Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 239 - Anchorage - Valdez

Distance travelled (by bike):  35,000

A truly miserable day, Leaving Anchorage in the rain, arriving at Valdez colder, still in the rain. Its that time of the year,  the weather getting colder, leaves are falling off the trees, bears are hyper eating ready for hibernation and most tourists are getting out of Alaska, i see why and i'm following shortly.
The drive down into Valdez was thick with fog. From Valdez I was hoping to go sea kayaking through the glaciers, sadly with the weather not co-operating its not going to happen. Gutted. 
Valdez situated at the head of a deepwater fjord, accessible by only one road. The main industry in town is oil, the trans alaska pipeline runs the length of Alaska from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Valdez is the nearest ice free port. The marine life was devastated in 1989 with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, now you would never know that one of the largest oil spills every happened 20 miles away. The fishing industry has recovered, commercial and charter fishing and is the second biggest industry in town.
The town was pretty empty as i drove in, quickly finding somewhere to dry out and warm up.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 235/236/237/238 - Anchorage - Kenai Peninsular - Anchorage

Distance travelled (by bike):  34,670

In the pouring rain i left Anchorage, heading out to Whittier, not nice riding, to get to Whittier you have to go though the Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel, this is only one vehicle or train wide, both the rail and vehicles share the same tunnel alternating in times. You can only go though once an hour, i was waiting for a while. luckily i was under cover, as a bike you have to go last and are purposely delayed allowing you to go faster or slower than the designed speed limit, i was told to travel at whatever speed i felt most comfortable. 
Arriving in Whittier, i boarded a tourist boat to se the glaciers, the reason i had come to whittier. Being a deep water channel its also the home to a lot of major cruise liners. Leaving the bay i got seated next to another englishman, Simon, who worked for BP and was based in Anchorage for a few weeks. The weather was horrific, the cruise amazing, stopping to see loads of the glaciers around Prince William Sound. Fact: Alaska is home to about 50% of the worlds glaciers. The Glaciers appear blue in parts, this is down to the way it absorbs the light, unlike normal ice. 
When the tourist cruise was over i headed out of whittier. I ended up staying at a hostel where all the other residents were participating in the ;fungus festival', basically people who get hugely excited about picking and eating and cooking every mushroom they can find, as you might imagine, it was a strange night.

Heading down the kenai coast to Homer was stunning, passing through small fishing towns and a lot of forest. Homer is apparently the Halibut capital of the world, after my drive i had to indulge in halibut and chips! Homer is characterised locally as, A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.
From Homer i drove back north to Kenai trying to find somewhere to stop for the night. Driving a little further i got to Stirling, I stopped in a store to buy some beers, when doing so i got speaking to a guy called Ray. When he asked me where i was staying i said i didn't know yet, he told me to come stay with him, he had a bunk house i could use.
Turns out Ray is an old Cowboy, the pictures on the wall are testament to his bronco and bull riding days. It also turned out that the bunk house was more of a cabin, took 4 years to build and he had built it all himself. Ray was also a hunter, with loads os bear, lynx, cougar and other furs i couldn't identify hanging on the walls, The house was littered with various guns, from a magnum  and a .44 through to a goose gun, all guns were kept loaded!
Ray decided to call his friend Bob, Bob was a fellow biker, a few hours and beers later Bob had invited me to go flying with him tomorrow - amazing.
After a typical cowboy dinner of refried beans and a few more beers i headed to the bunk house (cabin) for some shut eye. 
I know that Ray is computer illiterate, but a huge thanks to him for opening his house and giving me, especially when he'd only met me for 5 minutes, a place to stay, food to eat and beer to drink.

Early mooring coffee with Ray, then a short drive to Bobs. As i parked outside i mentioned that i needed to replace my chain and sprockets soon. Amazingly Bob happened to have a set that fitted my bike! The weather was amazing, Bob decided that it would be the best thing if we got up in the air as soon as possible. Leaving the bike behind we drove to the airport. After the preflight checks, short taxi to the gravel runway (the plane has bush tyres fitted allowing it to land pretty much anywhere, but are better on gravel than tarmac) they up and away. Amazing, flying over Alaska with a personal guide getting to see huge herds of Caribou, more bears that i have seen in my life, about 17! and lots of sheep and goats.
I got to fly low over the glaciers, through valleys and into the wilderness of the Alaskan interior. Great morning!
After lunch we got started on the bike. Bobs garage is better kitted out than most professional places. with the bike up on the lift the rear wheel dropped off easily, with a bit of ingenuity and time, the new chain and sprockets were fitted. This bought to my attention the fork seals, i knew they were leaking a bit, but in the last day they have exploded, fluid streaming dow the forks and into the brakes, not good, but not life threatening, i could still ride.
Reluctantly i left Bobs, i was offered a bed for the night, but the forecast looked and for the following day so i decide to head for Sewart while the going was good. 
An hour and a bit later i was parked on the sea front in Sewart, the rain just beginning to fall.
A enormous thanks to Bob for everything, the plane experience was truly amazing, that includes the crazy 90 degree,180 turns. The time and help you gave getting the bike back in one part and for selling me the parts i needed. Again massive thanks.

I was going to stop and look around Sewart, but the weather was foul. From Sewart is was a few hours ride back to Anchorage and straight to the only garage that stocked the fork seals. They said they could fit new ones that afternoon. Then it was just a matter of waiting, the garage is near nothing, so i used the time to dry my stuff and curled in the corner and got some sleep. 

ray's 'bunkhouse'

bob and his plane - notice the massive 'bush'tyres - $3000 each!


just in case we got into trouble

flying over the glaciers

quick repair

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 233/234 - Denali National Park - Anchorage/Anchorage

Distance travelled (by bike): 33,970

The rain reappeared, the drive from Denali to Anchorage was wet and foggy. People told me it was a scenic drive, i'm sure it would be on a clear day, but sadly this was not one of them. Filling up with petrol i met a German couple who were struggling to work the pump, after showing them i went to get a coffee to warm up, the couple walked in behind me and insisted on paying for it, good start to the day.
Further up the road i saw some trucks, i had to stop. These were seriously raised and modified, Matt would be proud. The mechanic was trying to talk me into buying the raised 4x4 camper and strapping the bike to the back, he assured me he could rig up a system. I have to admit i was tempted, just for novelty value, but realistically, no.
Getting to Anchorage i got an email from Vinnie. I met Vinnie at Alberts pub in Medellin, Columbia, like me he was riding his bike through the Americas, but had taken 2 years about it, the perfect excuse to get some beers.
Having got led astray last night it was a very steady start to the day, luckily i wasn't doing any driving, instead been a tourist in Anchorage spending the day wandering around and shaking off the excesses of last night.
Founded as a railway camp in 1914, Anchorage is now the largest city in Alaska, home to 40% of the Alaskan population. I was told that Anchorage houses half of the worlds small engined aircraft, a fact i can believe as you can hear them taking off and landing throughout the day. Downtown was busy, thanks in part to the arrival of a cruise ship, the city has embraced tourism and with it been voted the All American City 4 times.

the truck they wanted to sell me

me & vin

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 231/232 - Fairbanks - Denali National Park/Denali National Park

Distance travelled (by bike): 33,680

From fairbanks i took the long road. Having spoken to Justin yesterday he suggested that i take the Denali highway across to the park. Backtracking from Fairbanks to Delta Junction then south to Paxson. From Paxon the Denali highway starts, closed in the winter, 80% of the road is unpaved, cutting through the mountains across to denial National Park. 
Most people using the road seemed to be hunters, i passed about 4 trucks with antlers strapped to the top and lots of people driving dune buggies with shotguns and rifles strapped to the back, all hunting moose or caribou.
When the sun shone the drive was fantastic, when it rained not so much, and having just switched from mostly offroad tyres to street tyres i struggled in parts.
Arriving at Denali the wind was howling through the valley making it feel like it should be freezing. 
You can't drive your vehicle in Denali, you have to catch a parks bus to access the park. With only one road you can't go to far wrong, the road stretches for 90(ish) miles into the park and is mostly gravel and in some part a single lane. 
Setting out on the bus at 7am the cloud was still low, however by 9 it had disappeared and the sun was shinning. The best weather i have had in Alaska. With someone else driving and explaining what happening where and why i could sit back and enjoy the scenery.
To say it was dramatic would be an understatement, the park is 6 million acres, 2 million designated as wilderness, unlike most other parks there is no human impact or intervention in the landscape or the animals, if the animals are weak they either make it or die.
Great day, but long day, 11 hours! But really lucky to have seen bears, moose, caribou, eagles, sheep and a quick glance of a wolf.

looking ahead along the Denali Highway

entering Denali park

 Mount McKinley/Denalidepends on who you talk to

grizzly bear

Dall sheep


juvenile moose