wedding. Where we may have had more alcohol than advisable. When we got home at 2:00 a.m.

We both groaned when we heard the alarm. I set the most soothing, most calming alarm noise on my iPad possible, and it was still painful. After a minute, I forced myself out of bed instead of lingering like I normally do because I knew if I didn't get up then, I never would. Liv delayed a little. But she also got clothes on. And somehow, by 5:30, we were outside (in full daylight) and walking to the train station. We both later confessed that we were thinking about blowing the whole thing off. We both later confessed that we are glad we didn't.

By 6:30, we were in our very comfortable seats on the train, reclined entirely, and passed out. The train ride was about 4 hours long, and after an hour of sleep or so, I revived myself enough to look out the window. It was gorgeous. The land we went through was almost entirely undeveloped. There were glaciers and woods and mountains and lakes and streams and waterfalls and a moose. There were very nice people working on the train selling food and telling us about the things we were passing. We were in awe at how beautiful everything was. And hungover, we could participate in something without actually having to do anything. It was the perfect way of not wasting a hangover day. Liv revived about two and a half hours into the trip, and we started to get excited about the rest of our day. We had cheese and some awesome bread that we bought at the market two days before, and bought some coffee and diet coke to help with consciousness. As we rolled into Seward, I looked over and saw two bald eagles sitting in a tree. They were huge. Everyone in the train car rushed over to look at them.

It didn't take long for us to get from the train to the ferry terminal, and soon we were sitting on the back of a boat watching insane people run up a mountain. Apparently, the race is the result of a bar bet in 1908, and since 1915, the town of Seward has been holding a foot race to the top of Mt. Marathon and back every Fourth of July. The runners weren't that far from us, but we could barely see them because they were so high up on the mountain.

The ferry ride was fantastic! It was about five hours long, and we saw a sea otter almost immediately after leaving the dock. He was just sitting there in the water, rolling over and occasionally chewing his foot. Apparently he was an elderly chap, with grey in his face. He didn't seem to mind his lot in life. The fjords were just stunning. Soft green rolling mountains surrounded the water, and behind them were craggy, snow capped mountains. Glaciers were all around us. The water had a blueish green quality to it, and it looked pretty clean. The captain of the boat--Captain Steve Martin--was really informative and very respectful of the wildlife. He pointed out another nest of bald eagles to us, and he gave us a real sense of the place we were in.

The day couldn't have been more perfect. There were many ways in which, given the tender nature of our dispositions, that things could have gone terribly wrong. But it wasn't too hot or too cold or too windy or too choppy. It was pretty much smooth sailing, throughout.

We stopped on an island for lunch, which was the only disappointing part of the trip. The salmon was a little dry, and the beef was overcooked to the point of being near unpalatable. But it wasn't why we chose the trip. During lunch, we had a nice presentation on the area from a National Park Ranger, and afterwards, we skipped rocks on the beach until it was time to get back on the boat.

Liv and I were some of the first on the boat, coming back from lunch. We thought, maybe, that it'd be nice to sit inside, near the bow of the boat, so we could see the panorama ahead of us. When we got on, that entire section was empty, except for two kids, maybe 9 and 12, who weren't sitting anywhere. We took a seat.

"You can't sit there," the girl informed us.

"Oh," we said, and we moved two seats over.

"You can't sit anywhere in here," the boy told us. "These seats are tooken."

"All of them?"

"Yes, our family is sitting here."

Liv and I reluctantly moved to the upper decks. We couldn't decide what we were more appalled at: the audacity of two kids to kick us out or the horrific grammar that went into the development of the word "tooken". We ranted for a few minutes, giggling as we ranted, and then we were distracted by the whales.

Two of them! Humpback whales! One of them even showed us its tail. The boat captain kept a respectful distance, while moving the boat so photographers could frame the whales against a nearby glacier complete with icebergs. The whales teased us by partially coming up, blowing their airholes, and then diving without diving. We saw the nose and flukes of one, though, and they were just great to be near. My photos never came out properly; all you can see is a bit of disturbed water.

Some porpoises chased us a bit, and then we went to look at various sea birds, including puffins. There are puffins all over the place in Alaskan art and tourist garb, and after seeing the little guys, I understand fully why. They're downright adorable. Tiny little birds that apparently are roughly the same size as cardinals, but weigh ten times as much so they can dive. Their little wings flap ridiculously when they're flying, and they're just adorable.

Another whale stopped by to show us its thing, and then we went to hang out with a few seals. Very adorable. And of course, throughout this, the landscape was just stunning. We passed a "ghost forest" that was the result of a 9.2 earthquake in 1964, which lasted five minutes. Apparently, the ground became saturated with salt water in that earthquake, killing the trees. But in killing them, the salt water also preserved them, so they don't decompose at a normal rate. They just sort of sit there, a reminder of the earthquake. We saw some of these "ghost forests" on the train ride on the way to Seward, and again on the bus ride back to Anchorage.

We got back to Seward with about an hour to spare before a bus would take us back to Anchorage. We thought about going over to the Alaska SeaLife Center, but we didn't have enough time to walk the mile there and back. So we stopped in a bar and had a drink and something to eat. Not the best food in the world, but worth the time and company.

Our motor coach ride back to Anchorage was just beautiful. Liv and I were fully awake this time, and the bus took a different route than the train had. We watched in awe at the beauty of the scenery around us. We thought that it was amazing that so much of the coastline was undeveloped. But there's so very much beautiful land in Alaska, that it'd take quite some time for developers to hit every inch of it.

We got back to Anchorage at around nine that night, and while we could have gone out with the wedding party, we were too tired to do much more than head back to the hotel and veg out. We had a bottle of wine that Blair had given us as a Welcome to Anchorage present, and we sipped wine and watched bad TV until it was a reasonable time to go to bed. It was a GREAT 4th of July.

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