Attending high school in Southeast Alaska, I would often get to track and field meets by using the Alaska Marine Highway -- a 56-year-old state ferry system that connects communities across the waterways of Alaska. I graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1983 and have fond memories of traveling with teams on the ferries through some of the most breathtaking scenery. I'll admit, back then I didn't really look out upon the nature and wildlife with such awe as I do today. As a teen, I would be on a ferry heading to a track meet and see whales breaching or grizzly bears along the shoreline and didn't really think anything of it. Now, at the age of 54, I realize how fortunate I was.
Recently, the ferry system's budget took a $44 million cut by state government. Overall, there will be a decrease in the amount of ferry services to several communities. That's very unfortunate, especially since so many communities throughout Southeast Alaska rely on the "blue canoes" (as Alaskans typically call the ferries). Alaska is working on a feasibility study about the ferry system.
When I coached high school runners in Montana several years after leaving Alaska, we would get on a bus, drive to another town, compete in races, and drive home the same day. That's certainly not how it was for me when I was a high school athlete in Alaska! If we were competing in Ketchikan, Alaska, we would board the ferry in Juneau; ride for 20 hours one way; sleep in a church or spread out in homes of those we were competing against; participate in the track meet; and then board the ferry for the 20-hour return ride. It literally took several days to be able to compete in one track meet.
There were usually few fans on the "road trips" (water trips) because of the amount of time the travel required, and the cost. Sometimes the athletes' parents learned how their son or daughter performed in competition by reading it in the newspaper before the athlete ever got back home. Remember, that was in the days before cell phones.
The Alaska Marine Highway System was absolutely wonderful to travel on as a high school athlete in the early 1980s. Back then, the 'blue canoes' transported over 300,000 people and over 75,000 vehicles annually.
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