Days 19/20/21/22

Elliott’s Post

Apologies for the lack of regular updates – with the girls here Geoff and I haven’t had much free time.  I’m sure when it’s just back to us two on the open road, we’ll be working on our regular daily updates. I know Geoff has a big post written up but to summarize what we’ve done the past few days.

Day 19 – Friday, 7/9: The last blog update I wrote was in the morning before leaving our first campground in Glennallen.  The weather was beautiful this day – nicest day I think we’ve ever had – sunny and 75. I actually ran out of gas not too far from the campground – about 10 miles short of the nearest gas station.  Luckily Geoff carries extra fuel canisters – you can see when I filled up I put in 7.95 gallons into a 7.9 gallon tank..so I guess I had negative gas. We stopped for lunch at an old lodge and sat outside with a view of the Wrangell mountain range.  Then we drove to the old mining town on Kennicott.  It was a really crazy ride – 60 miles of dirt roads with amazing views, single lane bridges over valleys, and views of the old railroad tresses that used to haul copper and supplies to and from Kennicott.  There’s another town right before Kennicott called McCarthy where people have to park their cars and then hike the four miles to McCarthy, but because we were on motorcycles we could fit onto the narrow walking bridges and ride all the way there.  McCarthy was an experience all its own and Geoff and Kathy spent the night there and hung out with the locals – I’m sure Geoff’s update will include all of this in great detail.  Megan and I rode up the rest of the way to Kennicott because there’s a huge glacier that Don and Annette said we should camp by.  We rode past the mines and actually a ways down the trail out to the glacier before we pulled the bike to the side, parked it, and got out camping gear together for the hike to Root Glacier. It was about a 40 minute hike and the views just got more and more amazing.  Literally a 360 degree view of the Wrangell St Elias mountain range that includes some of the largest peaks over 16,000 feet in all of North America.  The morraine before the glacier was just crazy looking – literally seemed like we were on another planet.  We got really close to the glacier and found a camping spot that seemed like it was out of a North Face product catalog.  We had just insane views and sat around our campfire with a few brews.  Hands down the most amazing spot I’ve ever seen, let alone was able to camp in.  As usual, it never really got dark and the falling sun just kept illuminating the different peaks with various shades of orange, red, purple, blue, etc.  Here’s a video showing the campsite:

Day 20 – Saturday, 7/10.  We packed up the next morning and hiked back out and found Geoff and Kathy after their tour of the Kennicott mines.  We didn’t get the tour but Geoff will go over it in his post.  We got going for the long trip back down the 60 miles of dirt road and the second we got back on pavement (near Chitina) the wind hit hard and storms rolled in.  We found some shelter to gear up and reinflate our tires (we took a lot of air out of them for better traction on the dirt roads).  Our goal for the day was to get down to Valdez to catch the ferry across Prince William Sound the next day.  However, after a couple days of good weather, our luck was bound to change and for much of the stunning ride down to Valdez we were battling rain.  It was still a ridiculously beautiful ride through the rainforests that surround Valdez.  There was a huge bicycle race that was also heading towards Valdez so we passed hundreds of bikers also braving the cold, rain, and wind. We arrived into Valdez and relaxed with a beer trying to figure out where to stay and what to do about the ferry.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t realized that all the people coming into town for the bike race was going to impact our plans (especially for the ferry).  Geoff went through hell trying to book us on the ferry and probably almost murdered an employee of the Alaskan Marine Highway system – I’m sure his trials and tribulations will be written up in gory detail with his post. Megan and I ran off to the store and planned on cooking dinner at our campsite, but that fell through in blazing glory as the rained that had seemed to stop returned, and I couldn’t keep a fire going. I was tired and frustrated so our “dinner” ended up being eating pretzels in the tent.

Day 21 – Sunday, 7/11.  Son of a…still raining. Well, we’re on standby for the 8 am ferry from Valdez to Whittier.  Packed up in a grumpy, groggy daze and we hustled down to the ferry terminal.  Megan layed on some charm and got our standby position to confirmed and at least we were on the ferry – a peaceful, slow, warm, 6 hour trip across Prince William Sound.  We saw everything from whales to sea lions to otters, to huge peaks and massive glaciers.  Got off to a fairly sunny day in Whittier and our destination was about 180 miles away to Homer where we were to meet up with Annette and Don and camp for a couple days.  To get out of Whittier you have to drive through the longest combined rail/car tunnel in North America.  It only is open for 15 minutes every hour, so we killed some time and had, in my opinion, the best fish and chips in the world.  We finished lunch and made it to the tunnel with about 30 seconds to spare before they closed it for traffic that wants to come the other way – into Whittier.  It was a pretty wild trip through the tunnel – 2.5 miles where you have to drive slow and stay between the railroad lines the whole time. The rest of the trip was uneventful.  It was actually a bit strange as the Kenai peninsula is pretty touristy and until you get to the southern end, there aren’t any crazy mountain views, etc.  It was warm, flat, and touristy – felt like I was driving through the Wisconsin Dells.  However, once you get along the coast near Homer you see the volcanoes across the bay and then you come over the hill and see Homer below with a massive mountain range in the background – it takes your breath away. We found Don and Annette camping out down on “the spit” – the little strip of land that sticks out of Homer into the bay – and we set up camp…on a beach!  Don cooked us up some food (he’s an awesome chef) and we walked down the spit to the world famous Salty Dawg Saloon.  There are some boats from The Deadliest Catch moored up here and those dudes probably do some serious drinking at this place. Our campsite on the beach was spectacular, but the tides were the highest of the year and I woke up to the waves lapping up against the tent.  We ended up having to move the tent a couple of times in the middle of the night and still the waves were ending about a foot from the tent.

Day 22 – Monday, 7/12.  Well, it sure was windy, but at least it was sunny.  We had wanted to do a Halibut fishing trip, but it was getting to be about noon and since there were six of us so we were trying to shop ourselves out to the fishing joints in town to see who would do a trip for six.  We didn’t have much luck, lots of boats had left for a full day trip, water was choppy and some boats weren’t going out, blah blah blah.  We did find a half day boat but there would be about ten other people on it and we were thinking we wanted to do a smaller group.  We were hemming and hawing about it and Megan layed down the law and made us do it and I’m so happy we did.  It turned out to be so much fun.  The water was fairly choppy but not as bad as it was made it out to be.  We rode out for about 2 hours – probably 40 miles from shore and dropped anchor and got to fishing.  We all caught our limit of two Halibut each.  It was so wild pulling those big fish up.  They each weighed about 15 – 20 pounds so after all the fish was cleaned (which the crew did on the way back) we ended up with about 90 pounds for our group of six. We had it cut, packaged, and frozen at a place in town.  Megan and Kathy will take our haul back with them – it’s a lot of fish and will last a long time and it ends up being a lot cheaper than if you bought it in a store. We did keep some of the Halibut with us and Don cooked up a gourmet meal back at beach camp – fresh Halibut, couscous, salad, garlic bread and we had a roaring fire on the beach.  Sure enough the rain moved in and we eventually made it into all our respective tents to hunker down for a night of wind and rain.

Geoff’s Post

Sorry for the silence…

Been a busy few days recuperating from our 4,800 mile rush to Alaska.
Bike projects got done like repair off-road light brackets that broke
previously, get heated gear hooked up finally, and alas- get a new
tire!!!  We went to Alaska Leather and they gave me a take-off (old
tire from another bike that was not really totally done with yet) for
free and I left them with my old tire that they could not believe was
still functioning.  Thanks guys!  Install was a breeze after all my
practice in San Diego and we were back in action!

We left Anchorage on Thursday for Tolsina.  The weather had totally
turned and it was warm and sunny for the ride out of Anchorage…
bordering on hot (in AK 80 is hot).  The ride was fairly uneventful
and very scenic.  Very different to the  previous wet and grey
weather.  We roll into Tolsana Wilderness Camp Ground where we had
stayed previously and set up camp.  The intention was to hike out and
check out the mud springs we’d heard about previously and then go to
the store and get food to cook up at camp.  Well, while the mud
springs were, by definition, muddy springs, the hour long hike up to
them through bog after bog, was such a disappointment we had to laugh.
Picture a football sized mound of dried mud with 3 small puddles of
silty water in which every so often a bubble or three would percolate
up through.  The biggest puddle was barely 10’ across and the others
were much less and none looked deeper than 18”.  By the time we took
the required pictures and hiked back out through the bog, the still
daylight deceived us and it was post-10PM and the store was closed.
So we went to bed having only trail mix, skittles and some smoked
oysters in our bellies.

The night was gorgeous clear but it got COLD.   At one point I went
back out to the motorcycle to get more clothes to put on and it was 27
degrees!

By the time we got up, made coffee and got on the road it was near
noon and we headed to a much needed lunch at the Princess Resort in
Copper Canyon.  We devoured our food, checked out the stunning views
of the cloudless St. Elias-Wrangell National Park in the distance and
the Alaska Pipeline nearby.  The National Park is the largest one in
the US and the four peaks in there (Wrangell, Blackburn, and I can’t
remember the last two at this moment) are I think four of the top 20
peaks in the USA.  As well, apparently Alaska has like 16 of the top
20 highest peaks in the USA.  They are often obscured by clouds but
when its clear it’s pretty impressive.

Friday’s destination was the little town of McCarthy.  By little… I
mean little!  It’s connected to the rest of the world by 60 miles of
dirt and gravel road.  There are no services of any time on the entire
road.  The riding was technical and tiring, especially in the sections
that were newly graveled.  It was a cool road through and a good warm
up for the Dalton Highway in a week or so- which is 500 miles each way
and supposed to be paved about 50%.

Back to McCarthy.  Mail only gets delivered there two times a week-
the same regularity it did when the mine was in full swing almost 100
years ago.  The town is really cool though… it started to support the
massive Kennecott copper mine four more miles further down the road.
By support, we mean that the town of Kennecott(at the mill itself) was
a company town and was 100% men and 100% dry.  You can imagine what
was missing from Kennecott and what McCarthy filled a need for!

There are also two glaciers that run past and merge at Kennecott and
then end at McCarthy and they are also very cool to see.

We hung out at the saloon and watched the local people go back and
forth to the Friday night baseball game.  What a very interesting
group of townspeople and it made for great people watching.

Saturday morning we went for a tour of the Kennecott Mill and the
mining town itself.  It’s in varying states of repair since becoming a
National Historical thingy (it’s not a park but the NPS I think
maintains it as it is inside the Wrangell park).  Anyway, there were 6
mines all about 4000’ higher up on the mountain and then there were
two giant chair-lift looking things that brought the copper laiden
rock to the mill and from there it went through multiple crushings and
sortings and then baggings and were loaded on the train to Cordova.
That’s the same train that just delivered mail, food, supplies and
diesel for the massive generator that ran the whole place.  And then,
with 48 hours notice, the bean-counters at Kennecott told everyone to
pack up what they could carry and get on out.  The tore out the train
tacks on their way out (there was no road to the area- only the train)
and the party was over… so to speak.  Sheets were left on beds and
cups and cans were left on the shelves.  Why only 48 hours?  The
assumption was that if the price of copper came back up they would
just repopulate the place and start back up… it was a company town and
the company owned it all anyway.  Was a very cool trip.

As we ready to leave from McCarthy for the 2 hour 60 mile trip out of
the valley, it’s warm but a little overcast.  By the time we are
almost get out, the wind is howling.  As we reach pavement, it starts
to dump on us.  We seek cover in an area meant for people and stuff
the bikes under it as well to wait out the storm and re-infate our
tires (we let a lot of air out to make the dirt road manageable.

The rain subsides and we make a run for it.  That lasts about 20
minutes and it starts to dump on us again.  The next few hours are
soaking but at least we are on pavement… would have been really nasty
to be caught in the mud and gravel in the rain… and we missed it by
just minutes- whew!  I can’t describe how changeable the weather is
here.

There are also really random things here… we are in pouring rain and
it’s hard to see… and up ahead I can see something that looks at first
like a horse running along the side of the road (with no rider) and
then as we get closer (and slow way down) it turns out it’s this giant
woolly mammoth/ox/bison kinda thing.  It’s loping along in the road
and off and totally erratic so we can’t pass by until it bails off to
the left and down someone’s driveway.  Wow- that’s not something you
see in the lower 48!!!

As we hit the main highway, we start to see more and more bicyclists
on the highway.  They have numbers on them so they are clearly in a
race but there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them.  We are all
heading to Valdez.  We are thankful we are on a motorcycle as they are
all on bikes trying to power through rain and headwinds up and down
mountains.  Yeach! Turns out it’s the Fireweed 400 which is an across
Alaska race.  There are three races, 50, 200 and 400 miles in length
and some are relays and some are just hardcore and do the whole thing
solo.

Valdez is gorgeous.  Even with the clouds and rain it’s a very
stunning port with high steep green mountains rising from the bay.
Waterfalls and steep rivers drain the melting snow still on the tops
of the mountains.

The bike race is also ending here.  The town is buzzing and we find a
bar to regroup in and make plans for the evening.  We are supposed to
catch the ferry on Sunday noon to meet up with Annette and Don in
Homer.  We soon realize there are NO hotels in town to recover from
the rain so we will be camping again.  Worse yet, we find out that our
noon high-speed ferry is totally booked as well. There is an 8AM ferry
that is almost full but after over an hour of dealing with some
supreme incompetence, we aren’t even sure if we are guaranteed two
spots (despite paying over $500 for four people and two bikes).  Turns
out all the bicycle racers that took all the hotels also booked all
the ferries weeks ago.  The next available ferry is Tuesday at noon!

We negotiate dinner at the UN.  It’s the only place in Valdez that has
a non-smoking bar.  We call it the UN as the owner is Spanish, the
cook is Vietnamese, the bus boy is Jamaican and the hostess is
Chinese.  They are all very funny.  Juan the owner is fairly demeaning
to the staff (but funny at the same time) and we can start to
understand why he is on his fourth wife.  He says this one is working
out best as she lives in Poland.

We finish diner and set up camp in the pouring rain.  Was actually
really nice to fall asleep in the rain but knew it was going to be a
wet and early morning.

Morning was wet indeed but at least not raining.  We packed up in a
non-caffeinated haze and barely made the ferry but were happy to be on
it and on our way to Homer where it’s supposed to be sunny and warm!!!

And that’s where I write this from… on a ferry half-way from Valdez to
Homer.  We didn’t get a chance to see all the things we wanted to in
Valdez due to our premature departure but that’s been what a lot of
this trip has been about… trying to see everything and realizing there
is so much more to see than we have time for!

3 comments to Days 19/20/21/22

  • zant

    WOW u guys look like your having and awesome time!! cant believe how far you have gone on that bike. cant wait to hear from ya and see you guys again.

    zant

  • Megs

    Geoff it was so great to meet you and Kathy! I wish I would have seen you guys before I left yesterday to say bye! Had a great time with you two and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip. Give Kathy my best 🙂

  • Tony

    Just added the atom feed to my phone so I can catch up on the train

    Can’t believe you’ve made it to Alaska

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