Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Valdez, Alaska, Not for Wimps, Especially in a White-Water Raft

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Valdez, Alaska, Not for Wimps, Especially in a White-Water Raft

Article excerpt

In most of Alaska, endurance comes with the territory. That's why when you come to the 49th state as a cruise passenger -- and probably a pampered one, at that -- you can feel slightly intimidated.

For example, take Valdez, a town tucked between the rugged snow-capped Chugach Mountains and the waters of Prince William Sound. Over the years, Valdez's stalwart residents have met their fair share of challenges. On March 27, 1964, a quake tipped the Richter scale at an earth-shattering 8.3. A quarter-century later, on March 24, 1989, the town endured the mother of all oil spills when its namesake oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground. In the winter of 1990, residents withstood more than 560 inches of snow, nearly the height of a five-story building.

It's probably not hyperbolic to say that Valdezians are not wimps. I am, though. But I decided that Valdez was the fitting place to challenge myself Alaska-style -- to meet my Waterloo, so to speak -- in a white-water raft.

For nearly two weeks I had been fairly sedentary aboard World Explorer Cruises' 550-passenger Universe, which has since been retired. The cruise, which departed from Vancouver, was one that indulged the mind. The ship had an extraordinary 12,000-volume library, plus five experts on board, including a historian, biologist, art historian and geologist.

The cruise also fed the soul, sailing by indescribably beautiful landscapes and calling at nine ports. By the time the Universe docked in Valdez, though, I figured it was time to exercise the body.

The port of Valdez sits at the head of the Valdez Arm, a fjord that reaches inland 12 miles. Because it has inland as well as coastal waters, both white-water rafting and saltwater kayaking are popular excursions here.

With an intake of breath, this otherwise-devout couch potato signed up for a raft trip in the Keystone Canyon outside of Valdez.

I had never been white-water rafting before, and given the excursion's description as "action-packed," I felt a tad anxious. …

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