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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Train Tour or Kayak Tour?

Updated: May 15, 2023

So today was the BIG day...

My kayaking through glacier excursion!

I didn't have a lot of information, as the website and the email confirmations were a bit up for debate... take what you can get.

The lady had told me to be at the train for 9am.

I made that happen,

In fact, an older couple at my BnB told me that they were headed for the exact SAME train station.

No ride offered, I might add... as they watched me call Uber.

Whatever... they became convinced that I was taking a completely different train than them because they were told to be there at 8:45 for their 9:45am train... and I was told to be there at 9 for my 9:45am train.

Maybe they have learning disabilities.

Maybe I do.

Maybe me telling them that I was getting sick was the reason they didn't want me in their car. I can't blame them.

I was exhausted - and looked it - because I hadn't slept all night. I developed some kind of tickling in my throat that kept me coughing every couple of minutes, and subsequently kept me up for a LOT of the midnight daylight...

Probably kept them up as well.

I actually ran in to them on the train and the lady exclaimed, with delight! "You made it!"

Ya... I made the 9:45am train with a 45 minute window...

I really know how to live on the edge.

Take chances...

My Uber driver was super laid back - retired- I begged him to stop at a convenience store on the way to the station because I'd forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste.... typical.

There was a big announcement before anyone could board the train, informing us ALL (no exceptions) that we had to check our firearms before boarding.

I wasn't having any of it.

I was getting ON that train to the glaciers... WITH my gun. Who do I speak to about this absurdity?

Once on the train, chugging along the coast of the Turnagain Arm, all I could concentrate on was the nagging southern accent behind me saying, "Sure doesn't look like the beaches we got down south."

And, to her credit, I'm sure the muddy, silty, sludge along the coastline of the Turnagain Arm resembled nothing of the South Georgian beachside...

About 40 times... "Nope... not at all like the beaches down south."

I don't understand why some people travel.

I sat across from a plump female version of Marilyn Manson and I could NOT help but wonder where she was going, as the train chugged deeper and deeper in to the wilderness.

About an hour in to the fun train ride, instant regret hit.

I was cold.

Really cold.

The air conditioning in the train was on full blast and I had not packed well, nor chosen my outfit wisely.

Shorts... a workout shirt, my new Alaska shirt that I bought on a whim and now I think it's too big and the sleeves are too long and I think it's a mans shirt.

I was so angry with myself.

They'd given me a list of things to bring and I ignored it.

Warm pants - nope.

Warm shirt - nope.

Warm jacket - nope.

Gloves - not a chance.

I pack for the tan I plan on getting... not the trip I'm actually about to embark on,.

I tried to get a coffee to warm up- and had to endure the pain of the little creamers...

All around was damp, drizzling, cold... and I knew that there was no way that I was going to warm up when I got to a glacier lake to paddle for the day.

As the train chugged on, the smoke did begin to clear slightly, opening up the surrounding mountains... and there were glimpses of bright coming through (NOT sun... just bright)... but the temperature refused to rise.

Now... when I say that the train chugged along... I want to be perfectly clear about one thing... I was ON that train from 9:45am...

And remember that I was there for 9am...

I finally reached my destination for the guide to pick me up at 2:30!!!!!

FOUR HOURS AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES on this train... cold and tired.

Cold and tired... yes... and not wanting to fall asleep because I had NO idea where I was supposed to get off.

Not one word of a lie,

Not kidding at all.

Strike me down...

I finally PHONED the Ascending Path office in Anchorage... when the train rolled in to the in of the in and out of service areas...

"Hello... this is Joanna McBride and I think I missed my tour today because I've been on this train for over 3 hours and I wasn't sure where to get off."

They assured me that the train ride was part of the "experience" and to just enjoy the ride until the guide found me in my seat...

An hour later...

I was SO confused.

If anyone had told me that I would be on a train for 4.5 hours, I would have seriously reconsidered booking the trip!

Our tour guide was Allison - and she grew up in New York City. Crazy!!!

There was a mother & son duo and a father & son duo on the trip... and me! I rode tandem with Allison and after gearing up with rain jackets, rain pants (thank GAWD because they warmed me up!), paddle, life jacket... and a little bit of instruction on what to do if we capsized... off we went in to the freezing cold water!

It was incredible.

Words escape me.

I had read that it was the most scenic glacier trips in Alaska and it did not disappoint.

Kayaking through all the glacier debris that was left floating throughout the lake - I don't think that I've ever been close to something so geologically & historically magnificently impressive.

I asked loads of questions about everything... but of course, I've forgotten almost everything.

She explained the history of the Glacier... how at about 50 years ago, it reached the train station stop... so it had receded so much since then and just kept going back.

It was named after a man named Spencer, who used to run back and forth between railroad camps, collecting time cards. One of his routes was across the glacier, as he has a path across the ice field. But this particular night, he headed out to cross it without a lantern and obviously wandered off the path somehow.

They apparently found his belongings scattered- but never found his body and he was never seen again.

We kayaked for about 2 & 1/2 hours, then hiked up hear the glacier for an hour... then back in to the kayaks to head back to the beloved train.

MUCH better train this time though - it had heat... and popcorn... and red wine.

As soon as I sat down for the 2 hour journey (better than 4.5!), I felt the blood rush to my face and I knew that the sickness was taking over. The cough came back immediately and then pure exhaustion hit.

I never get sick. Trust me to get sick on a 2 day vacation!

I have to say one thing about waiting for the train... or even, waiting to get off the train. This- see photo - is the train station. Maybe it stops, maybe it doesn't. Maybe there is someone waiting for you... maybe not.

I'll tell you a NOT maybe... I'll tell you a FOR SURE.

There are mosquitos.

BIG mosquitos.

And lots of them... that attack your face.



Basically, the entire load of us just hysterically danced for twenty minutes, in order to avoid mosquitos sucking us dry.

Literally helicopter bugs landing on your face.

I think that my shoes have seen the last of their days and I intend to chuck them in to the closest Alaskan garbage can before I leave. I had originally discarded them back in October, before I left for Vietnam. Bought a nice new pair of runners to take with me on vacation... and anyone that remembers my Vietnam stories might remember that I stepped in human poo... so these shoes came back out of retirement...

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