Alaska! A Journal of this Edgerton's Group Travel Experience, hosted by Speaker Charlie Adams

By Charlie | July, 28, 2009

I am excited to take you behind the scenes in this journal reflection I wrote about a 'Travels with Charlie Adams' Edgerton's Group Travel experience in Alaska. Oh, what a remarkable trip it was! Tour Manager Sherrill Lee was the consumate professional as always. My 16 year old son Jack Adams came with me and delivered presentations on James Michener's Alaska along the way. I hope you enjoy this journal and that you learn some things about Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and the experience of Edgerton's Group Travel. Edgerton's offers multiple trips to Alaska each year that you can choose from, so this Journal was written to help you get a feel for what they are like...
Charlie Adams, Speaker and Author

Edgertons Alaska 2009 Group

Thursday July 9th - With Manager Sherrill Lee aboard, a motorcoach picked up Edgerton's travellers in Fort Wayne and Elkhart. My son Jack and I joined everyone at the Edgerton's office in Mishawaka. The start day of the trip - July 9th - just happened to be my birthday. I share July 9 as a birthday with Tom Hanks . . . and O.J. Simpson (!).  

We motorcoached to O'Hare.One of the advantages of Group Travel is the lack of stress in getting from point to point. Vacationers just sit back and let Edgerton's take care of everything. Along the way, we got to know each other as a group. I had some fun "interviewing" some of the folks up front. Tony and Nancy Fiorentino were among the travellers. Tony does all the dishes, cooking and vacuuming in their home (!). He also makes wine. Upon learning this, all the wives turned to their husbands with a look of, "THERE'S an ideal husband!"

We flew Alaska Airlines from Chicago to Anchorage, and then a quick changeover into Fairbanks. I have flown Alaska Airlines about five times in recent years, and think their customer service is a cut above the others. Their attendants have fun and connect with the passengers.

Warm temperatures were expected in Fairbanks. They had recently reached 90 degrees for the first time since 1994. We got in at midnight, and it was still daylight outside. A shuttle van was waiting to whisk us to the Princess Fairbanks Hotel on the Chena River. Everyone konked out, and we were up for breakfast and a big day in Fairbanks.

Friday July 10th - Edgerton's had a driver take us to the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River. We got to see a bush pilot take off from the river and land right next to us. Through speakers, he was able to speak to us about the history of bush pilots in Alaska. We headed down the river on the sternwheeler and stopped at Trail Breaker kennels, the training grounds of the late, great Iditarod champion Susan Butcher. What a neat experience that turned out to be. Her husband, Dave, came out and demonstrated how they train the dogs. The dogs were howling with excitement. Since it was summer, and no snow, they used ATV vehicles.

We went on down the river and passed some reindeer. Do you know what the difference is between reindeer and caribou? Reindeer can fly. We made it to the Tanana River and got off at Old Chena Indian Village, where Native guides give an hour tour of cabins and crafts on shore.

Afterwards, we had some time to chill at the landing area. My son Jack got his picture made next to one of Susan Butcher's sleds that she used to win one of the four Iditarod races she won.  

Edgerton's then had us taken outside of Fairbanks to the El Dorado Gold Mine!! Our driver was Jack (picture below) - not my son, but a grizzled, friendly veteran gold miner. Jack picked us up as a group, and then drove around picking up other tourists at various points. He opened the door one time and startled the waiting tourists by saying, "going to El Paso?" Eventually, he got us out to the Gold Mine. We took a train ride that showed us the history of how they mined for gold. Then we got to a place where we actually got to mine! (photo below!) Several of our travelers found gold. It was so exciting! Ray and Patricia Habic came up with the most, so I schmoozed them more than other travelers. I am a smart host. I know how to play up to the ones that strike gold!

photo Alaska 2009, Jack the Miner!

Alaska 2009, photo of finding gold!

I suggested that all the travellers donate their gold to build a statue of Tom Edgerton, but that did not go anywhere. We got back to the Princess Hotel around 5:30 and travellers had the evening to go out or chill out. I went to a nearby location at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and delivered a presentation on how to get College Athletic Scholarships. A lot of Fairbanks families folks came out for the talk. Forrest Karr, Athletic Director of UAF, was a big supporter of this program. This presentation shows families how to connect with College Coaches and get athletic/academic scholarships. I am Senior National Speaker for the National Collegiate Scouting Association of Chicago, and have seen this program called "College Recruiting Simplified" do amazing things for young people (photo below).

photo, speaking to families in Fairbanks

Saturday July 11 - Edgerton's had it all set up for a motorcoach drive south to the train station and the trip down to Denali Natioinal Park! Fireweed was out in force along the highways. The flowers all through Alaska are deeper in color because of all the summer light. Alaska is stunning. The beauty is incomprehensible. It has been said that trying to see it in one trip is like trying to watch a party through a keyhole. That is why travelers go back to Alaska again and again. I have been four times and haven't even scratched the surface. Along the way, the driver told us that with all the land in Alaska, less than 1 percent is privately owned.

My son Jack wants to major in History in College. Along the way, he delivered presentations to Edgerton's travelers about the history of Alaska. Tom Edgertons has always suggested to travelers to read James Michener's book "Alaska" before going to Alaska. Well, Jack read the book - all 900 pages or so! He floored us all with his encyclopedia memory of the book and his fascinating insights of Alaska. I was one proud Dad as he spoke almost every day on the motorcoach. I sure appreciated the travelers saying how much they liked his Talks. At Edgerton's we are always trying to do unique things.

photo, Jack speaking on Michener's Alaska

When we got to Denali, we were able to tour the Park. Mt. McKinley was hard to see because of cloud cover. There is usually about a 30 percent chance of seeing it well. Last year when I hosted an Edgerton's trip, we got a good view of it from the Park. Not this year. Our travelers must have been bad during the year. During our drive through Denali, we stopped at Savage Cabin, where rangers find shelter in the harsh winter months. We saw where bears had clawed at the cabin. One of the great things about Edgerton's Customer Service is if a bear gets a traveler, that traveler's family is well compensated for by Edgerton's. They received: an Edgerton's umbrella, coffee mug, and 5% off a future trip (provided they book within 3 months). We also stopped to hear a man named Gabe talk about Athabascan traditions, such as hunting bears in caves. They put one of their own up in the dark hole and hold his ankles. He is trained to wait to see the bears eyes in the darkness and then kill it with a spear. Some of the drive at Denali is along steep cliffs. Our driver sang, "You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel (instead of Lucille)."
Edgerton's got us reservations at the Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge.

Sunday July 12 - My son Jack and I got up for a morning run and hike. Jack runs cross country at Penn High School. After the run, we went on a hike and came across owls on a limb. Some of the travelers went to the Sourdough Breakfast Cabin back at the Lodge. It is a replica of Base Camp. An actual Mt. McKinley climber was there to talk to them about what it is like to scale the mountain.

Edgerton's then had us taken to the train, where we rode down to Talkeetna. What a beautiful train. It had large, high windows where you could see the rugged scenery of Alaska.

We went by Wasilla. "Sarah Palin does not come out and wave at every passing train," Pam said. We then got to Talkeetna, a historic mountaineering town. The annual Moose Dropping Festival was going on, so many of the Edgerton's travelers were dropped off there while others were taken up to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. It had a stunning view of Mt. McKinley, the largest mountain in North America. As for the Moose Dropping Festival, it was a hoot. There were performers, crafts, and lots of Moose Droppings. Every year people can buy a chance on a moose dropping. Hundreds of them are dropped from a tower, and if yours lands in a certain place, you win the big bucks!

Monday July 13 - Edgerton's had it arranged where we boarded the McKinley Express train for the ride down past Anchorage and to Whitter, where the group would board the Island Princess cruise ship. Pam was the lady who took care of us in the Edgerton's cabin. She came out singing "America the Beautiful" and then waited on everyone hand and foot. The food and drink were outstanding. The views were breathtaking. Along the way, Princess employees prepared our ship card, so there were no waits when we got to the actual ship boarding. We arrived in Whitter in the late afternoon and were whisked right on board. The Island Princess is amazing. That night, many of the travelers went to a show featuring music and comedian Dan Bennett. He is an incredible juggler. Part of his routine is whenever he does happen to drop a ball while making jokes, he yells, "Dan Bennett!!!" It's sort of like a cuss word . . .

Tuesday July 14 - We arrived at College Fjord early in the morning. These are glaciers that are
most named after renowned East Coast colleges (women's colleges for the NW side, and men's colleges for the SE side). You'd think one of them would be named Ball State or Ivy Tech, but not so. It is amazing to stand there on deck and see once glacier after another!

That night was Formal Night. Many of the Edgerton's travelers decked out in their best duds. The ship photographer came to each table and thought tour manager Sherrill Lee was an international model for Revlon.

You could tell the ship's crew and captain were nervous because Edgerton's travelers were on board. Some captains go an entire career without the unmatchable thrill of hosting Edgerton's travelers (!).

Wednesday July 15 - Oh, this was exciting. The Island Princess arrived at Glacier Bay! Many of the travelers saw Killer Whales alongside the ship as we entered. We also saw humpback whales breach the water. That was incredible! They came almost completely out of the water! The Margerie Glacier brought out the "oohs" and "aahs." It is one mile wide! We got up fairly close to it as it calved (huge chunks fell off). There would be a thunderous clap as the calving happened! Park Rangers came on board to answer questions about the glaciers. One traveler, Ann Camblin - a former John Glenn H.S. teacher - marvelled at God's creative as the ship made its way through Glacier Bay. Her husband John, who used to work at Hummer, gazed in awe at the sights. Their photo is below with their friends Bill and Carrol Simons.

photo Edgertons travelers at Glacier Bay

Thursday July 16 - This day saw Edgerton's travelers arrive in Skagway. The Island Princess docked and folks had all day to go on excursions or hang out in the town. Skagway was the Gateway to the Gold Fields. It was the shortest route to the Klondike when the Gold Rush peaked in 1898. The Chilkoot Trail was brutal. The treacherous paths and brutal conditions left scores dead. There were some savvy "business" operators along the trail. Some people sold whiskey along the way to help people bear the pain. The higher up, the more expensive the whiskey got! And it was watered down!!

In 1898, Skagway had 20,000 people, including a lot of ornery criminals. There was a rascal named Soapy Smith that made life miserable for everyone. At the time, Skagway was known in many ways as "hell on earth." Today, 500 people live there and it is fascinating to study how the Gold Rush intoxicated so many with Gold Fever.

My son Jack and I rented bikes and rode all over the place. We also went by the Ranger's office and got trail maps and went on a hike up to Lower Dewey Lake. Oh, it was beautiful, and so peaceful.

Friday July 17 - The Island Princess arrived at Alaska's capital, accessible only by sea or air. Mountains surround Juneau, making for an unforgettable scene as the ship pulled in. Karen Hartney and Floyd Colosky, two of the Edgerton's travelers, went on a zip lining excursion. That is so much fun. My wife Nancy made me do that in Juneau in 2006 on an Edgerton's trip. I was scared of heights, but once I tried it, I ate it up. You zip from tree to tree through the rainforest on cables. Karen said she loved it! Floyd seemed cool with it too. Dave and Diane Harder (photo below) went on a photo excursion of the area Dave loves photography, and took over 1400 pictures on the trip.

photo Edgertons travelers in Juneau

They went on the trip with Dave's sister, Judy Montgomery, and her husband Gene. He is a huge Michigan State fan, so I had to make sure to keep him away from Notre Dame fans. MSU has had the better of Notre Dame in recent years.

The Red Dog Saloon is one of the popular places to eat in Juneau. There is a sign that reads, "If you don't like the standards of our service or food . . . .  please lower your standards." While travelers were walking through Juneau or going on excursions, I delivered a 3 hour seminar on Positive Attitude and Customer Service to the staff of the University of Alaska Southeast. Chancellor John Pugh and his staff did a great job setting up the event. I shared principles of Edgerton's customer service and insights on Positive Attitudes from all the people I have covered in broadcasting. That seminar went from 9 to noon and then I was whisked to a nearby restaurant for a 1 hour presentation of College Recruiting Simplified to Juneau area athletes, grades 7 to 12. 

Jack went on an unbelievable excurstion with TEMSCO Helicopters, Inc. in Juneau. They are Alaska's original Helicopter Glacier Tours. Tim McDonnell and the crew there took an excursion group up in the helicopter for amazing views of mountains and glaciers. They landed and showed everyone how to race sled dogs. Jack loved the dogs! They showered him with licks (photo below). This is one of the most popular excursions for people that get off the ship in Juneau. It is just incredible all the different things people can do on Edgerton's trips.
photo, Jack and sled dogs in Juneau

1985 Iditarod champion Libby Riddles made a presentation on the ship during the day. She was the first woman to ever win the 1000 mile plus race. That night, Adrian Zmed performed a concert. He was in Grease 2 and T.J. Hooker. There was also the option of seeing comedian Cary Long, who did a hilarious routine on couples getting ready for cruises. I watched Edgerton's travelers nearly fall out of their chair because they were laughing so hard at his jokes.

Another popular show was the Newlywed Not So Newlywed game. They get regular married folks and ask them questions about each other. Now, this show is usually fairly late and night and not quite appropriate for the youngsters. One couple was asked by the host, "Where was the most unusual place you made whoopee?" The wife answered, "Oh, that's easy. In the bushes right before getting on this ship."

I about fell out of my seat when I heard that!

Fred and Jane Kanouse, two of our travelers, said they went on Whale Watching excursion while in Juneau. They said they saw 12 to 15 whales at once and they were circle feeding! They all came up at once. Jane said the boat excursion captain turned off the engine and they could hear the whales breathe!

Saturday July 18 - This day saw the ship arrive in Ketchikan, the Salmon capitol of the world, and almost one of the rainiest places. They get 120 inches of rain a year. It was rainy when we arrived, but Edgerton's called WSBT TV weatherman Rick Mecklenburg and he had the rain stopped immediately.
Some of the travelers, including Jack and myself, went to the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan. It is a tremendous show! "Rugged woodsmen and a Rowdy Good Time" is how they describe it. These guys put on a show with axes, long saws and chainsaws. They were funny, athletic, and competitive! They battled each other on the logs while they were spinning, and shimmied up poles like a squirrel up a tree! 

photo, Alaska Lumberjack Show

A lot of the travelers walked through Ketchikan at leisurely paces. The Creek Street district has a popular boardwalk area of shops, and a place called Dolly's House. That's where the "sporting women" of the red light district did their "business" in the 20's, 30's and 40's. Today, they have ladies dressed up like the ladies back then, and they have their one liners ready. If a husband and wife are walking by, they might say to the husband, "Hey, it's you. Didn't recognize you with your clothes on!" That always gets a rise out of the wife. Of course, they are just joking!

Sunday July 19 - Edgerton's travelers relaxed for a day of cruising on the scenic Inside Passage. One lady walking around the ship had a t shirt that read, "I love the Ocean. It makes my butt look smaller."

Many folks in the group went to the "Cooking Show" in the big theatre. It was hilarious. One of the cooks talked about making Ding Chicken. That's when you get frozen chicken and put it in the microwave. When it goes "Ding" it's done! Ding Chicken.

That evening, Edgerton's hosted everyone in the group to a special Cocktail Party. Bill Simons, one of the travelers, got up and said to everyone how thankful they were for the wonderful tour management Sherrill Lee had provided. Everyone clapped for Sherrill, who blushed, and promptly got back to the work of taking care of everyone!

That night, after the evening meal, Baked Alaska was brought out. It was delicious. One traveler said it was the best she had ever had on any ship. Each night at 5:30 many of the travelers met for the evening meal. We switched tables and got to know everyone better. That's one of the great things about group travel, getting to know everyone and their unique backgrounds.

Monday July 20 - One of the great things about Edgerton's trips is there is just one outstanding experience after another. Early this morning, the ship cruised into Vancouver. We went right under the Lions Gate Bridge. I was up early to capture that moment on the DVD that all the travelers receive after the trip. As soon as the Island Princess docked in Vancouver, Edgerton's had a motorcoach waiting to take everyone on a tour of this wonderful Canadian city. Vancouver is going to host the 2010 winter Olympics.

On our tour, we saw the Hotel where Howard Hughes first went into seclusion for about six months. Visitors can now stay on the floors where he once roamed. We then went through Stanley Park, their version of Central Park. There was a huge Hollow Tree where weddings have taken place. We got off to take some pictures at one place and one of the travelers was late getting back on. A lot of people don't realize this, but tour manager Sherrill Lee can actually locate travelers through scent. That's right. She gets out and tracks them down in no time flat. Amazing.

We then went to Granville Island for lunch. It is a huge farmer's market with live entertainment and mouth watering food. It was a gorgeous sun splashed day in Vancouver. Everyone loved hanging out there and leisurely getting back on the motorcoach for more sightseeing.

We were then driven down to Seattle. I shared humor and inspiration from the front of the motorcoach. Many travelers read. Some napped. My son Jack spoke on Seattle's role in Alaska history and how it was a major gateway for gold miners going to Alaska back in the Gold Rush. Our motorcoach driver warned us that when we got to Seattle not to jaywalk. "It's a $127 fine," he said. "Helps with the budget crunch there. Tourists are fair game." Our driver told us about all the companies that had started there and/or were located there, like Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing, Nordstrom, UPS and more.

We were guided to our Seattle hotel for a night of rest before one more day of sightseeing and the trip back home.

Tuesday July 21st - Edgerton's had a Seattle City Tour all set for the morning. I love Seattle, especially in the summer when it is so nice. Downtown, the driver showed us the Edgewater Inn, where the Beatles once stayed. "After they stayed," the driver said, "they cut up the carpet they walked on and sold it out in small pieces!"

We went to a Seattle Museum with more on Seattle's role in the 1898 Gold Rush. The mayor of Seattle, at the time, was in San Francisco when he heard gold was in Alaska. He cabled in his resignation as mayor and headed right up. He died in Vancouver broke just a few years ago. "It showed how Gold Fever hit people," said our guide.

We were able to step on scales to get our weight in gold. The husbands all denied that they even thought of selling their wives for the price. 

Our driver was filled with trivia like this:

Which 3 companies sell the most coffee?
1) McDonalds
2) Tim Hortons (Canada)
3) Starbucks

Which 3 locations sell the most Starbucks?
1) A place in Tokyo
2) Trump Tower in NY
3) 4th and Pike in Seattle

A highlight was going to the Pike Market in Seattle. Built in 1906, it has been the longest continuing open market in the US. The first Starbucks opened there in 1971 and it is the only chain establishment allowed to operate there today. The Market is home to the famous Pike's Place Fish Market, where they throw fish to customers. Edgerton's customers loved watching the theatrics and energy. Their workers have a motto: "Have fun at work!" They had this ugly, mean looking fish in the ice. A 100 year old man named Preston was behind the ice, unseen. Whenever a kid or anyone would get close to the fish, he had a string that would lift the jaw of it. That scared the daylights out of some people!

Through our knowledgeable guide, I learned that Seattle was the northern most metropolitan area in the US, outside of Alaska. It's more north than Duluth, MN or Bangor, Maine.
Edgerton's had reservations for everyone at the famous Ivar's Restaurant on the water. The salmon was incredible on a base of potatoes and green beans. Their blueberry ice cream was out of this world. Afterwards, a motorcoach was waiting to take everyone to the Space Needle. We were whisked up to the top for remarkable views of the Pacific Northwest. In 1961, an underground foundation was poured into a hole 30 feet deep and 120 feet across. It took 467 cement trucks an entire day to fill the hole, the largest continuous concrete pour ever attempted in the West. Once completed, the foundation weighed as much as the Space Needle itself, establishing the center of gravity just above ground.

From there, Sherrill Lee got everyone on the motorcoach for the ride to SeaTac Airport. Everyone had a great time, but was ready to get home. That's what's great about group travel. You love the trip, and then you look forward to getting home because it helps you appreciate home. Then, you look forward to the next travel adventure!

Alaska by Land and Sea was a wonderful experience. With it being a Travels with Charlie experience, everyone receives the special DVD I shot the entire trip. Here is a short video of a moose I came upon deep in the wild and video of it feeding with its baby:

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9 Responses
1.  Gene Montgomery
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 1:11:15 PM EDT

My wife and I traveled with the goup on the Alaskan trip. From the time we boarded the bus till the time we returned home it was an outstanding vacation trip. Charlie and his son,Jack, did a wonderful job of hosting us and informing us of Alaska and the history of Alaska. Charlie always has a tale to enlighten your days and nights. Sherril Lee had everything organized well, basically we just had to show up and everything was taken care of for us. Our days and nights were filled with memorable sights and experiences. The Edgerton travel group takes good care of all your travel needs. Gene Montgomery

2.  Ginny Hoover
Monday, August 3, 2009 at 7:42:59 PM EDT

The Alaskan July 9-21 trip was the most outstanding inland/cruise I've ever been. I have recommended it to everyone I've talked to. Am enjoying showing our pictures to anyone who'll look at them ! I can't say enough about how amazing a vacation this was. My thanks to all who made it happen!

3.  Tom Edgerton
Friday, August 7, 2009 at 4:16:46 PM EDT

Ginny and Karen, Thank you for your compliments. Being able to show you the world in a comfortable, relaxed way (the way it used to be)is the best part of this business.

4.  Tom & Connie Mellander
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 3:50:00 PM EDT

We couldn't of had abetter trip. All the details were so well done. We are looking forward to our next trip in April.

5.  Charlie Adams
Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 9:42:01 PM EST

This trip was tremendous. Sherrill did such a great job managing. Group Travel is the way to go. Edgerton's does such a remarkable job lining up trips. I can't wait for the Cherry Blossom Festival Trip in April. I am so thankful the Recession is ending. 2009 was a tough year, but thank goodness 2010 is better.

6.  Elaine Jefferson
Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:00:33 PM EST

Have fun at the Cherry Blossom Festival!

7.  Tom Edgerton
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2:51:18 PM EDT

Gene, Thanks for your kind words. I regularly meet with agents, hosts and tour managers to discuss how we can make your travel experiences better. In an age when many people think travel is something to "endure", we try to provide wonderful life-time memories. I hope you will let me know if there is anything we can do to improve.

8.  Karen Hartney
Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 9:24:19 PM EDT

I enjoyed this trip so very much. Sherrill, Charlie and Jack made this trip so SPECIAL. The choices of tours were great and the hotels were very nice. I would take an Edgerton trip again. Thank you. Karen Hartney

9.  ZilliamEvele
Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 10:01:51 PM EST

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