A Whirlwind Trip to Asia, Part 1: Bali, Indonesia

The immediate question most people had upon telling them I was going to Indonesia was, “Why?”  Of course, my first answer is always “Why not?” and my second answer is usually “Hashing!” See the world, meet new people, go for a run, sing silly songs, and drink copious amounts of beer. The great thing about hashing is it allows travelers to get off the beaten path, which sometimes means literally getting lost in the woods, but it’s always guaranteed to be a good story nonetheless.

Every other year, a country hosts World Interhash, an intimate gathering of just a few thousand hashers from around the globe. As with InterAmericas Hash (why I went to the Pacific Northwest last year), the location rotates based on votes, and this time it would be in Bali, Indonesia. This would be my first trip to Interhash and first trip to anywhere in Asia. My only prior knowledge of Bali had come from (don’t judge me…) reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” book about a decade ago. Don’t worry, I’m not going to Bali to pretend like I’m on some kind of “spiritual journey.” (Bali seems like a magnet for these people. I went too far down the YouTube rabbit hole and ended up on a video by some girl who was in Bali to do a juice fast and get colonics… I could not click away fast enough.)

Since I’m a regular person with a 40-hour a week job, my vacation hours are precious! Because I have other trips to take this year, we’d have to cram as much as possible into four days in Bali. Ready? Go!


Day 1, May 19, 2016

The trip actually started on Tuesday night (5/17), with an inauspicious omen — we received notice that our plane had been struck by lightning in Fort Lauderdale, and therefore would not be arriving in Jacksonville to shuttle us off to New York in time for our connecting flight to the other side of the planet.

Almost nothing will send a traveler into panic mode faster than knowing you’re going to miss a plane (only thing worse is losing your passport… or maybe your hotel room catching on fire, like what happened to me in Italy). JetBlue was incredibly accommodating; after putting us on all new flights, they gave us both a meal voucher as well as a credit for a free one-way flight somewhere. Devon used his bard skills (+3 charisma) to score us upgraded seats on the ride to NYC and then an exit row on the 15-hour trip to Guangzhou. The secret to sleeping on a long-haul flight seems to be a dose of ZzzQuil. I fell asleep shortly after takeoff and woke up feeling so fresh and so clean~clean with only an hour left to go until landing.

During the layover in Guangzhou, I discovered that disposable face wipes can also be used to clean your entire body if you’re desperate (and grimy) enough. Food in the airport was sparse, and I was immediately intimidated by a Starbucks menu entirely in Mandarin. Devon managed to navigate the language barrier (+2 intelligence) and get me a veggie club sandwich from a food kiosk. The flight to Bali was pretty uneventful. We arrived at 1:00am local time — about 10 hours later than we’d originally planned — so we missed all of Thursday’s festivities.

The great thing about Indonesia is if you’re staying for less than 30 days they issue you a “visa on arrival” which doesn’t cost anything. Currency exchange is amusing, since US $100 is equal to about 1,000,000 (yes, one million) Indonesian rupiah. I’ve never been a millionaire before! We bought sim cards for our phones and grabbed a taxi to Sanur beach.

As soon as the cab pulled away from the airport, the first thing to greet us was a human body sprawled out in the middle of the road by a wrecked scooter. The most disturbing thing about it wasn’t the fact that it was a potentially/probably dead person, it was the body just… there… with cars passing by as if it was normal road debris. The cab driver said these kinds of accidents happen all the time, since owning a car is prohibitively expensive for the average Balinese person. (It wasn’t surprising to see an entire family of four riding together on a single scooter… in sandals or barefoot, without helmets.) Traffic in Indonesia goes on the left-hand side of the road, but much like in Europe, scooter drivers seem to go wherever they want, and lanes/speed limits are only suggestions.

When we arrived at the Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel, we thought our travel woes were finished — but wait, there’s more! Even though Devon called the hotel from NYC to confirm our reservation and let them know we’d be arriving late, our reservation could not be found… it appeared that they gave our room away. At this point we were both tired to the point of delirium, so I was about to just sleep on the couch in the lobby. The manager said that despite what our confirmation email was showing, there was nothing he could do about it tonight, because they were fully booked. About the best we could do was spend the night at their other hotel (2km away, but fortunately, they provided a shuttle for us) and come back the following morning to check in at the beach hotel. As compensation, they upgraded us to a 3 bedroom suite for the night.

It was a bit overkill since the suite was bigger than most of the apartments I’ve had, with upstairs and downstairs common areas, plus 3 full bathrooms and a full kitchen. It seemed like a waste since it was just Devon and me and we wouldn’t even be there a full night, as it was now approaching 3:00am. We showered, slept for the remainder of the night, then watched the sun rise from the balcony.

Day 2, May 20, 2016

Friday morning’s breakfast was a welcome break after 2 days in transit (I missed all the food on our long flight because I was sleeping, and the previous night’s “dinner” was a can of Pringles from the Denpasar airport). Afterward, we schlepped our luggage back to the other hotel, where the manager was super apologetic about the whole mess up, and upgraded us to a poolside room with a king bed. It turned out to be a much better accommodation than the original room I’d reserved, so I reckon it was worth the minor inconvenience. When he said “poolside,” he was not kidding! You could stumble out the door and into the pool. The bed was comfortable, the air conditioning was frosty, and the bathroom was completely outdoors (surrounded by a high privacy wall). So fancy!

After getting settled in, we strolled around the corner to the Inna Grand Bali Beach Resort, which was the main venue for all of the Interhash festivities. After picking up our registration packets, grabbing a beer, and socializing for a while, we had to go back to our hotel and change into our swimsuits because our clothes were soaked through with sweat. We spent the rest of Friday at the beach, sitting in the shade, drinking some cold adult beverages (Bintang beer) and goofing off with other hashers.

The heat was an uncomfortable, sweat dripping-in-unmentionable-places experience that I’d never had before — and that was just mostly standing around in the shade! I saw so many YouTube videos of people in Bali doing things like yoga… outdoors…! And not looking like they’re going to pass out?! The humidity was so intense that I set my bathing suit outside to dry overnight, and it was still wet the next morning. If your hair behaves a certain way in humid weather, just let it happen; resistance (and hair product) is futile. It was so hot I felt like peeling off my own skin, so I wouldn’t suggest wearing make-up either. I would also highly recommend only packing the lightest, most breathable fabrics you own, or just wear your bathing suit as much as possible (and don’t forget sunscreen). I’m saying all this, and I’m from Florida. Trust me.

Day 3, May 21, 3016

Saturday is a hashing day! The group had about a dozen run sites to choose from, so a few of us picked the Sangeh monkey forest.

We had to meet around 9am to select a run site and get on the appropriate bus. The ride to Sangeh took about an hour, during which one of the locals gave us a brief Bali history lesson. Fun fact: instead of submitting to Dutch colonial rule, the Balinese royal family offed themselves in ceremonial fashion via ritual suicide (puputan). Really set a, uh, jovial mood for the day.

It was nice to observe some of the countryside beyond the tourist enclave of Sanur. It soon became very apparent how remote some parts of Bali are, since modern infrastructure seems to just disappear a few kilometers out of town. My phone lost its signal and it never came back after we left the Denpasar metro area.

Not to be outdone, the weather in the mountains somehow felt even hotter than the beach.

Actual video of the weather in Sangeh.
Actual video of the weather in Sangeh.

The run was split into short/medium/long trails, and I picked the short one. We followed shreds of colored paper which led us into the monkey forest, through rice fields, across a bridge spanning a wide gorge, along hedgerows between cow pastures, down some very steep stairs carved into a hillside, across a shallow river (SO cold and refreshing!), up some more steep stairs, through local streets, and back to the start; about 5k altogether.

After the run, we were given lunch and copious amounts of Bintang. I watched some hashers feed monkeys their leftovers, but I was mostly keeping my distance after I’d been told they will bite and steal things from you (the monkeys, not the hashers — although they do share many other behaviors, poo throwing aside). I had some great conversations with a few Aussie and Kiwi hashers, discussing travel and tattoos. (My two favorite topics!) They asked me to explain how the tipping system works in the States, but I was mostly not any help at all, because it honestly makes no sense to me, either.

It was a fun day, but being out in the sun and drinking beer had me falling asleep at dinner, so I ended up crawling into bed pretty early.

Day 4, May 22, 2016

On Sunday, we decided to skip the group trail. I wanted to find some birthday presents and souvenirs for people back home, and it seemed like Denpasar’s jewelry and fabric markets were the place to go. Since Bali does not seem to have public transportation, a few travel bloggers suggested renting a scooter or bicycle, but after the dead body incident and seeing the traffic patterns, I could not have “noped” any harder.

A friend’s Balinese wife suggested we take a cab to Pasar Badung. Immediately after we stepped out of the cab, a group of people descended on us like buzzards to fresh carrion. Amid people waving trinkets or perfume in my face and shouts of “Miss, you want to buy? Miiiiiiiisssss, you buy?” it was very difficult to get my bearings. Even after we repeatedly said, “No thank you” and walked away, one woman refused to leave us alone. I was paranoid that she was trying to have us scammed somehow. She mostly just pointed at things and asked us if we wanted to buy them. She probably thought she was doing us a favor. Eventually, we were able to lose her.

Lonely Planet’s description of Pasar Badung: “Allow yourself to get lost here and revel in the range of fruits and spices on offer. The shops lining the side streets of the market are famous for textiles.” As I looked around, the only thing I was able to revel in was the smell of garbage, and the only textiles I saw were knockoff t-shirts with misspelled English words. It turned out that most of the vendors were absent, since the market had suffered a fire recently. The former market building was now an empty, burnt out shell. Shopping was next to impossible anyway, because if I even turned to look in the direction of merchandise, someone would try to flag me down to sell something, or get right up in my face, practically shoving items up my nose. Few things activate my “GTFO” response faster than a stranger in my face, running an aggressive sales pitch.

The market (what was left of it) was an instant turnoff, so we walked around the block to Jl. Hasanuddin, a street supposedly renowned for gold and silver stores. There we did indeed find a great selection of traditional Balinese jewelry as well as modern pieces. Unfortunately, everything I’d read and was told about shopping in Bali said to “barter hard.” Having to haggle in a foreign currency with a language barrier is how I imagine poor introvert souls are tormented in one of Dante’s circles of Hell. After strolling through a few shops and being told a dainty 22k gold bangle was US$1000, I threw my hands up and we left. (Sorry mom, it really was pretty.)

You might think a “public market” would have readily available public toilets, but nope. I hoped to stumble upon a bathroom while shopping, with no luck. I briefly considered public urination. (Alternate titles for this blog post included “Eat, Pray, Pee in an Alley.”) We left the city disappointed, empty-handed, and full-bladdered. Normally I like exploring on my own, but in this case it turned into a colossal waste of time. We returned to the beach to drown our sorrows in more Bintang.

For our last night in Bali, a friend got a small group of us together for a traditional rijsttafel dinner. A Dutch word that literally translates to “rice table,” rijsttafel is a meal of traditional Indonesian dishes adopted by Dutch colonists. The whole experience started with the restaurant sending a van over to the hotel to pick us up and take us to dinner!

We were given a private dining room overlooking a stage, where performances of traditional Indonesian dances went on throughout the meal. The menu included appetizers, soup, several Indonesian dishes surrounding a cone of rice (hence “rice table”), and dessert. The whole experience ended up costing a whopping US $12 per person (before tip). Apparently tipping isn’t a common thing in Indonesia, but we left one anyway; so much money in fact, that our servers thought we’d made a mistake and tried to give half of it back. When we managed to communicate that it was for them and the dancers, everyone came into the room to thank us.

I’m pretty flexible with my diet when I travel, but there are some things I always avoid. Sometimes this can be tricky, especially with a language barrier. Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems in Bali. The island has a predominantly Hindu population, so beef was not as ubiquitous as it is in the States (like, don’t come to Bali and expect to order a 12oz porterhouse). With Indonesia overall being a majority Muslim country, dishes containing pork were clearly labeled. (It sucks to order a plate of veggies and find a giant ham hock floating in it — that’s just me, though.)

Breakfast for me was usually something like pineapple fried rice or glass noodles with vegetables. Our Interhash registration fees covered lunches while out on trail, plus dinners each night. Saturday’s lunch was a plate of steamed corn, some kind of potato, and sticky rice balls with sweet chili sauce (everyone else had fried chicken). Dinners included a variety of traditional Indonesian dishes that rotated every night. It was meat-heavy overall, but easy for me to fill up on tofu, vegetables, rice, and fruit. Speaking of fruit; one of the more amusing pieces of advice I read before the trip was “Don’t make yourself sick bingeing on exotic tropical fruit”… Yes, I ate so many “exotic” fruits like… bananas and mangoes. Unless you’re one of those people who thinks ketchup is a vegetable, there is no reason I can see to worry about getting sick from fruit as long as you peel it first.

Single serving water. Sometimes they were recycled as beer cups.

However, drinking the tap water sounds like playing gastrointestinal roulette, so I avoided it. The hash organizers were constantly handing out child-sized, individually sealed cups of water — but that seemed really inefficient, not to mention wasteful (so much plastic!) when the Bintang beer was free flowing. We sometimes recycled the water cups into beer cups. Since the temperatures were sweltering, it felt like I was always chugging beer, which really could have ended poorly if it had a higher alcohol content. One drink I actually refused was a liquor called arak, after reading about some tourists going blind because they got into a batch that was cut with methanol. From what I was told about its production, arak sounds like something you’d find brewing somewhere in rural Appalachia.

I wish I’d had more time to spend in Bali, but we got to see quite a bit for the short while we were there. Denpasar was kind of exhausting, but I thought the beaches at Sanur and the countryside around Sangeh were beautiful. I think due to the high concentration of English-speaking expats, I was led to believe that the locals speak more English than they actually do. Outside of the tourist areas, most people we encountered only knew enough English to sell something — with the exception of one Balinese girl who just talked my ear off and wanted to know my entire life story. It’s pretty easy to see why the island has such a draw for westerners; everything is cheap, the terrain is lovely, and the people are super friendly.


Part 2 of my trip was a 20 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. I’m saving that for a separate post.

Going the Distance: My First Marathon

13.1 is only “half crazy,” and I can’t do anything halfway. I’m going full crazy.

So, I was never what you might call “athletically inclined” as a child. I played outside a lot, but I didn’t “play sports.” I actively avoided anything that might have been construed as team-oriented or competitive. My idea of a marathon was how many dungeons of Zelda I could get through before my thumbs started hurting. I also grew up with a body shape that reflected how I spent my pubescent years seated in a dark room, bathing in the glow of cathode ray tubes and shoving snacks into my gaping maw.

As a teenager, I never felt compelled to lose weight in order to get a boyfriend, fit into trendy clothes, or wear a bikini. However, I remember at some point during high school I found out that type 2 diabetes and colon cancer run in my family, and I decided that it might be a good idea for diseases to not be the only thing running in my family.

At the time, putting on my Nikes and hitting the pavement was the easiest and least expensive way to shed my extra weight, and did not involve joining a team, going to a gym, or even speaking to another human being at all. After a long day of sensory overload and forced social interaction at school, I relished the time I could spend completely alone on a run. Since then, running has helped keep unwanted weight from coming back, in addition to keeping my blood pressure and cholesterol at comfortable levels. It’s also a great excuse to spend an hour alone to recharge.

Last year, a friend convinced me to run a half marathon with her. It was the first time I ever actually had to put myself on some kind of training plan, as opposed to just aimlessly running laps around my neighborhood. Initially I thought that the half marathon would be something I did just to check off my bucket list, and then never think about doing again… Much to my own surprise, I ended up liking it so much that in the months that followed, I ran two more: a small local half, and the Rock & Roll half in Savannah, GA.

Once I figured out how to breathe and set my cadence, those long runs stopped being painful and started feeling more like meditation. I discovered that I really like running long distances, but a full marathon still felt intimidating. I knew that once I plunked down some money it would motivate me to get out of my comfort zone again, so I signed up for the Rock & Roll marathon in New Orleans. I thought that since I could do 13.1, 26.2 probably wouldn’t be too difficult.

…Right?

I gave myself 16 weeks to train, since I didn’t want to try to do too much too fast.

When I signed up, I wasn’t really sure how to estimate what my finishing time would be, so I put my goal as 4hr:30m.  I thought training for a marathon would leave me feeling like a gazelle, effortlessly bouncing across the savanna. Instead I was more like a hobbit on the way to Mordor: sweating, shoveling snacks in my face, and trying to push my stumpy legs “just one more mile.”

The first time I felt that sucker punch of total glycogen depletion, I slogged home feeling like my legs were made of Jello and my feet were cinderblocks. About the most I would ever do is choke down an energy gel at the midpoint of a half marathon, but as my weekly long run was climbing to upwards of 4 hours, that strategy wasn’t working anymore. Eating food while running seemed to go against all the conventional wisdom I’d come to understand about fitness, but once I started doing it, I felt my endurance increase dramatically.

I was pretty confident in my ability to physically run the miles, but less confident in my chances of maintaining a pace I could brag about. I was not going to be able to do the full marathon at my half marathon pace, but I decided that I wouldn’t stress out too much about it, since it was my first time trying to run 26.2. I didn’t want to push myself too hard and burn out early in the race — or worse, hurt myself. As long as I finished, I’d consider it a success.

If you ever have doubts that your non-runner spouse loves you, see what they say when you ask them to travel 550 miles, then get up at zero-dark-thirty on a weekend, wait around for you to finish a marathon… and you don’t even know how long it’s going to take. (Some gentle cajoling with promises of daiquiris doesn’t hurt.)

Preparing for the actual race was probably the easiest part: I used to live in New Orleans, so I wasn’t at all worried about the terrain or weather. During the week leading up to the race, I rested and did yoga. Devon and I drove over the day before, arriving early enough so I could pick up my bib, then I carb-loaded with eggplant parmesan and went to bed early. I awoke at 4:30 am and had my usual race day breakfast of a plant-based energy bar and coffee before heading to the starting line.

The Race:

Miles 1-6 were easy. Running felt great and effortless, but I knew I was going too fast, so I tried to slow myself down by staying on the neutral ground along St. Charles Avenue. As a result, I missed hitting the 5k and 10k mats, oops. This section was the most entertaining part of the race, since the sidewalks were lined with spectators cheering and holding up signs. Some people from Randazzo’s bakery were handing out king cake, but it was not appealing at the time. The oak trees along the road provided lots of shade from the early morning sun.

Miles 7-13 were through the French Quarter. I still wasn’t pushing myself too hard, cruising along at a pace that was almost leisurely. The sun was still mostly behind clouds, but the humidity was rising as the morning dew dissipated. As we turned to run up Esplanade, I could feel the ambient temperature climbing too, so I started grabbing more water and eating some of the energy chews and dried fruit I’d stored in my belt pouch. At mile 13, we reached City Park and I drank a Five Hour Energy shot. I did the half in about 2:39.

Miles 14-18 were mostly in the shade along the west side of the park, so it was still fairly pleasant, but the sun was definitely now out with a vengeance. There were some folks handing out pretzels on Carrollton Ave. and I was glad to have some salty food for a change. I was still feeling pretty good, but around mile 17, the 4:45 pace group passed me. I tried not to get too down about it, reminding myself that I was only a few minutes off my estimated goal and still doing fine.

Miles 19-23 were along Lakeshore Drive; by now the sun was blazing full in the sky and there was no shade. Somewhere around mile 20, I felt like I had been maintaining a pretty good time despite the climbing temperatures, and then the 5:00 pace group passed me. I attempted to light a fire under my own ass, and downed the rest of my energy chews as I tried to keep up with them, to no avail. At this point all of the water stations seemed to have gone dry, but I managed to grab one or two warm Gatorades to toss down my gullet.

The last 2.2 miles were rough. At mile 24 I was starting to feel a little queasy, which I assumed was because of the direct sunlight — I felt like my skin was roasting. I thought about eating the rest of my dried fruit, but the thought of ingesting any more sugar made me want to vomit. I did a mental “systems check” to make sure nothing hurt. My quadriceps were feeling sore, and I was pretty sure I had at least one blister, but otherwise I felt okay. By this time, City Park was coming back into view and I knew the finish line was close. Then, at mile 25, my quads were suddenly ON FIRE. I didn’t want to completely stop, so I slowed to a walk to see if my muscles could relax. When I hit mile marker 26, I managed to run the last 0.2 to finish at 5:45. Only a full hour and 15 minutes slower than my goal, but at least nobody had to carry my bloated corpse across the finish line.

I collected my medal and finisher jacket, grabbed a banana, then met up with Devon, who brought me a cocktail — which honestly could have been made with Bourbon Street gutter water and it would have still tasted amazing after running a marathon.

Post Race Thoughts:

I think I will do a few things differently for my next marathon. I’d like to give myself an extra couple of weeks of training to incorporate more long runs. The longest run I finished was 20 miles, and I think I would have benefited from at least one 22 miler. And I will probably incorporate muscle-building exercise back into my routine, and work on strengthening my lower body before my next race.

This was my second Rock & Roll event, and so far I’ve noticed a common theme: no apparent effort is made to ensure that participants are actually in their proper corrals. It became wholly evident when I was passing people with higher bib numbers before even approaching the 5k mark. Another point of frustration was that it seemed like so much attention was paid to the half — plentiful water/gatorade/gel stops and entertainment during the first 13 miles — while the last 13 miles were basically almost ignored. We ran down long stretches of barren course (no music, no spectators), only to be met with understocked water stops. However, the port-a-potty situation was much better than it was at Savannah. Lack of places to pee is usually my only complaint about big race events like this. Overall though, I’ve enjoyed Rock & Roll’s events and will likely do more in the future. And they do have the most creative medals.

One of my long-term goals is to get a few more marathons under my belt, and then do this race again to (hopefully) see how much I’ve improved. I’m aiming to go back to Savannah again in November to run the full marathon this time, and I have at least one local marathon I’d like to do in 2017. My eventual goal is to start doing ultras (much to my non-running husband’s dismay). Even just as recently as a year ago, this didn’t seem remotely achievable, but now the idea of running 30 or even 50 miles is becoming less intimidating. Not less crazy, just less scary. ;)

Cascadian Adventures

Like the pioneers of old, we go west! Except we’re flying and nobody will die of dysentery.

Since Devon and I are both members of the Hash House Harriers, the whole idea for this trip began to materialize in 2013, when we found out that Portland would be hosting our 2015 InterAmericas Hash. InterAm is essentially a giant gathering that happens every 2 years in a new location. Kind of like Burning Man, for hashers on this side of the globe. A cruise was organized as a “prelube” to InterAm, so about 150 of our fellow hashers would be also joining us on the ship.

During our ten-day adventure, we traveled for 7 days on board the Celebrity Solstice, where we sailed up the Pacific coast to Alaska, and traced the Klondike Gold Rush route into Yukon Territory. Following the cruise, we spent 3 days in Portland, Oregon. This was my first time back in the Pacific Northwest since my last visit in 2007. Devon had never been to this side of the continent before, and neither of us had been to Alaska, Yukon Territory, or Portland, so it was fun to see a mix of familiar and new locations.

8/28 | Day 1: Seattle, WA

Before the sun was even peeking over the horizon, Devon and I were on board a plane to Houston, where we met up with our friend Lisa and flew to Seattle. After gathering our luggage, riding the train into town, and checking in at the Moore Hotel, we were left with about 24 hours to relax before we embarked on our cruise.

We took some time to explore the surrounding area, as it had been close to a decade since the last time I’d been to Seattle. We followed two friends who were looking for geocaches. Afterward, our group met up with the Seattle Hash House Harriers for a pub crawl through Belltown. About halfway through the crawl, I realized that I’d been awake for over 24 hours, so I excused myself to go to bed… only to wake up bright and early at 4:00am. Devon and I found breakfast at a 24-hour diner around the corner (then, like Hobbits, a second breakfast at a nearby pastry shop) and strolled around Pike’s Place for a couple of hours, until it was time to gather up our bags and get a cab to take us to the cruise terminal.

Our stateroom was on the Concierge Level, so we were allowed to board early and the staff welcomed us with champagne. I had a basic inside cabin on the last cruise I took, so our balcony room on the Solstice was quite a dramatic upgrade! The room easily accommodated the three of us with a queen bed plus a fold-out twin bed, ample closets and drawers, and a spacious bathroom.

8/29 | Day 2: At Sea

Never thought I'd be on a boat...
Never thought I’d be on a boat…

After breakfast we saw some whales breaching, but they were so far out that I couldn’t photograph them. We spent the day exploring the ship and socializing. Blissfully, there were very few children on board, and they were all mostly sequestered away to a play area, so that meant nobody was screaming, flinging food, or running amok (although there may have been some hashers running a beer mile). There was a whole section of the ship with designated “adults only” hours, which included a swimming pool, hot tubs, fitness center, sauna, and spa. Other amenities included a library stocked with books and comfortable chairs, and a lawn on the top deck. The only downside I discovered is that when we were at cruising speeds, the wind was just too cold for me to really enjoy hanging out on the lawn. Fortunately, there was plenty to do inside.

8/30 | Day 3: Ketchikan, AK

The first day in Alaska was kind of a wash, literally. When we arrived in Ketchikan, I woke up to discover the weather was dreary, cold, and wet. I stayed optimistic and thought the weather didn’t feel too cold, and maybe it wouldn’t be raining so hard once we got on shore. Well, it turned out to be even worse. After disembarking, I immediately wished I had put on different clothes. Not only was I freezing, but the hems of my pants got soaked and kept wicking icy water into my shoes and up my legs as I walked, which made me instantly hate everything. I henceforth discovered that the “waterproof” jacket I’d purchased for the trip was just a windbreaker, and not in fact waterproof at all.

We messed around in a few gift shops, but just going outside to walk between buildings meant we were both completely soaked within a few minutes. We finally ducked into a bar to sit for a while and dry off, and a few other hashers eventually trickled in too, since they were planning to do a pub crawl. A whole afternoon of strolling about town in freezing rain just didn’t sound that appealing to me. After hanging around for a while and sampling a few local Alaskan brews, Devon and I went back to the ship to put on dry clothes.

Of course, as the ship was leaving port, the rain stopped and the sun actually came out. I got a great photograph of a double rainbow on the way out.

8/31 | Day 4: Juneau, AK

Devon and Lisa woke me up before dawn as the boat took a detour up through Tracy Arm Fjord. I wrapped myself in a blanket burrito and sat on the balcony, where we were greeted by a misty sunrise revealing picturesque cliffs and emerald colored water full of cerulean hued icebergs. Our cruise director got on the PA system and entertained us with lots of trivia, facts, and legends of the fjords.

Around noon the ship docked in Juneau. Surprise, more rain! Fool me twice, won’t get fooled again — I dressed appropriately this time, and brought an umbrella. Devon and I met up with two friends for a short hike into town to catch a bus to Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier viewing area was crowded, and we’d have to pay to get into the visitor’s center. The rain never stopped, so we ended up damp and frozen again, but it was definitely worth seeing, even if the atmospheric haze made it hard to take any decent pictures. (Despite the magic of Photoshop, it’s hard to capture how moody and ethereal the glacier actually looked.)

After we’d had enough standing in a downpour to look at a big ice cube, we thought we’d go warm up in a pub again. Our bus driver recommended the Red Dog Saloon, but it turned out to be a tourist trap with a line to get in, so we said nope to that. The four of us meandered around through a few more gift shops, which were overall a bit disappointing since all I came across was mass-produced junk, overpriced and not even made in Alaska. Walking around in bitterly cold rain is exhausting (worse than snow I think), so we split a cab back to the ship.

9/1 | Day 5: Skagway, AK + YT & BC

Devon, Lisa, and I woke up early to meet up with some more friends to do our only organized shore excursion of the trip. The Chilkoot Charters Yukon Rail & Bus had come highly recommended, and the cost seemed fair considering the excursion was 7.5 hours long and included lunch.

Our tour guide, Alyssa, was absolutely hilarious and entertaining. (Seriously, when she isn’t doing tours in Alaska she should be a standup comic.) The first leg of our journey would be by bus, departing north from Skagway. Along the way we pulled over a couple of times to take photos while Alyssa pointed out landmarks and regaled us with stories and trivia about the area. Eventually we crossed into British Columbia and then into Yukon Territory. Currently, this is the furthest north I’ve ever been.

Our first destination was the Caribou Crossing Trading Post, which included a restaurant in addition to a small museum displaying artifacts from First Nation tribes, bits of Canadian history, and life-size replicas of native animals. Behind the museum was a petting zoo, including sled dogs. When we got off the bus, I was smacked in the face by a piercing wind and snow flurries, but at least the trip-provided lunch included warm donuts! Plus a vegetable curry over rice for me and BBQ for everyone else. Hot food was definitely appreciated. Afterward, we were free to explore the area for a while. Devon and I made our way through the museum (mostly enjoying the brief warmth) and eventually wandered out back to see the husky puppies. Yes, even I will brave the arctic climate to pet a cute dog.

After leaving the Trading Post, the bus made a stop in Carcross so we could explore. The town seemed to be frozen (figuratively in time, but also literally — a wet, bone-chilling kind of cold), even including an old fashioned general store, a legitimate relic from the Gold Rush days. Carcross even had, no kidding, an ice cream stand — and some people were actually getting ice cream. I, however, did not need ice cream because my body had already turned into a meat popsicle. The final stop on our bus tour was Lake Bennett, where Alyssa challenged us to a rock skipping contest.

The second leg of our journey would be by train, departing from Fraser, British Columbia, to take us back to Skagway. As we passed through the mountains we saw a couple of bears in a creek, plus some really dramatic scenery including snow-capped mountains, ancient railroad trestles (including some that our train used!), cascading waterfalls, and the last remaining sections of the original Gold Rush trail that was carved into the cliffside.

Skagway was our last port of call in Alaska before heading back south. I would love to come back to Alaska, since we really only got to see a tiny sliver of the whole state. The only complaint I have is that it’s hard to come up with different ways to describe the weather, other than “Alaska is really f@#$king wet and cold.”

9/2 | Day 6: At Sea

After waking up late, Devon and I went and sat in the sauna and spent a while relaxing in one of the hot tubs. Later in the evening I watched the Hot Glass Show, which was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. Three very talented ladies from the Corning Museum of Glass built a giant vase that was auctioned off for charity the following day. At dinner, we heard a rumor that around 1:00am we’d be able to see the aurora, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see anything.

My overall impression of Celebrity Cruises is a positive one. They appeared to strive for the feeling of an elegant, all-inclusive resort that also happens to be floating, so even if cruises aren’t normally your thing, you might enjoy sailing on Celebrity. The crew was not only patient and accommodating to our group of rowdy runners, but the stateroom attendants kept our cabin impeccable (which is no easy task with three people in there). By the end of the trip, the staff knew all our names; especially the bartenders. Devon arrived at our dinner table each night to find a glass of scotch waiting for him.

Cruise food in general is tailored toward the, shall we say, “retiree” palette (in other words, bland), and there was plenty of that to be found, but I enjoyed the Indian and Asian dishes (congee and curry for breakfast) and the variety of multicultural food offerings that were definitely not bland. Being a vegetarian, I found plenty of meal options that fit my diet. In the main dining hall, the dinner entrees were prepared to order and served in manageable portions. The only disappointment was the baked Alaska we had for dessert on day 7. It was just bad (though kind of amusingly ironic).

I had the basic non-alcoholic beverage package which included unlimited soda, coffee, and tea. About halfway through the trip I realized it also included fancy drinks at the coffee bar so I had a white chocolate mocha almost every day after being out in the cold. Friends who bought the premium alcoholic package definitely appeared to get their money’s worth. I think it’s a great value if you know you can spend more than $50 on drinks in a day, and some of the top shelf liquors make that easily achievable. If you’re a “single glass of wine with dinner” kind of person then it’s probably not cost effective to buy a drink package. My favorite watering hole on board was the “Molecular Bar” that featured handmade cocktails with interesting additions like herb or spice infusions and liquid nitrogen.

9/3 | Day 7: Victoria, BC

When I first saw that we would have a stop in Victoria, I really wanted to take Devon to the Butchart Botanical Gardens, since it was one of the highlights from my first trip to the area. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be enough time, as we didn’t make port until 6pm, and would only be there until midnight. Instead, our whole group met up with the Victoria chapter of the Hash House Harriers to do a red dress run through downtown. With well over 100 people in crazy outfits, we attracted a lot of attention and even got our 15 minutes of fame on the local news.

9/4 through 9/6 | Days 8-10: Portland, OR

oregon_trail

After returning to Seattle and disembarking, we took a train to Portland for the remainder of our trip. While there were plenty of planned activities for us courtesy of the Portland Hash, a few of us decided to skip some of the InterAm festivities to go do “muggle” (non-hasher) things, since we’d never been to the city before.

We spent a whole afternoon at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, which was definitely a “stars aligned just right” sort of experience; we’d heard about waiting in line, needing a reservation, or being turned away due to limited capacity, so we originally hoped to stop in for just a drink or two. However, we were extremely lucky and the private tasting room was vacant, so they let us set up camp there for several hours. We also had a chance to hit the Saturday Market and Japanese Gardens (after walking there from the market, which was only 2.7 miles on the map but turned out to be an entirely uphill climb).

There were a few other attractions that had been suggested to me, but I didn’t have time to do everything I’d have liked, and some things turned out to be not quite worth the hype when we got there. (I didn’t want to wait in line 45 minutes for Voodoo Donuts, and Powell’s Books looked amazing from the outside, but I was immediately turned off after seeing approximately a million people inside.) I’d really like to go back to Portland again and get off the beaten path a bit more.