Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Alaska Part 2 - Anchorage to Haines

While I was in Anchorage, my hosts and their friends convinced me I must take the boat from Whittier Alaska to Valdez.  I'm obviously aware of the Valdez history and would be interested to see, however riding my motorcycle back the same way I came would be far cheaper than taking this boat.  These well traveled people insist that this is one of the prettiest and most amazing boat trips I will ever see, and it would be a shame to miss it.

So I booked, even at the crazy high price.. and made my way (not that far) to Whittier Alaska.. far harder than it sounds!  They didn't warn me about the road TO Whittier!

Not far out of Anchorage where the weather was good,  I can see the change I'm about to face.  Oh well, I've got my best in the world Rukka gear, so suck it up and head in.



The rain was pounding.. but as I moved in closer, the winds around the mountains picked up in a super big way.. I was having the time of my life trying to keep myself up right.. It was hard riding through the strong wind and rain, but if I stopped,  I barely had the strength to hold the bike up.

The photo above is taken from this angle because I'm literally holding on to the back of my bike to keep it from going over.

I make it to the tunnel they told me about.. Here I pay a fee, as the tunnel has only one lane, we have to wait until the oncoming traffic is finished.  The attendant told me to protect myself and my bike here at the toilet building.. as he will have me wait and put me at the end of the line of cars and trucks.

I ask why?  He says the tunnel is really dangerous, particularly for motorbikes.  Not only do vehicles use this tunnel, but so does the train.  The road inside is wet, and I have to keep my bike in between the two metal tracks.  He said if I sway enough to go into the metal part of the track I will certainly go down.  Many bikes have, and this is why they put us at the end so not to disrupt the cars and trucks.. Okey dokey then.. what in the H_ _ _ have I got myself into this time!!!????


I made it through the tunnel, and I was so happy to be in there.. complete protection from the wind and rain for several minutes.. It was nowhere near as hard as they made it sound.. and maybe it is to some, but I again think that at this point in my journey, I've been through so much worse that this tunnel is fine!!!

So guess what!!  I go to check in for this boat I have worked all morning suffering to get here on time and the dag gone thing is cancelled!!!  The ferry people said they called me 30 minutes ago.. 30 minutes ago!!???  I was on the road trying to survive, I can't hear my phone ring and if the you can't sail in this weather, you would have known that more the 30 minutes ago..?  (I was a bit grumpy by now and only thinking this.  I didn't say this out loud.. the people at the ferry terminal where really super nice.. ) It is what it is..

The good news is that I get the money that I didn't really want to spend on a boat that doesn't take you very far.. back! ;-)

This is Whittier..




Now, knowing what I went through to get here, I dread the thought of riding back through it again to get out. This is some of the strongest wind I have encountered to date.  But this is also part of motorcycle life.. deal with it Sherri Jo.

And I did.. ;-)))

Here I am waiting for the tunnel again.  This time I didn't wait at the back of the line.  I appreciate the attendants concern, but it's really not a problem. I would think the trucks and the campers would have more trouble than me, scraping those close walls for sure!





This is ALASKA!!!


I really thought this was interesting.. I don't remember hearing much about earthquakes in Alaska.  And I know it's hard to read this sign through my camera lens that is covered in rain drops.. But it says "These trees were killed by saltwater when the ground sank 10 feet in the 1964 earthquake."  Gee whiz, 10 feet...

Once I got back to Anchorage the weather was fine again.. It must just be that area, maybe due to the mountains, the sea, the glaciers, the changing season..  It is literally September 15, my cut off date as well as the cut off date for most businesses.

I have my late lunch in Anchorage, but I don't want to stay the night here, I still have things to accomplish, so I try to make my way back up the road to Tok, where I stayed on my way in.

This is 520 km (318 miles) and it's already 2 pm.. Ain't gonna happen, however, I still decide to go that direction and I'll get to wherever I get to.. I will camp tonight somewhere.

I got to Glenallen, the sort of halfway point and every single campground was closed - already!  I'll camp in the bush if I have to, even with the bears.. I'm used to it now! But I decided I still had enough daylight to shoot for the next town..

I pass this Gakona Lodge on the left, and I know the prices are going to be crazy, so no point in asking, but I could at least use a meal and ask around with the locals where I might be able to stop up the road.

They were also closing this week, but the wonderful owners offered me a very great price for a very modest room, and I couldn't believe my luck.  For two reasons, it is such a charming looking place, good food, and a warm and dry place to sleep.  I quite often get amazed when I think it's going to be a bad night, that the best option shows up for me right in time - unexpected.




Turns out to be quite a historic road house.  The sun went down quickly, but before it did, I got to read a bit about where I am.

In particular, there is a resident ghost in room number 5.. I'm in number 4.. darn!  I would love to meet a ghost!  I met the young guy who is staying in number 5 for a whole week.. they are the construction crew doing road works nearby.  He says he was hoping to see the ghost too, but nothing yet.

But the second reason for good luck was this... my BIGGEST AND BEST SURPRISE!!  (no, not a ghost).. I read here that my HERO.. the adventurer of all adventurers, the most amazing human being I have ever heard of on this planet.. stayed HERE!!  I was beyond happy and excited.. this was really a big deal for me.  I don't get the thrill out of meeting famous people, but if there is anybody I would have loved to meet, is SIR GEORGE HUBERT WILKINS!!!  I was hoping all night long that I was staying in the same room as he did... ;-)


I know I've posted this before, but if you want to read a book that will blow your mind on the sheer amount of accomplishments one human being can achieve in one lifetime, please read Simon Nascht's "The Last Explorer".. the best book to this day I have ever read.. Ok, I'll calm down now, and move on.. ;-)


Views from the road..





It's just so pretty here.. I have to say this is and has been one of my favorite places on the planet. (I  know I say that about nearly everywhere.. but it's true!)

Keep in mind that not only do the camping, hotels, and shops close up for the winter.. so do some of the fuel stations..  Not a nice surprise when a major fuel stop in the middle of nowhere (on the Alaska Highway) is c l o s e d !!  I did make it to the next fuel town (Haines Junction) far too far down the track .. on fumes.


Next stop .. Haines Alaska (I thought I'd be there already in this post.. nearly there! ;-)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Alaska Part 1 - The land of hunting and fishing... and Zorro???

The "Top of the World" Highway was great fun, absolutely gorgeous and remote.  It's only 127 km (79 miles) long.. and is closed to vehicles from October to April (I am here in mid-September). Not much time to spare..

Along the route comes a most famous little town with a whopping population of 7, Chicken Alaska.  This is a first for me.. I've lost my photos of this place!  I've misplaced (misfiled) photos before, but have been able to find them again.. Somehow I've completely lost Chicken.

I'm not horribly upset though. As popular of an attraction it is to many travelers, it didn't do much for me.  Far far far too gimicky and touristy, not my thing.  It does have an interesting gold mining history and plenty of character.

I'll see if I can find a stock photo to fill in for shucks.. (I borrowed this photo from tripadvisor)..  Mainly the town consists of heaps and heaps of chicken inspired "stuff".. and a very expensive cafe if you need to eat.  I didn't, it was starting to rain at this point and I was more interested to ride on.  Sorry to disappoint the Alaska fans.. I didn't "get laid" in Chicken!!  Move on.. ;-)


I made it to my goal destination of Tok, Alaska for the night.  There is a little motorcycle camp where I stayed and even though I desperately wanted to be warm this night, I still chose to camp as the cheapest hotel was $75 USD.  Again, several of them were closed already and I couldn't bring myself to pay that much.. so camping it is.

Sunset as I drive up to the camp..


My next goal destination is Anchorage Alaska.  It's all paved roads now, beautiful like nowhere else!! Like seriously, the beauty never stops, hardly a chance to stop saying "wow" out loud! Sometimes it's like there's only so many scenic photos of beauty one can take!  So I will try to keep the scenic photos to a minimum.  Here's an event...Moose!  


Luckily I saw his huge a_ _ horns moving amongst the roadside bush, and I slowed down enough until I was sure that he wasn't going to look both ways before crossing the road.  

You know what's unique about seeing a big moose around here?  I am so surprised there are any left alive.

For hundreds of kilometers/miles, the loneliest roads in the middle of nowhere are packed FULL with hunters.  I don't know much about why there are so many here.  Really and truly there are hunters by the masses in every spot you see. Hunting seems to be more of an Alaska thing, as I didn't see so many hunters on the Canada side.

 



 I have always lived around hunters, mostly for deer.  The big game in Alaska from what I can tell is a multi-million dollar industry.  The amount the hunters invest in their trucks, nearly every one I saw has a 4 wheeler on a trailer as well, all the special equipment for carrying the kill, how to live like a wild man in the bush with the comforts of home, etc..  The camps I would pass were like little hunter camping Hiltons!!

I couldn't help to stop and ask these guys about it as I am now to see a moose or caribou in another form.


A proud first kill for this young guy... turns out to be caribou.


Not sure how long their season is, but it's all very organized.. on the road are little signs making clear what district you are in to report your kill. Even more important if you are hunting on Native owners land.

Ok, back to the traveling.. the road into Anchorage got prettier and prettier.





Gee whiz, I don't really have any words to describe.. just post the pictures..


I was wondering about this steam.. I asked the locals about and they didn't know why either, and had never seen before.  My best guess is it's the changing of the seasons, with air and water temp differences.




I finally make it into the BIG city.. well, maybe not so big, but for around here, I'll call it big.

 Anchorage Alaska

Anchorage had been bugging me for a while because from every traveler I've talked to.  They've told me that even bad hotels here are beyond expensive.  Way back when I was staying with a most wonderful host Shelley in Whitehorse, Yukon, she had been working and working on finding me a host for Anchorage.  I still can't get over her efforts but here she has me meeting new host in Anchorage, Bob!

 Bob in Anchorage

So I ask Bob and his wife Jeanine how they know Shelley, and they tell me they don't know anyone named Shelley.. I'm like, "What?".. should I be concerned?  How did I get to stay at your house?   We all had a big chin wag about it, and somehow info got passed on and on from so many kind people who I've never met, connections from a rotary club member Shelley must know in Whitehorse maybe? and came up with these two are in the rotary club here.. ha!  Can you believe?

So Bob and Jeanine have me in their gorgeous home in Anchorage, fed and watered me, gave me my own lovely large room, bathroom with long hot shower, and Bob goes so far as to get my tent and sleeping bag to hang and air out in the garage.  (I do have several things that are wet, mainly from packing up my camping gear each morning with frost and dew still on)..


The big air-out

I stayed here two nights, so I could have a day at the Anchorage KTM dealer to get a desperately needed new sprocket (remember the one I'm riding on is actually missing some teeth!)
This has been my goal destination ever since I left my family in Indiana.  I needed to get Yukon and Alaska done and be out of here by September 15.. My self inflicted use-by date, which had more meaning than I expected.. I was personally worried about getting stuck by the oncoming snow season. However, most everything up here closes on the 15th, and I didn't even know that at the time!

Anyway, being here now means I can now breathe and relax a bit.. take a little pressure off and see what Alaska is really like.

Again with the accommodation price situation, in order for me to stay I go looking for a couch surfing option.  I found one up the river in Talkeetna Alaska.  Arrangments are to bring some food to share, park the bike and ride on a boat to a camp upstream.  



And here is the camp.. I'm really not sure what to expect with a "couch surfing" place in wild remote camp.. but I like to be adventurous.. obviously! ;-)


There is good and bad news about this "couch surfing".. The good news, is that it's such a great place to experience!  Away from everything, in the wild good and proper.. no phones, no cars, no way out except by the little boat.

The bad news is, the German couch surfing guy wants his guests here so they will work for him for free.  When I arrived camp I see an entire large table absolutely piled high full of dirty dishes, plenty of scrap food on and around.  I had a quick worry, this is GRIZZLY country.  If there is anything I've learned is that you just don't do that!  And I have to sleep here tonight worrying about the bears this man has attracted?? I'm always willing to help out when I stay with hosts, but not to clean up after a guy who has saved an entire week full of dishes.. very not cool.

Not long after I arrived a couple more guests walk in from the bush.  Turns out to be James from Melbourne and "Zorro" from Switzerland.

These boys have read this book called "Into the Wild" and they had just been hiking alone with no map or supplies in the bush for 4 days to test their survival skills and found their way back to camp.. very hungry and pretty amazing!

James turned out to be a great buddy and he showed me so much about living out here.  First job.. catch a fish for dinner!


James prepares a pole for me and shows me what to do..








There is a huge school of salmon.. just here.  So close, so visible, we both throw our lines right into the group and they ignore the lure!!  We tried for over an hour!  Not a single bite.. I thought that was super weird, but I don't know anything about salmon... or fishing for that matter.  But it looked to me like they have had a meeting and said that whatever looks like shiney food, don't fall for it!


We give up, go back to camp, and I make us all a big stir fry with all the veggies I could find.. the way it should be really.

Zorro decides to cross the river and get us a heap of firewood for the night..


Firewood for "mon Cherrie"  as Zorro would call me

I woke up the next morning and could not stop thinking about how all those fish wouldn't bite.  I grabbed the same rod, told the guys I'm going to see if the fishes 'attitude' has improved this morning and try again.

One thing I know about myself is that if I actually catch a fish, I'm in trouble.  I don't want to touch it. So I told they guys if they hear me screaming, it's either a bear or I've caught a fish and need somebody to come help me either way.  They all agreed.

I went back, saw the same group of dag gone fish just hanging about in the current.  I toss my line in and whack - I caught one straight away.. But the hook went into the fishes side and I was dragging it toward me that way.. I felt so bad, and luckily it got free.

I threw the line in again and whack!  This time I caught one by the mouth!  I caught one, I caught one!  Second throw!!  I was screaming for the guys, nobody was coming!  I am truly well out of hearing distance down stream, big dummy.

Now what do I do.. I've even got one of the favored salmon on the line, a bright pink one. (The gray ones are called Chum and not desired eating).

You see him in the water?  Pink with the yellow lure out the mouth?


I hate to admit what I've done, but what I've DONE.. is taken this photo because I tied the pole to a tree.. I gave the fish enough line to swim around as normal as possible and even a couple of his friends came by to keep him/her company.  I told it I would be back with some help and I PROMISED I would set it free.. (Yes, I talked out loud to the fish, I can hear what you guys are saying.. ;-)

I ran as fast as I could back to camp and got James.. He was thrilled even though it was a bit early for him..

  James the cool kid from Melbourne helps save my salmon friend

Using my leatherman plyers to get the hook out


I still wouldn't hold it as much as James tried to get me to take the "proud" photo of my catch.. I gave James the honors ;-)

And there you go, we set it free.. hallelujah!!  What an ordeal for the poor thing.  James went on to tell me I can keep my promise, but now I need to catch another pink one as that's what they want to eat.. oh dear...

Later in the day, James and I decide to cross the river in the canoe and fish from that side.. the other fish wouldn't be on to us over there.. ha!



I managed to catch a rock!  How the heck the hook got into that smooth rock???


Next up, both James and I caught several salmon, one after the other.  They were all gray chum, not the pink ones they wanted.. I got James to come over and set every single one of mine free..

After some seriously coaxing, James gets me to hold one I caught.. I don't need to pee here, I don't like touching it and I want him to take the photo QUICK!!  That sucker was slimey and strong!


James pulling in his catch
















We both make a decision not to put many more fish through this hook and line ordeal, so James decides to kill his next 2 catches, chum or not.  Which he does, with a rock to the head.. ugh!  ;-(

Back to camp James insists I continue my survival training and clean one of the fish.. I'm like yeah, right.  But technically, I eat fish in the real world which has always been nicely prepared for me, I should actually do this.
James shows me by cleaning the first one.. full of salmon eggs, the desired bear food! (we toss into the river.. )



My turn..

I did a dreadful job, I think we all might go hungry if I continue this..

Job complete, we take our fish to the kitchen, where I take completely over and cook the fish and veggies for everyone.

All the boys are happy, but I must say I wasn't thrilled with the chum salmon. It didn't taste bad, it just barely had that salmon taste.. oh well.  At least we had a meal.

One of the happiest now that he is fed is Zorro!



Okay, my time is done here.. what an amazing Alaskan experience!  (Except for the couch surfing guy.. who was asking us for references because he needs more new surfers to help him take down his camp for the winter... )  hmmm..

Back onto the boat to take us back to Talkeetna (the closest town)


And on to the local shop for some early morning breakfast treats.. cute town!