Saturday, August 13, 2005

 

Waiting in Valdez



Saturday, August 13. Well, I’m in still Valdez waiting for a package to show up general delivery. It’s a mini-disk player or a new mini-disk player rather. My old one broke on the way down to Homer several weeks ago, so I sent it in for a replacement but I have yet to receive it. It should be here soon and then I can get back on the road, but until then I am sort of stuck here, which isn’t so bad. Valdez is by far my absolute place in all of Alaska!

Valdez has everything that about Alaska that I love; stellar scenery and ocean views, lots of wildlife, plenty of things to do outdoors in all seasons and several different Alaskan type jobs—fishing, rough-necking, outdoor sport guiding, etc. The mountains are big and nearly all point straight up to the heavens right from sea-level and many have glaciers that connect the different peaks with huge spans of ancient ice. Nestled amongst all of this majesty lies the town and port of Valdez. At the head of a long narrow channel, Valdez offers amazing views of the a fore described mountains as well as many opportunities to view both land and sea life. The town is also the end of the Alyeska Pipeline, the same pipeline that begins in the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay/Dead Horse over 800 miles to the north, where I began this tour over two months ago.

The past week has been fantastic. The weather has been amazing and I have met and hung out with a lot of the friendly locals as well as took part in some of the town’s “Gold Rush Days” heritage celebration while getting ready to ride north up the Richardson Highway to Tok and then over to the Alaskan/Canadian Border and into Canada. I hope to get going while the weather is still sunny…



 

Through The Prince William Sound to Valdez


I was to board the Marine Vessel Aurora in Whittier at 11:30 Saturday morning in order to make it over to Valdez later that evening. At 9 a.m. I awoke and tip-toed out of Jakes apartment and into the bright and sunny morning. Jake was sleeping hard after a big night on the town so I didn’t bother waking him, and promptly walked over to fetch my bike from the Prince William Sound Kayak Center then took a small cruise around town to find a suitable place for breakfast.

After breakfast and coffee I wheeled around Whittier snapping pix and basking in the warmth from the sun. After almost two weeks of constant rain the continuing sunny weather was a much needed and welcomed change.

The Aurora pulled into port a bit behind schedule and we actually didn’t sail out of Whittier until closer to 1 p.m., but no matter; the day was glorious and it made any sort of set back acceptable. After declaring my firearm, ammunition and camp fuel I boarded the ship and found a comfortable chair on the solarium. The weather couldn’t have been better! Glaciers and huge mountains stood out in every direction. With the vivid blue skies showcasing the dramatic scenery the crew prepared the vessel for the 5 hour cruise through azure waters of The Prince William Sound to Valdez as the passengers drove their vehicles aboard.

Shortly after departing Whittier I bumped into another friend from my time in Anchorage, Jonathan Schick. Jonathan, along with his sister Sarah, who was visiting from North Carolina, and girlfriend Jen, were heading to Valdez to spend the next few days kayaking around ‘The Narrows’ and Prince Williams Sound. We all spent the entire trip to Valdez talking about nothing and gawking at the incredible scenery while searching the Sound for aquatic wildlife. The weather provided possibly the best conditions for surveying the landscape and along the way we did see some wildlife. Several sea otters and Stellar Sea Lions could be seen swimming close by the ship, but it was a brief glimpse of a pod of about 5 Orcas—killer whales—that got everyone’s attention.

At 6:30 p.m. the Aurora pulled into Valdez. Jonathan and the girls drove into town from the boat and I met up with them shortly afterwards. They settled their arrangements for the kayaking trip then all of us found a place for dinner. The water was still somewhat rough after we finished dinner but they got the kayaks ready anyway in anticipation that it would flatten out enough so they could leave later on that evening. By 10 o’clock and with the sun setting all three of them set out of Port Valdez towards ‘The Narrows’ and Prince Williams Sound, leaving me behind to find someone new to play with, so I jumped on the bike and headed off in search of some Saturday night fun in Valdez.



Friday, August 12, 2005

 

A Night in Whittier



(08/05) I got through the tunnel and into Whittier around 9ish (?) and rode slowly around the little town snapping photos and enjoying the last rays of the suns light before it disappeared behind the mountains for the evening. Whittier is a very small port town located in a bay at the end of the truly breathtaking Prince William Sound. The mountains are high, with many still snow capped, and the bay is narrow. Once the sun falls behind the mountains and the town is enveloped in shadow, because of the topography, the setting feels more like a deep canyon somewhere in the Southern Utah desert than a marine/alpine setting in South-Central Alaska. It was when I was stopped taking pictures that I met Jake. He walked right up to me and asked where I was from and where I was going and a quick conversation followed. Jake too is a bicycle tourist, although he wasn’t on a tour currently, and without hesitation invited me to a cook-out then offered up a place to sleep for the night as well as a shower! Exciting news for one that is as stinky as me. We walked over to the cook-out and immediately bumped into my good friend and Texas transplant Stephanie Burgoon. Stephanie is a year round resident and loving devotee of the tiny town as well as the head teacher of the grade/jr. high/high school. We caught up and briefed each other about our respective summers as she introduced me to some of the town’s people while keeping a sharp eye on her dogs. The evening was cool, as were the people, and was the perfect ending to a long week.

Around midnight the cook-out came to an end. With my belly full of fresh oysters, ling cod and halibut I followed Jake back to his temporary digs above The Anchor Bar, after I stowed my bike and gear at The Prince William Sound Kayak Center for the night. I showered and prepared for a night in a bed and Jake set out for a Friday night on the town. With a big bed to sprawl out on it took no time to fall asleep.



Monday, August 08, 2005

 

Seward to Whittier



Seward is one of my favorite towns in all of the great state of Alaska! It, like Homer and Kodiak, is a fishing town as well as a popular tourist destination but unlike the two other towns it is not nearly as populated. Homer and Kodiak both have a lot of the same attractions and are both beautiful in their own right, but I feel the size of Seward adds to the allure of the town and makes for a more relaxing place to visit, let alone live.

The views right in town are amazing and the people, like most of the state, are incredibly friendly. There are a lot of things to do in Seward besides just fishing, although it is defiantly the thing to do. Halibut and all types of salmon can be caught right in Resurrection Bay as well as in the Gulf of Alaska and there are plenty of rivers to fish too. It is home to at least one if not several different fish canneries and many locals have obviously chosen a life at sea as a way to make a living in Seward. The wildlife viewing in Seward ranks with some of the best in all of Alaska. Sea otters and hundreds of different bird species can be seen right off shore or at the Sea Life Center, located at the end of town on Resurrection Bay. Large rookeries of Stellar Sea Lions occupy some of the near by islands and some can be seen either from the shore or hanging around the harbor looking for fish scraps from a fisher-mans days catch. Grey and Humpback Whales patrol the waters around Resurrection Bay and pods Beluga as well as Orca or Killer Whales can be seen hunting right from shore! To get a more up close and personal look at some of the animals, the more adventuresome traveler can charter a boat or take a tour out into the bay to some of the many tide water glaciers with Kenai Fjords Tours.

The town is full of many local merchants peddling different types of crafts as well as services and there are a lot of great hiking and biking trails right in and just outside of town. Possibly the thing that the town is best known for is a foot race that has taken place since the early days of the towns conception; the Fourth-of-July Mt. Marathon running race. Every July 4th the event floods the town with thousands of people, runners and spectators alike, from all over the world to either participate in or help celebrate the incredibly rugged off-road running race to the top of the mountain and then back down to town.

I only spent one day and night in the sleepy little fishing town of Seward before mounting the bike and riding back up the Kenai Peninsula 90 miles to Whittier in order to catch the M.V. Aurora over to Valdez. When I awoke on Friday morning (08/05) the weather changed for the better. The sun finally burned through the cloud cover and revealed the blue sky that had been hiding for almost two weeks straight. The temperatures warmed to a nice comfortable degree and remained constant through out the entire ride to the secluded town of Whittier and many of the dazzling sights that make the ride along the Seward Highway so spectacular were now out in full force. Glaciers and snow capped mountains makes this ride an epic one and all were well-defined due to bright blue sunny sky. A lot of the rivers along the way were filled with “spawned-out” sockeye salmon; bright red in color and weak or near death from being back in the fresh water for so long.

It was 6:30 p.m. when I made it to the Whittier and Portage Glacier turn off along the Seward Highway. I took my time riding towards town, enjoying the many sights along the road to the ‘forbidden tunnel’ that takes you through a mountain to Whittier. Now there is one thing about the town of Whittier that is a little exasperating: the tunnel. It keeps the town almost inaccessible to the rest of Alaska but especially its foot and bicycle travelers. It is a one way tunnel that is open for an hour one direction to let people in, then for an hour the other direction to let them out. It costs $12 for a car or mid-sized truck and more for larger vehicles, like RV’s and trucks with boats and/or trailers, to get in and it is only open during certain times through out the year—longer hours in the summer and shorter hours in the winter. And, this is the kicker, it does not cater to bicycles or pedestrians! No shit! So, dear reader, you can see that this is a pain in the ass for anyone who wants to visit Whittier, let alone live there. Now don’t get me wrong, I have grown to love the little town for all that it has to offer. Once inside the views of Prince William Sound and the backside of Portage Glacier are truly spectacular. The kayaking is also reported to be some of the best on the Kenai Peninsula and there is a great deal of things to do in the tiny, little fishing/tourist village but the tunnel just makes it some what difficult to tour by bicycle. Luckily the town’s inhabitants are very familiar and sympathetic towards the plight of the bicycle tourist and are willing to assist with a ride through the tunnel, provided they have the necessary equipment.