Project 52 #27: Ferrying

Those of you who live here know: we may live 40 miles from Ketchikan as the raven flies, but unless you own a boat equipped to handle the bigger waters of Clarence Strait and the weather happens to be fair, or want to pay the higher price to take a float plane over, it takes a good deal longer than 40 minutes to get there. The most economical and sure (voyage cancellations are rare compared air travel) mode of travel is by the daily ferry. A day trip to Ketchikan via ferry involves over an hour drive to the ferry terminal, a three hour voyage, about four hours to do what you need to do in the city, then another three hour voyage back, and another hour plus drive home.

I find the ferry ride to be very enjoyable. Unless the water is particularly rough, it’s a relaxing, slow-paced ride. The boat is roomy, and the seats are comfortable. The galley food is good, and there’s almost always someone you know on the ferry, or at least someone who knows someone you know. Conversations are easy, and they all start with either: “Where are you from?” or “Where are you going to?” From there, our unique mutual connection to a remote island in southeast Alaska is all the common ground necessary for a full-fledged conversation.

And if there’s no one to talk to, or you don’t want to talk, it’s beautiful to just stand out on the deck, staring over the edge at the foamy waves rhythmically peeling away from the hull of the vessel, or watching the misty island mountains alternately appear and then fade into the fog, or the sunlight play chase with the clouds across the vast and wild panorama of the Inside Passage. Maybe you’ll see a whale or two; certainly you’ll feel the ocean wind in your face.

Once you’re chilled by that, there’s the $3 bottomless cup of coffee waiting to warm you in the galley inside, or more if you missed breakfast in the rush of a 5:30 AM departure or didn’t have time to grab some lunch in the Ketchikan while you were trying to get as much shopping done as possible in your limited 4-hour window of time (that was me this week).

There’s a gift in the slowness of the journey, more the feeling of being a part of the land and the sea instead of speeding through it, of having time to breathe, finally start the stitching project you bought the pattern for five years ago, have a long conversation with someone about homeschooling, buy a banana split and take an hour to eat it, play a game with a friend who brought cards, maybe even be lulled to sleep by the steady drone of the ship’s motors and the rhythmic shifting of the waves.

On this particular voyage, I was out on the deck taking pictures. A man who had also been quietly gazing out at the landscape nearby noted me using my camera and commented enthusiastically, “”It sure is beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is!” I agreed heartily.

Is this your first time here, too?” he queries.

I smile. “No,” and the words that come out my mouth next still feel both wonderful and foreign to me, “I live here.”

“And you’re still taking pictures!” he said, approvingly. “But if I lived here, I think I’d still be taking pictures, too.”

“Others went out to sea in ships, conducting trade on the mighty waters.

They saw the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep.” (Psalm 107:23-24)

Fun fact: Three pictures in this post were taken on our trip through Ketchikan in January, the rest were taken this last week in July. Can you guess which ones are which?

North-West to Alaska: By Air and By Sea

When I got up early on the morning of July 15th to catch our shuttle to the airport, it was hard to fathom that by nightfall, we’d be in our new home. The end of the journey was in sight, and it hardly seemed real. But as we entered the airport and joined the throngs of people carrying luggage and streaming towards the roped lanes, reality very much began to sink in. We were about to climb on an airplane, three of us for the first time in our lives, and when we got off that plane, we’d be in ALASKA!

One child had a pound of coins in her backpack that set off the alarms, and I mindlessly nodded my head when an employee asked if my umbrella was a sword, but other than these minorly eyebrow-raising incidents, we made it through TSA just fine. On the other side, having gotten fewer than five hours of sleep the night before, I contemplated standing in the mile-long line snaking away from the Starbucks counter, but thought better of it and settled for some ordinary coffee at the less popular but cheaper shop next door.

Soon we were boarding our flight, taxiing down the runway and rising through the clouds, headed north. I gave the girls, who had never flown before, the window seat. They peered out the window in wonderment to watch the ground drop away from us, and looked at me with sparkling eyes. Everything was new and exciting through their eyes, and the packages of Biscoff cookies and plastic cups of ginger ale the flight attendants served to us felt especially celebratory.

We landed in Ketchikan an hour and a half later. Alaska, at last! This was only our first step into the state, however. From there, we took a short ferry ride across the harbor, then walked our luggage a few blocks down the road to the Inter-Island Ferry terminal where we soon boarded the Stikine for a three hour boat ride to Prince of Wales Island.

It was a misty, rainy day, and our first view of the island was that of dark pine-covered mountains, the extent of their height hidden by a heavy blanket of fog.

It was a strange feeling, walking up the ramp after the ferry docked, realizing that we weren’t just here on vacation. We were here to STAY. It felt very surreal—but also incredible. There was so much relief at the realization that months of packing and days of driving were done, and the move was over. (Ya’ll, moving is A LOT OF WORK.)

But for me, the best thing was the immediate feeling of having arrived “home”. Everything and everyone was completely new and unfamiliar, yet there was the oddest overarching feeling of comfort and familiarity. And I’m not saying that because I believe that where we are now is so much better than where we were before. I have come to believe that this sense of “home” has much less to do with the physical location than it does with just being in the place God wants you to be at the time He wants you to be. The peace I felt upon arriving here was truly a gift from Him, just one more sweet confirmation of His leading.

The behind-the-scenes heart journey that stretched over the last two years and ultimately brought us to Thorne Bay, Alaska is not one I’ve shared much about here. That’s not because it was terribly dramatic or some great secret, but simply because it was a long, slow, drawn out process of soul-searching and refining, with a lot of frankly awkward floundering about as we tried to understand the will of God. There was no verse in the Bible that told us to move to Alaska in the summer of 2021. Instead, there was a lot of praying, and seeking wise counsel, and learning and growing as we waited for the way to be made clear. Even now at the culmination of this journey, I am only just getting to the point where I can look back, put the pieces together and see the big picture of the work God was doing in our hearts. Someday, perhaps, I will write more about that experience. But I will say this for now: it was simultaneously one of the hardest and best journeys I’ve been on in a long time, beautiful and painful all at once. And I have experienced and can attest to the truth of this promise:

“Faithful is He who has called you; He will also bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

And I am confident of this very thing, that “He who has begun a good work in us will continue to perform it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)—and so, as we end a season of transition, we step with faith into a new chapter of the story He is writing of our lives. I can’t wait to take you along with and introduce you to the beautiful new corner of our Father’s world!