Gail Jessen, Live Voyage Reports
Sailing, sailing, sailing, with nothing but ocean and the Star Princess from dawn to dusk. Today was our second full day at sea. My friend and I intentionally opted out of every planned activity offered. We decided to not only set our own schedule but also to reset our circadian rhythms. We’re just far enough into the trip that relaxation has kicked in. We woke up when our bodies told us to, we had breakfast delivered to eat in bed (because … we can), we planned to read all day long in different locations around the ship, and our biggest decision was when to eat and then when to eat again. I’m active and adventurous in ports of call, but I like my time on the water to be low-key. Throw in a lecture event and I’m set. I wrote yesterday about the myriad activities offered on the Star Princess. If your cruising speed is set to a higher gear than mine and three full days at sea makes you anxious, you will not lack for attractions and distractions.
However, today I won’t be writing about what to do while on your trip. Instead I’m offering suggestions for trip preparation. I’m not going to share an Alaskan packing list (rain gear and layers) or tips about sea sickness (less-drowsy formula Dramamine and wrist bands). I’m interested in more creative preparations. How do you get to know a destination? You selected it for some reason or another, but how do you really dive in and understand a land, a people, a culture, and the unfamiliar experiences so unique to travel?
Hint: Put the guidebook down, says a former guidebook addict. Listen, I get it. I have shelves full of guidebooks at home and endless notebooks in Evernote dedicated to locations I’ve either been or am lusting after. I color code itineraries and research minutia ad nauseum. I’m a total nerd and revel in trivia. These facts thrill me to no end: 470 Rhode Islands can fit inside Alaska; Alaska is twice as big as Texas; and 89 percent of Alaska cannot be developed for human habitation.
I’ll be spouting them at cocktail parties for years to come. Classic guidebook. But what does that tell me about the people who live in that wild land? What about the people who lived there first? What does life look like? What does a Saturday afternoon in July in Skagway sound like? What do the 200-foot spruces in Ketchikan smell like after the rain? Factoids and I-Stood-In-The-Famous-Spot stock photos are inevitable. I have a lifetime of them under my belt. I’ll come home from Alaska with more. Yet the older I get and the more I travel, the predictable travel checklist means less to me. I now want to experience a place with all five senses. Hopefully once I’m wrapped up and seduced by the adventure of it all, I’ll leave with even a fraction of authentic understanding.
To the original question at hand: How can we prepare for a trip in a way that wakes up our senses and sparks our creativity? To give credit where credit is due, some of the tips I’ll share come from a creative mentor of mine. Laura Valenti Jelen is a photographer and gallery curator based in Portland, Oregon. She designed and now teaches a series of online photography courses. I’ve completed two out of three and am anxiously awaiting a break in my schedule to enjoy the third.
In a course called Traveling Light, Laura suggests we immerse ourselves in the poetry, music, visual art, literature, etc. of a place. Listen to Italian opera for two weeks before your trip to Rome. Read heaping doses of Kerouac if you’re planning an epic American road trip, or old mariner’s diaries if you’re water bound. Enjoy a Woody Allen movie marathon before you jet off to Manhattan, or Ewan McGregor’s documentary about circumnavigating the globe on a motorcycle … just for the delicious wanderlust of it all. Research regional authors and poets who not only call your destination home, but who write about the people, the land, the food. Dive in. Why not? I promise you will experience your final destination in a way you never thought possible.
I dove into three books for this trip to Alaska (but one is a now-hypocritical National Geographic coffee table book of stock photos and factoids, so ignore that one). While on the road I’m reading a book of poetry, Cartography of Water, penned by Mark Burwell. His lush descriptions of Alaskan wilderness, coastal rain forests, and isolated frontier life have prepared me to at least try and soak in the grandeur of it all. I’ll share some of his pieces as we visit different ports. I’m also reading the memoir of a woman named Miranda Weiss. Miranda and I are more or less the same age. I’m only a quarter of the way into her book, but already our suburban childhoods that turned into insatiable desires for adventure connect us beyond the words on the page.
She was 23 when she moved to Alaska with her college boyfriend. She reflects beautifully on her culture shock over the land and people. She opens Tide, Feather, Snow: “Moving to coastal Alaska meant moving to the water life, although I hadn’t known it until I arrived. Nothing is separate from the sea — not the sky, not the land, not a single day, nor my mood. I wasn’t used to this. I wasn’t ready for it.” She continues in the opening passage of chapter two: “Sitting at the edge of the continent, I was completely, terribly, and excitingly alone. I would be retracing the voyage of countless others who had traveled to Alaska before me: gold rushers, early pioneers, thrill-seekers, miners, surveyors, fur hunters, fishermen, law makers, sightseers, and naturalists.” Not only is it more entertaining to read these books for hours and hours at sea, but they also create an atmosphere of anticipation that guidebooks simply cannot.
I reviewed the materials in the Star Princess Library, located inside the Internet Cafe on Deck 5, just off the Piazza. The library doesn’t have many books in stock of the sort I’ve referred to (unless they’re checked out and in use somewhere on the ship), but there were a number of books about Tlingit culture and Native American art that would certainly get your creative juices flowing.
Two additional resources that I highly recommend are AFAR magazine and its online wanderlists, and Nowhere literary travel magazine. Both approach travel as a narrative, an experience, and something to bring you closer to the authenticity of it all.
Tomorrow is our third full day at sea and the final day before we reach Ketchikan. There are yoga classes and more lectures on the docket. Stay tuned for a review of the fitness facilities and whatever other adventures we round up for you.
Be sure to follow along in real time on Instagram and Twitter @fourthirtyam, using the hashtag #livevoyagereport. The Star Princess Live Voyage Report landing page leads you to each day’s post. If you’re wondering who you’re sharing this Alaskan adventure with, here’s a quick post about me and how I ended up reporting for The Avid Cruiser.
I hope you’re enjoying your virtual vacation. Until tomorrow … bon voyage,
|Preview||Preview: Exploring Alaska's Inside Passage aboard Star Princess|
|Day 1||Pre-cruise Adventures in San Francisco|
|Day 2||Departing San Francisco on Star Princess|
|Day 3||Sailing To America's Last Frontier on Star Princess|
|Day 4||Still Sailing Toward Alaska on Star Princess|
|Day 5||Last Day At Sea On Star Princess Before Ketchikan|
|Day 6||Ketchikan, Alaska on Star Princess|
|Day 7||Juneau, Alaska on Star Princess|
|Day 8||Skagway, Alaska on Star Princess|
|Day 9||Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska on Star Princess|
|Day 10||Sailing Toward Canada on Star Princess|
|Day 11||Victoria, British Columbia on Star Princess|
|Day 12||A Love Letter to Alaska|
|Day 13||Disembarking the Star Princess|