Friday, June 24, 2011

Ferry Tales

The two-day ride from Anchorage to Haines, sans girls, on Friday and Saturday 6/17-18 was relatively uneventful. After clearing the super-rough section south of the Alaska line down to Destruction Bay, it was smooth sailing except for a cold rainy section over the high-altitude pass between Haines Junction and Haines. The annual Haines Junction to Haines bicycle race was in progress on Saturday and we passed hundreds of cyclists on the road. I decided the only thing worse than riding a motorcycle in cold, rainy conditions would be having to do it on a bicycle.

The scenery on both days was beautiful. Here is yet another glacier along Rte 1.

This snow-covered mountain was very impressive.

We spotted this big guy on Friday a bit west of Delta Junction.

He was feeding on something on the bottom of the pond.

We spent Saturday night in Haines at A Sheltered Harbor B&B, and caught the 9 am ferry to Juneau, arriving there about 1:30 in the afternoon to rendezvous with the girls once again. This waterfall is right in town.

On Saturday, while we were en-route to Haines, the girls amused themselves with a tour of Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier six miles north of town.

After lunch on Sunday, we headed back out to the ferry terminal to board the good ship Mantuska that would be our home for the next three days and would take us to Prince Rupert, BC. The big purple bus was a Nagel Tours bus. A large percentage of the ferry passengers were wearing Nagel name badges. This photo is a study in contrasts between transportation modes, although I would have to say that we were probably each carrying as much luggage as any passenger on that bus.

The Matanuska is one of the “slow” ships of the Alaska Marine Highway System. She cruised at 16.5 knots compared to 32 knots for the “fast” ferries.

You need to bring your own tie-down straps to secure your bike or, alternatively, the crew will be happy to secure it for you using heavy chains.

The Matanuska was built the year Penny graduated high school. Like her, it has aged well.

I found this bit of safety information very reassuring. In case the boat sank we would not have to worry about the survival of the life rafts…they would be just fine.

There was a surprising degree of cell coverage as we traversed the Alaskan Inner Passage. Inspector and Mrs. Gadget enjoyed widespread use of their I-phones.

Little Buddy met two new friends on this trip…Chucky and Chewy. Little Buddy flew to Anchorage with Penny and has been enjoying the ride ever since. I found Chucky and Chewy hanging out in Bemidji looking for a new riding adventure. When I told them where we were going, they signed on for the duration. All three are enjoying the ferry leg of this journey almost as much as us humans.

Little Buddy enjoyed a latte while Chucky and Chewy remained in the cabin feeling a little queezy from the motion.
Inspector G proclaimed he was just going to have a light snack for lunch, given the prodigious breakfast we had just recently consumed. Here is his “snack”, consisting of goulash, green beans, split pea soup with croutons, roll, and blackberry pie.

Our voyage from Juneau to Prince Rupert included stops at Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan. We were delayed in Petersburg for over three hours due to a problem with the electronic navigation system. The local Coast Guard unit would not let the boat proceed until the problem was fixed. This was particularly important because the Wrangell Narrows begins right after Petersburg. This 22 mile long shortcut between Mitkoff and Kupreanof Islands is extremely narrow, being only 100 yd wide from bank-to-bank in some places. There are a large number of navigation buoys marking the channel through the narrows, spaced about 100 yards apart in many sections. We had to negotiate the Narrows in the dark due to the delay in Petersburg. The channel was lit up like a Christmas tree by the red and green markers. It was a sight to see as the Captain zig-zagged his way through the narrow, dangerous channel with the red markers close by our port side and the green ones close to starboard. Despite the late hour, the forward lounge was full of folks watching the ship maneuver its way up the channel, and it was spookily quiet the entire time. Tulin was prompted to ask, "are these people all dead?"

As we were boarding the Matanuska and tying down our bikes, we met a French couple, Laurent and Carole. They live in the medieval town of Tours, France, where Laurent works as a regional manager for a group of hotels. He somehow talked his employer into granting him a one-year leave of absence to go on a motorcycle trip covering most of North, Central, and South America. We thought we were on an adventurous ride, but their epic journey makes ours look pretty wimpy. They shipped their BMW GS1200 to Montreal and are one month in to a twelve-month ride, having so far covered the bulk of Canada and Alaska. They are heading down to the lower 48 with plans to see most of the states that they didn’t visit on an earlier ride in the US. After spending some time in Florida, they will enter Mexico by way of Texas, ride down to Panama, catch a boat to Columbia (since there is no road connection) and ride the length of South America before shipping the bike back to France. They are chronicling their travels on their website .

While we were spending the two nights of the voyage in warm and comfortable staterooms, they were sleeping in deck chairs on the stern solarium deck. We had several bottles of wine stored away in our converted emergency gasoline holders. So we broke out the wine and had an impromptu party in the solarium while we waited for the repairs to be made to the ship in Petersburg.

Here we are, drinking wine from paper coffee cups with new French friends beneath the POSITIVELY NO ALCOHOL sign on the aft solarium deck. Those things on the ceiling that look like light fixtures are actually infrared heaters that make this open area comfortable enough to spend the night.

The young lady on the left in this shot is Rebecca, an exchange student from Germany who just completed a year of study at the University of Montreal.

We have invited Laurent and Carole to come spend a night or two with us in Lake Lure when they are on their way to Florida, so we look forward to seeing them again in late July. I copied this photo from their website . It was taken by Carole as we were preparing to disembark the ferry in Prince Rupert.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fish Are Jumping And The Cotton Is Nigh

We left Homer on Wednesday morning 6/15 in a cold rain with Seward as our destination for the night. We reached Seward at 4 in the afternoon, thoroughly wet and chilled to the bone. It made us appreciate all the more our warm and cozy rooms at the Bears Den B&B with radiant floor heating. After Dinner at Chanooks, with a beautiful view of the harbor and the mountains beyond, we turned in early and awoke to a fairly sunny day.

Dave snapped this eagle sitting on the pier, looking straight at him as if to say, “are you looking at me?”

On the way out of town, we took a short side trip to visit Exit Glacier, one of many we would see over the next several days. Penny wants you to know that it is her riding clothes that make her look like the Michelin Man, not all of the food we have been consuming.

A little further up the road, another turn-off onto Bear Lake road took us a short distance to the Bear Lake Fish Weir and salmon tagging and rehab project run by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. Salmon were lined up far downstream waiting their turn to try and jump and swim up the weir.

Ordinarily, they would be trapped by the hundreds, and the females would be tagged and treated for the virus they are infected with, and then released. Unfortunately, on this day, the hoist on the weir trap was broken, and and few fish were getting through. They were backing up in the stream for hundreds of yards, if not for miles.

The young man standing next to Tulin, probably about 14 or 15 years old, is a summer intern on the project. He was very knowledgeable about the life-cycle of salmon and gave us quite an education in salmon and the work they are doing at the weir.

Here he is attempting to catch a salmon with his bare hands.

Just south of Girdwood is the turnoff to Portage Glacier Recreational Area. You can hike out to the glacier if you are feeling ambitious, or you can do like we did and view it from a distance, across Portage Lake.

The girls were like two sure-footed mountain goats traversing the large rocks at the edge of the lake.
That’s a big chunk of ice from the glacier floating in the lake.

We arrived back at the House of Jade B&B around 6 pm and went out to celebrate our 45th anniversary two days early since the guys and girls were splitting up for three days, and Penny and I would not be together on the 18th. Our original plan called for all four of us to ride from Anchorage to Haines to catch the ferry to Juneau and on down to Prince Rupert, BC. But, after our experience riding the Alcan Highway between Haines Junction and the Alaska border on our way up, we changed the plan and decided to fly the girls to Juneau instead of subjecting them to riding that very rough stretch of road.

After dinner at Simon and Seafort's, we drove around Anchorage for awhile including a drive to the top of Flat-Top Mountain for a view of the city from on-high and this view of Mt. McKinley at about 11:30 pm from 150 miles away.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. The girls were sad to see us depart the House of Jade on the 17th to begin our ride to Haines to catch the ferry on the 19th. We would be reunited in Juneau on Sunday the 19th, and would all get on the ferry for the three-day trip down the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Girls Are Coming, The Girls Are Coming

Actually, the girls are already here and have been since last Thursday night, having flown into Anchorage about 10 pm. The B&B we were staying at, The Alaska House Of Jade, loaned us a van to drive to the airport and pick them up so we wouldn't have to do it on the bikes. The next day we spent driving around Anchorage in the van doing laundry, having lunch at Snow City Cafe, and shopping for wine at Cosco. The girls didn't have to get on the bikes until Saturday morning to head up the road to Talkeetna. They were totally spoiled by then, and would have been happy to keep the van for the entire trip. Our hosts Dee and Yves at the House Of Jade really set the standard for lodging on this trip. Dee whips up amazing breakfasts. Penny has already posted some of her recipes on her food blog.

We decided we didn't have to worry about carying emergency fuel for the remainder of the trip, so we ditched the spare fuel bottles and replaced them with wine. It's like the fuel holders were designed with wine in mind.

We rode up to Talkeetna on Saturday. It was Tulin's first real experience of riding for an extended period...until then, she had only ridden for an hour or so. She did great, and is really enjoying herself. Penny is a pretty old-hand at this stuff and is having a good time.

We stayed at the Meandering Moose B&B in Talkeetna.

They say Talkeetna was the model for the town in Northern Exposure even though the series wasn't filmed there. This is Main Street Talkeetna.

After dinner at the West Rib, we rode over to the Talkeetna Lodge in hopes of getting a glimpse of Mt. McKinley. The Lodge has a nice terrace facing Denali Park and offering good views of the mountains. It's about 10:30 pm in this shot, but see how bright the sun is.

The distant mountains, which include McKinley, were shrouded in clouds when we arrived, but after a half hour or so the clouds began to thin and we were treated to this view of McKinley sticking up above the clouds.

McKinley, which the Indians called Denali, meaning "the high one", is the highest peak in North America at 20,320 ft compared to Everest at 29,029 ft. However, Denali has a greater vertical rise from its base to its peak than does Everest...18,000 ft versus 12,000 ft, making it both challenging and popular with climbers. A world-class German climber, Dr. Olaf Rieck, was staying at the Meandering Moose with us. He had just led an expedition of 13 international climbers to the peak of Denali. This interesting veterinarian has climbed all over the world, including Mt. Everest. Here he is showing me his website which is in German, but interesting nonetheless.

I asked Tulin to take a photo at midnight to show the amount of light still it is. We find it hard to go to bed and to sleep at a normal hour with so much daylight.

From Talkeetna, we traveled southward back through Anchorage and on down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer, the Halibut capitol of the World. The Cook Inlet was on our right a good part of the way.
This is a small part of the harbor at Homer.

Inspector G and I had to try halibut fishing. We went out on the charter boat "Wild Thing" with Captain Mike. This is the hook that is used to fish for halibut.

The hook is rigged with a 2 lb sinker, baited with herring, and fished on the bottom in about 150 ft of water. It's a major work-out just to check your bait, let alone to haul in a fish.

The current limit is two fish per person. The day before, one of Capt. Mike's customers landed a 90 pounder. Today, the best we could do was the 25 pounder caught by Gadget. The rest of the fish we kept were in the 18-22 lb range. That's Capt. Mike in orange putting a fish in the box.

Along with Gadget and me on the boat were two couples from Carson City, NV. Here we all are with the day's catch.

I'm sad to say this fish, tipping the scales at 165, was caught by someone else. To keep us from feeling quite so bad, they tried to tell us that fish this large don't taste as good as the smaller ones.

The Salty Dog is an iconic bar on the Homer "spit". It sits right at the entrance to the charter boat dock and is a required stop at the end of a day of fishing.

The interior is decorated with a few more signed dollars than Larkin's Bayfront Tavern in Lake Lure.

We added our bill to the collection. It's right there between Tulin and Penny, just above their heads.

Here's a closeup. Not to be outdone, we used a 1000 won note from Korea, worth all of about 98 cents.

We finished the day with a visit to Lands End Restaurant at the very tip end of the "spit" for a drink and a late lunch of French onion soup and seafood chowder.

Lands End sits right at the entrance to Kachemak Bay. This was shot right behind the restaurant.

Tomorrow (Wed 6/15) we are on the road again, back up the Kenai Peninsula to Seward for the night. Then on Thursday we return to Anchorage for one night and on Friday we put the girls back on an airplane to Juneau while we ride to Haines and catch the ferry to Juneau. This is a change in plans caused by the terrible condition of the Alcan Highway south of the Alaska border down to Haines Junction, Yukon Territory. On the way up, after encountering this section of highway, we decided it was too rough to ride two-up with the girls. We plan to rendezvous with them in Juneau on June 19 and continue with the ferry on down to Vancouver Island.