Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back to Anchorage July 31

The train ride back to Anchorage was really nice. The girls got to run around and my wife and I got to visit. We snapped few more photos of the mountains, rivers and marshlands. The only problem was at the very end of the trip a sad accident forced the train to stop about 40 minutes outside of Anchorage. The train track runs next to the Air force Base runway. A huge cargo jet missed the runway and hit the train tracks instead. All four men flying the plane were all killed in the crash. The railroad track was damaged and the plane wreckage blocked the tracks. So we were off loaded on to buses and driven to the train station.

Once off the bus, we took a taxi to the hotel. We checked into the hotel and I got the shuttle to drive me to the pay parking lot to pickup my bike. I actually caught myself smiling when I saw it in the lot. Granted, I was worried that it might have been stolen. I have to admit that it was almost like seeing a family member. This is weird I thought and the roller coaster ride continuous.

I removed the cover and hit the starter button. It was totally dead, no lights or anything. This family reunion is starting to make me feel panic. Like an uncle that burns the house down while smoking in bed or runs your car out of oil. The only thing I could think of was “This Blows”. So, I am in Alaska, in a pay parking lot with a dead battery. I spent about 5 minutes wiggling wires and turning the key on and off. This was fun but I wasn’t getting any closer to the hotel. I spotted some people about 3 blocks away. I walked over and found an old Vietnam Vet in a van. I explain my situation and was relieved to find out that he had a set of jumper cables and he would help me. So I ran back to the bike and started pushing it. Since I was in a pay parking lot, it cost me 60 bucks to get it out. Now this bike is feeling like an uncle that I just had to bail out of jail. FYI, a 1200 cc bike doesn’t push worth a damn.

I got the bike over to the guy and by now he was starting to really open up to me. He explains to me that he makes spiders. Yeah, WOW, spiders. So of course he wants to show me one of them. He produces from his silver spray painted 1980 Van a spider made from two bolts and 8 pieces of wire. I showered him with compliments on the design and craftsmanship. So of course he had to tell me his process. You know, it’s amazing to me just how interested you can act about two 5/8 nuts and eight pieces of coat hanger welded together when you really need help. Having a motorcycle is hard on me, the feelings of being betrayed, plus having to manipulate total strangers just to get back on the road.

Thank god it started right up. I was so relieved, then the thought sprang to mind that I should buy one of his spiders. Just as I was about to say something I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to strap a 10 inch spider on to my bike and drive all the way back home. This sounded too goofy even for me - I mean this thing was yard art. I might as well by gnome or a birdbath and strap it on to the bike. Suddenly, the image of the guy in the parade with the monkey suit flashed into my mind. I wondered if this was a gateway moment. Perhaps, the monkey bike rider started off normal and then sometime like this set him on the wrong path. A little voice in my head said “No this is wrong”. So I gave him 10 bucks and headed back to the hotel.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Denali July 30

Last day in Denali

We got the morning started early. We discovered that the taxi was running a little later. When we inquired about the taxi they said that the newest driver didn’t show up. I guess the Prudhoe Bay truck driver hung it up, or maybe just over slept. The goal was to get checked out and then find the Denali Sled Dog Kennels.

Denali Park is the only National Park to have an active Dog Sled team. This is a historical left over from the original rangers that created and manned this park. They used the dogs to patrol the park grounds in the winter to stop poachers from killing the Dall sheep and other park wild life. Given a choice, this stop would not have been on my list of must see. I would have probably been more interested in a boring hike that would have resulted in me getting mauled by a bear or an uptight moose. But I must say that it was really pretty cool. The ranger allowed us to walk through the kennel area and even pet some of the friendlier dogs of the team. The main building in the kennel area was actually the original dog kennel structure, which is around 85 years old. The female ranger gave a great presentation on the dog team and end it by hooking up the team to a summer wheeled sled and ran it around a small track in the kennel area. Overall the presentation was very well done.

Now it’s back to the train to go to Anchorage. My wife and daughters will be flying out on Sunday morning. I will be back on my bike tomorrow (Saturday) and headed for Haines to catch the ferry which leaves Monday evening for Bellingham WA. This will take 5 days and shave about 2000 miles off my trip. While on the ferry I will be going through: Juneau, Prince Rupert, Wrangle, and some other small ocean towns. More later!! I hope it will be a time when I can shoot some coastal wildlife photos. I became interested in doing the ferry trip down the coast while talking to a guy at the Bozeman Gas Station. He was a fellow BMW bike owner and said he had made the trip up and camped on the ferryboat on the way back. He described the communal camping environment as an awesome part of the trip. Shortly after that brief discussion my wife told me that she was going to need me back home ASAP after the vacation. Driving more than 500 miles a day can be a big drag so she came up with this as an alternative. I am sure the drive from Bellingham to Morton will be a pay back, but its all good.


It has just occurred to me that many of you may not have any idea why in the heck I am even doing this trip. Well its kind of a combination of a dream bike trip, family vacation and volunteering at a Baptist mission. It all stems from the fact that my parents are retired and spend almost every summer in Alaska. About 10 years ago they were on the island of Kodiak exploring. They were attending a Baptist Church one Sunday and met a guy by the name of Evan Jones. He was a minister that ran the Kodiak Baptist Mission. Him and my dad hit it off and Evan asked him to volunteer at the mission by teaching some classes and help working on the equipment and buildings. That was the start of the whole thing. My parents had found a new home. They came home that fall and told me all about the wonderful people and work they had done while at the mission. The mission origin is as an orphanage. The state helped to fund the operation until the they started questioning if they were forcing the orphans to pray and attend church. This was a situation that got to the point were the mission felt they weren’t able to do anything with the kids. As a result of this problem the mission closed the orphanage and stop taking the states money. They reorganized and decided to run the whole mission on donations. The people like my parents that are willing to spend there summer or work parties that come up for a couple of weeks have made the operation and growth of the mission possible.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Denali July 29

We got up early and made it to the park for the 8:30 shuttle into the interior. It's a 60-mile bus ride in. The weather was cloudy, which meant that Mount McKinley wouldn’t be visible. I knew this from a visit my wife and I made here shortly after getting married. We both remember an 8-hour rainy ride on the bus to see one wet bear. This was no honeymoon, for the bear or us.

This trip with my daughters was a MUCH better time. The weather was as good as it gets for Denali, a little sun, rain and cool wind. It’s a tough place to hang. The ride out to the main viewing area of Denali was about 90 miles. We had a good driver that pointed out all the interesting parts of the park and stopped for wildlife sightings. You’d better bring binoculars with you. The animals aren’t running along side the bus like some Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom TV show. If that’s what you're wanting, you better stay home and watch TV. Towards the end of the day it seemed a lot a like "where’s Waldo". The clouds did clear enough to get a slight view of the mountain. We hiked around the visitor center. The scale and view of the mountains was awesome. I was glad to be able to do this. I hope the girls remember something from this trip. Thinking back to 9, I highly doubt it, but a parent has to try.

The driver on the way back didn’t talk much, so the trip seemed longer. The whole family dozed off a couple of times. The scenery was just as pretty the second time but the lack of monolog reminded me of riding the detention bus. I think you get the idea. It’s a strong memory for me even now. I think I’m digressing.

The highlight of the return trip was a restroom break. No, I am not kidding. We pulled onto a side road lined with porta-potties and found a bear waiting in line. The bear was eating blue berries on a hillside right next to the toilets and walked over to the bus when we pulled up to see what was going on. We were all busy watching him and taking pictures of course, and forgot to tell the poor guy cleaning the toilet about the bear. In fact, we were all whispering so that we wouldn’t scare him off. The bear walked right on by us and headed directly in the campground across the road. The bus driver got on the CB and started trying to warn the rangers. The guy cleaning the toilets finally overhears the bus driver and boy was he pissed. I don’t know why he didn’t say anything but you could sure tell he was hot.

To wind up the day we grabbed an Alaskan jumbo hotdog. I really don’t know why they were different than a normal hotdog. They did have bear meat hotdogs - I can only imagine how tasty that was. Probably tasted like an old camper. The ride back to the cabin was with a native guy that had only been working with tourists for two weeks. His normal job was a truck driver for the Prudhoe Bay oil company. He had been driving since 1981. He had been only driving for tourist for two weeks. The oil industry had slowed down and laid him off. He said he only had one more year and he was going to retire. I asked him what the land was like up in Prudhoe Bay. He said “Boring”. No sugar coating from this guy, that's for sure.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Denali July 28

The next morning we slept in a little but we made it to the visitor center by 10:00 and checked out all the exhibits. I had hit my quota on reading wall plagues by lunch and figured I kind of had a pretty good understanding of what was going on. We had lunch and decided to go for a 4-mile hike. With 9 years olds this is about all you can shoot for. This is a “No Forced March Vacation” so we have to keep it doable.

We pick up a Discovery Backpack from the Visitor Center, which had tons of science activities for the girls to do, collecting samples and experiences in nature. I got to shoot photos so I was happy. While taking a picture of a stream I stepped under a bridge that ran across it. Looking up I discovered a hornets nest less than three feet away from me. Needless to say I didn’t spend a lot of time under the bridge after that discovery.

Once the hike was over we headed into the main Denali tourist area for a Jeep Safari. I wasn’t sure what this was going to be like but I actually thought it was pretty cool - in kind of white trash way. Each group got to drive a Jeep through the backcountry of Alaska. It was actually an old mining road call Stampede Road. Two guys in their 20s led the tour. They were from Alabama. They were both super nice guys but total jeep/off roading nerds. You know the type - flannel shirts; hiking boots and greasy hair - they really had the outdoorsy look going on. They did a really good job of getting us down the trails. Each jeep had a CB and they used it to tell us about the area as well as how the trail was changing. The water hazards were huge water holes that ranged in depth from 2 to 18 inches. No one got stuck but we did a do a lot of head bobbling .

The tour was about three and half hours total. In the middle we stopped and had a meal for beef stew and fry bread at a Kitchen Camp. The weird part of this was that the guy Christopher McCandless from the movie “Into the Wild” died in a bus less than a mile from where we were eating.

BTW This is not the reason I came to Alaska.

The ride back was cool. We ran up on a moose and got a couple of pictures.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Anchorage July 26

Back on the train
This morning we packed up and grabbed a bite of breakfast. Afterward we checked into the train station. Having a few minutes to kill I decided to take a few photos of the train. My family enjoyed greatly watching the security guards trying to stop me. When he approached me, I was all done shooting and putting my cameras away. He informed me that I wasn’t supposed to do that. I smiled and said "I figured as much, but we both got our jobs to do". He smiled back and nodded.

Once on the train my daughters fell asleep almost immediately. What's the saying? "Carpe sleepen"? The train ride from Anchorage to Denali was slow but nice. We ran along Cooks Inlet to Wasilla and through Talkeetna. The Susitna River ran along most of the route. The marsh areas here were grassy and the moose could be spotted from time to time. After Hurricane Gulch the mountain closed in around the trains. High bridges spanned the deep gulches. The closer we got to Denali the bigger and closer the mountains seemed to get. Once at the train station we caught a shuttle to the Denali River Cabins. I had very little to do with the planning of this part of the trip and was surprised to discover how nice this place was. The cabins are about the size of a normal hotel room and located right on a mountain river. No nylon ceiling or outhouse here. It was late by the time we got to the cabins so we explored a little and called it a night.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Seward July 25

So back to the trip.

The next day in Seward we decided to sleep in a little. We all got up and going at 9:00 and were checking out of the hotel by 10:00. One of the girl's small school backpacks had fallen apart. We made a quick stop at the hardware store to buy a replacement backpack. We were leaving town on the train for Anchorage at 6 pm, so luggage issues had to be resolve. We had two things to do with the time we had left in Seward. I have a distant cousin that I wanted to visit with and my daughters wanted to visit the Seward Aquatic Center. I called Carolyn and invited her to eat lunch with us. My daughters were burned out on fish so we decided to do Subway. Carolyn was a lot of fun to visit with. She had lived in Alaska since 1982. She told me she ran away from home at the age of 40. I laughed and she conveyed that after her first marriage she just needed a change of scenery. Alaska seemed like a great place, so she just headed up. Her new husband is Glenn. He is retired from the Air force. Carolyn showed us around the town and we visited about our families. She took us to a small stream near her home that had Salmon in it. The girls were excited to finally see Salmon that weren’t cooked. After a couple of hours of visiting we went our separate ways. She dropped us off at the Aquatic Center and we said our goodbyes.

The Sealife center was a nice small aquarium with jellyfish, sea lions, and puffins all exhibited. We were there about an hour when someone's kid pulled the fire alarm. I was slightly relieved for the opportunity to get out of the educational environment. They ran us all outside so the girls voted for ice cream. I am pretty sure you can buy cocaine cheaper than ice cream in Seward. (I assure you this is strictly speculation.)

We went back to the Sealife Center and finished up our tour. One of the cool things about Seward is that they offer a free school bus to get you around town. I know, fat lazy Americans, can’t you walk anywhere. No, Americans really can’t, it’s just not in their nature. The floating buffet that brought them to Alaska takes away that ability. So anyway it was nice to sit with the older well dress fat Americans on the yellow school bus as they talked about going back to the boat and watching a movie. Getting off the bus I made a note to seek out non-boat people.

While walking to the hotel to pick up my bags I spotted a group of people that appeared so road weary, they resembled extras from the movie “Clan of the Cave Bear”. As I stood there smiling I remembered an early trip to Mexico in my late twenties. My wife and I spent most of two weeks driving around and sleeping on the beach. During the flight back home a young boy sitting next to me on the plane was quietly warned not to get too close to my carry on luggage - due to the pungent nature of the odor coming from it. I was lying there half asleep listening to this concerned mothers warning and started laughing. It startled the lady and she got so embarrassed that she ended up going to a different seat. I was really happy about the way that turned out because the flight was packed and I really wanted to stretch out. Lessoned learned, being pungent and willing to laugh about it has it’s advantages. Ok enough of my stinky past. Back to the trip.

The train ride from Seward was smooth and easy. If you were interested in seeing Alaska at an easy pace I would strongly recommend the train. My daughters were able to get up and run around, much of the view from the train is totally unspoiled, and you can relax and enjoy it. Having a bathroom that you can use at any time is well worth extra the cost. The trains in Alaska have viewing decks that allow for passengers to look down on to the landscape from a second story of the train. My daughters really enjoyed the sights visible from this view. The conductor uses the P.A. system to point out interesting sites and convey this information along the trip. One of the announcements was that eagles when catching salmon can grab a one that is too big. The eagle’s craws can’t release once they are grasping the fish. Many salmon will actually dive down in the water and drown the eagle. This is the most common way that eagles are killed in Alaska. Imagine that, death by fishing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seward - July 24

The next morning we went kayaking at Fox Island. It was an hour boat ride to Fox Island. Once on the inland, a group of three guides took twelve of us out for a 4-hour kayak trip. {pic kakaking}

It was raining and in the 50s. They equipped us with life jackets, rain gear and boats. Thank god they did because it was bad out. Once all the gear was donned we headed to the beach for our instruction. The kayaks were all built for tandem paddling. The rain was coming down at a pretty steady drizzle so I left my camera in the dry bag that the outfitter provided. The scenery was beautiful and definitely the kind of stuff I wanted to shoot. However, it was getting to that point in the trip that I have seen so much cool stuff that I was a little bit less willing to put forth the effort. This, on top of the fact that I was in a boat that I felt just a little bit unstable in, made me keep me gear stowed. The water was pretty eventless. We did spot one sea otter. {pic sea otter}

After about 2 hours of paddling we reach the mouth of the Fox Island River. There were several fishing boats in the bay with us. The salmon were starting to run and the fishermen were able to catch them in the bay before they started their final journey up the river to spoon. I finally worked up the nerve to pull out my camera and click a few shots. {pic becky and leeann kakaking} I started talking to one of the guides that was hanging out with our slowpoke family. He had just graduated from college in Alabama in Finance. I asked him how he ended up floating around in a kayak instead running around an office wearing a suit. He told me that he had been a whitewater rafting guide during college in the summers and decided do this before he had any one to worry about. I told him “Right On”. This is a cheesy saying that keeps randomly popping up. It seems to confuse him as much as it did me. This is definitely a tale tell sign that I am becoming an old fart. I am ok with that.

After humiliating myself I decided that I was getting hungry. (This is an automatic response of old fart when they are humiliated.) On the trip back we saw young bald eagles at were nesting. Seeing an eagle isn’t a big deal, the weird thing was that they were soaked. {pic eagle} In Illinois, I never have seen an eagle in the rain. Usually the eagles come to the river in high number to find open water to fish in during the winter. Not a lot of rain in the winter. At the end of the trip we were served a nice meal of prime rib and salmon. A park ranger did a presentation on the history of the park. The boat that had brought us out also carried sightseeing groups. The dining room was packed with older well-dressed couples. I spent a lot of time listening to my daughter chatter back and forth at each other and thinking about being an old fart on a bus. {pic becky and leeann} Spending my golden years staring out the tinted glass wondering about the things I was seeing and just making up some crap. I am pretty sure I’m more at home on a motorcycle with a flat tire, and a quarter tank of gas in the ass of nowhere. I think the trade off for security and comfort is the powerful memories of my misadventures that I love so much. I am sure you have noticed that since the more structured part of this trip started, my record of daily events has become less interesting. I am looking forward to my bike trip back home now. {pic familty photo}

Of course, I love spending time with my family but requirement of having to figure out safe places to pitch my tent and finding food makes the traveling process a lot more engaging and yes exciting. It seems silly to feel to better at the end of a poorly planned trip than a well plan one. I guess this is the result of sleeping my way through too many vacations. Traveling is not easy as a group I know, but sitting in the backseat of a car all day is just a rolling nap for me. The luxury of making ad hoc travel plans removes the stress of making it to your reservation but it is replaced with the concern of “where the hell am I going to sleep tonight.“ Having spent my share of time or airport and train station floors this is a pretty light cross to bear for me. It forces you to be more out going and resourceful. When you run into a group of long distance travelers if you listen to their stories you will notice a tone of pride not that they had been to a city or continent but that they problem solved the trip. The conflicts are what defines the adventures for me.

As an example of this, I have without a doubt told the story countless times of being woken up on the beach by Mexican police. Another example I remember is when my wife and I were in Romania and met a couple of British guys that had been traveling for a solid year. This was an impressive feat, but the coolest part was that they had financed the trip by working in a South New Zealand diamond mine. The money they made was all saved and they were traveling on just the interest. These guys were hardcore and totally in the moment of what they were doing. I remember realizing that anyone could save or borrow the money to go pretty much anywhere when they were old and feeble. It takes someone with real guts to walk away from the table for a full year or more. I know that to some of you it sounds pretty exciting but it takes a lot of drive to just keep going. I met a guy on the river that was kayaking all the rivers in the lower 48 states to raise awareness about MS. When I met him he was headed to Chicago through lake Michigan up the Fox River and then down the Mississippi. Yeah, totally freaking crazy. He had been on this journey for two and a half years and figured it would take him another 2 to 3 years to finish his journey. If you are interested his journey ended in Chicago after having all of his equipment flooded with Chicago sewage. I believe that could be a manifestation of the old saying “Pissing on your parade”. He did make it into the Guinnus book of world records as the longest solo kayaker. Two and a half years of just kayaking is definitely crazy but it has given him a true glimpse of how wonderful life should be.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homer July 23

At 5:00 am I woke up and stared out the window as the sun came up. The ocean was so pretty in the morning. We pulled in the Homer port and had to pack up all of our stuff. We got off the boat and got a taxi to take us to a restaurant to get something to eat. The restaurant was called Sourdough Express. {pic sitting in front of Sourdough} This was a hip whole food place that was very proud of their organic potatoes. The food was filling but a little bland. Sorry folks, I like my coke with caffeine too. We had 2 hours to kill before we could pick up the rental car, so it made a good place to wake up. The car rental place was about a half a mile from the restaurant. We hiked over to pick up the car. Once in the car we looked around town and the girl fall to sleep. We figured that we would just head out to Seward and let the girls sleep.

It was 150 miles to Seward and this road was really cool. It twisted it's way through the mountains. The fishing season is on, so every stream was packed with fisherman. About halfway to Seward, we came up on a stream and saw a group of fisherman on one side of a stream. Then we noticed that there was a grizzly on the other side of the stream. Of course, we stopped to see the bear. We all decided that the bear was the one everyone should be watching. The weather was cloudy and rainy all day. We stopped at Exit Glacier before we got to Seward. {pic Glacier shot of the family} The hike was about .5 miles and was greatly needed after the drive. The girls were very interested in the Glacier and we walked down from the face to the glacier stream. {pic Glacier shot of the family}

The rain was starting to soak in so we decided head to the hotel in Seward. After checking into the hotel we ran out to find some thing to eat. We found a Pizza and Gyro place called Leonardo’s. The girls wanted to go swimming in the hotel pool. I wanted to relax in the room for a few minutes so I let them go ahead. Once I finished watching a little TV I found my trunks and headed down. Rebecca was sitting poolside talking to an older gentleman named Gary. He was a rancher from North West Florida. His family also ran a construction company. He was very interested in our time in Kodiak working at the mission. He had been coming up to Alaska for 30 years and had never been to Kodiak. He said he said his familly's company might be interested in doing some work for the mission. I gave him my contact information. We called it a night and slept hard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kodiak day six

Today weather was rainy, so spent the day visiting museums in Kodiak. The first stop was the Kodiak Ocean Center. The touch tanks were a blast for the girls. I found myself wishing I was tough enough to dive in the waters. With a temp of 4, that is just not going to happen.

The next museum why a Kodiak Cultural Center. This was a record of the native people Kodiak. It was really an interesting presentation of the past culture's behaviors. These were some tough people.

Tomorrow we pack up and head out for the second leg of our adventure.

Kodiak July 22

This is our final day the island. My wife and the girls went to the coffee shop after chapel. The head of the mission, Trevor, asked all of the worker party to stay after the chapel. He thanked us all for our time and explained that the mission couldn’t keep its doors open if it wasn’t for people like us. I told him that I wanted to thank him for allowing my family and I to be able to join in on the experience. He smiled and said that they had heard a lot about us and were curious to meet us. I thought this was a strange thing to say. Then he explained that my parents have been with the mission for quite a while. For people to come once is good, but to return a second time is a different level of commitment. Then he explained to the rest of the group that my parents have come a total nine times. They truly feel that my parents are part of their family. This was a very touching experience. I was totally surprised by the level of appreciation that the people at the mission have for my parents. Without a doubt this is where my parents belong. Many people my their ages are dead or worse. They are still alive but don’t have a purpose to be. A life without purpose is small talk while waiting to die. The best year of my parent’s life is the next year they are alive.


At 7:00 pm we were dropped off by my parents at the boat harbor to start the second part of our Alaskan vacation. We were taking an overnight cruise from Kodiak to Homer. This was our first family cruise. {pic Kodiak ship} We went to the ticket check in in the parking lot and discovered that we had to redeem our Internet tickets at the main office for the real tickets. The main office was about a 1 miles away. In a panic, we turned towards the road and started walking with all of our luggage. At that exact minute someone started yelling my name. I turned to find a guy by the name of Emo and his wife. We had met Emo and his wife at church earlier in the week and talked about my motorcycle trip. Thinking I had brought my bike over, he was wondering about where it was. They were dropping off a fiend from church at the boat harbor. I explained our situation and he said he would run us to the main terminal to get the tickets straightened out. Within 15 minutes we were on the boat and looking for our cabin.

The cabin was really nice. We each had our own bed and a private bathroom. After dumping our gear we went out exploring the boat. The boat had a theatre playing the animated movie “Planet 51”. We wanted to explore the boat but we figured that it was going to be light until 12:00 so we might as well enjoy the free movie. After the movie we discovered that we were still in port. We finished looking around and went back to the room. We were all tired so I went to the cafeteria and grabbed a couple of bags of popcorn. I fired up one of the laptops to watch one of the girl’s favorite shows, “Dr. Who”. The boat pulled out of the harbor and we stared at the continuous chain of islands that appeared and disappeared on the horizon. {pic Kodiak boat window view} My daughter spent the end of the evening reading. At midnight we decided to call it a night.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kodiak July 21

Chapel this morning for me was very clear and focused. I had slept well and arose in time to grab a shower. The duties of the day were very close to the day before.

Early in the day I met Anthony, whose job is running the shop and doing maintenance at the mission. {pic Anthony} My dad and him work very closely together most of the time. Anthony is Russian Orthodox and has the traditional beard and long hair. The mission works closely with the Russian Orthodox Church that Anthony belongs to.

I learned that he had been fishing for the last five weeks in Bristol Bay and my father had been covering for him. Fishing in Alaska is big business. The permits in Alaska are controlled by the Department of Fish and Game. They determine when and how much fishing can be done. Anthony bought a boat and permit this year and tried his hand at commercial fishing for the first time. {pic Anthony boat} During the course of the conversation I learned that the permit alone was $11,000.00 and the boat was $60,000. That’s a very large gamble for a man with a wife and three children with no commercial fishing experience. He had some awesome stories of his adventures during the salmon run. The Department of Fish and Game gives times to start fishing and when to stop. Fines start at $5000 for any violation. Anthony, being a green horn, accidentally mixed up the times to start fishing and they started two hours early one day. That's a big mistake, so he call the officials and told them what he had done. They couldn’t believe he was calling them and confessing. They told him to keep track of how many pounds of fish they pulled in, sell it and give the money to a charity. He told us he was so relieved that was the only punishment. The game wardens had been very strict but kind to them. From the details of the story you could tell that he was very stressed during the six weeks on the boat. In fact, he said that while on the boat he couldn’t sleep very well because he kept waking up thinking that the boat was drifting. He laughed and said he was still trying to wind down. The last three nights he had been waking up at home thinking that his house was adrift. I could totally relate to the disorientated sleep fear. It's weird how the mind works when programmed with a new experience. Your mind seems to release that experience gradually. I have spent several mornings during this trip staring up at the nylon ceiling of my tent wondering if I was dreaming, where I was, and once all that was riddled out I would finish by wondering exactly how many more days until I would see my family. It’s a lot cooler than it sounds. I grew more comfortable with the experience than I did the cold. Returning to work, I fear will be a welcome change with some remorse. My life is very blessed and very comfortable, however, I miss the undefined challenges of my youth that took me to Mayan temples in Mexico, rainforests and reefs in Belize and train ride across Eastern Europe. While visiting with Anthony I can see that the adventure is not truly measured in miles but in the challenges of the experience and the satisfaction of its navigation. I look forward to finding some local boundaries to push.

Ok, back to my day at the mission. My phone rang at about 10:00. It was my daughters - they were at the missions horse stable. I left Anthony and my dad visiting to shoot photos of the girls working with and riding the horses. {pic horse} They loved being around the horses almost as much as I enjoyed taking their photos. I’m pretty sure this horse thing is going to cost me a lot of money no matter how it works out. Just before 11:00 I ran back up the hill to find my dad and get back to work. The guys siding the house needed more lumber. So we trimmed a dozen and a half boards down to the right width. There were now 4 guys working on the house siding . {pic sliding a house} There original two had completed by noon over half the house. The two other guys had been running around trying to rent a powernailer. If they were lucky they would be able to maybe complete a quarter of the house by the end of the day. The two gentleman with hammers would have done three quarters of the house. Kind of funny but no one seems to care as long as the work gets done. Thats what I think is cool. The point is, it's just about working towards a goal, not the details.

After lunch we headed to the top of the mountain over looking Kodiak. What a great vista of the coastline. {pic coast of kodiak} We then headed over to look around the Coast Guard base. It's a very modern and well-equipped. We ate supper there and then headed back toward town. We stopped on the way home to look at a stream to see if the salmon were running. {pic coast of stream} Unfortunately, they weren’t running when we got there.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kodiak- July 20

This morning I remembered that there are some that feel this blog needs to be more facts and fewer adjectives. {pic evan}
So along that line - it's foggy this morning, temperature is 53 degrees, no wind and the humidity is about 80 percent.

I hope this has satisfied those of you who enjoy watching the weather channel. Just so you know, almost every summer day in Kodiak is like this. Oh yeah, most days its raining, sorry. So now that I have informed you about the Kodiak weather patterns, life is complete.

Today, we got up and going a little earlier. My daughters have the same zeal for the morning that I do. None! After waking them up, we are headed to morning chapel. My wife is off to the study for physics boards again, {pic becky studying} My daughters are helping with preschool and I will be waiting for instructions on todays project: maybe sawing lumber, or maybe, something else.

Chapel was the first order of the day. Not being a real morning person as I have mentioned several times now, I find myself losing track of time and hoping that God doesn’t mind my church time stupor. I do enjoy the religious discussion, but the New Testament topics are a little adult focused. This can lead to many questions about word definitions from my daughters like: deceit, whores and prostitution. Well I guess that least we have open communication in our home and a good command of the English language. Lets all pray for the wisdom on when to use it.

After Chapel my daughters went with my mom, my wife went off to study, and dad and I tried to keep all the work parties busy. We spent some time in the Kodiak harbor helping a guy troubleshoot electrical problems on one of the mission’s small boats. I wandered around and shot a few photos of the boats in the harbor. {pic boats} After that we ran the sawmill and helped a couple of guy siding a new building on the mission property. The two guys on this project were from New York State. {pic work party} I visited with them a little while and finish getting tools and lumber ready for the rest of the days work. What a couple of great guys, super friendly and outgoing. Most construction projects I have been around are 90% debate over how to do it and 10 % work, which only 25% of the crew do. You could tell that they really enjoyed working and this trip to the mission was the prefect vacation for them. I truly hope when I am retired, I am as alive as these two. One of these guys was in his middle seventies and was able to keep up with any worker on the property, including me.

The day pass quickly and soon it was lunchtime. Meals are served in a communal style that is a real blast. {pic meals} The food is soup and sandwiches usually, and the discussion is very lively. After lunch we all took off and explored Chineack on the east side of the island. It was a beautiful ocean side area of Kodiak Island that was used by the military during WWII for observation. {pic coast line} Many of the cement pillboxes and storage areas are still there. {pic pill box} The forty-mile drive to this part of the island took over 2 hours. Once out of the truck we hiked a trail out to the beach. The day was cool but clear. {pic beach} We all explored the tide pools and then moved on to the peak of the trail to one of the bunker used as a military observatory. Everyone went back to the trail but I decided to walk the beach to take a few ocean / landscape photos. {pic beach}

I really do enjoy my time behind the camera. I used my favorite wide-angle lens and tripod for some HDR photos. They are time consuming but its always feels like Christmas when I process them. The new CS5 Photoshop does a pretty good job of combining the 3 or more bracketed photos into a single photo. I know, enough blathering about nerd stuff.

After this hike to the bunkers we headed to Fossil Beach. On the way we drove past a large herd of buffalo. The girls shot a few photos of these huge furry beasts. {pic buffalo} I was glad they weren’t in the road. Fossil Beach was another beautiful beach area, but very windy. The bank along the beach is caving off and the fossil shells are exposed. {pic fossil beach} The girls dug out so shells while I shot photos. We were all getting tired, so after about 45 minutes we were back on the road. We were all exhausted from the day of exploring.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kodiak

July 18
Sunday we got up and went to Kodiak Baptist Church at 11:00 am. After that we were introduced to several people that my parents had been friends with over the years. Then we went to Larson Bay looking for bears. It was a thirty-mile ride on rough roads. No bears, but we got to see some beautiful mountains and coastline. {pic mountains & coast}


July 19
Monday started with Chapel at 8:00 am. Our alarm didn’t go off until 7:00 am so we were cutting it a little close. Chapel was nice. They read from the bible and prayed for friends, family and the work at hand. {pic @ chapel} After Chapel ended, my daughters and mom helped at preschool and went to a puppet show. My wife is studying for her radiology physics board exam. It's kind of a like a working vacation for her. My dad and I helped get the work parties started and ran the sawmill. One of the projects was to finish siding a house. {pic work party at house} They needed some trim boards to go around the windows. So my dad used the sawmill to cut the 1.5 x 2 inch boards needed to finish trimming out the windows. {pic sawmill} I spent most of the morning cutting scrap wood strips from the sawmill into firewood. We stopped for lunch at 12:00. After lunch dad and I went to find my daughters, mom and wife down a long the beach below the mission. They were all having a blast exploring the tide pools. They found sea glass, cool rocks and hermit crabs. Once we were done looking around at the beach we headed to the marina for a boat ride. {pic marina} The first stop was to see the sea lions. Two of them were posing on the dock and one was swimming around. They were huge and appeared to be a little scarred up from run ins with boat props. {pic seals} Once we had all stared at each other enough, we headed over to Woody Island. {pic boat ride} This place was beautiful.

The mission has a camp on the island that is also used for bible camps. The best part of the island is the woods. {pic woody island tree} The trees and ground are covered in a thick, 6 inch carpet of moss. The tall spruce trees and moss make the wood almost seem like an enchanted forest from a children’s fairy tale. {pic moss} I could have spent all day shooting pictures. After a tour of the camp we hiked up into the woods to an outdoor chapel. {pic chapel} It was some of the prettiest landscape I have seen on my trip. My brother was lucky enough to have spent a full week on this island in one of the cabins. {pic woody island cabin} We relaxed and visited for an hour at the chapel and then headed back to the boat. The fog was rolling in and we didn’t want to be caught out in the water in that. {pic woody island dock} So once we got to the main land, docked the boat, and went to get some fish and chips for supper. During our meal it started raining and has continued the rest of the day. It is now 10:30 and time to call it a night.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kodiak

This post is a three for one. I wasn’t able to jot down any thoughts for my first day in Kodiak due to just being so tired. So Saturday, after a great night's sleep we left the hotel in Anchorage and headed to the Airport. {pic standing in front of the plane} Our flight was supposed to leave a 9:55 am. We went to the airport at 8:00, checked in and waited. The flight was cancelled at 10:10 due to fog. The next flight out wasn’t until 7:45 pm. So we scrambled to find some way of getting out of the airport and exploring Anchorage. We first decided to get rid of our luggage. In hindsight that was a mistake. After spending fifty dollars to store our 7 bags we found out the city bus only ran once an hour. It was 12:05. So we decided that renting a car would be the best option. If we had done this starting out we could have stored our luggage in the car and put the 50 dollars towards the car rental. Oh well, live and learn. So we were off to explore Anchorage.

Anchorage is a town of 300,000 people. That being said, I must say that it does seem to be evolving. Neighborhoods, fast food, gas station and commercial businesses can all be in the same block. Route 1 is a 4-lane highway that runs into Anchorage from the east and just turns into a city street all of a sudden. We went to grab a bite to eat and then when to Thunderbird Falls Park. This is a beautiful lake in the mountains just outside of Anchorage. {pic Thunderbird Fall Park mountain} The park was packed and after a couple of hours of hiking and shooting photos it was time to head back to the Airport. The plane was packed. After a one-hour flight we were finally in Kodiak.

My parents met us at the Airport and took us to the Kodiak Baptist Mission. {pic in front of the plane} The mission is a very old part of Kodiak that was a key part of the development of the current town. Now it works with the children of Kodiak, providing after school programs and summer bible school programs. A small group of people runs the mission with the help of guidance counselors, volunteers and work parties that come from all over the US. My parents are part of the volunteers at the mission. My mom helps with office work and children programs. My dad helps with organizing the maintenance and work parties that come to the mission. Both of my parents love the people and the work they do at the mission. At the age of 79 my dad seems to be really enjoying his life. So many people my parent’s age seem to feel unneeded. This couldn’t be further from the truth with my parent’s time at the mission. {pic my parents } They both are very needed and respected for their work. I could continue telling you about their relationship with the mission, however, that would truly be a blog of its own. If you are curious about their adventures please direct those questions to: normanbaggett@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day Nineteen in Anchorage

This was an interesting but long day. Started with sound of heavy rain hitting the nylon of my tent. It’s a pleasant sound however I knew that it was going to make packing up a real drag. Wet equipment is always a bummer. So I wadded up the tent and tried to sort the things that I would need for the side trip with my family to Kodiak and Denali. Squeezing all the camping gear into the saddlebags felt like some kind of greased pig contest at a state fair. It was only 9:00 am when I got done, so I had to figure out a way to kill several hours until I could check into my hotel and ultimately be reunited with my family. Killing time in Alaska might seem strange - after all, it is so beautiful and scenic there - yeah, and wet. No tent meant no shelter. FYI -Driving a motorcycle in the rain is crap that Billy Joel puts in his songs to sound crazy. Let me tell you, it’s not crazy - it sucks. So having removed driving around from my list, I could only think of one other thing to do. Go to McDonalds. How could 18 million retired old men be wrong? It is clean, warm and... has Internet access. So drove my transient butt back into Palmer and started working on my blog.

The old-timers were there and greeted me with brownies. These guys were smart! They even brought their own food! I asked them about it and one of the guys said he had to watch his weight. Everyone laughed except the manager. She was kind of speechless. So the rain came down, and I blogged away until finally it was 3:00 pm. Time to check into my hotel. Hurry, the sun was out! I buzzed into Anchorage, found the hotel and grabbed a nap. At 930 I headed over to the airport and waited for my family. I parked my bike in long term parking and put the cover on it. Walking away from it, I hoped it would be ok while I was vacationing. I thought about Jeff and Whitehorse and smiled. Just like him, if sometime happens to the bike I guess I’ll go shopping for a new one.

As I sat and waited for my family to appear, I realized how different things were. The routines of family life had been replaced with travel, camping, new friends and solitude of traveling alone. Having overcome the concerns I had about being lonely, safe, and even being bored has been a real milestone in my trip.

My family appeared and the comfortable feeling of their company returned. It was nice to hear everyone talking at once. Susan even started cried a little. The girls had changed. They seem at least a couple of inches taller, and tan. During this trip I have grown a beard. This was funny to see them staring at me. I sensed that they knew I had changed some too. The time away had helped me be a little more at ease. The last few years have been demanding on everyone in our family and my battery had been low for a while. Tonight, I found myself thinking about all the things that I usually think about, but haven’t had to. Things like: mowing the lawn, working on the cars, dishes, fixing the house, laundry and cooking. These things had all just slipped away and were replaced with hiking, exploring, setting up the tent, how to pack all my stuff on a motorcycle and visiting with new people. This summer trip has been pretty selfish. I realized I could be doing other things but I feel like this crazy idea of a trip kind of found me. Wow, now that really does sound like I am having a mid-life crisis. Regardless, what ever it is, I am pleased with the experience of doing this trip. Writing about it has also been rewarding. I know it's probably hard to read some of this stuff but I have enjoyed reflecting on some of the moments of each day and just how brilliant some moments are. I mean we all have cool stuff happen, but we just don’t have the time to see it usually. I overlook the interesting and extraordinary daily, if not hourly. I see now that this trip was just as much about the periods that were void of stimulus as the one that have overwhelmed. I always liked the saying “Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.” I have missed a lot of my life focused only on the plans.

I am glad to be back with my family. It feels good to be in the moment with them not just near them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day Eighteen in Palmer at the Camper Ground

This morning my alarm when off at 6:00. I was still pretty tired so I decided to sleep in. The owner was parking his boat down close to my tent and was having a few problems with the soft ground. I decided to get up and get the day started after the parking lot issues. My laundry and my blog were the business of the day. Once I was up I remembered I need to change the oil in my bike. The fairling came off quickly. I started the bike and let it run while I grabbed my clean and dirty clothes. Turning the bike off and pulling the oil plug out, I head off to the showers, letting the bike drain. After the showers I got my laundry started and went back to the bike. Reassembling the bike I filled it up with oil. I got my hands scrubbed up and started folding my laundry. By twelve o'clock my chores were all wrapped up. I ran into town and grabbed lunch. The owner of the campground needed help with her website so after lunch I headed back to camp. The rest of the day I goofed around with Dreamweaver CS5. After about 3 hours we had the software installed and the updates made and uploaded. It was raining all day so I worked on my blog the rest of the day and relaxed. I wished I could ride or shoot some photos, but it just wasn't in the cards.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day Seventeen in Palmer at the Camper Ground

The usually packing and loading was the order of business. I had actually been able to sleep in for a change so I was late for breakfast but early for lunch. If you are passing through Palmer the Valley Café in open 24/7 and the food in good and decent priced. The girl at the front desk told me that there was tent camping place just down the road called Fox Trail. It’s was about 10 miles outside of town and cost 18 dollars a night. That the cheapest campground price I have paid sense I started the trip. I picked out a spot down by the lake and setup camp. No one was around so I decided to find out about getting my bike tires mounted and balanced. My Dad drove his truck up and before he left I threw a new set of tire in the back. Once in Anchorage he left them at a friends house. So I dialed in the BMW Motorcycle shop in Anchorage into my GPS and headed out. Anchorage is a city and the size of the Quad-cities. Once I got to the shop I was quoted a price of 100 dollars a wheel to change the tires and 70 dollars a for storage. I told them I would call them back and make sure that I was going to be able to get the tires. My dad was having a hard time getting a hold of the guys with the tires last time I talked to him about it. After that I stopped at Walmart to pick up a couple of things. I wandered over to the automotive section and picked up a gallon of oil for 21.00. Yeah, I’m a cheap bastard. I was going to change the oil once I got home but I figured I had a little down time and the bike has over 6000 miles on current oil change. A litter box was the only other thing I need to do the job. Total expenditure was 24.00. Oil changes are usually about 120.00 buck. That’s the price without the neck massage. Once I got all my stuff on the bike I was ready to find some supper. The Valley Café was so good I figured I would hit it again. Falter eating I decided to go for a ride around town. Palmer is a nice clean little town but it pretties much a 15-minute tour and you’re through. So I headed out of town towards the east into the mountains on the Palmer outer loop. This was a awesome ride. A huge shallow stream on one side and a mountains on the other. The about halfway around the loop I saw a ground on people fishing at a boat landing. So I figured I would stop in and see what was biting. There was about 30 people all just hanging out and fishing I didn’t see any fish that had been caught so I figured I would explore the bank line. I found a bridge that went over to a small island. I figured I could take photos of the people fishing easier. As I was walking up the trail I noticed several cars that had been dumped in the river. Junk to one man is a gold mine to another. No and am not going to take the cars. I wanted to take pictures of them. Thinking about those two statement I not sure, which sounds weirder. Well, anyway I had blast shoot these old rusty junkers half buried in the riverbank with plants and trees growing out of them. The great thing about Alaska is that the sun is never directly over your head. So it makes it easy to get shadows and reflection in your pictures. The other great thing is that the days are so damned long you have plenty of time.









 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I decided to head for the tent and call it a night. On the way to town I show a cool old bridge so I spent a hour wandering around it. It was about 9:30 when I got back to camp and I figured I would check my email. I discovered that I was locked out. I was running low on power so I plugged into the plug-in next to the washer and dryer. I jumped up of the dryer and started trying to remember the day’s events. The own and her son pulled up and stared at me. I guess this did look pretty hillbilly. I smiled and asked it I could get the password to the Internet. She acted a little confused and then she remembered I was tent camping. She apologized and invited me into the office to have a seat. Once inside the boy said” What kind of person sits on a drier in a camp ground to use a computer. I laughed and said one the needs power. My response still didn’t seem to make sense until his mom said “he the motorcycler in the camping area. The boy them said “Oh”! He had foot surgery for an abscess and was focused on trying to change the bandages as well as quibble with his mom. The son and her were curious about me. She offered me a glass of wine and said so what is it you do? After I told her I was a teacher in Graphic Arts she told me she had taken a bunch of courses in Desktop Publishing. She was having problems getting her website finished in Dreamweaver. I told her I would be glad to give her a hand if she needed. Realizing, I wasn't going to get any blogging done I found out that her and her family were from Lexington Kentucky. Her husband was a musician and they ran recording studio before coming up to Alaska. She had taken classes in Desktop Publishing to develop brochures, CD covers, posters, and fliers. It was a familiar story that sounded a lot like my own. At about 11:00 I decided I was to tired to think and need to head to bed. Great day of exploring, photography and visiting. I am sure this sounds like an odd vacation but I kind of think of it as practice for retirement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day Sixteen to Palmer




Today I awoke in Tok. The mini blinds allow more than enough light into the room to wake me up at 5:00 am. By 6:00 am had finished flopping around on the bed pretending to sleep. So I got up and started packing, I somehow feel that not being able to sleep makes me feel old. Somehow the light is forcing me to be less carefree and that pisses me off. I am pissed off like an adult that has to go to work and realizes that all the joy in his life is years behind him. Ok, RANTING, I know. Sometime this stream of thought blathering really sheds light on a bunch of crap I really sure know ones interested in. So back to the story.

As with everyday, I packed up and jumped on the bike. The weather was perfect as I headed out of town. In about two hours that all changed. The mountains are rain magnets. The temperature dropped 25 degree and the rain steady. My speed of travel slowed way down. I realize that animals don’t care if it’s raining so I needed to allow more time to brake. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere I saw a moose running across that road. At first I thought it was Bigfoot. Unfortunately, it was only a scared moose. I stopped and stared at the mouse and really wished it could have been Bigfoot. God that would be cool. I think the moose sensed my disappointment and secretly wished it was Bigfoot also or maybe I’m projecting. So after a moment, the moose that wished it was Bigfoot and I headed our separate ways. It was at that point that the cold was definitely starting to mess with my brain. It was time to stop and get a four dollar cup of coffee. I was really tired of driving and I still had 200 miles to go. So I drank 3 cups of coffee and had a piece of Banana Cream pie. All for the low low price of 14.00 including tip.

On my way back out to the bike I noticed a weird vehicle on a trailer. Looking for any reason not to get back on the bike I grabbed the camera and went to take a look at it. I really couldn’t figure out exactly what it was but I definely looked like it would be fun to drive. Maybe its like a school bus for lumber jack kids. Maybe not, but sure looks cool. If I could drive that and see Bigfoot I could die a happy man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also saw this doghouse.

The snow gets so deep they have to build it up high. That what's so cool about Alaska, every where I look I see something that looks like one of my ate up projects. These people aren’t worry about what the neighbors think or if its up to code. Hell, they're just trying to stay alive. So back on the road. I turned my seat warmer and grip heaters on high. The road to Anchorage you might think would be a straight 4 lane, but it isn’t. It's actually a pretty fun, twisty road for the last 100 miles. After 300 miles I had lost my mojo for the road. The rain had stopped and the temperature was up in the 60s. I stopped at McDonald's and found a cheap Hotel on the internet for the night. I checked in, called home and went to bed. Anchorage was only 50 miles away

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day Fifteen to Tok

Morning was early as usually when you're tent camping. I wandered over to the rest rooms washed my face and brushed my teeth.

The Robert Stevens campsite in Tok is not a fancy place, but it is pretty. Unlike many campsites that are no more than a bulldozed gravel parking lot or a stump field, the Robert Stevens site had left half the trees untouched and made sandboxes for the tents to pitch on. The best part of the camp was the location. It is just outside of downtown. A short walk and you can do your shopping, eat or do laundry. For many vehicle-less hikers, this is a God-send. For me, it was just nice to walk and explore. Behind the campground is a glacier-fed stream and a small island. The town has spent a ton of money to place a bridge over to the island, so that visitors can go explore. (Bridge to nowhere) The signage points out that the island has plant life (berries and flowers) that was planted by the original setters. Fascinating!! Ok, enough about all that.

For those of you who are wondering why in the hell I am doing this trip if I’m not interested in all the minutia of a town’s history: I am doing this trip to enjoy the process of travel. New places and people are really relaxing and enjoyable to me. The history of Alaska and its people is interesting but I know really don’t want to spend all my waking hours focused on the deeds of dead people. So once again back to the story.

After getting woke up, I started tearing down the camp and packing. Ken was still crashed out and I didn’t want to wake him up so I drug all my stuff over to a neighboring empty site and started the folding and stuffing process. After about a half an hour, I was all packed up. Ken climbed out of his tent and couldn’t believe I was all packed up. Today we were headed off in different directions. Ken was getting new tires for his bike and then heading straight north to Inuvik to meet some friends. I was heading on to Tok, Alaska. This is the last stop before Anchorage. Today's trip is about 400 miles total. We said our good-byes and I was off. As I was heading out of town I stopped at Walmart to get a couple of things. In the parking lot I saw two fellow bikers that I had talked to a couple of times earlier in the trip. I parked my bike and walked over to say hi. Joe and Larry were couple of really nice blacks guy from Louisiana on a pair of Goldwings with trailers. They weren’t in as good a mood as they had been in our previous meeting. They were headed up the Haines Hwy and Joe had hit a big patch of loose gravel and dropped his bike. It had broke the mirrors and driving lights off. The rest of the damage was scratched up paint and chrome parts. He was still able to drive the bike, however, he said it was totaled. His bike was a 2000 with 190,000 miles on it. The cost of replacing the broken parts was more then the value of the bike. He was pretty upset but said “I guess it's time for a new one.” I laughed and said well if you had never come to Alaska this wouldn't of happened, but then again you would still be at home and not in Alaska. He agreed and laughed.

Once I got my supplies and gassed up I figured out the challenge of today was to stay warm. I drove about a hour and the weather was really starting to hurt. The over cast sky had dropped the temperature down into the 40s and it was raining lightly. I pulled over to warm up and get gas at Haines Junction. I had all my heavy gear on and I still was loosing heat. Pushing on I stopped after an hour somewhere outside of Destruction Bay to use the restroom at a rest stop and realized that my heated seat wasn’t working. I have to off load all my gear to get to the fuses. While I was looking for the fuses, an older couple pulled up in a Toyota Prius to use the bathroom. I said hi and asked about how their trip was going. They were migrants from Iran and lived in Michigan. They were traveling to Fairbanks. The lady disappeared for a minute and then handed me a hot cup of tea. I was so thankful and surprised. We were 200 miles from nowhere and the rain was starting to sink in. I tracked down the fuse and reloaded the bike while we were talking. The lady was now handing me pretzels to eat. I smiled and thanked her again. We said good-bye and I started my bike. I stood there with my hand on the seat while the bike iding to check if the seat was going to work now. (BTW – When your butt gets cold on a bike your cold all over. Heated seat and hand grips rock.) I was so happy to feel the seat warming my hand that I didn’t realize that couple had pulled there car up behind me. The lady was wanting to give me some granola bars. I smiled and laughed, thanking her again. She said “I can’t help it you remind me of our son.” It sure is funny just how nice people can be to each other out in the ass of nowhere. I sure wish it was that way everywhere.

Back on the road, I was starting to warm up and make time again. Now that I wasn’t freezing my butt off (literally) I was able to enjoy the just how beautiful the scenery was The area around Destruction Bay is barren scrub ground with huge mountains that feed lakes and marshes. The cloud ceiling was kind of low making the mountains even cooler looking. I stopped again to top off my tank and got a bowl of hot soup in Destruction Bay. This was the last stop for 120 miles. As I headed out of town I saw a sign that said "rough roads to border". They weren’t kidding. The frost heaves have made the road a wreck. The wild part was that a lot of the heaves ran down the road. This creates a really wild bike ride, to say the least. I dropped down to 45 mph and start finding the challenge of the road a welcome change to the smooth and freezing roads earlier. A group of Germans rolled up on me about half way to the border doing 65 mph. After they passed I fell in behind them. I watched to see which one was bouncing the least and tracked them. The heaves were so bad that the kickstand would drag and throw sparks when you bottomed out.

We all pulled over at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign to shoot pictures. They were going all the way to Prudhoe Bay. They were are crazy as hell. I left them behind as they heated up a cup of tea and headed to the border crossing. Thankfully, I got right through. The last hundred miles to Tok had some road construction, but the good thing was that the sun was out and it was in the 70s. The roads were a little broken up here and there with a little patches of loose gravel to boot. A gas truck was now following me and he was in a hurry. I was running 70 on the good spots and he was right on my butt. I would shake him on the hills but he would catch up to me really quickly. I want to keep in front of him because the rock and dust those trucks kick up is horrible. Needless to say I got to Tok in about an hour and a half.

The town was packed and I was really tired. After the cold and rain I wanted a shower and a bed for the night. The first two hotela were sold out, but I got in at the Tok Hotel on the edge of town. It was 85 dollars a night, with no internet, but I wasn’t interested in the blog after that drive anyway. The room was nice and clean I unloaded the bike and called Becky to say hi and that I was safe. After 15 minutes of TV I decided to just go to bed and shower in the morning.

I had a great nights sleep and the weather is perfect. Today, I plan to do the last 355 miles to Anchorage or at least get somewhere outside of it. It is the 13th of July so I have a couple of days to burn before my family flies in. I do need to find out about getting my tires mounted. One of the guys that I met in Fort Nelson was from Anchorage and gave me a number for a guy that might be able to point me in a good direction. I already have tires for my bike sitting in Anchorage, I just need them mounted. The BMW dealer in Anchorage didn’t seem too interested in the idea of installing tires that he didn’t sell me. I guess there is not enough profit in labor for him. I figured I would go and talk to him, but I am not expecting a warm welcome. Well I have spent enough time talking about the past I better pack up and see what the day has to offer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day Fourteen - Another day in Whitehorse

I was ahead of schedule and decided to spend another day in Whitehorse. Ken dragged me to a Tim Hortin's to get a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Next we headed over to do laundry. While the laundry was going we stepped out to find a Walmart and pick up some stuff. With all the chords done we watch a little bit of the World cup. These folks like their soccer. One of the other campers in our area is a German named Jon. He had been working in Desktop Publishing in Germany and decided he needed a change. Here in Canada he got a chance to be a dog handler for a year with a dog sled racing team. It sounded crazy to me, but a hell of an adventure. Jon needed a ride to the dog trainer lady's house. He was planning on hitchhiking out to the town Tagish. Ken and I decided to give him a hand. It was about hour and a half ride outside of Whitehorse. The direction were really bad but we finally found the house after another hour. There were about 80 dogs there that I saw. The job offered food and shelter, but no pay. Jon was surprised by the small log cabin. We wished him luck and left him with his new career. I still think he's crazy. The opinion of a man riding to Alaska on a motorcycle. I know, it sounds a little like the pot calling the kettle black. One year in Tagish with 100 dogs. Wow!



Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day Thirteen to Whitehorse

Breaking camp early, I headed over to the hot spring to get a quick wake-up drip. Once I returned to the bike I jammed my wet trucks into the top of backpack. Kent was just finishing breaking down his tent. We both left Laird Hot Springs heading for Whitehorse. It was going to be a long day on the road. The main concern now was getting gas. We drove a hundred mile to Coal River to fill up. While we stopped we grabbed breakfast. The food was not cheap, but was really good.
On the way out of town we an ran up on a dog playing in the road. We both slowed down and the dog forced us over into the other lane. As we passed, the dog chased after us. One more obstical avoided. About an hour later we ran up on a Grizzly bear hanging out in the ditch. Once again we both slowed down and the bear started moving toward us. We both sped up and skipped the photo op!
The last animal life we saw was a herd of 20 Buffalo just hanging out along the road.

The road construction was the next hair-raising experience. We were at a 10 mile clip at the seam of the road. The road construction crews are nice to motorcyclers. The dust is really bad from the gravel, so they move all bikers up to the front of the line. As we followed pilot car we headed down a hill. The driving was wobbl,y but becomes really crazy when the thickness of the gravel increased to 4 inches. In addition to Kent and I, there was a Harley rider running up behind us. No one wanted to apply any brakes. As we headed down the hill, the Harley rider started to pass me. Thankfully the road flatted out we all spread out again. The tension was realty high by the end of the ten miles.
Thankfully, the road leveled out and about lunchtime we stopped in Watson Lake. The Sign Forest is a interesting tourist trap full of signs and found art. Ken and I wandered around until we found the signs I had made for my dad. On his drive up, he had stopped and hung them. Fueling up, we and made our way toward Whitehorse.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day Twelve to Liard River Hot Springs


I got up at 5:30 after an hour and a half of failed sleep. The sun comes up at 4:00 am so its really hard to fall back to sleep after that. Last nights rainstorm left my bike pretty clean. The two hitchhikers were still sleeping. All three of my friends were breaking camp. Kent was going to ride with me to Laird Hot Springs and then on Whitehorse. Dirk was the older guy that was bicycling to New Mexico. Kent is traveling to Inuvik to visit an old nurse friend. Jeff was heading to Anchorage to meet his girlfriend. He was planning on getting to Whitehorse in one day - that’s over 700 hard miles. We all posed for a quick photo. Then Kent, Dirk and I went and eat breakfast. Topics of discussion ranged from politics to work to religion. I really enjoyed the lively banter and discussion.

After breakfast, Ken and I fueled up and left Fort Nelson. The day was cool and overcast. The temperature kept dropping and after an hour of riding I had to stop and put on more clothes. The road and scenery are really nice along this stretch of road. It was a great mixture of mountains, streams, forest, and straight and twisting road. We saw two black bears, a dozen mountain goats and a caribou on the road. The only problem with today’s travels was the road construction in a couple of spots, the loose gravel on the road, and the dust. Today was the dustiest and dirtiest day I’ve had. It was about 300 miles to Laird Hot Spring, which we covered by 3:30. Kent is driving a 650 Suzuki V-Storm. Nice day for on- and off-road. He allowed me to lead and I was really surprised how well he kept up. At about 12:30, I was crossing Toad River and noticed that Kent was no longer behind me. I had been moving along at a pretty good clip and wonder if he had not been able to keep up. I slowed down and parked on the other side of the Toad River Bridge. I figured I would take a quick picture and if he didn’t show up I would ride back and see what was going on.
Just as I got off the bike and was grabbing the camera I saw his headlight appear in the distances. I walked to the middle of the bridge and he pull up to me. He asked me what’s up and I told him I was just going to take a quick picture while I was waiting for him. So I asked him if he had to stop to go the restroom or what. He laughed and said “No, your tent poles came loose and I stopped to pick them up”. “No freaking way” I said. He turned around and pointed at his pack and sure enough my poles pack was sitting there all shredded up from sliding across the road. Amazed I told him thanks, realizing just how bad the rest of the trip would have been if I didn’t have tent poles. So from how now on I am sliding the tent poles in the tripod bag for safekeeping. We both snapped a couple of shots of the stream and mountains and headed out. We continued on to macho lake and finally to Laird Hot Spring. We checked into the park, set up our tents and headed to the hot spring for a drip.
I was tired and the hot water really zapped me. The hot springs were heated and were actually really nice. They have changing room and stairs that lead into the pool. There are three pools that are different tempertures. After that we jumped on the bike and to find a meal. Across the street was another campsite with and restaurant. The special was fried chicken and vegetable soup. We headed back to back to camp and saw Eric, another camper from Fort Nelson. We stopped and visited. Eric is from Alberta and is traveling to Fairbanks to housesit for his Uncle. He had a really nice English setter named Molly. We volunteered to dog sit so he could take a drip in the hot spring. Molly was quickly removed all my wet clothes from the clothes line and invited me to play a great game of tug of war with my underwear. Eric showed up and visited for a half an hour. He teaches 10th grade English and History. Super nice guy. Well that was my day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day Eleven to Fort Nelson

Today was a little weird. I woke up to the sound of my phone alarm at 6:00 am. This was odd because most places that I have been sleeping, the phone can’t find a tower to set the clock off of, so the alarm doesn’t work at all. Alarm clocks are kind of useless in Alaska in the summer anyway. It's only dark about 4 hours and it's really hard to sleep in a tent once it's daylight. So anyway, I strapped all the gear on the bike and backed out of the drive and headed back to Grand Prairie.
Rolling up on a sign for Peoria I started to wonder just if I was driving in circles. I needed to get a few supplies and Internet access so I back-tracked. Once in Grand Prairie, I headed for the Walmart. I discovered that I was having a really hard time communicating with the employees about finding an Internet hotspot location. It was early and I was tired. They sure were all smiling and not making any sense. I think someone spiked the Walmart water cooler with some of those roll-back happy pills. It was like a bad comedy.
Smiling zombies are coming to your store - to not help you.

It was just really surreal like waking up in another country.

Ok enough about all that. I hope I haven’t upset any of you reading this that work at Walmart - like I did the K.O.A. campground people. If you’re still listening, why don’t you put a sign at the abandoned trailer park to help people like me with tom-tom GPS units?

Yeah ok, ranting.

On with the story. One of the locals in the parking lot pointed me to a Starbucks just down the street. Thank you God. I got online and updated the blog, emails and maps. It took me until about 11:30, but I finally was up to date and ready to hit the road. Today’s target was Fort Nelson. It was about 400 miles from Grand Prairie. Actually a pretty smooth day. I met a couple of people at mile 0 of the Alaskan Hwy in Dawson Creek that were from New York. They had been on the road 5 days. That’s like 6-700 miles a day. What a shit vacation. Later in the day, at a place called Pink Mountain, I ran into two guys that had only been on the road a week. They had started in the Florida Keys! Now THAT is crazy.




I made good time once I got on the road. About 50 miles outside of Fort Nelson I found what looked like a nice truck and camper that had run off the road and flipped. The camper was just a pile of rubble.

It was about 7:00 pm when I pulled into Fort Nelson. I needed gas so I fueled up and asked about a campground. The girl at the counter pointed me down the road. I was unsure about the directions so I dug out the Milepost magazine and discovered that there was only one show in town. I drove outside of town and found the Tri G Campground Hideaway. Kind of a long name, don’t you think? It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Anyway, I gave the lady my credit card and drove back to find a spot. I was surprised by how full the tent section was. A lot of motorcycles and one bicycler. I pulled my bike in and unloaded all the gear. Once my tent was set up, everyone started coming over to talk. Two young guys were hitchhikers from New Mexico. One older guy was from Anchorage. One guy was from California, and one was from from Canada. It was really cool to hear everybody comparing notes on the days travels. The two hitch hikers made about 300 miles a day. The guy on the bicycle made about 70 a day. This guy was awesome to talk to. He was a Canadian that volunteered in the Army for the Vietnam War just for kicks. His name was Dirk. We talked about traveling and he said he traveled through Pakistan and India when he was younger. He was a radiology tech and just retired. He is bicycling to New Mexico. Dirk was 65 and totally wired on life. Each day I find someone crazier. I must say, this is why I really wanted to do this trip. I feel like we all just a wearing path on the floor with our daily routine. To me it's really nice to not know for sure what you will eat or where you will sleep each night. The best part of meeting others is that we are all striking out and sharing the experience. Not bragging like at a party, but just sharing it. It's just too cool. As strange as it sounds, I feel privileged to be able to be here sleeping on the ground in a tent in a thunder storm because it feels real. The funny thing about long distance bike travel is that you just can't plan it. You are at the mercy of weather, fatigue and mechanical problems.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day Ten to Fairview

I woke up today at the Mosquito Camp Site freezing. The temperature in the Banff Mountain Valley drops like a rock as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains. The shadows are like ice. The tent was on a gravel pad. All night, I tossed around from the temperature hurting my head. So at 6:00 am I was as rested as I was going to get. Not only did the cold make it a hard night, but I kept waking up to the sound of what I thought was a bear outside. In the morning I figured out that I was actually snoring so loud that I was actually waking myself up! It's one thing to have someone tell you that you snore loudly. It's quite another to realize that you snore so loud that in the middle of the night you actually fooled yourself into thinking there was a bear somewhere around you. I spent the morning laughing at the thought of how silly I was and that I actually had probably scared the bears away with my snoring.

I packed up my stuff and started to head out. I was alarmed to notice that the warning lights were blinking again. I turned the bike off and restarted it and the lights kept blinking. The thoughts of having to end the trip entered my mind. So I checked the oil and decided that its pretty hard to judge the level. So I added a pint and figured that I would give it a better look when I wasn't 100 miles from nowhere and on level ground. On my bike, the oil is checked by looking in a glass window in the side of the engine. Don’t get me wrong I love my bike and it truly is better than all other bikes (yes I am mainly referring to Evan’s Harley) but it is really hard to balance the bike straight up and down and look in a little window on the bottom of the engine. Fear of being pinned under my own bike is always foremost in my mind while I am doing it. Yes, if it happens I am sure a guy on a Harley would find me - oh the humiliation. So I put the cap on a drove out to the road. The light was still blinking so I said a little prayer to the God of BMW's or any god that would listen. Then I started laughing about just how crazy this all is and figured I’d just do it. As I cracked the throttle and added even more distance to Calgary I realized just how damn cold it really was. Needless to say by the time I was going 65 I wasn’t laughing at more. So I turned on the seat and hand warmers. The bike was so cold that the temperature gage was sitting on the bottom even after running for 30 minutes down the road. After staring at the gages for 45 minutes I decided to pull off and snap a picture of mountains. I figured I would just jump off and snap the shot. So I just left the bike running. I returned to bike to discover that it had warmed up and the light had go off. Thank you God. I just have a cold-blooded bike. No problems the rest of the day. It must be a fluid level sensor issue. Once that issue was put to bed I was able to enjoy the view.

The road runs right down the middle of two mountain ranges. I know I have been saying it too much already, but it was beautiful. I followed route 93 all the way to the entrance to Jasper Park. I wished I could go explore it but I am starting to feel the pressure to hit the Alaskan Hwy. It is time to make some time. So I turned west and headed for Dawson Creek. The next town of Hilton was 3 hours and the terrain was starting to flatten out after about a hour. When I got to Hilton is gassed up and headed north for about 100 miles to Grand Cash. It was 12:30 and I decided to top off the tank and get a sandwich at Subway. The town was very friendly. A guy talked to me in the parking lot for 10 minutes about my trip. Once inside Subway another guy named Ted struck up a conversation while I peeled off my extra clothing. Those motorcycle pants were awesome in the morning but it was heating up and I was beginning to really sweat.

Ted was riding an old 450 Honda , so we talked the usual stuff. He was in town to help out with some work on local jeep trails. Once on the road I followed along behind him. It was about 160 to Grand Prairie so after about an hour he pulled off to stretch his legs. I needed to stretch also so I pulled over. I snapped a picture of these guys unloading part of a crane used for coal mining. This thing was huge.
Ted and I continued talking about the area and he invited me to crash in a spare room. I thought it over and decided a bed sounded pretty good after the cold bed of rocks the night before. The town was actually about sixty miles outside of Grand Prairie. So it really added to the drive. I said something about it to him at the next stop and he said the Peace River Road ran right up to the Alaskan Hwy. We were just moving up from the start point of Dawson Creek. We got to his home and I was exhausted and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Checked it out and invited him to get a bite to eat. I grabbed a quick shower and we drove up town to get Chinese. This was a welcome change from jerky and dried fruit. That was about it, Well its 11:30 and I have to get some sleep.