Flying Jayhawks cruise Alaska with Scot Pollard

Posted on Aug 12, 2018 in Alumni News and News

For the latest Flying Jayhawks trip, a special guest joined us as the trip’s host. Enjoy the story of the trip through Glacial Alaska, as only former KU basketball player and “Survivor” contestant Scot Pollard could tell it.

I had been to Alaska before but it was just to play basketball. When coaches take you on trips they tend to just give you an hour or two of “local stuff” and the rest is practice, rest, and making sure you’re in your bed when you’re supposed to be! Needless to say I hadn’t REALLY experienced Alaska before.

I can definitely say I have now! Wow! All ten days on board and off of our Oceania cruise ship and in the different ports, our group of flying Jayhawks could not avoid the beautiful scenery even if we wanted to.

Stop 1: Ketchikan

Flying Jayhawks Dana and Sue Anderson “kidnapped” my family and took us on a private fishing boat. All six of us caught our first salmon and a couple of us caught more than one for a total of 10. We didn’t lose one fish which made our captain, Ray, very surprised. The highlight of this day, though, didn’t happen in the water. It happened ON IT. Our captain asked if I would whistle at one of the bald eagles overhead. One was flying away but fairly close as I gave it a really loud whistle. Our national bird and a symbol of our country did a 180 and headed back toward us as my son Ozzy threw a frozen bait herring in the air. The fish landed about 30 feet from our boat and this amazing bald eagle swooped down and grabbed that fish right in front of all of us!

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

Stop 2: Juneau

It’s the capital of Alaska don’t “Juneau!”? Dad jokes aside, it was really cool to go to a city only reachable by boat or plane. We had originally planned to zip line here, but someone (me!) was too heavy to go. So we scrambled and ended up doing a 12-person canoe trip in a lake which happens to have a glacier running into it.

Highlights: paddling up to about 300 yards away (for safety) from Mendenhall Glacier which was spectacular. Paddling near a waterfall called Nugget falls and getting sprayed just a little with 35 degree water.

Lowlights: Some people don’t paddle much or with everyone else, therefore making it harder to paddle across a two mile wide lake.

Did I mention the water was 35 degrees? Yeah it was cold on the lake despite the 65 degree day.

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

Stop 3: Haines

Bald eagles, bald eagles, and more bald eagles. Due to our encounter with the bald eagle on the fishing trip, we were a little spoiled but still enjoyed our float trip down the Chilkat River in the Eagle Preserve. We were lucky enough to share a raft with flying Jayhawks Virginia Crane and Joan Treece.

Our pilot was Dr. Scott Ramsey, and if you ever go on this adventure, make sure he’s your guide. Not only was he knowledgeable, but he was funny and put up with our incessant questions and quest for the perfect river rock to take as a souvenir. There are only about 2,500 residents in Haines, and most of them leave for the winter, so there isn’t a whole lot to do there besides fish. And there’s always fishing. If you get bored of fishing, there’s fishing there. They pride themselves on being “salmon snobs” there. There are certain types of salmon they just won’t eat. Here’s a hint: most of that type of salmon is what we eat in the lower 48 states.

Oh yeah, and we saw about 60 bald eagles!

At sea sailing up to Hubbard Glacier: we had to keep our distance from the glacier as it routinely “calves” ice bergs the size of ten story buildings! We didn’t see any that big, but there were several small ones during our visit. This glacier is about 76 miles long and growing! By 2025 it’s predicted that it will close off the bay we were in entirely.

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

This day was absolutely eye candy. The sky was perfectly blue the entire time, which we were told is rare in that area. The glacier sparkled in the sun, the icebergs we floated past were amazing. One even broke in half right in front of the ship, revealing its center which looked like gemstones. The ice is 400 years old, and has been compressed so much the air is mostly pushed out, which is why it has that color.

After getting an eyeful and filling our cameras memories with pictures, we sailed away to our next stop. The temperature was in the 70’s which meant that in the protected pool area in the top/middle of the ship it felt like 80’s. Of course a few of us got our swimsuits on and enjoyed the hot tub, sailing away from a glacier, in Alaska.

Not a bad day.

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

Stop 4: Icy Straight Point in Hoonah

This was my favorite stop. This island features tides that change up to 30 feet four times a day. When our ship docked at 7 a.m., we were able to walk the gangplank to the new dock to get to land. Within an hour, the tide dropped so much that the gangplank was unusable and guests had to board tenders (lifeboats) to get to shore until the tide returned later in the afternoon. We boarded a tram to take a ride through rainforest (yes, rainforest. The Tongass National Park in Alaska is the largest national forest in America. It is also Earths largest temperate rainforest. And my kids thought they were just on this cruise to have fun.) Our team stopped near the “beach” which was a rocky shoreline. We looked for rocks and chatted with the locals from our tram. Then we headed back to where we started for a show.

The natives here are the Tlingit tribe. They were natives of a different area across the bay, but according to their oral history they were pushed off of their native land by a glacier and had to settle here. The show was performed by high school aged descendants of the tribe, mostly full blooded members, and narrated by an elder member. Because they hold their history sacred, we were not allowed to video or take pictures of the show, which I thought was very special. They danced, we danced, we listened, and we enjoyed their wonderful history.

This place was also home to the world’s largest “ZipRider” which is a harness version of zip lining. Guess who wasn’t allowed to go again? Yep, the giant guy. Not only was I too heavy but the girl working it said it didn’t matter because I was too tall as well. Giant problems…

On our walk back to the ship we stopped to talk with our fellow Jayhawks who had settled down near the ocean with a pitcher of beer to muse about the show we had just witnessed. My son was skipping rocks into the ocean just ahead when three whales breached about 25 feet off shore right in front of him! We ran down, cameras in hand and got a picture of one of the whales flukes (tails). This shows how close to shore they were.

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard
How were they this close, you ask? Many years ago glaciers carved deep trenches in this area. This made it so that just off shore the ocean floor can be as deep as 800 feet!

From learning about a culture I didn’t know existed to their land and its climate to whales popping up to say hello just a few feet away, yeah, definitely my favorite stop!

Stop 5: Sitka

Sitka was founded by Russians. Although my family was annoyed, other people at least tolerated the giant guy who wouldn’t stop talking with the bad Russian accent. We spent most of the day aboard a boat spotting whales, otters, sea lions, dolphins and yes, more bald eagles. Due to our earlier experiences with both the eagles and the whales, we were again a little spoiled on this trip.

Although it was nice, we wish we had spent the day in Sitka learning about the city and its history. We didn’t have enough time to do so after our trip due to needing to be back on the ship so our Sitka experience was limited.

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

As you might guess, I won best dressed at the Big 12 discussion panel.

The topics included the NCAA, the big 12, television and its impact on amateur athletics, as well as AAU and its effect on basketball specifically (I hate it). There were great points brought up and debates had.

Last stop: Victoria BC

We boarded a bus and got a wonderful tour of some highlights of Victoria on the way to the Burchart Gardens. The area used to be a rock quarry once upon a time and once the limestone was all taken out was abandoned. Well the Burcharts of the early 1900’s wouldn’t have that and created this: “The sunken garden”.

I never thought I would appreciate walking through several different gardens and so many flowers, but it smelled wonderful and the sun was shining (every day of this trip but one!), in fact I was wearing a tank top and shorts! On the way back our bus went through downtown and next to the bay which made us wish we had more time to spend in that beautiful city. Therefore, like Sitka, it will probably be a future stop for the Pollards.

It made a great last stop though and provided a great “frame” for our trip. (Sorry, one last dad joke).

Glacial Alaska Scot Pollard

If you haven’t considered a trip with the Flying Jayhawks, do so. If you have considered it, pull the trigger. You will not regret it. We had a blast getting to know our fellow alumni and experiencing the wonders and history of Alaska with them. Oceania cruise line is the best cruise line I’ve been on from the food to the service to the accommodations. A trip with perfect weather, venues, nature, and travel companions? Yes, sign me up again! Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

The Flying Jayhawks trip “Big 12 Glacial Alaska” took place July 13-23, 2018, and was hosted by Scot Pollard! View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.

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Traveling Tegs | Flying Jayhawks discover Alaska’s natural beauty

Posted on Sep 23, 2015 in Alumni News and News

Flying Jayhawks visit Alaska
My trip to Southeast Alaska was an adventure that didn’t disappoint. Once I landed in Sitka, we hit the ground running. I met up with Flying Jayhawks passengers who participated in the Denali National Park pre-trip option, and we joked that they were the last Jayhawks to see Mount McKinley. (The original name of Mount Denali was reinstated on August 30.)

There were four fellow Jayhawks on my trip: they were all good friends in college who still kept in touch. One couple met in the KU Marching Band; the men were members of the same fraternity and the women were sorority sisters while at KU. It was a lot of fun being able to spend time with them and see bonds that were first made on Mount Oread.

Flying Jayhawks visit Alaska

We watched a private Alaskan Native Tlingit performance from the Naa Kahidi Dancers before taking a ferry ride to embark on our ship, the Admiralty Dream. Our first day, we sailed the waters of Icy Strait to pick up our National Park Ranger and our Hoonah Tlingit Cultural Heritage Guide. They shared local stories and information about the area’s native inhabitants and the natural history and wildlife. We spotted sea lions, puffins, mountain goats, and a variety of birds on our way to see the stunning Margerie Glacier.

Next up we hiked Shaw Island on what they call a typical ‘silver’ Alaskan day, which means overcast, cold, and raining. The only stop we made at an actual dock was in Juneau where we visited Mendendall Glacier and hiked up to Nugget Falls. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through downtown Juneau shopping, eating, and viewing the Sealaska Heritage exhibit. That evening brought an unexpected treat of whale watching. We saw humpback whales in close proximity, and one performed for us with pectoral waves. Then, just a short distance away, we saw a small pod of Orcas, or killer wales, including a large bull and a few females with calves.

Finally we had sun! Beginning with our trip to Tracy Arm, it was beautiful sunny weather for the rest of our trip. With the expert navigational skills of the Captain, we came within an eighth of a mile of the South Sawyer Glacier, which is the closest the boat came to the face of the Glacier out of fourteen trips this summer. No glacier calving, but we saw icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits (the size of ice that break off of the glaciers from largest to smallest).

Once we turned around, we stopped in Icy Falls to kayak and others went on a D.I.B. (Demaree Inflatable Boats) ride along the shore lines. The inflatable boats were the main way we were able to reach land—the areas we visited were so remote they either didn’t have a dock or there was a small area just large enough for the inflatable boats. Hidden Falls Hatchery, which seemed like a less-than-exciting attraction in the beginning, became one of the more interesting sights.

Flying Jayhawks visit Alaska

During our trip, we learned a lot about different types of salmon and how they migrate upstream to lay their eggs. We pulled up to the hatchery to see the pools of fish—and we saw bears. And not just a couple, but about twelve brown bears. No one from Orbridge or the ship had said anything about seeing bears on the trip, so it came as a complete surprise! A couple of cubs came close to our group, and people at the hatchery scared them off toward the other side of the stream so they wouldn’t get caught up in the net with the fish.

The trip ended with a hike on Lake Eva trail. One of my favorite pictures I took is of a blurry brown bear. It was coming up the path toward us, and I snapped the picture before getting out of his way. Thankfully the bear went a different direction! That evening was a wonderful Captain’s reception to celebrate the amazing ship crew, the naturalists from Orbridge, and the new friendships created on a memorable trip.

The final icing on the cake for this trip was waking in the middle of the night and going out on the boat’s deck to view the Northern Lights. I recommend visiting Alaska for anyone who loves to travel, it has natural beauty that will rival any place in the world.

—Tegan Thornberry, assistant director of membership, co-hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip through southeast Alaska in September. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.

See more pictures from this trip on Flickr

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