M/V Columbia

I have brushed my teeth in a lot of places. In all the bathrooms where I’ve lived, of course. I’ve also brushed them in parking lots, restaurants, hostels, hotels, trains, airports, campsites, friend’s houses, boy’s houses, sailboats, and most recently a 418-foot ferry to Alaska.
Boats add a unique element of rolling movement to your teeth brushing and typically offer limited water resources. It is just as refreshing and essential to brush your teeth aboard, though. And while the ferry is not at full capacity, I’m sure the other passengers and my travel partner do appreciate my efforts.
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Our accommodations on board are simply divine, but I can understand if not everyone thinks so. Instead of a (expensive and boring) cabin, we are sleeping on plastic lounge chairs in the solarium. Although not as grand as its name, the solarium brings beauty and practicality together. The beauty is from the passing scenery and fresh air flowing from the open aft (back) deck. The practicality is provided by its shelter and simplocity.
Tucked behind the upper decks, the solarium is protected on three sides, with a ceiling made up of hearty glass panels you can see the moon and stars through. The port and starboard walls are also made of these panels, letting the light and views stream through.
Our set up is a cross between camping and staying at a hostel. Our lounge chairs are surround by bags while we hunker down in layers, sandwiched between colorful sleeping pads and equally colorful sleeping bags.
The other passengers have varied setups, some similar to ours, others just a blanket or a whole tent. Those with a cabin or sleeping indoors come and enjoy the solarium for a time. When we first departed Bellingham, 90 degree temperatures on shore made the first few hours simply delightful on deck and every chair was filled.
Some travelers are eager to socialize, but I find myself polite at best, instead content with relaxing and catching up with my friend’s sister who I will be adventuring with all week.
Our dreams of a beer on the boat during sunset were shattered when we learned all the AMH cocktail lounges were shuttered last year. “An essential budgetary reduction” the bureacrats said. “An end to a long standing tradition essential for the traveling community”, bartenders responded. I agree with the latter and will blame my anti-social-ness on that.
Perhaps it’s hypocritical but I do enjoy listening to the other passengers converse. They take turns, sharing their destination, the objective of this trip, and their experiences in Alaska. More apparent than at the airport is the distinction between the tourists and those moving, who have either very little or quite a lot packed on board.
Roy, for example, is from Arkansas. He’s 64 and missing several front teeth with weathered skin and an appreciation for the simple life. After a lifetime spent in the backwoods of Arkansas, he’s heading to carve out a new life while he can. I’m learning that’s what retirement means for a lot of folks.
Roy is starting in Juneau but isnt sure where he’ll end up. He’d like to find a community, maybe trade his truck for a boat. He plans to take photos of nature and locals along the way. Roy is nice but lonely, which makes him more eager to chat than I. I wish him the best as he journeys forward and am sure he’ll find a good community up here.
“What’s next for you?” Roy asks, “Down in the 48?”
Without hesitation I say, “Oh, my life in Seattle.” A world away from here and unimaginable to him, where I have a job, a community, and a home.
We have 32 more hours to go and I’m still enthralled with enjoying this long-awaited journey.
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