Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Alaska IV

Haines, Alaska

“Would a Mägi Hubert please come to the front of the loading ramp? Mägi Hubert?”

I was mid-conversation with Tom, a friend from Juneau, when I was surprised by this message just a few minutes before our departure from Washington to Alaska. I cinched up my disintegrating REI pack, stitched together with frayed thread and safety pins, threw it over my shoulder, and started to skitter on down the steps to where I had first boarded the Malaspina an hour or so earlier.

The men bearing the AMH logo on their shirts and coveralls greeted me, “I'm Mägi.” I said. They gestured to the end of the dock, “There's someone here to see you, but you'll have to keep it fast. We leave in a few minutes.”

I raced to the end of the boarding dock, full grins, because I knew who was at the other side. There, waiting to greet me with the one of those warm smiles that fills you to the core with love, was Jen Gardener.


Jen hugs like no one else. There's something about her hugs that energizes you and makes you want to go kiss little children, or something like that. It's a hug that screams, "home can be right here, for a moment."

Standing a few feet behind her was a plaid-bearing soul, with a stature that would accept respect.

“This is Patrick,” she told me, and I received a hug from him as well.

I met Jen back in 2012 (ok, so not so long ago) in Haines, Alaska. I was walking down a hill and saw a young woman doing the same. I don't get this itch every time, but I got the itch to talk to her and find out who she was. It seemed like a good thing to do.

I can't remember the exact conversation we had, but I do remember the emotions that went along with meeting her. I was going through a funky time when I met her and in need of friends that I had found, or they had found me, and outside of the general social circle of seasonal workers in Haines. Although she was deep within that social circle, I met her outside of it.

This is where it gets foggy, so don't trust my quotes at all. This is the general gist of our conversation:

J: What did you say your name was?
M: Mägi
J: Mägi?! What's your last name.
M: Hubert
J: I met a girl back in Olympia who said she had a best friend going to Alaska named Mägi Hubert.
M: That's Joelle!

It wasn't quite like that, but you get the idea.

Jen had met one of my closest friends, Joelle, in Olympia, Washington!

And then, somehow of all the hows and whys and possibilities we collided here in Haines.

Of all the people in the entire town, at that time, I had picked Jen to talk to. And she had connected with Joelle.

It's a small world after all.

Both Jen and Patrick had spent time in Haines and they had hugs for me to deliver to Alice.

Fueled by their warmth and enthusiasm, I boarded the ship even more eager than before.

What I was going back to was yet another fabulous re-connection – Tom, from Juneau. We spotted each other on the ferry and although he placed me immediately, I couldn't quite get it straight.

“Camp Damp – Tom,” he gently reminded me.
I felt a bit ashamed – not that he did anything to encourage that.

Tom and his loving wife Jan had been the hosts to me and two of my friends before and after a contra dance camp in Juneau last August. He had picked us up and dropped us off the ferry terminal, they had fed us and made sure all of our needs were taken care of.

And that's why I was mortified at myself for forgetting how I knew him.

I was still amused, though, that of all the ferries this year, that he and I were on the exact same one leaving from Bellingham, Washington.


As I mentioned the last time I traveled by ferry, the ferry is rarely the cheaper, fast option. As a budget traveled, it's generally expected that I'd go for the bargain, but the ferry is where I will gladly splurge and sacrifice a few days of my time.

It's now my third day aboard the Malaspina headed north from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska.

This is my third time to take a ferry through the Inside Passage in this past year.
October 2012 - January 2013 - October 2013



This is my eighth time to ride on the Alaska Marine Highway.
This is my fourth time to make the journey from Washington to Alaska since last April.

“Maegi, why do you keep going back to Alaska,” a friend asked me a day or two before departure.

I tried to explain it best I could between descriptions of the dark winters, tight community, Xtratufs, Christmas parades, and my job but it usually comes down to this one sentence.

Back in June, I was a wreck and thought that leaving Haines would be best for me. As I was debating if I should fork over the $353 for a ferry ticket, Andrew looked me in the eye and said, “Mägi, you can't leave Haines because you love Haines and Haines loves you.”

Which is true.

Haines is all of those people I've been thinking about as I've traveled around. There are a whole lot of families and folks that I'm eager to spend this winter with. They've been so kind, even, as letting me know that they're excited that I'm coming back.


So I'm going back home.
That's what it feels like.
Seattle now always feels like a temporary vacation.
Haines feels like home.

And being on the ferry makes it the best homecoming I can imagine.

As I wove my way into one of the tight restroom stalls, I felt a warm sensation that could not be accounted for by means of pee or other bodily functions. It was that cheesy fuzzy-warm-heart feeling.

“I'm on the ferry!”


I love ferries, I really do.  The four days it takes to get to travel the Inside Passage is never long enough. I always have in mind that the open sea crossings, where the boat actually rocks a bit, could be a little bit longer. The unscheduled, open days whiz by all too fast.

When I board the ferry, I always have a slight agenda in mind that involves the writing of letters, reading of books, and practicing of ukulele.

In actuality, I usually end up spending most of my time talking to everyone else on the ferry as our little community is knit then and there. We're all stuck on there together and there's no where else to go.

If you just sit on a chair on the deck, someone is bound to come and talk to you.


Last night I ended up meeting Matthew and Angela who were on there way back to Alaska after a year or two in Oman. Last time they were heading to Alaska, they were driving. Mid-drive, while in Edmonton, BC on the AlCan Highway, Matthew got the job offer to travel to Oman.

They were the sort of couple you always hope you'll meet on your travels. Laughter came quick with them and they were fast to make me laugh as well. At the end of the conversation, they invited me to join them for dinner in the cafeteria later that evening and I enjoyed spending even more time with them.

I ride the ferry to meet folks like Doug who lives part time on a farm in Bellingham. At seventy years of age, he had a slew of stories to share, each one contributing to me starting to maybe, sort of understand the grey-haired man who would be sleeping a few feet away from me each night. He had been a fisherman, teacher, and a whole lot more. He had been going to Haines each summer for camp since he was a kid. He's been riding the ferry for years and will be riding it, round trip, three times this year.



And these are just three of the dozens of folks whose paths I crossed on this short trip.

I can't think of anywhere else where this happens.

On a flight and a train, you tend to be more restricted to your assigned seats. The trains in America sort of facilitate community with their panorama-view lounge, but if there's not lounge, it's just you and your seat mates being forced to sit still for hours and hours. Flights do nothing to foster friendship.

But on a ferry, you can't help but wander around and, as you do, usually run into folks.
And, the thing about folks traveling to and from Alaska in October is that, generally, they all have some sort of story to share with you.

There's the common thread that, huzzah, we're all going to or from Alaska.

Back when I first was on my first drive to Alaska, Andrew and Tyler informed me that they were sort of surprised that I was coming. They told me that they always invited folks to join them and I was the first to actually get in their car and go.

Now I understand what they meant. During my time in Seattle, I invited so many people to join me on that ferry and come explore Alaska. Dozens of folks were given the invitation. Not one of them did it. A lot of them told me this only after they had laid down for me how much they desired to go to Alaska.

I laugh when I hear that because, when I first went to Alaska, I honestly didn't care about Alaska. I didn't have any “deep longing in my heart” or childhood desire. I just went because it was someplace to go and I was told that you could make money there and money was what I needed.

As the mountains and trees and islands pass by, I feel overwhelmed with how beautiful it is. Sometimes I want to jump up and down because it's simply amazing. The world is passing by and I can just sit and watch it. In the middle of all of these emotions, I keep thinking, “If they had actually gotten on this ferry, I know they never would regret it. I know that if they could see what I can see now, they would only be grateful they had made that choice.

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