Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

All the way to Seward without puking!



(08/04) Seward. I made it to town with out puking. Normally, I’m not a puker, but as we made our way to Seward the feeling that I could up-chuck at any moment made me think that I might be. Many people aboard the Tustumena however were pukers and most of them were land-loving men! At one point all three stalls in the men’s toilet were full of guys face down in the bowl, puking their guts out! Alright, well I’m off to see Seward. (Puke!)



 

Soaking wet on Alaksa's Emerald Isle




(08/03) It’s just after 6 o’clock in the p.m. and right now the Marine Vessel Tustumena is pulling out of Kodiak Island bound for Seward. The past few days in Kodiak were wet and relatively uneventful. The rain started shortly after I got to the Island and hasn’t stopped yet. De-motivated by the constant falling rain, I didn’t venture far out of town and spent most of Monday and all day Tuesday riding between coffee shops and hanging out at the Kodiak Public Library. I am sick and tired of being wet! Every piece of gear I have is either soaked or at least slightly damp and starting to smell really bad. With no sunlight to dry things out the wet weather gets old pretty quick. Camping too is miserable. The rain makes it tough to want to even pitch the tent let alone sleep in it. Last night the rain was so relentless that it forced me to find some sort of over-hang or something just to have somewhat of a dry night’s rest. Underneath the bridge to Near Island I found a flat, kind-of-dry spot and it was the only place that I found even close to being dry. I felt much like a hobo but at least I was out of the rain and it was pretty easy to fall asleep, so screw it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?! Any way, on with the story…

Kodiak, like Homer, is much bigger and more developed than I ever thought. Every amenity that you would find in a larger town or city, including a McDonalds and a Wal-Mart, can be found on Kodiak, and yet despite all of its modern conveniences the town still has a rich history involving several different cultures. The Island has been inhabited for the past 8,000 years. Russian fur trappers were the first non-native people to reach Chiniak Bay and establish what would become the modern day town of Kodiak. At that time there were over 6,500 Sugpiags or Koniag region Eskimos in Kodiak, but the Russian colonization of the Island had a devastating effect on the local Native population and by the time Alaska became a U.S. Territory in1867 the Sugpiags were pretty much wiped out. Alutiiq, a mixture of Russian and Aleut Eskimo cultures, is now the modern Native population and accounts for a small percent of its residents, but most of Kodiak are non-Native. There is also a large sub-population of Filipinos, because of their work in the canneries. Fishing and seafood processing is the main industry. Hundreds of Kodiak’s residents hold commercial fishing permits and there is evidence all over town that that is how most households make a living. The U.S. Army and Navy built Fort Abercrombie and used the island during the Aleutian Campaign of World War II. Fort Abercrombie is now one of the island’s state parks and home to many different species of birds. Kodiak is also home of the largest brown bears in the world, with many topping at least 8 feet tall or taller! In 1964 a tsunami from the great earthquake leveled the town. It was the largest scale earthquake ever recorded in North America, measuring 9+ points on the Richters Scale. The infrastructure of the town was rebuilt and today Kodiak is one of the largest fishing ports in the world.

We are now in open water and there is nothing but ocean and rain for as far as the eye can see. The storm has stirred the sea up a bit and the boat rocks up and down and rolls side to side. We hit the swelling waves head on, riding over each crest and valley like a roller coaster, slowly making our way to Seward. Most of the passengers are sleeping while some, including your lowly narrator, are wide awake and trying not to get sick. Thoughts of breakfast and lunch pass in and out of my mind as cruise atop the great abyss. Oh man, I shouldn’t have had all those pancakes and sausages for breakfast this morning. I better go now before I puke on my lap-top. Next stop, Seward.



Monday, August 01, 2005

 

From Anchorage to Homer then over to Kodiak



(08/01) Kodiak Island, Alaska. I got to Homer Friday night after five days of riding and spent the remainder of the evening, all day Saturday and part of Sunday hanging around the “quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem” checking out the sights and taking part in its credo. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. When in Alaska, you drink and catch fish!

Last night I left Homer for Kodiak Island via the Alaska Marine Highway System on the ferry Tustumena and right now I’m sitting at the Kodiak Public Library typing up the events of the past week for the web site. I got to the island late this morning and will be here for another full day before sailing out for Seward on Wednesday evening (08/03).

The past week was a wet one. It rained every day, at some point if not all day, during each ride. Even though it’s been wet the riding has been great; tough and frustrating at times, but great still.

I spent Sunday evening (07/24) hanging out with friends at Humpy’s and showing slides of the first leg of the tour. It was my last time in town and at the bar for awhile so needless to say that it turned out to be a big night. The next morning I awoke a little bit later than I wanted but was still eager to get back on the road and cover some ground. I had breakfast and said good bye to some friends then threw a leg over the bike and started making my way down the Seward Highway towards the Kenai Peninsula. I pedaled down the “Tony Knowles Coastal Trail,” made my way along Diamond Boulevard to the Old Seward Highway then to the Seward Highway towards Turnagain Arm. The signs of a familiar route made leaving a very fantastic place harder than I imagined and I found myself feeling a little wistful as I rode out of Anchorage and past Potters Marsh. It wasn’t long however that my thoughts turned to the ride ahead. Rounding the first turn along Turnagain Arm the wind from off of the ocean hit me like a ton of lead and my once quick pace slowed to a painfully slow crawl. Riding the bike along ‘The Arm,’ with all of its weight and bulk, felt like pushing a sheet of drywall straight into the wind. It took all of my strength to maintain even 6 mph. I met the storm front at Bird Ridge about half way to Girdwood. After that the wind subsided but the rain came down in buckets and immediately drenched the road, the bike and me. At ten o’clock I rolled into Girdwood, soaking wet, and headed straight for the Alyeska Prince Hotel. I had a gift card left over from this winter and decided that, because of the wet weather, it was a perfect time to put it to use. I checked in, ordered and ate food, took a shower then fell asleep in exactly that order—I’d forgotten how easy it was to fall asleep in a dry room with a king-size bed!

Tuesday morning (07/26) after checking out of ‘The Prince’ I had lunch then pushed on down the highway. Traffic was heavy and loaded with pick-up trucks, RV’s, and tour buses headed to the many different destinations on the Kenai Peninsula. The rain didn’t start until I got to the top of Turnagain Pass but then didn’t let up until I reached Summit Lake Lodge that evening. For the most part it was a pretty uneventful day. Dealing with the heavy traffic provided some entertainment but the in climate weather made it difficult to stay focused on the ride and made 50 miles seem more like 150. It was either grey and overcast or raining through out the entire day, with no evidence of the sun ever showing itself. (There will be many more days like this to come I am sure.) I found a place to camp that evening close to the lodge and, during one of the breaks in the weather, promptly put up the tent. I fell asleep that night as quick as one can when they’re soaked to the bone.

Lying awake at 6:30 a.m. (07/27), listening to the rain beat against the tent and wondering if it was ever going to quit, I started making plans to make it to Valdez by next week then on to Canada. It was no use trying to sleep any more although I was still tired. I was completely soaked and wrinkled from the onslaught of rain and now pissed-off at the persistently wet weather. As the storm dwindled to a sprinkle I packed up the wet tent, sleeping bag, and gear and headed to the Summit Lake Lodge to dry out and have some breakfast. I spent all day as well as the early evening indoors avoiding the rain and drying out at the lodge. I purchased a lap top while in Anchorage, to help fasciculate updating the web site and make life a little easier, and spent the day using it to handle some things relating to the tour and other wise. The day passed quickly and by nine o’clock the sky finally cleared long enough to get some miles in. With most of my things adequately dried out I started off towards Cooper Landing with a goal to make it there by night fall and before the next wave of rain. It should be mentioned that night is now becoming an issue. The farther south I go the less the light there is. The days are still long--about 17 hours long—but they are rapidly diminishing. As summer wanes so does the sunlight. South Central Alaska is losing 5 minutes and 5 seconds a day now and will keep losing day light as we approach the winter solstice. Actually the interior and the more northern parts of the state are losing light at a faster rate than the southern parts and soon they will have longer nights than days. It was getting dark as I rode into Cooper Landing. I found a camp spot close to Kenai Lake, rolled out the sleeping bag and bivy sack then watched the sun disappear behind the mountain walls as I fell asleep.

Rain! Stupid, over-rated rain woke me from a pleasant sleep Thursday morning (07/28). Quickly I packed the bike and set out seeking shelter. I stopped by a grocery in Cooper Landing and hung out on the porch while waiting for the rain to stop. It was around 1 p.m. and after an hour long break and with no sign of relief I geared up for a wet ride to Soldotna. Along the entire 50+ mile ride to Soldotna rain fell. With cramping hands and feet I rode into town around 6 p.m. It was still raining so I stopped at an overhang at the Fred Meyer for some relief. A local fisherman tipped me off to a nearby campsite and once the rain stopped I made my way through town to find it.

At 10 p.m., after a full meal of freeze dried food and Gatorade, I set up camp and crawled into my sleeping bag just in time to hear the first sounds of rain drops hit the tent.

Friday (07/29) was the longest day of the week. With 75 miles between Soldotna and Homer I was ready to get going when I awoke. There weren’t any real long periods of rain along the way, just a few sprinkles here and there. However, the threat of a storm always lingered in the skies behind me and kept me from dawdling too long at any one particular place, fueling the desire to reach Homer before getting soaked again. By nine o’clock I reached Homer and headed right to the spit, a thin stretch of land extending out from the end of the peninsula with salt water on both sides, for a night on the town. I ate, had a few brews at the world famous “Salty Dawg Saloon” then found a place to camp for the remainder of the evening on the beach along Spit Road.

I had a good time tramping around the tourist town of Homer and getting somewhat familiar with yet another different Alaskan local scene. It didn’t rain once during the past few days, although it looked like it could have at any moment. The views in Homer are big and you could see several different types of clouds hanging in the sky, many swollen with rain but luckily none fell. A bright crimson red sun-set, caused by the smoky haze from some recent forest fires to the north, provided a nice milieu as the Tustumena sailed out of the fishing town headed towards Kodiak followed by the big blue curtain of twilight. Fishing boats zipped past, returning to Homer with their days harvest, as the ferry made its way through the night and out to the deep ocean bound for the island that is home of the largest brown bears in the world. I guess rain, or mosquitoes for that matter, don’t seem so bad when compared to gi-normous grizzly bears, right?!

Until next time…