Tag: Alaska

Now available on ADV

Now that I’ve wrapped up the ride report here, I’ve started to re-publish individual segments on ADVRIDER.COM available here so I can share with the broader motorcycling community. It will be the same content in both places, the ADV thread will just have larger pictures within the text. If you’re coming over here from ADV and want to read through the whole report before it’s completely on ADV, just start reading here.

A little bit of html massaging is required when moving a blog post from WordPress to the vBulletin software, particularly with the photo handling. vBulletin has no built-in captioning or ALT tags, so I’ve just opted for a straight up photo display on ADV. I’m definitely a fan of larger photos, it really makes the journey pop out. I’m also pleased to see that all of the embedding features – Excel web app, Google/Bing maps, Vimeo videos – work just fine without any editing required.


“I’m on a boat, I’m on a boat, I’m on a…”

Here was our home for the next 4 days…

The ferry M.V. Columbia crosses the Lynn fjord in Haines
The ferry M.V. Columbia crosses the Lynn fjord in Haines
The M.V. Columbia in port at Haines
The M.V. Columbia in port at Haines
Bike parking on the Columbia
Bike parking on the Columbia - bring your own tie-downs!
Tents on the Columbia
We took the lower deck - out of the rain, a bit noisy, protected from wind.

Anticipation was high for the Inside Passage, and I kept bouncing around the decks firing the shutter on my camera, finishing with almost 500 images by the time we docked in Bellingham.

Let me share a few of the good ones here…

Clouds and fog over the Inside Passage
Clouds and fog over the Inside Passage
Container ship on the Inside Passage
Container ship on the Inside Passage
Shipwreck on the Inside Passage
What caused this...?
Tug boat on the Inside Passage
Blue sky, big sea
Rear view from the Columbia
Rear view from the Columbia

The Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States, covering over 5.7M acres, with 19 different designated wilderness areas. It’s simply immense, and traveling by boat is one of the best ways to appreciate it. We saw whales, sea otters, swimming deer, and orca. We saw no bear, but would steer people to a recent article in National Geographic magazine to read about the rare ‘spirit bear’, which is a black bear born with white fur. Fascinating stuff.

We also ran into some great people on the ferry…quick shout outs to Rich, Don, and Steve…

Lunch at the Ocean View in Ketchikan
Brady, Rich, Steve, and Don at the Ocean View in Ketchikan

Here are a few composites for additional local color…

Lighthouses on the Inside Passage
Lighthouses on the Inside Passage
Vessels on the Inside Passage
Red on right, green ahead

If anyone is interested in seeing more of the Inside Passage, MSNBC did a nice photo essay over the summer, worth a scan.

After landing in Bellingham, it was a quick scamper home, and we called it a wrap: 5100 miles, 50GB of media to wade through, and time to power scrub the bike.

“Sorry, were you in the middle of something?”

The plan was to grab a campsite at Chilkat State Park. We scoped out the sites, and discovered they were all full. As we pondered our next move, a German couple invited us to join them at their site. They were traveling around the US and Canada, and had grabbed the last open site…there was plenty of room for everyone. We made quick introductions – Joana is an opera singer, Stefan is a mechanic, we were on German motorbikes, lived in Seattle – and we settled in for the night. It would only be the third night I was able to use hammock on the trip, which received a great deal interest from our hosts.

Hammock camping in Haines Alaska
Hammock in Haines: WarBonnet Blackbird, Big Mama tarp, Yeti underquilt

Upon waking up and doing the morning routine, I return to my hammock see one…two…three shapes move through the trees about 30 yards away. Um, is that, um, yes, bears. Grizzly. Mama and two cubs. I stand on the picnic table for a better look. She looks at me. Um, I’m now thinking I better do something more than gawk. Everyone else is still asleep. I check to see if the rental car is unlocked, in case I have to get inside. Locked. She looks at me again, rambles to the side, and flops herself down in a small opening. I grab my camera from the bike.

Haines campsite
Here's the campsite, get a fix on the left tree supporting the hammock...
Mama grizzly next to campsite
...Mama bear is the light brown shape in the middle of the picture, just left of the tree with the supporting straps.

A couple of other campers appeared at the driveway entrance with telephoto lenses, looking for photo ops. Apparently she and the cubs rambled across the entire park, and had attracted attention. I turn to look for her again, and she’s gone. Alas, I only had the 17-40 zoom on the camera, which explains the wide perspective, I wasn’t able to get to the 70-200 in time. After all, how often do you expect a grizzly bear and cubs to gallop past your campsite…?

Also for you photographers out there, Joana also shoots Canon, and let me borrow her newly acquired fisheye lens, which was a lot of fun to play with. It was my first time with fisheye, and quickly learned that you could easily capture your feet in an feet if you shoot below a horizontal angle. The hammock pic above was taken with the fisheye, and so are these next few.

Brady offers his morning look
Brady's tent
Brady's tent
My submission photo to GQ. Hm, I haven't heard back yet.
More fun with a fisheye lens
More fisheye fun

We broke up camp and headed into town to purchase supplies for the ferry ride. Haines sits right on the water, overseen by snow capped mountains.

Welcome to Haines
Welcome to Haines
Haines, AK
Mountains over Haines, AK

After fueling up with excellent burritos at Bear-Rittos Eatery, we had time to kill before the 5pm boarding, we head back to Chilkat to see if we can get another view of bears. And right away we find Mama Bear. Turns out she is a well known local, about 7-8 years old, now on the second year of her second set of cubs. The second year means it’s the last year under Mama’s care, and she kicks them out of the house at the end of the summer, so she is teaching them how to fish.

Mama grizzly and a cub
The cub had just swiped a fish from Mama on the right
Snapping photos of Mama bear
I asked this gentleman where his car was, because I was going in it if Mama came out of the water.

Up until this time, although we were well aware of a grizzly’s power and speed, we hadn’t really seen it in action. We had seen her do a short gallop and flop around, and her fishing skills appeared effortless (look around the water, stick her head in, come out with a big salmon, elapsed time 30-45 seconds). The cubs would mew and whine for some food while she munched on a salmon. One of them slid in cautiously, whining, get in close, then in a flash Mama would deliver a tremendous swipe at the cub’s head, she was incredibly fast, then roar to the sky. The cub quickly recovered from the blow and swiped the fish while Mom was lecturing. Then the other cub did the same routine – slide in, whine, get clobbered, grab the fish, get a lecture. The entire crowd of people watching, perhaps 30 total at the peak, were impressed. I think we even all stepped back a foot or two when we saw that first swipe. Brady never took his helmet off, just in case they came quickly out of the water. We did see a cub grab its own fish later, and it pranced around the rocks to celebrate.

Then it was time to get in line for the ferry.

Bike line for the ferry
Bikes line up for the ferry ride to Bellingham

“Last one out, get the lights”

True story: we stopped at the Safeway in Homer for breakfast, and an elderly woman stopped by to vent.

“Those eagles, I hate them!”
“They took my cat.”
“They took my cat for lunch!”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I’m going to shoot them.”
“Um…isn’t that illegal?”
“I don’t care. I’m going to get them!”

We skedaddled out of Homer back up to Anchorage onto the Glen Highway, pausing for pix at the Matanuska Glacier.

Rest stop at Mantanuska Glacier
Rest stop at Mantanuska Glacier

Rode late into the day onto the Tok Cutoff Highway, where we could see the broad landscape at the foot of the Wrangell Mountains, although it was too dark for pictures. Eagle Trail State Park was home for the night.

Eagle Trail State Park
Camp site at Eagle Trail

Here’s a short video clip of road highlights from Homer and just past Tok…

We were back on the ALCAN the next day, forging through 2 significant storm cells, one of which caused water to sneak into my previously impenetrable 5 year old Darien pants. Nothing like sitting with a wet butt, fortunately it dried in a couple of hours.

Mud guard shearing
My mud guard sheared off on the bumpy ALCAN.
Back in Canada
Back in Canada...time to start doing mileage math again

We hit Haines Junction in late afternoon, attended to food and fuel, and were mindful of the 8pm cutoff time when the border closes getting down to Haines. And lucky for us, the setting sun drenched a glowing light across the mountains and road most of the way down the Haines Highway.

Haines Highway outside of Haines Junction
Haines Highway just outside of Haines Junction
Sunset light along Haines Highway
Sunset light along Haines Highway
Haines Highway
Haines Highway...this is one of my favorite shots of the entire trip

Truly spectacular and quite majestic, it was a real treat. We rolled into Haines just as it was getting dark. It would be our first dark sky night since we started the trip.

“A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem”

We established camp at the Homer Spit campground, where we caught up with showers and laundry amid view of the beautiful Kachemak Bay. Wonderfully scenic.

Homer Spit campground
Our camp site on the Homer Spit
Seafarer's Memorial at Homer
Seafarer's Memorial at Homer
Laundry hut at the Homer Spit campground
Laundry hut at the Homer Spit campground

We paid homage to the Salty Dawg, admiring the dollar bill decorations on the ceilings, and getting a decent playlist out of the jukebox (U2, Journey, Guns and Roses, must have been an early 90s moment).

Stones at the Homer Spit
Thinking this may make for good desktop wallpaper...? Probably better suited as stock photo for a motel lobby.

By sheer luck of geography, and perhaps a little bit of fate, we noticed that the campground was close to a ferry terminal. We had considered taking a ferry during the trip planning, and couldn’t quite get the timing right, so we were planning on riding back to Seattle. We looked at the schedule at the terminal, and didn’t recognize any of the destinations on the list, except for Dutch Harbor because of the TV show. Then we realized that ferry terminal serviced the western part of Alaska, out to the Aleutians. So we looked across the street, noticed a ferry travel agent office. 45 minutes later we were booked on the Columbia going down the Inside Passage as long as we could get to Haines in a couple of days.

About a thousand miles over two days? No problem.

View Larger Map

“Go west, young man.”

We were warned about Glennallen, just down the road from the eastern side of the Denali Highway. Be extra careful about speed traps. The area is close to Alaska State Trooper training ground, where speed enforcement training is in regular operation. On this run, however, the only thing we had to worry about was the rain. A few drops had turned into a steady drizzle which turned into a steady downpour, and the temperatures were dropping into the low 50s. Although I had planned for temps down into the 30s for the trip, I had yet to toss on the long johns, and the prospect of taking off the suit and pants to get an underlayer on seemed too much.

We continued to forge west on the Glen Highway, hand warmers on full blast, and then little patches of blue appeared in the sky. Matanuska Glacier appeared on the side of the road, the pavement began to dry and turn a few twistys, and we found ourselves staring at Anchorage and Wasilla road signs. That wet and cold combo was one of the most uncomfortable weather segments of the trip, yet when I compare with other road trips this summer, seems we should be thankful it wasn’t worse. Anchorage was then under our tires, and we made our way to the Harley dealership for a tent spot and shower for the night.

Let me give HD Anchorage a shout out for the free campground and nice shower facilities. And free wifi. Most appreciated.

Anchorage Harley Davidson
Harley Davidson in Anchorage
Tent space at HD Anchorage
Tent space at HD Anchorage

After taking care of supplies and bikes, we headed south the next day, embracing the scenic Route 1 around Turnagain Arm and down into Sterling as we made a beeline for Homer. But first, we had an important stop to make – perhaps this is common knowledge to all the local Alaska folks, it never occurred to us to hunt down the point of the most western highway on the continent. We had to stop at Anchor Point. It’s a couple of miles off the main highway on Anchor Point Road, there is no signage to indicate the way. (But the Chamber of Commerce folks are happy to give you directions.)

Anchor Point signage
Look for volcanos across the Cook Inlet
Craig @ Anchor Point
Think I can get into the Aerostitch catalog with this...?

And for an extra surprise, we were lucky to enjoy the Anchor Point version of docking a boat. No piers or boat slips here, they just run a tractor out into the surf, the boat races in with the waves, a deck hand ties up to the trailer, and the tractor emerges from the water and up to the parking lot. Fun to watch on a calm day, and I’m thinking this takes on turbulent proportions in serious weather. Here’s a short photo sequence of a pick-up while we were there.

We chatted with the staff after the above extraction, apparently they have more videos on YouTube. The manager didn’t want to talk much about the maintenance costs on the tractors with the salt water, upkeep is a bit pricey, even by Alaska standards.