Published: July 1st 2012July 1st 2012
Wednesday 20/06/12 – We woke up to the sound of rain this morning, a sound that remained with us until well after lunch. During the winter months, most parts of the Denali National Park are inaccessible by vehicles (including helicopters) due to heavy snows or unfavourable weather. There are also many parts of the park where motorised vehicles are not allowed. For this reason, the park rangers have a working dog sled team that allows them access to these areas for transporting rangers and equipment around the park, or even the odd rescue of hikers. The dogs are rarely used for these purposes in the summer months but are instead used to educate and entertain any tourists that are willing to stand in the mud and pouring rain for 45 minutes ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahing’ every time they run past. On this morning, we found ourselves amongst around 120 such tourists, and after standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 118 perfect examples of the types of people I don’t want to be when I grow up, we did manage to catch a glimpse of the dogs between the umbrellas, unconvincing comb-overs, and once remarkable but now de-poofed Brian May-esque hairdos. The dogs seemed to be
really working hard and enjoying the opportunity to pull the musher (human driver) around on the sled in front of everyone. After the show, I did my best Clark Kent impersonation by getting changed in a phone booth in the car park to avoid the rain – however I didn’t leave my underpants on over my trousers. As there is no evidence in DC published literature that Superwoman ever got changed in a phone booth, I guess you could say that Kenz also went all Superman too.
Once we had changed into our rapidly dampening bike gear, we were on the bikes and on the Parks Highway to Anchorage. It was a fairly pretty yet mostly uneventful 400 kms into Anchorage. We swung by the Kawasaki dealer and arranged for the bikes to be serviced on Thursday before heading downtown for an enchilada from Taco King and a quick look at the city. We then made contact with a fellow biker that we had met in Dease Lake and he invited us to stay for a few nights. We followed Chuck’s directions to his house, met his wife Carol, and settled down to solve America’s problems over a bottle
Thursday 21/06/12 – After a fantastic sleep in probably the biggest bed I have ever been in (and certainly the most appreciated!), Chuck fixed us up with a solid breakfast and some information about the city. We cleaned the bikes in the driveway at the request of the Kawasaki shop and then dropped them off at the service centre. Chuck was kind enough to ferry us around to the post office, GPS shop and camping store. Sometime over the last few days, the on/off button on the GPS must have evaporated as it just disappeared one day when I wasn’t looking and the unit could no longer be turned on (i.e. it had transformed into an expensive brick). The guy who served us at the Garmin dealer had all the worst characteristics of a mortician, accountant, computer and a cabbage mixed together. He spoke in the dullest monotone voice I have ever heard and there was little evidence of any brain activity. Visa vee, we are now using a paperclip to turn the GPS on.
We picked up the bikes after their service and headed into town to the 22 acre Anchorage cemetery. On
the evening of the summer solstice (which was tonight), the university runs a free tour of the cemetery with a Professor of History who discusses the early history of Anchorage through the lives of many of the early pioneers who are buried here. We learnt some interesting facts about the types of immigrants that came to Alaska seeking their fame and fortune, and Kenz learnt to never use the horrible, chemical pit port-a-loo ever again. The latter part of the night was spent with Chuck and Carol over another great bottle of wine.
Friday 22/06/12 – After another irresistible sleep-in, we went downtown for a bit of a snoop. Anchorage was settled in 1915 and has a population of around 300,000 people. We went on another free tour in city, this time it was about the history of the people of Alaska. Before Alaska was bought by the USA, it was inhabited by Native Alaskans, “found” by Captain Vitus Bering (a Dane employed by the Russians) in 1741, and then by Captain Cook in 1777. The voyages of Bering were remarkable, for instance his second voyage/mission took 7 years and included walking across Russia, building two ships
on the east coast and sailing across to Alaska and then back to Russia! Before oil was found in Alaska, there was not much here to interest the white occupants despite the fervent but short lived gold rushes and fur trade.
We also went on the Anchorage self-guided Planet Walk which made my inner geek giggle with glee! It is a scale model of our solar system (from the sun to Pluto) set out across the streets of the city. The sun was obviously in the centre and was about 4 metres in diameter, and the idea is that a leisurely walk between the planets represents the speed of light. Therefore it took about 8 minutes to walk from the sun to the Earth which was about an inch in diameter. We walked all the way to Mars, it would have taken about five and a half hours to walk from the sun all the way to Pluto. We thought it was a pretty cool concept, plus there were all sorts of information about each planet at each stop.
We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out Downtown before going to Denny’s for dinner (all you can
drink Coke/pink lemonade plus all you can eat pancakes with butter and syrup for just $6, OH YEAAAH!). Our after dinner entertainment was a 2 hour Ghost Tour through the city which was interesting, as there where a few unsolved mob hits, murders and suicides that have taken place here. We didn’t see any ghosts. We headed home soon after the tour as the town started to get a little rowdy. It is strange to think that people are allowed to carry concealed pistols here, it’s enough to discourage us from checking out the nightlife.
Saturday 23/06/12 – We rose early and prepared to leave Anchorage. I had been thinking of getting a taller wind shield for my bike so before we left, Chuck and I devised a crafty way of attaching one of his old windshields to my bike. The Adam & Chuck TM system of attachment includes 1 part duct tape and 1 part blind faith/stupidity (if the windshield does come off and decapitate either myself or an innocent bystander, then it was all Chuck’s idea). After waving good bye to our incredible generous and hospitable hosts, we headed down the Seward Highway to Whittier.
The road follows the coast and is a renowned hotspot for spying some incredible marine animals including orcas and beluga whales. Despite (through sheer concentration and will power) keeping just one eye on the road and the other on the ocean, I didn’t see any animals. I did however get a headache.
The only way of getting to Whittier is via a 2.1 mile single lane tunnel that has been dug through a huge mountain! The walls and roof of the tunnel are just carved into the rock which gives it a foreboding quality. The floor is not only single lane, but it also wet and has a train track down the middle meaning that you must keep the bike in-between the tracks or risk falling over in the almost total darkness. It is slightly reassuring that they make the bikes go through last so that if you fall off your bike, you won’t be run over by a 3 tonne RV. The town of Whittier is located in the Prince William Sound which is a spectacular ring of mountains, bays and glaciers. It was originally an American naval base in World War 2 as it is the northernmost
port in Alaska that doesn’t freeze in winter. We rode into town, had a look around and grabbed a Reindeer snag for lunch (I think mine was Prancer) before starting out on a hike up to Portage Glacier. It was a two mile hike that rose 750 feet in elevation. We reached the viewing platform with spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding mountains. We then walked a further 2 miles in ankle-deep snow in an effort to reach the foot of the glacier before a waterfall, a whingeing girlfriend and a waning enthusiasm made us turn back.
We travelled back through the tunnel and spent the night at Black Bear Campground. The area was thick with mosquitoes; I think I recognised a few from Coldfoot. The reality of long term travel set in again after tonight’s dinner, we each ate a cup-a-soup that we bought 6 weeks ago, some Wal-Mart bread that we bought 4 days ago, and some unlucky mosquitoes that we had just met tonight. Smile, you’re travelling!
Sunday 24/06/12 – The tent suffered a traumatic morning with the dark and stormy clouds unceasingly peppering it with icy rain and the wind causing
it to violently shake. I was expecting to leave the tent this morning and exclaim “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore”. We decided we would leave for Seward when it stopped raining which only happened for 20 minutes between 1.10 and 1.30pm. The bikes got packed in record time and we were off down the Seward Highway. We arrived at Seward which is nestled in a spectacular bay that is surrounded by snowy mountains. Unfortunately the town seemed to only be focused on taking your money and the campsite was atrocious. We spent the evening checking out the harbour.
Monday 25/06/12 – A fantastic morning was spent at the Exit Glacier. We joined a free tour with the local ranger who took us right up to the ‘toe’ of the glacier. The glacier has been retreating since the early 1900s and has drastically accelerated since the 50s. Last year, it retreated around 125 feet, unfortunately it is retreating at an even greater rate this year.
We also swung by the Seward aquarium and sea life centre which was built as part of the Valdez oil spill recovery program. We decided to take advantage
of the blue skies and head to Homer, the most southern town accessible by road on the Kenai Peninsula. As soon as we decided to leave it started to downpour and it was tough riding for the next 3 hours. It wasn’t just rain but also low lying clouds and fog, I could almost feel myself dissolving. We pulled into town pretty miserable and found a decent campground, the sites were raised which was good as most of the park was in ankle deep water. It was a decent display of organisation and teamwork to get the tent up as quick as we did; I’m sure the raven that swooped down and grabbed a beak-full of my donut was impressed. I spent the evening contemplating how we were staying in campsite 84 ½ . What does that mean?
Tuesday 26/06/12 – We woke up and were stunned at the beauty of the bay and surrounding mountains, all of this was hidden behind the fog yesterday. The majority of the day was spent on a cruise from Homer out to a small town called Soldovia which is only accessible by water or sea plane. It was a pretty quirky and
unique place with plenty of interesting people; it reminded us of Cygnet in the Huon Valley. The trip out across the strait was a great way to see the area and wildlife. We spotted plenty of seabirds, our favourites being the local Puffin community and the Bald Eagles. The cutest animals were the sea otters which gathered together in big rafts of 25 – 30 snoozing individuals. We also managed to spot a small Humpback Whale which was kind enough to surface near the boat every now and then. We could also see two active volcanoes in the distance.
Wednesday 27/06/12 – The time to depart Homer was at hand, and it was a top day too! I went for a short stroll on the beach this morning to enjoy the sun and warm wind when I stumbled across a Bald Eagle that was cleaning itself in a small freshwater pool. It was splashing about having a great old time until a local dog spotted it and chased it away. Homer has one of the largest populations of Bald Eagles in North America and you can usually spot one along the coast riding the wind currents way
up high in the sky – it was a nice treat to see one so close this morning.
We rode from Homer to Anchorage today with a mix of sun and light showers. We stopped at the Kenai Museum and Art Gallery in Kenai City. They currently had an exhibition titled ‘Alaska 2012: A Celebration of Wildlife Art’, it was well worth the $5 entry fee. Most of the pieces were simply amazing; I have never spent longer than 20 seconds appreciating a single piece of art (I never understood those people, but now I do!), we could have spent hours in there.
We headed into Anchorage and went straight to the Denali Alaskan Bank. To cut a long story short, we used one of their ATMs a few days ago and they deducted the money from our account but never gave us the cash. We had a chat with the branch manager who was very helpful and assured us that it will be sorted out (his name was Leeanthony!) We then went over to a local hardware store to purchase some bright yellow safety vests to wear whilst riding. Many of the bikers up here wear them
and they have convinced us to purchase some; in that single transaction our ‘coolness’ levels plummeted; but our safety levels skyrocketed.
We swung by Denny’s again for dinner, this time eating and drinking for $8 each, amazing! And then to Chuck’s where he fed us all this incredible Alaskan food including some great dark chocolate, wine, Spirulina drink, blueberries, raisins, sake, maple syrup, chocolate-vinaigrette and more!
There are more photos below