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Day 8: Seward

Take the Train to Anchorage

rain 60 °F
View Silver Seas Cruise on paulej4's travel map.

We end our 1,650-nautical-mile cruise as we dock at Seward, Alaska. Named for? William H. Seward, the former U.S. Secretary of State who, in 1867, totally took advantage of Russia by purchasing the State of Alaska for $7 million. HowBigIsAlaska.jpgSewardToAnchorage.jpg We are the only ship arriving today which will make--should make--our transportation from here to Anchorage a breeze. No crowds to fight, no jostling for the best seat on the train which we will take from Seward up to Anchorage. Nobody will be staying here in Seward as there is no reason to stay here; this is but a port for Alaska cruises and nothing much more.

Only about 750,000 people live in Alaska. That makes it, as the largest state, the most sparsely populated. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, are the two U.S. Senators from here. Out most populous state, California, is home to just under 39 million people who are represented in the Senate by Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats. Yet the fact is this: 750,000 people from Alaska get two votes while 39 million people from California also get two votes. This made sense when the Constitution was written and "state's rights" were critical to the formation of a "Union." Today, not so much from my perspective. I live on a state line and cross it multiple times a week. Nobody here that I know--except die hard politicos--thinks about "state's rights" when it comes to national issues like defense or federal taxation or immigration. We think about those things as Americans, not Kansans or Missourians. So, to me, it makes no sense that Alaskans have, per person, vastly more power than do Californians or New Yorkers or Floridians.

I got curious while thinking about this. California, with 39 million people, gets two senate votes. Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut and Kansas combined have a population of 40 million people and get 44 votes in the Senate. 2-44. Somebody should explain to me how a representative democracy works. One “man” one vote? I’m confused.

The days are long here in August. The sun rises at 5:37am and does not set until 10:30pm as the days are, at this time of the year, actually getting shorter. Tomorrow, there will be 5 minutes fewer daylight hours than today. SewardArrivalBusTrainAwait.JPGAlaskaRailroadClubCarInCenter.JPGAlaskaRailroadGrandviewTrain.JPG

Disembarking is as painless as was embarking one short week ago. So it goes on a small ship.

After breakfast, we took our carry-on bags down two decks to Reception on Deck Five and soon were called (by luggage tag color) to scan our ID cards (they keep them) and depart Silver Shadow. Down the gangplank and through a reception hall we were once again “checked-off” and “handed-off” to the Alaska Railroad Desk where two tickets were provided for our train to Anchorage.

Since we are the only ship in port today, the train is provided for us automatically unless we opt out and is exclusive to Silver Shadow passengers on this journey. That would not be the case if multiple ships were in port. As I recall, the train sells out; reservations are advised far in advance if not provided by your cruise line.

Out the doors of the reception hall building we undertook a short thirty-yard stroll to Car Two, Seats 3A and 3B, tucked our carry-ons under our seats (there are no overhead bins for luggage as that would block the view) and settled in. We were quickly joined by an English couple from Surrey and B4 commenced a convivial conversation about “The Royals,” a favorite subject of hers. All aboard is at 7:40am.AboardAlaskaRailroad.JPG

Later, we moved to an empty booth to stretch out and enjoy the scenery. There is no WiFi on board the Alaska Railroad and mobile phone service is non-existent for the first half of our journey through the Alaska wilderness. It is rainy and heavily overcast as we pass the 20-miles long Kenai Lake which is fed by the sport-fishing haven, Kenai River. The 82-mile long Kenai River bans motors so only float/drift boats are allowed.

The Alaska Railroad, established 104 years ago, prides itself as being “The Last Full-Service Railroad in America.” There is a full hot breakfast and hot lunch menu available in our car and more at a Club Car farther forward on our seven-car train. Four of the cars are like ours and seat 76 passengers in a four-person booth arrangement. The other two are newer and seat 68 passengers each. There are lots of empty seats since the train can hold more passengers than can the ship and some Silver Shadow passengers opted for busses to Anchorage which save time for making earlier flights. This train journey is expected to last 4 hours and 50 minutes.

There is but a single rail line from north to south in Alaska. From time to time we pass sidings. Southbound trains (heading toward cruise ships) have the right of way so we stop for them to pass. We also stop for wildlife on the track. Frankly we stop, if not for long, a lot.

Early on, our track hugs a hillside on the right and offers long vistas over the Kenai Lake on the left. Later, there’s a river and the Trail Glacier on the right side and forest on the left. On which side should you sit? The answer is “both.” There is lots of glass so the views are fine everywhere.
You can easily pass from car to car but the car you’re leaving and the car you’re approaching will be rocking in different directions as you transition; hold on. We are cautioned regarding safety aboard the always wobbling train. Gentlemen are advised, out of courtesy to the ladies, to sit when using the toilet as the target is always moving. In all my travels, this was the first time I had heard that admonishment. One other announcement requested that we kindly remember to lock the toilet doors so that only bear sightings (rather than bare sightings) occurred.AlaskaTrainLockDoorSign.JPG

Sometimes adjacent to the highway and sometimes not, the passing terrain is always interesting. Mountains lurk, lakes and streams embrace and trees of all sorts—but mostly spruce—insulate us along the way. There are the occasional homes at the side of these tracks, many hewn of logs.

Every fifteen minutes or so, our Car Hostess, Lisa, picks up her microphone and provides us with local color. She’s very good at what she does. Her second announcement out of Seward occurs at Moose Pass, a community of 80 or so residents which, by vote, does not have a gas station. She had a joke about them not wanting something called “Moose Pass Gas.” They drive 60 miles round trip to Seward to fill up.

Rivulets of rain race down the curved glass elbow-to-center console windows as we pass over the Trail River and a red homesteader’s cabin. Lisa tells us that often the 80-year-old residents of that “dry” cabin make it a point to wave to the passing train. Today, only a wisp of smoke lets us know they’re home. A “dry” cabin is one without running water or electricity.

The train ride gives B4 an opportunity to do her letters which consist of congratulatory messages to HDS associates celebrating employment milestones or achievement of sales or production goals. She does this a lot. AlaskaTrainBerylWorking.JPG
And, she never just signs her name. There is always a personal message on each and every letter. Today, she has one for “Cathy” at one of the stores who has been with the company for—get this—fifty years. At least that’s what the letter says. B4 wants to verify that saying, “I’ve got to do more that sign a letter if she has worked here for fifty years.” B4 never goes anywhere—vacation or otherwise—without toting (or having me tote) pounds of paper which may be letters to sign or spreadsheets to analyze). Often, an idea of concern pops into her head and out pops her iPhone while a text or email is composed. Here, however, that’s the limit for her as, being away from connectivity, she cannot send.

This is not a “flag stop” train. North of Anchorage, those who want to board the train run up a flag at appointed potential stopping points. If the flag is up, the train stops. No flag; no stop. The rivers from glaciers bring grey colored silty water to the lakes while runoff streams bring clear water. The two “colors” don’t mix so, in many spots, the water is clearly demarked with a grey side and a clear side, something else I had not seen before.

As you would imagine, the track is anything but straight. We seldom get much speed because the track winds, twists and gyrates accommodating the terrain through which we pass. There is a groaning sound that eminates from the coupling between cars when the bend is sharp and a click-clack sound which overtakes all others when the automatic doors between cars slide open. Also when the bend is sharp you can see the front of our train from the rear portion where we are. It is quite picturesque, even romantic in a way.large_TrainCurving.JPG

At precisely 10:00am, two hours and twenty minutes into our trip, we reach the summit of our journey at 1,197 feet above sea level and begin going back downhill. Remember we began and sea level and finish at nearly that.

On the way down, we pass through a series of tunnels granting vistas of lakes full of icebergs and streams and forests, glaciers, rapids and waterfalls but no bears.

FishermenBelowTrain.JPGSpencerGlacierTrailBridge.JPGGlacierAhead.JPGSpencerGlacierAndMelt.JPG Lisa announces, at 10:30, that we are the halfway portion of our journey and offers to bring food or drink to those who so desire it. She has turkey and cheddar or ham and swiss or veggie garden delight sandwiches or a nice chef’s salad. Prices range from $12 to $14 for food to go along with your “Moose Mary” which is “Our version of the classic Bloody Mary; Anchorage Distillery Vodka with our signature spicy mix,” priced at $8.25. Top it all off with an “Original Alaska Bar” which is “A thick slice of vanilla ice cream covered in a layer of rich milk chocolate” for only $4.45.

She also tells us to watch out for moose. So, we do. We pass by one at a distance which I may or may not have seen (it was fleeting) and a mom and her baby which virtually nobody saw because that sighting, also, was quick. B4 and I swap childhood Rocky and Bulwinkle stories.

Our ticket was included in the Silver Shadow fare. The one way fare on this train is $212 in Gold Star Class and $108 in Adventure Class.

Our train arrives at the Anchorage International Airport at 12:30 where we transfer to a bus for a 15 minute ride to the Egan Center where our bags have been pre-delivered by box truck. From there it is a five-block walk to the Marriott where we are spending the night. It is four blocks to the iconic but aging Captain Cook Hotel, two to the Hilton and eight to the Sheraton. After walking to the Marriott and checking in, we walk two blocks to the Glacier Brewhouse for a late lunch. we both opt for halibut and are well impressed. Our dinner reservation at 8:15 is at highly recommended Simon and Seaforts which is four blocks away. Downtown Anchorage is compact but in the rain, which we have this evening, Uber is best for even a short journey.

We enjoy an appetizer of halibut cheeks which is wonderful, a couple of entrees which were quite good and then, poetically, we end our meal with a metaphor: Baked Alaska.

Posted by paulej4 10:27 Archived in USA Tagged alaska seward

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Thank you for taking us along on your trip. I had a great time.
Beryl is the most caring person I know. I can see her signing those letters with notes....

Can’t wait for the next adventure!

by Nygirl56

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