Traveling the Alaska Marine Highway

alaskaAs it is with human nature, thousands of Alaskans take the Alaska Marine Highway for granted. Better known as “the ferry system,” this fleet of traveling motor vessels (M/V) transport vehicles, supplies, and people to a bunch of destinations throughout Alaska and in and out of Washington. 

As I write this, I am on the M/V Tustumena heading for Kodiak Island. A friend of mine, Bob Mardis, from Eagle River, Alaska, and I started the ocean-going leg of our trip in Homer, Alaska. The mighty Tustumena will have made two stops before we end our 14 hour journey in Kodiak. I have to say that this is the shortest 14 hour boat trip I have ever been on.

Vehicles are charged a fare according to their length. Space on all of these ferries is at a premium, and they are booked months in advance. During this time of the year, there are many hunters headed to Kodiak trying to fill their freezers with Sitka Blacktail deer meat. This is one of the few places in Alaska where hunters can ride around in 4x4s or ATVs and shoot deer, as long as they are off any roads while doing so.

The ferry is very comfortable and since I was one of the first people to board, I secured us one of the coveted booths that include a table and two long, padded bench seats. Generally, after the ferry has completed loading and boarding, everyone goes to sleep until morning when breakfast is served in the galley. These padded bench seats are perfect for sleeping. Only in Alaska can one find themselves in a large open room sleeping with a bunch of strangers on the way to hunt.  There is something slightly uncomfortable about it, but there is also something familiar and normal about it at the same time. You just have to experience it to understand it.

Unlike the real world, hunters are accepted and tolerated just about everywhere in Alaska, and these large vessels are no different. The most unique observation for me is seeing two guys simply drive their loaded ATVs onto the ferry.  No cars or trucks, just four-wheelers, which is a genius way to play the system. They are virtually guaranteed to be allowed to board, even on standby, due to the short length of their vehicles. They simply drive on, and drive off to hunt. They each have a cooler strapped to their cargo racks and I sort of admire their effort in simplicity. Heaven help them if it rains sideways though.

The Alaska Marine Highway is just another unique and practical feature of the great state of Alaska. I hope you get to experience it one day.