Delaware, At Last

One of the perks to moving around a lot as a child is the number of new states you get to explore. As my parents and I moved from location to location, we happily pulled out the map to see which new states we’d get to add to our growing list. Coupled with a love of national parks and road trip vacations (both as a kid and as an adult), I have happily come close to visiting all 50 states.

To help make this dream a reality, Luke planned an amazing adventure to Delaware. It’s so close to us — we’ve been through on the train many times — but we’ve never made a concerted effort to explore the state and really sink our teeth into it (the criteria for making it onto The List).

We started our day’s journey at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The area consists of preserved tidal salt marshes where thousands of migrating shorebirds return north to Canada from the Gulf of Mexico every spring. Egrets, heron, and ducks abound! So do mosquitoes, which is why I am donning head-to-toe coverage in July.

Egrets, Bombay Hook NWR

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Birdwatching

Birdwatching

Fun in the sunshine

Fun in the sunshine

Happy day!

Happy day!

Next, we drove into Wilmington for a bite to eat. I’d read this review of Juliana’s Kitchen when we first moved to the area, and wanted to be sure to check it out before we moved away. We were not disappointed. After a delicious Ceviche de Pescado, I enjoyed the Bistec Apanado con Tacu-Tacu (amazing breaded steak with rice and beans) and a Pisco Sour. Luke had Pescado a lo Macho (fish fillet with a delicious, spicy sauce). This was easily one of the best meals we’ve had this year.

We ended the night by attending the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Rockwood Park. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue with open seating on the grass, so we grabbed our camping chairs and set up along one of the aisles connecting the center stage to the main house.

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The staging of the play was really lovely – set on the grounds of the Rockwood Mansion, the backdrop and costumes gave the performance a “Great Gatsby” feel while maintaining the original language of the play. The bridges and walkways of the park become part of the set, and surrounded by stringed lights and colorful umbrellas, you really do feel like you are at a magnificent lawn party.

Rockwood Park mansion

Rockwood Park mansion at sunset

A few Klondike bars kept us cool throughout the event.

It was amazing to have such a great afternoon and still be able to drive home in 25 minutes. Delaware, I’m so glad we finally met.

Look out, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. One more great road trip (and family visit!) and my map will be completely colored in.

Moving to Milledgeville

About a month ago, just before setting off on our vacation, Stephanie received great news: a fantastic job offer to continue pursuing her college teaching career. As Georgia College and State University‘s new Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History, she’ll be teaching in her field at a small liberal arts school, with a supportive faculty and lots of freedom to design her classes and inspire students towards further study and excitement about Latin America.

Georgia College and State University

Her new professorship is a tenure-track position, up for review in 3 years. This means we know where we’ll be living and working for the next several years, little Milledgeville, Georgia (population 17,715; state capitol up through the Civil War). Smack in the middle of the state, it’s a reasonable drive to the coast (Savannah), and to most of Stephanie’s family (Atlanta is two hours away, South Carolina a three-hour drive). School starts August 19th, so the move is coming up in just over a month.

In addition to the great opportunity for Stephanie, I’m excited for the move for many reasons centered on the ruralness of the area. Surrounded by the Baldwin State Forest, and a short drive to the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, we’ll have no shortage of nearby woods to explore. There are numerous small lakes in the area in addition to the large reservoir Lake Sinclair. Kayaks are likely in our future.

Compared to our tiny Philadelphia one bedroom apartment, we’ll be moving to a house with a yard. (We’ll also have room for visitors to stay with us comfortably again.) We’re optimistic our landlord will let us grow a garden, and in the long growing season of the south (USDA Zone 8!) I’m looking forward to quite the garden, and will try to even get in some greens this fall.

We don’t actually know where we’re going to live yet, whether we’ll find a nice place in town or a few miles out – perhaps towards the lake, or a lot buried in the woods – because we’re waiting until we can drive around and get used to the area before renting for the year. To make this feasible, we’re moving with a container service who will store our belongings for a month, and we’ve rented a short-term place for the three weeks of August by negotiating a cheap rate from a furnished vacation rental on the lake. But watching the rental listings, it looks like there will be some good possibilities for September (though I may have to settle for an electric stove).

Another new start to undertake, we’re thrilled to be heading south this year with a great future ahead of us.

Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage

In 1879 John Muir travelled by steamship from California to Alaska, seeking firsthand experience with glaciers. Just a year or so behind the discovery of gold in the Klondike, and a year before the founding of Juneau, he would spend two seasons canoeing and hiking and cataloging the life of ice.

Our journey to Alaska began in Vancouver, BC. Stephanie’s parents had driven from South Carolina over the preceding weeks, and met us at the airport. Our room for the night in Vancouver was a short walk from Stanley Park, and rather than an afternoon nap I opted for a pre-cruise run along the marina and through the park, providing a welcome first whiff of that tidal salty kelpy evergreen smell that the Pacific Northwest ocean offers. Copious sushi for dinner brought everyone into a related seafood frame of mind.

In the morning we headed to the docks to board our boat, the Celebrity Century. My first cruise ship, larger than I was expecting but not overwhelming. Early arrivals, we had no wait and were soon aboard. The turnaround time for the boat is impressive, especially as would become clear upon our return in a week, as the boat had only arrived and disembarked its previous passengers 3 hours earlier.

Looking out to Vancouver

We set sail in the afternoon, and settled into our room on the 9th floor we watched the port recede and sped towards the channel between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Back in the land of mountains, it is still surprising to see how tall the island is – comparable mountain ranges on both sides of the ship.

Watching the mountains go by
Our only sunset

By morning we would be in fairly open ocean headed for the Inside Passage, the bulk of our cruise and the extent of Muir’s exploration. Whereas he would start at Fort Wrangell and recruit a Tlingit canoe and crew, along with a missionary co-adventurer, eventually making his way to Hoonah across from the entrance to Glacier Bay and then explore within Glacier Bay, we would head our 1600-person ship first for Hoonah.

Anchored at Hoonah, AK

Now a recently added destination for cruiseships due to the construction of “Icy Strait Point”, with the “world’s largest” zipline and a museum/shopping complex, this would be our only stop where we could not dock but instead anchored and rode the “tender” liferafts to shore. The town of Hoonah, a mile walk from the dock, is a tiny fishing village – most of the locals we saw on our walk were preparing/repairing the hulls of their trawlers in the boatyard. An elephant seal appeared for a moment, and it began to rain steadily as we returned to the ship.

Walking to Hoonah
Sun over Icy Strait Point

Our time on the ship settled into a relaxing pattern of leisurely mornings, lunch at the buffet, card games and drinks in the forward windowed lounge, reading and a rolling-of-the-ship-and-cocktail-induced afternoon nap, and dinner in the dining room. No thought of swimming or playing basketball as the days grew steadily windier, just relaxation between excitement at each port of call.

Lounging

The next morning found us turning into Yakutat Bay, headed towards Hubbard Glacier. The air immediately turned colder though we had two hours till we reached the glacier. Old glacial valleys interrupt the steep cliffs of the bay’s own old glacial form, and birds are everywhere along the shoreline, dots moving against the dark cascade-covered walls. The last mile was an ice field of tiny bergs that we picked our way slowly through, but already the glacier filled the horizon, a band of blue and gray under the low clouds. We navigated to within half a mile of the glacier and the captain slowly spun the boat in place as we watched for calving bergs from our balcony.

Making our way to Hubbard
Former glacier
Hubbard Glacier
At Hubbard Glacier

Returning ocean-side, we made our way overnight back into the passage and awoke to find ourselves nearly to Juneau. Our schedule here involved an early morning hike up to above Mendenhall Glacier, from just below the glacial runoff lake. (Another blogger who lives in Juneau recently posted lovely pictures of kayaking the lake.) Only 3 others from our boat joined us on this excursion: a mother and daughter from Toronto and an older gentleman from Dublin, who had never smelled a skunk nor skunk cabbage but was not afraid to investigate the latter. After climbing through the wet forest, our hike turned vertical and we scrambled up a series of rock pathways to higher views of the glacier before returning for lunch in town.

In the forest
Steep hike to Mendenhall
Above Mendenhall Glacier

When Muir returned to Alaska ten years later, steam cruise ships were already commonplace and the tell-tale signs of the industry have not changed much.

We arrived at Wrangell in the rain at 10:30 PM. There was a grand rush on shore to buy curiosities and see totem poles. The shops were jammed and mobbed, high prices paid for shabby stuff manufactured expressly for tourist trade. Silver bracelets hammered out of dollars and half dollars by Indian smiths are the most popular articles, then baskets, yellow cedar toy canoes, paddles, etc. Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook-maker, however ignorant.

Other ships waited to take our spot or to follow on with us towards Ketchikan as we left Juneau. The day’s journey would give us the best views of the narrow steep channels of the Inside Passage, ending in the Tongass Narrows for a rainy day in Ketchikan. Stephanie and I had another all-day excursion here, a bus ride to the northern end of the peninsula and a choppy ride across to the sheltered side of the Tatoosh Islands for a few hours of sea kayaking.

Along the way we encountered a Humpback Whale circling one of the islands and seals watching from the rocks, and while kayaking encountered Lion’s Mane jellyfish, mink, and the island walls revealed countless orange and purple starfish from the receding tide. (By this point in the trip, the numerous bald eagles barely registered.) The rain came and went, but we were suited up and dry in our double kayak. The paddling was as a loose group, and those of us more capable in the water followed a guide towards more open water, only to learn that true sea kayaking would have to wait as the swells started to match our own height and required tacking with the waves to remain steady and return to the sheltered coves and passages.

Sea kayaking
Damp from kayaking

Exhausted, we made it back to the ship in time to sail back towards Vancouver in the rain and rolling seas. A wonderful week spent with family and taking in the wilderness of Alaska admist the comfort of a cruise, I would love to do it all again.