Biking to Alaska

Epilogue: 19 Years Later

Posted by Alan on September 12th, 2007

Hah hah, of course it hasn’t been 19 years, but some of you will get that reference. So, I’ve been home a couple weeks now and people keep asking me what it’s like to be home. “Is it weird to be back?”, they wonder. Actually, no, it isn’t really weird at all. I mean, Denver is the same as ever and I’ve gotten used to my old familiar life again. Of course, I haven’t started back at work yet. Sitting in a cubicle for eight hours might come as a shock to my system. I guess I’ll find out this Thursday on my first day back. Also, I didn’t drive a car for about a week after I got back. It just seemed like all the cars on the freeway were moving way too fast. I wasn’t in any hurry to jump behind the wheel.

Oh, and now I can happily proclaim that I had ZERO FLAT TIRES on my trip!!! I didn’t want to jinx myself by bragging about that until I was safely home (I’m a little superstitious that way). So how is that possible? Well, I had some very good tires. They are Marathon Plus tires by a company called Schwalbe. If you ever do a trip like this, definitely buy a set. I never even needed that spare tire I ordered back in Montana. I covered just over 3300 miles on my trip on those tires (plus a few hundred miles at home before my trip).

I want to thank everyone for their emails and kind words along the way. It made it easier to keep this journal up to date knowing people would actually be reading it. And now I’m glad I have this record of my journey to remind me of details I might have otherwise forgotten. What’s my next bike trip going to be? Well, maybe I’ll bike around New Zealand or maybe I’ll ride across Asia. Anyone want to come along?

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Day 70: Adios Alaska

Posted by Alan on August 28th, 2007

33.08 mi

Well, this is my last day in Alaska, so I get up early to take full advantage of it. I get back on the bike path and stop at another spot with a good view overlooking the water. I cook up some oatmeal and enjoy the morning light shining on the surrounding mountains. Just as I finish cleaning my breakfast dishes and am sitting enjoying the view again, I spot something in the water a short distance away. It’s the white rounded back of what must be a Beluga Whale. I’ve heard they can be spotted in this area and I feel lucky to have spotted one before I leave Alaska. There are several swimming along ahead of the outgoing tide and I bike on ahead of them hoping to see them again down the road. I don’t see the Belugas again, but as I continue to bike towards Anchorage I notice how the sun is hanging fairly low in the sky, even though it’s approaching noon. This is the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon of the sun being low in the sky past morning time. I guess it means the summer is coming to an end up here.

I make it into Anchorage and thanks to my previous travels around town (and thanks to a map I still have from my last time in town) I make a beeline for the local REI. As I had hoped, they have a spare bike box from when a bike was shipped to them. I’ll use this box to package up my bike for the flight home. US Air supposedly takes bikes that aren’t boxed, but I figure it can’t hurt to package my bike up. I fold up the box the best I can and strap it down across the back of my bike. It sticks out on both sides like a small wing and I have to be careful not to run into anything. I head for the Spenard Hostel where I had stayed on my first stop in Anchorage. I pay three dollars to take a shower and then I hang out for a while reading. I have several hours to kill until my red-eye flight, so I’m in no hurry.

IMG_1264.JPGI finally decide to ride to the airport, which isn’t far from the hostel. I ride on sidewalks, careful not to hit anyone or anything with my cardboard “wing”. As I turn onto the road leading towards the airport, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a bike path which leads me right up to the airport terminal. Hurray for Anchorage and their bike path to the airport. I’ve heard that some cities make it a nightmare to get to and from the airport on a bike. I’m glad Anchorage isn’t one of those cities. In front of the terminal, I unload my gear from my bike and sort through my stuff, preparing to pack it all up. I don’t have much trouble boxing up the bike, I only have to lower the seat, then remove the handlebars and the front wheel and fender. After that the bike fits snugly in the box and I am able to check in my baggage.

Well, that’s it. I board my flight later that night and arrive home the next morning. It’s been ten weeks to the day from my first day on the bike back in June.

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Day 69: A Good Last Day

Posted by Alan on August 27th, 2007

62.31 mi

I’m probably no more than a quarter mile from the highway, but it’s a nice quiet morning as I pack up my gear and ride back to the road. Wouldn’t you know it, I ride two miles down the highway and come upon a lodge and a Forest Service campground. I could have camped here last night if I had known it existed. Oh well, I guess that’s what I get for not having a road map of the area. I decide to stop for breakfast and enjoy a large meal of pancakes and eggs while using the lodge’s free wireless internet to check email.

Back on the road, I have a bit of a headwind slowing my pace. It feels like I’ve finally learned to simply accept the wind as a fact of life which I can’t change. It used to be amusing to anthropomorphize the wind and pretend it had a (malicious) intelligence, but today I simply bike on, content to accept the wind as I accept the mountains around me. Besides, I know the road will take a sharp turn later today and I’m hoping that will put the wind at my back!

IMG_1244.JPGI finally come to that turn in the road, which also happens to be the location of the Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center. It’s a facility with a number of wild animals in separate large pens. They have everything from moose to elk, bison and deer, even brown and black bears. I spend a little time there taking photos of the animals and eating lunch before hitting the highway again. And yes, the wind is at my back! Hurrah!

The rest of the route into Anchorage is familiar ground since I rode this way from Whittier to Anchorage three weeks ago. I enjoy getting off the highway for a while onto the bike path and eventually I stop at a point where the bike path overlooks Turnagain Arm with the sun sinking towards the horizon. I make dinner on a bench next to the path and simply sit for a while, taking in the view. I then bike a couple more miles down the path to a campground I know is there. I find a quiet campsite and set up my tent for the last time on this trip (how sad!). I fall asleep to the sound of cars on the highway and an occasional train on the nearby railroad tracks.

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Day 68: Heading Home, Sort Of

Posted by Alan on August 26th, 2007

63.45 mi

IMG_1202.JPGI already have most of my gear packed up, so it doesn’t take long before I hit the road out of Seward. Ouside of town I turn towards Exit Glacier. I’ve already visited the area around the glacier, but my former co-worker Scott sent me an email saying how cool glacier ice looks close up. So I decide to take this side trip to see if he’s right. Besides, I’ve got three days to ride the 130 miles to Anchorage, so I have time for a short diversion. Unfortunately, the stream flowing away of the glacier doesn’t have any ice chunks in it today and I can’t hike to the foot of the glacier due to a trail closure. I think to myself, “Next time”, which is what I think anytime I miss out on seeing something on this trip. I guess I’ll have to see glacier ice up close on my next trip to Alaska.

My next stop is also just outside of Seward. I stop alongside a creek to watch the salmon which are actively spawning all up and down the length of the stream. It’s cool to watch them swim upstream or splash around while making depressions for their eggs. I wonder what it’s like when the young salmon start swimming downstream towards the ocean. I wonder if they are as easy to spot in the stream as their parents are now.

The weather is really nice and I’m enjoying the great scenery along this highway. There’s a bit of traffic, no doubt people heading home to Anchorage after a weekend in Seward. I pass a couple campgrounds early on, but after my side trip to Exit Glacier I need to cover a few more miles. I finally pull off on a side road looking for a good place to camp. I find a small clearing among the trees and make camp for the night. I’m amazed that the bugs aren’t too bad. Maybe it’s getting late enough in the year that their numbers are dwindling. I don’t have a good place to hide my food away from any nearby bears, so I’m glad I have my “bear resistant” Urack. It’s a small bag made out of kevlar which is supposed to prevent bears from making off with your food. I tie it around a tree a short distance away and settle down to enjoy what will probably be my last night of “wild” camping on this trip.

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Day 67: Kayaking

Posted by Alan on August 25th, 2007

I wake up early and walk down the street to the office of Kayak Adventures Worldwide (they do trips in Seward and Thailand, so I guess that’s “worldwide”). I had been hoping to take an overnight kayak trip with this company, but I just don’t have the time for it. We hop in the company’s van and drive down to the south end of town to unload on the beach. I’ve never kayaked before and I’m a little nervous and hoping that I like it. I’m sure this will be quite different from the whitewater kayaking I’ve seen folks do in rivers in Colorado.

Justine is the guide for our little group of five which consists of Justine’s sister Carolyn and an older couple, Dennis and Marcia from Anchorage and myself. The water is very calm this morning and the weather couldn’t be nicer. Nothing but blue skies and pretty warm weather. We begin by paddling towards an old army fort south of Seward. Along the way we spot a small dark shape heading towards us. It turns out to be a sea otter floating on its back, chewing vigorously on something. It is so engrossed in its meal that it hardly takes notice of us as we stop paddling and drift past. It’s the first sea otter I’ve seen in the wild and I couldn’t ask for a better way to see one.

IMG_1190.JPGAfter paddling for an hour or two, we arrive at our destination and beach the kayaks. We hike up a couple miles to Ft. McGilvary, which is an abandoned army fort built during WWII to defend against any potential Japanese attacks. We check out the empty tunnels and underground bunkers of the small complex before sitting down near a former artillery turret for lunch. It’s an absolute gorgeous day out and we all enjoy the views of distant mountains and glaciers through the surrounding trees. We hike back down to the kayaks on the beach and paddle back to our starting point. It’s been a great day and I’ll look forward to sea kayaking again sometime.

That evening I walk over to that nearby coffee house again. A couple women are singing tonight and I run into the woman who led my “behind the scenes” tour at the Sealife Center. She tells me I should stop by Yoly’s (the restaurant where I ate with Lindsay last week) to hear a friend of hers who is singing there later tonight. I follow her advice and decide to have dinner at Yoly’s. As I’m waiting for a table I see the couple who own Kayak Adventures Worldwide are also waiting to eat. They say ‘hi’ and invite me to join them for dinner. I join them and have a nice dinner talking about kayaking and life in Seward. After dinner I hang out to listen to the singer and who should walk in the door but Justine (my kayaking guide) and her sister Carolyn! What a small town this is, I can’t believe it. I chat with them a little while listening to the music. This will be my last night in Seward and I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I walk back to the hostel as a nearly full moon rises over the mountains across the bay.

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Day 66: Behind The Sealife

Posted by Alan on August 24th, 2007

IMG_1164.JPGIMG_1138.JPGToday I head back to the Sealife Center and sign up for one of their “Behind the Scenes” tours. I recognize the woman who is leading our tour, she was working at the coffee shop the other night. Small town. The tour isn’t as interesting as I had hoped. I understand that they can’t take us into the area where wild animals are being rehabilitated, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. The most interesting part of the tour is learning how big the facility is beyond what the public sees. Apparently there are numerous large tanks in the back in addition to the public exhibits. It’s nice to know that research is such an important part of the center and that it’s not just about appealing to tourists. After the tour I spend some more time among the exhibits. The seabird exhibit is probably my favorite. You can get up very close to the birds and it’s interesting to watch them as they dive and splash around. The seals are fun to watch as well since they glide through the water so gracefully.

That evening I head back to the coffee shop near the hostel to watch a one woman play about “Alaska Nellie”. It’s more of a history lesson than a play, but it’s not bad for such a small town. While there I run into a couple from Lakewood, Colorado and talk to them a bit about our travels. I’m scheduled to go on a kayaking day trip tomorrow, so I head back to the hostel and get to bed fairly early.

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Day 65: Biking Again

Posted by Alan on August 23rd, 2007

I spent several hours this morning updating my travel journal for the past week or so. It takes a bit of time to write down what I’m up to, so I guess I’ve been putting it off for several days. I’m sure you all are just dying to hear about my latest laundromat experience or to find out what today’s breakfast was, right?

In the afternoon I got on my bike for the first time in a few days and rode around town a little. The weather isn’t as drizzly today so I can ride around without getting wet. At one point I come upon the local high school and am impressed with the view from one side of the school. I can only imagine the pain of being stuck in a classroom while looking out across the bay at glaciers and snowy mountains.

My butt gets sore pretty quickly and I only ride about 13 miles. I guess I’m still recovering from putting in too many miles in too short a span of time while biking up here to Alaska. I hope I feel up to riding back to Anchorage, which I’m planning to do in a few days. I finish the day by calling my dad to wish him a happy birthday and I read some more before heading to bed.

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Day 64: Alaska Sealife Center!

Posted by Alan on August 22nd, 2007

My first stop today is at the library to use the free internet access. It’s looking like taking my bike on Amtrak trains will be as much trouble as taking it on a plane, so I start looking into cheap flights. I also try to find out the polcies of each airline pertaining to flying with a bike. It looks like US Airways is the most bike friendly airline flying between Anchorage and Denver, so I’ll probably buy a ticket from them even if it’s not the cheapest.

IMG_1062.JPGAfter leaving the library I walk over to the Alaska Sealife Center to finally check that place out. I buy a two-day pass since I’m sure I’ll want to come back again before I leave town. I’m really impressed by the quality of the exhibits they have on display. The have a variety of sealife from local waters. They also discuss how important healthy oceans are to sustaining a strong fishing industry, which is very important to the local economy. About every hour there is a talk or slideshow on different subjects or reserch projects underway at the center. I end up spending several hours there looking around and listening to a few presentations.

IMG_1107.JPGI’m glad to see that they mention climate change on several occasions at the Sealife Center. It’s important to remind people of the increased effect global warming has at these higher latitudes. The water temperature in the Seward area has risen 3 degrees celcius in just the past few decades. There have also been sightings of warm water fish like barracuda in the Juneau area!

After my visit to the Sealife Center, I stop by the library again and buy a plane ticket home. It feels weird to finally put an end date on this trip of mine, but it will be nice to get home and visit with friends and enjoy the Colorado sunshine. Oh, did I mention that it’s cloudy and drizzly again in Seward today? I don’t know how people live without sunshine on a regular basis. I guess Colorado spoils me that way.

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Day 63: Doing Nothing in Seward

Posted by Alan on August 21st, 2007

Now that I’m back in Seward, I’m planning to stay here for several days. Visiting this town was one of my primary goals for this trip, so I want to take my time experiencing the town. Besides, I feel like I’m coming down with a bit of a cold so I think I should slow down and get plenty of rest while I’m here. Also, the weather is cold and drizzly, so I’m in no hurry to go out and travel on my bike just yet.

First order of business this morning is to do some laundry. The local laundromat has got to be the priciest I’ve seen yet. $6 just for the wash! While at the laundromat I run into Laura who did the Exit Glacier hike with us the other day. This is my first hint at how small a town this is. Next stop is the grocery store. Can you see a glacier from the parking lot of your grocery store at home? Well, people in Seward can say “yes” to that question. Yup, it’s pretty damn scenic here, I tell ya.

I don’t get much else of interest done today. I look into options for taking an overnight kayak trip in the area as well as how I might get home to Denver by boat and train. I also enjoy some down-time reading a book I bought in Anchorage yesterday. It’s called Suite Francaise and was written in the early 40’s, but only discovered recently. It’s a pretty interesting take on France during the start of WWII. Later that night I walk over to a nearby coffee shop with a couple people from the hostel to listen to a local jazz trio. It’s not bad for a small town and they even have a woman get up to sing some jazz standards. It’s a nice way to end the day.

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Day 62: Anchorage Grows On Me

Posted by Alan on August 20th, 2007

I’m going to take a bus back to Seward since it’s cheaper and since I haven’t seen the highway to Seward yet. My bus doesn’t leave until 3 PM though, so I’ve got time to do a little sightseeing. I return my rental car and the rental guy gives me a lift downtown. I walk over to the Snow City Cafe again to have lunch. The wait is much shorter today. The food is very good and I can see why it’s such a popular place. I then head over to the Anchorage Museum, which has some art and history exhibits. I’ve heard it’s worth seeing and that’s also where my bus will depart from. The bus company has free tickets to the museum and I spend a couple hours inside looking around.

It’s a pretty small museum, but I’m impressed with some of the artwork they have. Most of their paintings are landscapes of Alaska. I particulary like one gallery which has a few interesting abstract landscapes. They also have an exhibit of contemporary artwork by native artists from all over North America. Some of the pieces are pretty good. I stop in a small side gallery with art aimed at children. I really like the unconventional artwork there by an artist named John Kirchner. Now that I’ve seen a little more of Anchorage I have a more favorable opinion than after my first visit. I don’t think I’d want to live there, but I can see it has some good things to offer.

Finally, it’s time to catch my bus. I’m pretty tired and I doze off for part of the ride to Seward. Once we arrive I collect my bike and bags which I had left with a luggage storage service. I then head over to the local hostel where I think I’ll stay the remainder of my time in Seward. I cook up some dinner and talk with a couple folks staying in the hostel. Jim is staying there too, I knew I’d run into him again.

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