Finding strength and unexpected inspiration on Alaska’s Inside Passage
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
On my 46th birthday, I left home in Washington D.C. at the crack of dawn to venture to Alaska for the first time in my life. My brain was filled with expectations of what this new landscape might bring. Would there be snow-capped mountains and glaciers? What amazing wildlife would I get to see up close? What would my fellow travelers be like, and would I get along with them?
What I didn’t expect as we sailed past the rough Alaska terrain, were the smart, strong women I continually encountered.
No, this wasn’t a women-only “Girl Power” type cruise. There were a handful of men on the boat, but the majority of the passengers — as well as our expedition leader and the boat’s crew – were women.
When the captain of the ship, Captain Denee Blanchard, introduced herself to the guests, I was annoyed at myself for being surprised not only that our captain was female, but that she was far younger than I. She told us how she rose through the ranks from steward to captain, then provided expert navigation through the Inside Passage for rest of the week.
Our expedition leaders, Annie from Homer, Alaska, and Maria, from Kona, Hawai’I, provided us a safe and wildly enjoyable tour of a place they both know and love, sharing their expertise and insights on the flora and fauna thriving in the amazing landscape around us. And they really made me laugh. I feel lucky that I love my work at WWF as much as these women seem to love their jobs as expedition guides.
When we arrived at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on our final full day on the boat, we learned that we’d have a Park Ranger join us on board overnight, imparting insights when we awoke the next morning surrounded by glaciers. Again, I was annoyed at myself when I was surprised to learn that the ranger was a young woman from New Jersey, Caitlin Campbell. But again I found her knowledge and passion for the park and its wild inhabitants truly inspiring.
Not only were the strong female staff on the ship a source of inspiration to me, I learned so much from the strength and wisdom of my fellow female travelers.
Take Anna from Michigan – a 90-year-old whippersnapper who enjoyed an occasional pint of beer – she could hike and kayak circles around some of the other much younger travelers.
And Mary Jane from Oregon, who served as a doctor in Germany during Operation Desert Storm, when she witnessed hundreds of American casualties. Despite some limited mobility, Mary Jane took part in most activities, wanting to experience as much of the wildlife and landscape as others.
And Leslie, who is 80 and has some difficulty hearing. She out-hiked and out-paddled most of the younger passengers.
I ended up bunking with a total stranger, Cathy from Australia. Cathy proved to be an ideal bunkmate, and given our similar sense of humor we spent most of our time laughing before resting up for the next day’s adventure. I unexpectedly found a friend from “Down Under” who I hope to stay in touch with well into the future.
My measly expectations of Alaska were a far cry from the experience that I had during the week-long tour on a 20-passenger cruise ship from Ketchikan to Juneau on Alaska’s Inside Passage. Our close access to brown and black bears, and humpback and orca whales — among other animals — reconnected me to the reason I come to work at WWF every day: to spread the message that together we can protect these amazing creatures and the habitats they call home.
It was truly an honor to experience the landscapes and wildlife of Alaska, and I gained additional respect for nature and the powerful and beautiful animals we witnessed. But what I’ll remember most about this trip is the wonderful people who I experienced it with. The strong independent women I encountered along this amazing journey will continue to inspire me – reminding me that women are strong and capable of achieving great things – for the rest of my life.
By Diane Quigley, Senior Director, Digital Platforms, WWF